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Newsham on banning cops from Pride, trans relations

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Peter Newsham, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said calls to ban cops from Pride were ‘disheartening.’ (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham described as “a little disheartening” calls by a local group for banning police participation in next month’s Capital Pride parade and festival.

In an interview with the Washington Blade last week, Newsham said he was pleased that Capital Pride’s board of directors decided to retain police presence in Capital Pride’s events, turning down a request by the group No Justice No Pride that police be excluded.

“That to me is a good sign I think for the Metropolitan Police Department if the majority is inclined to have us be involved and participate,” he said. “I think that says a lot and speaks volumes about the relationship that we’ve been able to develop.”

Newsham, 54, who was confirmed by the D.C. Council on May 2 as the city’s 30th police chief, said he was aware of disagreements by some in the LGBT community over the way Capital Pride has carried out its events, including some who expressed opposition to corporate sponsors and calls for ending police participation.

“Personally it’s always a little disheartening when any group kind of shuts out the police from an event because we do kind of our damndest here in Washington, D.C. to develop relationships with our entire community,” Newsham said.

“So if a particular community feels as though the MPD in particular is not deserving of attending one of their events it’s hurtful,” he said. “But we would obviously honor that request. We wouldn’t be involved in something if they didn’t want us to be there.”

Members of No Justice No Pride have said one reason they were opposed to police presence at Capital Pride events is some members of the LGBT community, especially transgender women of color, are uncomfortable in the presence of uniformed police officers.

A fear of the police by some trans women stems from police tactics of enforcing so-called prostitution-free zones in the city by harassing and sometimes arresting transgender women for merely walking on the street, members of No Justice No Pride have said.

The Blade asked Newsham, who has been a member of the MPD since 1989, if those allegations were true and whether police have a policy or criteria for making prostitution arrests involving trans women.

“The first part of the question as to the relationship between the police department and our transgender community, I think if you look at the history of policing across the country police have not been particularly great actors in developing that relationship,” Newsham said. “There were a lot of I think historically bad actions by the police in that regard,” he said.

“And I think one of the things we have tried is to regain the trust in the transgender community in particular to show them that here in the MPD we are different,” Newsham continued. “We are not like that to the extent that there was that type of behavior in the past. We’re not going to be involved in that type of thing.”

He added, “If we do have individuals in the police department who are involved in treating anybody in our entire community in an inappropriate or disrespectful way, the managers at the Metropolitan Police Department will take that very seriously and it will be addressed.”

“With regards to prostitution, you know that is the law here in the District of Columbia that it is illegal,” Newsham said. “And the only time that we should be taking any action with regard to prostitution is if there is probable cause that it’s taking place.”

He said anyone who feels they have been treated improperly by police related to enforcement of anti-prostitution laws, especially members of the trans community, they should file a complaint at the police district station nearest to where the incident happened.

He noted that if someone is uncomfortable filing a complaint directly with the police they have the option of filing such a complaint with the city’s Office of Police Complaints, which is an independent city agency not connected to the police department that investigates complaints against police.

“The last thing we want to do is harass or intimidate anybody in our community,” Newsham said.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser named Newsham as interim police chief last September shortly after then Chief Cathy Lanier announced she was retiring from the force to become head of security operations for the National Football League.

One of Newsham’s first actions as interim chief was to transfer the department’s community liaison units, including the LGBT Liaison Unit, into the Office of the Chief of Police. He also promoted gay longtime Sgt. Brett Parson to the position of acting lieutenant and returned Parson to his former role as head of the liaison units.

Newsham said he believes elevating the liaison units to the status of an arm of the Office of the Chief was necessary, among other things, to send a signal to the community that these units representing the LGBT, Latino, Asian-Pacific Islander, and Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities is a top priority for the department.

But he said the timing of his action was also a response to the outcome of last year’s presidential election.

“After the election I think a lot of people in this area, Washington, D.C. and the region, felt a little bit uncomfortable, feeling like the police department was going to change because the federal administration had changed,” Newsham said. “I thought that was a good time for us to kind of signal that we have not changed,” he said.

“We’re going to remain the same agency we have always been – committed to D.C. values. And that was kind of why I did that and brought Brett back,” he said.

Following is the text of Chief Peter Newsham’s interview with the Washington Blade on May 11:

Washington Blade: Can you tell a little about the changes you have made with the Metropolitan Police Department’s LGBT Liaison Unit since you became chief of police?

