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AGENDA: 2006

An election-year guide
to local GLBT issues
in Washington, D.C.

This document is subject to revision.
Last revised: July 8, 2006

Contents

I. Public Safety
II. AIDS and Public Health
III. Human Rights
IV. Marriage and Family
V. Public Education and Youth
VI. Consumers and Businesses


PART I. PUBLIC SAFETY

A. Introduction

Relations between the gay and lesbian community and the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) have markedly improved in recent years under the leadership of Chief Charles Ramsey. Most notably, he authorized establishment six years ago of MPD's Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU), which has worked tirelessly to improve police-community relations as well as the department's handling of gay-related cases. The improved professional sensitivity brought to the force by the active presence of GLLU has been shown in situations ranging from the minimal disruption to other patrons during drug busts in gay bars, to police consultations with leaders of the transgender community. The seemingly ubiquitous head of the GLLU, Sergeant Brett Parson, has brought his energy and responsiveness to both outreach efforts and basic police work. Public officials should commit to replicating his fine example, and that of Chief Ramsey in support of the unit, in the event of either's departure. The Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department is another story, as explained below.

B. Office of Police Complaints

The Metropolitan Police Department is more accountable to the community because of the establishment several years ago of what are now known as the Police Complaints Board (PCB) and the Office of Police Complaints (OPC). It is a sign of OPC’s professionalism and effectiveness that the Chief of Police has accepted all of its recommendations for discipline. The record OPC has compiled in recent years under Executive Director Philip K. Eure has justified the high priority we placed on this agency’s mission. OPC hired four more investigators thanks to a budget boost in FY 2005 and has put them to good use. The number of cases the OPC has been able to close has exceeded the number of new complaints filed for the past two years, facilitating speedy justice for both civilian complainants and accused officers. In view of the increasing number of complaints, the rise in the number of officers on the street, and the burden of complying with a surge of FOIA requests, we urge additional budgetary and staffing support for OPC in the years ahead.

C. Metropolitan Police Department

To sustain and capitalize on the gains achieved, MPD must continue its community diversity and sensitivity training for new recruits and lateral transfers. The presence of qualified gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) trainers, and their support by the leaders of the Police Academy, brings a dose of reality to the training and sends a message to all officers that homophobia will not be tolerated on the force.

It is also imperative that MPD reinstate sensitivity training of the veteran MPD officers, which was discontinued over six years ago. Veteran officers establish the everyday departmental climate for new officers. Allowing homophobia from veteran officers to go unchallenged helps perpetuate an atmosphere hostile to GLBT citizens and negating the effects of the sensitivity training received by new recruits. To be translated from rhetoric into reality, MPD's commitment to equal treatment for all citizens must be integrated at all levels of the Department.

On February 23, a seminar sponsored by OUTfront, 1 a program of Amnesty International, was held here to focus on problems police around the country often have in their treatment of the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community. 2 In general, the Metropolitan Police Department came across as one of the best in most respects, thanks to Chief Ramsey’s unwavering commitment to the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU), but with one glaring exception—the continuing abuse of transgendered men and women by too many officers on the street. It was pointed out, for example, that the only police to attend a recent diversity training program offered by a transgender service agency were members of the GLLU. Too often, the police feel free to treat our transgendered residents as nothing more than prostitutes and outlaws. We are reminded too vividly of how our police department similarly scorned and stereotyped gay men when GLAA was first organized back in the 1970s. It will take much work to uproot transphobia in the MPD, and we must begin soon.

D. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department

The transphobia at the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department dates back at least to its grotesque mishandling of the Tyra Hunter case in August 1995 and for many years thereafter, and was aggravated and reaffirmed in the Department’s incredible mistreatment of Kenda Kirby just within the last few years.

The critical need for intensive training of Fire/EMS staff has been brutally emphasized by the public record of the Office of Human Rights’ (OHR) investigation of Kenda Kirby’s complaint against the Department. OHR ruled against Ms. Kirby, stating it found that the Department’s treatment of her did not constitute employment discrimination, a finding that Ms. Kirby is now appealing in court. But whether or not the Department technically violated Ms. Kirby’s rights under the D.C. Human Rights Act, the record shows that the Department certainly violated the interests of the entire GLBT community by treating her with such contempt and hostility and by frustrating her efforts to develop a training program that would confront the Department’s deeply-ingrained homophobia and transphobia.

Chief Thompson, while assuring the Council that everything is just great, has shown absolutely no disposition to stand up to the bigots under his command. For example, he has not punished those responsible for the web-posting incident documented in Ms. Kirby’s complaint where derogatory comments were targeted against her, even though their identities are known and the postings were made using government technological resources. Neither has the Department blocked the offensive web site. The Council must let Chief Thompson know that such noxious prejudice cannot be allowed to run rampant. In addition, GLAA expects those seeking the office of Mayor to demonstrate their own commitment to addressing and resolving the Fire/EMS problem firmly and without reservation.

We have asked the D.C. Council Judiciary Committee to insert specific language into the FY 2007 budget ordering Fire/EMS to develop and implement a training program specifically aimed at teaching all Fire/EMS staffers how to deal with members of the District’s GLBT community, whether as residents, visitors or employees. Extra funds should be earmarked for this purpose, and the Judiciary committee should employ the most vigilant oversight procedures to ensure that this time, nobody is allowed to frustrate a program that should have been instituted a long time ago.

Another concern is the Department’s illegal grooming policy, by which it continues to flout the First Amendment and the D.C. Human Rights Act and to demonstrate contempt for the District’s diverse workforce. ACLU of the National Capital Area recently won a court challenge to that policy, which requires Muslim and Rastafarian firefighters to violate their religious beliefs by shaving and cutting their hair. The Department has refused even to allow bearded firefighters to take fit tests to prove that their beards do not prevent a good facemask fit. On March 16, the Department appealed the court ruling against the grooming policy. Fire/EMS should stop defending the indefensible and revise its policy to reflect proven safety standards rather than using safety concerns as a cover for discrimination based on personal appearance.

