Tuesday, November 24, 2009

MPW Is Wrong On the Dana Beyer Controversy

Maryland Politics Watch had a longish post yesterday on the matter of the investigation of Dana Beyer. To review, Dana Beyer is a transgender Montgomery County Council staff member who was investigated for more than a year after complaints were filed by the anti-LGBT group Citizens for Responsible Government. The investigation discarded all the complaints except one, concluding that Dana may have misused her position to intimidate a person collecting signatures for a referendum to challenge a new law banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity, at the Arliss Road Giant on February 17, 2008. Dana has asked the county's Human Rights Commission to investigate the investigation, claiming she was singled out because of her gender identity, and her boss Duchy Trachtenberg has asked the US Justice Department's Civil Rights Division to look into it.

Adam Pagnucco at MPW is not sympathetic to Dana's position, and presents a number of points and his reasoning regarding them. I salute him for his level-headedness and believe that this is the right way to carry on a discussion. Dana -- and in this piece I will use her first name, rather than the stuffier "Doctor Beyer" -- is a friend of ours, a supporter and member of TeachTheFacts.org from the earliest times, and I won't pretend to be impartial. I want to lay out a perspective that is complementary to that at MPW.

In February, 2008, Dana and I were part of a group that visited sites where people were gathering signatures for a referendum to overturn a gender identity nondiscrimination law that had been passed by the Montgomery County Council. This was a spontaneous activist effort intended to accomplish several ends.

First of all, we had heard that the people with the petitions were lying about the law, saying that the petitions were going to keep men out of ladies restrooms, and we wanted to verify the rumor. In fact, we did hear them saying that at almost every site we visited. Second of all, when we heard them misconstruing the law to a person who was considering signing the petitions, we would explain to the person what the petition actually represented, that it was about gender identity nondiscrimination and had nothing at all to do with men in the ladies room or the safety of women and children. In some places where we knew the petition handlers were violating a store's policies, we spoke to the manager, reminded them of their company's policy of allowing groups to set up tables one weekend per month, and often asked them if they thought it was good for their business to be associated with people who promote discrimination.

In a couple of places, members of our group interacted with the petition handlers themselves. HERE we documented a scene where a transgender woman talked with a signature collector, where the consequence was a big hug and the person with the petitions went home to pray and think. Turns out it is a lot harder to support discrimination against somebody who is standing right in front of you, sharing their feelings with you. Generally the volunteers with the petitions were not friendly, almost all of them seemed to believe that there was a real danger that predatory men would lurk in ladies rooms, molesting women and children, unless discrimination against transgender people was allowed. All of the visits that I personally witnessed, except one, were congenial enough. I myself chatted with some people with petitions, and they seemed like regular folks, we disagreed on some things but it was no big deal. Now and then one got defensive but it wasn't usually necessary. And if someone from our group engaged a potential signer, the pro-referendum volunteers were certainly free to present their side of the argument. I didn't see anyone intimidate anyone, and I didn't see anyone who appeared intimidated.

The Arliss Road Giant was different. There were three guys there with the petitions, and by the time I got there the scene was ugly. The three men were surly, they had told one of our members that it would have been better if she had been aborted, and called her a fascist. Four of our group showed up there, arriving at different times. I went inside to talk with the Giant manager. As I talked with him, Dana came over and joined in. Of course she didn't say "I'm a staffer at the County Council and you can't do this." She knew the Giant policy, she had discussed it with corporate headquarters. The manager said he was going to call someone and find out, so we went back outside.

At some point the police showed up, and Theresa Rickman of the Citizens for Responsible Government appeared at the scene. My understanding at the time was that the question was whether members of our group could stand on the sidewalk. We had been told to stay in the parking lot, and had complied with that. The policeman hung around for a while but didn't do anything, and eventually we all left.

Generally the site visits were effective for us, people really did not know what the petitions were about, and it was effective for us to tell them what the law was about and to tell them that it had nothing to do with men going into ladies restrooms. There was no violence or intimidation, I'm not very big or intimidating and most of the rest of the group was either petite moms or transgender women.

