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Secure A Fair & Equitable Trial Act of 2017

Secure A Fair & Equitable (SAFE) Trial Act of 2017

Introduced: February 7, 2017

Co-introducers: Councilmembers Jack Evans, Robert White Brianne Nadeau, and Mary Cheh

Summary: To amend Chapter 1 of Title 23 to curtail the availability and effectiveness of defenses that seek to partially or completely excuse crimes such as murder and assault on the grounds that the victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or other inherent identity, is to blame for the defendant’s violent action and to require an anti-bias jury instruction in criminal trials if requested by the prosecutor or the defendant.

Councilmember Grosso's Introduction Statement:

Thank you Chairman Mendelson. Today, along with my colleagues Brianne Nadeau, Jack Evans, and Robert White, I am introducing the “Secure A Fair & Equitable Trial Act of 2017”, which we are calling the SAFE Trial Act.

This legislation would curtail the use of defenses that seek to excuse crimes such as murder and assault on the grounds that the victim’s identity is to blame for the defendant’s violent action.

You may remember in 2008 when Tony Hunter died after being attacked in Shaw while on his way to a gay bar.

According to court records, the man arrested for the attack told police that he punched Hunter in self-defense after Hunter touched his crotch and buttocks in a sexually suggestive way.

There were many other factors in the case that made it complex, and could have resulted in a similar outcome, but the fact that the assailant blamed the victim’s sexual orientation for his violence was disturbing and inappropriate.

This argument is known as the “gay panic” defense and it seeks to blame a victim of a violent attack for provoking the violence by making a sexual comment, action, or simply by expressing their identity.

It is used around the country and throughout D.C.’s history.

The same argument has been used by individuals accused of attacking or murdering transgender women, arguing that the victim’s transgender identity amounted to deception and therefor justified a violent response.

That is essentially the argument that the killer of Bella Evangelista made after he killed her in 2003, also in D.C..

The SAFE Trial Act would end the use of such arguments in the District of Columbia.

The American Bar Association has carefully considered this topic and has voted in support of this type of legislation—in fact the SAFE Trial Act is based on the model language put forward by the ABA.

Anyone who knows me knows that I argue passionately for the human rights of criminal defendants, a fair and swift trial, and for alternatives to incarceration.

All of that is possible without resorting to a defense that is premised on bias against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals

A defense that exploits bias simply should not be acceptable.

The SAFE Trial Act is not limited to LGBT victims, but also covers any situation where an individual might seek to excuse their violent actions on the basis of another person’s identity.

The bill also requires that a jury be instructed to not let bias play a role in their deliberations during a criminal trial if requested by the prosecutor or the defendant.

In this time of heightened rhetoric of hate and violence, it is incredibly important that we act to eliminate bias whenever we can.

I welcome any co-sponsors.

Thank you.



Grosso and Department of Health exchange letters on LGBTQ health

In May, Councilmember Grosso wrote to Director of the Department of Health Dr. Nesbitt regarding implementation of his bill LGBTQ Cultural Competency Continuing Education Amendment Act of 2015, which became law on April 6, 2016, as well as other LGBTQ health issues including data collection under the BRFSS and a local survey. On June 10, the Director responded. You can read both letters below:

Councilmember Grosso's letter:

Director Nesbitt's response:



Committee Approves Grosso’s Bill to Improve Health of LGBTQ Residents

For Immediate Release: 
December 9, 2015
Contact: Darby Hickey
(202) 724-8105

Committee Approves Grosso’s Bill to Improve Health of LGBTQ Residents

Washington, D.C.--Today, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) joined his colleagues on the D.C. Council Committee on Health and Human Services in a unanimous vote to approve the LGBTQ Cultural Competency Continuing Education Amendment Act of 2015. Introduced by Grosso and Councilmember Yvette Alexander in April, the legislation requires medical professionals, renewing their licenses in D.C., to take two credits of cultural competency training focused on patients who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender nonconforming, queer, or questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity.

During the hearing on this bill, we heard truly heart breaking stories from LGBTQ residents about mistreatment they experienced at the hands of medical providers,” said Grosso. “In particular, our transgender friends and neighbors face disrespect and misunderstanding in medical settings, and this bill will continue our work to correct this serious problem.”

As many as one in five transgender people in D.C. have been denied medical care due to their gender, according to research released by the D.C. Trans Coalition last month in the "Access Denied" report. Locally and nationally, higher instances of chronic conditions among LGBTQ individuals have been documented, including higher rates of STDs and HIV, suicide attempts, mental illness, and some cancers.

“Quality medical care is often a life or death issue, and it is always a human right,” said Grosso. “I am grateful to Committee on Health and Human Services Chairperson Alexander for moving this legislation forward, for the health and well-being of our residents.” 




200 turn out for D.C. Trans Day of Remembrance

By Lou Chibarro, November 23, 2015, Washington Blade

More than 200 people packed the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington on Nov. 20 to commemorate the lives of transgender people who died at the hands of hate violence in the U.S. and abroad over the past year.

The event, the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, included a ceremonial reading of the names of 22 transgender women who were murdered in the U.S. in 2015 as well as several dozen trans people also murdered this year in other countries.

