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D.C. anti-bullying bill clears key vote

Training requirement eliminated to cut cost of measure

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Tommy Wells, gay news, gay politics dc

‘The bill delivers a strong message that this city will not tolerate bullying – especially for our LGBT youth,’ said Council member Tommy Wells. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A D.C. Council committee voted unanimously on April 20 to approve the Youth Bullying Prevention Act of 2012 and to send it to the full Council for an expected preliminary vote on May 1.

“The bill delivers a strong message that this city will not tolerate bullying – especially for our LGBT youth – in our schools, libraries, recreation centers and where the city serves its youth,” said Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6).

Wells is chair of the Council’s Committee on Libraries, Parks, Recreation and Planning, which worked with the mayor’s office and LGBT advocates over the past year to make significant revisions to the bill before voting to approve it last week.

With the city facing an expected budget shortfall next year, Wells and his fellow committee members were faced with the need to make changes to lower the cost of implementing the bill.

The revised version of the bill, for example, eliminates a provision in the earlier version that stated, “To the extent that funds are appropriated for these purposes,” various city agencies, including the public school system, “shall provide training on the agency’s harassment, intimidation or bullying policies to employees and volunteers who have significant contact with students or the public…”

The revised bill approved by the committee says the public schools and other city agencies “may … provide training on bullying prevention to all employees and volunteers who have significant contact with youth.”

Alison Gill, public policy manager for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, which worked with Wells’ office to help revise the bill, said the training requirement in the earlier version of the bill was contingent upon the availability of city funds and the elimination of that provision would have a minimal impact on the overall bill.

“I think it’s excellent,” Gill said of the revised bill. “The new bill addresses the issues the community had raised over the past year.”

Among those issues, Gill said, was the need to broaden the definition of bullying from the original bill to include all of the categories of individuals protected under the D.C. Human Rights Act and the need to strengthen the reporting requirements for schools and city agencies to keep track of bullying incidents.

The committee vote came just over one week after Mayor Vincent Gray announced he would put into place a citywide anti-bullying initiative through his executive authority as mayor. His proposal includes the creation of a special task force on bullying and the development of a model anti-bullying policy and standards to be used by city agencies with jurisdiction over youth.

The legislation approved by Wells’ committee, among other things, also calls for creating a bullying task force and developing a comprehensive anti-bullying policy for city agencies.

Gill said the mayor’s task force and bullying polices would be adopted as those required under the bill, with an expected smooth transition once the bill becomes law.

Eleven of the Council’s 13 members signed on as co-introducers or co-sponsors of the earlier version of the bill. Supporters say the new version is expected to pass the full Council by an overwhelming margin.

A summary of the bill’s provisions released by Wells’ office says the measure includes these key components:

• The establishment and implementation of a bullying prevention policy, including reporting and investigation guidelines, that specifically covers all youth, including youth of color, LGBT youth, and youth with disabilities.

• The establishment of an appeal process for a party dissatisfied with the outcome of an initial investigation of a bullying incident.

• A clear prohibition against retaliation against a target of bullying, a witness to a bullying incident, or someone who reports an incident of bullying.

• The granting of legal immunity from lawsuits against an employee, volunteer or youth who “in good faith” reports an incident of bullying.

The bill defines bullying as “any severe, persistent act or conduct, whether physical, electronic, or verbal that … shall be reasonably predicted to place the youth in reasonable fear of physical harm to his or her person or property; cause a substantial detrimental effect on the youth’s physical or mental health; substantially interfere with the youth’s academic performance or attendance; or substantially interfere with the youth’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or privileges provided by an agency, educational institution, or grantee.”

It defines “grantee” as an entity or contractor that provides services, activities or privileges to youth on behalf of the city.

Wells said at the time the committee voted to approve the bill that a financial impact statement prepared by the Office of the Chief Financial Officer shows that implementing the measure would cost the public school system $36,000 in fiscal year 2014 and $31,000 in both fiscal years 2015 and 2016.

Wells said public school officials indicated the system “cannot absorb this amount,” requiring that the Council and mayor identify other sources of funding.

Wells’ office said last month that an inability to identify funding sources for the bill was among the reasons it has been stalled in committee for more than a year. The revised bill is believed to be far less costly than the earlier version.

“I am confident we will resolve this issue before the bill has its first reading at the full Council,” Wells said.

