D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) had an emphatic and detailed response to the question of why LGBT residents should vote for her over her two main opponents.
Mayoral rivals David Catania, an at-large Council member since 1997, and former at-large Council member Carol Schwartz, who served on the Council for 16 years, have a longer record on LGBT issues than Bowser by way of their longer tenure on the Council. Both are running as independents.
Bowser, who leads Catania and Schwartz in the latest polls, first won election to the Council in 2007.
“I’ve been as you know well regarded across the city for supporting the LGBT community and have done so from a leadership position from my Council seat,” Bowser told the Blade in an Oct. 17 interview.
“I was very proud to cast a vote in support of marriage equality and make sure that we’re opening up all of our institutions for people in the LGBT community.”
Bowser added, “What’s important now is what’s next to do. And that’s a lot.”
Using the mayor’s office as a platform for drawing attention to hate crimes targeting the LGBT community and their root causes, making sure LGBT people, especially LGBT seniors, are included in the city’s affordable housing programs, and strengthening the city’s job training program for transgender residents initiated by Mayor Vincent Gray are just some of the LGBT issues she will pursue if elected mayor, Bowser said.
LGBT activists following the mayor’s race say the LGBT community appears divided between Bowser and Catania, who, if elected, would become the city’s first out gay mayor. Activists say Schwartz, a longtime popular figure in the LGBT community, has a smaller but highly committed corps of supporters in the LGBT community.
Many LGBT Democrats, including Paul Kuntzler, co-founder of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, are supporting Catania, saying they believe he’s the best candidate on both LGBT and non-LGBT issues.
But Bowser points to her strong support among LGBT residents in all sections of the city. She is often accompanied at LGBT campaign events by her openly gay brother, Marvin Bowser, who serves as her campaign’s LGBT community liaison.
An LGBT campaign rally for Bowser Tuesday night at Hank’s Oyster Bar next to 17th Street, N.W., before the start of the annual Halloween High Heel Race on 17th Street, drew more than 200 people. Bowser was besieged by well-wishers when she waded into a crowd of mostly LGBT people waiting for the race to begin.
Catania and Schwartz also showed up for the high heel race festivities. People carrying Bowser and Catania signs could be seen up and down the street.
“As I see it I’m very proud of the broad base of support that I have in the LGBT community across all kinds of race and income and geographic areas,” she said. “I was never more proud — maybe a month ago we had a huge LGBT meet and greet and the diversity is what made me so proud. People were from every ward — gay, lesbian, transgender — all to support the agenda that remains.”
Bowser was also quick to challenge an allegation by Catania that her record on HIV/AIDS is non-existent. Catania told the Blade in an interview in early October that he cannot recall her ever mentioning HIV/AIDS during her seven years on the Council.
“That’s not a fair assessment at all,” she said. “But I know what is an absurd statement is that one person can claim to have driven down AIDS in the District of Columbia.”
Bowser was referring to Catania’s campaign statements that during his tenure as chair of the Council’s Committee on Health, in which he prodded city officials to strengthen the city’s AIDS office, the number of AIDS deaths in the city dropped by 69 percent and the number of new HIV infections dropped by 50 percent.
“So the idea, first of all, that a lot of people reject at the Whitman-Walker Clinic or in previous administrations – the executives who really put the money and the people in place to get prevention programs and treatment programs and testing programs in place – they have to have a big quarrel with the assertion that one legislator drove down the incidents of HIV in the District of Columbia,” Bowser said. “That’s just not true.”
Possibly for the first time during the campaign Bowser responded to rumors that have circulated in anonymous postings on Twitter and readers’ comments on the Blade’s website that she might be a lesbian.
“Well I’m not,” she said.
When asked about the social media postings where the rumors have surfaced, Bowser said, “They post a lot of wacky things. I think you know that. But as I said I’m very proud to have the support of a lot of people in the LGBT community who are posting on your newspaper as well.”
She added, “And they’re posting on things that matter – that I’m focused on how we build on the democratic values in this city and represent the large swath of Washingtonians who want to invest in our schools all across the city, who want to build a strong and growing middle class in the city, and who want to make sure that we’re attracting the talent in our government that’s going to allow us to get ready for the city’s growth over the next 25 years. And so that’s what our focus is.”
Washington Blade: Can you tell a little about your background growing up in D.C., what you did before getting elected to the Council, and how that might have prepared you for running for mayor?
Muriel Bowser: Oh, absolutely. I would love to. I think that my experience is directly related not only to how we’ve been able to bring the city back in so many ways but it directly relates to the challenges ahead. I have the wonderful experience of being born and raised here in the District of Columbia. And in my formative years especially we were a very different city, a city that was dangerous, a city whose schools were spiraling out of control. The school issues were spiraling out of control and the Congress took us over.
