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D.C. requires insurers to cover gender reassignment

Vincent Gray, transgender, gay news, Washington Blade, gender reassignment

‘Treatment of individuals diagnosed with gender dysphoria is a covered benefit in all individual and group insurance plans in the District of Columbia, including Medicaid,’ said Mayor Vincent Gray. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced on Thursday that health insurance companies doing business in the District must provide full coverage for medically recognized treatments to help transgender people change their gender, including gender reassignment surgery.

At a news conference in a meeting room outside his office, Gray said the city’s Department of Insurance, Securities, and Banking issued a bulletin directing insurers to recognize a condition known as gender dysphoria, or gender identity disorder, as a medical condition to be covered by insurance plans.

Transgender advocates note that the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association recognize gender dysphoria as a diagnosable condition through which physicians and other health care professional provide a wide range of approved medical treatments to assist people in transitioning from one gender to another.

“Today, the District takes a major step toward leveling the playing field for individuals diagnosed with gender dysphoria,” Gray said. “These residents should not have to pay exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses for medically necessary treatment when those without gender dysphoria do not,” he said.

“I’m clarifying today that treatment of individuals diagnosed with gender dysphoria is a covered benefit in all individual and group insurance plans in the District of Columbia, including Medicaid,” Gray said.

Gray’s remark drew a prolonged, standing ovation from LGBT activists, including transgender advocates, who gathered in the mayor’s ceremonial bill-signing room where Gray held his news conference.

“Those who know me know how proud I am that the District continues to be on the cutting edge and on the forefront when it relates to equality and fairness for its LGBTQ residents,” Gray said.

The bulletin, which the city sent to insurance companies on the day of Gray’s announcement, cites the D.C. Human Rights Act as among the legal grounds being used to require insurers to cover transgender related treatments. The Human Rights Act, among other categories, bans discrimination based on gender identity and expression as well as sexual orientation.

The bulletin cites the D.C. Unfair Insurance Trade Practices Act of 2001 as further grounds for not allowing insurers to exclude coverage of trans-related treatments from their insurance plans.

Among those speaking at the news conference was Mara Keisling, executive director of the D.C.-based National Center for Transgender Equality, which worked with the mayor’s office and insurance department officials to help draft the four-page bulletin.

Keisling said Gray’s action places D.C. among just five states that have adopted similar policies requiring insurers to cover treatments such as gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy to assist an individual’s transition to another gender.

Those states are California, Oregon, Colorado, Vermont and Connecticut.

“This is really significant,” Keisling told the Blade after the news conference. “It means that transgender people in D.C. now can make their health care decisions with their doctor rather than with their insurance companies,” she said.

Mara Keisling, NCTE, National Center for Transgender Equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Asked what treatments are involved in a gender transition, Keisling said experts with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards of Care (WPATH) have developed a wide range of treatments that may vary from person to person depending on individual needs.

“It’s a whole range of transition-related care — everything from diagnostic visits to experts in the field,” Keisling said. “It can mean hormone treatments. It can mean lab tests to make sure your hormones are working correctly and not causing any harm. There are various kinds of surgeries that transgender people may need. So it covers a whole range of things.”

D.C. transgender activist Andy Bowen, who recently joined the staff of the NCTE as a policy associate, called the D.C. initiative announced by Gray the most comprehensive among the states that have adopted similar policies.

“If you look at some of the other states they say they’re not going to cover some treatments,” Bowen said. “D.C. has not done that. It just said that if it’s one of the WPATH treatments we’re going to cover it. And that’s amazing to hear a government be that unequivocal about it.”

Philip Barlow, the city’s Associate Commissioner of Insurance, said after the news conference that requiring health insurance companies to cover the medical treatments for transgender people would likely result in a small increase in premiums over a period of time.

“It will just be incorporated into the general cost and utilization that insurers use in coming up with future rate increases,” he said. “But we don’t really anticipate it to have a significant impact on the rates.”

Michael Silverman, executive director of the New York-based Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, praised Gray for taking action that he said would “end health care discrimination against transgender residents of Washington, D.C.”

The bulletin issued by the city’s Department of Insurance that directs insurers to provide full coverage for medically approved treatments to transgender individuals in D.C. can be obtained here.

28
Feb
2014

Gray, Bowser in tight race

Vincent Gray, Muriel Bowser, mayor, race, gay news, Washington Blade

Mayor Vincent Gray and Council member Muriel Bowser lead a slate of candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in next week’s primary. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

Supporters of Mayor Vincent Gray (D) and his main rival, City Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), were making a final appeal to LGBT voters for support this week just days before the city’s April 1 Democratic primary.

