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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.”



Grosso Calls on Pope Francis and the Catholic Church to Protect Victims of Sexual Abuse

For Immediate Release

September 24, 2015

Contact: Darby Hickey

(202) 724-8105


Grosso Calls on Pope Francis and the Catholic Church to Protect Victims of Sexual Abuse

Washington, D.C. – Today, at 2:30pm, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) will join victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests at a rally in front of the Wilson Building.  In advance of the rally, Grosso released the following statement:

 “In his prayer meeting with U.S. bishops yesterday, Pope Francis spoke of a ‘generous commitment to bring healing’— this stance must extend to those who have suffered sexual abuse.  I am calling on the Pope to hold the bishops of the Catholic Church accountable for abuse committed on their watch. It is past time for the Church to support better laws that protect children, expose predators, and punish enablers.

Earlier this year I introduced the ‘Childhood Protection Against Sexual Abuse Amendment Act’ to give child victims of sexual abuse more time to file a civil lawsuit against perpetrators. Our current laws unjustly protect predators, and too often the Church has opposed legal reform. If the Catholic Church is truly committed to healing and forgiveness, then it will support this legislation and efforts to protect children from harm.”

Today, at 2:30pm, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) will rally in support of Grosso’s legislation on the steps of the John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. The Childhood Protection Against Sexual Abuse Amendment Act, introduced by Grosso in March 2015, would eliminate the civil statute of limitations for recovery of damages arising out of child sexual abuse claims.  Additionally, the bill creates a two-year window for individuals whose claims of child sexual abuse were previously time-barred, enabling victims to begin the long road to recovery. The legislation is currently awaiting a hearing in the D.C. Council’s Committee on the Judiciary.





Grosso’s Bill Eliminates Civil Statute of Limitations in Child Sex Abuse Cases

For Immediate Release
March 17, 2015

Contact: Dionne Johnson Calhoun
(202) 724-8105

Grosso’s Bill Eliminates Civil Statute of Limitations in Child Sex Abuse Cases

Washington, D.C. – Today, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) introduced the Childhood Protection Against Sexual Abuse Amendment Act of 2015. This legislation would eliminate the statute of limitations for the recovery of damages arising out of sexual abuse that occurred when a victim was a minor.  Additionally, the bill creates a two-year window for individuals whose claims were previously time-barred.

“There are few actions more depraved than sexual violence or abuse against children,” said Grosso. “Because most victims of childhood sexual abuse do not come forward until much later in their adult lives, we need to ensure that the statute of limitations is not a barrier to justice.  A person who victimizes a child should never be able to hide behind time.”

Currently there are seven states that no longer have a civil statute of limitations for claims of childhood sexual abuse.  Last week, the Utah state legislature passed similar legislation, removing the statute of limitations for civil actions against perpetrators of child sex abuse.




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.


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Grosso statement on MPD "jump outs"

Councilmember Grosso (I-At Large) released the following statement in advance of the "Justice for Ralphael Briscoe and Tamir Rice" Rally on Sunday, February 22, 2015:

As has been demonstrated through the evidence revealed during the Ralphael Briscoe case, “jump outs” are still happening and must stop immediately. The Metropolitan Police Department’s (MPD) denial about the continuing existence of jump-outs is disturbing. The fact is, if you live east of 16th Street NW, chances are you have witnessed a jump-out or the aftermath of such in a neighborhood. This practice is one that is taking place now, and we cannot continue to turn a blind eye to its use and its detrimental impact on our communities.

The jump-out tactic is the antithesis to the community policing model that MPD promotes. Not only does it immediately escalate the tension between an individual and the police, but it makes our residents fearful of doing everyday things like walking down the street or sitting on the stoop to talk with friends.

Between the field hearing the Committee on the Judiciary hosted last year, advocacy group reports and ongoing communication with residents, it is clear that there is a disconnect between how MPD views itself and the perception communities have of MPD's policing practices. As I consistently state, MPD should shift its approach from the use of violent tactics to community-based efforts and trust building. Ending the use of jump outs would be a great start towards creating a more non-violent approach to policing in D.C.. I will continue to work with my colleagues to find the best way to accomplish this change.

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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.



What a weekend in prison taught me


What a weekend in prison taught me

By David Grosso, June 13, 2014, Washington Post

I spent a recent weekend in prison.

As a guest of a program that looks to address the violent daily reality of prison, I had the opportunity — over 20 hours at the maximum-security Patuxent Institution at Jessup, Md. — to reflect on such important issues as human rights, prison culture and conflict resolution.

Some two-thirds of the more than 2 million Americans behind bars are nonviolent offenders, most convicted of drug charges. But in an overcrowded prison system, where many people are serving mandatory minimum sentences, nonviolent prisoners are turning into violent ones.