And so I have that context to know that the government and the community have to work together to make sure we never go back to those days. I’ve been trained in public policy, which is my passion. And I worked 10 years in local government before being elected to the Council — most recently in Montgomery County where I worked in downtown Silver Spring on transportation, downtown development in keeping the community engaged in all of those issues.
I was elected in 2007 to represent Ward 4. And quite frankly I think the experience as a ward Council member is the best experience to be mayor of the District of Columbia. As a ward Council member you have the responsibility to lead a discreet group of people and be held accountable by them. And that’s what we’ve been able to do. We moved an agenda focused on expanding quality school options, investing in our under invested corridors and also making sure we’re holding government agencies accountable.
So as such I have to know all of the directors, all of their budgets and how they’re working or not working. And that has given me the experience to lead the city.
Blade: Were you an ANC commissioner?
Bowser: I was an ANC commissioner. When I moved in my home I was lucky enough, smart enough I guess even at the time to buy a home in a neighborhood that I thought was a good neighborhood. It could be a great neighborhood. And I got a house for $125,000. I had a few criteria. I wanted three bedrooms, I wanted a finished basement and I wanted to be close to a Metro. And I was able to find that in Riggs Park and I’ve lived there ever since – for the last 14 years.
But I come from a tradition of ANCs. My father was elected in the first ANC class and I thought it would be the best way for me to serve my community as well. I was elected twice to be an ANC commissioner.
Blade: You and your two main opponents have each said that you strongly support LGBT equality and LGBT rights and you have a record on some of those issues. What would you say to an LGBT resident about why they should vote for you and not the other two?
Bowser: Well I’ve been as you know well regarded across the city for supporting the LGBT community and have done so from a leadership position from my Council seat. I was very proud to cast a vote in support of marriage equality and make sure that we’re opening up all of our institutions for people in the LGBT community.
What’s also important now is what’s next. A lot of people have worked long and hard to get us to this point. And I want to especially acknowledge the GLAA [Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance] and the Stein Democrats who really made sure that we had marriage equality in this city. And you know how — because they made it a prerequisite to get elected, to have people who were fairness based and would move and advance the ball in the District of Columbia.
But now we have to look at what’s next to do. And there’s a lot. As I see it I’m very proud of the broad base of support that I have in the LGBT community across all kinds of race and income and geographic areas. People in the LGBT community come out and support me in great numbers. I was never more proud maybe a month ago we had a huge LGBT meet and greet and the diversity is what made me so proud. People were from every ward – gay, lesbian, transgender – all to support the agenda that remains.
What we hear most is – I’ll start with how we make sure people are safe. We have to end hate crimes in the District of Columbia. It’s too much. We have to have a strong partnership with MPD so our officers are trained and know how to deal and respond to hate crimes. But more than that, the mayor of the District of Columbia has to use the perch that she has to tell people that hate and violence are not going to be acceptable in our city. And I’ve stood up and done that when people in our community have been harmed.
We also hear about housing issues and how important it is to get rid of discrimination for LGBT people in all manner of housing. I was proud to include in this budget funding to examine how other cities approached LGBT senior issues, for example, in housing. Those are important questions to consider. In our public housing, how are we approaching LGBT issues? So I think that’s kind of an untapped area that this government has to get in that space. By next year, 20 percent of our population will be over the age of 65. And that of course includes our LGBT community.
I think you heard when we were at Mary’s House – the groundbreaking for Mary’s House – when Dr. Woody said we don’t disappear at age 65. And I think for too long our housing strategies were not taking into account all of our community. Jobs are another area where we have to focus on. I was honored to host a tea at my home for the transgender community and their sole focus was on jobs. And what I heard loud and clear was that people thought that the Gray administration had done a lot in advancing the discussion and beginning the implementation of meaningful jobs programs. So I don’t think we need to start all over. And I want to build on some of those initiatives.
I know there was a focus on Project Empowerment. How can we build on that to make sure that people in the transgender community are being hired? I was really struck by what seems like on its face to be discrimination against the transgender community in employment practices. We have to make sure our own government is not doing that. As I understood it we could only account for transgender people who were working in D.C. government. Now there may be others, but I want to make sure that the D.C. government is a welcoming place. And so you’ll hear me talk about jobs a lot and how we can refocus the up to $100 million that is spent every year in job training – a hundred million dollars that doesn’t necessarily equate to jobs.
