In the past couple of years there have been several failed attempts to repeal gender identity non-discrimination policies in jurisdictions where they have already passed. Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Maryland are the most recent and most public sites of our victories preventing such repeals.
But now we face a different, much quieter and subtler threat in Washington D.C. The D.C Human Rights Act was amended to include gender identity a few years ago. And now the process is already underway, not to repeal the entire non-discrimination policy, but to pass an amendment to remove several key segments from the enforcement regulations and even put in an exemption allowing government agencies to freely discriminate against trans people in their custody. Even more worrisome, this attempt to gut the D.C. Human Rights Act is being spearheaded by the very people meant to protect it, the D.C. Office of Human Rights (OHR).
The very fact that this is taking place in the U.S. capital is extremely significant. If it succeeds, it will have a chilling effect on trans people wishing to visit their representatives. The D.C. law enforcement and the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) specifically do not have a good track record when it comes to trans and gender variant people in their custody.
There was an incident that I wrote about a year ago that demonstrates the horrific state of D.C. police transphobia. They arrested a woman they believed to be trans on "suspicion of prostitution," a charge that has often been called "walking while trans." In this incident, they arrested the woman, strip searched her to "determine her gender," decided she was must be post-op, then housed her in a male facility for two days before discovering that she actually was not trans.
D.C. police fired three officers involved in the mix-up and the case was generally acknowledged as horrible mistreatment, yet nothing was done about the fact that such treatment is standard for trans people. The "mix-up" was not that a woman was subjected to inhumane treatment, but that a cis woman was accidentally exposed to the treatment trans women are subjected to regularly.
Given that that happened just in August 2007, it's no surprise that the D.C. Department of Corrections discovered that their practices were in violation of the Human Rights Act. Instead of working to eliminate this discrimination, the DOC and Attorney General Nickles decided to put pressure on the OHR to create an exemption allowing them to discriminate. They are putting a lot of pressure on the OHR, and that appears to be the primary motivation behind this revision. The fact that the OHR is considering this such an exemption is somewhat perplexing, as it goes against the intent of the Human Rights Act as well as directly conflict with the following section.
§ 2-1402.73 Application to the District Government.
Except as otherwise provided for by District law or when otherwise lawfully and reasonably permitted, it shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice for a District government agency or office to limit or refuse to provide any facility, service, program, or benefit to any individual on the basis of an individual's actual or perceived: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, familial status, family responsibilities, disability, matriculation, political affiliation, source of income, or place of residence or business.
The proposed amendment repeals other segments of the Human Rights Code as well, such as the requirement that single occupancy restrooms cannot be gender exclusive and the allowance that government employees may have preferred names or nicknames on their name tags. However, local activists expect that a new "compromise" will be proposed, which will keep only the exemption for governmental agencies.
This attempt to target the most vulnerable members of our population is based on the assumption that the larger trans and LGBT communities will not care what happens to a few trans people in police custody. However, I hope that we are better than that. Given current events over the past year, LGBT and trans communities specifically are especially sensitive to attempts to cut certain, less desirableness from our civil rights. The government makes up one of the largest offenders when it comes to anti-trans discrimination. Creating an exemption for government agencies would be a significant rolling back of trans rights.
It's not clear when the Office of Human Rights will make a decision on this matter. After a week of several phone calls and emails back and forth, they were only able to tell me that they are still considering public comments. If you want to add your thoughts to the public commends you can send them your testimony at firstname.lastname@example.org.