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Reaching a reasonable D.C. minimum wage hike

Council members exhibit haste to act without fully evaluating impact

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Tommy Wells, gay news, Washington Blade, Democratic Party, D.C. Council, Ward 6

‘We’re going to get a minimum wage increase,’ D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) predicted in an interview last Friday.

D.C. Council member Tommy Wells is impatient to raise the local minimum wage. He hopes his colleagues will move quickly to enact an additional local hike above the national rate.

A hasty and haphazard decision, however, will harm those he hopes to help.

“We’re going to get a minimum wage increase,” Wells predicted in an interview last Friday. On that, there is little doubt – and scant opposition. Controversy centers on what constitutes a reasonable amount.

Wells indicated that he is not “wedded to a pride of ownership” on the issue. Regardless, his legislative proposal, one of three and enjoying the sponsorship of a majority of his colleagues, will likely be the framework for Council consideration.

Wells wants to raise the local rate by another dollar in each of the next two years, to a total of $10.25 beginning July 31, 2015. The current $8.25 is a dollar higher than the federal rate and in both neighboring Maryland and Virginia. Subsequent automatic annual increases would be tied to the higher “urban” Consumer Price Index. Wells also provides for a partially mitigating employer credit up to 25 percent of assessed property taxes for small businesses with annual gross revenues up to $2.5 million.

Wells has crafted an outline that, with modest downward revision in amount, a more measured implementation schedule and additional business offsets, merits approval. As offered, it would exceed the few elevated state rates nationwide, most by much.

Smarter in approach is that already initiated by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who advocates a “reasonable” minimum wage increase. Gray has launched an expedited yet thorough examination of the scope and impact of variable increases. D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser has introduced legislation to create a Minimum Wage Revision Commission comprised of stakeholders and economists to fully assess the implications.

The mayor is correct to have undertaken assemblage of facts to inform action. Otherwise the unintended consequences and counterproductive results of too high an increase, too rapid a schedule or insufficient business offsets are a risk. Likewise, Bowser’s instinct to know-before-voting is deserving of Council approval.

Only 0.005 percent of those employed at District jobs, or approximately 4,000 workers, are paid the hourly minimum. According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report, 12 percent of D.C. jobs are hourly compensated.

The D.C. Council has not identified the demographics, skills, occupations or industries of hourly-wage jobs or determined the range and prevailing hourly amount paid. Nor have they appraised the likely effects on employment or net wages and benefits, or other factors. They have not considered the impact that upward pressure on hourly wages for those currently paid above the minimum will have on net employment.

They’re flying blind.

Wells would also admirably increase personal income tax standard deductions, but in advance of Council review of tax reforms recommended by the D.C. Tax Revision Commission, chaired by former Mayor Anthony Williams. Again, he wants to drag the cart up ahead of the horse.

A city desperate for new entry-level jobs with unemployment near 9 percent that graduates only 60 percent of high school students cannot afford to endanger the creation and availability of low-skill modest-wage employment opportunities. More than 11,000 applied in the first week for 1,800 jobs at planned Walmart stores following recent defeat of a large retailer minimum wage mandate of $12.50 an hour.

A sensible minimum wage adjustment must factor prevailing wages for hourly workers to prevent potential job losses or a net reduction in employment. Too steep an increase will result in reluctance to hire or the retention of existing employees for maximum staffing flexibility with a roll-back in hours to manage rising costs, or a reduction in benefits – particularly at small businesses.

Broad agreement exists for a reasonable and responsible increase in the local minimum wage. The D.C. Council needs to steady the rush to passage to ensure that it is both.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at [email protected].

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Commentary

Non-alignment or hypocrisy: South Africa’s non-alignment costing Africa’s human rights discourse

Country must take stronger stance against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law

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LGBTQ and intersex activists protest in front of the Ugandan Embassy in D.C. on April 25, 2023. South Africa must take a stronger stance against the Anti-Homosexuality Act that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has signed. (Washington Blade photos by Michael K. Lavers)

In the past several months, South Africa’s foreign policy has been in the spotlight for essential and existential reasons that significantly impact geopolitics and the continent’s stability. 

