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D.C. Council urged to strengthen anti-bullying bill

Activists, experts say measure lacks reporting provisions



Council members Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and David Catania (I-At-Large). (Blade photo by Michael Key)

At least eight witnesses representing LGBT organizations told a D.C. City Council committee on Monday that an anti-bullying bill introduced in January is an important first step in addressing the problem of bullying and harassment in the city’s schools, parks and libraries.

But the LGBT representatives – as well as other witnesses – testified that the Bullying and Intimidation Prevention Act of 2011 lacks sufficient implementation and accountability provisions needed to ensure its effective enforcement.

“It does not benefit students to pass a new anti-bullying law unless there are real accountability standards and implementation processes in place,” said Alison Gill, public policy manager for the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), a national group that advocates for LGBT-supportive polices in the nation’s schools.

“The District of Columbia has been a pioneer on issues such as nondiscrimination in schools and yet is one of only a handful of jurisdictions in this country without an anti-bullying law,” Gill said.

Gill and the other witnesses spoke before the Council’s Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation, one of two committees with jurisdiction over the anti-bullying bill.

While saying bullying and harassment is a serious problem that affects all young people, they pointed to studies showing that the problem has had a greater impact on LGBT youth.

“Bullying and harassment has often increased adverse effects on marginalized students, including those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender,” Gill told the committee.

“According to GLSEN’s 2009 National School Climate Survey, nearly nine out of 10 LGBT students experience verbal or physical harassment in school,” she said. “Thirty percent missed at least one day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable.”

The bill requires the city’s public and charter schools, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the city’s public libraries, and the University of the District of Columbia to adopt “a policy prohibiting harassment, intimidation or bullying” in their respective facilities, buildings and grounds.

Others testifying in support of the bill and calling for adding various strengthening provisions included Andrew Barnett, executive director of the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL); Amy Morgan of the D.C. Trans Coalition; Adam Tenner, executive director of Metro Teen AIDS; Annie Kaplan, president of the Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan D.C.; Rick Rosendall, vice president of the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance; Bob Summersgill, Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and former GLAA president; and Christopher Dyer, former director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs.

Also expressing support for the bill were Chad Ferguson, director of the Office of Youth Engagement for D.C. Public Schools; Jesus Aguirre, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation; and Micki Freeny, coordinator of children’s services for the D.C. public library system.

Most of these witnesses — but not the three government officials — called on the Council to add these new provisions to the bill:

• A required reporting system to keep track of incidents of bullying and harassment that would allow the city to gather data on the prevalence and types of harassment and bullying incidents and how well the law is working to curtail such incidents.

• An improved and strengthened implementation provision that, among other things, creates an implementation task force consisting of community advocates and officials from affected city agencies.

• The bill’s definition of bullying, intimidation and harassment should be broadened to include the full list of protected groups and characteristics in the D.C. Human Rights Act. In addition, the bill should include protections against bullying and harassment targeting people for who they associate with.

“Students may experience bullying not based on who they are, but based on the people that they associate with and therefore need to be explicitly protected for this reason,” GLSEN’s Gill said in her testimony.

The bill has been assigned to the Council’s Committee of the Whole in addition to the Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation. The Committee of the Whole, whose ranks include all 13 Council members, has jurisdiction over the city’s public and charter school systems and plays a role in deciding on all school-related legislation.

Council Chair Kwame Brown (D-At-Large), chair of the Committee of the Whole, is a co-introducer of the Bullying and Intimidation Prevention Act, along with Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who is gay; and Council members Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) and Michael Brown (D-At-Large).

Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), chair of the Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation, which held Monday’s hearing, is a co-sponsor of the bill along with six other Council members, including gay Council member David Catania (I-At-Large).

City Hall observers say support for the bill on the Council is overwhelming. With Mayor Vincent Gray saying he would sign the measure, there’s little doubt that some form of an anti-bullying bill will clear the city’s legislative process this year and make its way to Capitol Hill for final clearance by Congress.

The LGBT advocates who testified at Monday’s hearing said their main objective is to persuade the Council to adopt the proposed changes they have submitted in the form of one or more amendments to the bill.

