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Can a business undo damage done by gay zealots?

gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal)

Chances are you heard the term “gay slur” used in connection with a small D.C. restaurant and hookah bar last week. If you did, the headline-seeking zealots at the national gay rights litigation group Lambda Legal were responsible.

“Responsible,” however, is no longer a term appropriately associated with the organization. As detailed by Bil Browning on his Bilerico Project site, published the day after a press release was issued by the group, it turns out Lambda knew or revealed only a portion of the story.

Unfairly tarnishing the reputation of a local business before all the facts are known led Browning to ask the question that titled his piece: “Why Is Lambda Legal ‘Cyber Bullying’ a Small Business?

Lambda Legal’s either incomplete knowledge of the facts or intentional omission of information created the impression the group was attempting to fuel an online firestorm.

Dru Levasseur, the Lambda attorney handling a complaint filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights on behalf of a transgender patron, bluntly stated, “The business’ reputation is not our concern. Lambda Legal has no obligation to investigate the allegations before doing media work or filing a case,” he told Browning.

It seems that “doing media work” is the group’s tactical weapon of choice.

What has become clear is that Lambda Legal apparently considers harming a local business mere collateral damage when waging a larger war and nationalizing an incident. “Discrimination against LGBT customers is a widespread problem that often goes unaddressed in businesses across the country,” Levasseur noted.

While the circumstances surrounding the incident at the center of the controversy nearly a year ago remain unclear, the attention-getting element is not in dispute. An employee at the establishment, fired when the situation was brought to the attention of management the same evening, generated a guest check that included a keyed table identification of “Gay Bitches” which was presented to the complainant and eight friends. A photo of the original check, which was replaced by the manager when brought to his attention and he waived the bill in apology, was retained by one of the guests and was publicly released.

Thousands were spurred to share the image on social media, resulting in numerous news stories and television reports locally, nationally and abroad. Lambda also distributed a graphic of the check that included an exhortation to “tell” the venue “discrimination is against the law.” Rather than await the results of the OHR investigation, Lambda resorted to launching a broadside against the business that sparked a large volume of angry online postings overwhelming the business and including calls for a boycott.

Lambda Legal staff never spoke to the owner or the manager on duty the evening of the incident. Had they done so they would have discovered that management was both greatly concerned and had undertaken immediate remedial action. They might have also learned that several gay employees are among venue staff, that the business is popular among gay patrons and is a frequent host of same-sex marriage receptions and other community-related events.

Whether the incident is a violation of the D.C. Human Rights Act and an ill-advised bad-tempered customer reference rises to the level of discrimination will be determined by OHR. Based on the details currently known, it is almost certain that the complaint will be dismissed.

Whatever the actual circumstances and regardless of the outcome, it appears that it may not have been a “best moment” for either the offending former employee or at least some members of the guest party.

Karma is ultimately the real “bitch” in this situation. As additional information has spread via social media, Lambda Legal is increasingly the object of scorn in the court of public opinion. Perhaps next time they will be more concerned with fairness and facts and less obsessed with belligerently badgering a business.

They owe their client, our community and a local business an apology.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

19
Jun
2014

Adams Morgan restaurant named in anti-LGBT discrimination complaint

gay news, Washington Blade

Lambda Legal has brought a discrimination complaint against an Adams Morgan restaurant on behalf of a transgender woman. (Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal)

The national LGBT litigation group Lambda Legal has filed a discrimination complaint on behalf of a D.C. transgender woman who says she received a check from a bartender at an Adams Morgan restaurant with the words “GAY BITCHES” written on it.

The complaint, which was filed on Monday with the D.C. Office of Human Rights, says a bartender at Bistro 18 hookah bar and restaurant at 2420 18th St., N.W., brought the check to the table where Amira Gray was sitting with eight friends, two of whom are gay men.

According to the complaint, the incident took place on Aug. 11, 2013. It says the bartender brought the check after the group “continued to be denied table service, instead requiring us on each occasion we wanted something to seek service directly at the bar.”

