Friday, July 18, 2008

Strongest Anti-Discrimination Rules in the U.S. Threatened?

In December 2005, the Human Rights Clarification Act was unanimously approved by the District of Columbia’s City Council due to the hard work and persistence of transgender residents and workers, council members and community allies. Regulations soon followed, which gave the law teeth through enforcement, preventing real forms of discrimination transgender and gender diverse people face. The law puts employers, landlords, city agencies and public accommodations on notice that discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression is illegal in the District.

After these regulations were effective, the DC Trans Coalition (DCTC) - a group united to improve the lives of transgender people in DC - educated community members about their rights, worked with the DMV in developing a policy for transgender people to obtain appropriate identification, and collaborated with Police Chief Lanier on developing a general order on how police officers must handle interactions with transgender individuals. These key victories built momentum in DCTC’s campaign to address the inordinate rates of prison violence directed toward transgender people.

Despite DCTC’s efforts to work with the Department of Corrections (DOC) to help them comply with the changes to the Human Rights Act, the DOC continues to violate the law. Rather than work with the DCTC and ensure transgender individual’s safety and security within the DC jails, DOC covertly submitted an amendment to the Human Rights Act that “clarifies how the gender identity and gender expression regulations apply to transgender individuals in District government custody,” which would jeopardize the safety of transgender inmates as well as transgender employees working for District Agencies.

According to the amendment, ALL District agencies would be excluded from providing public accommodations that correspond to a transgender person’s self-determined gender identity. This means that agencies like the DOC would have the power to place a transgender person in the gender-specific facility even if it invalidates that individual’s self-determined gender identity. Furthermore, the amendment would force all government agencies to assign government badges that state the employee’s legal name, and only after a legal name change would the employee be able to change their badge - legal name changes are expensive and out of reach for certain transgender individuals. Having identification that does not conform to ones outward appearance could create an unnecessary risk for verbal and physical harassment.

Unfortunately, the teeth once used to enforce the strongest anti-discrimination rules in the country are being replaced with dentures. The DOC’s action is a clear administrative rollback of the application of this law. If this amendment is accepted, transgender people will lose the rights and protections that other individuals have when they are incarcerated, institutionalized, or otherwise within the District’s custody.

Inequality should never be accepted. We must do something now. If you live in the DC Metro Area, please submit a public comment before August 8th on why amending this law discriminates against the transgender and gender diverse community to:

Alexis Taylor, General Counsel
The District of Columbia Office of Human Rights
441 4th Street, NW
Suite 570 North
Washington, DC 20001

Please be sure to send an electronic copy to the members of the DC Council at Additionally, if you have time on Saturday, please consider joining the DCTC from 1-3pm to let the Department of Corrections know that they cannot ignore the transgender community, allies, and the need for safety and security within DC’s jails.

-Rhodes Perry

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