Two polls released on Tuesday and a separate poll released one week earlier each show Gray and Bowser in a statistical tie and far ahead of the other six mayoral candidates.

Bowser’s dramatic rise in the polls over the past month has prompted her campaign to step up its effort to urge supporters of the other candidates — especially Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) — to switch their backing to Bowser.

Although most observers believe the LGBT vote will be divided among several candidates, some activists say LGBT voters could be a deciding factor in the race if they coalesce behind either Gray or Bowser.

One of the polls released this week by the Washington Post shows Bowser with 30 percent support from a sample of likely voters, with Gray receiving 27 percent. An NBC4/Marist poll also released on Tuesday shows Bowser with 28 percent and Gray with 26 percent.

The poll released one week earlier and commissioned by WAMU Radio and the Washington City Paper showed Gray and Bowser each receiving 27 percent. All three polls show that Gray’s support has largely remained at the same level it was more than two months ago while Bowser’s support has risen by more than 10 points.

According to the NBC4/Marist poll released on Tuesday, among likely Democratic voters, Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) was in third place with 11 percent; Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) was in fourth place with 9 percent; and Busboys and Poets Restaurant owner and progressive activist Andy Shallal and Council member Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) each had 4 percent.

Attorney and former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis had 2 percent and businessman Carlos Allen had less than 1 percent. Fifteen percent of the respondents were undecided. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percent.

“The latest polls are showing what we knew all along — that this is a two-candidate race,” said gay activist and businessman Everett Hamilton, who’s supporting Bowser. “All the candidates are great on our issues and we are really fortunate to have an embarrassment of riches among the candidates,” he said.

“So this election is really not about whether someone will be good on LGBT issues,” Hamilton said. “It’s about things that need to be better in this city.”

Transgender activist Jeri Hughes, who supports Gray, said she was troubled that some opponents of Gray are arguing that people shouldn’t vote for him because of the pending criminal investigation into an illegal shadow campaign on the mayor’s behalf in 2010.

At least four people associated with Gray’s 2010 election campaign, including businessman Jeffrey Thompson, have pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to the raising of more than $660,000 in illegal campaign funds. But despite statements by U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen that more is to come in his ongoing investigation, which began four years ago, no charges have been filed against Gray, who strongly denies any involvement in illegal campaign activities.

“I don’t think the people moving toward Bowser are LGBT people for the most part,” Hughes said. “This is due to allegations against the mayor. Nothing has been proven. I’m very disappointed that so many people are buying into innuendo,” she said.

“I can’t turn away my support because of innuendo,” said Hughes. “I believe the mayor is of the utmost integrity and most people I know in the LGBT community share this view.”

Hughes and Lane Hudson, a local gay Democratic activist who founded an independent LGBT group supporting Gray called Gray Pride, are among a number of activists who consider Gray’s record on LGBT issues to be the strongest in the nation for a big city mayor.

Transgender activists have described as groundbreaking a first-of-its-kind city job training program initiated by Gray aimed at low-income transgender residents, who often face prejudice and discrimination when seeking employment. Also considered groundbreaking by activists was the mayor’s recent directive requiring health insurance companies doing business in the city to cover gender reassignment surgery and other procedures deemed medically necessary for transgender people in the process of transitioning.

Hudson, however, acknowledges that the campaign finance scandal has chipped away at Gray’s support among voters, including some LGBT voters.

“It will be a close race,” Hudson said. “The turnout will be crucial. The more activist types are favoring Gray,” he said. “I feel he is getting around half to a majority of LGBT votes.”

Evans and Wells supporters, meanwhile, questioned whether the latest polls accurately reflect the view of the people who will actually turn out to vote. They urged supporters to remain loyal to their respective candidate in a hotly contested election with an outcome that seasoned political observers, including LGBT advocates, said was unpredictable, in part, because the voter turnout is expected to be at an all-time low.

A low turnout is expected, according to political observers, because voters are unaccustomed to having a primary – or any city election – in April. In a controversial action, the D.C. Council voted last year to move the primary from September to April 1.

In addition to Democratic candidates, gay Libertarian Party candidate Bruce Majors is running unopposed in his party’s mayoral primary on April 1, ensuring that he will be on the ballot in the November general election.

Also running unopposed in the April 1 primary is Statehood-Green Party candidate Faith, a former Broadway musician who has run for public office several times in the past.

