Tag Archives: district of columbia

D.C. pension fund divests of fossil fuel investments

The District of Columbia government announced June 6 that its $6.4 billion pension fund has fully divested from its direct investments in 200 of the world’s most polluting fossil fuel companies.

In doing so, Washington, D.C., has taken a critical step toward addressing climate change, joining the more than 500 cities, philanthropic organizations, faith groups, universities and other organizations that have divested funds worth a collective $3.4 trillion.

The decision by the District of Columbia Retirement Board to sell off its fossil fuel investments underscores D.C.’s commitment to protecting environmental quality and ensuring that generations of Washingtonians will inherit a safe and stable climate.

It also marks a victory for DC Divest, the citizens group that led a three-year campaign aimed at promoting divestment in the District of Columbia. “Time is up for the powers that be to act on climate change. If we’re going to take real action on climate change, we must take a hard stance against the fossil fuel industry,” said DC Divest spokesman Matt Grason. “By divesting from fossil fuels, the nation’s capital has taken a critical step in creating the political will for climate action. Now it’s time for Congress to take note and pass comprehensive legislation to limit the carbon pollution driving climate change.”

“I applaud the D.C Retirement Board for doing right by all Washingtonians,” said D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen. “In the past, divestment has proven to be an incredibly powerful tool for effecting positive change. By divesting from fossil fuels D.C. has helped pave the way for a brighter, better future.”

D.C.’s decision to divest from fossil fuels is the latest action the nation’s capital has taken to promote sustainability and protect the health of its residents from climate change impacts.

The district also adopted the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and Mayor Muriel Bowser recently signed a 20-year agreement that will supply 35 percent of the district government’s electricity with wind power and save residents $45 million over the next 20 years.

Climate change is a life or death issue here in the District of Columbia, and it disproportionately harms low income families and communities of color,” said the Rev. Lennox Yearwood, president and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus. “We can’t afford to wait any longer. The decision to divest from fossil fuels is an incredible act of leadership that came just in time.”

The decision to divest shows that D.C. takes seriously its responsibility to protect pensioners from risky fossil fuel investments,” said Jesse White, a District of Columbia Public Schools teacher and DCRB beneficiary. “As the U.S. continues to transition to a clean energy economy, our investments must follow suit.”

On June 7, the Council of the District of Columbia will formally vote on a ceremonial resolution lauding the board for removing all direct investments in fossil fuels.

The resolution is set be introduced by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Councilmembers Charles Allen and David Grosso.

D.C. votes to decriminalize marijuana

The District of Columbia City Council on March 4 voted to remove criminal penalties for the possession of marijuana in amounts of one ounce or less.

The bill would treat such possession as a civil offense.

It still needs the approval of Mayor Vincent Gray and then Congress.

The council vote was 10 to 1, with one abstention.

“This vote is proof: The people of Washington, DC, are tired of living in a city where a Black person is eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, despite similar rates of use,” said Seema Sadanandan of the ACLU. “This legislation is a victory for racial justice — a crucial step towards eliminating racial profiling in the enforcement of drug laws and the disproportionate punishments suffered by people of color in this city.”

Last year, the ACLU released a report showing the the severe racial disparities in arrests in the district for marijuana possession.

Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, said, “With its decriminalization bill, Washington, D.C., joins the ever-growing number of cities and states enacting marijuana reform. We look forward to the day when the whole country has rejected marijuana prohibition and the unfair burdens it places on people of color.”

The bill, titled the Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2014, would allow police to fine a person $25 for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana, while also requiring forfeiture of the marijuana and any paraphernalia connected to personal consumption or transport.

D.C. announces comprehensive health care plans for transgender citizens

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray on Feb. 27 announced that public and private health insurance plans regulated by the D.C. government are required to cover transition-related care.

Local activists, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Center for American Progress and D.C. officials worked on the initiative.

