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Activists defend D.C. Jail’s treatment of trans inmates

Budd, Hughes say most choose to stay in men’s facility

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The jail does not and has not been mistreating transgender inmates coming in the jail,’ said trans advocate Earline Budd. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Longtime local transgender advocates Earline Budd and Jeri Hughes, who have served for more than a decade on the D.C. Department of Corrections’ Transgender Housing and Transgender Advisory committees, say they have witnessed first-hand what they believe to be the D.C. Jail’s role in leading the nation in its policies in support of transgender inmates.

The two said that around 2009 the D.C. Jail became one of the nation’s first correctional facilities to adopt a policy allowing transgender inmates to choose whether to be placed in the men’s or the women’s housing units.

In a claim that will likely come as a surprise to LGBTQ activists, Budd and Hughes said more than 95 percent of female transgender inmates at the D.C. Jail chose to be placed in the men’s section of the jail.

Budd and Hughes said they were motivated to speak out about DOC’s trans policies following a class action lawsuit filed last year against the city by the ACLU of D.C. and the D.C. Public Defender Service on behalf of a female transgender inmate at the D.C. Jail.

The lawsuit charged that officials at the Department of Corrections and the jail violated the gender identity provision of the city’s Human Rights Act and the constitutional rights of equal protection for trans inmate Sunday Hinton by placing her in the men’s housing unit at the jail against her wishes in May 2021.

Hinton and five other former female trans inmates at the jail submitted sworn affidavits as part of the lawsuit claiming that their requests to be housed in the women’s section of the jail were either denied or jail officials coerced them into agreeing to be placed in the men’s section. The affidavits say the alleged improper action by jail officials against the six trans women took place between 2019 and 2021.

Hinton has since been released from the jail after a burglary related charge brought against her was dropped.

The Office of the D.C. Attorney General, which represents the city in lawsuits, and Hinton reached a settlement agreement last month to end the lawsuit. The DOC agreed in the settlement, among other things, to put in place policies that ensure that trans inmates can choose the section of the jail in which they are to be housed.

The agreement keeps in place existing DOC policies calling for the Transgender Housing Committee to review all trans housing requests and to make a recommendation on the request, with jail security officials making the final decision on where to place the trans inmate.

Hughes told the Washington Blade that for the past decade or longer DOC and jail officials have followed the recommendations of the Transgender Housing Committee, whose members include representatives of the trans community.

She points out that the objective of the committee is to confirm that a trans female inmate requesting housing in the women’s section of the jail is truly a transgender person and not a male inmate claiming to be trans with the possible motive of sexually assaulting or otherwise endangering cisgender female inmates.

According to Budd and Hughes, at the request of LGBTQ rights advocates, the DOC adopted a policy in 2009 that allowed transgender inmates to choose whether to be placed in the men’s or women’s section of the jail. They said the policy, which created the DOC’s Transgender Housing Committee as well as a Transgender Advisory Committee, called for the housing committee to review the inmates’ housing requests to assess the safety of the trans inmates and all other inmates.

“You cannot just say I’m transgender and go in the women’s jail,” Hughes said. “You’ve got to have an evaluation. You have to be determined – OK, you’re legit. You live as a woman. You’re transgender,” Hughes told the Blade.

Hughes and Budd said the allegations raised in the Sunday Hinton lawsuit, if true, appear to be a breach in the DOC and the D.C. Jail’s longstanding policy of allowing trans inmates to choose whether to be placed in the men’s or women’s section of the jail. Budd said restrictions put in place at the jail in response to the COVID pandemic resulted in the suspension of all meetings of the Transgender Housing Committee.

But she said it was her understanding that an official at the jail who is a member of the Transgender Housing Committee has been meeting individually with trans inmates to determine their preference for a housing assignment. Budd said the official, who she identified as Tracy Outlaw, was also helping transgender inmates obtain things they needed, such as women’s undergarments like bras and hormone treatments.

“What I can say is the jail does not and has not been mistreating transgender inmates coming in the jail, and that they get the utmost respect in terms of the population,” Budd said.

When asked to explain their claim that nearly all female trans inmates choose to be placed in the men’s section of the jail, Budd and Hughes said that the female trans inmates are treated with greater respect by fellow male inmates than by female inmates.