It is long past time for Fire/EMS to step up and demonstrate their commitment to serving all of us. They must fully implement the Tyra Hunter Human Diversity Training series and they must adhere to the laws. Without supervisory follow-through and consequences for violation of the Fire/EMS diversity policy, the training will be little more than window dressing. Moreover, Fire/EMS must resolve pending litigation in a manner that dignifies those wronged and builds trust in our community.w

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PART II. AIDS AND PUBLIC HEALTH

A. HIV and AIDS

1. Introduction

D.C. has the highest AIDS rate in the United States. It is comparable to the rates in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2002 the rate of reported AIDS cases in the District was 162.4 per 100,000 compared to 14.8 per 100,000 for the United States. In a local study of AIDS cases reported in year 2001, comparing the District of Columbia to cities with populations larger than 500,000, it was found that the District of Columbia has the highest rate, 119 cases per 100,000, of all cities included. This rate was the highest rate for AIDS in the nation for 2001. 3

D.C. is believed to also have the highest rates of HIV in the country, but no reliable data exists for on HIV infections, despite six years of efforts at the Administration for HIV Policy and Programs (AHPP)—formerly known as the HIV/AIDS Administration (HAA).

Nationally, the HIV rate among non-Hispanic blacks between 19 and 24 is 20 times higher than among other young U.S. adults, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health. 4 AIDS continues to be the leading cause of death for Black women between the ages of 24 and 34; Black youth represent over 56% of the new HIV/AIDS cases among youth in America; and nearly 50% of Black gay men in the U.S. may already be infected.

Despite all of these alarming statistics, HIV/AIDS has only recently been treated as a serious problem in D.C. It was long ignored by D.C.’s politicians, government agencies, press and community.

Once effective treatment, although not a cure, was developed in 1996 and improved significantly in the past decade, people with HIV are often finding that the disease is manageable and need not be the central issue in their lives. Consequently, many people are not open about HIV their infection and do not agitate in order to save their lives or the lives of their loved-ones. The days of ACT-UP protests keeping the government honest are over.

However, the rate of new infections remains constant and the numbers of people with HIV/AIDS continues to grow. The demands on our public and private healthcare systems will only increase.

The epidemic needs to be treated as if it actually is a serious problem instead of as a government give-away program undeserving of attention.

2. Reforms at Administration for HIV Policy and Programs

We are pleased to see that the criminal cabal that ran AHPP for many years has been purged. The rampant fraud in contracting and retaliations against honest service providers and staff, which GLAA has been trying to expose for many years, has seemingly come to and end. GLAA had called for a full performance audit of AHPP. We thought that audit would need to come from the Federal Government, but Appleseed filled the role with a comprehensive report. 5 Their report exposed many of the problems that we have been trying to bring to light. The report has become a blueprint for reform and updates are being made to report on the progress of reform. The financial and service audits need to continue to ensure that the culture of fraud that had been AHPP’s trademark has finally ended.

Further, the Council has resumed oversight of AHPP that had been completely neglected under the former Health and Human Services Chair. GLAA had sought the break up of that committee into two, and now that it has been accomplished, we can see the significant improvement in oversight conducted by Health Committee Chair David Catania who held 8 oversight hearings on AHPP in the Committee’s first year, as opposed to 1 in 6 years by the former committee chair.

We hope that the major reforms of AHPP by its Directors, the Department of Health, the Mayor, and closely monitored by the Council and watchdog organizations such as Appleseed and DCPCA will continue.

AHPP is finally being run by a competent and honest Director. Dr. Marsha Martin, unlike her predecessors of many years is qualified and well respected in the community.

3. Continued Need for Reform at AHPP

a. Among the continuing problems at AHPP is the lack of HIV surveillance data. Despite the decision in 1999 to create an HIV epidemiological surveillance system in D.C., will still do not have any data reliable enough to be disseminated, even informally. AHPP’s former leadership actively opposed the Unique Identifier system that they were charged with implementing. True to GLAA’s warning, leaving the chief opponent of the program in charge of implementation resulted in a delay of two years to start, and the creation of a system that could not be effectively implemented. Additionally, AHPP has been unable to hire qualified epidemiologists. The George Washington University has stepped in to run this program. It also seems that Dr. Martin considers HIV epidemiology a priority.

b. HIV surveillance will also need to be changed to a names reporting system, giving up on the Unique Identifiers that better protected people's privacy. Our hand is being forced on this issue by the federal government. The Ryan White Reauthorization Act will base allocation of funds on both HIV and AIDS cases. However, they will not accept unique identifier systems in counting HIV cases. None-the-less, states, including the District, must report both HIV and AIDS cases to the CDC with a unique identifier. Clearly, a properly structured unique identifier system can work.

D.C. would stand to lose $5 million dollars annually if we did not convert to names reporting. The other states that have had unique identifiers are also converting to names reporting.