“The Transgender Day of Remembrance occurs annually on Nov. 20 to honor those who have been murdered because of transphobia and those who have survived gender-based violence,” a statement released by organizers of the event says.

“The overarching goal is to bring attention to the continued violence endured by the transgender community with continued hope that together we can end such violence and intolerance,” the statement says.

Transgender activist Alexa Rodriquez read the names of trans people murdered in Latin American countries while three fellow Latina trans women held a 30-foot-long banner with photos of about a dozen of the victims along with Spanish language newspaper articles reporting on the killings.

Rodriquez said many of the killings took place in Brazil and El Salvador.

Among those speaking at the event were D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At-Large); Marvin Bowser, brother of Mayor Muriel Bowser; and Sgt. Jessica Hawkins, supervisor of the D.C. police department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, who last year became the first transgender officer to be appointed to the position.

Veteran transgender activist Earline Budd, the lead organizer of the Trans Day of Remembrance event, said she was disappointed that Mayor Bowser and D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier did not attend the event. Bowser’s predecessor, Mayor Vincent Gray, and Lanier each attended and spoke at the event last year.

Marvin Bowser said Mayor Bowser, who had the event listed on her schedule one day earlier, had to cancel her appearance after feeling “exhausted” from the strain of her trip to China the previous week to promote business investment and tourism for the city.

D.C. Police spokesperson Lt. Sean Conboy said Lanier wasn’t able to attend due to a scheduling conflict. But Budd said Lanier initially told her she planned to attend.

“She had given her personal commitment to being here,” Budd told the Blade. “And we never got a notice that she was not going to be here.”

The Trans Day of Remembrance came two days after D.C. police arrested a transgender activist during a protest demonstration in the city’s Columbia Heights section in which protesters blocked traffic during evening rush hour.

The arrest of trans activist Jes Grobman on a charge of allegedly assaulting a police officer and disobeying a lawful order to stop blocking traffic was denounced by more than two dozen fellow protesters, who had assembled on the sidewalk next to the Columbia Heights Metro station at 14th and Irving Streets, N.W., to draw attention to abuse of trans people by law enforcement agencies throughout the country.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office dropped the charge of assaulting a police officer but left in place the charge of disobeying a police order. The National LGBTQ Task Force issued a statement “condemning” Grobman’s arrest, saying police could have exercised restraint in responding to the protest.

Budd said she did not think Lanier decided against attending the Trans Day of Remembrance event out of fear of being booed by the trans activists attending the event, some of whom also participated in the protest on Nov. 18.

“She would not have been booed,” said Budd. “She has the respect of the community,” Budd said, noting that Lanier was received warmly during her appearance at the event last year.

Grosso, a longtime supporter of the LGBT community, read a resolution unanimously approved by the City Council formally recognizing the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Marvin Bowser and Sheila Alexander Reid, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, presented an official proclamation from the mayor declaring Nov. 20 Transgender Day of Remembrance in the District of Columbia.

Marvin Bowser and Grosso noted that discrimination and violence targeting the D.C. trans community continues despite the fact that D.C. has in place the nation’s strongest legal protections for transgender people.

“It’s not so much because we haven’t tried, but because there needs to be a mindset change,” Grosso told the gathering. “You need to change the culture here entirely and begin to see people as human beings from day one and not this horrible stigma and these horrible prejudices that we send and let grow in our communities,” he said.

More than a dozen representatives of the local trans community, including several youths, spoke about their personal experiences of discrimination and violence.

“I’m a transgender woman,” said Kimora Green. “No matter if you’re Hispanic, black, Caucasian, no matter if you’re passable or not, we all go through the trials and tribulations of being told, ‘Oh faggot stay away from me,’ or being told ‘You’re a man,’ or being told, ‘You just need to die – kill yourself,’” she said. “I’ve been told that many a time.”

[Transgender Day of Remembrance, gay news, Washington Blade]

Kimora Green (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Green and others who told of similar experiences said they have emerged as survivors who have become stronger and more determined to fight for their rights and push for change in society’s perception of trans people.

Others who spoke and participated in the event were Ruby Corado, founder and director of Casa Ruby, the local LGBT community services center; Lourdes Ashley Hunter, the national transgender rights advocate and chief operating officer at Casa Ruby; and veteran D.C. trans activists Dee Curry, Jessica Xavier and Jeri Hughes.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign; and Lt. Cheryl Crawley, commander of the police Special Liaison Division, which oversees the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, also attended the event but did not speak.

Hawkins told the gathering she is happy to be in a position on the police force where she can work with the LGBT community in which she is a part. After listening to her fellow trans brothers and sisters recount the difficulties they sometimes face, Hawkins said she, too, has encountered such hassles.

“Even though I’m a police officer, I still get the looks,” she said. “I still get the ridicule. I still get people saying stupid things to me.”

[Transgender Day of Remembrance, gay news, Washington Blade]

Sgt. Jessica Hawkins (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

But she said the department and the chief are committed to protecting the rights of the city’s diverse population, including the trans community.

“I know there’s a lot of distrust with the police,” she said. “If you hear of a bad outcome or a bad interaction between someone that’s my brother and sister and an officer, let me know. I promise we will take care of it.”

