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District of Columbia

Concern over possible D.C. juvenile crime wave targeting LGBTQ victims

Anger, frustration at attorney general’s ‘Listening Session’ in Dupont Circle

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D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb’s office oversees prosecuting juveniles charged with committing crimes in the District, but critics say it’s a ‘catch-and-release’ system.

The rapidly growing number of violent crimes in the nation’s capital committed by juveniles armed with guns and knives that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has called a juvenile crime emergency is surfacing in neighborhoods where LGBTQ people are likely being targeted, according to activists following local crime reports.

Concern over reports of cases where LGBTQ people may have been targeted for armed robberies and carjackings in the Dupont Circle area by juvenile assailants coming to the area from other parts of the city surfaced at a Feb. 28 Ward 2 Listening Session hosted by D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb.

The event, held at St. Thomas’ Parish Church in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, included strongly worded presentations from Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Vincent Slatt and former Dupont Circle ANC Commissioner Mike Silverstein, both of whom are longtime LGBTQ rights advocates.

The two told Schwalb, whose office oversees prosecuting juveniles charged with committing crimes in the District, that the city’s juvenile justice system appears to be failing to take adequate measures to address the juvenile crime problem.

Among the main concerns raised by Silverstein and Slatt as well as others is that the city’s criminal law pertaining to juvenile offenders has a strict confidentiality provision that prevents D.C. police and prosecutors with the D.C. Office of the Attorney General from publicly disclosing the outcome and disposition of cases in which a juvenile is arrested for a crime of violence or any other crime.

Activists raising this concern have said they do not want authorities to disclose the identity of juveniles charged with crimes. But what they would like to know, Silverstein and Slatt said, is whether officials like Attorney General Schwalb and members of the D.C. Council will take steps to change the law to allow the disclosure of the outcome of juvenile cases.

“Last year there were 1,400 juvenile arrests and 56 percent of those who were arrested had guns,” said Silverstein, whose remarks were recorded on a video taken by Peter Semler, editor and owner of the Capitol Intelligence Group news organization.

“These are children with guns,” Silverstein continued. “Seventy-five percent of those arrested for carjacking last year were kids, were children,” he told Schwalb. “And people are questioning, you know, where is the prosecution?”

Schwalb responded by saying he would consider asking the D.C. Council to pass legislation allowing the public disclosure of the disposition of juvenile criminal cases, but he did not commit to doing so, according to Silverstein and others who attended the AG’s Listening Session.

A spokesperson for Schwalb did not respond to a request from the Washington Blade for a comment from the attorney general elaborating on any plans he may have to propose a change in the law as requested by activists speaking at the Feb. 28 Listening Session.

In his remarks at the Listening Session, Slatt, who serves as co-chair of the city’s ANC Rainbow Caucus, said he and other Dupont Circle residents were especially troubled that they have not been able to determine the status of the prosecution or whether a prosecution took place for three juvenile males arrested for committing four separate armed robberies in the Dupont Circle area within about 30 minutes on Sunday evening, Jan. 29.

Slatt said he and others alarmed over the incidents have not been able to determine whether any of the victims are members of the LGBTQ community or whether any of the incidents might be hate crimes.  

D.C. police released a statement announcing that detectives had arrested three juvenile males for allegedly committing the armed robberies in different nearby locations between 9:45 and 10:14 p.m. on Jan. 29. The police statement says two of the juveniles were 16 years old and the other was 15.

The police statement lists the offenses allegedly committed by the youths as Attempted Armed Robbery, Armed Robbery (Gun), Assault with a Dangerous Weapon (Gun), and Armed Robbery (Gun). It says the 15-year-old was additionally charged with Carrying a Pistol Without a License, and Possession of a Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device.

“The ongoing question about youth crime and youth getting re-released is a major thing in the city right now,” Slatt told the Blade. “And as you know, they won’t release information about these cases,” he said. “And also, they’re not letting us know is this a hate crime?”

Slatt added, “And so we don’t know when they are gay related. And there is no way for us in the gay community to do community impact statements because we’re not allowed to follow these cases because of the anonymity protections on the youth criminals.”

He was referring to the longstanding process in the local D.C. court system for adult criminal cases where victims of a crime and members of the community, including members of the LGBTQ community, can submit to a judge a victim impact statement or community impact statement. 

The impact statements usually are submitted at the time a judge is about to hand down a sentence after the person charged with a particular crime has been convicted in a trial or pleads guilty as part of a plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors.

