October 26, 2013 at 6:24 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
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.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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