03 November 2008

Update on LGBT rights in DC

I realize blogging has been light this month, and for that I apologize, but I did want to (perhaps belatedly) alert your attention to some very local issues that have been going on.

The DC Trans Coalition (DCTC) has been running a long campaign to improve human rights protections within the district for transgendered and gender non-conforming individuals. While the DC Human Rights Act now includes those protections, and progress has been made in getting the Metropolitan Police to improve their policies in this area, engaging the DC Department of Corrections (DOC) has been far more challenging. This summer, after an Inspector-General's report found the DOC to be out of compliance with the law, and after DCTC and DOC had already been negotiating some, the DOC convinced the Office of Human Rights to propose new regulations that would exempt it from the Human Rights Act, which would magically clear up the little problem of their not-complying with the law.

Clearly, this couldn't stand. During the comment period, dozens of local and national organizations wrote to oppose the regulatory change, and DCTC also collected comments from around 200 citizens through an online petition. Out of all that, not one single response agreed with the proposed rules, and thus the Office of Human Rights and the DC Commission on Human Rights did not move forward with enactment. A local resident had also filed a complaint against DOC policy, and received a response in early October that made several specious arguments aimed at proving that the DOC was doing nothing wrong, and in fact was exemplary in its choice of housing people based on their genitalia and nothing else.

All of these various documents pointed the way back to the desk of DC's acting attorney general Peter Nickles. The mayor's general counsel until he forced the resignation of then-attorney general Linda Singer, Nickles has been a controversial character on any number of counts, including his failure to actually live in the District. But his fooling around with the Human Rights Act and a legal opinion he wrote opposing a clarification of domestic partner parenting rights led the DCTC and the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA) to oppose his nomination to be permanent AG.

Showdown: DC Council Chamber, Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, October 17. Nickles' confirmation hearing ran for roughly eight hours that Friday, and included some 20 or more witnesses, including representatives of DCTC and GLAA. DCTC members in the audience came equipped with bright neon stickers that said "No to Nickles" which garnered the attention of some Council members. After testimony, each member grilled Nickles on this issue, and expressed extreme concern that he would mess with the Human Rights Act, which is cherished as being among the most progressive in the nation.

Since then, DCTC, GLAA and others have met with 8 of the 13 Council members' offices, and had an initial meeting with Nickles himself. We can be hopeful for a positive outcome, but there is much still to be done. Regardless, this issue has received scant media attention since this summer, so I thought I would bring it to light.

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