“Thank you for your testimony, which has been tremendously helpful,” Bowser told several of the witnesses, including those representing LGBT organizations.

Catania, who was the only other committee member to attend the hearing, also praised the witnesses and expressed support for a comprehensive anti-bullying bill “with teeth.”

Bowser said she and her Council colleagues were open to the suggestions and recommendations of the witnesses but made no commitment to adopt the proposed changes.

The legislation defines harassment, intimidation or bullying as “any gesture or written, verbal or physical act, including electronic communication, that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory handicap, or by any other distinguishing characteristic…”

The definition says that in order to be considered harassment, intimidation or bullying under the bill’s school-related provisions, the act in question must be understood by a “reasonable person” to have the “effect of harming or damaging the student’s property, or placing a student in reasonable fear of harm to his person or damage to his property…”

It says an act can be labeled as harassment, intimidation or bullying if it has the “effect of insulting or demeaning any student or group of students in such as a way as to cause substantial disruption in, or substantial interference with, the orderly operation of a school, university, recreation facility, or library.”

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Va. senator introduces anti-transgender student athlete bill

Democrats have vowed to thwart anti-LGBTQ measures in state Senate



transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on Friday, would require “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.'”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.”

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Comings & Goings

Hazen inducted into Cooperative Hall of Fame



Paul Hazen

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Paul Hazen on his being inducted into the 2022 Cooperative Hall of Fame.  On receiving the honor, he said, “I am very lucky to be given the opportunity to combine my work in international development with my volunteer cooperative development work in Washington DC.”

Hazen is executive director, U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC) and has devoted his career to elevating the cooperative voice domestically and internationally. U.S. co-ops include Ace Hardware, Land O’Lakes, Inc., Sunkist, REI and the Associated Press. Hazen helped establish federal legislation promoting rural co-op development.  

Prior to joining OCDC, he was CEO of Washington, D.C.-based National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International. During his 25-year tenure with the organization, he held key positions, including chief operating officer, vice president of public policy, vice president of member services and director of consumer cooperatives.

He worked for Rep. Al Baldus (Wisc.). He was executive director of Rural Housing Inc. in Madison, Wisc., where he developed co-ops and affordable housing projects in rural communities. 

As a volunteer, Hazen formed the Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) with 12 congregations in D.C.  In 2020, CPA secured more than $18.7 million in contracts resulting in an investment of $13 million in D.C.-based small businesses owned by people of color.

Ben Finzel

Congratulations also to Ben Finzel, who was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame. Upon receiving the honor, he said “To be recognized by your peers is wonderful; to be honored by them is amazing. I still can’t quite believe I have done enough to be worthy of this recognition, but I know enough to be thankful and appreciative of this high honor. Thank you PRSA National Capital Chapter for including me in such inspiring company; I will be forever grateful.”

Finzel is president of RENEWPR, a D.C.-based public affairs, communications consulting firm. In 2004, he helped launch FH Out Front, the first global LGBTQ communications practice at an international firm, Fleishman Hillard, and served as its first global chair. He started DC Family Communicators, a professional networking group for LGBTQ communications professionals. Finzel served on the Victory Campaign Board of the LGBTQ Victory Fund from 2007 to 2017.

His firm is currently celebrating its seventh year in business. To recognize that accomplishment, Finzel is launching an endowed scholarship at his alma mater, Texas Tech University. His business is certified as an LGBT Business Enterprise by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

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Judge rules trans teacher’s lawsuit against P.G. County can go to trial

Gay man files separate case charging discrimination



Jennifer Eller, gay news, Washington Blade
Jennifer Eller alleges the P.G. County school system subjected her to discrimination and harassment. (Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal)

A federal judge in Maryland issued a ruling on Tuesday, Jan. 18, clearing the way for a lawsuit filed by transgender former English teacher Jennifer Eller in 2018 charging the Prince George’s County, Md., Public Schools with discrimination and harassment based on her gender identity to proceed to a trial.

