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METRO WEEKLY: How important do you think providing oversight is to performing your job as Councilmember, and what will your philosophy be when holding government agencies accountable for policy or spending decisions?
Eugene Puryear (SG, At-Large): I view oversight as absolutely critical for a councilmember. In department after department, the lack of oversight and accountability is often staggering. Rigorous oversight is what determines the best possible outcome in District services. Oversight can save and change lives — for instance, it will be absolutely critical for proper oversight to be done of HAHSTA (and DOH more broadly) to keep up-to-date statistics on HIV/AIDS. In addition, proper oversight over the Metropolitan Police Department is essential to keep better statistics on transgender hate crimes, especially if we are to continue to progress in ending disparities and discrimination of any sort directed at the LGBT community.
MW: The Council is often seen as fluctuating between two extremes: having an overly cozy or overly antagonistic relationship with the mayor. How can you assure voters that you will be an independent voice on the Council, and not beholden to either the mayor, other councilmembers or your political party?
Puryear: As my campaign has demonstrated, I am more than willing to stake out independent positions based on the values that I have consistently set out.
MW: Please share your views on how best to address LGBT homelessness, not only for youth, but for adults, families, and senior citizens. What are your proposals for ensuring District shelters are adhering to the nondiscrimination protections in the D.C. Human Rights Act?
Puryear: First and foremost, we have to ensure that we have the appropriate shelter space and long-term housing options for the District’s homeless population. I believe the easiest way to do this is to measure our homeless population over the past ten years and identify both the average and peak populations. Once that data is assembled, we would be in a good position to build new shelter space based on these averages, with flex space to deal with spike years. This shelter space should be as centrally-located as possible and should include on-site social services. Furthermore, we need to adjust our affordable housing policy to foreground the need to provide housing for those at the greatest risk of homelessness to reduce the growth of our homeless population. Those efforts should be in addition to establishing real plans for moving people into permanent supportive housing so that their move out of a shelter is sustainable.
It is crucial that we establish through oversight the extent to which discriminatory practices are taking place, and identify the biggest culprits. We then need to establish means to fund training for cultural competency in shelters, as well as make sure disciplinary measures are in place for the offending parties. We should be willing to seek new service providers when it can be clearly established that particular parties do not take discriminatory behavior by their staff seriously, or work collaboratively with the District in rectifying said behavior.
MW: What specific recommendations do you have to decrease unemployment among the District’s transgender community and enforce existing laws relating to employment discrimination, both by D.C. government and private businesses?
Puryear: Given the inadequate results from Project Empowerment, I would say the first step would be for the District to hold hearings to establish best practices from the point of view of advocates, service providers, our local transgender community and other cities across the nation in this regard. I do believe the D.C. Government should establish a project through DOES that more aggressively and more directly pushes to increase transgender hiring at the District government level as well.
As it concerns private business, my general feeling is that our enforcement structure for discriminatory practices is inadequate. I believe we need a D.C. Department of Human Rights which would take agencies such as the Office of Human Rights, Office of the People’s Counsel, and Office of the Tenant Advocate, among others, and roll them into one agency focused on enforcing workers’ rights, civil rights, and human rights issues. Such an office should have an expanded budget and staff aimed at rooting out unlawful discrimination.
Further, we need more administrative law judges at the Office of Administrative Hearings to assure prompt attention to all cases of discriminatory behavior.
MW: Why should the LGBT community vote for you?
Puryear: As part of my volunteer activities and employment with the ANSWER Coalition, I have participated in a range of actions in solidarity with and in advancement of LGBT rights. I helped to promote the National Equality March in 2009, advocating for full federal equality for LGBT people. Prior to that, I participated in activities opposing Proposition 8 that took place in the District. I worked to support marriage equality in the District and in Maryland. Furthermore, I have played an integral role in organizing the ANSWER Coalition’s contingents in Capital Pride, which have consistently sought to show solidarity with the struggle of the LGBT community against bigotry and hatred by bringing a political message to the parade. My track record of support for the LGBT community is something I would like to extend to the D.C. Council.
For more information on Eugene Puryear’s campaign, visit eugenepuryear.com.
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