“This victory reaffirms growing agreement among advocates and the medical community that D.C.’s health care nondiscrimination laws require that insurance cover medically necessary transgender health care,” said Andy Bowen, NCTE policy associate.

Andrew Cray of CAP’s LGBT Research and Communications Project added, “This policy will make D.C.’s health care programs and insurance coverage the most comprehensive in the country for the full scope of health care that transgender people need throughout their lives. But more importantly, this announcement tells transgender people in the district that their health matters.”

D.C.’s Department of Insurance, Securities, and Banking released an advisory on Feb. 27 that said it will view “attempts by companies to limit or deny medically necessary treatments for gender dysphoria, including gender reassignment surgeries, to be discriminatory.”

DISB also stated, “It is the position of the Department that treatment for gender dysphoria, including gender reassignment surgeries, is a covered benefit…”

Gray, in a news conference, said D.C. Medicaid and government employee plans will conform to DISB’s explanation of D.C. law.

“The insurance bulletin means so much to transgender people,” said Mara Keisling, NCTE’s executive director. “It means health care is affordable and means we can access that care without delay or limitation. Here in the nation’s capital, transgender people won’t be forced to choose between paying the bills or paying for health care.”

Other partners in the campaign included the D.C. Trans Coalition, Casa Ruby, Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, Whitman Walker Health and the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club.

The announcement follows similar policies in California, Oregon, Vermont, Colorado and Connecticut.

Famous church’s bells to ring for same-sex couples

The Washington National Cathedral had been ready to embrace same-sex marriage for some time, though it took a series of recent events and a new leader for the prominent, 106-year-old church to announce last week that it would begin hosting such nuptials.

The key development came last July when the Episcopal Church approved a ceremony for same-sex unions at its General Convention in Indianapolis, followed by the legalization of gay marriage in Maryland, which joined the District of Columbia. The national church made a special allowance for marriage ceremonies in states where gay marriage is legal.

Longtime same-sex marriage advocate the Very Rev. Gary Hall took over as the cathedral’s dean in October. Conversations began even before he arrived to clear the way for the ceremonies at the church that so often serves as a symbolic house of prayer for national celebrations and tragedies.

The Episcopal bishop of Washington, the Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, authorized use of the new marriage rite in December for 89 congregations in D.C. and Maryland. Each priest then decides whether to marry same-sex couples.

The cathedral’s congregation and leadership include many gays and lesbians. The church was just waiting for the right moment and the right leader.

“This was something that was brewing in the cathedral. We were really waiting for him,” Budde told The Associated Press. “It would have been inconceivable for the Cathedral to call somebody who was not in favor of full equality for gay and lesbian people.”

Hall, a former rector at churches in Michigan, Pennsylvania and California and a seminary dean in Chicago, had been a leader in developing liturgical rites for same-sex blessings in the Episcopal Church. Budde said Hall was a catalyst for change in the church’s marriage tradition.

Cathedral officials said the church will be among the first Episcopal congregations to implement a new rite of marriage adapted from the blessing ceremony for gay and lesbian couples that was approved last year by the Episcopal Church’s national governing body.

Official Episcopal law still defines marriage as between a man and a woman, so the cathedral says it will be performing weddings that combine civil marriage ceremonies under local law with a blessing from the church. They will use the new language approved for same-sex couples instead of the marriage ceremony from the Book of Common Prayer. Only one major U.S. Protestant group, the United Church of Christ, has endorsed same-sex marriage outright.

Some congregations have left the Episcopal Church over its inclusion of gays and lesbians over the years.

Hall said performing same-sex marriages is an opportunity to break down barriers and build a more inclusive community “that reflects the diversity of God’s world.”

“I read the Bible as seriously as fundamentalists do,” Hall told the AP. “And my reading of the Bible leads me to want to do this because I think it’s being faithful to the kind of community that Jesus would have us be.”

As the nation’s most prominent church, the cathedral has long hosted presidential inaugural services and funerals for Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his last sermon there in 1968. It draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

The move is also a chance to influence the nation, beyond the Episcopal Church.

