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LGBTQ groups join opposition to D.C. sex work decriminalization ballot measure

D.C. Board of Elections considering voter initiative proposal

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decriminalizing sex work, LGBT panic defense, gay news, Washington Blade
D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At-Large) is the lead author of legislation to decriminalize sex work in D.C. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In an unusual turn of events, a coalition of D.C. groups, including nine LGBTQ organizations that strongly endorsed a D.C. City Council bill to decriminalize sex work in the nation’s capital, has voiced strong opposition to a proposal by an out of town group to place the bill on the ballot this year before D.C. voters.

The D.C. Sex Workers Advocates Coalition issued a statement on Feb. 13 saying its opposition is based, among other reasons, on the fact that the out of town group, Decriminalize Sex Work, failed to adequately consult local activists on the ballot proposal.

The SWAC statement says its opposition is also based on news that one of DSW’s founders and top leaders, Rob Kampia, was accused of sexual misconduct toward women when he headed a marijuana decriminalization organization about 10 years ago in Colorado. The local coalition will not participate in any effort to pass a ballot measure if Kampia is involved in that effort, according to the statement.

In addition, the SWAC statement says DSW is a mostly white male, cisgender dominated organization that has not adequately reached out to people of color and transgender women who are most often ensnared in arrests for engaging in sex work in D.C.

Kaytlin Bailey, DSW’s communications director, disputes that assessment. She told the Washington Blade on Wednesday that her organization has been reaching out to local activists, including trans sex workers of color and others in the community interested in working on the ballot measure.

DSW, which says on its website that it has offices in Austin, Tex.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; and D.C., filed papers earlier this month with the D.C. Board of Elections to place the Sex Worker and Community Health and Safety Act of 2020 on the city’s election ballot in November as a voter initiative.

The proposed ballot measure is a partially revised version of the Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019, a bill introduced by D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At-Large) calling for decriminalizing sex work for consenting adults in the District. The bill was the subject of a 12-hour hearing before the Council’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee last October, where dozens of witnesses expressed both support and opposition to the measure.

Following the hearing, both Grosso and Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who chairs the committee, decided it was too soon to bring the bill before the full Council for a vote because the divisions among the witnesses indicated a consensus for passing the bill was lacking. Allen said the bill would remain on hold indefinitely.

Bailey told the Blade that DSW commissioned a public opinion poll in D.C. by an independent polling organization before moving ahead with the ballot measure that found a majority of D.C. voters, 55 percent, support legalization of sex work with 26 percent opposed and 19 percent undecided.

A separate national poll cited on the DSW website shows 52 percent of all those participating in the national poll and two-thirds of voters age 18-44 support decriminalization of sex work. The poll found that 64 percent of those who identify as Democrats support decriminalizing sex work. The overwhelming majority of D.C. voters are registered Democrats.

The D.C. Board of Elections, meanwhile, has scheduled a hearing for March 4 to determine whether the proposed ballot measure meets the requirements for placing it on the ballot.

Bailey told the Washington Post last week that Kampia would not be directly involved in the D.C. ballot measure campaign and that the group was reaching out to local LGBTQ activists and other local supporters of decriminalizing sex work to work on the campaign.

According to the Post, one of the local activists hired to work on the campaign is Ceyenne Doroshow, a black trans woman who expressed frustration that local D.C. activists are opposing a ballot measure aimed at bringing about the decriminalization of sex work that the local activists claim to support.

“It’s about getting people out of jail,” Doroshow told the Post, referring to how decriminalization would end D.C.’s longstanding policy of arresting sex workers, including trans sex workers of color.

Kampia told the Post in an interview that his organization has access to significant financial assistance from deep pocket donors across the country, including libertarian advocates, who strongly support decriminalization of sex work.

Grosso, one of the D.C.’s strongest advocates for decriminalization of sex work, told the Blade on Feb. 18 that he is in complete solidarity with SWAC and has asked Kampia and other DSW officials to withdraw their ballot measure proposal at this time.

“I told them that I could not and would not support any effort on this without the buy-in from the local coalition because of the amount of work that has been put into that and because their voice is the most important to me in D.C., not the national movement,” said Grosso.

Grosso noted that the language of the proposed ballot measure by DSW is very similar to his bill with the exception that it doesn’t include a provision calling for the creation of a commission to study the impact of decriminalization. He said the DSW proposal also includes a provision that is not in his bill, which calls for criminal penalties for law enforcement officers who try to coerce sex workers into having sex with them while investigating sex workers or while sex workers are in custody after an arrest.

Sex workers have said police in some instances have coerced them into having sex as a condition for not being arrested.

SWAC, the Sex Worker Advocates Coalition, consists of 23 local and national organizations with a presence in D.C., nine of which are LGBTQ organizations. Among the LGBTQ groups are Casa Ruby, Whitman-Walker Health, National Center for Transgender Equality, No Justice No Pride, Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, Lambda Legal, Trans-Latinx DMV and Trans United.

