Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) was likely chosen as a featured speaker at Saturday’s Human Rights Campaign National Dinner because she’s quickly becoming a favorite in the LGBT community among potential 2020 Democratic presidential contenders.
To recognize her popularity among LGBT people, just find the animated picture of Harris making the rounds on Facebook at the Senate dais brushing her hair back, clasping her hands and blinking her eyes wearily as she’s cut off during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. Also check out the widely shared video of her exchange with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions about his Russian connections, which left the Trump official muttering he felt “nervous” under questioning from the U.S. Senate’s only black female senator.
But a look at her LGBT record reveals one wrinkle on transgender rights that may surprise her followers and that has disappointed some trans people.
To be sure, Harris has a staunchly pro-LGBT record. As California attorney general, she declined to defend California’s ban on same-sex marriage Proposition 8 in court. When the U.S. Supreme Court restored marriage equality to California, she officiated at the wedding of Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, the first same-sex wedding after the ruling, and instructed clerks to marry same-sex couples seeking a license with “no exceptions.”
Also as attorney general, Harris in 2015 refused to certify a “Kill the Gays” ballot initiative proposed in California that would have (unconstitutionally) instituted the death penalty for homosexual acts. Despite a legal challenge, a federal judge agreed to relieve her of duty to prepare a title and summary for the measure before it advanced to the signature-gathering stage.
Harris also co-sponsored a bill in the California Legislature with former Assembly member Susan Bonilla to eliminate the “gay panic” defense in cases of murder or violent crime against LGBT people. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the legislation in 2014, making California, along with Illinois, one of two states in the country to ban the plea.
Upon beginning her term as a U.S. senator this year, Harris continued to advocate for LGBT rights. A co-sponsor of the Equality Act, Harris also demanded answers from the Trump administration on the decision to omit questions in the U.S. Census allowing responders to identify their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Trump administration never provided a direct response.
Harris has signed friend-of-the-court briefs arguing transgender people should be allowed to use the public restroom consistent with their gender identity. As California attorney general, she filed briefs in favor of Obama administration guidance supporting transgender students and against North Carolina’s notoriously anti-LGBT House Bill 2. As a U.S. senator, she signed a brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of transgender student Gavin Grimm’s case.
Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California, said Harris’ record on LGBT rights in her capacities as attorney general and a U.S. senator are nothing short of “impeccable.”
“We’ve known her since she was the DA in San Francisco, and then of course, when she as attorney general was more engaged than any attorney general has been with us in the LGBTQ community,” Zbur said. “[She] really engaged with us and has a really strong commitment and understanding of our issues.”
On transgender issues in particular, Zbur noted Harris as attorney general appointed last year a transgender woman of color, Mariana Marroquin, to the California Racial & Identity Profiling Advisory Board.
Harris will likely tout her record on LGBT rights during her remarks at the 21st annual Human Rights Campaign National Dinner.
But one part of her record she might avoid is her role as California attorney general in 2015 in arguing on behalf of the state to withhold gender reassignment surgery from two transgender inmates who were prescribed the procedure while serving out their sentences. Advocates have made the case that transgender inmates are entitled to receive the taxpayer-funded procedure because denying them medical treatment amounts to cruel and unusual punishment — a clear violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
One case involved Shiloh Quine, who’s serving a term of life for first-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery. The other case involved Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, who was serving time in prison in Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, Calif., for second-degree murder. Both were prescribed gender reassignment surgery, but the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation refused to provide the procedure.
The process of the Norsworthy case was quite public as it proceeded through litigation. Although U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar ordered California to grant Norsworthy gender reassignment surgery, Harris in her capacity as attorney general appealed the decision to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and fought to reverse the decision.
One 29-page brief in the case, signed by Harris, urges a stay on the court order for Norsworthy because the hormone treatment the inmate receives is sufficient — at least for the time being.
“The core of Ms. Norsworthy’s complaint is that Defendants have not provided the particular treatment she wants sex-reassignment surgery and unspecified ‘additional treatment,'” Harris writes. “But the Constitution ‘does not guarantee to a prisoner the treatment of his choice.’ The Eighth Amendment requires that an inmate be afforded ‘reasonable measures to meet a substantial risk of serious harm to her,’ not that she be given the specific care she demands. The ‘essential test is one of medical necessity and not one simply of desirability.'”