“My thing specifically is, is this a gay issue or not,” said Slatt. “Are they hiding that data or not? How can we even say these are hate crimes or not if we can’t even follow the cases, if we can’t say what it’s about?”

In a development that may come as a surprise to activists calling for the release of information about juvenile cases without releasing the identity of a juvenile, the controversial 450-page D.C. criminal code reform bill that Congress overturned earlier this month does not address in any way the city’s juvenile criminal code.

The Revised Criminal Code Act, which the Council passed unanimously last September and voted 12 to 1 to override Mayor Bowser’s veto of the bill, became the target of criticism from both Democratic and Republican members of Congress and from President Joe Biden because of several controversial provisions.

Among them are language calling for eliminating most mandatory minimum prison sentences, reducing the maximum sentence for crimes such as burglaries, carjackings, and robberies, and allowing jury trials for all misdemeanor cases in which a prison sentence is possible.

Bowser, who said she supported about 95 percent of the bill’s voluminous proposed overall of the city’s antiquated criminal code, has called on the Council to remove the provisions that triggered the reaction by Congress and a Democratic president to oppose the legislation in its original form.

Jinwoo Charles Park, executive director of the D.C. Criminal Code Reform Commission, which played a lead role in helping the D.C. Council draft the criminal code reform bill, said the Council limited the commission’s scope of work to the city’s adult criminal code when it created the commission in 2016.

According to Park, now that the commission finished most of its work on the criminal code bill for adults – with some changes needed to address the objections by Congress and Biden – the commission can look into possible changes in the criminal code’s provisions dealing with juveniles. He said he would support looking into such a revision for the juvenile code.

“I do think going forward there is a whole other part of the law that probably should be revised,” he said in referring to the juvenile provisions of the D.C. criminal code. “I’m not taking a position on that at this point. But I think it is an important project that does need to be tackled in coming years,” he said.

Bowser, meanwhile, stated at a Feb. 6 press conference in response to a question from the Washington Blade that she would support a revision in the juvenile code to allow the public disclosure of the outcome of juvenile cases with the identity of a juvenile charged in such a case remaining confidential.

“I would, and I say that with a lot of caveats because it is a complicated issue,” Bowser said. “But I agree with the sentiment,” she said, adding that the current blanket confidentiality in juvenile cases might also have a negative impact on other D.C. government agencies that provide services for juveniles.

Among those who have also said they would consider changing the city’s juvenile law to allow the outcome of juvenile cases to be disclosed to victims and possibly to the community is D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2). Pinto currently serves as chair of the Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, where any legislation calling for changing the juvenile criminal law will be sent for consideration and approval.

“It is something that the committee is looking at very closely and something that we’re going to try to make some actionable improvements on in the coming months,” Pinto told the Blade. But she said her focus would be “from the perspective of victims’ rights and what survivors need to have some resolution to their case.”

When asked if she would commit to having the disposition of juvenile cases disclosed to the public as well as to victims of juvenile related crimes, Pinto added, “I would say I’m committed to looking at it.” An important concern, she said, is to carefully balance the issue of youth privacy and making sure there is a just resolution to a case for all parties.

“The most important dynamic to me that I’m thinking about are the survivors and victims as well as government partners having access to this information,” she said. “But I am open minded to looking at this other piece to make sure that our communities can be kept safe and have the resolution that they need and deserve.”

The other Council members who serve on the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee who would join Pinto in deciding on whether to change the city’s juvenile criminal statute include Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7), and Christina Henderson (I-At-Large).

Among those expressing concern over the city’s juvenile justice system is Washington Post columnist Colbert King. In a Feb. 24 column, King reported that in response to his request, the Office of the D.C. Attorney General sent him data showing that out of 462 juvenile arrests made by D.C. police between Oct. 1, 2022, and Feb. 15, 2023, the AG’s office prosecuted only 295, or 64 percent, of the cases. Ninety-four of the cases, or 19 percent, were dropped for insufficient evidence, King said the AG’s office informed him.

According to King, 73 of the juvenile arrests during that period, or 16 percent, were dismissed and diverted to “alternative or no-incarceration programs or deferred sentencing agreements.”

Silverstein, the former Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and LGBTQ rights advocate, raised the issue of how many juvenile cases were being prosecuted or dropped in his remarks to D.C. Attorney General Schwalb at Schwalb’s Feb. 28 listening session.

“There is this growing belief, sir, and I’m not one of those who wants to lock everybody up or anything like that,” Silverstein said, “that people don’t believe it’s anything but catch and release, that people are getting away with this kind of stuff and there is no prosecution.”