At a campaign rally Monday night at the D.C. gay bar Number 9, Evans reminded the mostly gay crowd that he has been on the front lines in support of LGBT rights since he began his tenure on the Council in 1991 when he led the effort to repeal the city’s sodomy law. In his GLAA questionnaire response, Evans lists nearly two-dozen LGBT-related bills he has introduced, co-sponsored or supported that have passed since he became a Council member.

Jack Evans, Washington Blade, gay news

‘I’m the alternative that you need,’ said Jack Evans. ‘And I can win if you vote for me.’ (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Evans said he’s telling anyone who will listen – including LGBT voters – that he has a shot at winning if everyone familiar with his long record of accomplishment on a wide range of issues votes for him.

“What I’m saying to people is I’m the alternative that you need,” Evans said. “And I can win if you vote for me.”

All of the candidates except Allen have expressed strong support for LGBT rights, including marriage equality. Although Allen has expressed general support on LGBT issues during candidate forums, he received a “0” rating from the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance for failing to return a questionnaire asking about specific issues. The non-partisan GLAA rates on a scale of -10 to +10.

Gray received a +10, the highest possible rating from GLAA. He received 58 percent of the vote in the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s mayoral endorsement forum, falling four votes short of the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement under the club’s rules. With support from Stein Club members divided among the candidates, the club did not endorse anyone for mayor.

Wells received a +9.5 GLAA rating; Evans received a +9, Shallal received a +6, Bowser received a +5.5, Lewis received a +4.5, and Orange received a +3.

The mayoral candidates responding to the GLAA questionnaire each expressed support for a wide range of LGBT issues and initiatives proposed by the non-partisan GLAA. GLAA President Rick Rosendall noted that none of the mayoral candidates were designated as hostile or in opposition to a significant LGBT issue.

Wells supporters point to his role as chair of the Council’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, where he has pushed through a number of important LGBT-related bills, including a measure easing the ability of transgender people to obtain a new birth certificate to reflect their new gender. Wells has also monitored police handing of anti-LGBT hate crimes in a series of oversight hearings on the subject.

Orange supporters, including LGBT backers from his home base in Ward 5, note that, among other things, he helped push through legislation to create the city’s Office of GLBT Affairs and worked with gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) in securing Council passage of an amendment that added transgender people to the D.C. Human Rights Act’s prohibitions against discrimination.

In addition to being a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, Shallal said he regularly arranges for his Busboys and Poets restaurants to host and sponsor LGBT-related events, including “a monthly queer open series that encourages self-expression for the LGBT community.”

Lewis said that as a senior State Department official in the Obama administration, she backed then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s implementation of domestic partnership benefits and spousal privileges to same-sex partners of U.S. Foreign Service employees. “I was proud to have been a part of the administration that made it possible for landmark legislation like the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act to become law,” she said on her GLAA questionnaire response.

A breakdown of the GLAA rating scores for each of the candidates and their questionnaire responses can be accessed at glaa.org.

26
Mar
2014

Lawsuit by Gallaudet diversity official dismissed

Angela McCaskill, Wyndal Gordon, Maryland marriage petition, same sex marriage, gay marriage, Gallaudet University, Washington Blade, gay news

Angela McCaskill was suspended after she signed a petition to place Maryland’s same-sex marriage law on the ballot in a voter referendum. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A federal judge has dismissed a discrimination and defamation lawsuit filed by Gallaudet University’s former chief diversity officer against the university and two out lesbian faculty members who were accused of damaging her reputation by implying she held anti-gay views.

The lawsuit stemmed from an October 2012 decision by the university’s president to suspend Angela McCaskill from her job as Associate Provost of Diversity and Inclusion after news surfaced that she signed a petition to place Maryland’s same-sex marriage law on the ballot in a voter referendum.

McCaskill, a Maryland resident, stated at the time that she signed the petition when it was being circulated at her church. She said her intention was to allow Maryland voters to decide on the gay marriage question and that she had taken no public position on the issue.

Some of the university’s gay students expressed concern that McCaskill’s decision to sign the petition was contrary to her role as chief diversity officer, which they said called for her to be sensitive to students and faculty who supported marriage equality.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, accused Gallaudet faculty members Martina “MJ” Bienvenu and her partner Kendra Smith of pressuring Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz into violating the D.C. Human Rights Act by illegally suspending McCaskill.

The lawsuit called the suspension a form of retaliation against McCaskill for her decision to exercise her constitutional right to sign a petition on a pending civic matter.

