Gay What ?
Rest of site back up shortly!

DOJ faces renewed call to provide benefits to gay veterans

Mark Udall, Democratic Party, United States Senate, Colorado, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) is renewing his call for the Obama administration to stop enforcing portions of Title 38 (Photo public domain).

Pressure is increasing on the Obama administration to ensure gay veterans have access to spousal benefits everywhere they go in the country as additional U.S. senators are joining others in a call for action.

In a letter dated Jan. 16 to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, seven senators — led by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) — call on the Obama administration to stop enforcing 103(c) of Title 38 to ensure gay veterans in same-sex marriages can receive spousal benefits.

“We believe taking this action is an important part of DOJ’s responsibility to implement and enforce the legal doctrine created in Windsor,” the senators writes. “Further, if the VA is able to apply 103(c) so that all marriages legally entered into will be recognized, it will provide continuity with the Department of Defense policy that applies to active duty service members and avoid a situation where the federal government is recognizing a person’s marriage one day and ignoring it the next.”

Joining Udall is signing the letter are Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Colo.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) as well as lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

A portion of the law governing veterans’ benefits, 103(c) of Title 38, looks to the state of residence, not the state of celebration, in determining whether a couple is married. That means if a gay couple in which one partner is a veteran weds in a marriage-equality state like New York, but moves to non-marriage equality state like Colorado, the couple won’t be able to apply for these benefits.

The letter emphasizes that the place of residence rule for spousal benefits isn’t a hypothetical problem for gay couples because many have already been denied benefits under this statute. Some of the spousal benefits allocated under Title 38 are disability benefits, survivor benefits and joint burial at a veteran’s cemetery.

“Over the last few months, there have been specific instances of legally married couples who were denied VA spousal benefits solely because of their gender and place of residence,” the letter states.

The Obama administration has already taken some action on this issue. In the wake of the Supreme Court decision against DOMA, the Justice Department had announced in September the Obama administration wouldn’t enforce a portion of Title 38 that independently defines marriage in opposite-sex terms.

But no decision has been made on the place of residence rule of Title 38. The Obama administration has said it’s still reviewing whether it can stop enforcing 103(c) of the statute.

In the letter, the senators are critical about the length of time it’s taking to resolve this issue in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision against DOMA in June.

“Unfortunately, nearly six months after that decision we continue to see specific cases where the federal government is withholding federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples,” the letter states. “This appears to be in conflict with the central principle of the Windsor decision, that the federal government should respect the lawful marriages of same-sex couples.”

Dena Iverson, a Justice Department, said in response to the missive, “We’re reviewing the letter.”

The continued enforcement of this 103(c) of Title 38 to deny benefits to gay couples has concerned lawmakers for some time.

In November, Udall wrote a letter on his own to the Justice Department calling on the Obama administration to stop enforcing the place of residence rule to discriminate against gay veterans. Earlier this month, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) wrote a similar letter asking the Obama administration to cease enforcement, citing issues that gay veterans are having with obtaining VA loans.

LGBT groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and American Military Partners Association, have said they share the concerns about the place of residence rule under Title 38. HRC has previously called for clarity from the administration on whether or not it can cease enforcing that section of the law to discriminate against gay couples.

Stephen Peters, AMPA president, reiterated his previous call for the Obama administration to take action in a statement.

“No veteran should be treated differently by the federal government just because he or she is married to someone of the same-gender or lives in a state that does not value the diversity of his or her family,” Peters said.

Alex Nicholson, who’s gay and legislative director of Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America, said his organization “absolutely” shares the concerns expressed in the letter.

“IAVA strongly believes that all veterans are entitled to fair and equal treatment with respect to benefits and services provided by the VA,” Nicholson said. “The Supreme Court has been clear that legally married same-sex couples are entitled to federal recognition and benefits, so the administration must proactively resolve the lingering technicalities that have thus far prevented the VA from complying.”

It remains to be seen whether Holder will address this issue — as well as other post-DOMA issues, such as granting Social Security survivor and pension benefits to married same-sex couples in non-marriage equality states — in any of his upcoming public appearances. He’s set to deliver testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 29 and is scheduled as the keynote speaker at HRC’s Greater New York Gala on Feb. 8.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article was incorrect about the date on which Holder would deliver testimony before the Senate. The Blade regrets the error.

19
Jan
2014

Holder to announce new DOJ policy on gay rights

Eric Holder, Tammy Baldwin, Melissa Etheridge, United States Department of Justice, United States Senate, Democratic Party, Wisconsin, gay news, Washington Blade, LGBT Pride

U.S. Attorney General is set to announce new DOJ policy in the wake of the Supreme Court decision against DOMA (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is set to announce a new policy today aimed at ensuring the Justice Department recognizes same-sex marriages under the law, the Washington Blade has learned.

Holder is scheduled to deliver the remarks at 7 p.m. during his speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual gala in New York City held at the Waldorf Astoria.

According to excerpts from his prepared remarks, Holder is set to announce the Justice Department will issue a memorandum on Monday to outline the changes, which will bring the department into compliance with the Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.

Holder is prepared to make the announcement in the same speech in which he’s set to reflect on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“And yet, as all-important as the fight against racial discrimination was then, and remains today, know this: my commitment to confronting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity runs just as deep,” Holder’s prepared remarks say. “Just like during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the stakes involved in this generation’s struggle for LGBT equality could not be higher.”

Each of the changes is related to the way the Justice Department handles recognition of married same-sex couples. They range from rights in civil and criminal cases, rights as inmates and access to benefits programs:

• The Justice Department will recognize that same-sex spouses of individuals involved in civil and criminal cases have the same legal rights as straight married couples, including the right to decline to give testimony that might incriminate a spouse.

This new rule applies in non-marriage equality states. The government won’t object to couples in same-sex marriages invoking this right if they marry in another state, but their current jurisdiction doesn’t recognize their union.

• In bankruptcy cases, the U.S. Trustee Program will take the position that same-sex married couples should be treated in the same manner as opposite-sex married couples. Consequently, same-sex married couples will be eligible to file for bankruptcy jointly; certain debts to same-sex spouses or former spouses will be excepted from discharge; and domestic support obligations should include debts, including alimony, owed to a former same-sex spouse.

