Meeting with the Mayor

Members of GLOV sit with Fenty, Lanier to discuss violence

by Yusef Najafi
Published on January 22, 2009, 12:00am | Comments

Last year was not a good year. Two reported homicides and several violent attacks against GLBT people in the District galvanized the community, leading several local activists to re-launch Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV), which had been active through the 1990s. Chris Farris and Todd Metrokin, co-chairs of the new GLOV, helped bring renewed attention to the recent violence by testifying at a City Council hearing on District hate crimes in December. Aside from co-chairing GLOV, Metrokin was also the victim of one such crime, in July.

And on Jan. 16, exactly one month after a local gay resident, Durval Martins, was shot and killed as he walked from the 17th Street NW strip of gay venues to his home near Q and Third Streets NW, Farris and Metrokin had the chance to have a private meeting with D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier and Acting Lt. Brett Parson, the gay officer who oversees all MPD special liaison units, including the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU).

For Metrokin, brutally beaten in Adams Morgan, and Farris, sitting with the mayor was an essential step in raising awareness about recent violence against GLBT people and finding solutions to prevent such cases in the future.

''We used the cases that we know about to prove our points,'' Farris says of the meeting held in Lanier's office. ''We know specific cases where police failed to report the crime as a bias crime. We know specific cases where the U.S. Attorney's Office [for the District of Columbia] has made decisions that make absolutely no sense. And then we also know that just as a matter of fact, where Todd's case can be considered a victory on some levels, because it resulted in a conviction, there are still anywhere between four to five attackers on the loose, even in his case. People that beat a gay man unconscious in the middle of busy Adams Morgan are still walking our streets.''

While the mayor's office was unable to provide comment by Metro Weekly deadline, Farris describes the mayor as being ''engaged and responsive'' during the 20-minute, private meeting.

''We were in such a time rush that we jumped right to the solutions,'' he says, adding that the mayor, ''never challenged us on the existence of the problem, or request for any substantiation of the problem. He acknowledged that any hate crime is too many, and noted his commitment to fighting all hate crimes.''

That commitment includes a promise to acknowledge the existence of a requirement under current D.C. law to supply an annual hate-crime report to the City Council, which Farris says has been largely ignored.

Setting goals to reduce GLBT-related harassment in D.C. schools also remains a priority.

''We need to continue to press for action in the D.C. Public School system, to make sure that LGBT youth feel safe, and that anti-LGBT attitudes are rooted out at the earliest stages,'' Farris says.

Finally, Fenty and Lanier both agreed to allow members of GLOV to meet with the next U.S. Attorney for D.C., once named.

''That meeting is crucial to leading to a reduction in anti-GLBT violence,'' Farris says. ''I am not pleased with the decisions I've seen made in hate crimes cases that have been handled by the U.S. Attorney's Office.''

Farris admits that he was disappointed, however, that the mayor's commitment does not include a public statement.

''The thing that we wanted him to commit to, really, was to make a public statement that acknowledged the problem and condemned the violence. He's very resistant to that idea. He says he's much more about action than speaking. He wants to know what concrete things his administration can do.

''Leadership on an issue starts at the top. He is the top. If the mayor publicly acknowledges the issue and pledges all necessary city resources to fight it, that sends a very strong signal across the entire city that anti-GLBT violence is not acceptable. I want that message heard loudly and clearly in all eight wards. Unfortunately, the mayor is not inclined to make such a statement.''

After meeting with the mayor, Farris and Metrokin spent about 30 minutes talking to Chief Lanier, who Farris hails as an ally of the GLBT community.

''I feel confident that we have a real partner in Chief Lanier. She's open, she's committed, she's engaged and she's smart. I have faith in her leadership and I believe strongly that she shares our goals,'' he says.

According to a GLOV press release sent out shortly after the meeting, Lanier was ''receptive'' to the idea of using an online hate crimes-training curriculum with MPD officers, and an effort to expand the GLLU by maintaining one central office and having GLLU officers work out of all of D.C.'s police districts.

In working with the mayor and the MPD, Farris reminds members of the GLBT community that they themselves also have a role to play in preventing GLBT-related violence.

''We as a community have to watch out for each other. Just like we can't let our friends drive home drunk, we can't let our friends walk home drunk. Until we start to change our own attitudes about protecting ourselves, we remain at risk. So while I believe strongly that government has a very important and crucial role to play, I also believe that our own community has an important and crucial role to play.''

For more about GLOV, visit www.glovdc.org. For the GLLU, visit www.gllu.org.