In a 24-page opinion handed down on April 14, U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg approved a motion by Gallaudet’s attorneys calling for the dismissal of the case on grounds that McCaskill “has not sufficiently pled facts to support any of her claims” of retaliation or discrimination.

Among other things, McCaskill’s attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, argued that the university’s decision to suspend McCaskill for signing the petition violated a provision of the D.C. Human Rights Act that bans discrimination based on “political affiliation.”

But Boasberg noted that the Human Rights Act defines “political affiliation” as belonging to or endorsing a political party. He said that provision of the act clearly didn’t apply to the university’s action toward McCaskill.

The judge similarly ruled that the university’s decision to suspend McCaskill because it believed her decision to sign a petition placing the gay marriage law before voters, where it could have been overturned, did not violate the Human Rights Act’s ban on discrimination based on her religion, race, or marital status as she claimed in the lawsuit.

McCaskill stated in her lawsuit that lesbian faculty member Bienvenu confronted her at a meeting and criticized her for signing an “anti-gay” petition.

McCaskill “attempted to shoehorn a First Amendment argument into her complaint against Gallaudet by dressing it up as an employment discrimination allegation,” Boasberg said in his decision.

“While a citizen has an unfettered right to petition her government, such a constitutional claim aimed at Gallaudet cannot succeed here, as the university and its employees are private parties not subject to the First Amendment’s strictures,” he said.

Boasberg’s ruling dismissing the lawsuit came several months after Gordon, McCaskill’s attorney, dismissed Bienvenu and Smith from the lawsuit while raising the possibility of filing a separate lawsuit against them in D.C. Superior Court.

Gordon couldn’t immediately be reached to determine whether he and McCaskill plan to file a separate lawsuit against Bienvenu and Smith. Justin M. Flint, the attorney representing Bienvenu and Smith, didn’t immediately return a call from the Blade seeking comment.

23
Apr
2014

Gallaudet official sues after marriage flap

Angela McCaskill, Wyndal Gordon, Maryland marriage petition, same sex marriage, gay marriage, Gallaudet University, Washington Blade, gay news

Gallaudet University Chief Diversity Officer Angela McCaskill (left) says the school discriminated against her after she signed an anti-gay marriage petition last year. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Gallaudet University’s chief diversity officer filed a $16 million discrimination and defamation lawsuit on Sept. 27 against the university and two out lesbian faculty members on grounds that they “tarnished” her professional reputation by implying she held anti-gay views.

The university’s president suspended Angela McCaskill from her job as Associate Provost of Diversity and Inclusion last October after news surfaced that she signed a petition to place Maryland’s same-sex marriage law on the November ballot in a voter referendum.

McCaskill, a Maryland resident, explained at the time that she signed the petition when it was circulated at her church. She said her intention was to allow Maryland voters to decide on the gay marriage question and that she had taken no public position on the controversial issue.

The 39-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia accuses Gallaudet faculty members Martina “MJ” Bienvenu and Kendra Smith of pressuring Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz into violating the D.C. Human Rights act by illegally suspending McCaskill.

The lawsuit calls the suspension a form of retaliation against McCaskill for her decision to exercise her constitutional right to sign a petition on a pending civic matter.

A Gallaudet spokesperson told the Washington Post the university would have no comment on the lawsuit. Bienvenu and Smith couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. At the time of McCaskill’s suspension last October the two women told the Blade through an intermediary that they had no comment on the matter.

McCaskill’s lawsuit comes nine months after Gallaudet President Hurwitz reinstated McCaskill to her job in January. McCaskill states in her lawsuit that Hurwitz reinstated her to a slightly different position that represents a demotion.

“[O]n or about October 7-8, 2012, co-defendant, Bienvenu, and her same-sex partner, Smith, began making false and malicious statements that plaintiff was ‘anti-gay,’” the lawsuit says.

“[A]nd on those same dates, from the university campus, co-defendants, Bienvenu and Smith, falsely reported to PlanetDeafQueer.com, a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (‘LGBT’) publication, that plaintiff, Gallaudet University Chief Diversity Officer, was ‘anti-gay’ in an article entitled ‘Gallaudet’s Chief Diversity Officer Sign’s Anti-gay Petition,’” the lawsuit states.

It adds, “Co-defendant, Bienvenu, and her same-sex partner, Smith, further falsely stated, ‘[S]igning that petition is an act against many of Gallaudet’s constituents.’”

The lawsuit charges Gallaudet University and Bienvenu and Smith with one count of a D.C. Human Rights Act violation, two counts of defamation, two counts of intentional infliction of emotional distress, and one count of invasion of privacy.

