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EXCLUSIVE: Married gay man fired from Md. church

Archdiocese of Washington says Jeffrey Higgins violated Catholic teachings



Jeffrey Higgins, gay news, Washington Blade

Jeffrey Higgins, gay news, Washington Blade

Jeffrey Higgins, right, with his husband, Robert Higgins. (Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Higgins)

GERMANTOWN, Md. — A Catholic church in Maryland last month fired a gay cantor because he is married to a man.

Jeffrey Higgins told the Washington Blade on Tuesday during an exclusive interview that Mother Seton Roman Catholic Church in Germantown in June 2014 hired him as a part-time cantor.

“I felt very accepted there,” he said.

Higgins told the Blade that Rev. Lee Fangmeyer, a pastor at the Montgomery County church, brought him into his office on Nov. 8 after a morning Mass and said “it had been discovered that I was gay and married.”

Higgins said a family who worships at the church saw him and his husband at a local theater. He told the Blade the parishioners then went online and found pictures of his 2013 wedding in Connecticut on his husband’s Facebook page.

“He asked me to resign,” said Higgins, referring to Fangmeyer. “I told him no, I’m good at my job.”

Fangmeyer subsequently fired Higgins.

“I was pretty shocked,” Higgins told the Blade. “I felt rather accepted in this parish…I didn’t think this would ever be a problem.”

Higgins appealed his termination to the Archdiocese of Washington.

Monsignor Charles Antonicelli, vicar for canonical services at the Archdiocese of Washington, in a Nov. 24 letter to Higgins requested a meeting with him at Mother Seton Church or the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Hyattsville to discuss his termination.

Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout of the Archbishop of Washington in a Dec. 7 letter to Higgins said that he “declined to meet with” Antonicelli “or participate in a process to consider your appeal.” Knestout also wrote that Higgins in his message “confirmed that you were in a same-sex marriage and that you had taken steps, during your time of employment, to conceal this fact from Mother Seton parish.”

Knestout denied Higgins appeal.

“Your entering into a civil same-sex marriage is a public act contrary to church teaching on marriage and is incompatible with a position as a liturgical minister in the church,” wrote Knestout. “While you claim the freedom to act as you choose, you can recognize that the church too, has the freedom and also the obligation to teach and live according to her identity.”

“Termination of employment is never taken lightly,” added Knestout. “Nevertheless, sometimes continued employment in the church becomes untenable when there is a potential for scandal that might lead people astray regarding the Catholic faith. Openly living in contradiction to what the church proclaims as true is inconsistent with continued employment in a ministry within the archdiocese and its parishes.”

Knestout ended his letter to Higgins by emphasizing “that as a member of the Catholic church, you continue to be welcome in the church.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a group for LGBT Catholics, told the Blade the series of events that lead to Higgins’ termination “has some particularly alarming elements.”

“Someone had to work very, very hard to uncover the truth of his situation, and then made several complaints to the pastor,” said Duddy-Burke. “This is harassment. I’d even call it persecution. Jeffrey was being actively targeted because he was a married gay man.”

Archdiocese: Higgins’ termination not about ‘sexual preference’

Higgins was baptized and confirmed in the Catholic church.

He told the Blade that he came out to a priest 15 years ago during confession.

“He told me this is the way God made me,” said Higgins.

Higgins graduated from Catholic University of America in D.C. with a degree in music.

“I was born Catholic,” Higgins told the Blade, noting he met his husband while at Catholic University. “I’ve always been Catholic. I still believe that priest who told me I’m who God made me.”

The Archdiocese of Washington on Tuesday in a statement to the Blade said that Higgins “entered into a same-sex marriage, in public violation of Catholic teaching that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.”

“After the pastor (Fangmeyer) met with the music minister (Higgins) and determined that the person had violated the agreed upon terms of his employment in the archdiocese, his employment at Mother Seton Parish was terminated,” said the archdiocese.

“The issue, in this case, clearly became not the sexual preference of the music minister but his ability to publicly and authentically manifest the teaching of the church,” it added.

Higgins told the Blade the archdiocese’s position does not come as a surprise.

