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Gay couple beaten, robbed on Metro by youth gang

Horrified victims say train operator ignored pleas for help

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Metro, gay news, Washington Blade
Metro, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo public domain)

A gay man said he and his partner were beaten and robbed on a Green Line Metro train shortly after 1 a.m. on Nov. 22 by as many as a dozen or more teenagers during a harrowing ride in which the train conductor ignored their pleas over an emergency call box to stop the train and call police.

Gaithersburg, Md., resident Calvin Lawrence, 48, and his partner Joseph Cowart, 43, feared for their lives as the youths menaced them and other passengers while the train conductor continued to operate the train “as if nothing had happened” for at least four stops between the Fort Totten and Shaw-Howard University stations, Lawrence said.

Although the train stopped at each of the stations, Lawrence said the conductor quickly closed the doors and continued moving the train to the next station instead of waiting for police to arrive as Lawrence said he urged the conductor to do over the emergency intercom system.

Meanwhile, at least one of the male attackers called Cowart a “faggot” while kicking him in the head and chest after several of the attackers knocked him to the floor, according to Lawrence, who contacted the Blade about the incident last week.

Joseph Howard (Photo courtesy of Calvin Lawrence)

Joseph Cowart (Photo courtesy of Calvin Lawrence)

Metro spokesperson Dan Stessel said the case is being actively investigated by the Metro Transit Police Department.

“MTPD officers stopped multiple individuals matching the description of the suspects that night,” Stessel told the Blade in an email. “However, none could be positively identified by the victims,” he said.

“MTPD detectives continue to review hours of video footage from stations up and down the Green Line to identify potential suspects,” Stessel said. “These images will be developed into a photo spread and presented to the victims to see if any suspect(s) can be positively identified.”

Lawrence disputes Stessel’s claim that none of the victims could identify any of the suspects stopped by police.

“They showed me one girl and one guy and I couldn’t I.D. them,” he said. “But Joey did I.D. the girl that hit him.”

Stessel released to the Blade a redacted version of the Metro Transit Police report of the incident. The report lists the incident as a “robbery force and violence.” It specifically says the incident was not a hate crime.

Similar to Lawrence’s account to the Blade, the report says the incident started when “a group of disorderly juveniles” were on the train and that one of them, listed as Suspect 1, robbed a 14-year-old boy, identified only as Victim 1, of his iPhone.

The report says Victim 2, whom Lawrence identifies as his partner Joseph Cowart, attempted to stop Suspect 1 from targeting the 14-year old, prompting Suspect 1 to “proceed to punch and kick” Cowart “about the right temple, both knees, right shin, and left ribs causing abrasions.”

As Lawrence tells it, Suspect 1 is a teenage girl who he observed a few minutes earlier walking up and down the train car acting suspiciously. He said the girl attacked the 14-year-old boy shortly after Cowart got up to look at a Metro map and was standing near where the attack occurred.

“The next thing I know I hear Joey go, hey, stop that,” Lawrence told the Blade. “Well that girl and six other youth – they had beaten up the kid and took his tennis shoes. So Joseph went to the call box, the emergency call box…to let the driver know, hey, there are people getting jumped by a mob of teenagers.”

Assuming the train conductor would keep the train in place at the next station while calling police, Lawrence said he signaled Cowart to meet him at the train door to make a quick exit and call for help.

But by the time he reached the train door he saw that the girl who had attacked the 14-year-old boy had grabbed Cowart by his sweatshirt.

“By the time I got to him the girl had pounded him in the head,” he said. “And then all of a sudden out of nowhere 12 teenagers had him down on the ground kicking him in the head, stomping him in the chest,” Lawrence recounted. “I threw myself into the middle of it,” he said, adding, “I tried to get him up and they stole his iPad and iPhone and all of that.”

Lawrence said he was especially concerned because Cowart had suffered a stroke 10 years ago due to a ruptured blood vessel in the left side of his brain near where the attackers were hitting him in the head.

In the midst of the commotion he managed to pull Cowart, who was bleeding, away from the attackers and joined other passengers in fleeing into another train car, Lawrence said. To his and Cowart’s dismay, he said the train conductor continued to operate the train, stopping briefly at the next few stations and continuing along the Green Line route.

