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District of Columbia

UDC law school hit with bias complaint from nonbinary student

Alleged victim sought protections from stalker on campus

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A third-year student at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law who self-identifies as a “non-binary, Black Femme” filed a discrimination complaint on Jan. 9 alleging that the school violated federal law by refusing to take action on campus to protect the student from domestic violence and stalking from a former boyfriend.

The student, D.C. resident Loreal Hawk, filed the complaint through their attorney before the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. Among other things, it alleges that the law school refused over a period of close to three years to provide accommodations such as allowing virtual attendance of classes to help safeguard Hawk from repeated stalking and threats of domestic violence from the ex-boyfriend, who’s referred to in the complaint as the “respondent” and is not identified by name.

The complaint says Hawk is philosophically opposed to police involvement in this type of domestic situation and that under federal law, colleges are required to provide a reasonable accommodation to protect students from domestic violence and stalking without requiring them to report the threats to campus police or a municipal police department.

The complaint charges that the UDC law school’s intentional refusal to act in support of Hawk violates Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments Act of 1972, which bans discrimination at schools based on sex and gender identity. It charges that the school’s lack of action also violates another federal statute known as the Clery Act, which requires schools and colleges to take reasonable steps to safeguard students from threats of sexual harassment and stalking, among other hostile actions.

The 37-page complaint further calls on the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate and impose civil penalties against UDC for violating the two laws and to order the school to take emergency action to protect Hawk from further threats by the respondent between now and the time Hawk is scheduled to graduate in May of this year.

The UDC Clarke School of Law did not immediately respond to a request by the Washington Blade for comment on the complaint and whether it disputes the allegations included in the complaint.

Jim Bradshaw, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, said the department’s Office of Civil Rights “does not acknowledge specific complaints until they have been evaluated and accepted for investigation.” Bradshaw added, “We’ll be in touch,” implying his office would respond to press inquiries about the Hawk complaint at the appropriate time.

Hawk’s complaint, which was little noticed at the time it was filed in early January, surfaced on Monday at a D.C. Council Committee of the Whole oversight hearing on UDC-related matters when both Hawk and Hawk’s attorney, Megan Challender, brought up the complaint and Hawk’s allegations against UDC in testimony during the virtual hearing.

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), who presided over the hearing, asked UDC President Ronald Mason, who also testified, to respond to the allegations made in Hawk’s complaint at a later time, but did not ask Mason to respond to the allegations at the Feb. 27 hearing.

The complaint says the respondent, who allegedly assaulted and continues to stalk Loreal Hawk, has no affiliation with the law school or UDC. It says he had been dating Hawk until Hawk attempted to end their relationship in October 2020, which it says prompted the respondent to physically assault Hawk, forcibly take Hawk’s car keys and drive Hawk against their will to Hawk’s apartment in D.C.

Once there, the complaint states, the respondent held Hawk as a prisoner in Hawk’s own apartment for a period of time until the law student persuaded the respondent to leave the apartment after being subjected to physical violence.

“When Mx. Hawk demanded that Respondent leave, Respondent lunged at Mx. Hawk, knocking Mx. Hawk to the ground,” according to the complaint. “Mx. Hawk was able to get free and lock themselves in the bathroom. Respondent tried to beat down the door, but eventually left,” the complaint says.

“After leaving, Respondent began repeatedly calling Mx. Hawk,” the complaint continues. “Between October 2020 and March 2021, Respondent directed a persistent course of conduct at Mx. Hawk that caused Mx. Hawk to reasonably fear for their own safety,” it says. “This included as many as 30 unwanted calls a day, text messages, and emails.” It says Hawk received many of the calls and text messages while on the UDC campus taking classes.

The complaint adds that, “Following over a year of relative respite from Respondent, Respondent’s course of conduct resumed on October 6, 2022, and continues to this day.”

It says UDC further violated the law by at one point informing Hawk that it could only take protective action if Hawk reported the threats to campus police or filed a report with D.C. police.