The complaint says that Gray, a trans woman, and her friends had seated themselves and observed that the wait staff “was attentive to customers at other tables, giving them menus and taking their orders right away, and carrying the orders to their tables but no wait staff approached our table.”

A representative of Bistro 18 couldn’t immediately be reached. Calls placed to the establishment on Wednesday led to a recorded message saying, “We are not available now. Please call again – memory full.”

“Discrimination against LGBT customers is a widespread problem that often goes unaddressed,” said Dru Levasseur, director of Lambda Legal’s Transgender Rights Project. “That this happened in Washington, D.C., where LGBT people have strong protections from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and personal appearance, points out the importance of ensuring existing laws are enforced,” Levasseur said in a press release issued by the New York-based group.

Elliot Imse, a spokesperson for the D.C. Office of Human Rights, said that privacy rules prevent the office from commenting or acknowledging a complaint has been filed before an investigation is completed and probable cause is found that discrimination has occurred.

“If a person is denied the full and equal enjoyment of a service because of their gender identity or expression in a place of public accommodation, it could constitute discrimination under the Human Rights Act depending on the specifics of the case,” Imse said.

Levasseur said that like many people encountering what they consider discriminatory action by a business, Gray did not immediately come forward to file a complaint until now. He said the D.C. Human Rights Act allows citizens to file a complaint up to one year after the alleged discriminatory action occurs.

“As a transgender woman, I was extremely hurt, embarrassed and upset,” Gray states in her complaint. “I felt that the slur was meant as a slap in the face because of my gender identity and expression, my perceived sexual orientation, my personal appearance, and my association with my friends who are or may have been perceived as being lesbian or gay.”

A photo of the receipt, which was taken by one of Gray’s friends, shows that the words, “GAY BITCHES” were written directly below the words, “Thank You for Visiting.” The photo also shows that the bill for the drinks and hookah smoking device that Gray and her friends had ordered came to $152.30. That total included a $21.42 “automatic gratuity” and $11.90 in taxes.

“When one of Gray’s friends approached the manager to bring this to his attention, the manager snatched what he thought was the offending receipt out of the man’s hands and printed a new receipt without the slur on it,” the Lambda Legal press release says. “However, Gray’s friend kept the original receipt and captured photos of it,” the release says.

According to Levasseur, a Bistro 18 manager agreed to cancel the bill and not charge the group for its purchases after the friend complained about the service they received and showed him the receipt with the slur printed on it.

“She does not feel like that is enough,” Levasseur said in explaining why Gray decided to file the complaint.

Levasseur told the Washington Blade the receipt will be submitted to the Office of Human Rights as evidence along with statements from Gray’s friends who were present as the developments unfolded.

11
Jun
2014

Restaurant manager says he fired server for writing slur on check

gay news, Washington Blade

A bartender at Bistro 18 wrote the words ‘GAY BITCHES’ on the check of a transgender customer and eight friends last summer. (Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal)

The manager of an Adams Morgan restaurant whose bartender wrote the words “GAY BITCHES” on the check for a transgender customer and eight friends who were with her said he immediately fired the bartender for writing the slur and apologized, according to gay blogger Bil Browning of the Bilerico Project.

The New York-based LGBT litigation group Lambda Legal announced in a press release on Tuesday, June 10, that it filed a discrimination complaint against Bistro 18 restaurant and hookah bar at 2420 18th St., N.W., over the slur and other alleged discriminatory actions by the restaurant before the D.C. Office of Human Rights.

Lambda said it filed the complaint on behalf of Amira Gray, a transgender woman who was sitting with eight friends, two of whom are gay men, when a female bartender who’s not identified in the complaint delivered the check to their table.

The issue of whether the bartender printed the slur on the check is not in dispute.