Ultimately, both the Norsworthy and Quine cases resulted in settlements. Norsworthy reached an agreement with the state in which she obtained parole. As a result, she was able to obtain surgery through Medi-Cal, a state health care system in California. In the Quine case, the state agreed to grant her gender reassignment surgery as well as clothing and items consistent with her gender identity. The California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation also agreed to review and revise its policies writ large for transgender inmates and medical treatment, including gender reassignment surgery.
But Harris’ actions in the Norsworthy case have inspired consternation in the transgender community and on Twitter, including from Chelsea Manning, who fought to receive gender reassignment surgery though litigation during her time in prison after the Army initially denied it to her. (A Washington Blade article on Harris’ brief against the court order is among the paper’s top 10 trafficked stories this year — the only story not from 2017 to hold that distinction.)
Zbur said criticism of Harris’ role in the litigation, however, is “really misplaced” because as attorney general she was compelled to represent the position of her client, which in this case was the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation.
“As a lawyer for the government, she was constrained in what she could publicly say and do and her client was making decisions, but with us she really working hard to understand the issue, providing information, and I think she was a big part of the resolution, which resulted in the really significant policy changes that were implemented by the Department of Corrections when she was attorney general,” Zbur said.
But the argument Harris was compelled to fight the court order granting gender reassignment surgery to an inmate because that was her responsibility as attorney general raises the question on how she got out of similar duties in an effort to uphold LGBT rights. If Harris could get out of defending Proposition 8 or certifying the “Kill the Gays” initiative, why couldn’t she also opt out of litigation seeking to bar transition-related care to a transgender inmate?
Zbur said the difference between the transgender inmate litigation and the other two situations was that in the former, Harris had a specific client, namely, the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation.
“When you have a client, you basically have ethical duties to represent the client’s interest,” Zbur said. “You take direction from the client. And so, she did really have constraints in terms of what she could do, but I think the bottom line is that during that period of time, she was working hand-in-hand with us on a process that resulted in changing the policies at the Department of Corrections, and that’s a really significant thing.”
At the time Harris engaged in the litigation in 2015, Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, said the attorney general’s actions were her own choice.
“Even where the decision is made to defend an unconstitutional practice, there’s nothing that dictates the tactics of that defense, particularly once a court has found there are likely ongoing constitutional violations,” Davidson said. “The choice to appeal a preliminary court order and to seek to delay its implementation is just that — a choice. It’s also a very unfortunate one, given that what is at stake here is potentially life-saving treatment that is widely recognized as medically necessary for some people suffering from gender dysphoria.”
It seems the cases weren’t on Harris’ radar, even though her name is on each of the legal briefs, until much later in the process of litigation.
Nathan Barankin, who’s chief of staff for Harris and served as her deputy attorney general, said around 1,100 attorneys are working on cases like these and Harris wasn’t personally aware or involved in the litigation until a later time.
“She did learn about our office’s involvement in this case by reading about it in the newspaper,” Barankin said. “Her reaction to the way the case was being litigated was to work very closely with all of the parties involved to reach what we consider a successful conclusion, which was a permanent change in state prison policy on the treatment of transgender inmates.”
Two years later after the settlements were reached, Lambda Legal struck a different tone on Harris’ handling of the lawsuit.
Peter Renn, a senior attorney in the Western Regional Office of Lambda Legal who works on transgender cases, said the situation changed in the lawsuits as Harris became more involved in the litigation.
“The California AG’s office shifted its handling of these cases significantly after now-Sen. Harris took over,” Renn said. “Initially there was language in briefing for the state that glaringly misunderstood the medical necessity of transition-related medical care and was patently offensive. But then, there was a dramatic change, which seems to have gone along with important policy shifts.”
Supporters of Harris point to the settlements that were reached in the cases as evidence that her role was productive for transgender rights. After all, those agreements created precedent in the state and new policy ensuring transgender people in California prisons can receive gender reassignment surgery.
But not everyone agrees with that assessment.
Amanda Goad, a California attorney who works on transgender issues and identifies as queer, said in a personal capacity calling the settlements in the Quine case an LGBT rights achievement for Harris “does not make sense.”
“Her client CDCR could have updated its policies and made gender-confirming surgery available to incarcerated folks long before it did so under the pressure of a trial court loss in the Quine case,” Goad said. “Harris has done other things that do seem to me to belong under the banner of LGBTQ champion. … Settling a lawsuit that the state was losing — and never should have defended in the first place — just doesn’t fit the bill.”
In her capacity as staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, Goad said the policy changes the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation promised aren’t being implemented.