“Mx. Hawk does not feel comfortable reporting to the police,” the complaint states. “Mx. Hawk organizes in the police violence space and thus does not feel police will handle their situation in a way that would be adequate and best for their unique situation,” it says. “Further, Mx. Hawk is Black and nonbinary, two identities that experience high rates of disbelief by law enforcement and brutality at the hands of law enforcement,” the complaint says. 

“Finally, Mx. Hawk fears possible escalation from Respondent if police were to become involved,” it says.

Hawk’s attorney, Megan Challender, an official with the legal services organization Network for Victim Recovery of DC, said she understands that some in the LGBTQ community might raise questions about her client’s concerns about dealing with D.C. police without knowing Hawk’s specific situation.

LGBTQ activists in D.C., including longtime transgender rights advocate Earline Budd, have pointed out that after many years of advocacy work by the LGBTQ community, D.C. police have put in place safeguards and police training programs to ensure supportive behavior and support for LGBTQ crime victims.

Activists, including Budd, point to the longstanding D.C. Police LGBT Liaison Unit, which provides services for LGBTQ crime victims and is called upon by other police units to assist in investigating crimes targeting LGBTQ people. Police officials have said many LGBTQ people also now serve openly as officers on the D.C. police force.

When asked if Hawk considered obtaining a D.C. Superior Court stay-away order to prohibit the respondent from engaging in stalking or harassing phone calls or contact with Hawk of any kind, which can be obtained without filing a police report, Challender said she could not provide that information because it would violate attorney-client privilege.

“Of course, we talked about options,” Challender told the Blade. “And to be clear, we wouldn’t expect an educational institution to act as a policing authority,” she said. “But there is a lot of stuff that could have been taken that was not offered and they were not really engaged with us on,” she said in referring to UDC law school officials.

Among the actions the university could have taken but did not, Challender said, is to allow Hawk to take some or all their classes virtually, which was the case for all students in 2020 during the peak of the COVID pandemic. Challender notes that the respondent in his phone calls and email and text messages to Hawk has made it clear he was surveilling the UDC campus and knew Hawk’s whereabouts, including the classrooms and building where Hawk’s classes were being held.

Another option UDC did not undertake was to issue its own no-contact order to the respondent, something most other schools routinely do for students being harassed, Challender said. She said her law office issued such a stay away order to the respondent, which the respondent ignored.

“Another option to consider would be providing Loreal with a parking spot in the garage underneath the building so that Loreal doesn’t have to park on the street and walk and experience harm on the street and instead can go directly into a secure building,” she said.

In their testimony before Monday’s D.C. Council hearing Hawk told how Hawk had high hopes and expectations of their role as law student at UDC

“Further, I was thrilled by the opportunity to attend my first Historically Black College or University, where I hoped to be nurtured and in community with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) attorneys and advocates,” Hawk stated in their written testimony submitted to the D.C. Council. But all that changed after Hawk attempted to seek support and accommodations from the school in response to the domestic violence and stalking Hawk encountered from the respondent, Hawk says in their testimony.

“UDC Law’s response to my request for accommodations has been inadequate, endangering, or altogether absent,” Hawk told the D.C. Council hearing. “In the first iteration of this issue, UDC Law enacted a punitive measure, refused to notify me of Title IX and Clery Act accommodations, rescinded my scholarship, and failed to reinstate my scholarship once I performed the terms of our agreement,” their testimony states.

“I was repeatedly misgendered throughout the entire process and their actions indicated that I was being excluded, punished and ignored because of my intersectional identities as a non-binary, Black femme, and survivor of domestic violence,” Hawk told the Council hearing.

Loreal Hawk testifying before a virtual DC Council hearing about their discrimination complaint against UDC School of Law. Photo by Lou from online Council broadcast of the Feb. 27 hearing. (Screen capture)

The Washington Blade will report the UDC School of Law’s official response and answer to the complaint as soon as it either decides to publicly release it or the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, where the complaint was filed, makes it part of the public record.

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District of Columbia

New complaint form to help D.C. LGBTQ seniors facing discrimination

Office of Human Rights steps up protections for those in long-term care

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OHR’s Care for Seniors program supports LGBTQ seniors and seniors living with HIV facing discrimination.