“In the male section of the jail, they have a certain status,” Hughes said. “They are desirable. In the female section, they are not desirable. So, there is no advantage for them to be there,” according to Hughes. “And nearly every [trans] girl that has ever asked to go to the female section is in there for about a week and asks to get back right away” to the male section, Hughes said.

Department of Corrections spokesperson Keena Blackmon provided the Blade with an update on the DOC’s transgender policies following the settlement of the lawsuit, but she did not respond to the Blade’s request for confirmation of Budd and Hughes’ assertion that nearly all transgender female inmates request to be housed in the men’s section of the D.C. Jail.

“While the DC Department of Corrections (DOC) does not comment on the specifics of litigation-related matters, DOC is committed to ensuring a safe, secure and inclusive environment for all our residents, including our transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming residents,” Blackmon said in an email. “DOC formed the Transgender Advisory Committee (TAC), which serves as a liaison for the DOC and the transgender community and also internally established the Transgender Housing Committee (THC),” she said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a host of operational changes to ensure the health and wellbeing of all DOC residents and staff and affected the ability of the THC to operate in its normal capacity,” Blackmon said. “As we have navigated the challenges of the pandemic, we have continued to adopt both our policies and practices to ensure we meet our above stated commitment while addressing the public health needs of all in our DOC facilities and will continue to do so,” she said.

Scott Michelman, legal director of the ACLU of D.C. who served as the lead attorney representing Sunday Hinton in her lawsuit against the DOC, said the actions by officials at the D.C. Jail toward Hinton and the five trans female inmates who joined her in the class action lawsuit raised serious doubts about any claims that the DOC had in place trans supportive policies – at least during the years of 2019 through early 2021.

Michelman points out that Tracy Outlaw, one of the DOC officials serving on the Transgender Housing Committee that Budd said has been supportive of trans inmates, is accused in one of the sworn affidavits submitted by a trans inmate who was part of the Hinton lawsuit of refusing to help the inmate be placed in the women’s section of the jail. Michelman said another DOC official “coerced” Hinton into signing a form waiving her rights to be placed in the women’s section of the jail.

“These actions, among others, undermine the claim that DOC was doing right by trans folks as of 2021,” Michelman said. “If DOC wants to protect trans women, it can start by complying with the settlement terms reached in Sunday Hinton’s case,” he said.

Budd said that while any DOC staff member should be held accountable for violating the DOC’s transgender policies, she strongly disputes claims that Tracy Outlaw coerced a trans inmate into being housed in the men’s section of the jail.

“What I am not going to do is go back and forth about this case,” Budd told the Blade. “The fact is that the ACLU and the attorneys are only seeking one side of this story,” which she said was that of the trans inmates who were part of the Hinton lawsuit.

“It is not fair that these allegations are coming up and we are not able to share our side of the story, which is totally different,” she said. “I have been and continue to be a transgender advocate and will support even those who have sought to demean me.”  

Critics of the DOC have pointed out that many of the problems faced by the D.C. Jail surfaced under the tenure of former DOC Director, Quincy Booth, who held the director’s position from 2016 to January of this year, when Mayor Muriel Bowser replaced him with former DOC Director Tom Faust. Faust served as director from 2011 to 2016 during the years that Budd and Hughes have said DOC put in place or strengthened its trans supportive policies.  

Bowser’s decision to replace Booth came shortly after the Federal Bureau of Prisons transferred 400 inmates at the D.C. Jail to a federal prison in Pennsylvania after announcing an inspection of the jail by U.S. Marshals found “evidence of systematic failures” and unacceptable living conditions at the jail.

Budd said that shortly after Faust began as acting DOC Director, he invited her to meet with him to discuss trans issues at the jail.

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District of Columbia

D.C. house with rainbow Pride flag set on fire

Investigators seeking help from public in search for suspect

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A Pride flag remained displayed at the house in Shaw this past Sunday, one week after the fire in the rear of the house which fire officials have listed as arson. (Washington Blade photos by Lou Chibbaro Jr.)

The D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department has classified as arson a June 19 fire at a two-story row house on the 1800 block of 8th Street, N.W. in the city’s Shaw neighborhood that had an LGBTQ rainbow Pride flag prominently displayed on the front of the house.