The D.C.-based LGBT supportive group HIPS, which advocates and provides services for sex workers, serves as the coordinating group for SWAC.

Cyndee Clay, HIPS’ executive director; Puneet Cheema, a Lambda Legal staff attorney; and Daniel Bruner, an official with Whitman-Walker Health, told the Blade their respective groups fully support SWAC’s position opposing the ballot measure as proposed by DSW.

“Whitman-Walker is a member of SWAC, and fully supports SWAC’s position,” Bruner said. “We believe that criminal law reform in D.C. should be driven by local individuals and organizations, and by those persons who are most affected by the current laws and policing of those laws,” he said.

Cheema of Lambda Legal said his organization believes SWAC and its members “understand the landscape best and the decision to do a ballot initiative should rest with local leaders who understand our campaign’s goals, strategy, and voice.”

Melissa Sontag Broundo, DSW’s general counsel, told the Washington Post last week that SWAC’s focus on Kampia loses sight of the women she said that were in the forefront of DSW’s sex worker decriminalization efforts in D.C. and other cities.  She said Kampia’s access to financial resources from big donors would be especially helpful to the upcoming ballot measure.

“If we want to bring it to the next level of actually changing laws, we need those resources,” she told the Post. “We need to put personal infighting aside for the larger goal, which is to not have people arrested for prostitution,” she said.

About 25,000 petition signatures will be required to place the decriminalization measure on the D.C. ballot. At least five percent of the total number of signatures must come from at least five of the city’s eight wards under the city’s election law.

Bailey said she is confident that the decriminalization measure has a good chance of passing in November, when a large turnout of voters, especially younger voters who are inclined to support decriminalization, will turn out for a presidential election.

“The overwhelming majority of D.C. voters want to see the decriminalization of sex work,” she said. “They want to stop the arrests of nearly 300 people a year for the crime of having consensual sex with another adult,” she told the Blade.

“We think that there is an urgent need and a unique political opportunity right now that won’t be available a year from now,” she said. “So that’s why we think this is the right thing to do.”

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Trans woman sues D.C. Jail for placing her in men’s unit

Lawsuit charges city with exposing inmates to ‘risk of sexual violence’

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Sunday Hinton (Photo courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union of D.C.)

The American Civil Liberties Union of D.C. and the D.C. Public Defender Service filed a class action lawsuit on May 11 on behalf of a transgender woman being held in the D.C. Jail on grounds that the city violated its own Human Rights Act and the woman’s constitutional rights by placing her in the men’s housing facility at the jail.

The lawsuit charges that D.C. Department of Corrections officials violated local and federal law by placing D.C. resident Sunday Hinton in the men’s unit at the D.C. Jail against her wishes without following a longstanding DOC policy of bringing the decision of where she should be placed before the DOC’s Transgender Housing Committee.

The committee, which includes members of the public, including transgender members, makes recommendations on whether a transgender inmate should be placed in either the men’s or the women’s housing unit based on their gender identity along with other considerations, including whether a trans inmate’s safety could be at risk. Under the policy, DOC officials must give strong consideration to the recommendations of the committee.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, says the committee has not met or acted on any trans-related jail housing matter since January 2020.

It says Hinton was taken to the D.C. Jail on April 26 after a judge ordered her held following an arrest for an alleged unarmed burglary in which she attempted to take $20.

It notes that the Department of Corrections has a “default” policy of placing transgender inmates in either the male or female housing unit at the D.C. Jail and other city detention holding facilities based on the inmate’s “anatomy.” If a female transgender inmate is anatomically male, the inmate – barring other mitigating circumstances – is placed in the male housing facility under the default policy. Similarly, a male transgender inmate who is anatomically female is placed by default in the women’s housing unit under the DOC policy.

“DOC’s policy of focusing on anatomy rather than gender identity is both discriminatory and dangerous,” the ACLU says in a statement released on the day it filed the lawsuit on Hinton’s behalf. “It forces trans individuals, particularly trans women, to choose between a heightened risk of sexual violence and a near-certain mental health crisis,” ACLU attorney Megan Yan said in the statement.

Yan was referring to yet another DOC policy that sometimes gives a transgender inmate placed in a housing unit contrary to their gender identity the option of being placed in “protective custody,” which the lawsuit calls another name for solitary confinement. The ACLU and the Public Defender Service have said solitary confinement in prisons is known to result in serious psychological harm to inmates placed in such confinement.

“Because DOC’s unconstitutional policy exposes every transgender individual in its custody to discrimination, degradation, and risk of sexual violence, Ms. Hinton seeks, on behalf of a class of similarly situated individuals, a court order that strikes down DOC’s unlawful focus on anatomy as the touchstone for its housing decisions regarding transgender individuals,” the lawsuit states.