Rev. Dwayne Johnson, pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, which ministers to the LGBT community, delivered an opening prayer at the event. Rev. Abena McCray-Peters of D.C. Unity Fellowship Church, which also has a largely LGBT congregation, officiated over the reading of the names.

Curry, who received a standing ovation for the remarks she delivered at the event, told the Blade it would have a lasting impact on the community.

“I think this was one of the best Transgender Days of Remembrance since the inception of the whole program,” she said. “I think that the diversity and the unity – I can feel the spirit here and I was so overwhelmed by it.”



Mayor expects to back ‘cultural competency’ bill

By Lou Chibarro, November 3, 2015, Washington Blade

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Monday said she expects to support the current version of a bill pending before the City Council that would require continuing education programs for licensed healthcare professionals that include LGBT-related “cultural competency” training.

Bowser’s comment follows testimony on Oct. 29 by her director of the city’s Department of Health, Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, calling for major changes to the bill – the LGBTQ Cultural Competency Continuing Education Amendment Act of 2015. LGBT advocates oppose her suggested changes.

Nesbitt told the Council’s Committee on Health and Human Services during a public hearing on the bill that she and Bowser support the general intent of the measure but believe it should be expanded to include cultural competency training “for all populations and sub-groups to whom healthcare professionals provide services.”

LGBT healthcare advocates joined more than a dozen representatives of healthcare organizations, including doctors and clinical social workers, in testifying at the hearing in favor of the version of the bill introduced in April by Council members David Grosso (I-At-Large) and Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7). Alexander chairs the Health and Human Services Committee.

“I expect that we’ll support the Council bill,” Bowser told the Washington Blade following a news conference on Monday. “We will probably go with how they wrote it and if there are ways to enhance it down the line that’s what we would do,” she said.

The mayor’s comment will likely generate a collective sigh of relief from LGBT activists who expressed concern that Nesbitt had been pushing for a broader bill that could decrease its effectiveness in addressing the need for cultural training on medical issues impacting LGBT people.

Grosso told the Washington Blade he has no objection to cultural competency training pertaining to other population groups. But he said adding other groups to the bill would dilute its ability to address what he and others have said is lack of understanding and cultural sensitivity by many doctors and other health care providers toward LGBT patients.

The current version of the bill would amend an existing health care licensing law to require health care professionals, including doctors and mental health practitioners, to receive two credits of instruction on LGBT subjects as part of their continuing education programs.

“Despite the District’s strong policies against discrimination, our community, which is more than 10 percent of the District’s population, remains at risk,” said Rick Rosendall, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, in his testimony before the committee.

“[R]egarding the scope of this bill: Why is it limited to LGBTQ?” Rosendall asked. “For one thing, only so much can be covered meaningfully in two credits worth of training time. More crucially, our community faces the particular challenge of invisibility,” he continued. “If we are subsumed under a generic, all-encompassing category, we are effectively excluded.”

Alison Gill, senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, told the committee that a 2009 nationwide survey found that more than half of LGBT respondents reported being refused needed care or being treated in a “discriminatory, disrespectful manner” by health care providers.

“Culturally competent care is especially important for LGBT people, as they continue to face substantial disparities in health, resulting from the stress of pervasive stigma; substance abuse and other health-endangering coping strategies; a reluctance to seek medical care due to fear of and actual healthcare discrimination; and the disproportionate impact of sexually transmitted disease,” Gill told the committee.

With the exception of Nesbitt, all of the nearly 20 witnesses testifying at the Council hearing expressed strong support for the bill as introduced by Alexander and Grosso. However, the executive vice president of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia, K. Edward Shanbacker, submitted a letter to the committee opposing the bill.

“The Medical Society believes strongly that the medical profession alone has the responsibility for setting standards and determining curricula in continuing medical education,” Shanbacker said in his letter. “In the District, the mechanism for that is the Board of Medicine, which has in the past opposed content-specific requirements surrounding continuing medical education,” he said.

Grosso said he has an answer to those, including the Medical Society, who say only doctors’ organizations and medical licensing boards should develop continuing education training on cultural competency matters.

“My answer to them is well you haven’t put this one in place and it would be important for us to put it on the books now,” he said, referring to LGBT cultural competence training.

He pointed to testimony by witnesses at last week’s Council hearing who told of LGBT patients who have been treated in a disrespectful manor and sometimes refused treatment by doctors unfamiliar with the special health needs of LGBT people, especially transgender people.

Dr. Raymond Martins, senior director of clinical education and training at D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Health, told the committee many of the mostly LGBT patients he has seen at Whitman-Walker have reported unpleasant experiences with other physicians and healthcare providers.

“Sadly, in this metropolitan area as well as throughout the country, physicians and other health providers do not receive adequate LGBT clinical and cultural competency training during medical school and their post graduate years,” he said. “This unfortunately leads to discrimination and poor health outcome for LGBT people,” Martins testified.

Grosso said he is hopeful that the bill will be finalized and brought up for a vote by the full Council before the end of the year. Eight other members of the 13-member Council signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.



Grosso Introduces “Youth Suicide Prevention and School Climate Survey Act of 2015”

Throughout the summer, Councilmember Grosso’s office worked with advocates from The D.C. Center, the Trevor Project, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and others on the “Youth Suicide Prevention and School Climate Survey Act of 2015” which Councilmember Grosso introduced today along with Councilmembers Nadeau, Allen, May, McDuffie, Todd, Bonds, Silverman, and Cheh.

