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District of Columbia

Lawsuit charges D.C. Dept. of Corrections with bias against gay employee

Employee alleges years of verbal harassment, slurs, intimidation

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Deon Jones (Photo courtesy of the ACLU)

An employee of 24 years with the D.C. Department of Corrections filed a lawsuit on Nov. 17 charging the department, four of his supervisors, and one co-worker with sexual orientation and disability discrimination, retaliation, and a “severely hostile work environment” based on his identity as a gay man.

According to a statement released by the ACLU of D.C., Sgt. Deon Jones, who works as a medical liaison at the D.C. Jail, “has endured years of verbal harassment, demeaning anti-gay slurs, and intimidation by fellow officers and superiors for being a gay man.”

The ACLU is representing Jones in connection with the lawsuit, which was filed in D.C. Superior Court against the D.C. government.

“Additionally, co-workers and supervisors failed to respond when individuals incarcerated at the Jail repeatedly threatened Jones with physical violence and even death,” the ACLU statement says.

“Sgt. Jones’s complaint contains graphic descriptions of the harassment, including Sgt. Jones being called “sissy” and “dick eater” among other slurs and told by fellow officers at DOC that they “hate working with faggots,” the statement says.

The ACLU statement says that Jones repeatedly complained about the abuse to which he allegedly was subjected to top DOC officials, including DOC Director Quincy Booth and to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. But it says the officials “did nothing to avert the harassment, reform [the DOC’s] pervasive anti-gay culture, or protect Sgt. Jones.”

Spokespersons for the Department of Corrections and the mayor’s office couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. The Washington Post reported that D.C. officials did not respond to its request for comment on the lawsuit.

“I have been tormented and abused so badly, my life has changed,” the ACLU statement quotes Jones as saying. “The discrimination and hostile work environment I faced has been devastating. I have suffered depression, PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] and anxiety attacks,” Jones says in the statement. “In spike of it all, I continue to do my job and lift my head up.”

Jones’s lawsuit comes six months after the ACLU of D.C. filed another lawsuit on behalf of Sunday Hinton, a transgender woman and former inmate at the D.C. Jail on grounds that DOC officials improperly and illegally placed her in the men’s section of the jail. The DOC responded a short time later by announcing it had changed its housing policies for trans inmates to allow trans inmates to choose under most circumstances whether to be housed in the male or female unit of the jail.

“DOC supervisors were not just indifferent to the discriminatory abuse directed at Sgt. Jones, but also deliberately gave him dangerous assignments, often in retaliation for his complaints against them,” the ACLU statement alleges. The statement says that in the spring of 2020, at the peak of the COVID pandemic, Jones asked to be allowed to temporarily work remotely or given administrative duties in accommodation for underlying medical conditions that placed him at high risk for COVID.

“Despite this request, DOC required him to work in a unit with detainees who had tested positive for COVID-19,” the statement says.

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District of Columbia

Casa Ruby expands LGBTQ mental health services

Community services group moves offices to Dupont Circle

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Casa Ruby is in the process of closing its former headquarters after a dispute with the landlord.

D.C.’s LGBTQ community services center Casa Ruby has expanded its mental health services for the LGBTQ community under the leadership of Howard University clinical psychologist Dr. Kamilah Woodson and a team of therapists recruited by Woodson, according to Casa Ruby Interim Executive Director Alexis Blackmon.

Blackmon said Woodson, who has been providing mental health counseling and psychotherapy services for Casa Ruby clients in the recent past, is expanding those services by arranging for other mental health professionals to provide services for many more clients under several Casa Ruby programs.

Among those programs, Blackmon said, are Casa Ruby’s ongoing Latino and immigration support services; support services for LGBTQ victims of violence; and services for transgender and gender nonconforming individuals, as well as overall LGBTQ mental health counseling.

The Howard University website says Woodson is a clinical psychologist who serves as an Associate Professor of Counseling Psychology at the Howard University College of Medicine and the Howard University School of Education. The write-up says that Woodson, who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, also has a private psychotherapy practice.

Casa Ruby describes itself on its website as the “only LGBTQ bilingual and multicultural organization in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area that provides social services and programs catering to the most vulnerable in the city and surrounding area.”

Blackmon said Woodson will have an office at Casa Ruby’s headquarters offices at 2031 Florida Ave., N.W. in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, which Casa Ruby opened about a year ago. Blackmon said the therapists working with Woodson will also work out of that location.

One or more of the cooperating therapists will also make routine visits to Casa Ruby’s three residential houses for homeless LGBTQ youth to provide mental health services to clients.

