Responses of Phil Mendelson to GLAA 2006 Questionnaire
for DC Council Candidates
1. Will you support funding for mandatory gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) sensitivity and diversity training for all members of the Fire/EMS Department?
Yes. While there is not a separate budget line-item for this training, I will work with the Fire Chief to make sure that the Tyra Hunter trainer program addresses GLBT sensitivity in more than just name. Funding may be less of an issue than leadership in the department. I will work to make sure that we have both.
2. Will you call on the new Mayor to appoint a new Fire/EMS Department Chief who is committed to rooting out the Department’s deeply entrenched homophobia and transphobia?
Yes. I believe that members of the GLBT community should be involved in the interview process for the next Fire Chief, and I will ask the next Mayor to include community vetting. I will also question the next chief about commitment to ending discrimination in the department at the confirmation hearing.
3. Will you support a budget for the Office of Police Complaints large enough to continue to avoid developing a backlog of cases?
Yes. As chair of the Committee on the Judiciary, I reversed the $127,000 in salary cuts from the Mayor’s budget of the Office of Police Complaints (OPC) and found additional funds for a total increase of $217,000 over the FY2006 budget. We will need to look at the budget every year to make sure that the OPC has the resources necessary to keep up with the case load. I am committed to making sure that this office can function effectively and help provide confidence to our residents that the police will be held accountable for inappropriate actions.
4. Will you oppose legislation creating so-called “prostitution-free zones,” which would give the police, who routinely assume that every transgendered person is a prostitute until proven otherwise, virtually unlimited power to harass our transgendered residents?
Yes. The Omnibus Public Safety Act of 2005 submitted by the Mayor was significantly flawed, as pointed out in testimony from the ACLU, Different Avenues, and GLAA. I removed the provision of the bill that allowed the police to arrest or harass people based solely on their appearance, which should address the most significant problems of the legislation. However, there is still a need to help residents deal with the detrimental effects of street prostitution in their neighborhoods. The revised bill, now adopted as an emergency, balances the need to protect neighborhoods and the potential abuse of transgender people. However, I will monitor the impact of the legislation through oversight hearings and work with the Chief of Police to see if retraining of police officers is need to avoid unprofessional behavior in dealing with transgender people. If it appears that there is abuse that cannot be addressed through oversight and appropriate training of officers, I will look at amending the law.
AIDS and Public Health
5. Do you agree that the drive to make HIV testing routine among District residents should include funding for counseling and referrals to treatment facilities for those testing positive?
Yes. Counseling and referrals are the bridge between testing and treatment. It is very important for D.C. to make sure that all of the health services under our control offer these basic services.
6. Are you committed to continuing and expanding the District’s condom distribution program?
Yes. AHPP has a goal of distributing 600,000 condoms per year, barely more than one per person. In 2004, they distributed 390,000, and in 2005 only 125,000. This is shameful. I support making condoms available in all public health centers, hospitals, bars, nightclubs, and hair salons. I also support needle exchange programs and Prevention Works! efforts. While I believe it is appropriate to discourage sexual activity among teenagers and drug addiction among everybody, it is foolish and costly public policy to ignore the reality that such behavior occurs. The policy should be to intervene on the side of public health -- supply condoms and needles. Simultaneously, the government should promote more healthy behavior through public education. The District government does far too little public education on public health issues.
7. The District is being forced by the federal government to switch from a unique identifier system to a names reporting system for people testing positive for HIV. Will you support legislation to strengthen our medical privacy laws, such as by creating a private right of action for those whose confidentiality is violated by District government employees or contractors?
Yes. Since the HIV epidemiological surveillance data will effectively be a lifetime registry, it must have the highest protections for confidentiality that we can reasonably provide. People must have confidence in the public health system’s confidentiality or we will risk people avoiding this important medical test.
8. Will you support a budget for the Office of Human Rights (OHR) large enough to allow it to reduce to 270 days the average gap between the time that a discrimination complaint is filed and the time OHR issues a finding of probable cause?
Yes. I pledge to continue providing the funds OHR needs to reduce the time it takes to reach a finding of probable cause. D.C. Code § 2-1403.05 requires that a finding of probable cause be issued in 120 days. While we may not be able to get to that level of performance in the short term, we should have that as our goal. People must not be dissuaded from filing complaints because of bureaucratic delays.
9. Will you block ceremonial resolutions and otherwise decline to honor individuals or organizations that promote any sort of bigotry?
Yes. Ceremonial resolutions should not be used to honor people at odds with the values and laws of the District. People and organizations who promote bigotry do not deserve to be honored. I will appreciate your help in identifying people or organizations who should not be honored.
10. Are you committed to publicizing and enforcing the provisions of the D.C. Human Rights Act forbidding discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression?
Yes. I was pleased to co-sponsor the Human Rights Clarification Amendment Act of 2005. I will be introducing legislation to amend the hate crimes law to conform to this legislation after the recess. The Office of Human Rights will need to update their posters to conform to the new provisions and make sure that every workplace and school has posted them. I will support additional funding, if needed, to make this happen. We also may need to correct the implementing regulations if the First Amendment issues raised by the ACLU and GLAA are not adequately addressed by the administration.
Marriage and Family
11. Do you support legal recognition of marriages between partners of the same sex?
Yes. I support legalization of same-sex marriages and support GLAA’s strategy of moving carefully to achieve this goal. This has been my position since my first campaign in 1996. I was also a co-introducer of Resolution 15-514, the "Sense of the Council on Opposing a Federal Marriage Amendment Resolution of 2004" opposing the amendment to write discrimination into the Constitution. When the community leaders agree that the time is right to try to pass full marriage rights, I will be happy to introduce the legislation and work for its passage. I will not support grandstanding or symbolic gestures on the issue that may set us back or result in restrictions on the domestic partnership program.