So I have a big focus on how to close the jobs and opportunity gaps in our community. We know that they exist in great numbers in the Ward 7 and 8 communities. And we know that they exist in great numbers in our returning citizens’ community. And we know that they exist in great numbers in our transgender community. So how can we refocus our efforts to help populations that really need it?
Blade: You mentioned how the problem of hate crimes is an ongoing issue. Most LGBT advocates have said relations between the LGBT community and the police department has improved significantly in recent years. But a recent report on LGBT-police relations prepared by an independent task force initiated by Chief Cathy Lanier found that the department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit appeared to become less effective than it was under the previous chief, Charles Ramsey. Is that something you might look into and have you made a decision yet on whether to retain the chief?
Bowser: Well I have great confidence in Cathy Lanier. And I think that she has really helped to make sure we have a high quality force of officers who want to do the right thing. And when she’s found officers that were not doing the right thing she has acted speedily to make sure they’re not in a position to disgrace their badge or to harm the department. So I have great confidence in her.
And issues with the specialized units, including the GLLU, when it came up – I’m trying to think what year that was. It must be 2008 or 2009 when I had some very direct conversations with her about why she thought this was the best way to use her resources. And she’s been policing in the District of Columbia for a long time. She believes in equality and fairness and she believes in protecting all of our residents. But she also has to be held accountable. So we want to follow all these crimes. But she believes that the deployment of resources actually is making officers who are trained and sensitized to all of these issues in the gay and lesbian and the transgender community available all across the city.
I think that we’ve kind of gotten away from this notion that gay people only live in one place, right?
Bowser: And so we need a whole force that needs to be able to address issues in the LGBT community and they need to be responsive all across the city. The same is true — we used to think that Latinos in our city only lived in Ward 1. And we know that’s not true. So we have to have a force where it shouldn’t be the expectation that only a few officers know what they’re doing when dealing with issues in the gay and lesbian community. All of the officers should. So I want that to be my focus.
But what I’ve heard loud and clear is that there’s a model that worked under Ramsey and there’s kind of the adage if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. But I think that what the chief found is that she could have a broader coverage all across the city if she deployed resources differently.
Blade: In the area of hate crimes, there is a consensus that the police respond quickly and do all they can to investigate those crimes but most agree that the police can’t prevent someone from committing a hate crime. Some in the LGBT community say they are worried just walking the streets.
Bowser: That makes me sad.
Blade: Is there anything the mayor can do to get at the underlying causes of hate crimes? Arrest records show that many hate crimes targeting the LGBT community are committed by young people.
Bowser: Yes. The one benefit of office is having a bully pulpit and leading by example and speaking out when things are wrong. Another advantage that the mayor has is that we can have partnerships with other leaders in the community that have a voice in people’s lives like our faith community and our non-profit community. And having real candid conversations with them about treating people fairly, ending the violence, and having a city that is safe for everyone can make a difference.
Blade: One thing that Councilman Catania said in his interview with the Blade earlier this month was that he cannot recall you ever mentioning the word HIV/AIDS – even once. I noticed AIDS-related issues are mentioned in your campaign platform booklet. But is that a fair assessment?
Bowser: Certainly not – certainly not. That’s not a fair assessment at all.
Blade: Do you think he was referring to Council meetings?
Bowser: You will have to ask him. But I know what is an absurd statement is — that one person can claim to have driven down AIDS in the District of Columbia. We know the seriously bad impacts that AIDS had on our community across a lot of our population. And it’s still having a bad effect for people who look like me – women in my age group. Where we haven’t seen a lot of attention is talking to women in my age group who are contracting AIDS and who are not getting tested and who may not be aware of all the dangerous situations that they’re putting themselves in.
So the idea, first of all, that a lot of people reject at the Whitman-Walker Clinic or in previous administrations the executives who really put the money and the people in place to get prevention programs and treatment programs and testing programs in place – they have to have a big quarrel with the assertion that one legislator drove down the incidents of HIV in the District of Columbia. That’s just not true.
We should also not congratulate ourselves too much because still too many people are getting infected. Still too many young people are involved in behaviors that will get them infected. There are still too many women who are involved. We have so many other issues in our health care community as well. And people in the LGBT community making sure they have access to quality care that they’re not being discriminated against in that setting either and that there are welcoming environments.
I strongly support removing the stigma around HIV. We know that people can live with HIV. And again I think that the mayor can play a role in helping to remove that stigma, especially in the African-American community where people are less likely to talk about it, get tested and get treated.
Blade: The Council’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, of which you are a member, voted unanimously on Oct. 15 to pass the Human Rights Amendment Act of 2014. The bill calls for repealing a clause that Congress added to the D.C. Human Rights Act back in 1989 that allows religious educational institutions in the city to discriminate based on sexual orientation. Assuming the full Council passes this bill, as expected, do you think this could prompt Congress to try to step in again?