According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (a federal survey by the Centers for Disease Control last administered in 2012), 38% of our LGBTQ middle school students had attempted suicide in their lifetime and 28% of our LGBTQ high school students had attempted suicide within the last year.


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Grosso's Bill to Protect Workers from Discrimination Goes into Effect Today

For Immediate Release
May 2, 2015
Contact: Dionne Johnson Calhoun  
(202) 724-8105; (202) 285-6447

Grosso's Bill to Protect Workers from Discrimination Goes into Effect Today 

Washington, D.C.--Today, the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2014 (RHNDA), introduced by Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large), becomes law in the District of Columbia. The RHNDA, which was passed unanimously by the D.C. Council and signed by the Mayor, prohibits employers from discriminating against workers based on their reproductive health choices.  Grosso's bill was the target of a House vote on Thursday to disapprove--or overturn--the law, an action that has not been pursued for decades and was ultimately ineffective without subsequent passage in the Senate and approval of the President.

"This is an important day for all workers in the District of Columbia--to be free of discrimination based on their reproductive health choices," said Grosso. "My bill ensures that women and men can decide on their own health choices, in consultation with their medical professionals and without interference from their employers. I am especially gratified that D.C. residents and others across the country stood with us to defend my bill in the face of bullying and mischaracterization by members of the House. The failed effort by Chairman Chaffetz and other members of Congress to overturn my legislation reiterates, once again, the urgent necessity for D.C. to have budget and legislative autonomy, and ultimately statehood." 

In addition to the RHNDA, the Human Rights Amendment Act of 2014 also came into effect today. This Act closes a long-standing loophole--the so-called "Armstrong Amendment"--to the D.C. Human Rights Act that allowed religious educational institutions to discriminate against LGBTQ students.

"It is a great day for human rights in our city with the elimination of the Armstrong Amendment as well," added Grosso. "I call on all members of the House and Senate to cease political grandstanding with their attacks on D.C. laws and instead focus on  issues in their own backyard."


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LGBT ‘cultural competency’ bill introduced in D.C. Council

by Lou Chibbaro, April 14, 2015, Washington Blade

D.C. Council members David Grosso (I-At-Large) and Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) introduced a bill on Tuesday that would require continuing education programs for licensed healthcare professionals to include LGBT related “cultural competency” training.

The LGBTQ Cultural Competency Continuing Education Amendment Act of 2015 would amend an existing health care licensing law to require healthcare professionals, including doctors and mental health practitioners, to receive two credits of instruction on LGBT subjects.

The bill says the two credits of instruction would pertain to “cultural competency or specialized clinical training focusing on patients who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender non-conforming, queer or questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression (LGBTQ).”

All nine of Grosso and Alexander’s Council colleagues signed on as co-sponsors of the bill at the Council’s regularly scheduled legislative meeting on Tuesday.

“Over 66,000 LGBTQ citizens reside in D.C., and they deserve access to medical professionals who are sensitive to and knowledgeable about the unique health needs of the LGBTQ community,” Grosso said in a statement.

Alexander, who chairs the Council’s Health Committee, said she plans to hold a hearing on the legislation as soon as possible and move the measure to a vote by the full Council following a markup on the bill. She said the legislation is especially needed for the trans community, which she said historically has experienced discrimination in seeking medical and mental health related services.

“LGBT people face substantial systemic discrimination in healthcare due to a lack of understanding of the unique needs and challenges faced by the community,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, which is coordinating a lobbying effort to help pass the bill.

The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, Whitman-Walker Health, National Children’s Hospital, and the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community are working with HRC as part of a coalition pushing for the bill, according to a statement by HRC.

“Cultural competency is critical to reducing healthcare disparities for LGBT people and improving access to high quality healthcare, especially for transgender people,” Warbelow said.



Grosso Introduces LGBTQ Cultural Competency Legislation for Clinical Medical Providers

For Immediate Release
April 14, 2015

Contact: Dionne Johnson Calhoun
(202) 724-8105

Grosso Introduces LGBTQ Cultural Competency Legislation for Clinical Medical Providers

Washington, D.C.—Today, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) introduced legislation seeking to narrow LGBT health disparities in the District of Columbia with the introduction of the “LGBTQ Cultural Competency Continuing Education Amendment Act of 2015.” The legislation requires two credits of instruction on cultural competency or specialized clinical training focusing on patients who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender nonconforming, queer, or questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

 “Over 66,000 LGBTQ citizens reside in D.C., and they deserve access to medical professionals who are sensitive to and knowledgeable about the unique health needs of the LGBTQ community,” said Grosso.

According to the Joint Commission field guide, “Advancing Effective Communication, Cultural Competence, and Patient- and Family-Centered Care for the LGBT Community,” LGBTQ patients face barriers to equitable care, such as refusals of care, delayed or substandard care, mistreatment, inequitable policies and practices, little or no inclusion in health outreach or education, and inappropriate restrictions or limits on visitations. These factors contribute to higher instances of chronic conditions among LGBTQ individuals; higher infection rates of STDs and HIV; higher prevalence of suicide attempts, mental health illness such as anxiety, depression, and addiction; and higher instances of some cancers.

