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

For Immediate Release: 
June 3, 2019
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.





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

For Immediate Release: 
May 24, 2019
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.”




DOC responds to Grosso letter on treatment of transgender inmates, educational services for detained students

On February 6, 2018, Councilmember Grosso sent a letter to Department of Corrections Director Quincy Booth, in light of the cancellation of the additional oversight hearing that the Committee on the Judiciary had called and the fact that Councilmember Grosso would be unable to attend the DOC Performance Oversight Hearing. The questions focused on three topics:

  • DOC policies/practices for housing transgender inmates;
  • volunteering at DOC;
  •  and education-related matters.

On March 13, Director Booth sent a response letter that highlighted some areas of concern but also some progress.

In 2017, there were 48 inmates identified as transgender. The housing process seems to be going as contemplated when it was changed around 2008, with two exceptions: transgender inmates are “provided standard jail attire and privileges consistent with the gender of their housing assignment” which is an issue because most transgender women are housed in the men’s unit (based on their own request)—they should get gender-appropriate clothing; and transgender inmates who were on hormone therapy prior to incarceration may be continued—they should be continued barring a medical reason not to, and even if they were not getting it in the community, they should get it in the jail if it's medically appropriate. 

Director Booth also reported out on a Memorandum of Agreement between Department of Correction, D.C. Public Schools, and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, that articulated these agencies respective obligations regarding educational services to students committed to DOC as pretrial detainees and sentenced inmates.  It is based in part on the recommendations by OSSE in its 2016 Letter of Determination regarding state complaints about special education services at DOC.

Both Councilmember Grosso's original letter and DOC's response can be found below.



Grosso recognized in Advocate's "18 Greatest Allies for Trans Equality in Office"

Our 18 Greatest Allies for Trans Equality in Office

David Grosso

David Grosso, a member of the Washington, D.C., City Council and an independent, has been a stalwart advocate for transgender equality, helping to usher through legislation that makes the nation’s capital one of the most progressive cities for trans rights in the nation.

“[Grosso] has been an amazing supporter of the trans community, from hiring trans people on his staff to sponsoring (and passing!) bills that help the trans community, like the recent health care cultural competency bill,” says Alison Gill, a senior partner at the Parallax Group who has helped author and pass trans-friendly health care, anti-conversion therapy, and antibullying bills.

To view the article in its entirety, please click here:




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 Calls for New Approach to Improve Relationship between MPD and the Transgender Community

For Immediate Release: 

 February 27, 2014

Contact: Dionne Johnson Calhoun

(202) 724-8105


Washington, D.C. - Today, Councilmember David Grosso (At Large-I) issued the following statement regarding the recently released report by the Hate Crimes Assessment Task Force written by the Anti-Defamation League on the Metropolitan Police Department's (MPD) programs in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community:  

The report released yesterday on relations between MPD and the LGBT community is an important step toward improving public safety in our city. While I think the recommendations are sensible and Chief Lanier should act on them quickly, I was concerned in particular with one of the findings. It is upsetting that our transgender residents continue to have extremely negative interactions with MPD, despite MPD having some of the best LGBT policies in the country.

Another concern after reading the report was that the findings and recommendations on improving safety for transgender residents did not mention the policing of commercial sex. The report noted that transgender women (African-Americans and Latinas in particular), express that MPD regularly views and treats them as criminals. This might be as much a result of legal policies as it is a result of police bias.

Just as we are reconsidering our drug laws, which have been found to be discriminatory, I think it is time that we open up the conversation regarding how we handle commercial sex.  We need to consider changing from a framework of criminalization to a framework that emphasizes the health and human rights of those involved. I look forward to having serious conversations about these topics with my constituents and my colleagues.