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Perez cites history of LGBT support in run for DNC chair

Obama-era official at DOJ, DOL turns attention to political organizing

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Tom Perez is running to become Democratic National Committee chair on an LGBT rights record (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Tom Perez is running to become Democratic National Committee chair. (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

After high-level service in the Obama administration that included fighting for LGBT rights at both the Labor and Justice Departments, Tom Perez is looking to become the next Democratic National Committee chair.

In an interview Friday with the Washington Blade, Perez said in a crowded field of contenders his history of support for LGBT rights makes him the best candidate for the LGBT community.

“I have always fought for equality and opportunity for the LGBTQ community, and if I have the privilege of being elected, past is prologue, the best to judge what someone is going to do in the future is look at what they’ve done in the past, and I’m very proud of my history with partnership with the LGBTQ community because everybody in this country deserves to be treated with dignity,” Perez said.

Perez’s work on LGBT rights goes back as far as the 1990s, when as a former staffer for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy he said he drafted an initial version of the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Working under the Obama administration as head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, Perez testified before Congress in favor of ENDA and led an effort in which Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota agreed to change practices to stop the anti-LGBT bullying it allowed in school.

As labor secretary, Perez was charged with enforcing President Obama’s executive order barring anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors and interpreted an earlier order from President Lyndon Johnson prohibiting employment bias on the basis of sex to apply to transgender workers. Perez also extended federal benefits to same-sex couples, such as those under the Family & Medical Leave Act, in aftermath of the Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.

Also at the Labor Department, Perez hired Dylan Orr, who was the first openly transgender person to be appointed to a presidential administration and now works for the city of Seattle as director of the Office of Labor Standards.

Ed Murray, who’s gay and serves as mayor of Seattle, supports Perez and said the candidate’s background on LGBT rights is exactly what is needed at the DNC.

“Secretary Perez has been a strong partner and advocate on LGBTQ issues,” Murray said. “It is critical that our Democratic Party leader be able to stand up for the needs of the LGBTQ community, and build a national coalition that will continue to protect the civil rights of all in the face of discrimination.”

The election for chair is set to take place Saturday during the DNC’s winter meeting in Atlanta.

Here’s the full interview between Perez and the Washington Blade:

WASHINGTON BLADE: Can you tell me what you have to offer the DNC that other candidates aren’t offering?

TOM PEREZ: I think the DNC chair needs to be someone who knows how to take the fight to Donald Trump, knows how to win fights, knows how to talk to every stakeholder in our big tent and has a proven track record as a turnaround specialist. The DNC is suffering from a crisis of confidence, a crisis of relevance, and it’s a complex organization, and it needs a leader who can turn it around.

That’s what I’ve done at the Department of Labor; it’s what I’ve done at the Department at Justice beforehand. Taking organizations with a critical mission that weren’t firing on all cylinders and making sure that we got the best of out of those organizations.

That’s what I’ve done there. That’s what I hope to do as the head of the DNC is make sure we are putting our values into action, and we our values into action by among other things turning around this big ship that I think needs a lot of transformation. That’s how we succeed.

BLADE: You’ve been endorsed by Steny Hoyer and Joe Biden. A lot of a people would say you’re the establishment candidate in the race for chair. How would you respond to that characterization?

PEREZ: This is one of the first times I’ve heard of the farm workers referred to as establishment. They’re supporting me. The UFCW is supporting me, a number of other labor unions are supporting me.

I think it’s really important, Chris, to avoid labels and look at the substance of what people have done. I spent my entire life fighting for marriage equality. I worked for Sen. Kennedy in the ’90s when he was one of the lonely voices against the Defense of Marriage Act, then I fought at the Justice Department to make sure we didn’t defend it.

I took Wall Street on, negotiated two of the largest fair lending settlements in history of the Fair Housing Act. We took on bullying in the public schools in Anoka-Hennepin on behalf of LGBTQ young students. And we took a lot of grief for that, but we took that fight on. We took on the fight of police reform and negotiated more police consent decrees with police departments with my tenure as the Justice Department’s head of the civil rights division than had been in the preceding 15 years history of the statute.