• Federal inmates in same-sex marriages will be entitled to the same rights and privileges as inmates in opposite-sex marriages. These rights include spousal visitation; inmate furloughs to be present during a crisis involving a spouse; escorted trips to attend a spouse’s funeral; correspondence with a spouse; and compassionate release or reduction in sentence if an inmate’s spouse is incapacitated.

• The Justice Department will recognize same-sex couples for the purposes of a number of benefits programs it administers, such as the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.

Also among these programs is the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program, which provides death benefits to surviving spouses of public safety officers, such as law enforcement officers and firefighters, who suffer catastrophic or fatal injuries while on duty.

“When any law enforcement officer falls in the line of duty or is gravely injured, the federal government should stand by that hero’s spouse – no matter whether that spouse is straight or gay,” Holder’s prepared remarks say.

The new policy comes seven months after the U.S. Supreme Court decision against Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriage. Nothing in the excerpts of prepared remarks received by the Blade references DOMA, but a Justice Department official said the new changes are considered a step in the process to bring the Justice Department into compliance with the decision.

The Justice Department has coordinated the effort across the Obama administration to ensure married same-sex couples have the same rights and benefits under federal law as opposite sex couples in the wake of the DOMA decision. The various departments and agencies announced changes in policies since that time.

Chad Griffin, HRC president, praised Holder in a statement for changes he’s slated to announce within the Justice Department.

“This landmark announcement will change the lives of countless committed gay and lesbian couples for the better,” Griffin said. “While the immediate effect of these policy decisions is that all married gay couples will be treated equally under the law, the long-term effects are more profound. Today, our nation moves closer toward its ideals of equality and fairness for all.”

At least one of the changes that Holder is set to announce — the eligibility of married same-sex couples to file jointly for bankruptcy — was already the policy of the Justice Department. According to Reuters, following a ruling against DOMA by a bankruptcy court in Los Angeles, the Justice Department in 2011 elected to no longer dismiss bankruptcy petitions filed jointly by married same-sex debtors.

In his remarks, Holder is set invoke the memory of former U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy and his work in the civil rights movement as a reference point for the additional work the Justice Department is doing on LGBT rights.

“Then, as now, nothing less than our country’s commitment to the notion of equal protection under the law was on the line,” Holder’s prepared remarks say. “And so the Justice Department’s role in confronting discrimination must be as aggressive today as it was in Robert Kennedy’s time.  As Attorney General, I will not let this Department be simply a bystander during this important moment in history.”

Just last month, Holder announced the federal government would recognize the more than 1,300 same-sex marriages that took place in Utah following a district court ruling legalizing gay nuptials in the state — even though the state won’t recognize the unions now that the U.S. Supreme Court has placed a stay on the weddings.

HRC’s Griffin said the actions that Holder is preparing to undertake are right in line with Kennedy’s legacy as civil rights icon.

“Attorney General Holder continues to show incredible leadership, and this latest action cements his place in history alongside Robert F. Kennedy, another attorney general who crusaded for civil rights,” Griffin said.

08
Feb
2014

Justice Department launches transgender training program

Ruby Corado, Casa Ruby, gay news, Washington Blade

Ruby Corado, executive director of Casa Ruby, is among those who took part in a U.S. Justice Department training on Thursday. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In a conference room at its headquarters in Washington, the U.S. Justice Department on Thursday held a first-of-its-kind training session for law enforcement officials on how they can better serve the transgender community.

Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, in opening remarks, said Thursday’s session represented the launching of an ongoing nationwide series of similar training sessions designed to educate the nation’s law enforcement establishment about problems and needs of trans people.

“At its most basic level, the new training will provide tools to enhance an officer’s ability to build partnerships with community members and to work with fellow citizens, who share a commitment to public safety,” Cole told the gathering.

Cole and other DOJ officials said the department’s Community Relations Service, which was established under the famed U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, developed the trans training program with input from representatives of the LGBT community.

LGBT community members, including D.C. trans activist Ruby Corado, were among those attending the March 27 session.

“We heard you when you told us that we needed to establish a foundation of trust between those who serve and protect the public and those in the LGBT communities – particularly the transgender community – who are disproportionately the victims of hate violence,” said Cole.

Among those who helped develop the training program and who were scheduled to give a presentation at the session were Major Irene A. Burks of the Prince George’s County, Md., Police Department; and Diego Miguel Sanchez, a veteran trans advocate, legislative assistant to former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and current National Director of Policy for Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

Also scheduled to give a presentation at the session was Harper Jean Tobin, an attorney and Director of Policy at the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Sgt. Brett Parson of the Metropolitan Police Department of D.C., who formerly headed the division that oversees the department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, assisted in developing the trans training program. Parson was scheduled to be one of the instructors at the March 27 training session but had to cancel his appearance due to a scheduling conflict, people familiar with the event said.

Also attending the training were D.C. police Sgt. Matthew Mahl, the current supervisor of the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, and Officer Justin Markiewicz, a member of the unit.

DOJ officials limited news media attendance of the event to the introductory remarks by DOJ officials. DOJ spokesperson Emily Pierce said the training itself was closed to the media because it involved role-playing exercises that could make participants uncomfortable under the glare of the press.

A statement released by the DOJ says the trans training program will become an important component of the DOJ’s Community Relations Service, which, among other things, helps communities develop strategies to prevent and respond to violent hate crimes committed on the basis of a victim’s sexual orientation and gender identity as well as other factors such as race, religion, and national origin.

The trans training program “will hereafter be facilitated around the country by CRS (Community Relations Service) regional personnel and local volunteer experts in communities that are experiencing hate violence and wish to better respond and prevent such incidents against transgender persons,” the statement says.

It says that in addition to its D.C. headquarters, the Community Relations Service has 10 regional offices and four smaller field offices that serve all 50 states and U.S. territories.

“The training resources that CRS (Community Relations Service) has created (with input from law enforcement leaders and transgender advocates) is intended to assist communities across the country and law enforcement agencies wishing to improve their understanding of and work with the transgender communities they serve,” according to the statement.