“What the archdiocese has written is what I have come to expect,” he said. “It is their standard response to discrimination, it is boilerplate.”

Jeffrey Higgins, Catholic, gay news, Washington Blade

Jeffrey Higgins was a cantor at Mother Seton Parish Roman Catholic Church in Germantown, Md. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Catholics are ‘still a loving community’

Duddy-Burke said the number of LGBT employees who have been fired by Catholic institutions has increased, especially since June’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Obergefell case extended marriage rights to same-sex couples throughout the country.

Margie Winters, a former teacher at a Catholic school in suburban Philadelphia, lost her job in July because she married her partner. A gay Virginia man alleges in a complaint he filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in October that a Catholic assisted living facility terminated him after learning about his husband.

Former students of Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in Miami in the fall criticized the decision not to publish same-sex wedding announcements in its alumni magazine. A Massachusetts judge last week ruled an all-girls Catholic high school in suburban Boston violated the state’s anti-discrimination law when it rescinded an employment offer it made to a gay man after learning he was married.

Pope Francis in September met privately with Yayo Grassi, a gay man he taught in his native Argentina in the 1960s, and his partner of 19 years at the Apostolic Nunciature in Northwest Washington. The Vatican downplayed Francis’ meeting with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of her religious beliefs, that also took place in D.C. during the papal visit to the U.S.

“I had great hope with Pope Francis’ recent visit that it would inspire a warmer reception,” Higgins’ husband, Robert Higgins, told the Blade on Tuesday. “My faith in God and in the people of the church remains the same. It’s still a loving community, but some of the doctrines that are enforced from the higher-ups are stuck in the past.”

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  1. I'm Just Sayin'

    December 23, 2015 at 4:37 pm

    I have no issue with the Catholic Church exercising its religious precepts as misguided as they may be. I do however take issue with them engaging in discriminatory practices with impunity as a tax-exempt organization. I wonder how “principled” they’d be if they faced the loss of their 501(c)(3) status?

    • lnm3921

      December 23, 2015 at 7:04 pm

      Like that will ever happen. Religious organizations have been working aggressively and blatantly against GLBT equality for a very long time and still the IRS doesn’t see it as being political and let’s them keep their tax exemption. Perhaps those making those decision are religious conservatives themselves.

    • Thisoldspouse

      January 8, 2016 at 11:57 am

      You think that taxing them would grant any kind of immunity from you Fascist leftists? What kind of mushrooms are you smoking?

  2. 2patricius2

    December 23, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    And they wonder why their “Come home for Christmas” campaigns don’t work. It’s cause so many Catholic dioceses are not homes – they pull the welcome mats away from many members.

  3. Anjel Scarborough

    December 23, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    The Episcopal Church welcomes you! And we have fabulous music … just sayin’.

    • Steve Karper

      December 24, 2015 at 9:58 pm

      And its so similar to the cat-tholic church of hate and discrimination, to say nothing of the sex starved priests doing kiddie twidling

      • bookman

        January 6, 2016 at 7:30 pm

        all gay priest…

    • Thisoldspouse

      January 8, 2016 at 11:01 am

      Yeah, fake “churches” abound. You can probably find one that celebrates any perversion imaginable. So what?

      • Jinoh

        January 12, 2016 at 10:54 pm

        Perhaps you should review the words and sentiments of your pope before you contradict him with statements like that.

  4. lnm3921

    December 23, 2015 at 7:00 pm

    Why do gay people continue to insist on working for religious institutions when they have secular alternatives? Show some pride and refuse to work where you are conditionally welcomed if at all! Then you whine about it when they oust you as if you didn’t that could happen.
    While I have no use for religious conservatives infringing upon our rights in the secular world, I feel they are entitled to their own space within religious institutions and organizations.

    • Thisoldspouse

      January 8, 2016 at 11:02 am

      Secular “churches?” Wow, news to me. What do they worship?

      • lnm3921

        January 8, 2016 at 2:28 pm

        I really need to explain secular alternatives? Ok. Secular alternatives have nothing to do with churches. There are many jobs that have nothing to do with religion.

        “Secular churches”? Where’s your common sense?