So, when you look at the fights I’ve done and you move away from labels, I think the evidence is pretty clear that I’ve taken on some pretty important fights on behalf of long-established principles of the Democratic Party, the principles of inclusion, the principle that every deserves a fair shake and the principle of economic security — that if you work hard and play by the rules you can punch your ticket to the middle class. And I’ll hold my record of accomplishment on these long-established goals and values and principles of the Democratic Party up against anyone.

BLADE: You say you’re 44 votes short of getting a majority of the delegates to win the race for DNC chair. How do you envision claiming victory in Atlanta?

PEREZ: Well, that was as of two days ago. So, every day since we reached that mark, we keep moving forward. And I’m out in Chicago right now, was in West Virginia, Pennsylvania yesterday and I’ll be in Iowa later today. And I’ll be criss-crossing the country between now and next week. A lot of undecided voters out there, and we’re taking our case directly to them and that’s what grassroots campaign are about, making house calls.

That’s what the Democratic Party needs to do more of in order to make sure we’re winning seats from school board to state houses across this country is make house calls. That’s what I’m doing and I’m learning a lot on my visits with various people around the country.

BLADE: As chair of the DNC, you’ll be doing a lot of political organizing for the upcoming elections. There was a lot of discussion as to why Hillary Clinton lost the last one. Why do you think Hillary Clinton lost the election?

PEREZ: First of all, it’s important to remember that she did win the popular vote and there were a lot of factors that led to her not crossing the electoral finish line. Certainly, the Russian hack had something to do with it. Certainly, the Comey letter had something to do with it. And certainly there were mistakes that were made that were absolutely critical, and these were mistakes that have been occurring, frankly, for a number of election cycles.

We have to make house calls. All too frequently now, Democrats across the board have relied on paid analysts to the exclusion of that on-the-ground, 12-month-out-of-the-year organizing presence.

So in places like Milwaukee, we underperformed in Milwaukee, in places like Wisconsin where Romney got more votes in 2012 than Trump in 2016, we underperformed because we didn’t do enough to talk to people both in the Milwaukee area and frankly in the rural parts of the state. I did a visit to rural Wisconsin about a week or so ago, and what I heard directly from people is that we feel ignored. Many people in Michigan felt ignored.

And the Democratic Party abandoned its 50 state strategy a number of years ago and we’ve ignored whole swaths of zip codes, and we’ve got to change that. That wasn’t something that simply began in 2016, that’s something that’s been going on for some time. And so, the 57-state strategy of organizing in every zip code — not just the states, but the territories and the District of Columbia. It’s all about making sure we’re making house calls again, it’s all about getting back to basics, organizing, organizing and organizing.

The Republicans won Florida in no small measure because after they lost for the second consecutive time to President Obama in 2012, they embarked on a joint venture between the RNC, the Koch brothers and mostly the Southern Baptist Church, and it was a four-year, 12-month-a-year grassroots campaign to identify their voters and they identified roughly 125,000, 130,000 [voters] — and that was the difference in the 2016 campaign. We’ve got to do the same thing.

Our values are solid. We didn’t lose this election because we have the wrong values. Our values of economic opportunity, good jobs, middle-class security and inclusion and opportunity for everyone — those are timeless values of the Democratic Party. So what we have to do is get back to basics and make sure we’re building those strong parties, we’re talking to people, we’re communicating a consistent message and many people didn’t people didn’t hear a message sufficiently about the Democratic Party.

And again, it’s not just what happened in the presidency that I ask, it’s what happened over the last eight years when we lost over 900 seats in state legislatures. That wasn’t Hillary Clinton’s doing. That was the doing of, I think, a number of systemic mistakes that the party has made, and what I’m all about is getting back to our grassroots organizing everywhere. Supporting the development of strong state parties, making sure that we’re supporting candidates from the school board to the Senate. I’ve been talking recently with Democratic attorneys general about how we can support them. I’m meeting with secretaries of state tomorrow.