Trans activists across the country, including those in D.C., have reported widespread incidents of police mistreatment of trans people. D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier has been credited with putting in place policies and procedures for officers to treat transgender residents with respect and sensitivity.

Despite these policies, trans advocates says incidents of insensitivity by officers, while declining, continues to surface.

“We understand when you shared the worst possible – and frankly unacceptable – outcome that the transgender community could face,” said Cole at the training session in Washington. “Based on the community’s fears about law enforcement’s support and perceptions, too many of you in the transgender community simply didn’t report incidents of crime brought to bear against you,” he said.

“This is not a result that can or will be tolerated by the Justice Department, and it runs counter to the very role your community public safety officials want to promote,” said Cole.

Cole acknowledged, however, that the trans training program would likely be utilized mostly by “forward-thinking chiefs of police, sheriffs, and other public safety professionals who opt to participate” in the program.

Tony West, DOJ’s associate attorney general, and Grande H. Lum, national director of the department’s Community Relations Service, also spoke at the training.

28
Mar
2014

New VAWA guidance asserts limited LGBT workplace rights

domestic violence, gay news, Washington Blade

New guidance on the Violence Against Women Act includes employment protections for LGBT people. (Photo courtesy Bigstock)

Guidance handed down from the Justice Department spelling out LGBT protections under the Violence Against Women Act contains explicit non-discrimination rules for employment, marking the first time the Obama administration has acknowledged federal LGBT workplace protections under the law.

The Q&A from the administration, highlighted on Thursday by LGBT advocacy groups praising the guidance, clarifies non-discrimination requirements under VAWA reauthorization applies to employment at organizations accepting federal grants for domestic violence programs. The law was signed by President Obama last year.

Even though the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act itself makes no specific reference to employment in terms of non-discrimination, the Justice Department asserts domestic violence programs receiving federal money “may not discriminate” on categories including sexual orientation and gender identity “in employment practices.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 1.19.18 PM

The guidance, dated April 9, marks the first time the Obama administration has advanced employment protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity for workers outside of memoranda for employees working within the federal government itself.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said the regulations are a welcome development, but President Obama should follow up with an executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors.

“This is great news, and we applaud the Obama administration for ensuring taxpayers do not subsidize anti-LGBT workplace discrimination through the funding of VAWA grants,” Almeida said. “It’s now time to extend the same commonsense principle to federal contracts, and we urge President Obama to keep his campaign promise of creating LGBT workplace protections at the companies that profit from taxpayer-funded contracts.”

The guidance is handed down as LGBT advocates are pressuring the Labor Department to extend non-discrimination protections to transgender workers under Executive Order 11246, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, in the aftermath of Macy v. Holder — a decision reached by the independent U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that found transgender protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez says his department is conducting a review on whether it can extend those protections to transgender workers under the existing executive order. The Labor Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the VAWA regulations would inform the review.

Almeida said interpretation of the existing executive order to protect transgender workers would be consistent with the Obama administration’s implementation of VAWA.

“It makes no sense to hold back LGBT protections only in the context of federal contracting while moving forward with good and pro-LGBT interpretations of law in other contexts,” Almeida added.

But the general sense from LGBT advocacy groups is praise for the guidance on the grounds that implementation of the law will help ensure LGBT people receive fair treatment at organizations that work to help victims of domestic violence.

The VAWA non-discrimination rules apply to all programs administered by the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women, which governs grant programs related to arrest polices, domestic violence reduction, legal assistance to victims as well as the multi-disciplinary STOP (Services, Training, Officers, and Prosecutors) Program.

In a joint statement, six groups — the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the GLBTQ Domestic Violence Project and FORGE — called the document “strong implementing guidelines.”

“This guidance is a significant step forward because it makes clear that federal tax dollars under VAWA can’t be used to discriminate against LGBT people,” the statement says. “If a grantee receives any funding under VAWA, all activities of that entity are covered by the non-discrimination mandate (including employment), as well as activities that aren’t related to or funded by the Department of Justice.”

Another notable provision in the guidance says faith-based organizations aren’t given an exemption to the non-discrimination rule if they receive federal funds under VAWA.

“Faith-based organizations, like all other recipients of funding subject to the VAWA nondiscrimination grant condition, accept the obligation, as a condition of the grant award, not to discriminate in the delivery of services or benefits supported by covered grants, on the basis of actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability,” the guidance says.

Moreover, the guidance spells out the protections under the law based on gender identity, saying it defines the term in the same way as the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and is “a person’s internal view of the individual’s gender.”

“Transgender can be used to describe a person whose gender identity is different from the individual’s assigned sex at birth,” the guidance states. “Male, female, and transgender are all examples of gender identities for purposes of the nondiscrimination grant condition.”

The six LGBT advocacy organizations praising the regulations called them “historic” because it marks the first time a federal agency has determined non-discrimination rules for transgender people entitle them to equal access to services simply according to their self-identified gender.

“The guidance makes clear that transgender people can’t be turned away or treated differently just because another client complains about being around a transgender person, and that staff cannot ask invasive personal questions to get a transgender person to ‘prove’ their gender,” the guidance says.

The guidance indicates victims should file a complaint with the Justice Department’s Office for Civil Rights, which “has authority to investigate complaints alleging a violation of the VAWA nondiscrimination grant condition.”

Obama signed the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization into law last year after the LGBT-inclusive measure was approved by Congress. The Republican-controlled House passed the measure following significant pressure from women’s rights groups, marking the first time that an LGBT-inclusive bill was passed under the leadership of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

But the six LGBT advocacy organization say work isn’t done because other federal agencies must follow suit and the Justice Department must “formalize this historic guidance in binding regulations” as is standard practice with other civil rights law.

“We look forward to other federal agencies following the lead of the Department of Justice and applying similar interpretations of other laws and regulations prohibiting discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity,” the advocacy groups said.