Bowser: Well there’s always the concern of Congress stepping in. That’s why it’s so important that we forge a new path to get autonomy – legislative autonomy, budget autonomy and a new path toward statehood. We have to always be concerned about the Congress stepping in. There are all kinds of riders that can be attached to our legislation and appropriations bills. And that has to change. We’ve seen it with reproductive health issues. And I think we should be concerned about seeing it again.
But that doesn’t stop us from doing the right thing. And we have a human rights law in the District of Columbia that we all should be proud of. We should look to every instance that we have to make it stronger. And so I will be voting for it.
Blade: Concerning the transgender community, would you support and continue a program started by Mayor Gray and operated by the D.C. Office of Human Rights that seeks to curtail hate crimes and discrimination against transgender people through public service announcements?
Bowser: The more public education the better. I tend to think – and I get this question a lot. In my experience in bringing communities together who are very diverse is that people tend to — if we take down these barriers — not to say let’s all get together to figure out how to end hate crimes, because mostly you will attract the people who are activists in that area, when, in fact, we need to have that message in everything that the city does. And so the city needs to be at festivals and parades where people are coming together for a whole other reason entirely to say that this government is diverse and we support all of our residents. So that’s important.
How can we have that message delivered at schools? How can we have that message delivered in the faith community? So I think it’s best – yes – to have public service, to have ad campaigns. But to also make sure that message is ever-present in everything we do when people are coming together for nothing to do with violence but everything to do with community.
Blade: A number of messages the Blade has received from readers through Twitter postings and email links have questioned your sexual orientation. They often mention that you are single and perhaps all single people, men or women, receive these comments. Would you like to comment on that?
Bowser: Oh, I’ve commented on it extensively.
Blade: Do you mean for you or the subject in general?
Bowser: What do you mean?
Blade: Well what they appear to be implying is that you may be gay.
Bowser: Well I’m not.
Blade: Most people would likely say who cares? But we don’t know if someone is putting people up to do this. But the messages keep coming up – sometimes as postings by readers as comments on our stories online.
Bowser: They post a lot of wacky things. I think you know that. But as I said I’m very proud to have the support of a lot of people in the LGBT community who are posting on your newspaper as well. And they’re posting on the things that matter – that I’m focused on how we build on the democratic values in this city and represent the large swath of Washingtonians who want to invest in our schools all across the city, who want to build a strong and growing middle class in the city, and want to make sure that we’re attracting the talent in our government that’s going to allow us to get ready for the city’s growth over the next 25 years.
And so that’s what our focus is. I’ve put together a wonderful committee of LGBT leaders, activists and have been a Council member who has made sure I have a gay-friendly office that people from all over feel very comfortable talking to us, bringing their issues to us, and being responsive to their needs. And that’s exactly the kind of mayor I will be.
Blade: One of the issues the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance has raised in an election year position paper is that the legal standing for protesting a proposed liquor license for bars, restaurants and nightclubs should be removed from ad hoc groups of five or more citizens and left solely with Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, which are elected by the residents. GLAA and others have said that the so-called ‘gangs of five’ have unduly blocked or delayed a liquor license application for months and sometimes as long as a year, causing an unfair burden on small businesses seeking to open a restaurant or bar. Is that something you would consider supporting?
Bowser: Well ultimately, of course the [Alcoholic Beverage Control] Board decides. And I have a neighborhood focus and have been an ANC commissioner. I do think and believe the ANC should be afforded great weight. And I’ve participated long and hard in that process with [D.C. Council member] Jim Graham on the reforms [liquor licensing reform legislation]. And I actually think we landed in the right place.
And I think the update has addressed – kind of streamlining the response times. But I think citizen input is important and that we have responsible business owners who have a liquor license. We have decided that having a liquor license requires an extra layer of scrutiny in this city. And I think we probably landed in the right place. We have I think about a year – a year and a half experience with it. And I want to watch it to make sure that the instances that you described, that the process isn’t being unreasonably hijacked. That’s not fair to the business community.
But we also have to say that, one, we can’t rely on one instance to determine what the law should be for everybody. So I can definitely, absolutely commit to looking at the experience with the changes that we recently made to the procedure – to see how they’re working and to see if they need to be tweaked.
Equality Act, contorted as a danger by anti-LGBTQ forces, is all but dead
No political willpower to force vote or reach a compromise
Despite having President Biden in the White House and Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress, efforts to update federal civil rights laws to strengthen the prohibition on discrimination against LGBTQ people by passing the Equality Act are all but dead as opponents of the measure have contorted it beyond recognition.
