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LGBTQ.

One of the defining moments of my life was when at 17 I went on a Civil Rights march to commemorate the deaths of James Cheney and Mickey Schwerner in Philadelphia, Miss.

James Cheney was a black southerner from Meridian, Miss. who joined the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); his mother was a domestic and his father was a share-cropper. His fight for racial equality and voting rights, as a black southerner, was very personal, it was a fight for his family and friends.

But for Mickey Schwerner, a white, liberal in his 20’s from New York who left a new wife behind to travel to Mississippi, it was about picking up a cause. He believed that a man was his brother regardless of color or creed.

Just as Schwerner and Cheney stood shoulder-to-shoulder to fight discrimination then, I am proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with LGBTQ brothers and sisters to fight discrimination today.

Human Rights

As a council member, I will continue to fight — as I have as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner — to ensure that LGBT couples have the right to marry and enjoy all the benefits implied therein. Any initiative to limit LGBT marriage is a clear violation of the Human Rights Act of the District of Columbia. As a member of the City Council I will be vigilantly safeguard the rights of all District residents.

The District of Columbia at all levels of government has a major problem with transparency, patronage and corruption. As an ANC Commissioner I have seen the difficulty of administering small grants programs without adequate oversight resources. Until the District makes a concerted effort to completely revamp its grant-making programs, priorities and non-competitive earmarks for every agency, no new grant-making authority should be bestowed upon any District department/agency. The LGBT office staff would be better used to identify resources for the 501C3 organizations within existing city programs and/or providing councilmembers reports on the adequacy of support services going to the community. However, while at this time I am not supportive of grant-making authority, as a legislator, I will introduce needed measures to the budget to ensure that critical services that have proven effective, are fully funded. D.C. will not be a true beacon of equality if we are not taking care of those communities in need.

As a legislator, I will speak out about the need to increase education and sensitivity training programs at all levels of government and within the private sector, as appropriate, to ensure an aggressive effort to hire transgendered workers. Quality workers are not defined by their gender and employers should in no way judge a person’s ability to do a good job based on their gender identity. Education and sensitivity training should not be limited to the hiring process and I would support mandatory sensitivity training for government workplaces that employ transgender workers.

I served as a regional spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee (DNC). As you know, the DNC has very strong LGBT programs and initiatives for which I was a spokesperson on many occasions. I also served as spokesperson for an openly gay candidate running for Congress in San Diego (Christine Kehoe).

While no staff or volunteers have been asked to identify their race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, yes my campaign does have self-identified LGBT members. My campaign committee chair is gay, as are several of my campaign volunteers/members of my inner circle, many of whom are prominent LGBT leaders in the national political circles.  My spokesperson is Latina, my fundraisers are African-American and I am in the process of hiring additional staff from a very diverse pool of candidates.

Public Safety

Since its inception in 2000, the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU) has offered an invaluable service to members of the LGBT community and MPD. Because D.C. has such a diverse and growing LGBT community, the services of GLLU are becoming that much more important. The GLLU provides the necessary shield both to stop would-be attackers as well as rapid response to victims of crime. The GLLU is a huge asset to MPD and should be expanded as necessary, including the addition of a full-time sergeant.

However, while the importance and continued support of the GLLU is evident, that does not mean that all members of the Metropolitan Police Department as well as D.C. Fire and EMS should not receive the proper training necessary to deal with any and all situations — including LGBT issues. Every single first responder should be fully trained and educated on how to understand, deal with and accept all residents of the District, including members of the LGBT community.

In addition to a strong public education campaign (public service announcements, speeches by councilmembers and the Mayor, public panels, etc.), one way for the District to aggressively respond to the increased incidents of hate crimes is urgently pursue and publicly report each incident of a hate crime. Far too often more effective action isn’t taken because the circumstances of an event are shrouded in secrecy. While each victim most definitely deserves their privacy, that does not limit MPD from releasing information about each incident as well as compiling a weekly/monthly report of alleged hate crimes for distribution to affected parties including the council. MPD also needs to consider the possibility that more crimes are actually hate crimes and not random assaults. As an ANC Commissioner, I have personally witnessed fights which are classified as simple assaults (a fist fight between two people on the street) where fists are thrown as much as the term “faggot”. These are not simple assaults; these are hate crimes, pure and simple.

I am in favor of all race, ethnicity and gender being the expression of personal, individual identities. This is the current policy of the census on race and ethnicity, and is eminently practicable in gender identification. I would work with the Department of Corrections for an administrative rules change and with the LGBT community to examine any necessary legislative amendment.

Education and Youth

As the father of two small children, I whole heartedly support the discussion of sexual orientation in learning about sex education in public and charter schools. The more public and open we can with our children about these issues the better.

Discrimination comes from ignorance, misunderstandings and a lack of personal knowledge of the very people that are being discriminated against. In addition to sexual orientation education for our students, our teachers and administrators need to be trained to understand, know what to be concerned about and how to work with LGBT students. The school years are often a particularly sensitive time because young people are just learning about or perhaps struggling with their gender identity or sexual orientation. Teachers need targeted training to have the capacity to understand and ultimately help potentially vulnerable students.

I will start by working with each office hand-in-hand to ensure that they are instituting the appropriate measure to instill a safe and supportive environment for all LGBT students. These include all the necessary training programs for teachers and faculty, as well as ensuring supervised and well-lead student discussions and learning about the subject to take away all the mystery and ‘hype’ which can lead to an abusive learning environment for LGBT students
I will confer with the LGBT community leaders and with their help will conduct an audit of afterschool services to see what is being offered, how effective it has been and what needs to be augmented, replaced, or newly implemented to ensure the needs of LGBT youth are being met properly, safely and effectively.

Health/HIV/AIDS

The current policy of issuing annual reports that repeat the lines that DC is comparable to nations in West Africa is not working. Council oversight has been lacking, as have non-federal funds. The rates in DC are peculiar to our population, our policies and our interest in the issue. We cannot wait for federal largesse (largely from NIH) to solve it on our behalf.

I advocate an “all departments” approach to this issue—police, housing, transport, consumer and regulatory affairs, all departments—must be brought to bear on this issue. We must reduce the wait for housing, increase the access to services and provide consistent monetary support from D.C. tax dollars for the community groups serving the LGBT community.

But HIV/AIDS is not just an LGBT issue. The number one killer of minority women between the ages of 25 and 44 is AIDS. We need to approach HIV/AIDS in the minority community with the same fervor the as the LGBT community in the 1980s. We need an education program to reach out into our minority schools and churches.

I have spent my entire adult life fighting against discrimination based on culture, race and color — that experience makes it is impossible for me not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation. We have been down this road before in this country.

Separate is not equal. The rights to liberty and happiness belong to each of us and on the same terms, without regard to either skin color or sexual orientation. Our rights as Americans do not depend on the approval of others. Our rights depend on us being Americans.

We’re elected not to follow but to lead. We’re elected to cast what might sometimes be a difficult, challenging, and politically inexpedient vote. We’re elected to represent our constituents when they’re right, and to vote our consciences regardless of whether our constituents are right. And our conscience should be telling us to stand up for civil rights regardless of how unpopular it may appear.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” Such a time is now.

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