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Councilmember Grosso re-introduces legislation to ban the use of “gay/trans panic” defenses in D.C.

For Immediate Release:
September 17, 2019
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, 202.724.8105 - mnocella@dccouncil.us

Councilmember Grosso re-introduces legislation to ban the use of “gay/trans panic” defenses in D.C.

Washington, D.C. – At the D.C. Council’s first legislative meeting after summer recess, Councilmember David Grosso re-introduced his legislation to counter the use of “gay/trans panic” defenses, which seek to utilize the stigma associated with the sexual orientation, gender identity, or other identity expression of victims to excuse violent crimes.

“I am a passionate supporter of the human rights of criminal defendants, a fair and swift trial, and for alternatives to incarceration,” said Grosso. “All of that is possible without resorting to a defense that is premised on bias against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals.”

The Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019 would 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. The bill also requires an anti-bias jury instruction in criminal trials if requested by the prosecutor or the defendant.

“The bill makes one thing clear: a defense that exploits bias is simply unacceptable,” said Grosso.

Councilmember Grosso originally introduced the bill in February 2017 as the Secure a Fair and Equitable (SAFE) Trial Act. Over the summer, Grosso worked closely with LGBTQ advocates ahead of re-introduction and fulfilled their request to rename the bill in honor of Tony Hunter, a gay man, and Bella Evangelista, a transgender woman.

“LGBTQ+ panic defenses have long stood as a symbol of dangerous and outdated thinking,” said D’Arcy Kemnitz, Executive Director of the National LGBT Bar Association. “The Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019 would send a clear message: Discrimination has no validity in the courtroom.”

“Victims of crime, their families, and their communities experience enough trauma without having to shoulder the blame for their murder or assault or watch their loved one’s name maligned as they seek justice,” said David Mariner, Executive Director of The D.C. Center for the LGBT Community. “I greatly appreciate Councilmember Grosso’s continued engagement with the LGBTQ+ community on this issue and for naming the bill in honor of Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista–two victims whose cases were marred by the discriminatory statements that are used in the making of these panic defenses.”

“This bill would prohibit the misuse of a victim’s identity as an excuse for perpetrating a murder or violence. The ‘panic’ defense attempts to justify a criminal act motivated by a defendant’s racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, ableism or other bias. This Act is a necessary step to address an anachronism in our legal system that demeans and devalues the lives of vulnerable people. These defenses simply have no place in our justice system and it is time for them to go,” said Sasha Buchert, Senior Attorney at Lambda Legal.

In August, the Washington Post reported that D.C. saw the highest number of bias-motivated attacks last year and had the highest per capita hate-crime rate of any major city in the country.

“In this time of heightened rhetoric of hate and violence, it is incredibly important that we act to eliminate bias whenever we can. I appreciate the renewed grassroots support for this legislation, including the many letters and resolutions Advisory Neighborhood Commissions have recently approved, and urge the Council to move swiftly,” said Grosso.

Councilmembers Elissa Silverman, Robert White, Brianne Nadeau, Mary Cheh, Brandon Todd, and Charles Allen joined Grosso as co-introducers of the legislation.

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Public comment period now open on Trump Administration's anti-transgender health care rule

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is currently accepting public comments on a proposed federal rule that would roll back civil rights protections for transgender individuals, making it more difficult for them to access vital health care in the United States.

Today, Councilmember Grosso ensured that the D.C. Council submits comments opposing the proposed rule-making.

Last November, Councilmember Grosso introduced–and the Council unanimously passed–the Sense of the Council in Support of Transgender, Intersex, and Gender Non-Conforming Communities Resolution of 2018 last November.

“Transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming people exist and deserve the full and equal protection under the laws of District of Columbia and the United States, the U.S. Constitution, and international law including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” reads the resolution. ”Stigma and discrimination based on gender identity or expression are well documented, including in a national survey of nearly 28,000 transgender individuals that found that…one-third of those who saw a doctor in the previous year faced discrimination. There is no evidence that ensuring civil rights protections for these communities causes harm to anyone else, and in fact leading national experts and associations in the fields of education, health care, child health and welfare, and support for survivors of domestic and sexual violence roundly reject any such claims and support nondiscrimination protections for transgender people.”