A Fire & EMS Department spokesperson said the fire was ignited in a detached wooden garage in the rear of the house accessible only through an alley, and fire investigators have yet to identify a suspect or a motive for what evidence shows was an intentionally set fire.

Although the front of the brick rowhouse where the Pride flag was displayed was not damaged, the fire in the garage spread to the rear of the house, destroying a wooden outdoor deck, and caused extensive damage to the kitchen, bathroom, and second floor bedroom. Fire investigators have sealed the house, requiring its three occupants to find a temporary residence as the investigation continues.

One of the three occupants of the house, who was the only one at home when the fire started at about 2 a.m., escaped without injury, according to sources who know the occupants.

“The Pride flag on the front of the house was present at the time of the fire,” Jennifer Donelan, director of communications for the Fire & EMS Department, told the Washington Blade. “We do not have any information, at this time, that suggests the arson was related to the presence of the flag, however we are still working on the case,” she said.

“We are aggressively working to identify a suspect and a motive,” Donelan said. “Until such time, we won’t be able to make a determination as to whether or not this was a hate crime.”

She said the Fire & EMS Department is seeking help from the public in its effort to identify one or more suspects responsible for the fire. Anyone with information that could be helpful to the investigation is asked to call fire investigators at 202-673-2776.

The fire at the D.C. house with the Pride flag took place less than a week after Baltimore police said a house in that city’s Waverly neighborhood on which “Pride décor” was displayed was set on fire on June 15, causing extensive damage to the house and nearby houses.

Baltimore police and fire department officials said a Pride flag on a house across the street from the house set on fire was also ablaze when firefighters arrived on the scene. Two men were hospitalized in critical condition and a woman was listed in serious condition because of the fire ignited in the house.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott released a statement saying fire department officials had yet to determine a motive for the fire.

“At this point, we cannot confirm that this was a hate crime,” Scott said. “However, my agencies will bring every appropriate resource to bear to get to the bottom of this tragic event,” he said. “I continue to stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ community.”

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District of Columbia

D.C. officials vow to fight any GOP effort to ban abortion in nation’s capital

Without statehood, District vulnerable to congressional interference

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D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton vowed to fight to protect abortion access in the city. (Blade file photo by Drew Brown)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, and six members of the D.C. Council said they were united in fighting an attempt by Congress to ban abortions in the nation’s capital following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

At a press conference on the day the Supreme Court handed down its controversial decision, the D.C. officials pointed out that unlike any of the states, D.C. is vulnerable to the authority Congress has over the city under its limited Home Rule Charter, including the authority by Congress to pass a law to ban abortions in the city.

The press conference was held at the headquarters in Northeast D.C. of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., whose leaders said they would continue to provide abortion services in the District at the present time.

At this time, “Nothing has changed in Washington, D.C.,” Bowser said at the press conference. “Abortion remains legal, and women and girls we know, however, are worried,” the mayor said. “We are worried because we know we are vulnerable as a jurisdiction because of our lack of statehood.”

Norton told news media representatives and others attending the press conference that she expects at least some congressional Republicans to introduce legislation to ban abortions in D.C. now that the Supreme Court has given them the authority to do that.

“We are subservient still to the House and Senate,” she said. “I’m calling on the Congress to immediately codify the right to an abortion in federal law,” Norton said. “That is the very least the District needs to save this city from what will surely be an attempt by Republicans in Congress to move first on the District of Columbia to make sure that abortions are not available for women in our city.”

Norton added, “We always have more work cut out for us than other jurisdictions. But I assure you I am up to the task. There is a lot to fight for here, and I’m ready for that fight.”

Norton and Bowser also pointed out that Congress over a decade ago added a permanent provision to D.C.’s annual budget that prohibits the city from using any of its funds to pay for abortions either directly or through the funding of private organizations like Planned Parenthood that provide abortion related services.

With the prospect that Republicans might regain control of the House or Senate or both in the November congressional elections, D.C. officials said they were especially concerned about an attempt to ban or greatly restrict abortions in the city.

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson said he was hopeful that such an attempt would be blocked by a Democratic-led filibuster in the Senate as well as by a presidential veto if President Biden or another Democrat continues to occupy the White House.