24
Apr
2014

Praise, calls for more action after DOMA ruling review

Eric Holder, Tammy Baldwin, Melissa Etheridge, United States Department of Justice, United States Senate, Democratic Party, Wisconsin, gay news, Washington Blade, LGBT Pride

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Friday the conclusion of the administration’s review of the DOMA decision (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

As the one-year anniversary approaches of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act, the Justice Department’s interpretation of the ruling is inspiring mixed reactions among LGBT advocates, but most are happy with the results so far.

On Friday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced in the form of a memo to President Obama the Justice Department has finished its year-long review of the Supreme Court decision striking down Section 3 of DOMA, a law that prohibited recognition of same-sex marriages at the federal level.

The DOMA decision, which was handed down alongside the Supreme Court’s ruling on California’s Proposition 8 on June 26, 2013, will see its one-year anniversary on Thursday. Some advocates say they’re happy with the administration’s interpretation of the decision, and others want more action in terms of support with litigation and legislation.

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, praised Obama for his “unparalleled leadership,” but called on him to support litigation to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples nationwide.

“Today’s announcement that same-sex spouses in states that refuse to respect their marriages will be denied the Social Security benefits they have paid for and earned, and that LGBT veterans who have served this country will be treated as second-class citizens, underscores how far we have yet to go to achieve true equality,” Kendell said. “We call on the administration to redouble its efforts to stand up for these families and to support litigation to challenge discriminatory and unconstitutional state laws that exclude same-sex couples and their children from the protections of marriage.”

The administration has afforded many benefits to married same-sex couples following the decision last year, ensuring they flow to gay couples regardless of whether they live in a jurisdiction where same-sex marriage is legal. Among those were benefits related to immigration, taxes, employer-provided pensions and federal employee benefits.

But in the memo, Holder says the Justice Department concluded as part of its review it cannot extend certain Social Security and veterans benefits to these couples if they live in one of 31 states where same-sex couples cannot legally marry.

Because federal law governing certain Social Security and veterans benefits looks to the place of residence, not the place of celebration, in determining whether a couple is married, the administration determined Congress must pass additional legislation to extend these benefits to married same-sex couples living in non-marriage equality states.

Despite the denial of these benefits, most LGBT advocates praised the Obama administration for its response to the court’s ruling.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, gave the Obama administration a grade of “A” for the extension of benefits to married same-sex couples.

“The U.S. Attorney General and the administration deserves an ‘A’ grade for their efforts to fully implement the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision, a long list of changes that deeply and positively impacts the lives of millions of same-sex couples and their families,” Carey said. “Moreover, it speaks volumes about the values of inclusion and diversity that underpins President Obama’s approach to delivering freedom and justice for all Americans.”

Also happy on the day the completion of the review was announced was Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work.

On Friday, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez announced his department is issuing a new rule to ensure individuals in same-sex marriages can take leave from an employer to care for a spouse under the Family & Medical Leave Act. This new rule builds off an earlier announcement that this benefit would be available in the wake of the DOMA decision, but only for same-sex couples applying for the benefit in states with marriage equality.

Almeida, who had pushed the administration to make the rule change, said the new policy “will let employers in all 50 states know that gay and lesbian married couples must be treated with respect when they seek workplace leave to take care of a same-sex spouse that gets into an accident or is diagnosed with an illness.

“There is no doubt that this administration has already done and continues to do more to promote LGBT fairness than any other in our nation’s history,” Almeida concluded.

Certain benefits won’t extend to gay couples

But that sense of satisfaction wasn’t shared by everyone, particularly LGBT groups that were pressuring the Obama administration to enforce Social Security and veterans laws in such a way that married same-sex couples could receive related benefits in non-marriage equality states.

Vickie Henry, a staff attorney with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, expressed general satisfaction with the implementation of the DOMA decision, but acknowledged her group had previously said all Social Security benefits should flow to married same-sex couples regardless of where they live.

“We have advocated with the White House and the Department of Justice that there was room for them to interpret the Social Security Act to allow the extension of benefits,” Henry said. “They’ve reached the conclusion that they’ve reached. We thought that they had some room, and they are pursuing a legislative solution.”

Henry advised same-sex couples that live in non-marriage equality states and think they’re entitled to Social Security benefits to “keep those claims alive” and apply despite the administration’s post-DOMA policy.

“We’ve had people here who’ve called us because they had a spouse and they couldn’t continue to live in their home, and they lost their home, because they weren’t immediately able to access their Social Security benefits,” Henry said. “The harm here for real people can be quite significant.”

Despite the general rule about withholding Social Security benefits for married same-sex couples in non-marriage equality states, the Justice Department found limited workaround.

If a married same-sex couple applies for benefits in a marriage-equality state, but moves to another state that doesn’t recognize the marriage, the agency won’t withhold benefits based on the place of residence standard during or after the application process.

Further, same-sex couples living in states with domestic partnerships or civil unions, but not marriage equality, would be eligible for Social Security benefits. Those states are Colorado, Wisconsin and Nevada.

Stephen Peters, president of the LGBT military group known as American Military Partner Association, called on Congress to take action, saying he’s “saddened and frustrated” that the Justice Department has decided it cannot afford to extend spousal veterans benefits to same-sex couples in states without marriage equality.

“While the administration has made great efforts in providing legal recognition to married same-sex couples wherever they determined it legally possible, it simply isn’t enough,” Peter said. “Our LGBT veterans have served, sacrificed, and in some cases died right alongside their heterosexual counterparts, and our nation cannot allow this injustice to continue.”

As with Social Security, veterans benefits would still be able to flow to married same-sex couples in non-marriage equality states for the purposes of 1) transfer of GI-Bill education benefits to dependents; 2) access to group life insurance and family insurance group life insurance programs; 3) and eligibility for dependent and survivor education assistance.

Moreover, the VA recently instituted a rule change to allow joint burial for the same-sex partners of veterans in domestic partnerships or civil unions.

But according to the American Military Partner Association, veterans in non-marriage equality states still won’t have access to important benefits like ChampVA (health care for spouses of disabled veterans), higher disability compensation for disabled veterans with dependents, full access to VA home loans, and many survivor benefits for widows.