Maryland Politics Watch confuses the issue by re-publishing a several-seconds-long video of Dana Beyer telling some petition gatherers, "An email went out; you're going to be asked to leave. Any petitions gathered today are illegal." It was true an email had gone out from Giant corporate headquarters to the various stores, and in many locations managers did ask signature-gatherers to leave. I don't know if petition signatures gathered while you are trespassing are legal or not, but Dana apparently believed they were illegal. On February 18th, 2008, Dana posted this in our comments section:
I will say that CRW has NO RIGHT to be on any Giant property today, as it is not a weekend. A blast email has gone out to the store managers of all the Giants in Montgomery County today, asking them to have any petitioners leave the premises.

So if any of you happen to be shopping and happen to see the extremists out in from of a Giant supermarket, all you have to do is go inside, ask for the manager, and tell him that Corporate has sent him a message that such solicitations today are to be ended forthwith.

I also imagine that any signatures collected in direct violation of company policy will be invalidated as well. But I'm not a lawyer.

In the video she did not, as MPW implies, tell them that they were engaged in "illegal" activities. She said the signatures would not be legal, meaning they wouldn't be counted. Further, this video has nothing to do with anything. The county investigation looked at this video and concluded that nothing inappropriate was portrayed in it. You wonder, then, why Maryland Politics Watch included it in their post. It is simply prejudicial -- grainy video badly edited to make Dana Beyer look bad. But there is actually nothing unethical or illegal in what she's doing.

Let me comment on Adam's five well-organized points, one by one. I will use his section heading and then address the topic. This might make more sense if you look at his post HERE.

1. Records Access. The investigation included a secret search of Dana's office computer. There is nothing simple about the legality or advisability of such a search. The usual platitude is that it's not your computer, it's your employer's computer, and they can look at it if they want. There is however something shady about executive branch officials searching a legislative branch computer, especially when they did not have the required permission from the Council Staff Director. It is quite possible that this search was unlawful. Beyond that, it is just bad business to make your employees defensive and fearful as they go about doing their day-to-day work. It can be profoundly chilling to know that someone else has been reading your email, and high-performance employees might have many informal communications as well as "official" things, especially if they are engaged in creative problem-solving. It may turn out that the secret search of County Council computers without permission of the Staff Director is technically legal, but it is nonetheless shockingly bad practice. As it stands, no one working in the County Council offices can now be certain that their computers are not being checked by strangers. MPW invokes the concept of "open government" here, but I think it is foolish to think that transparency in government extends to every "Where are we meeting for lunch?" email that goes around. The public should know how government business is conducted, they don't need to know that someone loved that skit on Saturday Night Live this week, the public doesn't need to see the cute kitty with the heartwarming caption. People do need to be able to be people, even at work, and this search was an intimate assault on Dana's privacy. And note, the problem is not that public records were examined, the problem is that the search was conducted in secret, without the knowledge of Dana's boss or the Council Staff Director, who must give permission for such a search to take place. There are above-board procedures for acquiring information relevant to the subject of an investigation -- this was a secret search for keywords related to legitimate work topics.

2. Leaks. MPW's complaint about the leaks is that they didn't hear any of them. I know, I hate it when that happens, too, if somebody has a secret they should tell me! So far Dana and her boss Duchy Trachtenberg have stated that there were leaks, that other Council members and staff knew about the investigation, but they have not named names or said how they know. That does not mean there were no leaks. Dana Beyer's complaint to HRC asked them to investigate leaks, and more will be known. The investigation was supposed to be private, but some people said things that indicated they knew more than they were supposed to know.

3. Transgender Discrimination. Here, MPW cites the irrelevant video, saying that it contains enough evidence to warrant scrutiny regardless of her gender status. But the video has been cleared, Dana's behavior in the video is in-bounds, that is an irrelevant red herring. The charge that the investigation was based on Dana's gender identity is not hard to support. The investigation was instigated by a complaint by the Citizens for Responsible Government; their president submitted a written statement, and their lawyer represented the complainant in interviews. The CRG is anti-gay and anti-transgender, they have no other reason for existing but to stop education about sexual orientation and gender identity and to block the passing and implementation of a law giving equal rights to transgender people. We could show you a hundred ugly quotes showing prejudice against transgender people by CRG members and officers. The individual who claims to have been harassed insists on referring to Dana, who is biologically and legally female, as "Mister Beyer," and acts in his interviews like he doesn't understand questions that refer to Dana Beyer as "she."