The committee members who voted to approve the bill, in addition to Wells, were David Catania (I-At-Large), Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and Vincent Orange (D-At-Large).

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District of Columbia

Four LGBTQ candidates running for delegate to Democratic National Convention from D.C.

Thirty-two candidates competing for 13 elected delegate positions in April 20 party caucus

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From left, candidates include John Fanning, Jimmie Williams, Monika Nemeth and David Meadows. (Photos courtesy of the D.C. Democratic Party)

Four LGBTQ Democratic Party activists are running for election as delegates from D.C. to the Democratic National Convention at an April 20 local Democratic Party caucus election in which all D.C. voters who are registered as Democrats will be eligible to vote.

The four LGBTQ candidates are among 32 candidates competing for just 13 elected delegate positions. D.C. will have a total of 51 delegates to the Democratic Convention, but the other 38 include elected officials and party leaders who are considered “automatic” or appointed delegates. The convention will be held in Chicago Aug. 19-23,

Under the delegate selection process put in place by the D.C. Democratic Party, six of the thirteen elected delegate positions will be elected by voters in a section of the city designated as District 1, which includes Wards 1,2, 6, and 8. The other seven elected delegates will be chosen by voters in District 2, which includes Wards 3, 4, 5, and 7.

The LGBTQ candidates include longtime gay Democratic activists David Meadows of Ward 6 and John Fanning of Ward 2 who are running in District 1. Transgender rights advocate and Democratic Party activist Monika Nemeth of Ward 3 and gay Democratic activist Jimmie Williams of Ward 7 are running in District  2.

All four of the LGBTQ candidates have been active members of the Capital Stonewall Democrats, one of D.C.’s largest LGBTQ political organizations. Nemeth and Meadows are past presidents of the organization. Williams has served as chair of the Ward 7 Democratic Committee and is a current member of the committee. Fanning has served as an elected member of the D.C. Democratic State Committee from Ward 2 and served as a delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

A total of 12 candidates are running in each of the two districts. Under party rules the highest six vote getters in District 1 and the highest 7 vote getters in District 2 will be declared the winners.

The Saturday, April 20 caucus election for the delegate candidates will take place at the Walter E. Washington D.C. Convention Center. An announcement by party officials says two voting sessions will take place, one from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and the other from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Aside from the elected delegates, two prominent D.C. LGBTQ Democratic leaders will be appointed as delegates to the 2024 Democratic National Convention in their role as members of the Democratic National Committee from D.C.

They are Claire Lucas, a highly acclaimed Democratic Party and LGBTQ rights advocate and party fundraiser; and Earl Fowlkes, one of the lead organizers of D.C.’s annual Black LGBTQ Pride celebration and former president of Capital Stonewall Democrats.

Lucas and Fowlkes and the four LGBTQ candidates running in the April 20 caucus election are committed to backing President Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee for re-election.

Statements from each of the candidates running for delegate in the April 20 caucus election, including the four LGBTQ candidates, can be accessed here: Candidates for Delegate | DC Democratic Party

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District of Columbia

HIPS D.C. launches ‘Harm Reduction’ vending machine program

LGBTQ supportive group says program aimed at ‘saving lives’ in response to overdose crisis

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HIPS official Alexandra Bradley, at right, provides information about the HIPS Harm Reduction Vending Machine at Whitman-Walker's Max Robinson Center as University of Maryland Professor Andrea Lopez, who is conducting a study of the vending machine program, stands beside a red syringe disposal bin that accompanies the vending machines. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

HIPS D.C., the LGBTQ supportive organization that provides support and services for drug users and sex workers, officially launched on April 5 a ‘Harm Reduction Vending Machine Pilot Program’ that it says will help save lives by providing free of charge harm reduction supplies for drug users in locations where there is a “higher than average” rate of overdose cases.

The announcement of the project was held outside the Whitman-Walker Health Max Robinson Center building at 1201 Sycamore Dr., S.E., next to where one of the first three HIPS vending machines is located.

Alexandra Bradley, HIPS’ Outreach and Community Engagement Manager, told a small gathering at the announcement event that among the supplies provided free of charge through the vending machines are naloxone, the life-saving nasal spray medication used to treat an opioid drug overdose; fentanyl test kits, syringes, and syringe wound care kits; drug snort kits, condoms, and other items, including  water bottles and snack food such as crackers and granola bars.