Peter Newsham: I think you’re aware that I moved all the special liaison units under the Office of the Chief of Police under one of my directors, director Kelly O’Mara. I also made Brett Parson an acting lieutenant to oversee our LGBT Liaison Unit. I have always felt maybe having them report to the chief’s office was a good idea.

But after the election I think a lot of people in this area, Washington, D.C. and the region, felt a little bit uncomfortable, feeling like the police department was going to change because the federal administration had changed. I thought that was a good time for us to kind of signal that we have not changed. We’re going to remain the same agency we have always been — committed to D.C. values. And that was kind of why I did that and brought Brett back.

I never really from where I sat understood why Brett left. And when I approached him and asked him to come back he seemed like he was very happy to do it. And I actually believe that he has become more energized being back in that role. I think that was a win-win for everyone.

Blade: Is he heading all of the liaison units?

Newsham: He is.

Blade: One of the things some in the community expressed concern about prior to your becoming chief was that the liaison units, particularly the LGBT Liaison Unit, appeared to be shrinking in size due to attrition and members who left were not being replaced. Do you know what the size of the LGBT Liaison Unit is now and is there a policy for retaining its size when members leave?

Newsham: Well you can never really set a firm policy on a staffing number because the size of the department right now fluctuates. You have to staff units proportionately for what you have available for the entire city. But right now we have one sergeant, Jessica Hawkins, three officers and two senior police officers who I think folks are very familiar with. And then every month we have two affiliates.

And I think you’re familiar with our affiliate program where we bring folks in who are interested and they work with the unit and they learn some of the skills that the unit has and then they actually go back to their district. We have an LGBT community throughout the entire city. And the idea behind having the affiliates is it’s a kind of training.

First of all they become familiar with some of the leaders in the community. And they also learn from some of the experts who have been in the liaison unit for a period of time. And then they can take those skills back to their district. I think that part of the program is a very good part of it.

So to answer your question, I have no intention right now to increase or reduce the size of it. I have not heard any concerns from the community that they felt like the unit was not sufficient. As a matter of fact, the feedback I’m getting now is the people are very pleased to see Brett back in the unit.

Blade: Another concern that had been expressed prior to you becoming chief was that the permanent members of the liaison units were required to spend a certain period each month on another assignment unrelated to the liaison unit. In some cases we were told they were being assigned to unrelated duties each day during their shift possible due to a shortage of patrol officers throughout the department. Is that still going on and can that be addressed in a way that would enable the liaison officers to spend all of their time in those units?

Newsham: Well I don’t think it is going on. My understanding is that the folks that are assigned to the unit are working in the unit. I don’t know of any shortages right now where we would need to pull them for other assignments. Whenever we mobilize the police department all of our police officers need to be involved. But that’s pretty infrequent. And the other piece to this is we expect all of our police officers, if something were to happen in an emergency type situation that they would take police action. So that would take them outside of their normal role. But other than those few instances they’re going to be committed to the unit.

Blade: Is there still some type of LGBT related training that takes place at the police academy or that might apply to officers already on the force?

Newsham: Yes they do have that training. All of our recruit officers are trained. And then all of our officers per year get four hours in class and four hours online with an emphasis on transgender bias related crimes and intimate partner violence in the LGBT community. So that’s something I think we’re going to be doing ongoing for the next several years.

Blade: Is that for the academy and for officer that are already on the force?

Newsham: Exactly. So the recruits get it but also all of our officers in our professional development training get it.

Blade: In the last week or two there have been some issues going on related to the annual LGBT Pride events. A dissident group has surfaced that wants to change the Pride events in various ways including banning the police from marching in the parade and being present at the Pride festival the day after the parade. Have you heard about that? Do you have any thoughts about that?

Newsham: I have. I have been following that. There seems to be a group that is opposed to some of the things that the folks that are organizing the Pride event are doing. And a couple of the things I have seen is there is some opposition to some of the sponsors. And like you said, there’s some opposition to police involvement. Whenever we have an event here in the city of large groups we do whatever we can to facilitate that.

And groups are entitled to express their discontent for whatever their particular issue is. And we’re going to facilitate that. That’s what we do here in Washington, D.C. To the extent that a particular group doesn’t want the police to be involved in their event we will obviously honor that in every way other than we will still have a responsibility, for example, if streets are needed to be closed or if there is a public health issue that occurs as a result of a large gathering — whether it be heat or cold or if someone is injured in some way we’ll have that responsibility to respond to make sure people are safe.