The suit seeks $2.5 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages for the first count of a Human Rights Act violation and $1.5 million in compensatory and $1 million in punitive damages for each of the remaining counts. The total amount of damages sought by the lawsuit comes to $16 million.

The decision to suspend McCaskill came at a time when LGBT students at the school raised concerns about the appropriateness of McCaskill appearing to side with anti-gay groups that were pushing the ballot referendum while she served as chief diversity officer, a position thought to be a manifestation of the school’s support for equality for everyone, including gay people.

“The plaintiff explained that her signature on the petition solely represented her desire to have the same-sex marriage issue vetted through public discourse so that Maryland voters could become more understanding, informed, and enlightened about the issue once they entered the polls,” the lawsuit says.

“Plaintiff further explained that it was not an ‘anti-gay’ petition and plaintiff’s signature thereupon did not express an opinion on same-sex marriage one way or another,” it says.

According to the lawsuit, Bienvenu acted in a hostile way toward McCaskill after the two met last October at Bienvenu’s request to discuss revelations that McCaskill signed the marriage petition.

“…Co-defendant Bienvenu responded in a very animated manner with her sign-voice elevated, exclaiming, ‘I am really disgusted with you!” the lawsuit says. “She asked rhetorically, ‘Are you still a member of that church?’ and then criticized plaintiff’s Christian faith and belittled her religious beliefs,” the lawsuit says.

The Gallaudet website identifies Bienvenu as a professor of American Sign Language and Deaf Studies. It says she received a doctorate degree in linguistics in 2003 and served as co-chair of the Deaf Lesbians Festival from 2000 to 2004.

The website identifies Smith as chairperson of the Gallaudet Department of Counseling. She has a doctorate in Interdisciplinary Studies with a specialization in Counseling Education and Supervision. Among the areas she specializes in is “gay/lesbian/bisexual identity development and issues in counseling,” the website says.

03
Oct
2013

Shelter sued for rejecting trans women

Lakiesha Washington, gay news, Washington Blade

Lakiesha Washington (Photo courtesy Andy Bowen)

A privately operated shelter for homeless women funded by the D.C. government is violating the D.C. Human Rights Act by refusing to admit transgender women unless they provide “documentation” of a legal name change or gender reassignment surgery, according to separate complaints against the facility by two transgender women, as reported earlier this week by the Washington Blade.

In a lawsuit filed April 5 in D.C. Superior Court and a complaint filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights on March 22, the two women charge that employees at the John L. Young Women’s Shelter at 119 D Street, N.W. said they could not be admitted because of their status as transgender women.

The shelter is located three blocks from the U.S. Capitol in a large building that houses shelters operated by other groups, including one of the city’s largest shelters run by the Community for Creative Non-Violence, a group that has advocate for the homeless since the 1980s.

An attorney with the D.C. Trans Coalition filed the lawsuit on behalf of Lakiesha Washington against New Hope Ministries, Inc. of Woodbridge, Va., which owns and operates the John L. Young Women’s Shelter.

The lawsuit says Washington, who was homeless, attempted to gain admission to the shelter on April 3, when the lawsuit says the alleged discriminatory action took place.

An unidentified female employee at the shelter asked Washington, “Are you a woman or a man,” the lawsuit says. “Ms. Washington replied, ‘I’m a transgender woman.’ The employee then asked Ms. Washington if she had any documentation, to which Ms. Washington replied that she did not.”

The lawsuit says the employee then told Washington, “We don’t do transgenders here. You have to leave.”

In a separate discrimination complaint filed with the Office of Human Rights, D.C. Trans Coalition member Andy Bowen says a shelter employee provided more details when Bowen asked about the facility’s policy regarding transgender women in a Feb. 5 phone conversation.

“The respondent stated that I would need to provide proof of a sex change,” Bowen said in her complaint with the OHR. “When I asked what would constitute proof, respondent answered that I would need to furnish documents of a name change or proof of surgery.”

Bowen told the Blade on Monday that she initiated her phone call to the shelter after learning that the John Young Shelter “has a history of refusing service to transgender women.”

John Shetterly, executive director of New Hope Ministries, told the Blade on Wednesday that his organization is taking immediate steps to make structural changes to better accommodate transgender women and plans to hold a special staff training session to address transgender-related issues.

“Because of the layout of the John Young Center, which has a communal bathroom and shower area and one large sleeping area, we just didn’t know how to appropriately accommodate them,” he said.