“Recent data shows that of the many prisoners who have applied to undergo gender-confirming surgery under the new policy, zero trans women beyond Shiloh Quine herself have actually undergone surgery. (Two men have undergone top surgery.),” Goad said. “Dozens have been denied, and I get letters every week from women extremely upset about their inability to access surgical care.”
Goad also complained about the state continuing to fight transgender prisoners’ access to clothing consistent with their gender identity as well as harassment, sexual assaults and violence endured by transgender women in prison.
That mistreatment, Goad said, is something Harris could address through encouraging enforcement of the Prison Rape Elimination Act and other actions.
“She has a great platform from which to speak out about the broader issues of violence, discrimination, and harassment endured by transgender women of color both inside and outside prison and propose constructive approaches for addressing those problems and their structural causes,” Goad said.
Major transgender rights advocates said the inclusion in Harris’ LGBT record of seeking to deny gender reassignment surgery to transgender inmates was unfortunate — but also urged LGBT people to look at the bigger picture.
Jillian Weiss, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, said Harris’ defense of the state in the litigation contrasts with her otherwise pro-LGBT record.
“Sen. Harris has a positive record as a champion of gay and lesbian rights, and that is commendable,” Weiss said. “It is unfortunate that her record also includes having argued that gender confirmation surgery was not a medical necessity for a transgender woman despite a psychological assessment to the contrary. While some public sentiment leans against providing necessary medical services for transgender people who are incarcerated, our Constitution recognizes that denying such vital health care is cruel and unusual punishment. It is our hope that Sen. Harris will learn more about transgender medicine and its importance to trans people.”
(Harris isn’t the only potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate with an unfriendly record on gender reassignment surgery for transgender inmates. In a 2012 radio interview, then-U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren said when asked about granting the procedure to an inmate in Massachusetts, “I have to say, I don’t think it’s a good use of taxpayer dollars.” Warren has never corrected that position even as litigation seeking the procedure for the inmate, Michelle Kosilek, proceeded through the courts. Ultimately, the First Circuit ruled against Kosilek, setting binding precedent in that jurisdiction.)
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, took an even more lenient approach to Harris’ action on the lawsuit and said her organization would work with her on issues of transition-related care for transgender prisoners.
“Sen. Harris has long been a friend of LGBT people and our causes,” Keisling said. “Notwithstanding her one-time defense of an indefensible and unconstitutional state prison position on trans healthcare, she is now a senator and is very likely to continue being a vote and voice for trans people in the U.S. Senate. She has shown this recently in support of Gavin Grimm and trans service members. I am certain when I first meet her, we will discuss her position in the prison case, and she will continue to grow and continue to support us better and better.”
The evolution of the open house
The more sophisticated the advertising, the more the events flourished
In the early 20th century, there were no exclusive agreements between a seller and a real estate agent. Any broker who knew of someone wanting to sell could participate in an “open listing” by planting his sign in the yard of that person and competing with agents from other brokerages who did the same. To the victor who obtained a buyer went the spoils of commission.
The rules began to change in 1919, when being a real estate broker now required a license. An agent might handle only one property at a time exclusively, but an “open for inspection” period could be used to introduce a model home or new community to the buying population.
According to the National Association of Realtors, Dallas homebuilder, Howdy Howard, hosted one of the most successful open houses of all time in the 1950s. During the first 12 days of the event, an estimated 100,000 people attended, drawn by free sodas and the ultimate prize for the buyer – a new Cadillac.
Soon, brokers began hiring additional agents who could handle multiple properties. Unlike Howard’s marathon open house, agents would now host them for a few hours at a time, usually on a Sunday, to whet the appetite of the buyer pool.
Classified advertisements with a description of a property would be placed in a local newspaper and potential buyers would review them with their morning coffee to decide which houses to visit later in the day.
Marketing in newspapers went from a few lines of black and white text to a photo of a home’s exterior, to a multi-page spread that included both photos of houses and the agents who represented them.
The more sophisticated the advertising became, the more the open house flourished as a marketing tool, not only for the home itself, but also for the agent and the brokerage. It allowed agents to prospect for buyers for that home and others, and converse with neighbors who might want to sell their homes as well.
Soon, the sign-in sheet was born, used by the agent to capture the contact information of a potential client or customer and to let the seller know who had visited his home. While sign-in sheets or cards are still used, some agents have gravitated to electronic applications, using a tablet computer instead of paper for the same purpose.
Fast forward to the early 2000s in D.C., when open houses became the primary source of showing property. An agent would enter a property into the multiple listing service (MLS) on a Thursday, entertain no showings until Saturday, host an open house on Sunday afternoon, and call for offers either Sunday night or Monday. The open house allowed agents to send their buyers rather than accompany them and serve multiple clients at once.