But in a development not common in LGBT discrimination cases, at least two prominent gay activists — Deacon Maccubbin, founder and owner of D.C.’s now closed Lambda Rising bookstore and Rick Rosendall, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance — are siding with the accused party. Both say Bistro 18 shouldn’t be held responsible for a single employee’s action and that the restaurant has taken all necessary steps to remedy the situation.

The incident took place in August 2013, the complaint states. A Lambda Legal official told the Blade that Gray chose to come forward to file the complaint this week after considerable reflection, deciding that she and her friends were wronged, even though the manager cancelled the bill that came to $152.30.

Lambda Legal’s announcement of the filing of the complaint, which is posted on its Facebook page, triggered a flurry of social media postings highly critical of Bistro 18. Some of the postings called for a boycott of the restaurant.

Browning, editor and publisher of the Bilerico Project blog, triggered a separate flurry of postings by some LGBT activists and others condemning Lambda Legal for publicizing an allegation implying that Bistro 18 was a homophobic or anti-trans establishment that condones discrimination.

The Blade could not reach a representative of Bistro 18 for comment through repeated phone calls and through a visit to the bar Thursday night. The Washington Post and Washington City Paper reported their attempts to reach a representative of the restaurant were also unsuccessful.

According to Browning, Mohammad Elhoda, Bistro 18’s manager, told him his restaurant welcomes LGBT customers, gay employees currently work at the establishment, the restaurant has hosted LGBT events, and it has a strict policy of non-discrimination covering everyone, including LGBT people.

Gray states in her complaint that in addition to the anti-LGBT slur on the check, which she kept and turned over to Lambda Legal, her party was being denied service at the table in which they were seated. She walked to the bar and ordered drinks for her friends, which she brought to her table, the complaint states. No server came to the table except one who delivered the hookah smoking pipe while people seated at nearby tables were being waited on regularly by servers, the complaint says.

Browning reports that Elhoda said service at the restaurant was slow on the night Gray and her friends were there and he intervened to help his staff, providing Gray’s party with at least one round of free drinks to make up for the delays. At least some of the people in Gray’s party returned to the restaurant in the following weeks and appeared to be enjoying themselves, Browning reports Elhoda as saying.

Elhoda also claims that some of the people in Gray’s party yelled insults at the bartender and threatened her after the check with the slur was delivered to their table, prompting the restaurant’s security staff to intervene, Browning reports.

Browning, who appears to be the only media representative with whom Elhoda has spoken so far, wrote in his blog that Lambda should have investigated the allegation of discrimination further before publicizing it on Facebook.

“With LGBT activists and netizens constantly ready to retaliate against any perceived slight and conservative Christians regularly claiming that many businesses are unfairly attacked by activists, what responsibility does Lambda Legal have to ensure that they aren’t damaging a business’ reputation without reason?” Browning wrote. “Should they be held responsible for any harm they cause the establishment – particularly if the bar is found innocent by the city’s human rights commission?”

In a follow-up statement posted on its website, Lambda Legal questioned the accuracy of Elhoda’s version of what happened.

“The statements of the restaurant’s manager, as recounted in the blog as if they were accurate, however, are in sharp contrast to what our client and her friends experienced,” the Lambda statement says.

“Lambda Legal doesn’t make decisions lightly about how to proceed, and gathered confirmation of the allegations in the OHR complaint before it was filed,” the statement says. “Not only do we have the receipt clearly showing the anti-gay slur, but multiple members of a large group of friends who were with Amira at Bistro 18 have corroborated what actually happened that night.”

Maccubbin, who notes that he helped lobby for passage of the city’s Human Rights Act in the 1970s, said in a comment posted with the Blade that Bistro 18 was getting a “raw deal” by Lambda Legal.

“There is no history of discriminatory actions on the part of this business, its management or employees, other than this one incident by this one former employee,” he said. “The business responded appropriately and should not be castigated, by Lambda Legal or anyone else.”

Maccubbin added, “It’s fine for Lambda Legal to represent the complainant, but they should do so within the parameters of the complaint process, not by fomenting unjust and defamatory vigilantism in social media.”