One piece of legislation that would extend all of these benefits is the Respect for Marriage Act, sponsored by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) in the House and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in the Senate, which has a “certainty” principle that would ensure the federal benefits of marriage would flow to married same-sex couples regardless of where they live.

The Social Security & Marriage Equality Act, introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), would address issues related to Social Security benefits, while an amendment introduced by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) along the lines of the Charlie Morgan Act would address veterans benefits. The Veteran Spouses Equal Treatment Act, sponsored by Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) in the U.S. House, would also address issues related to veterans benefits.

But movement on any of these bills would be extremely difficult in the Republican-controlled U.S. House, and even in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate given the limited time remaining in the legislative calendar this Congress. Moreover, whether President Obama would work to guide them toward passage remains to be seen.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, enumerated the bills that could address the situation when asked if President Obama would call for a vote on them in the U.S. Senate by year’s end.

“We look forward to working with lawmakers to pass legislation like the Respect for Marriage bills introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Jerrold Nadler, the Social Security & Marriage Equality Act introduced by Sens. Mark Udall and Patty Murray, and the Veterans Affairs’ amendment proposed by Sens. Mark Udall and Jeanne Shaheen earlier this year,” Inouye said.

Another ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court instituting marriage equality throughout the country would also address the situation. Litigation continues to percolate through the judiciary, so a final ruling from the Supreme Court on the marriage issue is expected by the middle of next year.

Dena Iverson, a Justice Department spokesperson, emphasized the importance of legislation as a means to address the issue when asked about the pending litigation.

“I will refer you to our release today that said, ‘The administration looks forward to working with Congress to fix these parts of the law to ensure that Americans who rely on these programs can obtain these essential benefits no matter where they live,’” Iverson said.

Another solution could be additional litigation from same-sex couples against the federal government in these non-marriage equality states seeking Social Security and veterans benefits.

GLAD’s Henry, however, said she’s unaware of any such litigation in the works, and the process for that to happen with Social Security benefits would take an inordinate amount of time.

“It can be more than a year, which is why once you got your initial denial, you can seek an expedited review and permission to go to court, which can take a long time,” Henry said.

Henry acknowledged a nationwide ruling from the Supreme Court in favor of marriage equality would also address the situation. Although there’d be a question about retroactivity, Henry said GLAD believes such a ruling would apply to couples who had previously sought benefits.

Despite some dissatisfaction with the continued withholding of benefits, no LGBT advocate is outright criticizing the Obama administration for enforcing the place of residence standard under current law for certain Social Security and veterans benefits.

Doug NeJaime, a law professor at University of California, Irvine, said the administration’s interpretation of the relevant statutes makes sense even in the wake of the DOMA decision.

“Given the governing laws relating to social security and veterans benefits, and specifically use of residence or domicile as the determinant of marital status, it is not surprising that the administration has been unable to extend spousal benefits to same-sex couples merely through regulatory changes,” NeJaime said. “What exactly lawfully married means depends on the statutes and regulations in particular contexts, and the administration has done a lot to implement a place of celebration rule as widely as possible.”

23
Jun
2014

Baldwin delivers stirring Pride speech

Melissa Etheridge, United States Department of Justice, gay news, Washington Blade, LGBT Pride, Tammy Baldwin, United States Senate, Wisconsin, Democratic Party

Sen. Tammy Baldwin speaks at a DOJ Pride event. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) delivered a stirring keynote address Tuesday on advancing LGBT rights as the nation awaits Supreme Court decisions that could potentially advance marriage equality throughout the country.

In an address in the Great Hall of the U.S. Justice Department where employees commemorated June as the month of Pride, the first out lesbian elected to the U.S. Senate spoke about the importance of continuing to advance LGBT rights.

Recalling her attendance for oral arguments on DOMA before the Supreme Court, Baldwin said much attention was devoted to federalism and standing, but the debate on marriage equality “isn’t really about any of those things.”

“It’s about fairness, it’s about whether gay and lesbian Americans deserve to be treated just like our family members, our friends and our neighbors,” Baldwin said. “It’s about opportunity, about whether every American gets to dream the same dreams, choose the same ambitions and have the same shot … And it’s about freedom: the freedom to love, the freedom to commit, the freedom to build a family.”

Baldwin spoke on stage at a podium next to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who delivered opening remarks prior to her speech, and lesbian signer Melissa Ethridge. Baldwin’s office said her complete remarks weren’t available.

Invoking former Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s work in diversifying the Justice Department as the black civil rights movement unfolded in the 1960s, Baldwin said the LGBT movement is the current battle for equality and noted the importance of pending court cases on marriage.

“Of course, as much progress as that generation made in fulfilling the promises America makes about fairness and equality, there was plenty left to do for generations that followed,” Baldwin said. “But we gather today, at another moment of great progress in the area of civil rights — this time for LGBT Americans.”

She also reflected on the progress on LGBT issues in recent years, which she said has taken place because more Americans “have decided that they want to leave to the next generation a country that is more equal, not less.”

“That, along with the hard work of so many champions of equality — from the president to the activists in all our 50 states — that is why we have so many firsts to celebrate today,” Baldwin said. “And that’s why the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act is on the books — and ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ isn’t.”

Baldwin also ticked off numerous pending LGBT bills — saying she’s “even more excited about the progress that’s in our reach” with President Obama in the White House — even progress on legislation that often isn’t given considerable attention.

“Progress like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, so that we don’t have to contend with the … reality that in more than two dozen states, it’s to legal to discriminate against LGBT employees,” Baldwin said. “And progress like the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, so that LGBT students can go to school worried about math tests and swim meets, and not about bullying and harassment. Progress like the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act, so that LGBT Americans who work to support their families in the civil service can be rest assured that their partners can enjoy benefits like health insurance and retirement.”

But Baldwin concluded by saying the LGBT rights movement is actually about working toward a cultural change to ensure LGBT people are treated fairly.

“But we don’t want to just live in a country where our rights our respected under the law, we want to live in a country where we are respected for who were are, where we enjoy the freedom and opportunity not because the Supreme Court gave us permission, but because we’re Americans, and that’s all there is to it,” Baldwin said.

The speech elicited considerable excitement from the audience. After she spoke, Holder stood up on stage and said, “Wow!” and “That was good!”