Lawrence said he and Cowart stepped into the door and looked into the station each time the train stopped, but were afraid to get off because the stations appeared deserted and they feared the attackers – who could be seen in the next train car – might come after them.

It was not until the train reached the Shaw-Howard University Station that he saw a Metro employee sweeping the floor next to the escalators that he shouted for help. This time the train remained stopped and within minutes Metro Police officers arrived on the scene, Lawrence said.

He said police immediately called for an ambulance, which took Cowart to nearby Howard University Hospital, according to the police report.

“The call to summon police came from the train operator,” said Stessel, who answered “no” when asked if the train operator was being investigated for acting improperly by not stopping the train sooner.

Lawrence said he was troubled when told by the Blade that the Metro Police report doesn’t list the incident as a hate crime.

“They were making fun of him before they fully came up because his right side – he doesn’t have full use of it,” said Lawrence in describing the effects of Cowart’s stroke.

“Sometimes his hands sit in a certain way,” Lawrence said. “And the kids were walking by doing that gay fag thing. And when the guy was kicking him he was calling him fag.”

Stessel said police may not have listed the case as a hate crime because Cowart wasn’t the original target of the attackers.

“In this case, the original crime is the robbery of Victim 1,” he said. “Victim 2 [Cowart] was not the target of the robbery, and he was assaulted by the suspect only after attempting to come to the aid of Victim 1, who was not known to him,” Stessel said.

“A bias motivation can be added by prosecutors when the case is papered if the evidence will support it,” Stessel continued in his email to the Blade. “This remains an open and active investigation.”

He noted that Metro Police listed the 2014 stabbing of a teenage transgender woman on a Metro train as a hate crime. In that case, the victim and her friends reported that a suspect who was arrested on the scene shouted anti-trans slurs at the victim immediately before stabbing her. The victim was treated for non-life threatening wounds.

Metro Transit Police on Wednesday night released these photos of someone they said is a person of interest in the case of the assault and robbery of a gay male couple on a Green Line Metro train about 1:15 a.m. on Nov. 22 somewhere between the West Hyattsville and Shaw-Howard University stations. Anyone with information about this person should call Metro police at 202-962-2121.

Metro Transit Police on Wednesday night released these photos of someone they said is a person of interest in the case of the assault and robbery of a gay male couple on a Green Line Metro train about 1:15 a.m. on Nov. 22 somewhere between the West Hyattsville and Shaw-Howard University stations. Anyone with information about this person should call Metro police at 202-962-2121.

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28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Bob_Oscar

    December 9, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    Amish youts, no doubt…

  2. robertg222

    December 9, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    Stay off the green line after dark….and between sunrise and sunset.

    • Culture Club Warrior

      December 12, 2015 at 6:59 pm

      That was one of the first things that people told me when I moved here.

  3. Edu

    December 9, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    metro sucking as usual.

  4. Addison

    December 9, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    What color were the assailants? I think I know…

    • Addison

      December 9, 2015 at 4:16 pm

      I hope readers understand this was a racial hate crime as well.

      • THEBEARCUB

        December 10, 2015 at 4:59 am

        They were Black and Dylan Roof was White so what?

      • lnm3921

        December 10, 2015 at 7:39 pm

        Meaning that gay men are not victims of homophobic slurs and assaults from heterosexual white men?

        In my experience, gay bashing has often been more prevalent from White men than people of color. I’m not denying that some non-white heterosexual people are very homophobic, I’ve experience that, too, but let’s not ignore the reality that homophobic violence has no specific racial or gender profile.

        Most heterosexual white men I’ve encountered over the years that were aware of me being gay but didn’t know me reacted either with hatred with threatening body language and dirty looks or laughter as if I was a joke and patronizing as if I was a child. Others won’t even give me eye contact.

        • Addison

          January 5, 2016 at 1:59 pm

          The “gang” gay bashing is more typical of these black kids. “White” attacks are usually some jackass and maybe a friend hurling epithets and then maybe resorting to violence. These gang attacks, on the other hand, are fueled by racial differences as well as homophobia: the attackers get off because they are all of the same race and their victims are of a different one. In the minds of the attackers, they see it as a bonding moment, with some joining in even though they probably wouldn’t otherwise.