Personally it’s always a little disheartening when any group kind of shuts out the police from an event because we do kind of our damndest here in Washington, D.C. to develop relationships with our entire community. So if a particular community feels as though the Metropolitan Police Department in particular is not deserving of attending one of their events – it’s hurtful. But we would obviously honor that request. We wouldn’t be involved in something if they didn’t want us to be there.

Blade: The organization putting on these events, Capital Pride, turned down the request by this group to ban the police. The Capital Pride leaders said they believe the majority of the LGBT community welcomes the police.

Newsham: That to me is a good sign I think for the MPD if the majority is inclined to have us be involved and participate. I think that says a lot and speaks volumes about the relationship that we’ve been able to develop.

Blade: Members of this group said the reason they didn’t want the police involved is that some members of the LGBT community, especially transgender women of color, would be uncomfortable with a police presence. They said that when police enforce so-called prostitution free zones D.C. police have been harassing transgender women just for walking on the street. Could that have happened and is there a criteria that the police use to enforce the prostitution laws in situations like this?

Newsham: That’s kind of a very detailed question. The first part of the question as to the relationship between the police department and our transgender community, I think if you look at the history of policing across the country police have not been particularly great actors in developing that relationship. There was a lot of I think historically bad actions by the police in that regard. And I think one of the things we have tried is to regain the trust in the transgender community in particular to show them that here in the MPD we are different. We are not like that to the extent that there was that type of behavior in the past. We’re not going to be involved in that kind of thing.

If we do have individuals in the police department who are involved in treating anybody in our entire community in an inappropriate or disrespectful way the managers at the Metropolitan Police Department will take that very seriously and it will be addressed.

With regards to prostitution, you know that is the law here in the District of Columbia that it is illegal. And the only time that we should be taking any action with regard to prostitution is if there is probable cause established that it’s taking place. So any type of harassment – and this is a hard thing too for transgender folks in particular is that they don’t necessarily trust the system. But what I urge them to do if they feel they are being treated inappropriately or that they are being harassed, please let us know. There is also an Office of Police Complaints that they can go to if they don’t trust the police. So we can address those issues to make sure that doesn’t happen.

The last thing we want to do is harass or intimidate anybody in our community.

Blade: You may have heard that some prominent national organizations like Amnesty International and locally the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance have called for decriminalization of prostitution in cases where consenting adults are involved. They have pointed out that some are engaging in prostitution as a means of economic survival and arresting and prosecuting them only makes matters worse for them. It is unlikely that the D.C. City Council will do this. But do the police have the discretion or option of setting priorities on which types of areas you devote your resources to?

Newsham: I would say the way we allocate resources for all of our crimes – of course violent crime is our number one priority here in the city. We’re trying to reduce that down to zero. And we’ve had pretty good success in recent years in driving that down. And then with any other crime that’s not a violent crime if it happens in the police presence or if there is information that we can get to and we can close the case we have a team of people who do that on a regular basis. And for something like prostitution what we do with regards to allocating resources – generally it is based on complaints.

So if we have a complaint about it in a particular area – if there are people who are concerned about it happening in a particular area, it’s disrupting their neighborhood in some way then if they ask us to do that we will generally react to that. And it is against the law right now regardless of whether or not it should be decriminalized. That’s not a decision for the police. That’s a decision for the Council. So for the folks who are advocating this they have some very good points. I think there may be some points on the other side. And that’s what the legislature is for – to consider all that information and make a decision based on their constituencies in what the city wants with regard to the statutes.

Blade: What is the police policy for disclosing or not disclosing whether a crime victim is gay, lesbian or transgender if it’s not a hate crime but an LGBT person may be targeted?

Newsham: I don’t think we have a specific policy on that disclosure. I’m not sure what you’re asking.

Blade: Your predecessor, Chief Lanier, told the Blade some years ago that for privacy reasons she did not think it was appropriate to disclose whether a crime victim was gay, lesbian or transgender unless it was specifically related to their sexual orientation or gender identity in some way. I’m asking that because in past years we learned of many more so-called pick-up crimes in which mostly gay men would meet someone in a bar or other meeting place and a suspect would pose as a willing partner to get invited to the victim’s home and they assault and rob them and sometimes murder them. Police said then that these weren’t hate crimes because robbery was the motive. But the perpetrators were certainly targeting gay people for these crimes. We don’t hear very much of that anymore. Could it be far fewer incidents like this are happening or could it be we aren’t hearing about it because the police aren’t reporting it?