Shetterly said he was reaching out to the D.C. Department of Human Services (DHS) to arrange for the bathroom and shower modifications. A contract New Hope Ministries has with an umbrella group that funds the shelter through a separate city contract prevents New Hope Ministries from doing any repair work or making structural changes, Shetterly said.

“DHS is the one that has to do that,” he said.

The lawsuit states that Sterling Washington, director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs, contacted Shetterly by phone on March 18, more than two weeks before Lakiesha Washington was refused entry to the Young Shelter. It says Sterling Washington informed Shetterly of reports he received that the shelter was refusing services to transgender women.

Sterling Washington, Mayor's office of GLBT Affairs, gay news, Washington Blade

Sterling Washington, director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs, told the director of a D.C. shelter for homeless women that refusing to admit transgender women violates the D.C. Human Rights Act, according to a lawsuit. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The lawsuit says Sterling Washington told Shetterly that the shelter’s action violated the D.C. Human Rights Act, which bans discrimination based, among other things, on gender identity and expression.

“Nevertheless, Mr. Shetterly did not take action to bring John L. Young into compliance with the law, and Ms. Washington suffered injury as a result,” the suit says.

The lawsuit calls on the court to “[t]emporarily, preliminarily, and permanently enjoin defendant…from continuing to discriminate against transgender women.” It also calls for the court to order New Hope Ministries to pay a civil penalty to the city’s general fund and to grant the plaintiff an award of attorney’s fees and other expenses associated with the litigation.

Court records show the court has scheduled a hearing on April 12 to consider a motion filed on Washington’s behalf by attorney Jeffrey Light for a temporary restraining order to force the Young Shelter to stop refusing admission to transgender women while the lawsuit is pending.

Elliot Imse, a spokesperson for the D.C. Office of Human Rights, said the office would have to make a legal determination on whether New Hope Ministries is exempt from the Human Rights Act based on its religious status before the office can begin to review the case on the merits.

The Human Rights Act provides an exemption, under certain circumstances, to religious organizations that allows them to limit “employment, or admission to” the organization based on religious beliefs.

Shetterly told the Blade his organization’s religious beliefs do not prevent the group from providing services to transgender people or any other group.

“Quite to the contrary, our religious beliefs would say we’re in the business of serving anyone who is in need,” he said.

In its most recent IRS 990 report released to the public, which covers the period of July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011, New Hope Ministries says it generated $1.25 million in revenue and incurred $918,015 in expenses. The report shows that $817,509 of its revenue came from “government grants.”

10
Apr
2013

D.C. co-op guilty of anti-gay discrimination

Michael Ward, D.C. Commission on Human Rights, gay news, Washington Blade

Michael Ward of the D.C. Commission on Human Rights. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a little noticed action, the D.C. Commission on Human Rights ruled last April that the president and board of directors of a cooperative apartment building on Connecticut Avenue violated the city’s Human Rights Act by twice refusing to allow a gay couple to buy an apartment.

The case is unusual because the commission’s decision came more than 15 years after Thad S. Kemp and his then partner William L. Houston filed a discrimination complaint with the city’s Office of Human Rights against 2101 Connecticut Avenue Cooperative Apartments, Inc.

The complaint charged the upscale building, located across the street from the Chinese Embassy, with using a series of pretexts to deny the couple’s application to buy an apartment in the building on two separate occasions in 1997 because of their sexual orientation and their status as a mixed race couple. Kemp is white and Houston is black.

The building has appealed the commission’s decision before the D.C. Court of Appeals, arguing, among other things, that the commission’s recommended decision was made by an administrative law judge who did not preside over a three-day hearing in which key witnesses testified.

Attorney Stephen Horvath, who is representing 2101 Connecticut Avenue Co-op, notes in an appeal brief that the original chief hearing examiner who presided over the case, Cornelius Alexander, died in 2007 before reaching a decision. Horvath argues the administrative law judge for the commission who handed down the decision, Dianne Harris, wasn’t present at the hearing to see the witnesses testify and assess their credibility.

Harris states in her recommended decision that she carefully read the transcript of all testimony viewed and studied the exhibits and documents entered into evidence and obtained a full and impartial picture of the case. She disputes claims by Horvath that past court rulings require that a hearing examiner or judge be present during testimony by witnesses in order to issue a ruling on a civil case.

Harris noted that while she was not present during testimony in the 2003 evidentiary hearing to determine whether the co-op board and its president, John Rodler, were liable for the alleged discrimination, she did preside over a separate hearing to assess what the damages and penalty for the co-op should be.