Bradley and other officials with HIPS and Whitman-Walker Health said they believe most people, when informed of the rationale behind the vending machines and other programs supporting drug users, will understand that the programs are not encouraging drug use.

“People will use drugs,” Bradley said. “We want them to use them safely,” she added, with the hope that they will seek support to get off drugs. “We can’t help anybody if they are dead. We want to keep people safe,” Bradley said.

A statement released by HIPS says the vending machine pilot program is being funded by a grant from the D.C. Department of Health. It says anyone can access the machines free of charge by contacting HIPS through a phone number posted on the machines – 202-779-0486 – to obtain a four-digit participant code “that they will then punch in to use the machines.” It says that as of April 5, 150 individuals had already registered and enrolled in the program.

Bradley pointed out that registration is not required to obtain naloxone supplies, which can be obtained through a code number posted on the machines. She said each of the three machines are also accompanied by a metal disposal receptacle for safely placing used syringes.

“These machines have been placed in areas where there are higher concentrations of overdose deaths and/or underserved areas with high levels of need for access to services and supplies,” the HIPS statement says.

In addition to the HIPS vending machine at the site of Whitman-Walker’s Max Robinson Center, the second HIPS vending machine is located at The Michelle Obama Southeast Center of Bread for the City at 1700 Marion Barry Avenue, S.E., and the third one is located at Bread for the City’s Shaw neighborhood facility at 1525 7th Street, N.W.

The announcement of the vending machine harm reduction project comes at a time when many in the D.C. LGBTQ community have mourned the loss of beloved local LGBTQ members from a drug overdose, including accidental drug overdoses caused by contamination of their preferred drug such as cocaine with fentanyl.

Also speaking at the announcement event was Andrea Lopez, an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland’s Department of Anthropology, which she said is partnering with HIPS to conduct a  study of the vending machine pilot program and its impact as a public health project and the public health benefits of vending machines as an “intervention” in support of those in need.

Others who spoke at the event and provided details of the vending machine project were Cyndee Clay, the HIPS Executive Director; Starr O’Leary, the HIPS Community Outreach Coordinator;  and Jona Tanguay, an official with Whitman-Walker Health.

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Maryland

Md. lawmakers pass several LGBTQ rights bills during 2024 session

Senate committee failed to vote on HIV decriminalization bill

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Maryland lawmakers passed a number of LGBTQ rights bills during this year’s legislative session that ended on Monday.

House Bill 1397, which would strengthened the state’s nondiscrimination law that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, passed on Monday. 

The Freedom to Read Act, which, among other things, would “protect local library personnel from dismissal or disciplinary action for doing their jobs, in accordance with prescribed standards,” passed in the Maryland Senate on April 5. 

The state Senate on April 4 passed House Bill 602, which would bolster Maryland’s employment discrimination law. The Maryland House of Delegates on the same day approved a measure that would make Maryland a sanctuary state for transgender people and their health care providers.

FreeState Justice Policy Advocate and Legal Impact Coordinator Camila Reynolds-Dominguez in a statement notes lawmakers also “affirmed Maryland’s commitment to the federal Equal Rights Amendment” and “created much needed oversight for Maryland’s prison system.” 

She noted lawmakers “defeated a myriad of anti-trans bills and harmful amendments” during this year’s legislative session. Reynolds-Dominguez also criticized the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee over its failure to vote on a bill that would repeal the criminalization of people with HIV.

“This legislative session was monumental for LGBTQIA+ Marylanders,” she said. “While we are extremely disappointed that the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee did not bring an HIV criminalization repeal law to a vote for the second year in a row, there is much else to celebrate.”

“It is too apparent from the harmful comments and misinformation we heard during legislative debates that there is still so much work that must be done to change certain legislators’ anti-LGBTQIA+ biases,” added Reynolds-Dominguez. “Nonetheless, we’re also celebrating the overwhelming majority of our elected officials who are wonderful and supportive allies in the fight to make Maryland an inclusive state where everyone has dignity and equal rights no matter who they are or who they love. We would like to thank all the advocates, allies and activists who helped us achieve so many victories this session — none of this would be possible without dozens of people’s hard work, tireless effort and unwavering dedication.”

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