It is not hard to show evidence that the complaining parties are anti-transgender. The question is whether the investigators discriminated, and the answer is demonstrably Yes. The investigation did nothing more than seek evidence to justify the anti-transgender group's allegations. They did not take statements from witnesses with a different view, though it is clear from the text of interviews that they were aware of my name and my presence at the scene, and they were aware of this blog and the fact that I published photographs of the people at the scene and wrote about it, they were aware of the presence of other TTF members who were there. The CRG formed to promote the right to discriminate against transgender citizens, and the investigators only took statements from members of their group, plus they possessed a statement handwritten by the CRG's president, Ruth Jacobs (as sworn in her deposition), and supposedly signed by the Giant manager, but not in the presence of investigators. Investigators have not spoken directly with that manager, but took Ruth Jacobs' word.

4. Beyer’s Political Career. Maryland Politics Watch, not surprisingly, follows Maryland politics very closely. Their argument here is astonishingly disingenuous. They show that most of the members of the Ethics Commission are Democrats, and that some of them contribute to LGBT causes. Therefore, why would they do anything to harm Dana? Well of course, all elected officials in Montgomery County are Democrats! You can bet appointed Commission members will lean that way heavily. We are the bluest of the blue.

Adam Pagnucco knows better than anyone that there is a major fracture in the County Council, it is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. (For an example of nobody saying anything, look at this Gazette article about the Council choosing a new president.) Politics in our county doesn't go Democrat versus Republican, but that doesn't mean we are a big happy family. It is entirely possible that the Ethics Commission or someone on it is carrying out a strategy that in the long run accumulates power for one member or bloc at the expense of another. In fact, it is fatuous to assume that this investigation was not politically motivated. And remember, the Council voted unanimously to pass the nondiscrimination bill, so the backroom intrigue is probably not going to be revealed by pro or anti LGBT sentiments. Dana is running for Delegate in 2010, and charges that are filed now will be generating negative publicity right in the heat of the campaign season. It has been nearly two years since the incident in question.

5. Trachtenberg’s Political Career. Ditto. Dana works for Duchy Trachtenberg. Duchy is not afraid to stir up controversy all by herself, she is tough, outspoken, and independent. MPW's point here is that Duchy is a close ally of County Executive Ike Leggett, whose office manages the group that conducted the investigation. Pagnucco then dispenses the strawman argument that Ike Leggett is a Soviet-style spymaster who dispatches minions to suppress Trachtenberg and Beyer as preposterous -- but that isn't what has been said. I think it is likely that Ike Leggett knew nothing about the investigation. MPW's oversimplification of MoCo politics is again disingenuous -- it is very likely, given their failure to interview witnesses who might have supported her, that the Ethics Commission set out to "get" Dana Beyer, and it is not preposterous on any level to speculate that there is a political motive behind it. The charge against Dana effectively kills two birds with one stone, it could damage Dana Beyer's campaign and it could taint Duchy Trachtenberg's as well, if hearings are being held in the time period right before elections.

Just a few days ago I posted a comment at Maryland Politics Watch where I mentioned that they do a great job and I read the blog every day. I do feel that way, Adam is a good writer and a thorough researcher, he knows a lot of the behind-the-scenes details and brings local politics to life. In yesterday's post I feel he is reflecting opinions that are widely held among County Council members and staff, and in a way that's why we read MPW, to find out what people are thinking inside government. But politicians, more than other people, are self-serving in their expressed beliefs, they are always competing for votes, always forming coalitions to undermine one another, and in this case the safe thing for a politician to do is to maintain distance from controversy, especially controversy involving a transgender person. The County Council has been anarchic since the passing of Marilyn Praisner, it's dog-eat-dog, and one gets the feeling from Adam Pagnucco's post that officials are afraid to take Dana's side in this controversy, even though the 23-07 vote was unanimous and it is in all the Council's interest to gain control over secret computer searches and frivolous investigations.

There are two kinds of questions about the accusation against Dana Beyer. The first question is, did Dana harass or intimidate a person at the Arliss Giant on February 17, 2008? The person's statement is very vague, he says the two of them "bumped" over the petition table and doesn't remember what was said. The store manager's statement says that Dana introduced herself as a County Council staffer and said that the petition gathering was illegal, and that's, let me say, very, very fishy -- I was standing right there when Dana talked to that manager and it's been nearly two years, so my memory is not perfect, but I don't remember her saying anything like that. The manager's statement was not made to the investigators but was written by Ruth Jacobs, the president of the Citizens for Responsible Government, and the manager could not be found for deposition by investigators. The evidence against Dana really amounts to two very weak statements, one by the alleged harassment victim who is virulently anti-transgender, and one by the president of CRG, who was not present at the scene. It is possible that some county hearing would conclude that Dana should not have been talking to the petition handlers at all, I don't know how the ethics rule will be interpreted, but the evidence is very slim and the infraction charged is minor.