“LGBTQ health disparities are real and this is a contribution to our efforts to narrow those disparities in the District of Columbia. I am proud that my colleague from Ward 7, Health and Human Services Committee Chairwoman Yvette Alexander joined me in co-introducing this bill. Together, we will continue to ensure the LGBTQ community enjoys a greater quality of life in the District of Columbia,” said Grosso.




D.C. suggestions for Indiana non-discrimination law reform

As Indiana considers ways to fix its religious discrimination bill, the Human Rights Act of the District of Columbia provides excellent language that Indiana could use to ensure that LGBTQ individuals are not the targets of religious discrimination. It is important to note that Part E, relating to educational institutions, had a religious exemption passed by Congress. The Council recently removed that religious exemption, which is currently under Congressional review.

§2-1402.01 Subchapter II, Prohibited Acts of Discrimination. Part A. General:

(a)   Every individual shall have an equal opportunity  to participate fully in the economic, cultural and intellectual life of the District and to have an equal opportunity to participate in all aspects of life, including, but not limited to, in employment, in places of public accommodation, resort or amusement, in educational institutions, in public service and in housing and commercial space accommodations.

§2-1402.11 Part B. Employment:

(a)   It shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice to do any of the following acts, wholly or partially for a discriminatory reason based upon the actual or perceived: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearances, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, family responsibilities, genetic information, disability, matriculation, or political affiliation by any individual:…

§2-1402.21 Part C. Housing and Commercial Space:

(a)   It shall be unlawful discriminator practice to do any of the following acts, wholly or partially for a discriminatory reason based on the actual or perceived: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, familial status, family responsibilities, disability matriculation, political affiliation, source of income, status as a victim of an intrafamily offense, or place of residence or business of any individual:…

§2-1402.31 Part D. Public Accommodations:

(a)   It shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice to do any of the following acts, wholly or partially for a discriminatory reason based on the actual or perceived: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, familial status, family responsibilities, genetic information, disability, matriculation, political affiliation, source of income, or place of residence or business of any individual:…

§2-1402.41 Part E. Education Institutions:

It is an unlawful discriminatory practice…for an educational institution:

(1)    To deny, restrict, or to abridge or condition the use of, or access to, any of its facilities, services, programs, or benefits of any program or activity to any person otherwise qualified, wholly or partially, for a discriminatory reason, based upon the actual or perceived: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity, source of income, or disability of any individual;…


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Grosso Calls for Ban on D.C. Travel to Indiana

For Immediate Release
March 30, 2015

Contact: Dionne Johnson Calhoun
(202) 724-8105


Grosso Calls for Ban on D.C. Travel to Indiana

Washington, D.C. – Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) is calling for a ban on the use of public funds for travel to the State of Indiana after Governor Pence legalized and defended anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Governor Pence signed legislation on Thursday, March 26, 2015, which legalizes discrimination based on religious beliefs.

“Discrimination has no place in the District of Columbia, and our public employees should not be forced to travel to a place that prides itself on fueling anti-LGBTQ animosity. The blatant bigotry on display by Governor Pence and the legislature leads me to believe that Indiana is not a safe place for our public employees to travel. Our government should not support any jurisdiction that displays such bigotry, and the Mayor should ban all publicly financed travel to Indiana and stand firmly with our LGBTQ public servants and residents,” said Grosso.

“The District of Columbia has a strong record of support for our LGBTQ residents and employees by protecting all individuals from discrimination. My ‘Reproductive Health Nondiscrimination Act’ that is currently being challenged by Republicans in Congress, would ban this kind of religious discrimination by private employers for employees seeking abortion services. Religious discrimination rephrased as ‘religious freedom’ is still discrimination, whether it is discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity—it has no place in the District of Columbia.”

Grosso has a strong record of support for the LGBTQ community including support for repeal of the discriminatory Armstrong Amendment, which allowed for religious discrimination in higher education; banning so-called conversion therapy for LGBT youth; and support for LGBT homeless youth support services, among many others.


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Grosso: Senators’ Hypocrisy Shocking but Not Surprising

For Immediate Release
March 19, 2015

Contact: Dionne Johnson Calhoun
(202) 724-8105

Grosso: Senators’ Hypocrisy Shocking but Not Surprising

Washington, DC -- Today, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) issued the following statement in response to the introduction in the Senate of disapproval resolutions targeting two D.C. human rights laws, the Reproductive Health Non-discrimination Amendment Act of 2014 and the Human Rights Amendment Act of 2014:

“It is truly disturbing that Senators Ted Cruz and James Lankford are so interested in defending the right to discriminate. My bill to prevent discrimination against people in the workplace by employers regarding their employees’ reproductive health choices protects residents, especially women. The Human Rights Amendment Act, which I strongly supported, fixes an exception to our city’s robust non-discrimination laws to ensure that all educational institutions treat students fairly, and is in line with a 1987 court decision. It is my strong belief that the First Amendment of the Constitution safeguards both the exercise of an individual’s right to practice religion as well as an individual’s right to be protected from religions.