Political willpower is lacking to find a compromise that would be acceptable to enough Republican senators to end a filibuster on the bill — a tall order in any event — nor is there the willpower to force a vote on the Equality Act as opponents stoke fears about transgender kids in sports and not even unanimity in the Democratic caucus in favor of the bill is present, stakeholders who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity said.
In fact, there are no imminent plans to hold a vote on the legislation even though Pride month is days away, which would be an opportune time for Congress to demonstrate solidarity with the LGBTQ community by holding a vote on the legislation.
If the Equality Act were to come up for a Senate vote in the next month, it would not have the support to pass. Continued assurances that bipartisan talks are continuing on the legislation have yielded no evidence of additional support, let alone the 10 Republicans needed to end a filibuster.
“I haven’t really heard an update either way, which is usually not good,” one Democratic insider said. “My understanding is that our side was entrenched in a no-compromise mindset and with [Sen. Joe] Manchin saying he didn’t like the bill, it doomed it this Congress. And the bullying of hundreds of trans athletes derailed our message and our arguments of why it was broadly needed.”
The only thing keeping the final nail from being hammered into the Equality Act’s coffin is the unwillingness of its supporters to admit defeat. Other stakeholders who spoke to the Blade continued to assert bipartisan talks are ongoing, strongly pushing back on any conclusion the legislation is dead.
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the Equality Act is “alive and well,” citing widespread public support he said includes “the majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents and a growing number of communities across the country engaging and mobilizing every day in support of the legislation.”
“They understand the urgent need to pass this bill and stand up for LGBTQ people across our country,” David added. “As we engage with elected officials, we have confidence that Congress will listen to the voices of their constituents and continue fighting for the Equality Act through the lengthy legislative process. We will also continue our unprecedented campaign to grow the already-high public support for a popular bill that will save lives and make our country fairer and more equal for all. We will not stop until the Equality Act is passed.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), chief sponsor of the Equality Act in the Senate, also signaled through a spokesperson work continues on the legislation, refusing to give up on expectations the legislation would soon become law.
“Sen. Merkley and his staff are in active discussions with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to try to get this done,” McLennan said. “We definitely see it as a key priority that we expect to become law.”
A spokesperson Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had promised to force a vote on the Equality Act in the Senate on the day the U.S. House approved it earlier this year, pointed to a March 25 “Dear Colleague” letter in which he identified the Equality Act as one of several bills he’d bring up for a vote.
Despite any assurances, the hold up on the bill is apparent. Although the U.S. House approved the legislation earlier this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee hasn’t even reported out the bill yet to the floor in the aftermath of the first-ever Senate hearing on the bill in March. A Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic aide, however, disputed that inaction as evidence the Equality Act is dead in its tracks: “Bipartisan efforts on a path forward are ongoing.”
Democrats are quick to blame Republicans for inaction on the Equality Act, but with Manchin withholding his support for the legislation they can’t even count on the entirety of their caucus to vote “yes” if it came to the floor. Progressives continue to advocate an end to the filibuster to advance legislation Biden has promised as part of his agenda, but even if they were to overcome headwinds and dismantle the institution needing 60 votes to advance legislation, the Equality Act would likely not have majority support to win approval in the Senate with a 50-50 party split.
The office of Manchin, who has previously said he couldn’t support the Equality Act over concerns about public schools having to implement the transgender protections applying to sports and bathrooms, hasn’t responded to multiple requests this year from the Blade on the legislation and didn’t respond to a request to comment for this article.
Meanwhile, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who declined to co-sponsor the Equality Act this year after having signed onto the legislation in the previous Congress, insisted through a spokesperson talks are still happening across the aisle despite the appearances the legislation is dead.
“There continues to be bipartisan support for passing a law that protects the civil rights of Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Annie Clark, a Collins spokesperson. “The Equality Act was a starting point for negotiations, and in its current form, it cannot pass. That’s why there are ongoing discussions among senators and stakeholders about a path forward.”
Let’s face it: Anti-LGBTQ forces have railroaded the debate by making the Equality Act about an end to women’s sports by allowing transgender athletes and danger to women in sex-segregated places like bathrooms and prisons. That doesn’t even get into resolving the issue on drawing the line between civil rights for LGBTQ people and religious freedom, which continues to be litigated in the courts as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected any day now to issue a ruling in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia to determine if foster care agencies can reject same-sex couples over religious objections.
For transgender Americans, who continue to report discrimination and violence at high rates, the absence of the Equality Act may be most keenly felt.
