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Casa Ruby files complaint against D.C. gov’t agency

Dept. of Human Services accused of ignoring anti-trans discrimination

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Ruby Corado filed a complaint against the D.C. Department of Human Services, alleging one of its high-level officials engaged in anti-transgender discrimination. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Casa Ruby, the D.C. LGBTQ community services center, filed an administrative complaint on March 29 against the D.C. Department of Human Services, charging the agency with ignoring and failing to stop one of its high-level officials from allegedly engaging in anti-transgender discrimination and retaliation against Casa Ruby.

The six-page complaint, which was drafted by Casa Ruby’s attorneys and signed by Casa Ruby founder and CEO Ruby Corado, says the DHS official in question has acted in an abusive and discriminatory way toward Corado and other Casa Ruby employees while overseeing three DHS grants awarded to Casa Ruby that fund shelters to provide emergency housing for homeless LGBTQ people.

Corado provided a copy of the complaint to the Washington Blade on May 27 in which the name of the DHS official accused of discriminatory and abusive actions is redacted by being blacked out in dozens of places where it appears in the six-page document.

“Casa Ruby’s staff has repeatedly found [the unnamed official’s] demeanor and conduct toward them to be unprofessional, harassing, abusive, and discriminatory,” the complaint says.

“Further, [the unnamed official] has taken actions that are inconsistent with the DHS response to the outbreak of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) by failing to follow COVID-19 protocols and by failing to provide needed testing and other resources during this time, which has endangered the clients and staff of Casa Ruby,” the complaint alleges.

The complaint says the alleged COVID protocol violations occurred when the unnamed DHS official transferred clients from another shelter in which a COVID outbreak may have taken place to one of Casa Ruby’s shelters without having the clients tested for COVID.

Corado told the Blade that as of this week, neither she nor her attorneys with the D.C. law firm Van Ness Feldman have received a response to the complaint from DHS in the three months since it was filed. 
When contacted last week by the Blade, DHS spokesperson Lauren Kinard said DHS would have no immediate comment on the complaint while it is under investigation.

“The complaint is under investigation,” Kinard said. “So, we cannot comment on an investigation.”

However, Kinard said DHS could provide a response to a question by the Blade about DHS’s record of providing funding for other organizations that provide services to LGBTQ people in need.

Kinard said that among the organizations DHS has provided funding for transgender related services is Us Helping Us, People Into Living, a D.C. LGBTQ organization that provides health and social services to LGBTQ clients.

She said DHS also provides funding for the LGBTQ youth advocacy group SMYAL and the LGBTQ group Wanda Alston Foundation for transitional housing services for LGBTQ youth and adults. Kinard said Us Helping Us in partnership with the local group Damien Ministries received a DHS grant to provide employment related services and support for transgender and gender nonconforming D.C. residents.

Kinard said she would also try to provide a response this week to a separate question by the Blade asking about another Casa Ruby concern that DHS is now proposing to reduce its grant funding for the current fiscal year by 50 percent or more. But in an email to the Blade on Thursday, Kinard said the Casa Ruby letter was being reviewed by DHS officials and no immediate response could be given.

In a May 20 letter to DHS Deputy Administrator Hilary Cairns, Casa Ruby attorneys Jacob Cunningham and Ani Esenyn dispute claims by DHS that the funding cut was due to Casa Ruby’s alleged failure to provide a sufficient number of beds at its homeless shelters funded by DHS grants.

“Casa Ruby rejects your modification of the Grant Award, which is in violation of the clear language of the Grant Agreement,” the attorneys state in their letter. “Therefore, this decision is arbitrary, capricious, and not in accordance with D.C. law,” the letter says.

Corado said she believes the proposed funding cut is based on retaliation for the Casa Ruby complaint filed in March.  She said aside from the DHS proposed funding cut, the agency has withheld all of its scheduled grant payments to Casa Ruby for the past four months.

In its March 29 complaint against DHS, Casa Ruby makes these additional allegations and requests for DHS to respond to the complaint:

• The DHS official who is the subject of the complaint has “unnecessarily inserted herself in the management of these grants,” creating tension and making it difficult for Casa Ruby employees to carry out the grant’s emergency housing program.