Equally galling is that just last month Mr. Cruz introduced a bill to allegedly defend states’ rights to set their own laws regarding marriage. On his website, Mr. Cruz describes himself as “a passionate fighter for limited government.” Yet here we find him actively undermining the unanimous votes of D.C.’s elected officials.

I am sick and tired of the grandstanding and political pandering of members of Congress who see meddling in D.C. affairs as an easy way to win partisan points. These Senators wouldn’t dare propose a bill to overturn laws in Texas or Oklahoma. Tactics like these highlight the need for legislative and budget autonomy for the District of Columbia.

In D.C. we stand for the human rights of workers, students, women, LGBT folks, and all people. There is no human right to discriminate. Senators Cruz and Lankford should sort out their ideological confusion and respect the District of Columbia’s self-governance.”





Sex work, human rights and law enforcement

By Darby Hickey, Legislative Assistant*

After decades of the ‘war on drugs’ and an obsession with ‘broken windows’ or ‘quality of life’ policing, our country seems to finally be reaching consensus against our over-reliance on incarceration. The devastating effects of mass imprisonment and biased policing are evident around the U.S. and certainly in the District of Columbia. Recent efforts to decriminalize or legalize marijuana, reform the practice of asset forfeiture, and overhaul our approach to juvenile justice have all resulted from this shift in perspective. Our city has begun to look at criminal justice through a lens of human rights, and the country is doing so as well. We are reworking our policies to recognize and address the underlying factors of why people engage in certain activities. We are grappling with the reality that some criminal penalties are worse for our communities than the behaviors that the penalties target. In light of all of this, it is worth reconsidering our policies and practices regarding sex workers and others involved in commercial sex.

On February 15, the Washington Post reported on a new round of arrests of people involved in commercial sex, resulting from online stings conducted by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). The MPD official quoted in the article stated, “We could probably do this every weekend and get the same numbers.” This echoed statements made by Assistant Chief Newsham in 2012 that MPD “can’t arrest our way out of” prostitution. In a recent exchange of letters between Councilmember Grosso and MPD Chief Cathy Lanier, the Chief wrote that while “there are very complex individual and socio-economic factors related to sex work, [MPD’s] options related to this are limited [i.e. arrests].”

Missing from the Washington Post article, like most discussions about sex work, is any consideration of the economics of commercial sex. It was also disappointing that the Post failed to interview any sex workers or advocates for this community, who likely would have noted that it is an income-generating activity. People engage in sex trade not out of some deviant mind-set, but as a means of survival--a way to pay rent, put food on the table, buy clothes for kids, and meet other needs. Arresting a sex worker doesn’t address any of these problems and, in fact, it usually exacerbates them.

Many people in D.C. and around the world have argued that a better approach to the complexities of commercial sex would be to focus directly on the individuals involved, and treat them as fully deserving of basic human rights. A human rights response to commercial sex would reframe the discussion—issues of violence against sex workers, police misconduct, public health, and stigma become the focus and sex workers and their activities stop being ‘the problem’.

A key part of a human rights approach is listening to the individuals involved in commercial sex. As Councilmember Grosso emphasized during the public hearing last year on the Sex Trafficking of Minors Prevention Amendment Act, “We must listen and respond to these diverse experiences with compassion and respect, not with arrest or judgment. Youth trading sex for money are already asking for access to low threshold, voluntary services for housing, healthcare, education, legal assistance and more.” The same goes for adult sex workers.

Yet some police officials state that arresting individuals trading sex for money is the best way to link them to such services. For example, in the MPD response to oversight questions from the Committee on the Judiciary, the Chief writes, "arrest is often the tool by which MPD can take the juveniles into custody... so that the juvenile can be connected with a service organization."

This misses the reality that an arrest itself can be traumatizing. In fact, police crack downs, whether on the streets or online, usually make it harder for outreach groups to contact people engaged in commercial sex who may need help. And it ignores the deep-seated mistrust of police and other authorities that exists in these communities. For example, research in Chicago revealed that young people involved in sex trade named police and healthcare officials as the main sources of violence and abuse in their lives.

We should not be arresting a sex worker or a minor engaging in sex trade in order to force them into services or to cooperate in a criminal investigation—a phenomenon noted in a City Paper article just last month. This goes against all we have learned about victim-centered approaches to violence and abuse. That is why Councilmember Grosso argued that the “Sex Trafficking of Minors Prevention Amendment Act” should prohibit police from arresting young people involved in sex trade.

A human rights-based practice would ensure that MPD is adopting proactive community policing. Police should be seeking to build relationships and trust, responding positively and with sensitivity to service calls, not seeking to get an arrest or conviction at all costs but addressing the needs of the survivor.

One place to start would be for MPD to not treat sex workers (or those assumed to be such) as “criminals” when they are victims of violence and are seeking redress. This problem was found to be pervasive in D.C. in a 2008 community-based research project. Respondents reported being told they “got what they deserved” for being sex workers when they were raped, stabbed, or otherwise attacked. This finding is supported by research in other jurisdictions across the country from New York to Los Angeles to New Orleans. A recent report by WAMU highlighted that this remains an issue today.  