The D.C. Office of Human Rights (OHR) announced on July 22 that it is launching new “user-friendly” intake forms designed to facilitate and simplify the filing of discrimination complaints by seniors, including LGBTQ seniors, who encounter discrimination in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes.

“The forms simplify the complaint filing process, making it easier for residents to better access support and understand their rights” at long term care facilities, according to a statement released by OHR. The statement provides a link to access the new intake forms online.

“This initiative is part of OHR’s Care for Seniors program, which supports LGBTQ seniors and seniors living with HIV facing discrimination in such facilities,” the statement continues. “The form addresses concerns related to sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, HIV status, and other prohibited bases of discrimination, streamlining the reporting process and enabling seniors to file claims directly through OHR’s website,” it states.

In addition to the improved intake form for seniors filing discrimination complaints, the OHR announcement says it is also releasing new forms for filing complaints under the D.C. Universal Paid Family Leave Amendment Act, which requires employers in the city to provide 12 weeks of paid leave benefits for parental, family, or medical reasons to eligible employees.

“The form allows individuals to file complaints if they believe their employer has interfered with their right to these benefits or retaliated against them for requesting, applying for, or using paid leave” in violation of the law in question, according to the statement.  

OHR officials have pointed out that D.C. stepped up its protections for LGBTQ seniors through the passage by the D.C. Council of the Care for LGBTQ Seniors and Seniors with HIV Amendment Act of 2020. Among other things, the law calls for OHR certified trainers to “provide specialized information for staff in long-term care facilities, specifically tailored to meet the unique needs of LGBTQ+ seniors and seniors with HIV in long-term care facilities,” OHR states in its website.

“We prioritize safeguarding the new rights and legal protections outlined in the Act, which includes a posted notice of ‘Non-Discrimination’ aiming to ensure that participating facilities actively contribute to creating secure and inclusive environments for all residents,” the OHR website statement concludes.

The questionnaire and complaint form for LGBTQ seniors facing discrimination in long-term care facilities can be accessed at ohr.dc.gov.

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District of Columbia

Nonprofit D.C. groups invited to apply for anti-LGBTQ violence grants

$700,000 available for FY 2025 ‘VPART’ program

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LGBTQ Affairs Office Director Japer Bowles. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs held a conference on July 18 to inform interested officials with local nonprofit community-based organizations that provide services to the LGBTQ community how best to apply for city grants of between $5,000 and $50,000 as part of the city’s Violence Prevention and Response Team program, known as VPART.

Information released by the program states that its mission is to “address, reduce, and prevent crime within and against the LGBT community” by “creating a strong partnership between the community and the government which enables us to focus on coordinating a community response to violence.” 

Addressing hate-bias crimes targeting the LGBTQ community are among the program’s high priority objectives, information released by the program says.

Presentations on how best to apply for the VPART grants and what the requirements are for obtaining them were given by LGBTQ Affairs Office Director Japer Bowles and the office’s grants administrator, George Garcia. The two said the deadline for submitting grant applications for the program is Aug. 5. Organizations whose applications are approved will receive the grant funds they are approved for on Oct. 30, which is the start of fiscal year 2025.

Garcia said a total of $700,000 has been allocated to fund the VPART grants, the number of which will depend on how many applications are received.  

Garcia said that among the key components of the VPART program are Victim Response Services, Case Management, Legal Services, Trauma Informed Mental Health Services, and Cultural Humility Training that he said are aimed, among other things,  to support LGBTQ victims of violent crime.

One of the organizations that has received VPART grants in past years, and that is expected to apply again this year is the D.C. LGBTQ Community Center.

 “Along with offering trauma-informed therapy and casework, the DC LGBTQ+ Community Center directly supports LGBTQ+ survivors with our mental health services, shelter assistance, and other resources victims of violence may need,” the LGBTQ Center says in a statement. “If you are LGBTQ+ and are a victim of violence, or know someone who is, you can refer them to the DC LGBTQ+ Community Center and we will make sure they are supported and connected to the resources they need,” the statement says.

