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February 16, 2011

Gray dismisses corrections director Brown

Jason Cherkis in Loose Lips reports that Mayor Gray has dismissed Department of Corrections director Devon Brown. Cherkis includes this: "Under Brown, the D.C. Jail also adopted a more progressive policy towards transgender inmates."

As Bob Summersgill tweeted, "@Jasoncherkis seems to think that Brown was good for transgender people." He followed up, regarding the revised policy on the treatment of transgender detainees, "It wasn't even a very good policy, just better than Brown's policy of encouraging violence against transpeople," and "Sad that Brown tried to gut the Human Rights Act so he could legally hurt transgender people."

Cherkis replied, "Explain this piece." Bob correctly answered, "GLAA honored the DCTC for their work to keep Brown from continuing his policies," and "GLAA did not honor Brown." He added, "Here is @RickRosendall 's presentation of the award." My presentation to the DC Trans Coalition, Just Detention International, and Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs began with this:

Last summer, a proposed rulemaking was published in the D.C. Register that amounted to a repeal by regulation of the transgender protections in the D.C. Human Rights Act as they pertain to the Department of Corrections. Dozens of local and national LGBT advocates united in opposition. In the course of several months of negotiations and research, the rulemaking was withdrawn and a new policy developed which represents an improvement from where we were last July, though it bears monitoring. While our work is not finished, the spirit of cooperation that has been shown is a model for effective coalition work. This evening we honor three groups that played leading roles in this collective effort to defend transgender rights.
The struggle over the DOC policy toward transgenders was set off by Devon Brown's illegal effort to "repeal by rulemaking" the transgender protections in the D.C. Human Rights Act as they applied to Corrections. It would not occur to anyone familiar with that struggle to credit Devon Brown for his "progressive" actions. But Cherkis tweeted (in response to Jason Terry, who was in on the discussion), "but policy still changed. Do you think reform is easy? Especially D.C. Jail reform?" and "@summersgill well you would really have hated the people who ran D.C. Jail before Brown. Brown looks good in light of previous directors." Bob replied, "The previous people didn't try to repeal the Human Rights Act. DCTC & @GLAADC will be happy that Brown is gone."

Cherkis tweeted, "OK. GLAA wouldn't honor Brown. Brown was just the guy who adopted the policy after lobbying efforts. Kinda how it works," and "not sure why yr mad at DOC director who adopted progressive trans policy." Bob tweeted, "The policy was forced on Brown. He fought it & weakened it. He was the bad guy in that story. Interview people & see."

I agree with Bob that Cherkis missed the story on this. The present DOC policy, which GLAA and DCTC are not satisfied with but which we recognized as an improvement, appears not even to have been properly implemented (for example DOC's promised transgender committee reportedly has excluded trans activists), making it a paper policy. GLAA hopes to see a new Corrections director who takes his or her responsibility not to discriminate more seriously. Our policy statement on the issue is here. Yes, Mr. Cherkis, we know how the system works. We and our allies, including DCTC, made the best of a bad situation. Brown's intransigence, which was budged (albeit apparently only on paper) by then-Attorney General Peter Nickles, should not be glossed over with a context-free statement that he did something progressive.

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