Editor's note: Guest blogger Bob Summersgill is a long-time GLBT rights activist in the District of Columbia who has successfully led numerous human rights efforts. He delivered the following remarks while presenting a Distinguished Service Award to Councilmember Phil Mendelson at The D.C. Center's Fall Reception.
D.C. has a great Council. Every domestic partnership, transgender rights, and HIV prevention bill over the past decade has passed unanimously. All of my counterparts working to pass GLBT rights legislation around the country are green with envy.
The best of the best is our next Distinguished Service Award winner: Councilmember Phil Mendelson.
The D.C. Center has several programs that have benefited directly from Phil's work on the Council.
D.C. for Marriage has almost finished its work thanks to Phil. I've worked with Phil on a series of bills expanding domestic partnership rights, concluding with a historic, groundbreaking, national model parental rights law.
Phil wrote the marriage recognition bill and laid the ground work for marriage equality by removing all of the legal barriers that might have stopped us. Phil was the only Councilmember to testify at the Board of Elections and Ethics hearing on whether the referendum to strip away our marriage recognition rights would be a proper subject.
At the rally this Spring responding to the California Supreme Court's ruling on the legality of Prop 8 and the status of couples already married, Phil was the only Councilmember to attend.
In a few weeks Phil will be one of several Councilmembers to introduce a marriage equality bill. Phil will be holding the hearing and moving the bill through the Council.
The HIV Working Group has had an easier time thanks to Phil. In the past two years Phil has blocked or re-written three bills that would have created mandatory HIV testing for people getting married, accused of crimes, or in jail. All public health agencies say that this is a bad idea because it raises stigma of the disease and consequently reduces the number of people who get tested.
Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence formed in response to hate crimes. Phil held a hearing to address the spike in hate crimes and the police response.
Phil's aggressive oversight is largely responsible for the 911 emergency system working. Before Phil became chairmen of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, no answer and getting put on hold were common for 911 callers.
Phil has blocked or re-written bills from Mayors Williams and Fenty to target people based on their appearance as prostitutes and gang members. These over-the-top violations of our civil liberties would have been particularly hard on transgender people who are often mischaracterized by the police based on their appearance.
A few years ago I asked Phil to remove old anti-gay sex laws that were still on the books. Phil took care of it, and the old Solicitation for Lewd and Immoral Purposes laws that Frank Kameny fought for so many years were finally removed for good.
The Tobacco Working Group should be pleased that in the past three years, smoking rates in D.C. have fallen from 20% to 16%. This 20% reduction is primarily attributable to three things: the smokefree indoor workplace law, a rise in cigarette taxes, and smoking secession programs such as the Center offers. Phil was one of the original co-introducers of the smokefree bill, and he recently wrote an expansion bill. Phil supported tax hikes to price children out of smoking. The Center can take credit for the cessation programs.
In short, Phil has been a leader on issue after issue of importance to the GLBT community, as well as the District as a whole. Whether on long term and sweeping goals like marriage equality or on little details in the legislation that matter so much, Phil has been there for us, worked with us, and been our champion time after time.
On behalf of the D.C. Center, I am very proud to present the Distinguished Service Award to Councilmember Phil Mendelson.