The resolution includes a requirement that the Secretary of the Council submit the resolution as public comment on any relevant proposed rule-making, on behalf of the Council of the District of Columbia. I will be following up to ensure that this happens. Today he sent a memorandum to Secretary Nyasha Smith to ensure it is submitted.

“While the Trump administration wants to give a green light to shelters, housing programs, doctors and medical institutions to turn away transgender people, in D.C. the law will not change,” Councilmember Grosso said in May. “Our local Human Rights Act explicitly protects our transgender, intersex, gender non-conforming, and non-binary residents, workers, and visitors from discrimination. It is critical that the D.C. government double down on its commitment to protect these community members from discrimination and get the word out that anti-transgender bias has no place in the District of Columbia.”

Members of the public are encouraged to submit their own comments opposing the proposed rule before the public comment period ends on August 13, 2019. You can visit https://protecttranshealth.org/ to learn more and submit your own comments.

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Councilmember David Grosso re-introduces legislation to decriminalize sex work in D.C.

For Immediate Release: 
June 3, 2019
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, (202) 724-8105

Councilmember David Grosso re-introduces legislation to decriminalize sex work in D.C.

Washington, D.C. – With increased support from Council colleagues, Councilmember David Grosso today announced the re-introduction of legislation that would reduce violence and improve public health and safety by removing criminal penalties for consensual sexual exchange in the District of Columbia.

“It is long past time for D.C. to reconsider the framework in which we handle commercial sex—and move from one of criminalization to a new approach that focuses on human rights, health, and safety,” Grosso said at a press conference and rally held in support of the bill with the Sex Worker Advocates Coalition on Monday.

The Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019 eliminates criminal prohibitions and penalties for consensual sex work and establishes a task force to evaluate the effects of removing criminal penalties and recommend further improvements to public safety, health, and human rights.

“By removing criminal penalties for those in the sex trade, we can bring people out of the shadows, help connect them to the services they need to live safer and healthier lives, and more easily tackle the complaints we hear from communities about trash or noise,” Grosso said.

Removing criminal penalties for engaging in sexual exchange reduces public violence and protects sex workers. People in the sex trade are safest when their work is not criminalized. It allows them to better screen clients, to negotiate safer sex practices, and to report incidents of trafficking or client and police violence.

“Decriminalizing sex work will make life easier not only for the people that complain about K Street, but also for the girls who are getting turned away from jobs, housing, health care, and more. Everyone needs to survive, and everyone needs to make money. If Sis has to turn to sex work so she can buy a room or so she can eat, don't send her to jail,” said Tiara Moten, Lead Organizer with No Justice No Pride.

Eighty percent of sex workers report experiencing some form of violence in the course of their work. This is especially true for sex workers from communities that already face increased discrimination such as immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, and individuals of color. Criminalization discourages sex workers from reporting these incidents.

“It is appropriate that we address this issue at the start of LGBTQ Pride month that commemorates the 50th anniversary of the riots at the Stonewall Inn. We know that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and especially transgender individuals engage in sex work at higher rates, making decriminalization of sex work an LGBTQ issue,” said Benjamin Brooks, Assistant Director for Policy at Whitman Walker Health. “Removing criminal penalties recognizes the dignity of the individual and removes key barriers to preventing HIV and improving health for our communities.”

"As a faith leader, a Black woman, and an advocate for abused and neglected children, at-risk youth, adjudicated youth, victims of domestic violence, women’s issues, and cancer patients I believe that Black women deserve to live free from violence and provide for themselves and their families. I support the decriminalization of sex work because criminalization only harms our communities and we must support and love one another not ostracize each other,” said Rev. Shirley Currie, associate minister at Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church.

Protections for minors and prohibitions against coercion, exploitation, and human trafficking already exists in D.C. law and remain untouched by Grosso’s bill.

“This legislation slightly differs from the previous version by leaving some language in the code making it crystal clear that coercion, exploitation, and human trafficking are not tolerated in D.C.,” Grosso said.