Mara Keisling, outgoing executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, disputed any notion the Equality Act is dead and insisted the legislation is “very much alive.”
“We remain optimistic despite misinformation from the opposition,” Keisling said. “NCTE and our movement partners are still working fruitfully on the Equality Act with senators. In fact, we are gaining momentum with all the field organizing we’re doing, like phone banking constituents to call their senators. Legislating takes time. Nothing ever gets through Congress quickly. We expect to see a vote during this Congress, and we are hopeful we can win.”
But one Democratic source said calls to members of Congress against the Equality Act, apparently coordinated by groups like the Heritage Foundation, have has outnumbered calls in favor of it by a substantial margin, with a particular emphasis on Manchin.
No stories are present in the media about same-sex couples being kicked out of a restaurant for holding hands or transgender people for using the restroom consistent with their gender identity, which would be perfectly legal in 25 states thanks to the patchwork of civil rights laws throughout the United States and inadequate protections under federal law.
Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the American Unity Fund, which has bolstered the Republican-led Fairness for All Act as an alternative to the Equality Act, said he continues to believe the votes are present for a compromise form of the bill.
“I know for a fact there is a supermajority level of support in the Senate for a version of the Equality Act that is fully protective of both LGBTQ civil rights and religious freedom,” Deaton said. “There is interest on both sides of the aisle in getting something done this Congress.”
Deaton, however, didn’t respond to a follow-up inquiry on what evidence exists of agreeing on this compromise.
Biden has already missed the goal he campaigned on in the 2020 election to sign the Equality Act into law within his first 100 days in office. Although Biden renewed his call to pass the legislation in his speech to Congress last month, as things stand now that appears to be a goal he won’t realize for the remainder of this Congress.
Nor has the Biden administration made the Equality Act an issue for top officials within the administration as it pushes for an infrastructure package as a top priority. One Democratic insider said Louisa Terrell, legislative affairs director for the White House, delegated work on the Equality Act to a deputy as opposed to handling it herself.
To be sure, Biden has demonstrated support for the LGBTQ community through executive action at an unprecedented rate, signing an executive order on day one ordering federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County to the fullest extent possible and dismantling former President Trump’s transgender military ban. Biden also made historic LGBTQ appointments with the confirmation of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health.
A White House spokesperson insisted Biden’s team across the board remains committed to the Equality Act, pointing to his remarks to Congress.
“President Biden has urged Congress to get the Equality Act to his desk so he can sign it into law and provide long overdue civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ Americans, and he remains committed to seeing this legislation passed as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said. “The White House and its entire legislative team remains in ongoing and close coordination with organizations, leaders, members of Congress, including the Equality Caucus, and staff to ensure we are working across the aisle to push the Equality Act forward.”
But at least in the near-term, that progress will fall short of fulfilling the promise of updating federal civil rights law with the Equality Act, which will mean LGBTQ people won’t be able to rely on those protections when faced with discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
D.C. bill to ban LGBTQ panic defense delayed by Capitol security
Delivery of bill to Congress was held up due to protocols related to Jan. 6 riots
A bill approved unanimously last December by the D.C. Council to ban the so-called LGBTQ panic defense has been delayed from taking effect as a city law because the fence installed around the U.S. Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection prevented the law from being delivered to Congress.
According to Eric Salmi, communications director for D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who guided the bill through the Council’s legislative process, all bills approved by the Council and signed by the D.C. mayor must be hand-delivered to Congress for a required congressional review.
“What happened was when the Capitol fence went up after the January insurrection, it created an issue where we physically could not deliver laws to Congress per the congressional review period,” Salmi told the Washington Blade.
Among the bills that could not immediately be delivered to Congress was the Bella Evangelista and Tony Hunter Panic Defense Prohibition and Hate Crimes Response Amendment Act of 2020, which was approved by the Council on a second and final vote on Dec. 15.
Between the time the bill was signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser and published in the D.C. Register under procedural requirements for all bills, it was not ready to be transmitted to Congress until Feb. 16, the Council’s legislative record for the bill shows.
Salmi said the impasse in delivering the bill to Congress due to the security fence prevented the bill from reaching Congress on that date and prevented the mandatory 60-day congressional review period for this bill from beginning at that time. He noted that most bills require a 30 legislative day review by Congress.
But the Evangelista-Hunter bill, named after a transgender woman and a gay man who died in violent attacks by perpetrators who attempted to use the trans and gay panic defense, includes a law enforcement related provision that under the city’s Home Rule Charter passed by Congress in the early 1970s requires a 60-day congressional review.