The conference was held at the Reeves Center municipal building where the LGBTQ Affairs office and other city agencies as well as the LGBTQ Community Center are located at 2000 14th St., N.W. About a dozen people attended the conference in person and another 14 attended virtually through Zoom, according to Bowles.

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District of Columbia

Trans woman announces candidacy for ANC race in Columbia Heights

D.C. government official to challenge gay incumbent

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Vida Rangel (Photo by Praddy Banerjee/@praddyban)

Vida Rangel, a transgender woman who currently serves as Director of Operations in the D.C. Mayor’s Office of Talent and Appointments, has announced her candidacy for an Advisory Neighborhood Commission seat in the city’s Columbia Heights neighborhood

In a statement released on July 11, Rangel said she is running for the ANC single member district seat of 1A10, which is currently held by first-term incumbent Billy Easley, who identifies as a gay man.

“I’m running a groundbreaking campaign as the first trans person of color who would be elected in the District of Columbia,” Rangel said in the statement. “Representation matters.”

Rangel’s statement says in her current city government job she is the ‘highest-ranking openly transgender official in D.C. government history.” If elected to the ANC, she said she would focus, among other things, on language access for Spanish speaking residents, affordable housing, and reliable and accessible public transportation.

“As an autistic, queer, nonbinary, transgender Latina woman, Rangel’s commitment to public service and community is shaped by her lived experience,” her campaign statement says. “Growing up on the Texas Gulf Coast, Vida was raised by working parents and grandparents, along with her six siblings. She saw firsthand how social services and support could counterbalance devastating situations like a medical emergency, an unexpected bill, or even a misfiled form,” the statement says.

“My experiences ignited a fire, propelling me to fight for the rights of all communities, whether it be nondiscrimination protections, housing justice, access to education, worker’s rights, or voting rights,” she says in the statement.

Rengel could not immediately be reached for comment on whether she disagrees with any of the positions or actions taken by incumbent commissioner Easley.

Billy Easley (Photo courtesy of Easley)

In his successful campaign for the ANC 1A10 seat in the city’s 2022 election Easley stated in an online statement  “Together, we can make our streets safer and our community stronger. This neighborhood is where my husband and I met, it is where we fell in love, and it’s where we’ve lived for the last ten years.”

Easley told the Washington Blade in a July 19 phone interview that he has been endorsed in his re-election campaign by Ward 1 D.C. Council member Brianne Nadeau, which Easley said was a recognition of his accomplishments during his first term in office.

“In the last election I knocked on every door, and I’m going to do that again because it’s really important to me to connect with the voters and make sure that they’re being represented and to be an advocate for them,” he said. “Vida is a great person,” he added. “I have nothing bad to say about her,” he said.

“But I have a record of accomplishment and I’m going to be running on that,” he told the Blade. “And I’m going to be running on making sure that our residents’ voices are heard. So, I’m ready to go.”

He said his accomplishments in his first term in office include contacting each of the residents in his district who the city’s water department said may have lead pipes and  informing them how to get the pipes replaced through a free D.C. program; his appointment by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to her Juvenile Justice Advisory Group; organizing a Public Safety Summit with D.C. police and other city officials to address the issue of crime; and “successfully advocating” for more city funding for increased trash pick-up services in the neighborhood.

Easley points out that besides him, at least three other members of the 10-member ANC 1A10 identify as gay men.

Vincent Slatt, who serves as chair of the D.C. ANC Rainbow Caucus, said he believes between three and four-dozen ANC commissioners citywide are members of the LGBTQ community. 

“This is probably not the first time that two LGBTQ people have run against each other for an ANC seat,” Slatt told the Blade in a statement. “However, to have two out LGBTQ candidates of color in one race certainly seems like a milestone,” he said. “Recently, we have had two out trans ANCs. To have a third out trans candidate is a sign of how much further along our city is than other places in the country,” Slatt said. “Not fully enough, but on the path forward.”

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