“As a kind of tall-steeple, public church in the nation’s capital, by saying we’re going to bless same-sex marriages, conduct same-sex marriages, we are really trying to take the next step for marriage equality in the nation and in the culture,” Hall said.

Observers noted the powerful symbolism the massive Gothic cathedral carries in American religious life from one of the highest points in the nation’s capital. The change comes just before the Supreme Court will hear debate in two cases involving gay marriage in March.

Including gays and lesbians in marriage reflects the growing sentiment of many Americans “that this is simply a matter of equality,” said Randall Balmer, chairman of Dartmouth College’s department of religion and himself an Episcopal priest.

“What I think religious groups do best is they put people in proximity with one another,” he said. “My sense is that it’s much more difficult to condemn homosexuality if you know that the son of your best friend in church or someone who worships in the next pew from you is gay.”

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights group, applauded the cathedral’s change as a milestone.

“Today, the church sent a simple but powerful message to LGBT Episcopalians _ you are loved just the way you are, and for that we embrace you,” said the Rev. MacArthur Flournoy, the deputy director of HRC’s religion and faith program.

The conservative National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, said the cathedral’s change was “disappointing but not surprising,” given the direction of the Episcopal Church. In light of the cathedral’s national prominence, spokesman Thomas Peters called the marriage announcement “an opportunity for people to wake up to what’s happening.”

“It reminds us that marriage is really an all or nothing deal,” he said. “Does America want to retain its marriage tradition or fundamentally give it up?”

Same-sex marriage is now legal in nine states and the District of Columbia. Legislators in Illinois and Rhode Island are set to take up bills to possibly join them.

The first same-sex wedding performed last month at West Point’s Cadet Chapel drew some protests from conservatives. The National Cathedral is even more visible.

Budde, the Episcopal bishop, said there is a long tradition of changing views in the church on racial equality, slavery and the role of women.

“When I was born, girls couldn’t be acolytes. Now I’m bishop of one of the largest dioceses in the country,” she said.

Budde said the cathedral is confident and certain of its decision but realizes it causes difficulty for other fellow Christians.

“This is a big deal, and we’re moving with as much graciousness and humility as we can,” she said.

Gay weddings will be allowed immediately. But it will likely be six months to a year before the first marriages are performed due to the cathedral’s busy schedule and its pre-marital counseling requirement. Generally, only couples affiliated with the cathedral are eligible.

The cathedral hosts about 16 weddings a year. Church leaders had not received any requests for same-sex weddings ahead of the announcement.

Hall said he does not expect any objections within the cathedral congregation, but the change may draw scrutiny from the outside.

He said he sees marriage as a human issue, not a political issue.

“For us to be able to say we embrace same-sex marriage as a tool for faithful people to live their lives as Christian people,” he said, “for us to be able to say that at a moment when so many other barriers toward full equality and full inclusion for gay and lesbian people are falling, I think it is an important symbolic moment.”

Washington National Cathedral to allow same-sex weddings

The Washington National Cathedral announced Jan. 9 that – effective immediately – it will allow the celebration of same-sex weddings.

The Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean, said in an announcement on the cathedral’s website, “Washington National Cathedral has a long history of advancing equality for people of all faiths and perspectives. The cathedral is called to serve as a gathering place for the nation in times of significance, but it is also rooted in its role as the most visible faith community within the Episcopal Church. For more than 30 years, the Episcopal Church has prayed and studied to discern the evidence of God’s blessing in the lives of same-sex couples. It is now only fitting that the National Cathedral follow suit. We enthusiastically affirm each person as a beloved child of God—and doing so means including the full participation of gays and lesbians in the life of this spiritual home for the nation.”

The announcement said that, consistent with the canons of the Episcopal Church, the cathedral will begin celebrating same-sex marriage ceremonies using a rite adapted from an existing blessing ceremony approved in August 2012 by the Church at its General Convention. That approval allowed for the bishops who oversee each diocese within the church to decide whether or not to allow the rite’s use or to allow celebration of same-sex marriage.