The delayed showing day strategy referenced above has since been supplanted by the MLS’s Coming Soon status. Agents can now email or text links to upcoming properties to their clients in advance of showing availability and the clients can view photos, read property descriptions and disclosures, and schedule future visits accordingly.
Enter COVID-19. Due to the proliferation of the virus and the subsequent lockdown, the real estate world had to accommodate new public health requirements.
One of the first things to go was the open house. Even agent showings were constrained, with visitors limited to an agent plus two people and additional requirements for wearing masks and disposable shoe covers and gloves.
Overlapping appointments were not allowed, showings were limited to 15 to 30 minutes, and bottles of hand sanitizer sprung up on kitchen counters everywhere.
Ultimately, technology and ingenuity provided new marketing avenues for agents that included 3-D virtual open houses, Facetime and Duo viewings, videos, property websites and QR codes. Many of these marketing techniques remain, even though traditional open houses are coming back post-lockdown.
But are they really necessary? Certainly not for all types of properties.
I believe the days of using a public open house to procure a buyer are limited. Agent security has become a concern and the desire for in-person viewings during a specific day or time has waned.
On the other hand, Internet marketing and social media have a much wider reach, so much so that some people now feel comfortable buying a home – probably the most expensive item they will ever purchase – without even stepping into it until after closing.
After all, if we can work in sweatpants or pajamas while Zooming corporate meetings, how can naked virtual reality house hunting be far behind?
Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.
D.C. homebuyers face hyper competitive market
Sellers in driver’s seat as region faces record low inventory
With job growth rising during a period of aggressive government spending and historically low mortgage rates, the spring 2021 market sits at the lowest level of inventory since 1983.
Homebuyers in the D.C. area continue to face an incredibly competitive market. This is truly a seller’s market.
Lack of Inventory: Washington, D.C. has been in a gradually worsening housing shortage since the Great Recession. The area hasn’t had a six-month supply of homes for sale for almost 12 years. Now, we add a global pandemic that seriously altered what homeowners want out of their home, Wall Street on fire, and insanely low interest rates and we get a surge in motivated homebuyers.
According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the number of homes nationwide reached a record low in December 2020, with just 1.07 million properties on the market. The DC metro area is even worse off than the national average with only one month’s supply of homes. That means if new listings were completely dried up, there would be no homes available in four weeks. On average, D.C. homes have been selling within 11 days, which is 15 days faster than this time in 2020.
Seller’s Market: The time is now for Washington, D.C. homeowners to seriously consider selling their homes if they have played with the idea. Experts predict 2021 will be another strong housing market with an increase in demand from existing homebuyers in search of larger homes and buyers who delayed purchasing a home due to the uncertainty of the pandemic.
Zillow forecasts a nearly 30 percent annual growth in homes for sale in 2021. This would be the largest home sales growth since 1983. Zillow’s annual report stated, “Home price appreciation will reach its fastest pace since the Great Recession, as the inventory crunch continues to pit buyers against each other, competing for a scarce number of homes for sale.”
D.C.’s Current Market: According to the NAR, in March of 2021, D.C. home prices had increased 4.1% compared to March 2020, for a median price of $635,000. There were 1,004 homes sold in March 2021, an increase from 842 at this time last year.
We are seeing many homes receive multiple offers within just a few days in the D.C. area. The average home is selling a little above 1% of the listing price and many hot homes are seeing large bidding wars and selling for 3% or more above the listing price; 42.7% of D.C. homes sold above list price in March of 2021. That is a 13.4% increase from last year at this time. Active inventory for March of 2021 was 1,457 homes, down 9% from March 2020. March 2021 also saw 991 homes sell in the D.C. area, an increase of 31% from February of 2021. March 2021’s total homes sold had a 19% increase from March 2020.
Buying a Home: In the current seller’s market, buying a home can be like playing a chess match. You need to know the rules and be strategic. It can seem more like winning than purchasing a home right now. If you find a home you want to buy, chances are you won’t be the only one making an offer. It is a seller’s market everywhere in the country right now and D.C. is no different. Be sure you know what you qualify for and what you can afford.
Conclusion: The NAR and the Mortgage Bankers Association both project prices of existing homes to increase 5.9% in 2021. This may mean buyers will have to be more flexible than in the past. For example, making an offer contingent upon the sale of a current home may be harder than before. It’s also possible you will pay more than the list price. The D.C. real estate market is on fire and many homes are off the market within 24 hours of listing. For sellers, if you have been thinking of selling your home there is no better time than the present.