“So, like once a week one of her therapists goes to each of the properties and they offer free therapy to any client that wants it or that are seeking it or in need of it,” Blackmon said. “And if they come across an emergency where a client is having a mental health crisis, the monitor or the person who is in the house will contact Dr. Kamilah and they would do a crisis diversion and figure something out right then and there,” according to Blackmon.

Blackmon said that Casa Ruby currently has another Dupont Circle location at 1635 Connecticut Ave., N.W. where other client services are provided that also opened about a year ago.

“It is a three-story building where we have our drop-in center,” she said. “So, it’s our trans resource center. And then we have other floors that offer services for crime victims, Latino services, and immigration services,” she said, adding that the Casa Ruby pharmacy is also located in that building.

Blackmon noted that most of those services had been provided at Casa Ruby’s former headquarters building at 7530 Georgia Ave., N.W., which she said Casa Ruby is in the process of closing.

She said the decision to phase out its use of that 16,000-square-foot building came after a dispute with the landlord over a breakdown in the heating system and other infrastructure problems at the building. Blackmon said the D.C. government’s controversial decision in October to discontinue its annual $850,000 grant that funded a large Casa Ruby low barrier shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth and adults in the Georgia Avenue building further solidified the decision to move most of its services out of that building.

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District of Columbia

Too soon to decide on candidate for D.C. mayor: activists

Bowser, two Council challengers considered strong LGBTQ supporters

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Mayor Muriel Bowser announced her intent to run for re-election last week. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Several D.C. LGBTQ activists this week said they believe it is too soon for the city’s LGBTQ community to make a decision on whom to support for mayor in the 2022 mayoral election, especially since the three well-known Democratic candidates for mayor are longtime LGBTQ allies.

Most but not all the local activists contacted by the Washington Blade in an informal survey who called for holding off on deciding on whom to back for mayor expressed those views one week after Mayor Muriel Bowser announced she filed papers to run for a third term in office in the city’s June 21, 2022, Democratic primary.

The mayor’s announcement came about a month after D.C. Council member Robert White (D-At-Large) and Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) announced they would run for mayor in the Democratic primary.

With the overwhelming majority of D.C. voters registered as Democrats, the winner of the Democratic primary for mayor has always won the November general election since the city’s home rule elected government took effect in the 1970s.

Robert White, like Bowser, filed papers to run under the city’s Fair Election program that offers public financing for candidates who must accept campaign contributions no greater than $100 from individual donors in a citywide election.

Trayon White had yet to officially file papers for his mayoral bid as of early this week, but his supporters have said he, too, was expected to run under the Fair Election public financing program.

“I think it’s much too early,” said gay Democratic activist Earl Fowlkes, when asked if he was currently backing one of the mayoral candidates.

Fowlkes was elected last week as vice president of legislative affairs for the Capital Stonewall Democrats, D.C.’s largest local LGBTQ political group. He also serves as executive director of the D.C.-based national LGBTQ group Center for Black Equity.

“People are going to have to listen to the candidates and look at their records and make a decision accordingly,” Fowlkes said. “I think the mayor has a good record and Robert White is certainly a friend of our community,” he said. “And Trayon White has also made great strides in understanding our issues.”

Like other local activists, Fowlkes said D.C.’s longstanding status as an LGBTQ supportive local city government with far reaching LGBTQ rights legislation in place means that LGBTQ voters will turn to other issues on which to base their support for a mayoral candidate.

“It’s no longer that you can silo just on LGBTQ issues,” said Fowlkes. “We have to worry about homelessness for all citizens, not just queer citizens, but everyone. Access to healthcare – those are important to everyone whether you’re LGBTQ or not,” he said. “And I think that our rights as LGBTQ Washingtonians are pretty enshrined in legislation. And I don’t think that’s an issue.”

Similar to past election cycles, Fowlkes said Capital Stonewall Democrats will hold a series of candidate forums in the spring of 2022, including a mayoral candidate forum, in which candidates will be invited to discuss issues of concern to the LGBTQ community. The forums are part of the organization’s process for endorsing candidates for mayor, D.C. Council, and other elective offices, which the LGBTQ Democratic group will make prior to the June 21` Democratic primary.

Lesbian activist Barbara Helmick, who serves as director of programs for the D.C. statehood advocacy group called D.C. Vote, said she agrees it’s too soon for D.C. residents to decide on a mayoral candidate. But Helmick said D.C. statehood should be at the top of the list of issues of concern for the LGBTQ community in the mayoral election.