The foreign policy for South Africa discussion document by the Department of International Relations highlights the “advancement of human rights and the promotion of democracy” as the pillars on which South Africa’s foreign policy rests. This document emphasizes the role that South Africa is expected to play in the “promotion of human rights and democracy.”

Minister Pandor echoed this document in her 2022 end-of-year remarks

“We will continue with our unwavering position to advocate for a balanced Sustainable Development Program within the human rights framework as underlined in the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action (VDPA). In this regard, South Africa will be one of the chief proponents of a balanced agenda of the HRC, which reflects, among others, the primacy of achieving the realization of the right to development as well as moral human rights issues such as the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment.” 

South Africa has long been known for its commitment to human rights and its leadership in the fight against apartheid. However, its foreign policy continues to be viewed as ambiguous and nonresponsive to developments in African affecting the growth of the continent.

In 2021, President Ramaphosa — as chair of the SADC Organ Troika — committed to a national political dialogue in Eswatini to resolve the political killings in that country. However, the South African government has never followed up or called on the Eswatini government to adhere to its commitment, even as renowned human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko was mercilessly assassinated in January 2023. At the very least, this has not been seen publicly, which would be comforting to those political activists and citizens constantly living in fear in Eswatini. 

On May 29, the president of Uganda enacted the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act. The new law is a throwback to colonization, where religious fanatism was the basis for the persecution and killing of many Africans. While Africa seems to take the posture of “fighting against imperialism,” it is saddening that this law is the brainchild of American zealots funding hate across Africa, whether it is in Uganda, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi or Namibia. These zealots, the Fellowship Foundation and many others, are well coordinated in their attacks on the judiciary and the African human rights framework, backed by the 75-year-old Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  

In an era where Africa is seen to be taking a stance against imperialism, I shudder to contemplate that hate may be the only imperialist agenda Africa is not actively standing up against. We know the history of petty offences like homelessness and loitering, sedition laws, and anti-LGBTI laws. These are remnants of colonization to keep Africa inferior and the colonial masters superior. Today, the hate continues through repressive and backwards sentiment being paraded as religious values. Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law criminalizes what it calls “aggravated homosexuality” with the death penalty. It would be hard to imagine what “aggravated homosexuality” even means. 

This is another opportunity where South Africa’s posture and foreign policy must be spotlighted. With the growing conversation about the ICC arrest warrant of President Putin, South Africa has reiterated its foreign policy as non-alignment and non-interference. 

However, when the question of human rights and democracy is at play, all must take a stand. This law has been widely criticized by human rights organizations and the international community for violating the rights of LGBTIQ+ individuals and hindering the fight against HIV. It further impedes what Minister Pandor called the “balanced agenda of the HRC,” which speaks to sustainable development within the human rights framework. 

It should be worrying if South Africa continues to maintain a policy of non-alignment and non-interference in the face of the new law in Uganda. While this policy may have its merits, it raises questions about South Africa’s commitment to human rights and its role as a leader in Africa. A foreign policy that neglects the promotion of human rights and democratic principles is hypocritical. On the one hand, South Africa is seen as a leader in promoting LGBTIQ+ rights and has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world regarding protecting the rights of LGBTIQ+ individuals. However, on the other hand, it has failed to take a strong stance against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law, which is a clear violation of human rights.

By maintaining this policy, South Africa is essentially condoning Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law and undermining the fight for human rights in Africa. This is particularly concerning given South Africa’s leadership role in the African Union and its commitment to promoting human rights and democracy.

South Africa’s foreign policy regarding Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law raises questions about its commitment to non-alignment and human rights in Africa. While non-interference may have its merits, it should not come at the expense of human rights and the fight for equality and justice. 

South Africa must take a stronger stance against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law and work towards promoting human rights and democracy in Africa.

Melusi Simelane is the Southern Africa Litigation Center’s Civic Rights Program Manager.

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For Israel’s LGBTQ citizens, threats are no longer theoretical

Proposed judicial reforms could have wide-ranging impact

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Activists in Israel created this mock train station map to indicate how proposed reforms to Israel's judiciary could harm LGBTQ and intersex people. (Photo courtesy of George Avni)

In 2023, millions are engaging in protests all around the world. People are making their voices heard in France, Mexico, Bangladesh, Hungary and Greece – just to name a few.