In her complaint Gray said, “As a transgender woman, I was extremely hurt, embarrassed and upset. I felt that the slur was meant as a slap in the face because of my gender identity and expression, my perceived sexual orientation, my personal appearance, and my association with my friends who are or may have been perceived as being lesbian or gay.”

14
Jun
2014

EXCLUSIVE: D.C seeks to bolster schools’ anti-bullying policies

Suzanne Greenfield, Office of Human Rights, D.C., Gay News, Washington Blade

Suzanne Greenfield of the D.C. Office of Human Rights (Photo courtesy of Elliot Imse)

The D.C. Office of Human Rights will partner with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights to work with public and charter schools in Washington to strengthen their anti-bullying policies.

Under the voluntary initiative, schools will complete an assessment of their implementation of D.C.’s anti-bullying laws and efforts to combat the issue in eight components designed to create a safe environment for students in the classroom. These include compliance with anti-bullying laws, engagement from school officials and staffers and the collection of data that accurately gauges the issues.

The participating schools will also receive technical assistance in areas in which they could potentially improve.

The Iowa Pride Network initially developed the framework — the Safe School Certification Program — after lawmakers in the Hawkeye State in 2007 passed a sweeping anti-bullying law.

The group convened a task force to develop components — including student, family and community engagement, the use of so-called evidence-based programs and practices to improve a school’s climate towards bullying and providing training for all staff — after it became concerned the schools needed support and training to achieve the statute’s goals.

“Through our framework, technical assistance and coaching, schools aren’t just implementing the letter of the law but the spirit of the law,” Ryan Roemerman, program director of the Safe School Certification Program, said. “By taking part in this program, not only are schools recognized, they are ensuring that their time is focused on efforts that truly create safe learning environments for all students.”

The RFK Center partnered with the Iowa Pride Network under its new anti-bullying initiative — Project SEATBELT (Safe Environment Achieved Through Bullying prevention, Engagement, Leadership and Training respect) — it launched last month.

Project SEATBELT chose D.C. as one of four cities in which to pilot the program.

Deborah Temkin of the RFK Center said these “initial efforts” with the D.C. Office of Human Rights are the “first steps to bringing the program” to the nation’s capital.

“We know that schools across the country and in D.C. are really wanting to do the right thing,” she said. “We know there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for bullying, so our real solution is to help them understand what their context is, what’s working in their context, what may not be working as well and what they may need to focus on a little bit more in order to really accomplish the key components of a safe school and then give them the support and assistance to do so.”

The D.C. Office of Human Rights has given the RFK Center a $40,000 grant to implement the program in which 14 public schools in Iowa currently participate.

“We want this to be a part of how [D.C. schools] do everything,” Suzanne Greenfield of the D.C. Office of Human Rights said. “We want it infused in their sort of mantra of school policies.”

The D.C. Office of Human Rights and the RFK Center announced their partnership slightly more than a year after D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray signed a bill that requires city agencies that work directly with young people to implement an anti-bullying policy.

The Youth Bullying Prevention Act of 2012 established an anti-bullying task force that includes representatives from D.C. Public Schools, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Metropolitan Police Department, the Mayor’s Office on GLBT Affairs, SMYAL and other government agencies and community organizations.

The task force in January released recommendations designed to ensure agencies comply with the law that takes effect on Sept. 14. These include models that ensure anti-bullying prevention efforts reach every D.C. resident, focusing specifically on those youth who are either at-risk for bullying or more likely to become bullies and working with bullying victims and those who have victimized them.

D.C. Office of Human Rights Director Gustavo Velasquez in May hired Greenfield — who had previously worked at Advocates for Justice and Education, D.C. Public Schools and PFLAG — to implement the city’s new anti-bullying law.

“I want to support the good work that’s being done and make it better,” Greenfield told the Blade as she discussed the RFK Center partnership.

