During an oversight hearing with the D.C. Public Library this spring, Councilmember Grosso asked Executive Director Richard Reyes-Gavilan and Board of Trustees President Greg McCarthy about an incident at Shaw Library in March. A DCPL police officer asked a library patron to remove her hijab, a headcovering used by many Muslim women, and allegedly threatened her with arrest if she did not comply. Mr. Reyes-Gavilan and Mr. McCarthy both committed to following up on the incident and ensuring that similar incident would not happen again. Grosso sent a letter this summer to inquire about the library's complaint process, training, and other actions taken to address the incident. You can read Grosso's letter and the library's response below.
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Grosso's opening statement from hearing on the “Youth Suicide Prevention and School Climate Survey Act of 2015” and the “Assessment on Children of Incarcerated Parents Act of 2015”
As many of you know, the Committee on Education has been focused on trauma-informed schools and school-based mental health services for the past several months. Ensuring our students have the ability to overcome adversity is a top priority for this Committee.
After visiting dozens of D.C. schools and speaking with parents and community members, I know that D.C. residents are committed to eliminating the achievement gap as quickly as possible. As chairman of the D.C. Council’s education committee, I grapple every day with the question of how I can level the playing field after unfair policies and investments.
For Immediate Release:
August 11, 2015
Contact: Darby Hickey
Grosso Applauds Amnesty International's Stance on Sex Workers' Human Rights
Washington, D.C.--Today, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) issued the following statement on the decision by human rights organization Amnesty International to support the decriminalization of sex work:
"I applaud Amnesty International for taking a position in support of decriminalization of sex work as a means to prevent human rights violations against sex workers. Amnesty International joins the ranks of those calling for decriminalization of sex work which includes the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, Human Rights Watch and the medical journal The Lancet.
It is my hope that by having a well-respected human rights organization like Amnesty International support decriminalization, we can begin the conversation about reforming similar D.C. laws and policies. For decades we have repeated the same practice over and over, trying to arrest our way to an end of sex work, but it has never worked. Instead criminalization has caused severe harm to communities.
My commitment to human rights predates my time in office and a human rights framework is interwoven into all of the work I do here on the D.C. Council. That commitment includes speaking out for the human rights of the most marginalized communities, including sex workers. I believe that we as a society are coming to realize that excessive criminalization is causing more harm than good, from school discipline to drug laws to homelessness. It is time for D.C. to reconsider the framework in which we handle commercial sex.
As Amnesty International suggests, we should look at changing from the framework of criminalization to a framework that emphasizes the health and human rights of everyone involved. This has been my stance for some time and it is why I pushed to repeal the "prostitution free zones" law last year, sought to stop the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) from arresting young people accused of offering sex in exchange for money or a place to stay, and have encouraged MPD to consider new approaches in how it handles prostitution.
This a complex issue and there are real problems that we must address, from the trivial, like used condoms on the sidewalk, to the serious, like violence that sex workers face. A criminalization framework has not helped, but a human rights approach can. First, D.C. must fight stigma and discrimination, which are entwined with over-criminalization. Then, it is critical that we put the resources in place to allow people who trade sex for money to be as safe and healthy as possible, with their human rights respected--as well as to help anyone who does not want to engage in commercial sex to avoid or leave such a situation. Finally, we need to realize that only through a new approach to regulating commercial sex will we begin to see quality of life concerns abated. The bottom line is that D.C. is a human rights city and it is time for a change."
Today, Councilmembers David Grosso (I-At-Large), Kenyan McDuffie, and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson convened a joint hearing on the “Language Access for Education Amendment Act of 2015.” Grosso introduced this bill in February, to strengthen existing law by increasing the standards of language access for all education and government services for all of our non-English proficient residents.
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;…
For Immediate Release
March 30, 2015
Contact: Dionne Johnson Calhoun
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.
For Immediate Release
March 19, 2015
Contact: Dionne Johnson Calhoun
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.”
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.
For Immediate Release
March 3, 2015
Contact: Dionne Johnson Calhoun
Kicking off Women’s History Month, Grosso Introduces Bill to Ensure Gender Equity in D.C.
Washington, D.C. — Today, in honor of Women’s History Month and the International Women’s Day on March 8, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) introduced the Local Implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Amendment Act of 2015. The United Nations General Assembly adopted CEDAW in 1979 and President Carter signed the treaty on behalf of the United States in 1980; however, the United States Senate has not yet ratified CEDAW. In 2014, municipalities across the nation began signing onto the Cities for CEDAW initiative, pledging to implement the principles of CEDAW at the local level in light of the Senate’s failure to act. The U.S. is one of only eight countries that has not ratified the treaty. Countries that ratify CEDAW are mandated to condemn all forms of discrimination against women and girls and to ensure gender equality in the civil, political, economic, educational, social and cultural arenas.
“In D.C., we already have some of the strongest human rights protections for women and girls in the country,” said Grosso. “In honor of Women’s History Month, I am introducing this legislation to ensure that all of our government agencies are working proactively for gender equality.”
Under the legislation, D.C. government agencies will be required to conduct gender analysis reporting, including data analysis, to assess gender equity in their operations. The bill also calls for an annual citywide action plan to address any deficiencies identified in the gender analysis reporting. Such analysis and evaluation will help identify and remedy structural gender inequalities in the D.C. government.
Additionally, March 3 is the International Sex Worker Rights Day and CEDAW notes how sex workers are particularly vulnerable to violence and other human rights abuses due to stigma and criminalization. Grosso has previously called for a greater emphasis on protecting the human rights of those involved in commercial sex.
Washington, D.C. – Today, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At-Large) introduced the “Language Access for Education Amendment Act of 2015.” The bill will strengthen existing law by increasing the standards of language access for all education and government services for all of our non-English proficient residents.
For Immediate Release
September 18, 2014
Contact: Dionne Johnson Calhoun
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.
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?
David: 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?
Serra: 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?
Serra: 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?
David: 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?
Serra: 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 Takes Stand for Women to Make Own Reproductive Health Decisions
Washington D.C.–Today, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) issued the following statement regarding the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in favor of two for-profit businesses–Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood–who challenged the Affordable Care Act claiming it violated federal law protecting religious freedom by requiring them to offer their employee’s insurance coverage for a variety of methods of contraception:
“The Supreme Court decision in the “Hobby Lobby” case is another example of how the split court has no respect for the rights of women who should be able to make reproductive health decisions free from intervention by anyone. I strongly believe that no company, regardless of the owners’ personal religious beliefs, should be permitted to interfere with an employee’s reproductive health care decisions. It is a woman’s personal right and she should not be discriminated against at her work place just because her employer holds a particular religious belief. My Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2014, when enacted into law, will ensure that a woman is protected from discrimination by her employer when making reproductive health decisions and I urge the Council to move quickly on passing this important legislation.”