The specific events triggering civic action vary by location. But whether it’s pension reforms, election concerns, human rights, or rank government incompetence, it’s undeniable that the world is shaking. Among the common threads are an existential threat to democratic institutions. 

At A Wider Bridge, we are closely connected to the manifestation of this international phenomenon in Israel.

Israelis from across the political spectrum are taking a stand for their democracy in an unprecedented manner. They have taken to the streets in historic numbers day after day, week after week, in patriotic displays of defiance. LGBTQ Israelis are on the front lines in a battle over  legislation that most of them feel would dramatically undermine the independence of Israel’s judiciary. The stakes are high. The Israeli Supreme Court has been a bastion for advancing LGBTQ equality.

With a different court, LGBTQ Israelis could see protections ended for male couples and single men who have children via surrogacy. Same-sex couples married overseas might lose recognition of their unions, and with that, benefits from health insurance to inheritance, not to mention the implications for parents where one partner is non-Israeli. Protections for students and trans Israelis could evaporate. But there is more than the court in play. A new generation of extremist politicians have gained true power — and the bully pulpit. The reverberations are being felt far and wide — and the threat they pose to LGBTQ Israelis is no longer theoretical. 

The Aguda, the Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel, just released its 2022 report on LGBTQphobia in Israel. The findings show that anti-LGBTQ hate has skyrocketed. It rose during an election cycle in which some extremist politicians railed against LGBTQ rights, and it skyrocketed after the early November election. It has affected almost every aspect of LGBTQ life in the country.

In total, there were 3,309 reports of LGBTQ abuse last year — an enormous increase, and double what was reported as recently as five years ago. Delving deeper into the data, the news gets even scarier: an eightfold increase in year-on-year discrimination reports involving services by businesses, a fivefold increase in LGBTQ abuse reports in the public sphere, a 53 percent increase in reports from trans individuals, and a sevenfold increase in LGBTQ abuse reports where the offending parties are public figures and in the media.

On top of that, fully 25 percent of these reports came in November and December — during the election campaign and immediately following the commencement of the new government.

Some have urged patience with Israel’s new government and advocate a wait-and-see approach. They say nothing bad has happened yet. Sadly, they are wrong. 

While these extremist politicians, now leading important government ministries, have yet to deliver fully on pledges to remove LGBTQ education from schools, groups working in that sector say it has become increasingly difficult to do programs they routinely offered in the past. They have yet to ban Pride parades, end hormone treatments and gender-affirming care for trans people, or provide financial support for organizations that provide conversion therapy. But all of these anti-LGBTQ policies are on the table. Unfortunately for LGBTQ Israelis, there is no safety in adopting a wait-and-see approach.

Recently, a group of right-wing youth harassed protesters carrying Pride flags in Tel Aviv. They threw rocks at a building at which a Pride flag was displayed. They even climbed a balcony to tear it down. They were caught in the act on video and later identified. But for weeks, no arrests have been made.  In response, thousands of pro-LGBTQ Israelis protested in front of the police headquarters in Tel Aviv — a city justifiably celebrated for its LGBTQ-friendly environment and with one of the highest percentages of LGBTQ residents in the world. They were protesting police inaction, fully cognizant that the municipal police are controlled by the Israeli Ministry of National Security under Itamar Ben-Gvir, an open homophobe who ran for office on a far-right slate with a radical anti-LGBTQ platform.

Was the lack of police action a result of top-down pressure? We don’t know. But we do know that the physical security of LGBTQ people is often dependent on the institutions that govern us.

We also know that we can never take our rights and our safety for granted. That’s true whether one is LGBTQ in Tel Aviv, Black in Missouri, or Jewish on the streets of New York City, where antisemitic violence is on the rise.

The legislation Israelis are protesting is but one symptom of a global phenomenon to wrest power from institutions that have advanced the equality of marginalized groups — LGBTQ people, women, racial minorities, immigrants and others. It is not difficult to connect the dots from Jerusalem to Florida to certain eastern European countries, where democratic norms are under attack in general, as are the rights of LGBTQ people in particular.

So what do we do in the face of these challenges? First, we recognize the challenges as real, acute, and demanding immediate action. 