Chris Hook, a Justice Department attorney and secretary for the LGBT affinity group DOJ Pride, said Baldwin struck an emotional chord with the audience.

“Part of it is, she’s achieved so much within our own community, and it’s really great to see her supporting and championing causes not only for the LGBT community, but as Americans writ large,” Hook said.

18
Jun
2013

YouTube accused of ‘protecting’ anti-gay church

Brent Childers, gay news, Washington Blade

Brent Childers, executive director of Faith in America. (Photo courtesy of Childers)

The LGBT advocacy group Faith In America says YouTube has refused to explain why it removed from its website a video produced by the group about a 22-year-old gay man who says he was held against his will for four months and assaulted by members of a North Carolina church that considers homosexuality a form of “demonic possession.”

Brent Childers, executive director of Faith In America, said he believes the Spindale, N.C., based Word of Faith Fellowship church misled YouTube into thinking the video infringed upon its religious freedom.

Childers and others who have monitored the church say it has the characteristics of a cult and exerts extraordinary control over the lives of its members and their children. They say Word of Faith Fellowship, which operates on a 40-acre campus, has a long history of abusive treatment of gays.

“It is really dumbfounding,” Childers said. “YouTube allows a controversial video that pokes fun at Islam. But here we have a video in which a person is telling his own personal knowledge of how this bizarre Christian church treats gay youth or those suspected of being gay, and they remove the video.”

Attempts by the Washington Blade to reach YouTube, which is owned by the search engine giant Google, have been unsuccessful. A YouTube spokesperson couldn’t be reached by phone and the company didn’t respond to email sent to an address listed for “press inquiries.”

Pastors Jane and Sam Whaley, the founders and leaders of Word of Faith Fellowship, posted a message on the church website denying the church has mistreated gays and said the allegations made by the Faith In America video were false.

The gay man who is the subject of the video, Michael Lowry, told the Washington Blade his parents raised him as a church member since he was born and that he attended church operated schools on the church compound from kindergarten through 12th grade.

He said church members subjected him to severe pressure since his early teens to expel what they said were “demons” within him that were causing him to embrace homosexuality.

“I was very different than a lot of the other kids,” he said. “I was viewed as being gay. I never said I am gay…It was a very hard time. Through my whole school years I was very bullied, hurt because of that.”

Lowry said that around July of 2011, church members came to his home while his parents were out of town and forced him to go with them to a building on the church compound known as the Fourth Building, where male church members reportedly are taken for punishment for violating church rules.

He said he was held in the building against his will for four months and at one point was assaulted by church members assigned to watch over him during his stay at the facility. He said church officials released him in November 2011.

FBI may have been contacted by U.S. Attorney’s Office

Jerry Cooper, a Baptist minister and former member of Word of Faith Fellowship, said he has been assisting Lowry since last year in his role as a counselor to people who leave the church and who often suffer psychological scars from their experiences with the church.

Childers said the video that YouTube deleted consisted of an interview with Cooper talking about Michael Lowry’s case. Childers said for unknown reasons YouTube did not delete a separate video that includes an interview with Lowry.

According to Cooper and Don Huddle, a member of Faith Freedom Fund, a North Carolina group that helps ex-Word of Faith Fellowship members adjust to life outside the church, said church members brought Lowry to a nearby hotel after they released him.

“They took him to the hotel with just a few of his belongings,” said Huddle, who noted that someone familiar with the church alerted his group to Lowry’s plight and informed him that a confused and emotionally distraught young man had been taken to the hotel.

“I picked him up from the hotel and brought him to a safe house,” he said. Huddle said Faith Freedom Fund has a network of volunteers and supporters who spring into action when they learn of Word of Faith Fellowship members who desire to leave the church.

Cooper said he met Lowry through Huddle’s group in 2011 and advised him to consider reporting the church’s actions against him to the Rutherford County Sheriff’s office, which is the law enforcement agency in the area where the church is located.

He said Lowry reported to a Sheriff’s Office investigator that he had been taken against his will and held against his will by church members, and the office began an investigation that resulted in Lowry being called this week to testify before a county grand jury. His testimony was scheduled for Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Childers said Faith In America contacted the U.S. Justice Department about Lowry’s allegations in October and called on the department to investigate the church’s alleged detention of Lowry and his claim of being assaulted by church members as a possible anti-gay hate crime.

A spokesperson for the United States Attorney’s Office in the Western District of North Carolina, which represents the Justice Department, said she would make inquiries about whether her office has responded to Faith In America’s request for an investigation. The spokesperson didn’t immediately get back to the Blade.

However, Cooper said an FBI agent interviewed Lowry for several hours last week about his allegations against the church, a development that suggests the U.S. Attorney’s office contacted the FBI to investigate the matter.

A copy of an incident report taken from Lowry by the Sheriff’s Office in February 2012 and released by Faith in America, says a group of men affiliated with the church “held him down and hit him about the face and chest area” at the time the church held him against his will in August 2011.

“Mr. Lowry stated that he told them to let go but they would not,” the report says. “The reason they [did] this was because he was homosexual and they [were] trying to get him to stop being homosexual. When this incident was taking place, the group would tell him he had demons in him and he was going to hell,” the report says.

‘YouTube… is giving cover to a church that believes it is OK to harm gay youth’

A statement released by Faith In America says that during Lowry’s forced stay at the church facility “he was subjected to humiliating acts, such as being made to sleep on the floor in the hallway and had to submit to supervised bathroom visits because church members feared he might be masturbating.”

“What YouTube is doing, perhaps inadvertently in this particular case, is giving cover to a church that believes it is OK to harm gay youth and families in the name of religious teaching,” Chiders said. “In doing so, it is giving cover to a vast number of churches who do the same thing, whether a small charismatic church in rural North Carolina or a large Methodist church in some American suburb.”

In a posting on its website, Word of Faith Fellowship disputes Lowry’s allegations and accuses Faith in America of “repeated vicious lies” about the church.

“We have always been a church that has loved everybody, because God is love,” the statement says. “What Michael Roy Lowry has said never happened. We would never allow it to happen. We do not discriminate against anyone, and we never have.”