          • lnm3921

            January 5, 2016 at 11:28 pm

            So you’re saying Herero white guys wouldn’t likely go out on a specific gay bashing binge and rarely would be violent if they crossed paths wth gay men? They are just being jerks or bullies. Something like Matt shepherd was a rare exception. Harvey milk being shot by a Herero white guy, too. Damn twinkles made him do it. Wasn’t that gay sailor murdered before DADT was lifted killed by a white guy?

            So would these non-white gay bashing gangs give a free pass to non-white gays while only targeting gay “white” men?

          • Addison

            January 11, 2016 at 4:32 pm

            Not in a gang and probably not in an urban setting – which is where a lot of gays live since the hinterlands are often not gay-friendly. Look at the gay-bashing stats.

          • lnm3921

            January 11, 2016 at 7:26 pm

            So white frat boys or suburbanites can’t drive into town with their friends looking to bash gays? Especially after leaving a bar or party drunk?

            I grew up in a city and it seems to me it was always the white boys that went out of their way to find gays to humiliate or harass them or barrage them with slurs. I still get dirty looks from mainly white guys on the street whenever I check them out.

            As for urban settings, many cities are becoming gentrified pushing out the poor and minorities including gays….forcing them to move into the suburbs to find more affordable housing.

          • Addison

            January 12, 2016 at 12:55 pm

            The assailant (that was “of interest”) was black, she focused her bashing on the white half of the gay couple. Check out that video of two black girls beating up a lighter skinned mixed girl on the LA subway. And how many times have you heard of black kids acting up on the DC subway?

          • lnm3921

            January 12, 2016 at 7:11 pm

            I never denied that the assailant was non-white or that white people are not victims of racism, too. I’ve seen it first hand. Let’s not forget that some gay people are also racist.

            However, you are fixated on generalizing that gang violence is a non-white thing usually perpetrated by non-whites while refusing to acknowledge the fact that gay bashing has been perpetrated also by both white gangs and individuals all over the world! I’ve given you specific historical and contemporary examples; yet go back to your specious argument that it’s non-whites only behind the violence.

            DC is not the only place where gay people live or where they have experienced violence.

            Most kids act up in the subway or anyplace in general due to their immaturity and desire to impress upon their friends that they are cool. You overgeneralize like Donald Trump!

    • Moose

      December 11, 2015 at 11:26 pm

      The same suspooks as usual…

  5. Bobbie Jo Justice

    December 9, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    Do the same thing to the teenagers, see how they like it.

  6. Love_Virginia

    December 9, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    What was a 14 year old doing on Metro at 1:00am? Isn’t there a curfew in DC? It is sad you can’t go out and have a nice evening without fear of feral teens attacking you. I lived in the area for 30 years and it has gotten horrible, I am glad I moved a way.

    • Addison

      January 5, 2016 at 2:03 pm

      It’s just like when you hear about a 2 year-old getting shot to death at a party…at 3 am. Yet that always seems to be the case in “those” neighborhoods.

  7. ayplease

    December 9, 2015 at 10:16 pm

    pull the emergency brake in the car and you bet the train will stop. don’t trust the conductor to do it. don’t trust that by you calling him or her on the call box that they will do something. PULL THE EMERGENCY BRAKE. metro doesn’t care. and stay off the green line. and don’t go to gallery place any time especially after dark.

  8. Brian's Ions

    December 9, 2015 at 10:45 pm

    WMATA and the Metro train operator ought to be charged for aiding and abetting a hate crime with bias against SEXUAL ORIENTATION –AND– DISABILITY.

    And why is MTPD Chief Ronald Pavlik Jr. not commenting on this obvious hate crime coverup directly?

    Why wasn’t MPD called to the scene? Why weren’t GLLU officers called in by Lanier or Groomes? Will Kenyan McDuffie hold a high-profile hearing for this anti-LGBT / anti-disability injustice as well?

    And why should any patrons of WMATA/Metro be trusting a MTPD chief whose ‘spokesperson’ goes out of his way to make homophobic *speculations* and *excuses* for *NOT* so classifying and investigating a very obvious hate crime?

    Is MTP chief and his spokesperson intentionally trying to prejudice a criminal and/or civil cases against the victims?

    Indeed, what has MTPD Chief Ronald Pavlik Jr. ever said publicly about pursuing and prosecuting anti-LGBT hate crime perpetrators on WMATA trains and buses? What is his record on anti-LGBT police bias?