Bowser, Mendelson, and D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) also pointed out that the legal reasoning used by the justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, especially the rationale given by Justice Clarence Thomas, could be used in future cases to overturn previous court rulings establishing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage and the right to intimate sexual acts between same-sex couples.

“We are about to enter into decades of darkness with this court that we have,” Cheh said at the press conference. “And don’t be fooled. We’re told, OK, it’s just abortion,” she said. “Don’t you believe it. The very reasoning of the case – and I spend a lot of time teaching constitutional law – means that many other liberties will be in jeopardy.”

LGBTQ rights advocates have pointed to the concurring opinion handed down by Justice Thomas on the day the court overturned Roe v. Wade that specifically calls on the high court to “reconsider” the 2003 ruling of Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned state laws banning sodomy between consenting adults, both gay and straight. Thomas’s concurring opinion also called for reconsidering the high court’s 2015 Obergefell ruling, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Others speaking at the June 24 press conference included Laura Meyers, president of Planned Parenthood of the D.C. area, and D.C. Council members Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large), Christina Henderson (I-At-Large), and Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2). 

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District of Columbia

One of two gay candidates wins primary for D.C. Council

Bowser triumphs in Democratic race for third term as mayor

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Gay D.C. Board of Education member Zachary Parker won the Democratic primary for the Ward 5 Council seat.

Gay D.C. Board of Education member Zachary Parker emerged as the clear winner in a seven-candidate race for the Ward 5 D.C. Council seat in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, placing him in a strong position to win the November general election and become the first openly gay member of the Council since 2015.

With nearly all of the votes counted shortly before midnight, Parker had 41.65 percent of the vote, with his closest rival, Faith Gibson Hubbard, receiving 23.41 percent. Former at-large and Ward 5 Councilmember Vincent Orange had 16.66 percent of the vote in his unsuccessful bid to return to the Council.

While Parker and his supporters celebrated his primary victory, gay former D.C. police officer Salah Czapary lost his bid for the Ward 1 D.C. Council seat to incumbent Councilmember Brianne Nadeau by a margin of 47.39 percent to 32.09 percent. A third candidate in the Ward 1 race, Sabel Harris, had 20.25 percent of the vote.

Parker had an advantage over Czapary, according to political observers, because he was running for an open seat after incumbent Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie ran unsuccessfully for Attorney General rather than re-election to the Council. Incumbents, such as Nadeau in Ward 1, are considered to have a better chance of winning re-election.

But some political observers, based on reports of a private poll showing Czapary running close if not slightly ahead of Nadeau, thought Czapary had a good shot at unseating Nadeau. That prompted what Czapary’s supporters said was an onslaught of negative campaign attacks against Czapary. The attacks were based in part on a Washington City Paper story disclosing his campaign chairperson was a registered Republican and was associated with a conservative think tank that supports Donald Trump.

Czapary said he immediately secured the resignation of his campaign chair, saying he did not know he was a registered Republican. He also pointed out that as a gay Arab American he was a longtime Democratic Party supporter even though, as Nadeau supporters pointed out, he was an independent and did not become a registered Democrat until earlier this year.

The political attacks against Czapary continued, with large signs accusing him of having “Republican campaign leadership” being posted on light poles in Ward 1 as well as outside the nearby Number 9 gay bar in Ward 2, which Ward 1 residents are known to patronize.

“I’m sure negative campaigning has an effect,” Czapary told the Washington Blade at his election night gathering at the Duplex Diner in Adams Morgan, which drew more than 100 supporters.

“But we made a very essential effort to focus on the issues that voters want to talk about,” he said. “And you know, the election is over, and bygones are bygones. And I look forward to working with Councilmember Nadeau on some of the issues that resonated with voters that voted for me.”

With Nadeau and all the other candidates running in the June 21 Democratic primary – including Mayor Muriel Bowser and her three Democratic rivals — expressing support for LGBTQ issues or having long records of support — LGBTQ voters are believed to have based their vote on other issues such as public safety and affordable housing among other issues.

As of just before midnight on election day, Bowser had 49.86 percent of the vote, with rival mayoral candidates D.C. Councilmember Robert White (D-At-Large) receiving 38.51 percent and Councilmember Trayon White (D-Ward 8) receiving 9.8 percent. The fourth candidate in the mayoral race, James Butler, had 1.47 percent of the vote. The Associated Press earlier in the evening projected Bowser as the winner.