Silverstein concluded his remarks telling Schwalb about an anti-gay hate crime that took place several years ago involving juvenile attackers.

“A gang of between 10 and 15 kids set upon two young gay men on U Street and beat the hell out of them, called them all kinds of homophobic names, and broke the bones around one of their eyes,” he said. “We never found out what happened to the kids – the three who were arrested. The rumor was they had to write a paper.”

Added Silverstein, “There’s no trust, sir, in the consequences. It breaks my heart because it plays to those who want to lock everybody up. I’m sorry if I had to spill my guts, but it scares the hell out of me.”

The audio part of the video recording of Silverstein’s remarks became mostly inaudible when Schwalb responded to Silverstein.

“He said he would consider the possibility of supporting some change in the confidentiality laws regarding the disposition phases, that he would consider supporting it,” Silverstein told the Blade in an interview. “And it was just word salad. It’s totally nonspecific and it is not a promise at all,” said Silverstein.

The Washington Blade will report Schwalb’s positions in greater detail on these issues if his office responds to the Blade’s request for comment by the attorney general.

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District of Columbia

D.C. Public Schools’ LGBTQ+ program helps ensure students feel safe

More than half of queer students experience bullying, harassment

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According a study from Theirworld of LBGTQ+ Gen-Z youth, students feel unsafe in schools. D.C. Public Schools is trying to combat the problem in the District. 

“Research shows that the way schools and families respond to LGBTQ+ youth can affect their physical health, mental health outcomes, academic outcomes, and their decision-making later in life,” said DCPS’ LGBTQ+ Programming Specialist, Adalphie Johnson. 

DCPS’ LGBTQ+ Program started in 2011 after a 2009 survey from GLSEN revealed that 9 out of 10 queer students reported in-school harassment. 

In response, they have created extensive programming to ensure students feel safe at D.C. Public Schools. In 2015 they created a trans and non-binary policy that included guidance on LGBTQ+ terms, locker room accommodations, gender-neutral dress codes, and more. 

In addition, they host an annual conference for queer and trans DCPS students. 

“The “Leading With Pride” conference increases networking, and builds the leadership capacity of our students and faculty advisers to implement school-level LGBTQ programming,” Johnson said. 

In 2023, more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in state legislatures according to HRC. This year, Theirworld’s survey found that more than half of LGBTQ students experienced bullying and harassment at school.

Johnson said that students feeling safe in school requires creating an environment where all students can thrive. 

“We encourage students to report incidents without fear of retaliation and ensure that reports are taken seriously and investigated promptly,” she said. 

Johnson also pointed out that as a result of discrimination, students are more likely to miss school, which can lead to low grades, along with impairing cognitive responses. So, she said, it is best for schools to respond with action swiftly. 

However, Johnson and the LGBTQ+ programming team acknowledge that not all students come from supportive backgrounds. 

As a part of their trans and gender-nonconforming policy, staff are expected to work closely with students to determine how involved parents are with the transitioning student, before contacting parents. 

Johnson gave parents eight steps to ensure the safety of their child, if they are in the LGBTQ community.  

8 Steps For Parents

1. Educate Yourself. Learn about LGBTQ+ identities, issues, and terminology. Understanding the basics can help you provide better support and avoid misunderstandings.

2. Listen and Communicate. Create an open and non-judgmental space for your child to express themselves. Listen to their experiences and feelings without interrupting or offering unsolicited advice.

3. Advocate for Them. Stand up for your child in situations where they may face discrimination or misunderstanding. Become actively involved in the PTA and other parent groups within the school.

4. Seek Support. Lead or organize programming with/for other parents of LGBTQ+ children can provide  valuable insights and emotional support.

5. Respect Their Privacy. Allow your child to determine their own level of outness at school. Don’t share their identity without their permission.

6. Create a Safe Environment. Inform the school of any homophobic or transphobic remarks or behavior from others.

7. Inform school about their needs. Recognize that each LGBTQ+ person’s experience is unique. Ask your child what they need from you and how you can best support them. Communicate those needs to the school. This would be a great opportunity to develop and share a Safety Plan for the student while at school. 

8. Promote Inclusivity. Encourage, support and inform inclusive policies and practices in your child’s school community. 

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District of Columbia

SMYAL for Summer returns July 25

‘Their hard work, resilience, and identities are valued and celebrated’

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A scene from last year's SMYAL for Summer. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

SMYAL for Summer is back at Franklin Hall on July 25, where the youth services organization will honor the next generation of change makers in the LGBTQ community. 