The commission’s final decision and order, handed down on April 23, 2012, shows that then commissioners Christopher Dyer and Nkechi Jaifa voted to approve Harris’s recommended decision that the co-op and Rodler engaged in discrimination based on sexual orientation and racial discrimination against Kempt and Houston.

The third commissioner assigned to the case, gay attorney Michael Ward, dissented from the majority, saying he agreed with the co-op’s attorney that Harris should not have ruled on the case without having personally attended the hearing in question.

“Although I believe that there is adequate testimony from which the commission might infer liability, I believe that those inferences require assessment of credibility and that respondents cannot therefore be held liable absent a de novo [new] hearing at which the administrative law judge can make credibility determinations and propose a decision to the commission that reflects those determinations,” Ward wrote in his dissenting statement.

Dyer, the D.C. gay activist and former director of the Mayor’s office of GLBT Affairs, and Jaifa did not submit a statement explaining why they voted to approve Harris’s proposed decision.

Richard Salzman, the attorney representing Kemp and Houston, called the commission’s decision “fair and measured,” noting that it did not agree to all of the Kemp and Houston’s specific requests for damages. He noted that the commission denied Kemp’s request that the co-op pay him the amount of equity he would have accrued as the value of the two apartments he attempted to buy rose significantly in the 15 years since the co-op denied his application to buy the apartments.

“The evidence was overwhelming that the discrimination took place,” Salzman said. “It is clear to anyone who looks at the evidence presented.”

Under D.C. law, the D.C. Solicitor General, who is part of the Office of the D.C. Attorney General, is responsible for defending the Commission on Human Rights decision in the appeals court phase of the case.

A spokesperson for the Solicitor General said the office is scheduled to file its response to 2101 Connecticut Ave. Co-op’s appeal brief on Feb. 11.

In its April 23 decision, the D.C. Commission on Human Rights ordered the co-op to “cease and desist” from engaging in further discrimination against people who apply to buy an apartment in the building and who are covered under the D.C. Human Rights Act.

The decision also calls on the co-op building to pay Kemp $90,000 for the amount he paid ($515,000) for an apartment he bought in another building in excess of what he would have paid ($415,000) for one of the apartments he was prevented from buying in the co-op building.

In addition, the decision orders the co-op to pay Kemp $35,000 for “humiliation, embarrassment and indignity” he suffered due to the co-op’s discriminatory action against him. It calls for the co-op to award Houston $17,500 in damages for also suffering “humiliation, embarrassment and indignity.”

The co-op is also required to pay for Kemp and Houston’s attorney’s fees and to reimburse the city $6,458 in court reporting and transcription costs related to the case.

Why did this case take so long to go from the complaint to a decision by the commission?

David Simmons, chief administrative law judge for the Commission on Human Rights, told the Blade on Wednesday that one of the reasons Kemp and Houston’s discrimination case took 15 years to advance from the complaint to the commission’s decision last April was a lack of a sufficient number of hearing examiners and support staff for the commission.

He said more hearing examiners and support staff have been hired in recent years, but during the years that Alexander served as chief administrative law judge, the staffing was a “travesty,” he said. According to Simmons, at the time Alexander presided over the Kemp-Houston case, he was the only hearing examiner the commission had, forcing him to preside over all of the cases.

“I knew Cornelius Alexander, and he was hard-working and an excellent attorney,” he said. “In my view, the city killed him. They worked him to death.”

23
Jan
2013

D.C. shelter accused of rejecting trans women

Sterling Washington, Mayor's Office of GLBT Affairs, gay news, Washington Blade, Reeves Building

Sterling Washington, director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs, told the director of a D.C. shelter for homeless women that refusing to admit transgender women violates the D.C. Human Rights Act, according to a lawsuit. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A shelter for homeless women located three blocks from the U.S. Capitol is violating the D.C. Human Rights Act by refusing to admit transgender women unless they provide “documentation” of a legal name change or gender reassignment surgery, according to separate complaints against the facility by two transgender women.

In a lawsuit filed April 5 in D.C. Superior Court and a complaint filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights on March 22, the two women charge that employees at the John L. Young Women’s Shelter at 119 D Street, N.W. said they could not be admitted because of their status as transgender women.

An attorney with the D.C. Trans Coalition filed the lawsuit on behalf of Lakiesha Washington against New Hope Ministries, Inc. of Woodbridge, Va., which owns and operates the John L. Young Women’s Shelter.

The lawsuit says Washington, who was homeless, attempted to gain admission to the shelter on April 3, when the lawsuit says the alleged discriminatory action took place.