• The DHS official has failed to adequately screen clients from other shelters that the official transferred to Casa Ruby facilities, some of whom “used homophobic and transphobic slurs and assaulted two Casa Ruby clients.” The complaint says Casa Ruby welcomes all clients in need to its facilities, but it alleges that the DHS official’s “careless transfer of clients from Covenant House inflicted additional trauma and stress on some of the most vulnerable individuals in the LGBTQ community.”

• On several occasions during conference calls and meetings with representatives of other shelters hosted by the DHS official, individuals misgendered Corado, a transgender woman, and the DHS official did not correct the misgendering. The complaint says the DHS official’s decision not to correct the misgendering is a sign of the official’s own anti-trans bias.

“Finally, these and other instances have made it clear to Casa Ruby staff that [the DHS official] harbors anti-transgender bias, in violation of D.C. and federal civil rights laws,” the complaint says.

Among other things, the complaint calls on DHS to consider terminating the DHS official from her position or at the very least, remove her from having any interaction with Casa Ruby. It also suggests the DHS official and other DHS employees be required to undergo bias and sensitivity training related to the LGBTQ community provided by transgender women of color.

Corado said that depending on the outcome of the complaint and DHS’s ultimate response, she will consider whether to file a lawsuit against DHS based on the allegations made in the complaint.

The proposed DHS funding cut for Casa Ruby comes at a time when Casa Ruby has been in negotiations with the landlord of its headquarters building at 7530 Georgia Ave., N.W. in a dispute over who should pay for needed building repairs, including repairs of the electrical wiring system found to be in violation of the city building code.

Corado said an agreement has been reached where the landlord and Casa Ruby will share the costs of the repairs based in part on the terms of the Casa Ruby lease for the building, which holds the tenant responsible for most infrastructure repairs. But Corado said the DHS withholding of its grant funds for Casa Ruby and its proposed cutting of the funds for the remainder of the fiscal year could make it difficult for Casa Ruby to pay its share of the building repairs.

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Virginia

Va. students warn against ‘don’t say gay’ policies

New law requires parental notification of ‘sexually explicit content’ in classroom

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(Bigstock photo)

More than 600 students from across Virginia signed a letter from the Pride Liberation Project that calls for the Virginia Department of Education to clarify that teaching students about LGBTQ people and events is not “sexually explicit.”

Senate Bill 656, which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed earlier this year, requires parents be notified when instructional materials contain “sexually explicit content” — without any input from students.

Current Virginia law defines “sexual conduct” as “masturbation, homosexuality, sexual intercourse, or physical contact in an act of apparent sexual stimulation or gratification.”

Because SB 656 does not itself specify what constitutes “sexually explicit content,” LGBTQ students and activists are concerned that the bill will rest on Virginia’s pre-existing definition of sexual conduct.

In their full letter, signees argued that “In effect, SB 656 can potentially be interpreted to define all references to people in same-sex relationships as inherently sexual.”

“Consequently, all references to LGBTQIA+ people in K-12 schools, including Supreme Court cases, historical events impacting LGBTQIA+ people, and discussions about queer authors, may be deemed as sexually explicit content under SB 656, effectively erasing LGBTQIA+ representation in our school curriculum,” reads the Pride Liberation Project’s press release.

Representation has been shown to positively increase academic performance, and LGBTQ youth already face exacerbated risks of suicide and mental health crisis. In Virginia specifically, the vast majority of LGBTQ students reported hearing anti-LGBTQ remarks at school, and 26 percent of LGBTQ students reported being “disciplined for public displays of affection (PDA) that did not result in similar action for non-LGBTQ students.” 

 “Most of my LGBTQIA+ friends are already struggling with their mental health,” said one Loudoun County student in the Pride Liberation Project press release. “I’m scared about the message these guidelines could send and losing the already limited affirming representation in my class.” 

Another student from Richmond said that they “didn’t want to see their friends who are from homes that aren’t accepting not see themselves reflected at school.” 