A names-reporting system for HIV creates a de facto life-time registry, which demands stronger protections than we currently have. Our medical privacy laws do not allow for a private right of action, and no individual responsibility of penalties for a government employee who violates the law. Any penalty would be paid by the D.C. government, and only if the D.C. government chooses to sue itself. Stronger laws are clearly needed.

c. Sero-positive surveys can improve the reliability of epidemiological data. GLAA supports the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine (IOM) Report, which recommends "that the CDC create a national system to identify new HIV infections, enabling public health officials to track recent changes in the epidemic. Rather than trying to count every newly infected person, the proposed surveillance system would provide data that would allow the CDC to estimate the number of HIV infected persons by testing a statistically valid sample of those at the highest risk. These individuals would be drawn from randomly selected 'sentinel' sites, including health care facilities—such as clinics specializing in sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, substance abuse treatment, and family planning—where at-risk people are likely to seek care. Sentinel surveillance is already used on a limited basis, but not in a way that can produce accurate national estimates." 6

The District of Columbia should adopt a parallel sero-positive survey as recommended by the IOM. The District should encourage the CDC to adopt the IOM recommendations to promote HIV prevention and surveillance.

d. Better evaluation of the effectiveness of prevention programs. HIV prevention programs receive tens of millions of dollars a year in D.C. but they have failed to reduce the rate of new infections of HIV which have remained steady for decades. Significant studies need to be conducted on the effectiveness of HIV prevention programs. We need to know what is working, and how to adapt to evolving needs. Every prevention program needs to be evaluated for effectiveness and new studies conducted to find programs and messages that work.

e. AHPP Website. AHPP received a B+ from Appleseed for the improvements of their website. Unfortunately that grade is undeserved. Although changes have been made at GLAA and Councilmember David Catania’s urging, it still isn’t interactive of dynamically updated. The website should be a source of current information of HIV/AIDS and programs and services available in D.C. The site however is static and updated rarely. Sadly, the Administration for HIV Policy and Programs is still shown on the site by its former name the HIV/AIDS Administration (HAA).

4. Testing for Sexually Transmitted Diseases

HIV is an infectious disease and it should be treated like any other infectious disease. The fact that it has been treated so differently has helped to perpetuate the stigma and contributed the spread of the virus.

Testing for the AIDS virus should become part of routine physical exams for adults and teens. HIV testing should be as common as a cholesterol check. 25% of people with HIV don’t tell their partners that they have HIV, because they don’t know. This lack of knowledge is one of the most significant reasons for the spread of HIV.

Under proposed guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, patients would be tested for HIV as part of a standard battery of tests they receive when they go for urgent or emergency care, or even during a routine physical. AHPP is leading an effort in D.C. to get ahead of this proposal and make HIV testing standard practice in all D.C. run health facilities, and encouraged in private facilities and doctors’ offices.

Part of normalizing HIV testing and care will mean the elimination of a special consent form specifically for the HIV test. The test should be covered in a clinic or hospital's standard care consent form. However, patients should be allowed to decline the testing, and should never be required to be tested, except in D.C. jails, as noted below.

On June 27, National HIV Testing Day, the D.C. Department of Health launched its “Come Together DC – Get Screened for HIV” Campaign “to encourage all DC residents to demonstrate their shared commitment to stop the spread of HIV in our city by getting screened for the virus.” 7 We commend this vital effort. The program should include funding for counseling and referrals to appropriate treatment facilities for those who test positive.

STD testing—including HIV—should be standard healthcare in D.C. prisons

People held in custody at the D.C. Jail need to be protected from HIV transmission. It is criminally negligent for the District to allow HIV to be transmitted among inmates.

To eliminate HIV transmission, prisoners must undergo automatic testing at intake and segregation of HIV positive inmates into a separate ward. To evaluate the practice, inmates need to be tested when they leave.

Reducing or eliminating HIV transmission in the D.C. Jail will also reduce transmission to the partners of the former inmates after they are released. This currently thought to be a significant transmission vector in the District.

Segregated HIV positive inmates must be provided all of the medical care and medication required, and not treated with any discrimination or stigmatizing treatment.

Marriage Licenses

The current syphilis tests required to get a marriage date back to pre-World War II days when that disease was epidemic and incurable. Required medical testing for marriage licenses needs to be updated to cover the current STD health risks, including HIV, Hepatitis B and C, and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

5. Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)

Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) for HIV should be provided at all D.C. emergency rooms, urgent care centers and health clinics. The availability of PEP should be publicized and included in student health classes.

PEP needs to be started within 72 hours after exposure to HIV to be effective, so people must not be forced to wait for a doctor’s office appointment.

Studies in animals have shown that PEP can be up to 100% effective if it is given within 24 hours and a course of medications is taken for four weeks. It failed half the time if it was taken three days after exposure or where the course was only for 10 days. HIV is found in the lymph nodes 2-3 days after transmission and after five days in the blood, which is generally seen as evidence of established infection.

Morning-after birth control, including Plan B if it is approved by the FDA, also needs to be available to any woman needing it and its existence and how to access it needs to be publicized.

6. HIV Prevention

a. Clean needle exchange. Overwhelming evidence shows that syringe exchange programs (SEPs) are effective in preventing blood borne disease without encouraging increased drug use. 8

The District estimates that 9,856 residents inject drugs. 9 From 1996 to 2000, 31.3% of AIDS cases were diagnosed in heterosexuals with a history of injecting drug use (IDU). An additional 6.5% were diagnosed as related to IDU through sex or childbirth. 10

In 1988, the U.S. Congress prohibited the use of all federal funds for SEPs. In 1992, D.C. created a SEP through a series of laws, principally sponsored by Councilmember Jack Evans. In 1998 the Congress imposed a budget rider prohibiting any local funds to be used for SEP, and threatened any organization that receives federal funding with loss of funds if they operate a SEP. Since then, this more onerous restriction has been lifted, and organizations that receive federal monies may contribute their own funds to SEPs as long as they segregate the funds. The prohibition against District funds being used for SEPs remains in place.