The other kind of question is more serious, and that is the question of how the investigation was conducted. County Council Staff Director Steve Farber needed to give permission to search that computer, and he has said he did not. Witnesses who were at the scene, including yours truly, were never contacted by investigators, only witnesses who were hostile to Dana. What were the motives for this hoax of an investigation? I don't know. Power, money, politics, bigotry, incompetence ... who knows? Dana has called for an investigation of the investigation, and that is what needs to happen next, to figure out how this happened. Nobody has a problem with Dana being investigated, the CRG said at the time that they were going to file a complaint; the problem is that the investigation was a travesty. We need to know why county time and money was wasted on this.


Anonymous Cricket said...

Chirrrrp chirrrrp

November 24, 2009 12:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dana is not the only one who thinks she's discrimnated against:

"Adam Lambert shocked the world with his racy, pelvis-thrusting performance at the American Music Awards this weekend, and aside from just overall furor and upset viewers, it's now affecting his promotional schedule. A performance on 'Good Morning America' -- which runs on ABC, the same station that aired the AMAs -- has been called off for the former 'American Idol' star, likely as a result of the uproar he's facing this week.

ABC now claims that Lambert's sex-heavy number isn't appropriate for an early morning venue.

Lambert's ultra-risque performance drew the ire of many viewers, as ABC announced yesterday they received thousands of complaints following the number. On the West Coast, Lambert's performance was censored because it was so explicit.

During his performance of his song 'For Your Entertainment,' Lambert -- complete with bondage-styled dancers and band members -- made many squirm thanks to dancers on leashes, and thrusting the face of a male dancer into his crotch several times. He later went on to passionately kiss his keyboardist for several seconds, and gave the crowd/camera the finger in the closing moments.

Lambert, who is openly gay, responded to the controversy, telling Access Hollywood that he's "not an artist that does things for every single person," likening the censoring of his performance to "discrimination."

"If it's edited, that's discrimination. I will be a little disappointed because there is discrimination going in this country. There's a big double standard, female pop artists have been doing things provocative like that for years, and the fact that I'm a male, and I'll be edited and discriminated against could be a problem," he said."

November 24, 2009 2:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

November 24, 2009 5:30 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Anon, I'm not going to let you hijack this one.


November 24, 2009 5:34 PM  
Anonymous Derrick said...

Here´s another reason why we need to ensure we have laws to protect our GLBT people.


FBI Reports 11 Percent Increase in Victims of Hate Crimes Based on Sexual Orientation in 2008

Report shows rise in lesbian and gay hate crimes for third year in a row; Local and state law enforcement agencies urged to report statistics to FBI.


Washington – The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, responded today to the Federal Bureau of Investigation report which showed the number of victims of bias-motivated crimes based on sexual orientation increased by 11 percent in 2008. The statistics show that reported hate crimes against the LGBT community have increased for the third year in a row. Hate crimes based on sexual orientation remain the third most common type of hate crimes, behind race and religion.

“These numbers are unacceptable. While it is so important that we have the new federal hate crimes law, it is critical to ensure that we continue working with the Department of Justice to ensure the safety of LGBT citizens,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "We have to prosecute each hate crime to the fullest extent of the law, but we also need to get at the roots. When we don't know each other as human beings, ignorance breeds misunderstanding, which breeds hate, which too often this year led to violence. We have to keep fighting the prejudices and stereotypes that underlie these acts.”

On October 28, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. The new law gives the Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence by providing the Justice Department with jurisdiction over crimes of violence where a perpetrator has selected a victim because of the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. In addition, it provides the Justice Department with the ability to aid state and local jurisdictions with investigations and prosecutions of bias-motivated crimes of violence.

The new law also authorizes the Justice Department to provide grants to state and local communities to cover the extraordinary expenses associated with the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes. Moreover, it authorizes the provision of grants for local programs to combat hate crimes committed by juveniles, including programs that train local law enforcement officers in identifying, investigating, prosecuting and preventing hate crimes.