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District of Columbia

SMYAL announces new executive director

Erin Whelan to start Sept. 1

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Erin Whelan (Photo courtesy of SMYAL)

SMYAL on Thursday announced Erin Whelan will become the organization’s new executive director on Sept. 1.

SMYAL’s mission is to support and empower LGBTQ youth ages 6-24.

A press release that announces Whelan’s appointment notes the organization over the last five years has grown “exponentially.” Its services include affirming programs, housing support, leadership training and mental health services, designed to help LGBTQ youth develop advocacy skills and an educated, welcoming community.   

Whelan most recently served as the director of housing and homeless services at LifeWorks, an Austin, Texas,-based nonprofit that provides youth with housing and services. She has worked in nonprofit management for almost 20 years, and SMYAL’s press release highlighted her commitment to antiracism, equity and the LGBTQ community. 

“Erin Whelan is a compassionate and strong leader who I am confident is the right person to lead SMYAL,” board chair Rob Cogorno said. “I could not be more proud of the tremendous growth in services for our LGBTQ youth and of the SMYAL staff’s hard work that made that growth possible. Erin’s extensive experience in service to youth in need and her passion for that work will help guide SMYAL in continuing its excellent work in this challenging time for LGBTQ youth in our region and across the country.” 

Whelan in the press release shared her enthusiasm for stepping into leadership with this driving purpose. 

“I am beyond excited and honored to join SMYAL as the new executive director. My work has been committed to understanding and seeing the world through the lens of the most marginalized youth and young adults and being a fierce advocate for LGBTQ youth,” Whelan said. “I believe all LGBTQ youth deserve an opportunity to build a life they love and a chance to feel celebrated and affirmed for exactly who they are and strive to be. From the moment I stepped into the SMYAL community, it felt like exactly where I wanted to be. SMYAL creates a community for queer and trans youth where they can feel radically accepted and safe to step into their true selves.” 

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National

Judge: West Virginia Medicaid must cover transgender care

Fain v. Crouch is litigation challenging blanket exclusions of coverage for gender-confirming care in West Virginia’s state health plans

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A U.S. District Court judge ruled Tuesday that West Virginia’s Medicaid program could no longer discriminate by excluding coverage for gender-confirming surgical care for transgender West Virginia Medicaid participants. 

U.S. District Court Judge Robert C. Chambers also certified the lawsuit as a class action, covering all transgender West Virginians who participate in Medicaid.  In the lawsuit brought in November of 2020 by Lambda Legal, Nichols Kaster, and The Employment Law Center, the plantiffs challenged the state’s ban on gender-confirming care in West Virginia’s Medicaid and state employee health plans.

“We applaud Judge Chamber’s decision to remove the discriminatory barrier to accessing medically necessary, gender-confirming surgical care for all transgender West Virginia Medicaid participants. Protecting and advancing health care for transgender people is vital, sound, and just. Transgender West Virginia Medicaid participants deserve to have equal access to the same coverage for medically necessary healthcare that cisgender Medicaid participants receive as a matter of course,” said Avatara Smith-Carrington, Staff Attorney at Lambda Legal. 

Fain v. Crouch is a class action litigation challenging blanket exclusions of coverage for gender-confirming care in West Virginia’s state health plans. The blanket exclusions of coverage for care are stated expressly in the health plans offered to Medicaid participants and to state employees. West Virginia’s state health plans serve approximately 564,000 Medicaid participants and15,000 state employees.

“I am excited to finally have access to the healthcare I deserve. The exclusion negatively affects my health and wellbeing as well as the health and wellbeing of other transgender Medicaid participants in our community. Gender-confirming care is healthcare, and it is lifesaving,” said plaintiff Shauntae Anderson, West Virginia Medicaid participant.  

“This is a victory not only for me but for other transgender Medicaid participants across West Virginia. This decision is validating, confirming that after years of fighting to prove that gender-confirming care is medically necessary, we should have access to the same services that West Virginia Medicaid already provides to cisgender participants. Transgender West Virginians should never feel as if our lives are worth less than others,” said plaintiff Christopher Fain, West Virginia Medicaid participant. 

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