PreventionWorks has been operating for more than seven years without any governmental funding. While they do an outstanding job, much more could be done with an appropriate level of funding. GLAA expects elected officials to oppose the annual budget rider and be prepared to fully fund the PreventionWorks SEP once the rider is lifted.

b. Condom distribution. The use of condoms is the most basic, universal, safe, and effective prevention method for reducing HIV transmission. Condoms need to be widely, and freely, available throughout the District. DC Appleseed’s report showed that AHPP missed its goal of distributing 600,000 condoms in 2004. Only 290,000 were distributed. In 2005, the number fell to 125,000. The District needs to develop a serious plan for making condoms available in all public health centers, hospital, bars, nightclubs, and hair salons. Not having access to a condom should never be the reason for not using one.

c. Criminal penalties for HIV transmission. Criminal penalties should not be used to address healthcare issues, as some have proposed. Imposing criminal penalties for knowingly transmitting HIV would have the unintended effect of harming HIV testing and prevention efforts by driving more activities underground and encouraging more anonymous sex. It would also increase the stigma of HIV. HIV transmission is a medical and public health issue and needs to be addressed in that context.

B. Legalizing Medical Marijuana

GLAA supports legalizing the medical use of marijuana when a patient's doctor recommends it to combat some of the effects of AIDS, cancer, or other diseases. Initiative 59 passed by the voters by 69% and won in every voting precinct. The Council should oppose all federal attempts to block implementation of I-59 or limit access to medical marijuana. The Council should oppose any proposal to increase penalties against people who use medical marijuana or acquire it for their loved ones. The 1999 report Marijuana and Medicine by the IOM found clear benefits of marijuana for the relief of pain and nausea and the increase in appetite. While not a cure, marijuana's medicinal effects can significantly improve and prolong life. There is no reason to believe that legalizing medical marijuana in tightly controlled situations will encourage youth to engage in drug abuse. Alleviating pain and suffering must not be sacrificed to political posturing and demagoguery.

C. Women's Health Needs

There are many other medical issues of concern to our community. Lesbians are at particular risk of not having breast and cervical cancers diagnosed early, based on lack of access to and sensitivity of medical providers to lesbian sexuality issues. The city needs to make sure that its health centers are staffed with people who are aware of and sensitive to such issues. The needs of women with HIV/AIDS must similarly be provided for. The Women's Health Program Initiative is a good step forward in promoting women's health care. In addition to focusing on cancer prevention, screening and treatment, the Initiative addresses issues relating to diet, substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases.

D. Transgender Health Needs

Transgender people in D.C. are disproportionately poor and outside of our health care system. Incidence of HIV infection is greater than 25%. Prostitution is a not uncommon profession as discrimination and sex-transitioning keeps many transgender people out of stable employment. This is a serious HIV transmission vector that has been largely over looked, and down played by HAA because of the relatively small number of transgender people. HAA must make medical care for transgender people a priority. This will bring transgender people into the mainstream of medical care and access and greatly reduce a major HIV transmission vector.

Transgender people also face discrimination at shelters, in housing and in employment. Police routinely treat all transgender people as prostitutes. The spate of murders of transgender people—9 in 2003—has created fear among transgender people that has not been much eased by the official response. All of these problems have contributed to the further marginalization of transgender people, and limited their access and willingness to seek medical care. A comprehensive approach by the city is needed.

E. Tuberculosis, Hepatitis and Alcoholism

Drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) and Hepatitis B and C have begun to spread in this area and need to be aggressively stamped out before they become more entrenched within the population of people with HIV/AIDS and their medical care providers.

1. Medicaid Tuberculosis Optional Coverage Group

People who are HIV positive are at high risk for contracting tuberculosis infection; people with HIV are 40 times more likely to develop active, infectious tuberculosis if exposed to the contagion than are people with healthy immune systems. In 1994 the federal government began offering matching funds to states and territories to help them develop a limited Medicaid benefit for people who are infected with TB. The District should use these funds because current treatment is now funded by limited Ryan White or Alliance dollars. Also, these funds would be beneficial for keeping open the city's cash strapped TB/STD clinic, which serves as a major point of entry for people newly diagnosed with HIV into the city's health care system.

2. Alcoholism and Substance Abuse

Alcohol and substance abuse remains a serious problem in the District and contribute to the spread of HIV and other diseases. Funding for programs focusing on alcoholism and other substance abuse specifically targeting gay people was introduced by David Catania and passed by the Council. GLAA supports continued funding of targeted substance abuse treatment programs.

F. Domestic Partnership Insurance Availability for Small Businesses

Many small businesses in the District have been unable to offer health insurance to the domestic partners of their employees because of the lack of insurance companies offering coverage to employers with less than 50 employees. In addition to putting small businesses at a disadvantage in attracting and retaining employees, the lack of access means that people who could have private insurance go uninsured. While D.C. has a low rate of uninsured, anyone without insurance eventually becomes a burden for the District.

On May 12, 2003, District Insurance Commissioner Lawrence Mirel secured an agreement from CareFirst Blue Cross to offer insurance coverage of domestic partner to employers who request it. Unfortunately, other insurers have not kept pace, limiting options for small employers. If other insurers do not extend domestic partner health insurance coverage to small businesses on their own, the District, as a minimum, should use its clout as a major customer to demand this coverage of those insurers wishing to do business with the city.

Additionally, the Council should pass legislation requiring insurance companies to extend domestic partner health insurance to all size businesses that request it for their employees.

G. Curbing Exposure to Secondhand Smoke

We are proud that we were part of a broad-based coalition that successfully persuaded the Council a few months ago to pass legislation protecting customers and employees against exposure to secondhand smoke in bars and restaurants. We were concerned about safeguarding the health of persons with HIV/AIDS whose compromised immune systems make them especially vulnerable to the dangers of secondhand smoke.

We are gratified that the U.S. Surgeon General has just issued a sweeping report confirming the public health dangers of secondhand smoke and calling for making all indoor spaces smoke-free. 11 In the words of the Surgeon General’s report: “The scientific evidence is now indisputable: Secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance. It is a serious health hazard that can lead to disease and premature death in children and nonsmoking adults.” The report continued: “Restrictions on smoking can control exposures effectively, but technical approaches involving air cleaning or a greater exchange of indoor with outdoor air cannot. Consequently, nonsmokers need protection through the restriction of smoking in public places and workplaces….”w

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PART III. HUMAN RIGHTS

The District government has made great strides in the last few years both in passing new legislation to strengthen the D.C. Human Rights Act of 1977 (DCHRA) and in enforcing the  DCHRA more effectively through the Office of Human Rights (OHR).