Another aspect of a human rights approach to people involved in sex trade has already been partially implemented in D.C.—the policy of MPD that condoms are not to be used as evidence of engaging in prostitution. The community-based research referenced earlier and a subsequent study by Human Rights Watch found that while officially MPD and prosecutors rarely included condoms as evidence, they were used as pretext for arrests or confiscated or destroyed. There was also a widespread perception among residents that possessing more than three condoms would result in a prostitution charge. In 2009, MPD clarified that this was not the case, issued a policy statement to officers, and distributed informational materials throughout the community.

Unfortunately, this important step by MPD had two exceptions—in cases involving human trafficking or minors. Yet individuals in situations of coercion, including young people under the age of 18, are especially in need of access to condoms. Ensuring access to condoms helps reduce the harms they are facing, and the philosophy of harm reduction is based in a human rights framework.

As Councilmember Grosso has consistently stated, MPD needs to think outside the box on this and other issues and change policies and practices accordingly. A great start would be for MPD to shift from a stance that “people experiencing police misconduct should come forward” to one where leadership proactively seeks to identify patterns of mistreatment and abuse. Another step would be engaging with the community, rather than dismissing concerns about how police are interacting with residents. It is also the responsibility of the Council, the Mayor, and residents of the city to do a better job of understanding the human rights issues involved in commercial sex. We have come to recognize and reduce the harms of criminalization in many policy areas from drugs to schools to immigration. The time is now to reconsider the framework in which we handle commercial sex.

*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso.



Grosso resolution recognizes 15th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance

At tonight's Transgender Day of Remembrance event at the Metropolitan Community Church, Councilmember Grosso will present the following D.C. Council resolution in recognition of the day:







To recognize the 15th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, and to declare Thursday

November 20, 2014, as “Transgender Day of Remembrance” in the District of Columbia.


WHEREAS, transgender individuals face high rates and severity of violence, including 72% of homicides according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects in 2013;

WHEREAS, the District of Columbia has a particularly alarming history of violence against transgender individuals, especially transgender women of color, including the murders of Deoni Jones, Lashai Mclean, Tyli’a Mack, Elexius Woodland, Bella Evangelista, Emonie Spaulding, Stephanie Thomas, Ukea Davis and too many others;

WHEREAS, the District of Columbia strives to be a city that is welcoming and safe for all residents and visitors, including transgender people; and

WHEREAS, the Transgender Day of Remembrance is held on November 20th around the world to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice.

RESOLVED, BY THE COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, that this resolution may be cited as the “Transgender Day of Remembrance Resolution of 2014”.

Sec. 2. The Council of the District of Columbia recognizes the contributions of the transgender community and its vulnerability to violence, and declares Thursday, November 20, 2014 as “Transgender Day of Remembrance”.  

Sec. 3. This resolution shall take effect immediately upon the first date of publication in the District of Columbia Register.



Grosso’s Criminal Justice Bills Pass through Committee

For Immediate Release

September 18, 2014

Contact: Dionne Johnson Calhoun

(202) 724-8105

Grosso’s Criminal Justice Bills Pass through Committee

Washington, D.C. -- Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large), a strong advocate of criminal justice reform, is pleased to announce that two major bills that he introduced, the Record Sealing for Decriminalized and Legalized Offenses Amendment Act of 2014 and the Repeal of Prostitution Free Zones and Drug Free Zones Amendment Act of 2014 passed in the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety. Both bills were noticed to be placed on the legislative agenda for the upcoming legislative meeting on Tuesday, September 23, 2014.

The Record Sealing for Decriminalized and Legalized Offenses Amendment Act of 2014 was introduced as a companion bill to Grosso’s legislation to tax and regulate marijuana in the District of Columbia. The bill will ensure that residents with a non-violent misdemeanor or felony possession of marijuana as their only prior criminal history can have their records for those charges or arrests sealed by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and the Superior Court. Furthermore, employers will be prohibited from asking if an applicant previously had their records expunged or sealed. “For perspective, there were 20,000 arrests in the District of Columbia over a 10 year period for a non-violent possession of marijuana. This will help thousands of D.C. residents. The legislation is also critical to addressing barriers to employment, housing and education,” said Grosso.

The Repeal of Prostitution Free Zones and Drug Free Zones Amendment Act of 2014 will reverse the current rulemaking allowing MPD to declare a particular location as a prostitution free zone for a 20-day period. A task force of experts who investigated MPD’s handling of hate crimes reported that transgender women and women of color expressed that MPD officers view and treat them as criminals. “Repeal of the prostitution free zones is long overdue,” says Grosso. “The prostitution free zones are a gateway to racial profiling. The repeal of these particular zones is a matter of justice and protecting communities that are heavily impacted.” The legislation was expanded to also repeal the Anti-Loitering/Drug Free Zone Act of 1996. Since the language creating prostitution free zones and the Drug Free Zone Act are nearly identical, the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety believed that both laws are likely unconstitutional.

Note: Both bill titles as introduced were Record Sealing for Non-Violent Marijuana Possession Act of 2013 and Repeal of Prostitution Free Zones Amendment Act of 2014.



Allies in Love & Justice: A Conversation with David Grosso and Serra Sippel

Interview by Tiffany Mott-Smith, September 15, 2014 in Tagg Magazine


Earlier this moth, Tagg had the opportunity to sit down with Councilmember David Grosso and Executive Director of the Center for Health and Gender Equality, Serra Sippel.