12. Will you support legislation in the District to continue expanding the existing domestic partnership program to include all relevant rights and responsibilities of marriage in D.C. law?
Yes. I have voted for all nine domestic partnership expansion bills that have passed so far, and I wrote and passed the Domestic Partnership Equality Act of 2005 (DCEA). GLAA President Christopher Neff in presenting the Distinguished Service Award to me, said that the DCEA “…is a collective triumph, an acceleration of the incremental progress we have worked on these past years.” I added domestic partnership rights and responsibilities to the Omnibus Public Safety Act of 2006. I also recently held a hearing on the Domestic Partnership Adoption Equality Act of 2006 and Domestic Partnership Property Equity Act of 2006, and am working on marking up those bills this October. I will continue working with GLAA on incrementally and quietly expanding the domestic partnership program.
13. Will you support the legislative and/or regulatory changes necessary to ensure that the District recognizes civil unions, domestic partnerships and similar legal relationships established in other jurisdictions?
Yes. Couples should not need to worry if their rights will be respected as they travel from state-to-state or to and from the District. However, this will need to be done carefully, so as not to cause a set-back in the rights that we already have. I will work with GLAA and other community leaders to develop a strategy to move us forward and introduce legislation when appropriate.
Public Education and Youth
14. Do you oppose both federal and local voucher programs that fund students in religious schools that are beyond the protections of the D.C. Human Rights Act?
Yes. I opposed the Mayor’s efforts to lobby the Congress for a District voucher program. I do not believe taxpayer funded programs should be allowed to function outside of the protections guaranteed by our Human Rights Act.
15. Do you oppose the use of either federal or District taxpayer funds to promote “abstinence only until marriage” sex education that undermines safer-sex programs by discouraging the use of condoms and that effectively tells gay and lesbian students that they must remain celibate forever because they may not legally marry?
Yes. There are places where an abstinence message can be effective and useful. However, it is not, and should not be used as, a substitute for thorough, frank, and age-appropriate comprehensive sexual education curriculum, and safer-sex and harm reduction efforts.
Consumers and Businesses
16. Do you support the relocation of the many gay bars and businesses that were displaced by the new ballpark, even if local NIMBYs and homophobes oppose them?
Yes. The use of eminent domain morally obligates the District to find new locations for the displaced businesses. The adult nature of some of the businesses or the sexual orientation of their clientele should not be a reason to fail to provide for their needs, or allow them to be forced out of business. However, reasonable accommodations for neighbors, ANCs and neighborhood associations must be made to balance everyone’s rights.
17. Will you support legislation to curb the abuses of NIMBYs who are now allowed to file an endless series of baseless complaints to harass or extort bars and restaurants?
Yes. However, the actual text of legislation will determine my vote. Harassment of businesses must not be permitted. I am open to legislation that will help businesses, but also keep open fair and equitable laws, regulations, zoning, and license challenges by neighbors, ANCs, and neighborhood associations. Some restrictions may be warranted against people who are found to be abusing the police and regulatory systems to harass businesses, much as nuisance litigants are prevented from filing suits in court without prior permission. This would need to be done with great concern for due process so that community activists are not unduly restricted.
18. Do you oppose the Youth Protection from Obscene Video Games Act (B16-0125), a clone of other laws that have consistently been struck down by the courts on constitutional grounds?
Yes. Although I co-introduced this bill in order to help parents control what video games are played by their children, the legislation takes an approach that appears to violate the First Amendment. Testimony on the bill last year made clear that there are significant problems with this bill, much like similar legislation in California, Michigan, and Illinois. Courts in California and Illinois have already ruled against those laws, so it makes no sense to continue with this approach and subject ourselves to similar unwinable lawsuits. The bill has not been marked-up by the Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, but I will oppose it if it reaches the full Council without significant re-writing to address the constitutional issues.
Your record is part of your rating. Please list any actions that you have taken that may help illustrate your record on behalf of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders.
I was very pleased to be awarded GLAA’s Distinguished Service Award this year.
I have voted consistently in favor of legislation supported by GLAA and the gay community, and I have worked hard to be a leader on human rights issues.
I wrote, marked-up, and got the rest of the Council to pass the Domestic Partner Equality Act of 2005. I worked closely with GLAA on the strategy for passing the bill and avoiding publicity that might have generated opposition in Congress.
I added domestic partnership rights and responsibilities to the Omnibus Public Safety Act of 2006. I recently held a hearing on the Domestic Partnership Property Equity Act of 2006 and the Domestic Partnership Adoption Equality Act of 2006. I plan to mark up these bills after the summer recess. I co-sponsored the Health Care Benefits Expansion Amendment Act of 2005. I have voted for every bill to expand domestic partnerships that has come before the Council.
I co-sponsored the Human Rights Clarification Amendment Act of 2005.
I was an original co-sponsor of the Smokefree Workplaces Act of 2003 and an introducer of the Department of Health Functions Amendment Act of 2005, which eventually became law.
I wrote the HIV Unique Identifier System Amendment Act of 2002, and reintroduced this in 2005, to protect the privacy of people with HIV. Unfortunately, we were unable to get the bill passed out of committee. The bill has become moot with the pending elimination of the unique identifier system, but I will continue to work to protect medical privacy.
This year I restored the funding cut for the Office of Police Complaints, and I increased the budget over the previous year.
Prior to being elected to the Council, I worked for Councilmember Jim Nathanson during his handling of Domestic Partnership legislation as he chaired the Government Operations Committee in 1992 and sodomy repeal as he chaired the Judiciary Committee in 1993.
I have tried to be a friend to the GLBT community, and I will continue to work with the community to advance human rights.