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) had 54.82 percent of the vote compared to challenger Erin Palmer, who had 44.72 percent. In the four-candidate At-Large D.C. Council race, incumbent Anita Bonds was ahead with 38.33 percent of the vote, with rival Democrats Lisa Gore with 26.96 percent, Nate Fleming 26.45 percent, and Dexter Williams with 7.54 percent.

In the hotly contested Ward 3 D.C. Council race, in which nine candidates were on the ballot, Matthew Frumin was ahead with 38 percent of the vote. Eric Goulet was in second place with 31.01 percent. The remaining candidates, including three who dropped out and threw their support to Frumin after it was too late to have their names removed from the ballot, received less than 7 percent of the vote.

D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) was the clear winner in her bid for re-election, with 86.55 percent of the vote. Her two opponents in the primary, Wendy Hamilton and Kelly Mikel Williams received 6.15 percent and 6.36 percent, respectively.

In the race for D.C. Attorney General, attorney Brian Schwalb was ahead with 45.21 percent of the vote, with rival attorneys Bruce Spiva and Ryan Jones receiving 35.65 percent and 18.32 percent of the vote, respectively.

In the race for U.S. Representative, which is known as D.C.’s shadow representative to the U.S. House of Representatives, with no voting powers, incumbent Oye Owolewa was trailing challenger Linda Gray by a vote of 49.78 percent to 48.64 percent. Owolewa was the only Democratic incumbent on the primary ballot who was not substantially ahead of their opponent.

In a development that surprised some observers, the Capital Stonewall Democrats, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group, endorsed Robert White over Bowser and backed challenger Erin Palmer over Council Chair Phil Mendelson. The group also endorsed Nadeau over gay challenger Czapary. In the Ward 5 race, Capital Stonewall Democrats endorsed Parker.

With the overwhelming majority of the city’s voters being registered Democrats, winners in the D.C. Democratic primary almost always win in the November general election. In the D.C. Republican primary on Tuesday, GOP candidates ran unopposed for the office of congressional delegate, mayor, Council chair, at-large Council member, and Council member for Wards 3 and 5.

Most political observers say that with Republicans having little or no chance of winning, Democrats running against each other in the primaries tend to divide along the lines of moderate Democrat versus progressive-left Democrat.

In Tuesday’s primary, Bowser, Mendelson, Bonds, and Czapary were considered representatives of the party’s moderates. Their opponents, including Ward 1 incumbent Nadeau, are considered representatives of the party’s progressive-left faction. Parker is also considered part of the progressive-left faction.

Parker won election in 2018 as the Ward 5 representative on the D.C. Board of Education. His fellow board members last year elected him as president of the board. He drew media attention earlier this year when he came out publicly as gay in a video message he posted on his Twitter page.

“I am very proud and confident in who I am and who I’ve been,” he said in his video message. “Many already know – my family, my friends, many community leaders,” he continued. “But I recognize that many may not know, and this may come as a surprise. So, I thought it was important for me to share my full self,” he said.

Lesbian activists Sheila Alexander-Reid and Courtney Snowden, who each held high-level positions in the Bowser administration in the recent past, were among the large number of LGBTQ activists who turned out for Bowser’s election night party at the Franklin Hall restaurant and nightclub. Alexander-Reid served as director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs and Snowden served as Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity, the highest-level position an LGBTQ person has held in the D.C. mayor’s office.

Both told the Washington Blade they believe Bowser will continue her commitment to addressing the needs and concerns of all factions of the LGBTQ community, including those who did not vote for her on Tuesday.

“I think we need to come together and work with her,” said Alexander-Reid in referring to LGBTQ voters who supported Robert White. “And if they have some issues and concerns, bring them to her attention,” she said. “I can tell you firsthand when you bring issues to her attention, she takes care of it, and she addresses it.”

Snowden said the diversity reflected in the several hundred people attending the mayor’s election night event symbolized her ability to bring people together to solve problems.

“I am so happy to see the mayor get exactly what she deserves, four more years to make good on her promises she made to our city, to the LGBTQ community, for the District’s long-time residents, to African Americans, and to everyone,” Snowden said. “She is doing incredible work and the city has resoundingly said that she gets to do this for four more years to bring prosperity for all in every single ward of our city.”

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