We’ve got to run candidates up and down the ticket. We’ve got to support them. I’m optimistic we can do this because, I think, in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump, millions of Americans have awakened to the reality that he does not stand for their values.

BLADE: What’s your plan for LGBT issues at the DNC?

PEREZ: My plan is what my plan has been for the last 25 years of being a civil rights lawyer and a labor rights lawyer: To continue to make sure that the LGBT community has a meaningful seat at the table.

That’s what I did when I when I worked with Sen. Kennedy. That’s what I did at the Justice Department. When I worked with Sen. Kennedy, I was one of the staffers who wrote the original version of what became the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. I started working on that back in ’95.

When I went to the Civil Rights Division, the first hearing I testified at was the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the bill that I worked on with Sen. Kennedy. When I was back at the Civil Rights Division in 2009, the work we did on bullying, especially the Anoka-Hennepin case was a landmark because we hadn’t done a bullying case at the Department of Justice involving the bullying of LGBTQ communities, and when I got to the Labor Department, making we sure that we expended the reach of the landmark executive order, the anti-discrimination order from the 1960’s relating to discrimination by federal contractors that didn’t protect the LGBTQ community, and we changed that. It was incredibly important.

So, throughout my life, I have always fought for equality and opportunity for the LGBTQ community and if I have the privilege of being elected, past is prologue, the best way to judge what someone is going to do in the future is look at what they’ve done in the past and I’m very proud of my history with partnership with the LGBTQ community because everybody in this country deserves to be treated with dignity, and I have personally been involved in hate crimes cases where somebody was brutally assaulted or murdered simply because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. And that has no place in the American fabric. None whatsoever. So I’ve seen the impact of discrimination firsthand in the work that I’ve done and it’s part of my DNA.

BLADE: In terms of structure, how do you envision getting LGBT people to have “a meaningful seat at the table” at the DNC?

PEREZ: Well, Earl Fowlkes is a very strong leader of the caucus and I certainly would continue our work there. What I learned from talking to current voting members in the DNC is that they feel under-utilized. They’re not alone. It’s not just LGBTQ members of the DNC that feel under-utilized.

When I talked at the outset, you asked why am I uniquely qualified, or why do I think I’m uniquely qualified. This organization, the Democratic Party, the DNC needs culture change. There’s a command-and-control structure right now. People with tremendous talent, we’re not making use of those talents. There are so many members who are chronically under-utilized. We don’t ask for their opinions. We don’t engage them. And with the activism out there right now, with all the movements that are being established, many just are simply organic movements. It’s more important than ever that we make use of our caucuses, including, but not limited to, the LGBT caucus.

One of the promises I’ve made to every member is you will not feel under-utilized. When I got to the Labor Department, we were second from the bottom on best places to work in the federal government. And when I left, we were in the top third, including two years in a row where we were the most improved federal agency. I understand a bit on how to change culture and agencies. How to take a complex organization and ensure that it’s firing on all cylinders. One very important aspect of that is making sure you make the best use of your talent.

How often have you seen in the world of sports a team with talent that’s not performing to its potential because it’s coaching leadership is moving the ball down the field? We need to make sure we have a coach who can move the ball down the field, engage and make sure everybody’s included, everybody is being used to their highest and best talents, and that’s what I want to do.

And I want to make sure that we have — I’m a big believer in what I call diversity and inclusion. It’s not simply we got to have X number of members of the DNC who are LGBT. People have to be included in a meaningful way. Diversity is being invited to the dance, but inclusion is being asked to dance, and we need to make sure everybody at the DNC — these are talented people with a great record of accomplishment. But it’s remarkably saddening and maddening to me that they’re under-utilized.

BLADE: What role, if any, would President Obama have at a Perez-run DNC?

PEREZ: First of all, I think, the president is going to go down in our nation’s history as one of the most impactful presidents in our history. The work that he did for the LGBTQ community especially, but not exclusively, was landmark from the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to marriage equality and so many other aspects. And I know President Obama is going to stay involved because he cares very deeply about the ideals and values of the Democratic Party.