“We as a vulnerable community will be particularly vulnerable to conservative movements that have a lot of power in this country right now,” Helmick said. “And our best protection against that is having self-government, to be able to elect representatives who will speak for us in Congress,” she said. “We need senators. We need a voting member of the House for whatever conservatives may be coming up with.”

Helmick was referring to past instances where Congress used its authority to overturn or block D.C. laws, which she said could happen again if conservative Republicans regain control of Congress in the 2022 midterm elections. She said the city’s LGBTQ rights protections could be in jeopardy by a hostile Congress.

While noting that Bowser and Robert and Trayon White have been advocates for D.C. statehood, Helmick said the mere expression of support is not enough. “What are each of them going to do?” she said.

June Crenshaw, executive director of the Wanda Alston Foundation, the D.C. group that provides housing services for homeless LGBTQ youth, said that while her organization does not endorse candidates for public office it will be closely monitoring the candidates’ positions on issues that impact LGBTQ youth.

“We’ll be involved in the process because our next mayor or our existing mayor really has to make sure that they are caring for queer and LGBTQ folks in their budget process and in their programming process,” Crenshaw said.

Ron Moten, one of the founders and lead adviser for Check It Enterprises, an Anacostia-based LGBTQ community services center and small business, said the organization has not endorsed candidates in the past but it would consider the possibility of doing so. However, he said choosing between the three main Democratic mayoral candidates would be difficult.

“All of them have supported Check It,” he said. “Robert White introduced legislation to help us get our building,” Moten said. “The mayor has helped us get grants to do the things we are doing. And Trayon White has always supported everything that we’ve done.”

Gay Democratic activist John Klenert, who is among those calling for waiting a few months before deciding on which mayoral candidate to support, said LGBTQ voters along with all voters would benefit by taking time to reflect on the candidates.

“Let’s catch our breath and take a look,” said Klenert, who agrees that the three main Democratic mayoral candidates have good records on LGBTQ issues. “Let’s see,” he said. “The past is one thing. What are they promising for the future, not only for our community but for the city in general?”

The Blade could find just two prominent D.C. LGBTQ activists who have come out in support for a D.C. mayoral candidate at this time.

Rick Rosendall, former president of the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, announced on Facebook that he’s supporting Robert White.

“Robert White is thoughtful, decent, progressive and experienced, and has shown a willingness to take on controversial issues, as when he co-sponsored sex work decriminalization favored by at-risk members of our community and those of us who support them,” Rosendall told the Blade in a statement. Rosendall noted that Robert White received a +10 GLAA candidate rating, the highest possible rating, when he ran for reelection to his Council seat in 2020.

Gay Democratic activist John Fanning, an elected member of the Logan Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said he is backing Mayor Bowser’s reelection campaign on grounds that she has served the city “exceptionally well” during her first two terms in office.

“I believe the mayor and her administration’s response to the pandemic was exceptional, because if the mayor and her administration didn’t do what they did when they needed to do it, there would have been more deaths,” Fanning told the Blade.

“And I also think that carving out a space regarding racial justice and social justice with Black Lives Matter Plaza” is also one of the mayor’s important accomplishments, Fanning said. “And she took on Donald Trump when we needed somebody to speak up for the residents of the District of Columbia,” he said.

Citing other actions by the mayor that Fanning said he believes has benefited the city, including an affordable housing program, Fanning added, “I’m not sure we need to make a change right now.”

Mark Lee, coordinator of the D.C. Nightlife Council, a nonprofit trade association that advocates for restaurants, bars and nightclubs, said the group does not officially endorse political candidates. But Lee said individual members of the DCNC, including representatives of LGBT bars and other LGBT venues, are “overwhelmingly supportive” of the reelection of Mayor Bowser and D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large).

“Both Mayor Bowser and Phil Mendelson appreciate the massive economic contribution that nightlife provides to the District’s economy and understand the challenges local establishments face as we emerge from the pandemic period,” Lee said. “Both Bowser and Mendelson continue to support our city’s largest hometown independent small business sector and nightlife operators are eager to return that support,” he said. 

Records from the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance show that two lesser-known candidates have also filed papers to run in the D.C. Democratic primary for mayor in June – James Butler, a former Ward 5 ANC commissioner and unsuccessful 2018 mayoral candidate; and community activist Michael Campbell.

Another three lesser known candidates have filed papers to run for mayor as non-Democrats—community activist Rodney “Red” Grant is running as an independent; community activist Barbara Summers is also running as an independent; and Corren Brown is running as a Statehood Green Party candidate.

Their positions on LGBTQ issues couldn’t immediately be determined. 

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