Among the notable recent enhancements to the DCHRA are the following:

At the administrative level, we are pleased that OHR continues to make great strides in reducing its caseload and in cutting the time it normally takes to process incoming complaints.  Further increases in OHR’s budget and staffing are still needed to reduce the average gap between the time a complaint is filed with OHR and the time OHR issues a finding of probable cause to no more than 9 months.

Because we have been more involved with OHR than any other community organization, we were invited by the Williams Administration in 2003 to participate in the interviews that led to the appointment of the current OHR Director, Kenneth Saunders. We would like to be included in the selection process again when a new Director must be appointed.

We support a separate line item in the District budget for the Commission on Human Rights, in harmony with its independent status.   

A few years ago, we were distressed by indications that many D.C. government agencies were actively ignoring or resisting the dictates of the DCHRA. Many of those problems have been resolved by the Williams Administration. The August 2000 issuance of a Mayoral Order mandating explicit recognition of every class protected under the DCHRA in all D.C. government agency anti-discrimination statements has re-emphasized the District’s historic commitment to civil rights. However, as previously indicated, we are appalled that there are no signs of progress towards equitable treatment of GLBT residents and employees at the Fire/EMS Department, despite numerous promises of reform by Chief Adrian Thompson. 

The District’s GLBT residents have come under blatant attack lately from certain demagogic ministers. Such merchants of hate have no business serving on any official body, including the Mayor’s Interfaith Council.  We expect candidates for public office to denounce homophobia and other forms of bigotry wherever they emerge.w

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PART IV. MARRIAGE AND FAMILY

A. Securing Equal Rights to Civil Marriage

As Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, "The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men." 12

GLAA seeks the fundamental right to marry as part of the full integration into American society that is our birthright. A policy of exclusion against same-sex couples amounts to red-lining the American dream and saying that "liberty and justice for all" does not apply to you if you’re a member of an unpopular minority.

A higher percentage of gay families live in D.C. than in most of the country. The District ranks first among the states in the percentage of coupled households that are gay or lesbian (5.14 percent). 13 According to the Human Rights Campaign’s analysis of data from the 2000 census, there are 3,678 same-sex partner households in the District of Columbia, which is a 66% increase from 1990. These families pay taxes, they are contributing members of their communities, and they deserve the same protections as their neighbors. Commitment and stability benefit not only the individuals involved, but society as a whole.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the right to marriage is so fundamental that even condemned prisoners, denied the right to freedom, to vote, to free expression, and even to life itself, cannot be denied the right to marry. 14 To then deny same-sex couples the right to marry is at best perverse.

GLAA’s strong support for equal civil marriage rights for gay citizens does not blind us to strategic considerations. The U.S. Congress retains complete legislative control over the District. Until the Congress and the President are willing to allow us to recognize same-sex marriage, the District will not be able to do so. We have achieved remarkable success in changing public attitudes on the subject in recent years, but it will likely take many more years before the political climate changes sufficiently to prevent congressional demagogues from blocking same-sex marriages in the District.

In the meantime, GLAA supports incremental steps towards full and equal civil marriage. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, there are 1,138 rights, benefits, and privileges related to marriage under federal law. 15 The District has no direct ability to affect federal law. But under our own laws there are 212 rights and responsibilities associated with marriage in D.C. 16 GLAA has worked with the Council to expand the domestic partnership law to include all applicable rights and responsibilities of marriage. This will not get us to marriage, but will bring us as close as we can get in the current political climate.

We wish to make it clear to local political candidates that, in GLAA’s candidate ratings, we will not regard agreement with our cautious strategy as sufficient without an explicit endorsement of equal marriage rights in principle. Notwithstanding the general consensus, which we have led, that the District cannot pursue a same-sex marriage bill at present, when we ask, “Do you support legal recognition of marriages between partners of the same sex?” we expect an answer of “Yes.” There are two crucial parts of the fight for marriage equality: the goal itself and the strategy for reaching it. We need our elected officials to support us on both. Candidates unwilling to stand with us in principle on this fundamental issue have no grounds to complain when we penalize them accordingly.

B. Domestic Partnership

For the sake of equity and until we achieve civil marriage equality, D.C. needs to provide all of the applicable rights and responsibilities of marriage to domestic partners. However, domestic partnerships are not equivalent to marriage and should not be considered an acceptable substitute. Separate is inherently unequal.

GLAA was instrumental in the codification of D.C.’s domestic partners law, called the Health Care Benefits Expansion Act of 1992, which Congress finally allowed us to implement in 2002. As enhanced by a number of additional laws, 17 these laws grant registered domestic partners many of the rights and responsibilities of marriage, but with many limitations. 18 There are currently three more bills before the Council that would further expand domestic partnerships. 19

We are pleased to say that D.C.’s incremental approach to the issue has been overwhelmingly successful. D.C. is now ranked 5th in the nation among states with laws recognizing same-sex partners—only Massachusetts, Vermont, California and Connecticut have more expansive laws.

The D.C. Council has routinely passed domestic partner expansion bills unanimously. We expect that to continue, and look forward to the continued steady incremental steps to the point that all applicable rights and responsibilities of marriage are extended to domestic partners.

C. Marriage Protection Amendment

GLAA deplores right-wing congressional efforts, supported by President Bush, to write gay families out of the U.S. Constitution by means of the proposed Marriage Protection Amendment (MPA). In the name of defending families, advocates of MPA would harm many actual families by denying them legal protections taken for granted by other citizens. No families are helped by attacking gay families or by making them strangers to the law.