The data comes just days after the LGBT community mourned on Transgender Day of Remembrance – honoring the memories of those lost in hate crimes motivated by gender identity bias. While current data does not track crimes on based on gender or gender identity, the new hate crimes law requires the FBI to track statistics on these incidents.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act honors the memory of Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming college student brutally murdered in an act of hate violence in 1998, and James Byrd, an African-American man who was dragged to death in Jasper, Texas, in 1998. For a comprehensive retrospective and historical overview of hate crimes advocacy visit: www.LoveConquersHate.org.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all

November 24, 2009 8:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

bias is not necessarily the most venal motivation for a crime, Derrick, nor the most common

refocus, buddy, you're losing it

besides, in a week of relevant controversies, such as the Adam Lambert act-up and Climategate, Jim has ruled that Dana apologetics is the only acceptable topic

November 24, 2009 9:17 PM  
Blogger David S. Fishback said...


Your detailed discussion of the matter is a real public service.

The idea that Ike Leggett could have been behind this is absurd. I suspect that MPW was not aware of the fact that in the several years before he was elected County Executive, Ike Leggett was on the board of the Metro DC Chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians, and Gays (PFLAG).

November 24, 2009 10:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

November 24, 2009 10:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

November 25, 2009 10:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

November 25, 2009 10:49 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

Let's use this thread to talk about the topic that is posted.


November 25, 2009 11:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrea- not anon
I know about being intimidated- well, not really but they tried. I was told I should be aborted(Who knew those rightwingers were pro-choice??) and when I tried to pass out our flyer to customers who were being lied to -the guy with the baseball cap slammed into me and claimed I was in his way.

These losers are so pathetic- trying to make a legal case out of something that didn't even happen.
Me- a year later I went back into the Arliss Giant which has been redone and is perhaps no longer the worst Giant in MC. I asked about the manager who sort of turned on me- he has moved on. He was intimidated by the showerheads- I guess if you are young and you think your job is on the line- you will believe any lies you are told by a thug in a baseball cap.

November 25, 2009 6:41 PM  
Blogger Thomas Hardman said...

Are you only just now reasoning out that Adam Pagnucco is what used to be called a "political hatchet-man", as in "journalistic hatchet job"?

Dr Beyer ought to be outraged, as should anyone. The facts of the matter are that if you're working for someone, you need to make sure that nothing personal is done on your employer's machine. One presumes that Dr Beyer knows this. Still, the fact that "all machines are open to scrutiny" should worry people in departments far from the Council. Who might be regularly accessing police machines, for that matter. Still, Dr Beyer's outrage shouldn't be that her machine was searched.

If Dr Beyer ought to be outraged, it's because it's evidently all part of a pile-on landing on Councilmember Trachtenberg. No, I am not a Trachetenberg supporter nor an opponent. But this all stinks of the same nasty tricksyness we saw in the last District 4 Special Election, where people would stop at nothing to see their goals furthered. Try researching MPW's role in that and consider yourself enlightened once you figure out how it all went down. This is just more of the same. Adam's had a stiffy to sink Trachtenberg for about a year now. Making a fuss over Dr Beyer just keeps Trachetenberg's name in the press, associated with unpleasantness, which can deeply motivate the subconscious of the voters. Psych 101, you know.

Let Dr Beyer move on. Dr Beyer, you just need to take this as you being made into a pawn in a game against CM Trachetenberg. The faster you learn to just seethe in private outrage, the faster this will all die down. And CM Trachtenberg needs to do what Newt Gingrich did when his cellphone calls got intercepted and got him ousted: banned equipment capable of receiving cellphone transmissions.

To conclude: use a REAL operating system that political hatchetmen can't suck for dirt, at least do this for your non-official correspondence.

November 26, 2009 10:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see that Mr. Hardman picked up on the same issue I had posted about here before. The opponents of Councilwoman Tractenberg have used a phony issue to attack her. These are the same people who have gone after her at public meetings and in the press. Unfortunately they have also smeared Dr. Beyer...nothing new there, either.

Despicable tactics employed by a disgruntled group of people (numbering perhaps 8 in total) who claim to speak for the citizens of Mongtomery County will not win them any friends (or votes). It's time for them to move on to more crucial, pressing issues of concern to the majority of people in the County.
A Montgomery Voter

November 27, 2009 10:04 AM  

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