Grosso’s proposal now enjoys expanded support on the Council. Only Councilmember Robert White co-introduced the legislation back in 2017. This time, Councilmembers Anita Bonds and Brianne Nadeau have added their names.

Grosso developed the legislation in close partnership with the Sex Worker Advocates Coalition (SWAC), a coalition of more than nearly two dozen local and national organizations: HIPS, ACLU DC, GLAA, Collective Action for Safe Spaces, D.C. Rape Crisis Center, Amara Legal Center, National Center for Trans Equality, Whitman Walker Health, Casa Ruby, Best Practices Policy Project, SWOP-USA, Black Youth Project (BYP) 100, Black Lives Matter DMV, No Justice No Pride, D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, Bread for the City, Network for Victims Recovery DC, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Ultraviolet, Center for Health and Gender Equity, and URGE.

“I want to thank everyone who has contributed their voice to the development of this legislation, has endorsed its approach, or engaged with elected officials to build to the unprecedented level of support we see here today,” Grosso said. “ I also want to appreciate all the sex worker activists who have spoken out for their human rights, from Sharmus Outlaw here in D.C., to Gabriela Leite in Brazil, to countless others around the world.”

The bill will officially be re-introduced tomorrow, June 4, 2019 at the Council's regular legislative meeting. It will likely be referred to the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.

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Statement of Councilmember Grosso on latest federal government attacks on transgender communities

For Immediate Release: 
May 24, 2019
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, (202) 724-8105

Statement of Councilmember Grosso on latest federal government attacks on transgender communities

Washington, D.C. – The following is a statement from Councilmember David Grosso, chairperson of the Committee on Education, on the new proposals from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Health and Human Services to roll back protections for transgender people accessing shelter and health care:

“The latest efforts by the federal government to retreat from its responsibility to protect everyone’s human rights are deeply upsetting. It is especially appalling that the Trump administration is proposing to repeal protections for transgender individuals on the eve of LGBT Pride Month, on the heels of the murders of three black transgender women, and one week after International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

“While the Trump administration wants to give a green light to shelters, housing programs, doctors and medical institutions to turn away transgender people, in D.C. the law will not change. Our local Human Rights Act explicitly protects our transgender, intersex, gender non-conforming, and non-binary residents, workers, and visitors from discrimination. It is critical that the D.C. government double down on its commitment to protect these community members from discrimination and get the word out that anti-transgender bias has no place in the District of Columbia.

“When I first learned of the possibility of rulemaking by the federal Department of Health and Human Services to redefine sex discrimination to explicitly exclude transgender protections, I introduced, and the Council unanimously passed, the Sense of the Council in Support of Transgender, Intersex, and Gender Non-Conforming Communities Resolution of 2018 last November. That resolution includes a requirement that the Secretary of the Council submit the resolution as official public comment on any relevant proposed rulemaking, on behalf of the Council of the District of Columbia. I will be following up to ensure that this happens.

“Even before this latest news, the transgender community of D.C. has been calling on the government to do more. One of those requests has been to stop arrests for commercial sex and to focus law enforcement efforts on ensuring the safety of sex workers and stopping exploitation or coercion. Next month I will be re-introducing legislation to that end.

“To the transgender communities of D.C. please know that you are loved and that the District stands with you.”

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Councilmembers Grosso and Nadeau seek clarity on services for transgender youth in CFSA's care

On Oct. 4, Councilmember David Grosso, chairperson of the Committee on Education, and Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau, chairperson of the Committee on Human Services, sent a letter to the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) seeking clarification of its policies regarding the provision of medical services to transgender youth in the agency’s care.

“The governor of California recently signed legislation in that state…setting the appropriate care for youth in foster care to receive gender-affirming health care, including mental health care. Media outlets praised the state as being the first to ensure these rights for transgender youth,” the two councilmembers wrote. “However, it is our belief that this should have already been policy in the District of Columbia based on the provisions of our Human Rights Act and its interpretation, particularly with regards to the Mayor’s Order from February 27, 2014 prohibiting discrimination in health insurance based on gender identity or expression.”