It further calls on the DOC to use “gender identity, not anatomy, as the default basis for housing assignments” for transgender inmates and to provide all trans individuals a prompt hearing by the DOC Transgender Housing Committee.

It calls for the DOC to be required to implement the recommendations of the Housing Committee “so that each person is housed as safely as possible and without discrimination.”

In addition to the lawsuit, Hinton’s attorneys filed an application for a temporary restraining order to immediately require the DOC to transfer Hinton to the D.C. Jail’s women’s housing facility. The attorneys also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the DOC from using a transgender person’s anatomy as the default or sole criteria in making housing assignments at the jail.

In response to a request from the Washington Blade, DOC spokesperson Dr. Keena Blackmon sent the Blade a DOC statement responding to the lawsuit.

“The Department of Corrections is dedicated to the safety and security of all residents in its care and custody,” the statement says. “DOC is committed to following its policies and procedures relating to housing transgender residents,” it says. “Ms. Hinton recently arrived in DOC custody and, per the agency’s COVID-19 protocols, was placed into single-occupancy quarantine for 14 days.”

The statement adds, “Once that quarantine ends, Ms. Hinton will go before the Transgender Housing Committee to determine her housing based on safety needs, housing availability, and gender identity. D.C. DOC is sensitive to Ms. Hinton’s concerns and will continue to ensure that its residents’ needs are met.”

DOC spokesperson Blackmon didn’t immediately respond to a follow-up question from the Blade asking why the Transgender Housing Committee has not met for over a year, which the ACLU has said resulted in all transgender female inmates being placed in the male housing facility.

Blackmon also couldn’t immediately be reached for a second follow-up question asking for DOC’s response to the lawsuit’s claim that DOC officials told Hinton’s lawyers that she was being placed in the men’s housing facility because she was anatomically male.

The lawsuit says the DOC default policy of placing Hinton in the jail’s male housing unit violates the D.C. Human Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on gender identity. The act has been interpreted to mean private businesses or the city government cannot prevent a transgender person from using facilities such as bathrooms or locker rooms that are in accordance with their gender identity.

D.C. Superior Court records show that Hinton has been arrested a total of 24 times in D.C. between 2006 and 2018. All except three of those arrests are listed as misdemeanor offenses, with just three listed as alleged felony offenses. One of the arrests is listed as a traffic offense.
In nearly all of the prior arrests, the court records identify Hinton by her birth first name, with her last name of Hinton used in all of the arrest records.
The burglary offense for which Hinton was charged on April 26 of this year and for which she is currently being held the D.C. Jail would  normally not result in a defendant being held in jail while awaiting trial. The fact that Hinton is being held rather than released pending trial suggests her prior arrest record may have prompted a judge to order her incarceration.
ACLU attorney Yan, who is among the attorneys representing Hinton in the lawsuit, said Hinton’s prior arrest record should not be a factor in the lawsuit.
“We don’t think any of the underlying things are relevant to her claim in this lawsuit, which is based on her identity and the fact that her constitutional and statutory rights to be free from discrimination are being violated,” Yan said. “At the end of the day, Sunday is a transgender woman and she’s a woman and she deserves to be held according to her gender identity as she desires.”
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Gay Iranian man murdered in so-called honor killing

State Department describes Ali Fazeli Monfared’s death as ‘appalling’

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Ali Fazeli Monfared (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Reports indicate an Iranian man’s relatives killed him after they discovered he was gay.

The Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network wrote on its website that Ali Fazeli Monfared, 20, was kidnapped in Ahvaz, a city in Iran’s Khuzestan’s province on May 4.

The advocacy group said Monfared, who was known as Alireza, was beheaded. His body was reportedly found on May 5, the day after he was kidnapped.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps had exempted Monfared from military service because he is gay, even though consensual same-sex sexual acts remain punishable by death in the country. An activist who has known Monfared since late 2019 told the Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network his half-brother discovered he was gay when he opened an envelope from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps that contained his military exemption card.

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist and activist, reported Monfared at the time of his murder was planning to flee Iran and live with his boyfriend, who previously sought refuge in Turkey. Alinejad said Monfared’s half-brother and cousins killed him “as part of an honor killing.”

The Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network says authorities have arrested Monfared’s half-brother and cousins and charged them with first-degree murder. A State Department spokesperson on Tuesday in a statement to the Washington Blade described the Fazeli Monfared’s murder as “appalling.”

“The United States firmly opposes abuses against LGBTQI+ persons. The struggle to end violence, discrimination, criminalization and stigma against LGBTQI+ persons is a global challenge, and one that remains central to our commitment to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms for all individuals,” said the spokesperson.

“Iran must do more to ensure the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons are protected,” added the spokesperson. “We extend our deepest sympathies to Mr. Monfared’s loved ones.”