  5. coilette

    December 23, 2015 at 7:10 pm

    Sucks to be fired, but I also think this has never made sense. Would you continue to employ a spokesperson who was found to be a lobbyist against marriage equality? When you hired a musician to play your wedding/reception, didn’t you want someone who believed as you do?

    So, why would a gay married man want to work for an organization opposed to gay marriage anyway? Why would you want to be associated with that? Aren’t you better off with this “job divorce,” you just going your own way?

    • Marla R. Stevens

      December 24, 2015 at 4:56 pm

      When I hire that musician, my criteria are really great performance of the agreed-upon music and, as for viewpoint agreement, if the musician doesn’t agree, they should keep that to themselves and have an outward manner consistent with the event. I’d make that contractual.

      But work for an organization that tries to hurt me? No, because I’m a lousy liar and hate shooting myself in the foot. Being married is being out. Being a church music director is a sacred position, subject to discrimination. As for these fellows, I’m happy for them that they’ve been given the opportunity to live as honest people with integrity.

  6. JackNasty

    December 23, 2015 at 8:13 pm

    The Roman Catholic Church, like the Mormon Church, is free to be as nasty and unwelcoming as it wants to be.

    That said, the Church has no basis to complain when people criticize the discrimination and bigotry it propagates.

    • bookman

      January 6, 2016 at 7:03 pm

      You know what the Church is about and what it teaches… then why seek employment there?

      I am against abortion and would never, ever consider working at an abortion clinic, no matter how much they paid me.
      It’s a matter of your own standards.

    • Thisoldspouse

      January 8, 2016 at 10:59 am

      So, criticize away, just don’t try to demand that the State wrest religious freedom from them.

  7. Sky OfPennsylvania

    December 23, 2015 at 8:56 pm


    Bigotry, Fanaticism, Biases, Prejudices and Their Hatred Promoting
    Disinformation-Mongers have always hidden behind GOD, Big Mainstream Religions
    and the Governments who bed them…

    Behind COUNTRY/FLAG (Elite-Manipulated-Nationalism), behind raped, bought-off
    (Commercially/Politically-Corrected & Mainstream Religio-Sanitized)
    censored ACADEMIA…

    And finally, behind CHILDREN.

    Human Beings at their very worst indeed – Shameful!
    Lamentable! But I am not surprised.

  8. Isabel Sinton

    December 24, 2015 at 11:45 am

    “An act contrary to church teaching” ? And priests molesting altar boys, and getting a slap on the wrist ( if that) is not contrary to church teachings? Does the church hierarchy read the bible or George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’? ( We’re all equal, but some of us are more equal than others.)

  9. Hilary Howes, CMG

    December 24, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    If Jeffery or Robert are following the comments here I want them to know that they are welcome at the Catholic Community of Greenbelt. tonight at 6:30 and Sundays at 10am at the Greenbelt City Hall. Most Catholics support LGBT civil rights and it is our hierarchy that is out of touch with it’s people and God’s will on this.

    • Dave Jannsen

      December 28, 2015 at 4:28 am

      Catholics support same sex marriage at higher number than any other denomination; a majority do. Second only to reform Jews.

      • Mark Cichewicz

        December 31, 2015 at 6:50 pm

        That is only because there are so many of us…

      • bookman

        January 6, 2016 at 7:06 pm

        not real Catholics… only un informed Catholics or gay Catholics.

  10. Mark Cichewicz

    December 24, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    This is a perfect example of what Jesus Christ objected to within the Jewish faith. As we welcome Christ this Christmas, lets us all hold a mirror that takes in its view, His entire body. We are all parts of His body, sinners and saints. Remember He died for all our sins not just the ones commited by straight Catholics. And yes the Episcopal church has the best music with one exception…Holy Family Catholic Church of St Petersburg, FL, FABULOUS!

  11. WesternIowan

    December 24, 2015 at 7:38 pm

    We should vote on whether to dismantle the Vatican and imprison its employees for crimes against humanity.

    • Steve Karper

      December 24, 2015 at 10:00 pm

      which included the following

    • Thisoldspouse

      January 8, 2016 at 11:01 am

      We’ve heard such talk before, in 1930’s Europe. We fought a war to end it.