CFSA Director Brenda Donald responded to Grosso and Nadeau on Oct. 19, reaffirming its commitment to provide youth in its care with all appropriate medical and mental health services, including related to maters of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“In the District of Columbia, youth in the care of CFSA have a right to be provided with timely, adequate, and appropriate medical and mental health services from health care professionals, which includes medical care, behavioral health care, and counseling,” Donald wrote.

“CFSA’s practice is to support and ensure that transgender youth obtain and have access to gender-affirming healthcare, gender affirming mental healthcare, and any other support and services they might need. Should a youth express an interest in undergoing gender reassignment surgery with their social worker, health care professional, or foster parent, CFSA would treat such request as we would any medical request. The agency will refer the youth to the appropriate medical and mental health services, establish what is medically covered, and determine the best way forward to ensure that all medical needs are met. If a youth requests reassignment surgery, CFSA must ensure that the youth receives the appropriate mental health support. The Department of Health Care Finance (DHCF) will cover sex reassignment procedures for beneficiaries with an established diagnosis of gender dysphoria.”

Read the full letter to CFSA, and their response to Councilmembers Grosso and Nadeau, below.

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Councilmembers David Grosso and Robert White introduce legislation to improve LGBTQ health data

For Immediate Release:
June 5, 2018
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, 202.724.8105 - mnocella@dccouncil.us

Councilmembers David Grosso and Robert White introduce legislation to improve LGBTQ health data

Washington, D.C. – Today Councilmembers David Grosso (I-At Large) and Robert White (D-At-Large) introduced a bill to improve the documentation by D.C. agencies of health outcomes and behavioral risk factors of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community, as the federal government prepares to limit its collection of this critical public health data.

“At a time when the federal government is retreating from its responsibility to protect everyone’s human rights, D.C. must do everything it can to ensure those rights,” said Councilmember David Grosso. “We have a responsibility to meet the unique health needs of our LGBTQ residents.  Requiring our agencies to collect this critical public health data will better inform our policymaking and improve the health outcomes of all District residents.”

“We celebrate Pride in June, but we must go beyond words and parades to affirm and support our LGBTQ friends and neighbors. We need to push back on these proposals by the Trump administration that would impact their health by pretending they don’t exist,” said Councilmember Robert White.

The LGBTQ Health Data Collection Amendment Act of 2018 would require the District Department of Health to collect demographic data on sexual orientation and gender identity through its annual Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS).

The BRFSS is a cross-sectional telephone survey conducted by state health departments in all 50 states and the District of Columbia with technical and methodological assistance provided by the Center for Disease Control.

It would also require the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to collect information on the sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression of respondents to the school-based Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS). YRBSS monitors six types of health-risk behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among youth and adults.

“Having a better understanding of how our students identify and the impact their sexual orientation or gender identity has on their behavior and risk factors will enable schools to better serve our students’ non-academic health needs,” Grosso, chairperson of the Committee on Education, said. “When those needs are met, we know they are better prepared to succeed academically.”

All levels of government rely on the data from these surveys when making policy choices to address public health issues. Recently, Trump administration officials with the Center for Disease Controls hinted that they would discontinue the collection of this data.

Additionally, the bill would require that the data collected be used in the annual report on the health of the District’s LGBTQ community, a collaborative effort of the Department of Health and the Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

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LGBTQ Health Data Collection Amendment Act of 2018

LGBTQ Health Data Collection Amendment Act of 2018

Introduced: June 5, 2018

Co-introducers: Chairman Phil Mendelson, Councilmembers Robert White, Vincent Gray, Anita Bonds, Brianne Nadeau, Charles Allen, Elissa Silverman, Kenyan McDuffie, Mary Cheh, Brandon Todd, Jack Evans, Trayon White. 

BILL TEXT | PRESS RELEASE

Summary: To amend the Department of Health Functions Clarification Act of 2001 to require the Department of Health to collect information on the sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression of respondents to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System; and to amend the State Education Office Establishment Act of 2000 to require the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to collect information on the sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression of respondents to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System.