We are gratified that the amendment appears headed for defeat, but we are mortified that our own former congressman, Rev. Walter Fauntroy, has played a leading role in support of it. 20 We are saddened by the spectacle of him and other ministers trying to scapegoat gay people for the problems in straight people’s families. As Colbert I. King wrote in The Washington Post, "Even as their churches become older and populated with mostly unmarried women, and small children living apart from their fathers, these ministers of the cloth have the unmitigated gall to rail against two people in love who want to get married and stay married." 21

D. Anti-Marriage Efforts in D.C.

A bill in Congress was reintroduced by Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-VA) to prohibit the District of Columbia from legalizing same-sex marriage on January 6, 2005. H.R. 78 states, “In the District of Columbia, for all legal purposes, ‘marriage’ means the union of one man and one woman.” GLAA opposes this, and any other attempt by Congress to impose a ban on same-sex marriage in D.C. This is both an attack on gay people as well as on home rule and democracy in the District.

A ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage was proposed by a woman named Lisa L. Greene from northeast Washington. The initiative was withdrawn when the Board of Elections notified Ms. Greene that it was not in proper legislative format. We have anticipated that the initiative will be brought back, and we are prepared to fight it. GLAA expects all elected officials in D.C. to oppose such an initiative, whether or not they support same-sex marriage.

E. Recognition of Legal Relationships from Other Jurisdictions

The regulation established to implement the Health Care Benefits Expansion Act of 1992 failed to recognize domestic partnerships and similar legal structures created in other jurisdictions. It is prudent to extend full recognition to all such legal relationships whether they be called domestic partnerships, civil unions, reciprocal beneficiaries, or other status. Just as we would like relationships created under our laws recognized by other jurisdictions, we should be ready to recognize similar legal relationships from other places.

Recognition of existing also makes the District more attractive to potential residents. It demonstrates a recognition that we find their relationships valuable and worth supporting as a matter of public policy. At least four jurisdictions already recognize other partnerships: Cambridge, Massachusetts; Key West, Florida; Oakland, California; and West Hollywood, California. D.C. should do no less.

As with the issuance of marriage licenses, however, we must keep an eye on Congress. We advise the District not to take any actions which, by provoking congressional homophobes during an election year, would be likely to leave D.C.’s gay citizens worse off than they were before.

F. Right to Name Children

Parents should be free to choose any name for their child. Current law only allows the mother’s name, the father’s name, some combination of both, or a family name to be chosen when it is accompanied by an affidavit. Unfortunately, this creates a discriminatory situation for same-sex couples that don’t share the same name.

Only D.C. and seven other states have this restriction. D.C. Council member Kathleen Patterson introduced legislation in November 2002 to grant parents complete freedom in choosing names, but it was defeated in a close vote. Parents must be provided wide latitude in the naming of their children, one of the most intimate decisions parents can make.w

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PART V. PUBLIC EDUCATION AND YOUTH

A. Anti-Harassment Policy in D.C. Public Schools

Responding to efforts spearheaded by GLAA, the D.C. Council made harassment an explicit form of illegal discrimination in employment and educational institutions. In a complimentary fashion, the D.C. School Board has amended school policies to prohibit harassment and sexual harassment.

The school policy is now being implemented. Administrators, teachers and students must all be reacquainted with the policy several times a year. The harassment and the policies need to be explained to students in a variety of ways such as assemblies, skits, role-playing and other verbal and written means. The support and promotion of training programs is vital to the well-being of all students and staff in our public schools.

B. Vouchers

The Congressional imposition of a voucher system several years ago to subsidize parochial and other private schools in the District of Columbia at taxpayers' expense was an egregious assault upon home rule, the Constitutional principle of separation of church and state, and the District's gay and lesbian community.

We are especially aggrieved that the voucher legislation was championed by some of our own elected officials—Mayor Williams, former Education Committee Chair Chavous, and School Board President Cafritz—who thereby shattered their own previous public promises to oppose vouchers for private schools. At the time, voucher apologists cited these three officials as proof that the voucher program had the support of the District’s citizens. Since Councilmember Chavous was soundly defeated in 2004 and the other two officials are voluntarily retiring, that transparent excuse can no longer be seriously maintained.

District voters overwhelmingly rejected vouchers (89% to 11%) in the only public referendum on the voucher issue, in 1981. The gay and lesbian community was heavily opposed to vouchers then, and subsequent events have only underscored the rationale for our position.

Most if not all of the federal funds that are being used under the voucher system have wound up in the hands of Roman Catholic and other religiously-affiliated schools. As recent headlines amply demonstrate, the rigidly homophobic Catholic hierarchy is giving their anti-gay agenda an increasingly higher priority.

Although religious schools receiving vouchers are forbidden from practicing racial discrimination, gay and lesbian students, teachers, and employees of voucher-subsidized Catholic or other religious schools will enjoy none of the anti-discrimination protections of the District's Human Rights Act. At the same time, all students at such schools will be subjected to relentlessly homophobic teachings and practices, while being told they must follow the political dictates of religious authorities without question or dissent.

The Religious Right has long dreamt of the destruction of America's public schools so that all children will be forced into the clutches of religious extremists. The D.C. voucher system is an "experiment," all right—an experiment upon our liberties, the kind that our nation's Founders warned we must all resist. The next Congress should abolish the voucher program promptly. Meanwhile, D.C. voters must hold our own elected officials responsible for improving our common public schools.

C. Gay-Straight Alliances

Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) are student-initiated organizations in schools. Currently in D.C., only Wilson High School has a GSA. GSAs enrich a school's learning environment, help provide a safe and supportive climate for students, and foster tolerance among students. Teachers, administrators and public officials should encourage students to form GSAs and take action against officials who illegally interfere with GSAs in the public schools.