The Alternatives to Violence Project is one valuable solution to try to stop this trend. Three inmate facilitators work with an outside facilitator to lead the weekend-long program. My group included 25 inmates, with an average age of about 22; all but two of the inmates were African Americans. They deal daily with terrible conditions in the prison. Their basic human rights are violated every day.

Over the weekend, our group took part in workshops, role-playing, policy discussions and more. We worked together to try to better understand our circumstances and learned how to respond in nonviolent ways. The AVP program is based on the “transforming power” concept, with core principles that help inmates make nonviolent choices when confronted with violent situations.

In a small-group exercise, each of us told of a time when we were able to avoid violence using nonviolent tactics. All three inmates in my group had amazing stories that were fresh in their memory; they face these scenarios daily. One spoke about his confrontation with a corrections officer who had neglected to sign him out to go to prayer service. When the inmate returned, he was given a “ticket” for leaving without permission. This turned into an intense debate, and the inmate recognized his emotions escalating into fury. Fortunately, the corrections officer’s superior came in, and the inmate was able to calm down and explain the situation.

The AVP program, which began in 1975 in New York, has been shown to dramatically reduce violence in prison and repeat offenses once inmates return home. It has expanded into high schools, community centers, colleges and refu­gee camps.

Since my visit to Jessup, I think a lot about a 19-year-old inmate who is serving 10 years after his second conviction for dealing drugs (both nonviolent offenses). This young man has lived much of his life behind bars, and our society has failed him.

Of course, those who commit a crime should serve the appropriate sentence. The bigger question, though, is where should a teenager serve that sentence, especially for a nonviolent offense? When we put nonviolent offenders in the same institution with violent offenders, what do we expect to happen?

Society expects an inmate, often with little education, to navigate extremely tough situations. Many inmates landed in prison right out of low-performing schools, and, to make matters worse, their chances of rehabilitation are slim because they do not receive quality educational opportunities or resources to better themselves while serving their sentences.

The prison I visited was old, with narrow hallways and small cells. There was constant noise — somebody screaming or a gate opening or closing. There was also an overbearing presence of authority, including regular ID checks of all the inmates. Crowding and cost-cutting are huge issues. The prison recently eliminated Friday visiting hours and reduced gym rights to four days a week. There is a basic GED program, but the government cut the college education program. Many of the men in my group were frustrated with the effects of the cost-cutting. One inmate wanted to transfer to a prison where more educational opportunities might be available.

These inmates don’t want to get into more trouble. They struggle with the concepts of nonviolence because they are confronted daily with violence — more than any of us can fathom. They mostly don’t want more trouble because prison is an awful place and each inmate wants to go home. To go home quickly, they must avoid being issued tickets and participate in programs such as AVP.

For inmates, pursuing nonviolence in prison means turning the entire system on its head. I learned that the inmate AVP facilitators were highly respected precisely because they reject the violence that surrounds them. If an inmate can master the tools of nonviolence, then he can likely reduce the length of his sentence.

I walked away from the prison with a belief that locking people up for long periods for nonviolent offenses is a danger to society. We need to concentrate on fixing the prisons, and we need to do everything possible to provide help to nonviolent offenders. Society should commit to ensuring that those who serve time in prison come out better than they went in. We must commit to ending arbitrary minimum sentencing, helping rehabilitate those in the system, providing education and job training and, most of all, providing hope for the inmates.

Participating in the AVP program will help me identify and support solutions to the school-to-prison pipeline. Education is a key to helping solve this problem. We must demand that every child be given a fair chance and that our schools (from pre-kindergarten through college) be high-quality and accessible.

I look forward to being a part of the solution and working on quality schools and quality communities. And you can be sure that the next time a bill before me on the D.C. Council includes criminal sanctions, I’ll look at it in a new light, because I have seen up close what it means to require someone to spend time in jail.


The writer, an independent, is an at-large member of the D.C. Council.


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Grosso prepares for weekend in prison

By Councilmember David Grosso

Beginning this afternoon and continuing throughout the weekend, I will experience the Alternatives to Violence Program (AVP) at Patuxent Institution in Jessup, Maryland.  I will join inmate facilitators and other participants engaging together in the AVP workshops inside the prison. 

The AVP program began in 1975 with a group named “Think Tank” who started an experimental program for youth at Green Haven Prison in New York.  The group was compelled to provide nonviolence training in preparation for their roles as counselors. “Think Tank” then partnered with the Quaker Project on Community Conflict and created a prison workshop that is currently provided in seven institutions.

What led me to participate in this three day workshop in Patuxent is a desire to experience first-hand whether or not the AVP method can help in stemming the senseless violence in D.C. – from neighborhood beefs, to violence within our schools. Within the first two months of this year, the murder rate has doubled in D.C and as a community we must stand together to say enough is enough.  The violence has to stop!

I will share with you my reflections on the AVP workshops. I look forward to your comments and working together to create a city that can embrace nonviolent conflict resolution as a standard practice.

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