18
Jul
2013

DC seeks to bolster anti-bullying policies

Suzanne Greenfield, Office of Human Rights, D.C., Gay News, Washington Blade

Suzanne Greenfield of the D.C. Office of Human Rights. (Photo courtesy of Elliot Imse)

The DC Office of Human Rights will partner with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights to work with public and charter schools in Washington to strengthen their anti-bullying policies.

Under the voluntary initiative, schools will complete an assessment of their implementation of DC’s anti-bullying laws and efforts to combat the issue in eight components designed to create a safe environment for students in the classroom. These include compliance with anti-bullying laws, engagement from school officials and staffers and the collection of data that accurately gauges the issues.

The participating schools will also receive technical assistance in areas in which they could potentially improve.

The Iowa Pride Network initially developed the framework — the Safe School Certification Program — after lawmakers in the Hawkeye State in 2007 passed a sweeping anti-bullying law.

The group convened a task force to develop components — including student, family and community engagement, the use of so-called evidence-based programs and practices to improve a school’s climate towards bullying and providing training for all staff — after it became concerned the schools needed support and training to achieve the statute’s goals.

“Through our framework, technical assistance and coaching, schools aren’t just implementing the letter of the law but the spirit of the law,” Ryan Roemerman, program director of the Safe School Certification Program, said. “By taking part in this program, not only are schools recognized, they are ensuring that their time is focused on efforts that truly create safe learning environments for all students.”

The RFK Center partnered with the Iowa Pride Network under its new anti-bullying initiative — Project SEATBELT (Safe Environment Achieved Through Bullying prevention, Engagement, Leadership and Training respect) — it launched last month.

Project SEATBELT chose DC as one of four cities in which to pilot the program.

Deborah Temkin of the RFK Center said these “initial efforts” with the D.C. Office of Human Rights are the “first steps to bringing the program” to the nation’s capital.

“We know that schools across the country and in DC are really wanting to do the right thing,” she said. “We know there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for bullying, so our real solution is to help them understand what their context is, what’s working in their context, what may not be working as well and what they may need to focus on a little bit more in order to really accomplish the key components of a safe school and then give them the support and assistance to do so.”

The D.C. Office of Human Rights has given the RFK Center a $40,000 grant to implement the program in which 14 public schools in Iowa currently participate.

“We want this to be a part of how [D.C. schools] do everything,” Suzanne Greenfield of the D.C. Office of Human Rights said. “We want it infused in their sort of mantra of school policies.”

The D.C. Office of Human Rights and the RFK Center announced their partnership slightly more than a year after D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray signed a bill that requires city agencies that work directly with young people to implement an anti-bullying policy.

24
Jul
2013

D.C. Office of Human Rights director steps down

Washington Blade, Vincent Gray, Gustavo Velasquez

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray on Thursday announced Office of Human Rights Director Gustavo Velasquez’s resignation. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray on Thursday announced Office of Human Rights Director Gustavo Velasquez, who worked with LGBT activists to implement the city’s comprehensive anti-bullying law, was stepping down and would be replaced by one of his high level assistants.

Gray said in a statement that attorney Monica Palacio, director of the OHR’s Language Access Program, which helps city agencies provide translation services for people who speak languages other than English, will become interim director of the OHR beginning Nov. 3.

An OHR spokesperson told the Blade that Gray plans to submit Palacio’s nomination to become permanent director of the OHR to the City Council, which must confirm the nomination.

“Monica Palacio has spent her career advocating for civil and human rights, and she will undoubtedly use that experience and her legal background to ensure that OHR continues to fulfill its mission to address and prevent discrimination in the District,” Gray said in his statement.

The OHR, among other things, is charged with enforcing the city’s comprehensive Human Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on a wide of categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity as well as race, religion, gender, and ethnicity.

It’s portfolio expanded last year to include enforcement of an anti-bullying law passed by the D.C. Council and signed by Gray that LGBT rights advocates had long called on the Council to pass. Gray assigned Velasquez to take the lead in working with a special commission the mayor appointed to draft regulations to implement the law.