The statement adds, “We never knew Michael Roy Lowry was gay until we heard it on the news program. It would have made no difference to us, because we love him.”

Cooper, who said he has closely followed Word of Faith Fellowship since he left it in 1998, said evidence is “overwhelming” from people who leave the church that church leaders abuse people suspected of being gay or suspected of engaging in any type of sexual activity not deemed appropriate by the church, even between consenting adults, gay or straight.

He said the church has prohibited Lowry’s family from seeing or talking to Lowry, a practice he said the church carries out with most people who leave it.

09
Jan
2013

Family to memorialize slain trans woman

The stepfather and sister of a transgender woman stabbed to death at a Northeast D.C. bus stop last February are inviting members of the LGBT community to participate in a memorial remembrance for Deoni Jones on Saturday, Feb. 2, to commemorate the anniversary of her death.

Deoni Jones, gay news, gay politics dc

Over 200 people attended a candlelight vigil held for Jones. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Jones’ family members, who refer to her by her birth name JaParker, told more than 200 people who turned out for a vigil at the site of the murder days after the incident took place that they fully accepted her as a transgender woman and treated her as a cherished member of the family.

“We want to have this event to not only honor JaParker, but to also shine light on the fact that so often members of our society who are GLBT face violence in their daily lives simply because of who they are, and that as a civilized society we will not tolerate violence against the GLBT community,” said Alvin Bethea, Jones’ stepfather.

“At this memorial we will have prayer, songs, and statements from the community,” Bethea said in an email to the Blade.

He said Jones’ sister, JuDean Jones, and other family members and friends were helping to organize the memorial remembrance.

The event is scheduled to take place 4:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 2, at East Capitol Street and Sycamore Street, N.E., at the site of the Metro bus stop where police say Jones was stabbed while sitting on a bench waiting for a bus.

Through the help of witnesses and nearby residents, D.C. police charged 55-year-old Gary Niles Montgomery with second-degree murder while armed in connection with Jones’ death eight days after the murder took place. In November, a D.C. Superior Court grand jury indicted Montgomery on a charge of first-degree murder while armed.

He has been held in jail without bond since the time of his arrest in February 2012.

A police arrest affidavit says a video surveillance camera which recorded the murder shows a male assailant taking Jones’ purse immediately after stabbing her in the face. The affidavit says witnesses identified the person in the video as Montgomery.

Although the taking of the purse indicates the motive of the attack was robbery, police said they have not ruled out the possibility that Jones was targeted because of her status as a transgender person.

However, Bethea told the Blade that he and his family believe Jones’ murder was a hate crime and that police and prosecutors should have classified it as a hate crime, which would give a judge authority to hand down a more stringent or “enhanced” sentence if Montgomery is convicted.

“We believe that it is clear in the video footage of this murder that the elements of a hate crime are present and that hate crime enhancement papers should be served upon this individual,” Bethea said in a email.

He said the family has urged the U.S. Attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the case, to list the murder as a hate crime.

“[W]e are considering filing a complaint with the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division seeking redress of [this] error,” Bethea said in his email.

According to court records, on March 23, Montgomery was declared competent to stand trial following a court ordered mental evaluation. He pleaded not guilty on Nov. 9, two days after the grand jury indicted him on the first-degree murder while armed charge. During a court hearing on Nov. 30, Superior Court Judge Robert E. Morin scheduled a trial date for June 10.

Court records show that questions surrounding Montgomery’s metal health surfaced in January, prompting Morin to order “24 hour forensic screening” for Montgomery “based on the representations of defense counsel.”

Morin scheduled a mental observation hearing for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29, to assess Montgomery’s condition.

Court records show Morin denied at least two requests by Montgomery’s attorneys that he be released from jail while awaiting trial. Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s office opposed the requests for Montgomery’s release.

D.C. Homicide Watch, a blog that reports on all murder cases in the city, reported that defense attorney Colle Latin argued in a motion that prosecutors failed to demonstrate that Montgomery would be a risk to the community or of fleeing the area if released. Latin also argued that the video, which is fuzzy in quality, doesn’t clearly identify Montgomery as the person who stabbed Jones.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

28
Jan
2013

Memorial planned for slain trans woman

Deoni Jones, gay news, gay politics dc

Over 200 people attended a candlelight vigil held for murdered trans woman Deoni Jones. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The stepfather and sister of a transgender woman stabbed to death at a Northeast D.C. bus stop last February are inviting members of the LGBT community to participate in a memorial remembrance for Deoni Jones on Saturday, Feb. 2, to commemorate the anniversary of her death.

The memorial was scheduled to take place four days after a D.C. Superior Court judge ordered a 56-year-old man arrested for the murder last Feb. 10 transferred from jail, where he was awaiting trial, to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for mental observation.

Jones’ family members, who refer to her by her birth name JaParker, told more than 200 people who turned out for a vigil at the site of the murder days after the incident took place that they fully accepted her as a transgender woman and treated her as a cherished member of the family.

“We want to have this event to not only honor JaParker, but to also shine light on the fact that so often members of our society who are GLBT face violence in their daily lives simply because of who they are, and that as a civilized society we will not tolerate violence against the GLBT community,” said Alvin Bethea, Jones’ stepfather.

“At this memorial we will have prayer, songs, and statements from the community,” Bethea said in an email to the Blade.

He said Jones’ sister, JuDean Jones, and other family members and friends were helping to organize the memorial.

The event is scheduled to take place at 4:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 2, at East Capitol Street and Sycamore Street, N.E., at the site of the Metro bus stop where police say Jones was stabbed while sitting on a bench waiting for a bus.

Through the help of witnesses and nearby residents, D.C. police charged then 55-year-old Gary Niles Montgomery with second-degree murder while armed in connection with Jones’ death eight days after the murder took place. In November, a D.C. Superior Court grand jury indicted Montgomery on a charge of first-degree murder while armed.

Until the time of his transfer this week to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, he had been held in jail without bond since the time of his arrest in February 2012.