Both Grosso and Sippel were raised in the D.C. metropolitan area and also happen to be husband and wife. This power couple and awe-inspiring allies have been advocating for the rights of others for over 20 years. They both seem to not only be ready, but also eager to keep that trend going.

They discuss their social justice journey, as well as how their partnership and politics are as much professional as they are personal.

What made you seek out careers in social justice?
My mom is a social activist and has been her whole life. She raised me that way. She lives in an alternative community now in Petworth, near where I grew up. I’ve bailed my mom out of jail many times! Even when I was bartending she was pushing me and asking, “Are you doing your part to improve the life for others?” She’s always challenged me to do what I could to try to make the world a better place.

Serra: I was raised feminist and have always been pushed to think about equality and inequality. Even growing up Catholic and seeing women not being allowed to be priests made me think. I studied in Spain for a year at the time people were organizing around liberation theology and addressing how poverty affects women. I’d made up my mind to go to South America next, but I realized I don’t need to leave the United States to work with the poor. I knew social justice was going to be my life.

How has the battle for LGBT equality informed your politics?
It’s been very personal for us, especially in Indiana when we were in school and having friends who were lesbian and gay, and seeing the discrimination they faced even in their religious communities. Seeing so many of my friends not being able to be open just shocked me. The politics become personal when you see the hurt. We rejected marriage for a long-time because of it—we wanted to have our friends be a part of it. It just didn’t seem fair.

David: No matter what, when there are oppressed people, there is work to be done. I’ve learned so much from Serra and the work she’s done internationally. She taught me that you have to recognize individual rights and a person’s needs. When you get into a position of power like I am, or get into a position of strength like Serra is, you have to advocate for your friends. You have to advocate for everyone.

How has your relationship informed your work?
Our work is actually how we met. We were in Texas working for a homeless shelter and transitional facility for women and children. I was already living there with the families. It was a group of nuns and I facilitating the programming. I actually picked him up from the airport when he arrived and I was a little wary having a man in our space like that. I was concerned it would disturb the safe space we’d created, but he actually was great with the families.

David: I was brought on through the Brethren Volunteer Service to coordinate construction projects for the facility and work with the children’s program. Serra was the one who convinced me to go to college in the first place. That’s how I ended up at Earlham College.

Can you tell us a little about the work projects and initiatives you’re working on?
Our office has been doing a lot of work on eliminating prostitution free zones. They target trans people in a way that is unfair, unconstitutional, and inhumane. It was a plan of mine to get on the council and undo them. It was an uphill battle because some of the council members I respect the most were the ones advocating the practice. But fortunately, the District Attorney ruled them unconstitutional, so we drafted legislation to get them repealed altogether. Next, we’re looking at drug free zones and other loitering laws that can be a real violation of human rights.

Serra: At the Center for Health and Gender Equality, we focus our advocacy with congress because they control the appropriations with regard to international family planning, maternal health, and HIV/AIDS. On the executive side, we work to influence the policies that guide the spending of that money. When I came into my position it was during the Bush administration, and they were exporting their reproductive rights policies. Among other things, these left out most lesbians and individuals assigned female at birth. In 2011, we were able to convince the Obama administration to institute more inclusive comprehensive prevention policies.

How do you stay grounded professionally and personally?
We enjoy one another’s company. But, we like to work hard as well. We also don’t have children; so the most we have to juggle are the dogs.

David: We start every morning together with a cup of coffee and a good old-fashioned paper. Every minute we have together is a good time. I don’t think I could do this work without Serra. We’re one another’s accountability person.



Grosso statement on proposed Commission on Health Disparities Establishment Act

Thank you Chairwoman Alexander and thank you to all of the witnesses here to testify today on Bill 20-572, the “Commission on Health Disparities Establishment Act of 2013.”

The District of Columbia has the seventh highest incidence rate and the highest death rate from breast cancer in the United States. And although the incidence rate for breast cancer is higher for white women in this city, African-American women from Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8 are overrepresented among those dying from the disease.

Even more troubling, African American women in the District are showing up for treatment with advanced breast cancer at rates that are almost double the national average. 

In a report published by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 2013, it was found that D.C. residents died at a higher rate from preventable heart attacks than any other jurisdiction in the country. 

The CDC report found that, in the District, the rate of avoidable deaths from heart disease, stroke and hypertensive disease was 99.6% per 100,000 population.  The most affected demographic was African-American males ranging in age from 65-74.

These disparities are also found when we discuss behavioral health.  A few years ago there was only one child psychiatrist that was east of the River.  Additionally, 35 percent of the District’s transgender population has experienced suicidal ideation while 39 percent do not have a physician for routine health care as reported by the DC Center for the LGBT Community.

Further, 58 percent of the District’s African-American males having sex with other males are living with HIV, which is significantly higher than the national average at 29 percent. 

We cannot allow these disparities to persist in our communities.  In February, the Department of Health compiled a very comprehensive Community Health Needs Assessment, the first of its kind for the District and I want to applaud the Department for this effort.

All District residents, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity deserve access to quality physicians, screenings and treatment.  I will continue to follow this issue very closely and I am eager to hear from and engage with the witnesses in the discussion to follow.