“The District has been extremely fortunate to have Director Velasquez at the helm of OHR for nearly seven years,” Gray said. “Under his leadership, the agency has dramatically reduced the length of time it takes to investigate complaints of discrimination, and he has pushed OHR toward a more proactive role in preventing discrimination before it occurs. Because of his work, we are a more just and welcoming District.”

Prior to her two-and-a-half year tenure at OHR, Palacio served as a member of the Commission on Human Rights, which adjudicates discrimination cases it receives from the OHR. Before that, she worked as senior consultant for the Management Assistance Group, which provides assistance to social justice organizations, and served as director of training and technical assistance for the National Crime Prevention Council, according to information released by the mayor’s office.

Elliot Imse, an OHR spokesperson who’s gay, called Palacio a strong and committed LGBT community ally who has worked on LGBT related issues in the past.

According to Imse, she was “instrumental” in the formation of a gay-straight alliance group at a local high school and has conducted several youth leadership development training sessions for the local LGBT youth services and advocacy group SMYAL.

The announcement from the mayor’s office says Velasquez will become executive director of the Latino Economic Development Center. The center’s website says the organization’s mission is to “drive the economic and social advancement of low to moderate income Latinos and other D.C. area residents by equipping them with the skills and tool to achieve financial independence and become leaders in their communities.”

26
Oct
2013

Gay employee sues airline association for discrimination

A gay auditor at the D.C.-based Air Transport Association of America filed a lawsuit in September charging the group with paying him a “substantially” lower salary than others with similar job duties because of his sexual orientation.

Arlington, Va., resident Stephen Farina, who has worked for the association since 1992, charges in the lawsuit that the association, also known as Airlines for America or A4A, retaliated against him after he filed a sexual orientation discrimination complaint against the group over the salary issue before the D.C. Office of Human Rights in May.

“During plaintiff’s employment, plaintiff’s supervisor made derogatory comments about plaintiff’s sexual orientation when he stated on several occasions that he opposed gay rights and gay marriage [and] referred to plaintiff as a ‘fag’ and a ‘bonafide bone sucker’ to plaintiff’s subordinate,” the lawsuit charges.

It says the same supervisor, who is not identified in the lawsuit, “made disparaging comments towards another gay employee under his supervision.”

Victoria Day, a spokesperson for the association, responded to a request by the Washington Blade for a comment on the lawsuit with a one sentence statement: “A4A does not tolerate discrimination in any form and intends to vigorously dispute these allegations.”

D.C. Superior Court Judge Anthony Epstein, who is presiding over the case, issued a ruling on Dec. 13 denying a motion by A4A calling for the dismissal of the case based on procedural grounds.

Epstein ordered the two parties to participate in a court required mediation process while setting a timetable for pre-trial information gathering and pre-trial motions if the mediation is unsuccessful.

Farina told the Blade he spent nearly four years attempting without success to address with A4A’s upper management what he calls A4A’s discriminatory employment practices toward him regarding his salary.

His lawsuit says he began work with the A4A in 1992 as a staff auditor at a salary of $28,000. It says A4A officials “had knowledge that plaintiff is gay” throughout most of his tenure with the organization.

According to the lawsuit, in August 2001, Farina was promoted to manager of audits with an annual salary of $61,000. Around February 2008 his title changed to director of industry audits, which brought a raise to $68,000.

Farina told the Blade that authoritative studies of the industry show that people holding similar jobs with other employers and others with similar job duties at A4A make between $100,000 and $160,000.

“Plaintiff’s principal role is to provide guidance and oversight for vendors hired to operate 60 of the largest jet fuel storage and distribution systems in the United States and Canada,” the lawsuit says. “On information and belief, other similarly situated non-gay directors are paid substantially more than plaintiff.”

The lawsuit calls for $1 million or more in damages to be determined at trial to compensate for “lost pay, front pay, lost benefits, pain and suffering, emotional distress, mental anguish, interest [and] reasonable attorney’s fees,” among other things.