“In a tumultuous year for policy against LGBTQ+ youth, celebrating the achievements of our scholarship winners sends a powerful message that their hard work, resilience, and identities are valued and celebrated,” said Caro Vordndran, SMYAL’s Development Coordinator. 

At the event, SMYAL, the D.C. queer and trans youth advocacy organization, will honor recipients of its Youth Leadership Award and the Sophie’s Live Out Loud Scholarship. Plus, the event will feature a drag performance from Mia Vanderbilt. 

One of the scholarship recipients, Lion Burney, said that in addition to the scholarship they were most excited for the community they will continue to seek in SMYAL’s safe space. 

“The SMYAL community means a lot to me. From found family to open expression to endless support — I am beyond grateful to be a part of this experience,” Burney said.

This is SMYAL’s 12th annual SMYAL for Summer event and the 40th year of creating community for D.C.’s youth. Given SMYAL’s history, alumni like Nathan Handberg often come back to keep traditions alive. 

Handberg was an awardee in 2019 and served on the selection committee this year. They said they felt great about their continued involvement with SMYAL.

“Being a previous winner really gave me insight that helped with the process of choosing the winners this year and I like that I have the ability to help shape future leaders in our community,” they said. 

Tickets for the event range from $10 for students and $20 for general admission, up to $500 for Platinum Supporters. Tickets for the event will contribute to funding for SMYAL’s year-round youth advocacy programming. The event will run from 6-8 p.m.

“They have housing programs for queer youth… they’ve done queer sex education classes filling in critical gaps that are left by our education curriculum,” Handberg said. “Honestly they do so much more, I could write multiple pages on my experiences with SMYAL and all they do.”

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District of Columbia

Congressional budget amendments target D.C. Office of LGBTQ Affairs, Human Rights Act

U.S. Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) introduced proposals

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U.S. Capitol
Two Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced budget amendments that would defund the D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs and prohibit the city from using its funds to enforce the D.C. Human Rights Act in cases of discrimination against transgender people. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Two Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced separate amendments this week to the D.C. budget bill that would eliminate funding for the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs and prohibit the city from using its funds to enforce the D.C. Human Rights Act in cases of discrimination against transgender people. 

The two amendments, along with as many as 10 other amendments introduced by GOP House members targeting the D.C. budget, were expected to come up for a vote in the House Rules Committee, which is now considering the D.C. budget bill, during the week of July 22.

Congressional observers have said the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate, as it did last year, was expected to reject most of the House amendments to the D.C. budget bill if they were to pass in the full House.

Under the D.C. Home Rule Act, in which Congress established D.C.’s home rule government consisting of an elected mayor and City Council, Congress retains full authority to approve, change, or reject any laws passed by the city, including its annual budget. 

U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) introduced the amendment calling for eliminating funding for the Office of LGBTQ Affairs. U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) introduced the amendment calling for ending funding for enforcing the D.C. Human Rights Act regarding discrimination based on gender identity and expression. 

Spokespersons for the two House members couldn’t immediately be reached by the Washington Blade for comment on what prompted them to introduce their amendments. 

Sharon Nichols, a spokesperson for Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said Norton strongly opposes the two amendments and will be urging her House colleagues to oppose them. 

The amendment introduced by Gosar calling for defunding the LGBTQ Affairs Office states “none of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act, including titles IV and VII, may be used for the salaries and expenses of the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Affairs established under the Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Affairs Act of 2006 (Sec. 2-1831 et seq., D.C Official Code.”

The D.C. Council on June 12 gave final approval for D.C.’s fiscal year 2025 budget that includes $1.7 million in funds for the Office of LGBTQ Affairs. Among those who will lose their salary if the full Congress approves the amendment would be Japer Bowles, the LGBTQ rights advocate who currently serves as director of the LGBTQ Affairs Office. 

The amendment introduced by Mace would prohibit D.C. from using federal or local funds to enforce the part of its municipal regulations that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression, which pertains to trans people. The regulations in question pertain to the D.C. Human Rights Act. 

“It is no surprise to me that Republicans filed two anti-LGBTQ+ amendments to the D.C. appropriations bill,” Norton told the Blade in a statement. “D.C. has some of the strongest non-discrimination initiatives in the country, including regulations protecting individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” Norton said.

“The Republican amendment that would prohibit funds from being used to enforce anti-discrimination regulations and the amendment to defund the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ+ Affairs are disgraceful attempts, in themselves, to discriminate against D.C.’s LGBTQ+ community while denying D.C. residents the limited governance over their local affairs to which they are entitled,” Norton told the Blade. “I will do everything in my power to prevent these amendments from being included in the final bill.”

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