Then we organize. We protest. We don’t allow ourselves to be gaslighted by those who say all is well, when clearly it is not. All one has to do to appreciate the threats to LGBTQ people in Israel is to speak with a few LGBTQ Israelis.

Accordingly, A Wider Bridge has dramatically increased our support of LGBTQ groups through additional public advocacy and an emergency campaign to fund their pro-democracy work and meet needs for increased social services. Next month, we will travel to Israel to stand with our LGBTQ family. We will march with them at the Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance and host an English livestream to the world. 

We continue to be inspired by Israel’s democracy movement, where the LGBTQ flag has become as common a sight in the streets as the Israeli flag itself. We will stand with them today — and every day — to protect Israel’s democratic and pluralistic character in the face of this emergency.

Ethan Felson is the executive director of A Wider Bridge.

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Commentary

The day Penny Mordaunt became gay culture

Former Tory prime minister candidate stole show at King Charles III’s coronation

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The Old Coulsdon Cupcakes Women's Institute celebrates King Charles III's coronation. (Photo by Maximilian Sycamore)

“Can we all agree that Penny Mordaunt is gay culture today?” The declaration was made in a crowded Soho bar, made slightly less gay by the revelers from the coronation that had taken place an hour earlier. By Sunday the former Tory candidate for the premiership had become the Pippa Middleton of the day, completely ignoring that our new king had been crowned.

The epitome of Britishness.

When I told my friends in the States that I would be crossing the pond and finally heading back to Blighty they were rather excited. But when I said it was for the coronation some faces changed, “Why would you celebrate that man after what he did to Meghan?”

“Wait, are you actually going to the service?” Their eyes studied me, did they have a secret Lord in their midst?

The truth of the matter was that I just wanted to be home in South London for this event. Sure, I’d be swapping one sofa for another, and instead of the dog napping it would be my father, but CNN aren’t a patch on the Beeb during big events. Plus, I’d have my mum’s running commentary on the most obscure of guests, giving Cherie Blair short shrift.

The British just have this special way of doing things, a result of both loving some pomp and circumstance but also being slightly embarrassed about making a fuss. I think that’s why we invented bunting.

I had barely been in the country for a couple of hours when I found myself sitting with mum, supervising dad as he filled the back garden with Union Jacks. My husband had succumbed to the jet lag that I was staving off with copious cups of tea.

“Dearest,” my father called out to my mum, “would it be bad to use the flags from the jubilee?”

“Just put them up the top, no one will see,” replied mother before returning to putting the world to rights.

“And what about the ones from the last Olympics?”

“Just shove them in with the pansies.” You honestly can’t get more British than that.

My own experience of the coronation, or cor-re-nashe as the locals “huns” have christened it, will be very biased towards the royals. My parents’ home is in the southernmost point of London, a deliciously rural village that celebrates every big event with street fairs and a special hat for the red post box knitted by the Cupcakes, a local women’s group.

On Friday we dared to leave the village and head into the local town. The entire bus journey we could see the school children wearing paper crowns, but the coronation barely got mentioned by our friends that evening. Any grumbles were soothed with the reminder of an extra day off but its intended use as a day of service will no doubt be sidelined in favor of a day of recovery.

The British really don’t need an excuse to drink, though it probably hasn’t helped that many have predicted we’ll be doing this again very shortly. 

King Charles’ reign was never meant to be as illustrious as his mother’s, but he’s in danger of beating her record of 16 prime ministers. He’s kept things as unoffensive as possible, though Harry may disagree with that. The most controversial decision so far has been choosing quiche as the celebratory dish, a far cry from the British staple that is coronation chicken.

“I’m just not sure about the broad bean element,” muttered mother as she opened up the Quiche Lorraine.

And there we have it, because even though this is all about welcoming in a new era the coronation is also about reminding ourselves of the traditions that make us British.

Don’t try anything new.

As Saturday’s coverage made way for a news report on the event we just watched, my mum recomposed herself, having gotten a little emotional as Charles had his quiet chat with God. The screen filled with the Republican protests in Trafalgar Square.

“Oh, for God’s sake,” said mother with disdain, “if they want a republic so much then why don’t they just bugger off to France?”

And I think that just about sums it all up.

Maximilian Sycamore is a D.C.-based media producer who is originally from London. The opinions expressed in this op-ed are entirely his own.

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