A police arrest affidavit says a video surveillance camera that recorded the murder shows a male assailant taking Jones’ purse immediately after stabbing her in the face. The affidavit says witnesses identified the person in the video as Montgomery.

Although the taking of the purse indicates the motive of the attack was robbery, police said they have not ruled out the possibility that Jones was targeted because of her status as a transgender person.

However, Bethea told the Blade that he and his family believe Jones’ murder was a hate crime and that police and prosecutors should have classified it as a hate crime, which would give a judge authority to hand down a more stringent or “enhanced” sentence if Montgomery is convicted.

“We believe that it is clear in the video footage of this murder that the elements of a hate crime are present and that hate crime enhancement papers should be served upon this individual,” Bethea said in an email.

He said the family has urged the U.S. Attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the case, to list the murder as a hate crime.

“[W]e are considering filing a complaint with the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division seeking redress of [this] error,” Bethea said in his email.

According to court records, on March 23, Montgomery was declared competent to stand trial following a court-ordered mental evaluation. He pleaded not guilty on Nov. 9, two days after the grand jury indicted him on the first-degree murder while armed charge. During a court hearing on Nov. 30, Superior Court Judge Robert E. Morin scheduled a trial date for June 10.

Court records show that questions surrounding Montgomery’s mental health surfaced in January, prompting Morin to order “24 hour forensic screening” for Montgomery “based on the representations of defense counsel.”

During a court hearing on Tuesday, Morin ordered that Montgomery be transferred to St. Elizabeth’s to undergo a “full competency examination” at the recommendation of a psychiatrist, court records show. The records show Morin vacated the June 10 trial date and scheduled a follow-up mental observation hearing for April 5 to assess Montgomery’s ability to stand trial.

Court records show that at a previous hearing Morin denied at least two requests by Montgomery’s attorneys that he be released from jail while awaiting trial. Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s office opposed the requests for Montgomery’s release.

William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office, said the office doesn’t comment on pending criminal cases.

This is an update of a story published earlier this week, here.

30
Jan
2013

Mayor, city officials attend memorial for slain trans woman

Vince Gray, Democratic Party, Washington D.C., District of Columbia, Anacostia, JaParker Deoni Jones, gay news, Washington Blade, transgender

Mayor Vince Gray attended the memorial for slain trans woman Deoni Jones, along with several other D.C. officials. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, and Deputy Police Chief Diane Groomes were among a contingent of city officials who joined about 100 participants Saturday night in a memorial remembrance for slain trans woman Deoni Jones.

Jones, 23, was stabbed to death Feb. 2, 2012 while sitting at a bus stop near her home at East Capitol Street and Sycamore Road, N.E. A 56-year-old District man was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder while armed in connection with Jones’ murder.

As participants in Saturday’s memorial assembled next to the bus stop where the murder occurred exactly one year earlier, Earl Fowlkes, president of the gay rights group Center for Black Equity, introduced Jones’ family members, who organized the event.

“First of all, they could have stayed private, which would be understandable to heal, to seek justice, and to grieve,” Fowlkes said. “But instead, they joined with the LGBT community and stayed with the LGBT community in their time of pain to show that we cannot tolerate violence in our community.”

Alvin Bethea, Jones’ stepfather, told the gathering he and his family were deeply moved by the support they have received from the LGBT community as well as from Mayor Gray and the police and fire departments, which he said responded quickly to the scene where Deoni Jones was attacked.

“President Obama put the country on notice that discrimination against the GLBT community is wrong,” he said, adding that many in the D.C. community were following Obama’s message of equality for all citizens.

But Bethea said he and his family were troubled that the U.S. Attorney’s office has declined their repeated calls for classifying Jones’ murder as a hate crime. He called on the city and the LGBT community to join his family’s efforts to persuade the prosecutor in charge of the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gorman, to add a hate crime designation to the charge against defendant Gary Montgomery, whom D.C. police arrested eight days after the murder.

Bethea said the family plans to file a complaint with the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal and civil rights divisions requesting an investigation into the handling of the case by the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s office.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office said the office has a policy of not commenting on criminal cases currently before the courts.

In charging documents, police and prosecutors said that a video recording of the incident obtained from a nearby video surveillance camera shows that the person who stabbed Jones took her purse immediately after the stabbing and walked from the scene with the purse in his possession.

The charging documents say the assailant shown on the video recording, which witnesses have identified as Montgomery, dropped the purse after a witness shouted and chased after him. A police arrest affidavit says that the suspect escaped from the scene and remained at large until D.C. police apprehended him eight days later.

Deoni Jones, gay news, Washington Blade

Remembrance of Deoni Jones. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Jones’ friends and family members have said they believe the true motive was hatred toward a transgender person rather than robbery. At the time of Montgomery’s arrest, a police investigator said police were considering the possibility that the incident was a hate crime.

When asked about the family’s and community’s concerns over the lack of a hate crime designation to the case, Gray told reporters after the memorial ended that he would ask the D.C. Attorney General’s office to look into the matter.

“I think there ought to be a clear indication of why or why not this is viewed or not viewed as a hate crime,” Gray said. “The family clearly is not satisfied. And I think we all owe it to them to give a clear explanation over why the direction of the case is proceeding the way it is.”

Gray added, “We can get our attorney general to make a statement to the U.S. Attorney’s office to say we want a clear determination on this situation. And let the family have peace on this because they clearly are still very restive about this whole situation.”

Others who spoke at the memorial included D.C. Council members David Catania (I-At-Large) and Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7); Groomes and Ellerbe; Sterling Washington, director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs; Hassan Naveed, co-chair of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence; and Brian Watson of Transgender Health Empowerment.

In the closing prayer, Rev. Dyan Abena McGray, pastor of the LGBT supportive congregation Unity Fellowship, urged members of the LGBT community to be vigilant and supportive in the wake of Deoni Jones’ death.
“I ask you to support one another,” she said. “Stay close to one another. Travel in twos. Protect each other, because there are people outside our group that don’t like us. They don’t understand us,” she said. “But we understand each other so we have to support each other.”
As participants held lit candles and snow began to fall, McGray added, “Just look around. Look at the family here. We are family.”
04
Feb
2013