And, frankly, a big part of the work of the DNC right now is to protect his legacy because the Affordable Care Act is not a job-killer, it’s a life-saver, and people are starting to realize how important the Affordable Care Act is as Republicans attempt to repeal it, and we have to make sure we fight that. And I know President Obama is going to be fighting side-by-side.

It was an honor of a lifetime to work with him and I am confident that he is going to be a strong supporter of our efforts to ensure that the Democratic Party is firing on all cylinders.

BLADE: Let’s talk about some recent news related to your old job as labor secretary. What do you make of Andrew Puzder withdrawing his name from consideration and President Trump nominating Alexander Acosta?

PEREZ: Well, Andrew Puzder was unqualified and unsuited for the job. He had a lot of experience with the Department of Labor. I have to acknowledge that, but it was bad experience. He was a chronic defendant in wage and hour and other employment actions. His whole philosophy is to profit off of the hard-earned labor of low-wage workers. His called his own workers “the worst of the worst.” And he was just unsuited for the job, and not only did Democrats understand that, but because of advocacy of so many in the us, Republicans started to understand this guy was bad news.

And so, the withdrawal of that nomination is a very good example of the power of organizing. People talked about, well, Tom, you don’t have the White House, you don’t have the Senate, you don’t have the House. We have something far more important because while January 20 was undeniably important and we lost some levers of power, January 21 and beyond was far more important because the American people in the millions are rising up and saying to Donald Trump, “Andrew Puzder doesn’t stand for our values, Andrew Puzder is antithetical to who we are. You are the president, but you don’t stand for our values, you didn’t win the popular vote and you’re the most unpopular president entering office in our nation’s history. And we’re going to keep fighting.” And I think the Puzder fight is a great example.

I am going to study the record of Mr. Acosta. I haven’t studied it enough, so I think it’s important to make sure that I’m studying the record before I offer any opinions. I can say that I studied the record of Mr. Puzder very, very carefully, and he was categorically unsuited for the job. So, frankly, I’m relieved…The day before yesterday was a good day for working people with the withdrawal of that.

But it’s another illustration of this “Chaos Cabinet.” Lt. Gen. Flynn is an abject danger to our national security, and his resignation is the tip of the iceberg. We need to an independent counsel to take a look at that, and the notion that Jeff Sessions is an independent person to look at what criminal activity Flynn was involved in and who else with him, that’s quintessential fox guarding the hen house. They were out on the campaign trail for Trump, so we go to make sure that there’s something, that there’s an independent counsel or commission that’s looking at this because this is serious stuff what this president has done.

It’s clear that he was involved during the campaign in contact with the Russians. That’s outrageous. And if Hillary Clinton had won this election with help from Vladimir Putin, they would have already drafted articles of impeachment. They had 15 hearings on Benghazi, and now so many of them have a sock in their mouth on this issue. It’s rank hypocrisy.

BLADE: Despite all the things that President Trump has done, one thing that the White House has said is that he is going to keep the Obama-era executive order barring LGBT discrimination among federal contractors in the workplace. Do you think that’s a good thing and how confident are you that he’s going to keep to that promise?

PEREZ: I have no confidence in anything that this president says. Look at who he just nominated for the Supreme Court. If I’m someone who cares about labor unions, if I’m someone who cares about women’s reproductive health, if I’m someone who cares about LGBTQ equality, marriage equality, this nominee is trouble with a capital “T.”

And this president has started this administration by going after all of our allies and one thing I learned from working with my colleagues and friends in the LGBT community is that we are all together in coalition. I think we are all under assault because he has made our nation less safe, he’s made our democracy less than the envy of the world. We’re the laughing stock of the world. His assaults on immigrant rights, his assaults on refugee rights, his nominations, there’s nothing but trouble ahead.

NOTE: This interview has been edited for length.

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1 Comment

  1. Thevon Lmo

    February 20, 2017 at 10:58 am

    Obama, as head of the Democrat Party for 8 years, bears exclusive responsibility for the losses at both the state & Federal level. Bringing him back to influence the DNC , via Mr Perez, is assisted suicide. Perhaps the interviewer should have asked about the millions who have changed Party registration from Dem to Indep.

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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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