Farina said he dropped his Human Rights Office complaint and filed the lawsuit at the advice of his attorney after determining a lawsuit would be a more effective means of addressing his discrimination complaint.

Farina’s lawsuit was filed three months before the Human Rights Campaign released its 2012 Corporate Equality Index ratings of U.S. corporations on personnel policies pertaining to LGBT employees.

Most of the major U.S. airline companies received ratings of between 90 and 100, the highest score given to companies that ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. According to the HRC Corporate Equality Index, companies receiving high ratings, like the airline companies, provide domestic partner benefits and adopt other supportive policies toward LGBT employees.

Gary Kelly, chief executive officer of Southwest Airlines, which received an HRC Equality Index rating of 90, serves as A4A’s chairman of the board, and the board is composed mostly of airline industry executives, according to industry observers.

It couldn’t immediately be determined by press time whether the airline officials who play a key role in the A4A’s operations were aware of the allegations against the association made in Farina’s lawsuit.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Laura Cordero on Dec. 26 dismissed a discrimination lawsuit filed by another gay A4A employee, David Duchow, on procedural grounds. Court records show that Duchow, who charged A4A with employment discrimination based on his sexual orientation, represented himself in the case without a lawyer.

03
Jan
2013

D.C. task force to release anti-bullying recommendations

Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Bullying

Mayor Vincent Gray signs the Youth Bullying Prevention Act of 2012. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Members of a D.C. mayoral task force on Thursday will unveil a series of recommendations designed to further tackle bullying in the city.

The recommendations the Youth Bullying Prevention Task Force developed with the Urban Institute and AmericaSpeaks will focus on three prevention models: ensuring anti-bullying prevention efforts reach every D.C. resident, focusing specifically on youth who are either at-risk for bullying or are more likely to become bullies and working with bullying victims and those who have victimized them.

Elliot Imse of the D.C. Office of Human Rights told the Washington Blade on Wednesday that task force members decided to approach the issue from a public health perspective.

“The city council and the mayor’s office really wanted us to make this a citywide policy that goes above and beyond responding to incidents when they happen,” he said. “So the researchers took the unique approach and realized as we talk about all the aspects of bullying and the consequences of bullying to victims; it really does come down to public health issues, mental health issues, the risk of suicide, the risk of homeless, things like that, and really decided to take a public health approach to it.”

The Bullying Prevention Act of 2012 that Gray signed into law last June requires all city agencies, educational institutions and grantees that work directly with young people to implement an anti-bullying policy by September.

It also created the Youth Bullying Prevention Task Force and charged it with developing a model policy upon which the aforementioned groups can create their own anti-bullying protocols. D.C. Public Schools, the Metropolitan Police Department, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, Metro Teen AIDS and the D.C. Trans Coalition are among the dozens of agencies and organizations with representatives on the task force.

“I can’t think of a more noble or impactful goal than to end bullying of our youth and continue to create environments where our young people learn and thrive in health and safety,” Gray said before he signed the anti-bullying measure into law.

Imse said the task force’s recommendations are part of what he described as one of the country’s most comprehensive bullying prevention efforts.

“We know bullying happens at school, of course that’s where we need to focus a lot of our energy,” he said. “But bullying happens in recreation centers, in our libraries, in our transit system and really we need to be addressing it from that level so that the government of the District is really doing everything it can to prevent bullying in the first place. These bullying incidents add up, the health effects pile on regardless of whether it’s in school or not. So what this policy does is try to address bullying in all the public spaces that the government can.”

Shawn Gaylord of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, who sits on the task force, applauded D.C. officials for their efforts to combat bullying in the nation’s capital.

“The recommendations that will be presented tomorrow are truly groundbreaking in their reach and will help make D.C. a safer place for all young people,” he told the Blade on Wednesday. “GLSEN is proud to have been a part of this effort from the very beginning and we look forward to continuing to partner alongside Mayor Gray and the Office of Human Rights on this important initiative.”

31
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

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