GLAA urges budget for Fire/EMS training on respect for transgendered citizens
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GLAA on Public Safety

GLAA urges budget for Fire/EMS training on respect for transgendered citizens

Fighting for Equal Rights Since 1971
P. O. Box 75265
Washington, D.C. 20013
(202) 667-5139


Delivered before the Judiciary Committee

MARCH 30, 2006

Chairman Mendelson, Councilmember Patterson and Fellow Residents:

My name is Craig Howell. I am a native Washingtonian currently living in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. I am happy to be with you today to present this testimony on behalf of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington (GLAA), the nation’s oldest continuously active gay and lesbian civil rights organization.

We will be celebrating our 35th anniversary with a reception at the Washington Plaza Hotel on Thomas Circle on Thursday evening, April 20. As always, we will be using this occasion to present our annual Distinguished Service Awards to individuals and organizations who have helped to enhance the quality of life for the District’s gay and lesbian community. I am extremely pleased that one of this year’s Distinguished Service Awards is going to you, Mr. Mendelson, in recognition of your many years of dedicated leadership on the Council on behalf of our community. Mrs. Patterson is a previous recipient.

We are testifying today to help focus the committee’s attention on the serious problem of widespread bias against our transgendered residents displayed too often in two of our public safety agencies: the Metropolitan Police Department and, to a much greater and deeper extent, the Fire/EMS Department. Specifically, we urge this committee to use the FY 2007 budget review and approval process to direct the latter department to institute a broad training program on how to treat transgendered Washingtonians, both residents and department employees, with dignity and respect.

On February 23, a seminar sponsored by OUTfront, 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. Stories about this meeting were published in both Metro Weekly and Washington Blade. 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. It all reminds me too vividly of how our police department similarly scorned and stereotyped gay men when I began my own gay activist work back in the 70s. It will take much work to uproot transphobia in the MPD, and we must begin soon.

The transphobia in the Fire/EMS Department is even more prevalent and long-standing, dating back at least to its grotesque mishandling of the Tyra Hunter case in August 1995 and for many years thereafter, and aggravated and reaffirmed in the Department’s incredible mistreatment of Kenda Kirby just within the last few years. A few months ago, your colleague Councilmember David Catania asked Fire Chief Adrian Thompson for a copy of all the materials the Department uses in its Tyra Hunter Human Diversity Training Program. Mr. Catania was kind enough to share his copy of those documents with GLAA. We were frankly shocked that this training includes absolutely nothing about the GLBT community, other than to note that we are protected from discrimination by the DC Human Rights Act. Mr. Catania is not satisfied with this, and neither are we.

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 Fire/EMS 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 will be pressing those seeking the office of Mayor to demonstrate their own commitment to addressing and resolving the Fire/EMS Department’s problem firmly and without reservation.

Because of Chief Ramsey’s long-established leadership on wrestling with any signs of anti-gay or anti-transgendered bigotry within the MPD, we do not feel that this committee needs to take any extraordinary steps to tell him how to cope with this situation. Your strong interest and continued oversight on this matter will of course be necessary and appropriate.

Fire/EMS Chief Thompson, in contrast, has done nothing to deserve the kind of deference Chief Ramsey has earned. Accordingly, we ask that specific language be inserted into the FY 2007 budget ordering this Department 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 this 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.

Thank you. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

[Note from Craig Howell: Chairman Mendelson asked me one good question: How much money are we talking about to earmark for the kind of training program we’re recommending? Picking up on his reference to the GLLU’s experience with training, I said they should be consulted for information that would be useful in devising an exact figure. I said a few hundred thousand should probably be sufficient, but the amount would have to be manageable. If funding could start in FY 06 by means of reprogramming, so much the better, but no later than 07 in any case, and funding might have to be spread over more than one year.]

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