      • WesternIowan

        January 8, 2016 at 4:03 pm

        There was no war to end an organization that has abused so many children.

  12. Dave Jannsen

    December 28, 2015 at 4:27 am

    There are some warm welcoming Catholic Churches out there (Jesuit ones come to mind), I belong to one such progressive one.

  13. Peg Demetris

    January 8, 2016 at 1:50 am

    I am a heterosexual female. I was divorced and remarried outside of the Catholic Church. I had a serious conversion of heart and wanted to return back home to my Catholic Faith. Upon doing so, I fell in love with our Lord in the Eucharist. I wanted to participate in all Ministries but was denied because of my grave SIN of Adultery. That of being married again without obtaining an Annulment from the first Marriage. For close to 4 years, I could not participate in any Ministries until my Annulment was complete and my current Husband and I were Married in the Catholic Church. Its NOT discrimination. Its the way it is in the faith. If we are doing something that contradicts Church Teaching, and we are not living the faith that we profess, we can’t teach it, or be a role model for others because we are in fact not living examples of the faith and become nothing more then hypocrites our self by not utilizing the grace God has given to all of us to repent and turn away from a life of sin and toward Him. Having same sex attraction is not a sin. Acting on it is. Same goes for straight couples. Being a Canter is a Calling from God, not just a job. I would take it as a deeper call to ponder what God is truly calling you to do. Peace

    • Jinoh

      January 12, 2016 at 11:03 pm

      And tell me about birth control. Do you follow that doctrine? If you do, you are in the minority of “practicing” Catholics. Does the church stand guard at the pharmacy to see who buys condoms or birth control pills? Does the priest count how many children are standing between spouses at mass and throw shade at the small families? Those others aren’t fired or cast out for not following doctrine. That’s called hypocrisy.

      • Peg Demetris

        January 12, 2016 at 11:35 pm

        Your comment is obvious disdain & bigotry in itself.

        • Jinoh

          January 13, 2016 at 11:25 am

          There’s no bigotry here Peg. I don’t care what Catholic doctrine is. Just don’t tell me that this individual was fired for violating doctrine, when so many others violate doctrine is well yet get the Church turns a blind eye to them.

          • Peg Demetris

            January 13, 2016 at 12:27 pm

            It is your bigotry. What part of I was not allowed do you not understand? Just because you have a false notion of what my faith is, doesn’t make it the way it is.

          • Jinoh

            January 13, 2016 at 3:31 pm

            12 years of Catholic Education, going through Pre-Cana, and a total of 49 years identifying as a Catholic and attending Catholic Church certainly qualifies me to know what Catholic Doctrine is. Furthermore, its also not about YOUR beliefs. I don’t give a darn about YOUR beliefs. YOU didn’t fire this individual; the CHURCH did. That CHURCH picks and chooses which of its doctrines to enforce, and which to turn a blind eye to usurps their moral authority. That you chose to attempt to justify the Church brings you into the line of fire.

          • Peg Demetris

            January 14, 2016 at 11:07 am

            You don’t go to a doctor who doesn’t really practice medicine either. If you don’t practice the faith, your not in a position to teach it.

  14. Thisoldspouse

    January 8, 2016 at 10:58 am

    Sorry, Jeffey, you DID know the Church’s position on homosexuality and marriage, so stop playing dumb (maybe you’re not.)

  15. Grashuslawd

    January 10, 2016 at 10:20 pm

    Criticize the Catholic Church all you want. But be informed that the Catholic Church is the world’s largest NGO provider of health care, education and social services. Two million U.S. students are educated in Catholic elementary and secondary schools, all OFF the U.S. taxpayer rolls (want to see your taxes go up?). Were it not for the Catholic Church there would be no university system, hospital system or social welfare systems, all born over the centuries from the Church’s Gospel mandate to take care of the poor, the sick and the uneducated. Catholic women received doctorates and were the presidents of hospitals, universities and social agencies DECADES before the 1960’s. So, like I said, criticize the Church all you want. Just know who it is you are talking about.

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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



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



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



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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