D. Sexual Education in D.C. Public Schools

1. Comprehensive Sexuality Education

The D.C. Board of Education rules mandate a comprehensive, age-appropriate sexual education program for all students including abstinence, anatomy, contraception, homosexuality, and discussion of the process of making personal decisions in matters of parenting and sexuality. 22 This policy is consistent with studies showing that comprehensive sexual education delays first sexual activity and greatly raises contraceptive use when people become sexual active.

Unfortunately, this policy is not being implemented. Instead, a federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage education program is in our schools. While these programs similarly delay first-sexual activity, they also decrease contraceptive use by teenagers as they discourage all contraception use, especially condoms. 23 The D.C. Department of Health has rejected a similar program. 24 Sexually transmitted diseases and especially HIV disease are on the rise in youth. Denying them the basic information that they need to protect themselves is unconscionable.

According to the CDC, "Comprehensive school-based HIV and sex education programs have been shown to delay the initiation of sexual intercourse, reduce the frequency of intercourse, reduce the number of sex partners, or increase the use of condoms or other contraceptives." 25

The abstinence-only-until-marriage program also excludes gay youth. Given the current state of most marriage laws, this program consigns gay students to permanent, lifelong celibacy, which is unacceptable. The abstinence-only-until-marriage program must be ended, and the comprehensive sexual education program mandated by the D.C. Board of Education needs to be implemented.

2. Presentations by Outside Organizations

Outside organizations, such as the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL), conduct training for students, teachers and administrators designed to reduce harassment in the schools. These groups should be welcomed by the schools and encouraged to make presentations.

3. School Libraries

School libraries should carry a wide range of books, including those that deal with homosexuality in a positive manner. Donated books by groups such as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) should be welcomed as they have been and encouraged as a low-cost means of expanding the library holdings.

E. Condom Availability

The District established a program in 1992 to make condoms available to students in the public schools. This was widely hailed as a sound public health measure to reduce the spread of HIV, other STDs and unwanted pregnancies. Rates of HIV infection in youth were then and still are on the rise. Condoms should be available from the Department of Health through school nurses. Unfortunately, this program has fallen by the wayside. Condoms are available sporadically and without uniform guidelines. Many D.C. public high schools don't provide condoms at all, and others impose restrictions that deter students from seeking or using condoms. This program needs to be revitalized.w

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Part VI. CONSUMERS AND BUSINESSES

A. Fighting Regulatory Abuse

Recent fights against gay-welcoming Washington businesses including Fab Lounge, 26 Hank’s Oyster Bar, 27 Cada Vez, 28 and Be Bar 29 have illustrated a problem in need of reform: the abuse of the regulatory process by “gangs of five” and other unreasonable and unrepresentative groups. It is of little comfort that this regulatory abuse is often instigated by people who are gay themselves. The problem is not anti-gay bigots but people, both gay and straight, who are unreasonably hostile to urban nightlife and who seek to turn vital city neighborhoods into quiet suburbs.

We call for regulatory reforms to prevent the gaming of the system by small numbers of people for the purpose of preventing legitimate businesses from operating. A notorious recent example was the entirely unjustified opposition to the highly popular Hank’s Oyster Bar at 17th and Q Streets by a “gang of five” for the purpose of winning concessions that they could not obtain on their merits. It should be plain to everyone by now that so-called “voluntary agreements” are usually nothing of the sort, but amount to a holdup of businesses by small numbers of cranks and NIMBYs.

Not only should the provision regarding “gangs of five” be re-examined, steps should be taken to prevent the abuse of anonymous complaints against licensed establishments. For example, while confidentiality of complaints should be preserved, the names of complainants should be recorded by regulators to help identify persons who repeatedly file complaints in a bad-faith effort to harass a particular business. Persons with a record of frequent complaints not sustained by the evidence should have their subsequent complaints flagged as suspicious, should receive a warning, and should be fined if their abuse of the system continues. If multiple investigations show a particular complaint against a business to be without merit, a moratorium of 90 to 120 days should be imposed on repeat investigations of substantially the same complaint. There is no reason why law-abiding business owners, who bear all of the financial risk while serving customers and generating tax revenue, should have to endure this sort of harassment, nor why taxpayers should have to subsidize personal vendettas.

We expect public officials who oppose discrimination to prove it by defending legitimate neighborhood businesses against both bigotry and regulatory abuse, including through reform of the ABC and other pertinent regulations.

B. Defending Adult Entertainment

As a city whose hospitality industry generates a sizable portion of its revenue, the District should defend and preserve the place of adult entertainment as part of the mix. Those who disapprove of nude dancing establishments are free to avoid patronizing them, but have no right to deny those choices to other adults. Busybodies should not be permitted to misuse the power of government to boss their neighbors on matters that are none of their business. We call on our leaders to defend the District’s diverse nightlife against those who would impose their moral views on the rest of the residents and visitors to this international and cosmopolitan city.

Since construction of a new baseball stadium on South Capitol Street destroyed the gay club zone that had occupied the site for more than three decades, a few steps have been taken toward allowing the displaced businesses to relocate elsewhere in the city, but more decisive action is needed. The District’s liquor control and zoning laws and regulations are highly restrictive of adult-oriented businesses, making it virtually impossible for the displaced clubs to relocate to an affordable spot without a special one-time waiver of the applicable restrictions. We are talking about legitimate, tax-generating businesses that have served District residents and visitors for decades in some cases. The city, having caused their dislocation, is honor bound to do what is necessary to permit their relocation. Indeed, the clubs were essentially exiled to the area off South Capitol Street in the early 1970s by then-MPD Chief Jerry Wilson, thereby creating an ethical and moral obligation for the city to facilitate relocation now.