An unidentified female employee at the shelter asked Washington, “Are you a woman or a man,” the lawsuit says. “Ms. Washington replied, ‘I’m a transgender woman.’ The employee then asked Ms. Washington if she had any documentation, to which Ms. Washington replied that she did not.”

The lawsuit says the employee then told Washington, “We don’t do transgenders here. You have to leave.”

In a separate discrimination complaint filed with the Office of Human Rights, D.C. Trans Coalition member Andy Bowen says a shelter employee provided more details when Bowen asked about the facility’s policy regarding transgender women in a Feb. 5 phone conversation.

“The respondent stated that I would need to provide proof of a sex change,” Bowen said in her complaint with the OHR. “When I asked what would constitute proof, respondent answered that I would need to furnish documents of a name change or proof of surgery.”

Bowen told the Blade on Monday that she initiated her phone call to the shelter after learning that the John Young Shelter “has a history of refusing service to transgender women.”

John Shetterly, executive director of New Hope Ministries, told the Blade on Monday that he was looking into the allegations in the lawsuit and the OHR complaint and would be able to provide the shelter’s assessment of what happened within days.

The lawsuit states that Sterling Washington, director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs, contacted Shetterly by phone on March 18, more than two weeks before Lakiesha Washington was refused entry to the Young Shelter. It says Sterling Washington informed Shetterly of reports he received that the shelter was refusing services to transgender women.

The lawsuit says Sterling Washington told Shetterly that the shelter’s action violated the D.C. Human Rights Act, which bans discrimination based, among other things, on gender identity and expression.

“Nevertheless, Mr. Shetterly did not take action to bring John L. Young into compliance with the law, and Ms. Washington suffered injury as a result,” the suit says.

The lawsuit calls on the court to “[t]emporarily, preliminarily, and permanently enjoin defendant…from continuing to discriminate against transgender women.” It also calls for the court to order New Hope Ministries to pay a civil penalty to the city’s general fund and to grant the plaintiff an award of attorney’s fees and other expenses associated with the litigation.

Court records show the court has scheduled a hearing on April 12 to consider a motion filed on Washington’s behalf by attorney Jeffrey Light for a temporary restraining order to force the Young Shelter to stop refusing admission to transgender women while the lawsuit is pending.

Elliot Imse, a spokesperson for the D.C. Office of Human Rights, said the office would have to make a legal determination on whether New Hope Ministries is exempt from the Human Rights Act based on its religious status before the office can begin to review the case on the merits.

The Human Rights Act provides an exemption, under certain circumstances, to religious organizations that allows them to limit “employment, or admission to” the organization based on religious beliefs.

In its most recent IRS 990 report released to the public, which covers the period of July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011, New Hope Ministries says it generated $1.25 million in revenue and incurred $918,015 in expenses. The report shows that $817,509 of its revenue came from “government grants.”

The report doesn’t say from which government entity the grant money came. The Blade has made inquiries with New Hope Ministries, the Office of Mayor Vincent Gray, and the D.C. Office of Partnerships and Grants Services to determine if any of the grants came from the D.C. government. Officials with those offices couldn’t immediately be reached.

09
Apr
2013

Year in review: Gray names trans women to Human Rights Commission

Vincent Gray, Jeffrey Richardson, Alexandra Beninda, Earline Budd, Human Rights Commission, gay news, Washington Blade

Mayor Vincent Gray administered the oath of office to Alexandra Beninda (second from right) and Earline Budd as members of the D.C. Commission on Human Rights at a ceremony in the Wilson Building. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In what LGBT activists considered an historic development, Mayor Vincent Gray on July 11 administered the oath of office to transgender advocates Earline Budd and Alexandra Beninda as members of the D.C. Commission on Human Rights.

Gray nominated the two for the post and the D.C. City Council confirmed the nominations earlier in the year.

The appointments represent the first time a transgender person has been named to the city’s Commission on Human Rights, which acts as an adjudicatory body that enforces the city’s Human Rights Act. The act, among other things, bans discrimination in employment, housing, education and public accommodations based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, race, religion and ethnicity.

“I’m very pleased and I’m looking forward to the challenge and I’m always honored to be a representative of my community,” Budd said after the swearing in ceremony. “I’m going to do the best I can in this position and make sure that discrimination ends.”

Beninda said she was looking forward to joining Budd on the commission

“I’m definitely very excited about getting started,” she said. “I look forward, myself and Earline, to be able to represent our LGBT community overall and especially our transgender community in terms of making sure our voices are heard.”

27
Dec
2012