Newsham: I would say that’s really one of the reasons that we have our special liaison unit. If we do have a crime and we believe it’s going to impact a particular community, that’s a vehicle for getting that information to that community. I’m not aware of any of those types of cases going on in a patterned way in the District of Columbia right now. If there were and a particular group was being targeted I would feel that it would be my responsibility to let the affected communities know that they could potentially be in jeopardy. I think that’s a safety issue. There are privacy rules. There are wishes of the victim that have to be considered. We have to weigh that in every particular case. And then you weigh that against the public safety interest.

And so if you think there’s a particular – like I say, any group within our community that’s being targeted for any reason I think we have a responsibility to let that community know. But like I said, right now there’s none that I’m aware of where there’s a pattern going on. And I would be aware if something like that were going on.

Blade: There’s been a flurry of MPD announcements and press releases in recent months of missing person cases, which call on the public to help find the person. Do you know whether any LGBT people have been reported missing as part of this flurry of announcements?

Newsham: Do I know if any have? I would say in all likelihood they have. Do we note that designation when they go missing? We do not. The missing person issue that has been widely reported is that it began in December when we brought in a new commander in the Family Services Division. She began using social media to put our missing person images out to the public and we started to get those cases publicized a lot more than they used to be publicized. The result is there were a lot of concerns that we had more missing persons and there was an uptick in missing persons, which wasn’t the case.

There were some who suggested that maybe we should stop doing that. We didn’t feel comfortable about that [suggestion] because there were two things we were able to achieve by putting those images out the way we did. The first is we were able to find people quicker than we did in the past. And the second thing – I think it drew some awareness to how many young people in particular that go missing in the District on a regular basis.

Blade: Can you say how many of them are eventually found?

Newsham: Oh yeah, the large majority of them are found, like in the 99 percentile. So whenever you look at the number of kids that are currently out missing or any number of people that are out missing – that number changes every day because we find them. And we’re doing a pretty good job now of notifying the public when we do find them. And then some more will be reported missing. So it’s almost like the glass is filling up and emptying every single day.

Blade: There is a pending lawsuit filed by a gay former cop who is suing the MPD and the city for allegedly being severely harassed because of his sexual orientation in the Fourth District, where he was stationed back in 2012. Do you think that kind of harassment is prevalent or a rarity within the MPD at this time and is there an internal procedure for the police to address something like that if your own officers are being harassed?

 Newsham: You don’t want to see that in any workplace. To the extent that we’re able to identify that type of behavior here at MPD it won’t be tolerated. We don’t want our employees to feel uncomfortable being at or coming to work just because of who they are. That’s something that we don’t tolerate. We’re against hate in our community but we’re just as vigilant against hate within the police department. And yeah, if somebody feels like they’re being treated unfairly because of who they are they need to let us know and hopefully they’ll feel comfortable that it’s going to be addressed and we’ll put a stop to it.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Kemwit Tall Tree

    May 18, 2017 at 6:58 am

    I think that the gay community should start out with one essential demand from the police dept.:
    All cute and hunky policeman should wear Speedos as a uniform!

    • Brian's Ions

      June 6, 2017 at 5:40 am

      So what you got against a uniform fetish? Nearly all at MPD are cute and hunky in their own way.
      ;)

      • Kemwit Tall Tree

        June 6, 2017 at 6:08 am

        Yeah Baby! Agreed! Although, Speedos may be better in the summer heat!

        They just need to be careful when they put their badges on the new uniform!

  2. Culture Club Warrior

    May 18, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    So…is NJNP only demanding that uniformed officers be banned from marching in the parade, or do they also not want police officers working along the parade route?

    • Brian's Ions

      June 6, 2017 at 5:39 am

      There’s no legitimate distinction. The presumptuous anti-police bigotry of NJNP is little different than the presumptuous bigotry of Trump et al against a variety of groups.

      • Culture Club Warrior

        June 6, 2017 at 12:27 pm

        I’m just wondering because it seems that the armed officers working along the route would be the main concern, if it’s a question of feeling safe. I don’t imagine that officers marching in the parade are going to be carrying their weapons.

  3. ray2hill

    May 18, 2017 at 7:37 pm

    If the anti glbtq forces attack, who will you call? The RCP?

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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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