    We need to hear from Pavlik directly. We need to hear from Mayor Bowser and Chief Lanier, too.

    But we also need to hear from our occasional/ sunny day “allies” on Council (e.g, Mendelson and McDuffie)… who seem to be implicitly, by their utter silence on the subject, encouraging hate crime coverups.

    DC Council members can not take credit for passing and/or supporting a tough DC hate crimes law, and then conveniently look the other way when the police for which they are responsible use the color of their authority to discriminate and/or encourage anti-LGBT violence.

    —–

    I hope the victims in this case get good lawyers– because DC’s law provides both criminal and civil remedies…

    DC Code
    § 22–3701…
    (1) “Bias-related crime” means a designated act that demonstrates an accused’s prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, family responsibility, homelessness, physical disability, matriculation, or political affiliation of a victim of the subject designated act.

    (2) “Designated act” means a criminal act, including arson, assault, burglary, injury to property, kidnapping, manslaughter, murder, rape, robbery, theft, or unlawful entry, and attempting, aiding, abetting, advising, inciting, conniving, or conspiring to commit arson, assault, burglary, injury to property, kidnapping, manslaughter, murder, rape, robbery, theft, or unlawful entry.

    § 22–3704. Civil action.

    (a) Irrespective of any criminal prosecution or the result of a criminal prosecution, any person who incurs injury to his or her person or property as a result of an intentional act that demonstrates an accused’s prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, family responsibilities, homelessness, physical disability, matriculation, or political affiliation of a victim of the subject designated act shall have a civil cause of action in a court of competent jurisdiction for appropriate relief, which includes:

    (1) An injunction;

    (2) Actual or nominal damages for economic or non-economic loss, including damages for emotional distress;

    (3) Punitive damages in an amount to be determined by a jury or a court sitting without a jury; or

    (4) Reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.

    (b) In a civil action pursuant to subsection (a) of this section, whether an intentional act has occurred that demonstrates an accused’s prejudice based on the actual or perceived color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, family responsibilities, homelessness, physical disability, matriculation, or political affiliation of a victim of the subject designated act shall be determined by reliable, probative, and substantial evidence.

    (c) The parent of a minor shall be liable for any damages that a minor is required to pay under subsection (a) of this section, if any action or omission of the parent or legal guardian contributed to the actions of the minor.

    • Addison

      January 5, 2016 at 2:08 pm

      Probably because the conductor was black (like the attackers) and the victims were white.
      You think I’m kidding?

  9. Cambel

    December 10, 2015 at 4:51 am

    So what was the reason for the driver not stopping? If he isn’t being investigated then Metro must support what he did, and if that is the case, why are they not offering an explanation?

  10. THEBEARCUB

    December 10, 2015 at 5:04 am

    Hopefully they’ll all be caught prosecuted. But I do like when these are reported and read the comments from Non Black gays. It will always remind me of how bad of a prejudice gay community we live.

  11. psphilip

    December 10, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    investigate the conductor for mis conduct the train should have bene stopped doors open permit victims t o get of fthe train this conductor is either a total coward or part of the attack

  12. Marcus Thomas

    December 10, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    I live in the metro area and as of now I’m not a metro user but this has gotten out of hand. I feel like I want to ride train at night prepared just to dish out punishment to these worthless kids.

  13. kzF

    December 11, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    another race oriented crime by blacks on whites.

  14. Addison

    January 11, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    So – yeah – look at the “person of interest” and look at the victims. Amazingly, one half of the gay pair was white. Not so amazingly, this white half was the one the black thuggress went after. You tell me this whole thing wasn’t a racial attack in addition to a homophobic attack.

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Equality Act, contorted as a danger by anti-LGBTQ forces, is all but dead

No political willpower to force vote or reach a compromise

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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.

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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

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New fencing around the Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection prevented some D.C. bills from being delivered to the Hill for a required congressional review. (Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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.

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D.C. man charged with 2020 anti-gay death threat rearrested

Defendant implicated in three anti-LGBTQ incidents since 2011

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shooting, DC Eagle, assault, hate crime, anti-gay attack, police discrimination, sex police, Sisson, gay news, Washington Blade

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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