Khalil El-Ghoul is Principal Broker for Glass House Real Estate. Reach him at [email protected] or 571-235-4821. Glass House Real Estate is a modern, more affordable way to buy and sell a home in the D.C. Metro area. Learn more about what makes us different at glassshousere.com.
Still the hottest vehicles in dealer showrooms
Crossovers keep wending their way into our driveways—and our hearts. After overtaking sedans, station wagons and minivans as the hottest vehicles in dealer showrooms, crossovers are now taking aim at the most quintessential of American rides: the muscle car. With naughty looks and hepped-up engines, the two dynamite crossovers below are sure to blow your mind—and just maybe your budget.
DODGE DURANGO SRT HELLCAT
Mpg: 12 city/17 highway
0 to 60 mph: 3.5 seconds
For more than 20 years, the Dodge Durango has been a solid if nondescript family hauler. But this year the automaker jazzed up its midsize crossover with brawnier styling and the latest tech toys. And for the first time, Dodge is offering a limited-edition Durango SRT Hellcat—a high-test model with the same hellacious Hemi V8 engine in the Challenger super coupe and Charger sport sedan. With 710 horsepower, this blazingly fast crossover can kick some serious ass, outrunning many a Ferrari and Lamborghini.
The upgraded suspension provides more dynamic handling and cornering, as well as selectable steering for better grip. For straight-line acceleration and to prevent nasty fish-tailing, I simply flipped the “launch control” toggle switch. The massive Brembo brakes also were stellar, with stop-on-a-dime performance and flaming red calipers on each wheel. Another plus: the iconic Hellcat exhaust rumble could be heard blocks away—music to the ears of any auto aficionado. As with all Durangos, this bruiser has best-in-class towing capacity of 8,700 pounds.
Inside, there’s plenty of space, including more room than expected for third-row passengers. The steering wheel, dash, and trim accents now have trendy Euro styling, though it’s more VW than upscale Audi. And you can opt for flashy seatbelts and premium seats in a color Dodge calls Demonic Red, along with black velour floor mats and a soft-touch headliner. Other features include heated/ventilated seats, a large 10.1-inch touchscreen, wireless smartphone integration and the ability to pair two Bluetooth devices at once. Options include a 19-speaker Harman Kardon stereo and rear-seat entertainment with Blue-Ray player. Alas, this is a limited-edition model and all 2,000 of these speed demons quickly sold out months ago. But there’s still hope: Dodge allocated some of the racy Durangos to select dealerships, so you can call around to see if any are still available. And you can always try social media to find a lucky Durango Hellcat owner who just might be willing to sell this rollicking ride, if the price is right.
LAND ROVER DEFENDER X
Mpg: 17 city/22 highway
0 to 60 mph: 5.7 seconds
For decades, both the Land Rover Discovery and Range Rover have been ubiquitous in the United States. Not so the smaller and less ostentatious Defender, often seen as a work-horse vehicle in BritBox reruns or action flicks like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. But last year the Defender returned to these shores after nearly a quarter-century hiatus.
Available in two- or four-door models, both Defenders start around $50,000. My test vehicle was the new top-of-the-line Defender X, which added—yikes!—another $35,000 to the sticker price. The look on these crossovers is boxy chic, which allows for a ginormous amount of headroom, legroom and cargo space. Land Rover also added extra stowage areas and cubby holes, as well as transom windows and a sliding panoramic sunroof to keep things airy. While the cabin may be sparse and full of solid plastics, the walnut trim on the center console and door panels is quite elegant.
Land Rovers have a somewhat infamous reputation for less-than-stellar electronics, but the 10-inch touchscreen was crystal clear and synced up seamlessly with the infotainment system. Tricked out with a jet-black roof, hood, and side cladding, the press vehicle I test drove was painted a haughty Eiger Gray Metallic. It also came with thick all-terrain tires, adding to a slightly menacing vibe. A full-size spare is conveniently mounted on the vertical tailgate, which swings completely open like a refrigerator door for easy access. The Defender X may not be as lightning quick as a Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat, but it’s still plenty fast. And this brute can tackle the toughest of terrains, thanks to locking differentials, hill-descent control and a standard air suspension that can raise the chassis 11.5 inches above the ground. Overall, the Defender X can’t quite hide its refined roots as a tony Land Rover. But as with the Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat, this burly crossover flexes some serious muscle.
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