Councilmember Grosso's Introduction Statement:

Thank you Mr. Chairman. Today, Councilmember Robert White and I are introducing the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Health Data Amendment Act of 2018. We are joined by Councilmembers Vincent Gray, Anita Bonds, Brianne Nadeau, Charles Allen, Elissa Silverman, Kenyan McDuffie, Mary Cheh, and Brandon Todd as co-introducers.

This is a very simple bill—it requires the Department of Health and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to gather demographic data on sexual orientation and gender identity as part of their public health surveys of adults and students, respectively, in D.C.
Some members will recall this issue came up with regards to DOH a few years ago, and I introduced similar legislation then.

The Department did commit to gather the data, but only every other year, and new developments at the federal level threaten the progress that has been made.

This is data that OSSE is, in contrast, already collecting, and I don’t anticipate it causing any problem for them.

Understanding how our students identify and how that relates to their behavior or risk factors enables us to better serve students’ non-academic health needs.

When those needs are met, we know they are better prepared to succeed academically.

At a time when the federal government is retreating from its responsibility to protect everyone’s human rights, we must ensure that D.C. is doing everything it can to ensure those rights.

Part of that is documenting the health disparities that affect our LGBTQ neighbors so that we can target interventions to end those disparities. 

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Grosso FY2019 Budget Victories

Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large), chairperson of the Committee on Education, celebrated investments in his budget priorities included in the fiscal year 2019 budget for the District of Columbia, which was given final approval by the D.C. Council on May 29, 2018.

“This budget comes before us during a tumultuous time in the public education sector, but I believe the funding we have approved move us forward in education reform and toward closing the achievement gap,” Grosso said. “It makes new investments that put students in the best position to succeed by creating positive school climates, bolstering community schools, and expanding access to multilingual education in D.C.”

The Council’s full budget largely preserves or increases investments approved by the Committee on Education in Grosso’s education priorities and makes investments in other areas of focus for the councilmember:

  • Prioritizes students’ right to learn by reducing the use of exclusionary discipline: $3.4 million to fund the Student Fair Access to School Act to protect students’ right to an education, close the achievement gap, and foster positive school climates, including an increase to the at-risk weight of the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula.
  • Improves educational outcomes by meeting students’ non-academic needs: An increase of $1.4 million for a total investment of nearly $3 million to expand community schools, which set students up for academic success by addressing their academic, health, and social needs through community partnerships.
  • Invests in the mental and physical health of our students: Provides $3 million at the Department of Behavioral Health for school-based clinicians and $4.4 million at the Department of Health for school-based nurses.
  • Increases access to multilingual education in the District: $367,000 to establish the Office of Multilingual Education in OSSE, with dedicated personnel whose mission is to increase cross-sector access to high-quality multilingual education across the city.
  • Supports students with special education needs: Fully implements the Enhanced Special Education Services Act and includes $350,000 in new funding for teacher training in special education.
  • Creates a world-class central library: $1.5 million for opening day collections at the newly-modernized Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, set to re-open in 2020.
  • Preserves our local history for future generations: $500,000 for the D.C. Oral History project, a collaboration of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., Humanities DC, and the D.C. Public Library, over the next four years.
  • Provides resources to combat residency fraud: Provides four full-time staffers and $300,000 to OSSE to aid its mission of investigating and reporting residency fraud in D.C. schools.
  • Expands equitable, high-quality out-of-school learning opportunities: Provides over $20 million for after-school and summer programming for students—more than double the current level of grant-funding for community-based organizations and unthinkable under the former D.C. Trust.
  • Supports early childhood education: Includes a new tax credit for families to offset the high cost of raising a child in D.C. and increased the reimbursement rate for subsidized childcare.
  • Continued investment in early literacy interventions: $1.6 million in continuing investments in the successful early literacy intervention program that gets students at or above reading level by third grade. 
  • Invests in Fair Elections: Fully funds Grosso's legislation that establishes a strong public financing system for campaigns in D.C., weakening the influence of large donors and corporations in our elections.
  • Fights homelessness and housing insecurity, especially for vulnerable populations: $15.6 million to combat homelessness including $1.6 million to fully fund the Interagency Council on Homelessness Youth Plan in 2019, with $300,000 from the Committee on Education to provide wraparound services at a new 24-hour drop-in center and additional youth beds.

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