The demagoguery earlier this year by Councilmember Vincent Orange concerning a possible location in the New York Avenue corridor was irresponsible, gratuitously inflammatory, prejudicial, unfair, and a gross abuse of his position. It is outrageous for the largest industrial-zoned area of the city to be made off-limits due to the stirring up of NIMBY forces by unscrupulous politicians. We expect the Council and the Mayor to craft a firm solution rather than abdicating and thereby granting regulatory bodies what amounts to a veto by other means.

C. Censorship of Videos

We strongly oppose Bill 16-125, the Youth Protection from Obscene Video Games Act, co-introduced by Councilmember Adrian Fenty and all of his colleagues except Kathy Patterson, all of whom ought to know better. The bill’s stated purpose is to protect adolescents and children from the corrupting influence of violent and/or obscene video games, despite the fact that studies have failed to show a persuasive connection between viewing videos and committing violent crimes. Similar censorship laws in other jurisdictions have consistently been overturned on constitutional grounds. We stand with our longtime allies in the ACLU against this latest assault on the First Amendment.w

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Notes

1 DC OUTfront Action Team, Amnesty International, official website,
http://www.dcoutfront.org/

2 “Good Cop, Bad Cop,” Metro Weekly, March 2, 2006,
http://www.metroweekly.com/gauge/?ak=2005

3 “The HIV/AIDS Epidemiologic Profile for the District of Columbia 2004,” D.C. Department of Health, 2004,
http://doh.dc.gov/doh/frames.asp?doc=/doh/lib/doh/services/administration_offices/hiv_aids/pdf/epi_profile_2004.pdf

4 “Prevalence of HIV Infection Among Young Adults in the United States: Results From the Add Health Study,” American Journal of Public Health, June 2006,
http://www.ajph.org/cgi/content/abstract/96/6/1091

5 “HIV/AIDS in the Nation’s Capital,” DC Appleseed Center, August 2005,
http://www.dcappleseed.org/projects/publications/HIV.pdf#search='Appleseed%20HIV'

6 Monica S. Ruiz, et. al., editors, "No Time to Lose: Getting More from HIV Prevention," National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2001,
http://books.nap.edu/catalog/9964.html

7 “Come Together DC: Get Screened for HIV,” D.C. Department of Health, Administration for HIV Policy and Programs, June 27, 2006,
http://dchealth.dc.gov/doh/frames.asp?doc=/doh/lib/doh/services/administration_offices/hiv_aids/pdf/june_27_flyer.pdf

8 “Evidence-Based Findings on the Efficacy of Syringe Exchange Programs: An Analysis from the Assistant Secretary for Health and Surgeon General of the Scientific Research Completed Since April 1998,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, March 17, 2000,
http://www.harmreduction.org/issues/surgeongenrev/surgreview.html

9 “District of Columbia HIV Prevention Two Year Plan 2003 – 2004,” HIV/AIDS Administration, D.C. Department of Health, and The HIV Prevention Community Planning Group, updated September 2003, p. 2.8

10 Ibid. p. 9.9

11 The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke, Office of the Surgeon General, U.S. Public Health Service, June 27, 2006,
http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/secondhandsmoke/

12 Loving v. Virginia, 388 US 1 (1967),
http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=388&invol=1

13 Gay and Lesbian Families in the United States: Same-Sex Unmarried Partner Households, Human Rights Campaign, August 22, 2001,
http://www.hrc.org/Content/ContentGroups/Publications1/census.pdf

14 Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987),
http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=CASE&court=US&vol=482&page=78

15 Defense of Marriage Act: Update to Prior Report, U.S. Government Accountability Office, January 23, 2004,
http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d04353r.pdf

16 Marriage Law in the District of Columbia, Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, December 2003,
http://www.glaa.org/archive/2004/glaamarriagereport.pdf

17 Rights and responsibilities of domestic partners have been expanded in the following bills:

18 Rights and Responsibilities of Domestic Partners in the District of Columbia,
http://www.glaa.org/resources/dprightsandresponsibilitiesindc.shtml

19 Bill 16-0671, Domestic Partnership Property Equity Act of 2006,
http://www.dccouncil.washington.dc.us/lims/getleg1.asp?legno=B16-0671
Bill 16-0590, Domestic Partnership Adoption Equality Act of 2006,
http://www.dccouncil.washington.dc.us/lims/getleg1.asp?legno=B16-0590
Bill 16-0032, Equitable Expansion of Health Care Benefits Amendment Act of 2005,
http://www.dccouncil.washington.dc.us/lims/getleg1.asp?legno=B16-0032

20 Alliance for Marriage, official website,
http://www.allianceformarriage.org/site/PageServer?pagename=bac_board

21 Colbert I. King, "‘Fix It, Brother,’" The Washington Post, Saturday, May 22, 2004,
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A46717-2004May21.html

22 DCMR Title 5, Section 2305

23 Peter Bearman and Hannah Brückner, "After the Promise: The long-term consequences of adolescent virginity pledges," Journal of Adolescent Health 2005; 36:271-278.

24 James A. Buford, letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, D.C. Department of Health, June 13, 2003,
http://www.glaa.org/archive/2003/buford2dhhs0812.shtml

25 "Combating Complacency in HIV Prevention," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention, July 24, 1998,
http://www.thebody.com/cdc/combat.html

26 "New gay bar set to open in Dupont," The Washington Blade, February 3, 2006,
http://www.washblade.com/2006/2-3/locallife/outindc/fab.cfm

27 "Lesbian faces opposition to new restaurant," The Washington Blade, April 15, 2005,
http://www.washblade.com/2005/4-15/news/localnews/faces.cfm

28 "Off-duty officials take photos of gay Latino club," The Washington Blade, July 29, 2005,
http://www.washblade.com/2005/7-29/news/localnews/cada-vez.cfm

29 "Catania, Graham troubled over Be Bar opposition," The Washington Blade, April 26, 2006,
http://www.washblade.com/2006/4-26/news/localnews/bebar.cfm


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