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?
Khalid Pitts (I, At-Large): Oversight is a key function of the Council; however, it is only as good as the vision a member has for the overall mission of that agency within the District of Columbia. My vision for the District is one that is inclusive of all residents. I will use my oversight authority to ensure that laws are enforced, specifically with agencies reporting to the Council, whether by the D.C. Code or legislation.
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?
Pitts: The mayor and Council are both critical to the success of our community. I plan to work constructively with both my colleagues on Council as well as the mayor. It has been my experience to build coalitions and bring together groups who don’t normally work together, and I plan to do the same with the mayor and Council to ensure the rights of residents are protected.
An example of this can be seen with my recent appointment to the District of Columbia Health Benefit Exchange. As a board member, we have performed critical work enuring consumers are protected, that prices are affordable, that critical services and prescriptions are accessible, all while respecting insurers’ bottom line and their impact on the local D.C. economy. There’s more work to do on public health issues, especially as they relate to supporting and protecting LGBT communities and families, and my track record demonstrates I will do what is best and required to improve upon the health of the residents of the District of Columbia.
I am the only public health expert running for a D.C. Council at-large seat, and besides my management experience as a local business owner, where I pride myself on providing progressive family benefits, I spent a decade working for one of the largest labor unions in America, SEIU. I understand what it means to have to work with leaders from all backgrounds and to negotiate with folks with different politics or points of view.
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?
Pitts: As LGBT citizens age into senior years, they face discrimination on two fronts: Social Security benefits are not paid for same sex partners, and many nursing homes and senior homes are hetero-normative and unfriendly to members of the transgender community.
At the federal level, I have already fought to protect Social Security from privatization and will work to expand Social Security benefits for same sex families (this is important for children of same sex partners in the event of a death of a parent while they are still under 18). I will work to make sure that all senior homes are aware of the needs of the aging LGBT community and use my oversight role on Council to make sure they are in compliance with the DC Human Rights Act.
I will implement mandatory training for all caregivers at nursing homes, senior homes, and home care attendants on caring for members of the LGBT community, provide support for continuing education classes for medical professionals on the needs of their LGBT aging patients, allow support for legal services to advocate for aging members of LGBT community, create a “certification” program for housing professionals to show that they are trained to work with and support the LGBT community, and explore rent stabilization for lower income LGBT seniors so that they can age in place.
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?
Pitts: Transgender advocates are doing amazing work, and continue to fight back against violence and expand health care access. As a business owner, I’ve seen firsthand the power of a good paying job and how it changes someone’s life by providing stability. First, we need to pull together business leaders in DC to train, hire, and employ members of the transgender community. Since private businesses do not have to comply with the DC Human Rights Act, I will work with members of the business community to gain voluntary compliance and find ways for the District to support those businesses that actively hire and employ members of the transgender community.
I have also worked on ENDA on the national level and I will commit to sponsor a resolution so that ENDA is both championed and enforced locally.
MW: Why should the LGBT community vote for you?
Pitts: As a strong supporter and advocate of the LGBT community, I believe the LGBT community should vote for me due to my previous work, standing on the front lines to achieve fair treatment. I have demonstrated my dedication to ensuring that the LGBT community have not have their rights infringed on or been discriminated against. I began advocating for LGBT rights while I was employed at the D.C. Jail. In this role I was responsible for drafting policies at the jail to protect inmates who identified as LGBT against other inmates and possibly even correction officers who could potentially become violent towards them. At SEIU, I helped the union become one of the first private health plan providers to cover sexual reassignment and provide domestic partner benefits to LGBT employees.
For more information on Khalid Pitts’s campaign, visit khalidforcouncil.com.
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