In the District of Columbia, same-sex couples can legally enter civil marriages. Same-sex couples also can legally marry in neighboring Maryland.

The cathedral announcement said that the Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, whose Episcopal Diocese of Washington includes D.C. and four counties in Maryland, decided in December 2012 to allow this expansion of the sacrament. Hall, as dean of the National Cathedral, ultimately led the cathedral’s decision and adaptation of the same-sex rite.

“In my 35 years of ordained ministry, some of the most personally inspiring work I have witnessed has been among gay and lesbian communities where I have served,” Hall said. “I consider it a great honor to lead this cathedral as it takes another historic step toward greater equality – and I am pleased that this step follows the results made clear in this past November’s election, when three states voted to allow same-sex marriage.”

He continued, “Matters of human sexual identity and questions about the church’s role in blessing lifelong, committed relationships between its members are serious issues around which feelings run high and people of good will can often disagree. It is my hope and prayer that, if all of us open ourselves to the fullness and diversity of our nation’s many voices, we will learn to walk together in a new way as we listen for God’s call to us to be faithful to each other and to God.”

“The Episcopal Church has shown faithfulness and courage in the long discernment process that led to the development and approval of this rite. The Diocese of Washington has similarly been a leader in the implementation of marriage equality. I have shared this decision with the Chapter and staff prior to this announcement, and I am proud that Washington National Cathedral will be among the first Episcopal institutions to adopt and implement a rite that will enable our faithful LGBT members to share in the sacramental blessings of Christian marriage,” Hall concluded.

All weddings at the cathedral are conducted as Christian marriages in which the couple commits to lifelong faithfulness, love, forbearance and mutual comfort. At least one person in the couple must have been baptized.

As a general rule, only couples directly affiliated with the life of the cathedral – as active, contributing members of the congregation; as alumni or alumnae of the cathedral schools; as individuals who have made significant volunteer or donor contributions over a period of time; or those judged by the dean to have played an exceptional role in the life of the nation – are eligible to be married at the cathedral.

D.C. government unveils transgender awareness campaign

The District of Columbia government has launched what it calls the nation’s first government-sponsored campaign to promote awareness and understanding of transgender people.

Mayor Vincent Gray and the D.C. Office of Human Rights unveiled five ads on Sept. 13 to be displayed around the U.S. capital. The ads feature transgender residents of the district who deliver messages of respect, with quotes about their lives and favorite district activities.

“While working together on this groundbreaking campaign, I have been continuously impressed by the courage and determination of the transgender and gender non-conforming communities here in the District,” said OHR director Gustavo Velasquez. “The Office of Human Rights is proud to partner with these communities in eradicating the injustices they too often face, and we know this partnership will extend far beyond the life of this campaign.”

The campaign messages were created over a four-month period with involvement from transgender advocates, three focus groups and numerous organizations, including Alston Marketing, Casa Ruby, DC Trans Coalition, Transgender Health Empowerment, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force’s Transgender Civil Rights Project, Movement Advancement Project, National Center for Transgender Equality and Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

“I chose to participate in this campaign and advocate on behalf of the transgender community in memory of LaShay McLean, my intern who was killed last year because she was a transgender woman,” said Iden Campbell McCollum, a mental health advocate and transgender man who is featured in one of the ads. “Our community still faces high levels of discrimination and violence, but things are improving, and the government’s willingness to launch a campaign for our community speaks to that improvement.”

The mayor said he wants to ensure that transgender people have equal access to employment, housing and public accommodations and that they feel safe.

Gray launched the campaign at MOVA Lounge, an LGBT bar in the trendy U Street area of northwest Washington.

“This district is committed to ensuring that all people are protected from discrimination, and that includes discrimination against the transgender and gender-non-conforming communities,” Gray said in a statement. “This landmark campaign from the Office of Human Rights is an important piece of a larger effort by my administration to ensure all residents have equal access to employment, housing and public services and accommodations regardless of gender identity or expression.”