In the ruling, Judge Theodore D. Chuang of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland denied key parts of several motions filed by attorneys representing the P.G. County Public Schools that in effect called for the dismissal of the lawsuit. The motions, among other things, claimed the lawsuit failed to provide sufficient evidence that Eller was subjected to discrimination and harassment, which forced her to resign due to a hostile work environment.

Chuang also ruled against a separate motion introduced by Eller’s attorneys calling for him to issue a summary judgement decision affirming all the lawsuit’s allegations that would have ended the litigation in Eller’s favor without the need to go to trial.

Eller’s lawsuit charges that school officials acted illegally by failing to intervene when she was subjected to a hostile work environment for five years that included abuse and harassment by students, parents, fellow teachers, and supervisors and retaliation by school administrators.

The lawsuit alleges that the school system and its administrators in its actions against Eller violated Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act of 1972, the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act, and the nondiscrimination provision of the Prince George’s County Code.

“We think the judge did as best he could,” said Omar Gonzales-Pagan, an attorney with the LGBTQ litigation group Lambda Legal, which, along with the D.C. law firm Arnold & Porter, are representing Eller in her lawsuit.

“The takeaway is that the case is now in a posture to proceed to trial,” Gonzales-Pagan told the Washington Blade. “The court found that the alleged facts and the information as discovered throughout the case in the discovery process is sufficient to allow a jury to find whether Jennifer Eller was subjected to a hostile work environment and constructive discharge and retaliation unlawfully by the defendants,” he said.

By the term constructive discharge, Gonzales-Pagan was referring to the lawsuit’s charge that Eller was forced to resign from her teaching job in 2017 after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to the alleged abuse she faced on the job.

P.G. County Public Schools officials have declined to comment on the lawsuit on grounds that the school system has a longstanding policy of not discussing pending litigation. However, in its response to the lawsuit in court filings, school system officials have denied Eller’s allegations of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

“For years, I was aggressively misgendered, attacked and harassed in the hallways and even in my own classroom by students, peers and supervisors,” Eller said in a statement released by her attorneys.

“My pleas for help and for sensitivity training on LGBTQ issues for students and staff, were ignored,” Eller said in her statement. “The relentless harassment stripped me of the joy of teaching and forced me to resign,” she said. “It is time for Prince George’s County Public Schools to be held accountable.”

The lawsuit says the harassment and discriminatory action against her began in 2011 when she began presenting as female during the school year. It says school officials initially responded to her complaints about the harassment by demanding that she stop dressing as a woman and return to wearing men’s clothes, which she refused to do.

In a separate action, gay former Spanish teacher Jared Hester filed on his own without an attorney a lawsuit in the Maryland federal court charging the P.G. County Public Schools with failing to take action to prevent him from being subjected to discrimination and harassment similar to some of the allegations made in Eller’s lawsuit.

Hester told the Blade that he was subjected to harassment by students who repeatedly called him “faggot,” but school officials, including the principal of the middle school where he taught, refused to take action to stop the harassment.

He provided the Blade with copies of earlier complaints he filed against school system officials with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, and the P.G County Public Schools’ internal Office of Equity Assurance. Each of the three agencies issued rulings against Hester’s complaints, with two of them saying sufficient evidence could not be found to support his allegations.

The EEOC, in a Nov. 3, 2021 “dismissal” notice, told Hester the EEOC “will not proceed further with its investigation, and makes no determination about whether further investigation would establish violations of the statute.” The notice added, “This does not mean the claims have no merit” or that the respondent, meaning the P.G. County Public Schools, “is in compliance with the statutes.”

The notice did not give a reason for why it chose to end its investigation into Hester’s complaint, but it said his filing with the EEOC cleared the way for him to file a lawsuit to further his case against the school system. 

Hester told the Blade he reached out to Lambda Legal to represent him in his lawsuit, but the LGBTQ litigation group declined to take on his case without giving a reason. Gonzalez-Pagan, the Lambda attorney working on the Eller case, said he was unfamiliar with Hester’s request for representation. Another Lambda official couldn’t immediately be reached to determine the reason for its decision not to represent Hester.

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