“There is a chance it goes into effect any day now, just given the timeline is close to being up,” Salmi said on Tuesday. “I don’t know the exact date it was delivered, but I do know the countdown is on,” said Salmi, who added, “I would expect any day now it should go into effect and there’s nothing stopping it other than an insurrection in January.”
If the delivery to Congress had not been delayed, the D.C. Council’s legislative office estimated the congressional review would have been completed by May 12.
A congressional source who spoke on condition of being identified only as a senior Democratic aide, said the holdup of D.C. bills because of the Capitol fence has been corrected.
“The House found an immediate workaround, when this issue first arose after the Jan. 6 insurrection,” the aide said.
“This is yet another reason why D.C. Council bills should not be subject to a congressional review period and why we need to grant D.C. statehood,” the aide said.
The aide added that while no disapproval resolution had been introduced in Congress to overturn the D.C. Evangelista-Hunter bill, House Democrats would have defeated such a resolution.
“House Democrats support D.C. home rule, statehood, and LGBTQ rights,” said the aide.
LGBTQ rights advocates have argued that a ban on using a gay or transgender panic defense in criminal trials is needed to prevent defense attorneys from inappropriately asking juries to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression is to blame for a defendant’s criminal act, including murder.
Some attorneys have argued that their clients “panicked” after discovering the person against whom they committed a violent crime was gay or transgender, prompting them to act in a way they believed to be a form of self-defense.
In addition to its provision banning the LGBTQ panic defense, the Evangelista-Hunter bill includes a separate provision that strengthens the city’s existing hate crimes law by clarifying that hatred need not be the sole motivating factor for an underlying crime such as assault, murder, or threats to be prosecuted as a hate crime.
LGBTQ supportive prosecutors have said the clarification was needed because it is often difficult to prove to a jury that hatred is the only motive behind a violent crime. The prosecutors noted that juries have found defendants not guilty of committing a hate crime on grounds that they believed other motives were involved in a particular crime after defense lawyers argued that the law required “hate” to be the only motive in order to find someone guilty of a hate crime.
Salmi noted that while the hate crime clarification and panic defense prohibition provisions of the Evangelista-Hunter bill will become law as soon as the congressional review is completed, yet another provision in the bill will not become law after the congressional review because there are insufficient funds in the D.C. budget to cover the costs of implementing the provision.
The provision gives the D.C. Office of Human Rights and the Office of the D.C. Attorney General authority to investigate hate related discrimination at places of public accommodation. Salmi said the provision expands protections against discrimination to include web-based retailers or online delivery services that are not physically located in D.C.
“That is subject to appropriations,” Salmi said. “And until it is funded in the upcoming budget it cannot be legally enforced.”
He said that at Council member Allen’s request, the Council added language to the bill that ensures that all other provisions of the legislation that do not require additional funding – including the ban on use of the LGBTQ panic defense and the provision clarifying that hatred doesn’t have to be the sole motive for a hate crime – will take effect as soon as the congressional approval process is completed.
D.C. man charged with 2020 anti-gay death threat rearrested
Defendant implicated in three anti-LGBTQ incidents since 2011
A D.C. man arrested in August 2020 for allegedly threatening to kill a gay man outside the victim’s apartment in the city’s Adams Morgan neighborhood and who was released while awaiting trial was arrested again two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill another man in an unrelated incident.
D.C. Superior Court records show that Jalal Malki, who was 37 at the time of his 2020 arrest on a charge of bias-related attempts to do bodily harm against the gay man, was charged on May 4, 2021 with unlawful entry, simple assault, threats to kidnap and injure a person, and attempted possession of a prohibited weapon against the owner of a vacant house at 4412 Georgia Ave., N.W.
Court charging documents state that Malki was allegedly staying at the house without permission as a squatter. An arrest affidavit filed in court by D.C. police says Malki allegedly threatened to kill the man who owns the house shortly after the man arrived at the house while Malki was inside.
According to the affidavit, Malki walked up to the owner of the house while the owner was sitting in his car after having called police and told him, “If you come back here, I’m going to kill you.” While making that threat Malki displayed what appeared to be a gun in his waistband, but which was later found to be a toy gun, the affidavit says.
Malki then walked back inside the house minutes before police arrived and arrested him. Court records show that similar to the court proceedings following his 2020 arrest for threatening the gay man, a judge in the latest case ordered Malki released while awaiting trial. In both cases, the judge ordered him to stay away from the two men he allegedly threatened to kill.
An arrest affidavit filed by D.C. police in the 2020 case states that Malki allegedly made the threats inside an apartment building where the victim lived on the 2300 block of Champlain Street, N.W. It says Malki was living in a nearby building but often visited the building where the victim lived.