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D.C. mayor to lift all restrictions on bars, nightclubs on June 11

‘We will definitely be celebrating Pride’ next month

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Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Monday that she will fully lift capacity and other restrictions on most businesses, including restaurants and places of worship, on May 21. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced at a news conference on Monday that a continuing trend of significantly lower numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths in the city has enabled her to fully lift capacity and other restrictions on most businesses, including restaurants and places of worship, on May 21.

The mayor said bars and nightclubs will be allowed to increase indoor capacity from the current 25 percent to 50 percent on May 21, with all capacity restrictions for bars and nightclubs to be removed on June 11.

The mayor’s announcement came after representatives of the city’s nightlife businesses, including the city’s gay bars and restaurants, expressed concern that D.C. had yet to lift its capacity restrictions beyond 25 percent while surrounding jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia had already lifted most restrictions.

“On May 21, restrictions on public and commercial activity, including capacity limits, types of activities, and time restrictions, will be lifted,” the mayor’s directive says.

It says restrictions for bars and nightclubs would continue at a 50 percent capacity from May 21 through June 11. The directive says restrictions for large sports and entertainment venues would also continue from May 21 to June 11, which includes a requirement such events apply for a waiver of the restrictions on a case-by-case basis.

“On June 11, capacity limits and restrictions will be lifted on those venues that cannot fully reopen on May 21,” the directive says.

In response to a question at the news conference, Bowser said the June 11 date would essentially end all restrictions on nightclubs and bars, including the current requirement that they close at midnight rather than the pre-epidemic closing times of 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends.

In a development that could have a major impact on plans for D.C.’s LGBTQ Pride events, the mayor’s revised health directive announced on Monday includes the lifting of all capacity restrictions on large outdoor and indoor sports and entertainment events beginning on June 11.

That change would remove restrictions that have, up until now, prevented D.C.’s Capital Pride Alliance from holding its annual Pride Parade and Festival in June during Pride Month.

Capital Pride Executive Director Ryan Bos told the Washington Blade shortly after the mayor’s announcement that Capital Pride is assessing its options for expanding its current plans for in-person events in June.

“We will definitely be celebrating Pride in June,” Bos said. “We just received this information as well. So, we will be getting further information,” he said. “We have not been informed that they will be issuing any permits yet, so at this time we are moving forward with our original plans for doing things.”

Bos was referring to a city requirement for obtaining permits for street closings and use of other public spaces for events such as a parade or street festival. He said existing plans, among other things, call for an informal parade of cars and other vehicles on June 12 that will drive throughout the city to view homes and businesses that will be decorated with Pride displays such as signs, photos, and other symbols of Pride.

Those familiar with the city’s past Pride events don’t think there will be enough time for Capital Pride to organize the traditional large parade and street festival in time for June. But Capital Pride officials have talked about holding a possible parade and festival in October, and the lifting of the capacity restrictions announced by Bowser on Monday would likely make that possible.

In addition to lifting all capacity restrictions on May 21 for restaurants, the mayor’s May 21 timeframe for lifting restrictions includes these additional venues and events:

  • Weddings and special events
  • Business meetings and seated conventions
  • Places of worship
  • Non-essential retail
  • Personal services
  • Private at-home gatherings
  • Libraries, museums, galleries
  • Recreation Centers
  • Gyms and fitness centers
  • Pools
  • Office space
  • Schools
  • Childcare

“We’re very pleased that over the last several days, we have seen our case spread, our community spread numbers, venture out of the red into the yellow and fast approaching the green,” Bowser said in referring to a health department chart that shows the changes in coronavirus cases in the city.

“You might remember that our daily case rate peaked in January at 45.9. And today you can see it’s down to 6.6,” she said at her news conference on Monday.

“Throughout this process I have said how proud I am of D.C. residents and businesses who have responded, who have followed health guidance and have worked together to help protect our community throughout the pandemic. And we see it in these numbers today,” she said.

“Containing the virus will continue to require all of us to be focused on maintaining a robust health system,” the mayor said, adding that while over 200,000 D.C. residents have been fully vaccinated since December 2020, “many more thousands” still need to be vaccinated. “Vaccines are free and available on demand at walk-up sites across the District,” she said.

The mayor also noted that the city will continue to require residents and visitors to use a mask in accordance with existing and updated guidance set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mark Lee, coordinator of the D.C. Nightlife Council, an association that represents restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other entertainment venues, said the mayor’s directive on May 10 leaves some details to be addressed but will open the way to bring nightlife businesses back to life.

“What we do know is that on Friday, May 21, businesses begin returning to normal operations and, three weeks later, on June 11, all restrictions for all businesses in the District will end,” Lee said. “It’s a day we’ve long awaited and one that will save much of our community enterprise from financial ruin.”

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