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December 22, 2010

Mayor-elect Vince Gray breaks two more promises to the LGBT Community

Vincent_c_gray In a disappointing move, Mayor-elect Vincent Gray broke two campaign promises by re-appointing Gustavo Velasquez as the Director of the Office of Human Rights (OHR).

I’ve asked Gustavo F. Velasquez to continue serving as the Director of the Office of Human Rights, leading enforcement of what is widely considered the most expansive civil and human rights statutes in the nation. He has done a terrific job these last four years and look forward to his continued service to the people of the District of Columbia.

During the campaign Mr. Grey responded to the GLAA questionnaire:

19. Will you include representatives of the LGBT community in the search process when you appoint a new Director of the Office of Human Rights?
Yes, I am aware of the history of discrimination faced by the LGBT community and will include their input in my appointment of a new Director of the Office of Human Rights.

The community was not consulted.

20. Will you appoint a Director of the Office of Human Rights with professional training and experience in civil rights law enforcement?
Yes. Recent history with the administration of the Office of Human Rights demonstrates the need for a Director with professional training and experience in civil rights law enforcement to ensure the judicial administration functions of that Office are carried out in a fair and efficient manner.

Mr. Velasquez is unqualified for the position. He has no professional training on Human Rights. His entire experience with Human Rights has been with OHR. He is the first Director of OHR to propose removing the rights of a minority, in this case transgender people.

In testimony on bullying legislation before Mr. Gray on November 29, I said:

The Office of Human Rights (OHR) has the responsibility to implement and enforce the Human Rights Act. Unfortunately, OHR’s Director Gustavo F. Velasquez has shown distaste for transgender people, their rights, and the Human Rights Act’s protections of Gender Identity and Expression. Mr. Velasquez has failed to hire any transgender people, or anyone with any experience in transgender discrimination. Mr. Velasquez has supported discrimination against transgender people in our jails. Mr. Velasquez has supported rewriting the regulations to allow discrimination against transgender people in access to restrooms. Mr. Velasquez has failed to contact business owners about the changes in the law and regulations with the addition of gender identity and expression. He has failed to let business owners know that they need to update signs on their restrooms. Mr. Velasquez has failed to take seriously the discrimination filing against more than 50 establishments for violations of the restroom signage regulations.

Mr. Velasquez has made clear that his office will not do anything to implement or enforce the law where transgender people are concerned. This gives license to people to discriminate and license for D.C. government agencies to discrimination against transgender people. The Department of Corrections leads in violating the rights of transgender people, and has done so with full support of OHR. Only through the oversight of the D.C. Council has that situation improved. The D.C. Government employs fewer transgender people than have been victims of violence this year. And Mr. Velasquez’s failure to protect transgender people or enforce the law signals violent people that it is okay to attack transgender people.

Mr. Velasquez has said that he hired someone to address the restroom violations. The staff person--who had no experience with transgender people or issues--was less then helpful to Renee Reopell, the former DC Center intern who submitted a complaint daily and told me that she couldn't trust the OHR staff to do anything that was promised. The successes in getting the signs changed were do to Renee's efforts, and not the Velasquez.He is claiming credit for Renee's work.

This is a very bad start for Mayor-elect Gray.


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The discrimination against transgender individuals is very real, but the "bathroom access" project is being handled as a farce. The only way to conceivably enforce the Human Rights Act in this instance, is to codify gender neutral bathrooms into existing building codes and regulations. The OHR has a staff of less than 25 individuals. The purpose of the agency is to investigate and fight issues concerning discrimination, which by the way, is not limited to transgender discrimination. The agency cannot function if their resources are diverted to enforcing building codes, particularly when the codes do not specify gender neutral bathrooms. Change the code, save the world. By the way, how many cases have been filed outside of Ward 1 or 2? How many in Ward 8? 5? Anywhere that yuppies aren't present? Transgender women are all over this city. If they are denied access or harassed for using a restroom consistent with their gender identity, a complaint SHOULD be filed immediately. Expend the resources on those issues, and stop re-inventing the OHR into the function of "bathroom police" for the DCRA.

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