“Victim 1 continued to state during an interview that it was not the first time that Defendant 1 had made threats to him, but this time Defendant 1 stated that if he caught him outside, he would ‘fucking kill him.’” the affidavit says. It quotes the victim as saying during this time Malki repeatedly called the victim a “fucking faggot.”
The affidavit, prepared by the arresting officers, says that after the officers arrested Malki and were leading him to a police transport vehicle to be booked for the arrest, he expressed an “excited utterance” that he was “in disbelief that officers sided with the ‘fucking faggot.’”
Court records show that Malki is scheduled to appear in court on June 4 for a status hearing for both the 2020 arrest and the arrest two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill the owner of the house in which police say he was illegally squatting.
Superior Court records show that Malki had been arrested three times between 2011 and 2015 in cases unrelated to the 2021 and 2020 cases for allegedly also making threats of violence against people. Two of the cases appear to be LGBTQ related, but prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not list the cases as hate crimes.
In the first of the three cases, filed in July 2011, Malki allegedly shoved a man inside Dupont Circle and threatened to kill him after asking the man why he was wearing a purple shirt.
“Victim 1 believes the assault occurred because Suspect 1 believes Victim 1 is a homosexual,” the police arrest affidavit says.
Court records show prosecutors charged Malki with simple assault and threats to do bodily harm in the case. But the court records show that on Sept. 13, 2011, D.C. Superior Court Judge Stephen F. Eilperin found Malki not guilty on both charges following a non-jury trial.
The online court records do not state why the judge rendered a not guilty verdict. With the courthouse currently closed to the public and the press due to COVID-related restrictions, the Washington Blade couldn’t immediately obtain the records to determine the judge’s reason for the verdict.
In the second case, court records show Malki was arrested by D.C. police outside the Townhouse Tavern bar and restaurant at 1637 R St., N.W. on Nov. 7, 2012 for allegedly threatening one or more people with a knife after employees ordered Malki to leave the establishment for “disorderly behavior.”
At the time, the Townhouse Tavern was located next door to the gay nightclub Cobalt, which before going out of business two years ago, was located at the corner of 17th and R Streets, N.W.
The police arrest affidavit in the case says Malki allegedly pointed a knife in a threatening way at two of the tavern’s employees who blocked his path when he attempted to re-enter the tavern. The affidavit says he was initially charged by D.C. police with assault with a dangerous weapon – knife. Court records, however, show that prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office lowered the charges to two counts of simple assault. The records show that on Jan. 15, 2013, Malki pleaded guilty to the two charges as part of a plea bargain arrangement.
The records show that Judge Marissa Demeo on that same day issued a sentence of 30 days for each of the two charges but suspended all 30 days for both counts. She then sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for both charges and ordered that he undergo alcohol and drug testing and undergo treatment if appropriate.
In the third case prior to the 2020 and 2021 cases, court records show Malki was arrested outside the Cobalt gay nightclub on March 14, 2015 on multiple counts of simple assault, attempted assault with a dangerous weapon – knife, possession of a prohibited weapon – knife, and unlawful entry.
The arrest affidavit says an altercation started on the sidewalk outside the bar when for unknown reasons, Malki grabbed a female customer who was outside smoking and attempted to pull her toward him. When her female friend came to her aid, Malki allegedly got “aggressive” by threatening the woman and “removed what appeared to be a knife from an unknown location” and pointed it at the woman’s friend in a threatening way, the affidavit says.
It says a Cobalt employee minutes later ordered Malki to leave the area and he appeared to do so. But others noticed that he walked toward another entrance door to Cobalt and attempted to enter the establishment knowing he had been ordered not to return because of previous problems with his behavior, the affidavit says. When he attempted to push away another employee to force his way into Cobalt, Malki fell to the ground during a scuffle and other employees held him on the ground while someone else called D.C. police.
Court records show that similar to all of Malki’s arrests, a judge released him while awaiting trial and ordered him to stay away from Cobalt and all of those he was charged with threatening and assaulting.
The records show that on Sept. 18, 2015, Malki agreed to a plea bargain offer by prosecutors in which all except two of the charges – attempted possession of a prohibited weapon and simple assault – were dropped. Judge Alfred S. Irving Jr. on Oct. 2, 2015 sentenced Malki to 60 days of incarnation for each of the two charges but suspended all but five days, which he allowed Malki to serve on weekends, the court records show.
The judge ordered that the two five-day jail terms could be served concurrently, meaning just five days total would be served, according to court records. The records also show that Judge Irving sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for each of the two counts and ordered that he enter an alcohol treatment program and stay away from Cobalt.
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