Supreme Court lets stand D.C. same-sex marriage law

The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from opponents of same-sex marriage who want to overturn the District of Columbia’s gay marriage law.

The court did not comment in turning away a challenge from a Maryland pastor and others who are trying to get a measure on the ballot to allow Washington voters to weigh in on a measure that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Bishop Harry Jackson led a lawsuit against the district’s Board of Elections and Ethics after it refused to put that initiative on the ballot. The board ruled that the ballot question would in effect authorize discrimination.

The High Court’s decision is considered a major blow to anti-equality foes and it effectively ends the initiative controversy.

“Today’s action by the Supreme Court makes abundantly clear that D.C.’s human rights protections are strong enough to withstand the hateful efforts of outside anti-LGBT groups to put people’s basic civil rights on the ballot,” said Joe Solmonese, president of Human Rights Campaign, in a written statement.

Last year, Washington began issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples and in 2009, it began recognizing gay marriages performed elsewhere.

150 same-sex couples seek marriage licenses in DC

WASHINGTON (AP) — One gay couple met on a Star Trek fan site, another dancing at a country western bar. Some have been together for months, others more than a decade.

About 150 pairs had something in common Wednesday, though, applying for wedding licenses on the first day same-sex unions became legal in the nation’s capital.

The mood at the marriage bureau inside the city’s Moultrie Courthouse was celebratory. Couples clapped, called out “Congratulations” and cupcakes and tulips were handed out. One family said it was important to show up the first day.

“It sets a good example,” said district resident Christine Burkhart, who married Denise Gavin in a ceremony in 2006 in Washington.

The pair stood in line rocking their twin 4-month-olds, Milo and Josephine. “We’ll be able to tell them that we all went together as a family.”

The District of Columbia became the sixth place in the country permitting same-sex unions. Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont also issue same-sex couples licenses.

Because of a processing period of three business days for all marriage license applicants, the couples won’t be able to marry until Tuesday. That’s the day they can pick up their licenses.

Sinjoyla Townsend, 41, and her partner of 12 years, Angelisa Young, 47, claimed the first spot in line just after 6 a.m. The district residents are already domestic partners but wanted to marry.

“It’s like waking up Christmas morning,” said Young, who teared up when she sat down to process their paperwork. “It’s really like a dream come true.”

Most couples who applied for licenses were from the district and nearby Virginia and Maryland, which said last week it will recognize same-sex unions performed elsewhere until the state Legislature or courts decide otherwise. One couple got on the road at 4 a.m. to drive from West Virginia and another couple was from Delaware. Some said it was symbolic to get married in the nation’s capital, but for many D.C. is simply home.

A number of couples worried that the licenses would be short-lived as in California, where same-sex marriage was legal for a time but later overturned by voters.

In D.C., the marriage bureau prepared for the day by making license applications gender-neutral, asking for the name of each “spouse” rather than the “bride” and “groom.” The bureau also brought in temporary employees to help its regular staff. Couples got numbers when they arrived to help with crowd control.

Normally, the bureau handles 10 applications a day. On Wednesday it was 151, though at least four heterosexual couples did show up, including Matt Lawson, 30, and Christine Vander Molen, 27.

They are getting married next weekend and couldn’t wait any longer to apply for a license. Vander Molen said she didn’t mind being the “odd couple out” and found it funny when one person looked at them quizzically and asked, “You two are getting married to each other?”

The gay marriage law was introduced in the 13-member D.C. Council in October and had near-unanimous support from the beginning. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty signed it in December, but because Washington is a federal district, the law had to undergo a congressional review period that expired March 2.

Opponents have so far been unsuccessful in challenging the law, but they are still attempting to overturn the bill in court. That worries Eric North and Tom French, both 45, who were at the courthouse.

“We want to get in when we can,” French said.

“I want to be able to say I’m married,” North added.