D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray told a Pride Week town hall gathering on Friday that non-profit LGBT organizations providing services to the community could be eligible for grants for as much as $100,000 under a new city program.
Gray discussed the grant program and a wide range of other topics related to the LGBT community during the Third Annual Washington Blade Town Hall Pride Interview with the Mayor, held at the John A. Wilson City Hall building on May 31.
“We requested $15 million in support of the One City Fund,” Gray said in discussing the grant program, which he said is also known as the Innovation Fund.
“That would make available grants to non-profit organizations in the city,” he said. “And the criteria are broad and certainly would include the kinds of issues we are talking about here tonight.”
Gray added, “The entire $15 million was approved in this budget. And we will be ready on Oct. 1 to open the door to applications from organizations that want to get a grant.”
Gray raised the issue of the grants program in response to a question by transgender activist Ruby Corado, the founder and director of Casa Ruby, an LGBT community center in Columbia Heights that reaches out to the Latino and transgender communities.
Corado and David Mariner, director of the D.C. LGBT Community Center, which will soon move into its new home in the city’s Reeves Center building at 14th and U Streets, N.W., have each appealed to the city for funding for their respective community centers. Mariner has said D.C. is one of the nation’s only large cities that so far doesn’t provide city funding for an LGBT community center.
“We have organizations that do worthy work and don’t necessarily fit all the categories or any of the categories in the government [for existing grants],” Gray said. “So this is an opportunity for such organizations to be able to submit grant applications and get funding.”
In response to a question from another audience member about the problem of homelessness among LGBT youth in the city, Gray noted that the D.C. Council approved a proposal supported by his administration that will provide $500,000 this year and $1 million next year for emergency housing for homeless LGBT youth.
“We’re going to try to work with the relevant organizations to make sure that we understand what the scope of the need is [on LGBT youth homelessness] so we can effectively address it,” Gray said.
When asked by the Blade if he would like to make headlines at the town hall gathering by announcing whether he plans to run for re-election next year, Gray laughed and said he wasn’t ready to make such an announcement.
“I’m not going to answer that tonight. And I don’t have a specific date,” he said. “But I will say this. I believe we have done the things that we have set out to do.”
He listed a litany of accomplishments he said his administration has had in the two and a half years since he took office as mayor, including the city’s fiscal stability and booming economic growth, a significant reduction in unemployment, continuing “aggressive education reform,” and a sharp drop in the city’s murder rate.
“I love working with people,” he said. “I love, frankly, what we’ve been able to do to work with the LGBT community, to be able to move efforts along in this city. I want us to be the most friendly place, if you will, in the nation” for the LGBT community.
Gray said that similar to past years, he and members of his administration will participate in the Capital Pride Parade on June 8.
“I love to participate in the Pride Parade. I’m looking forward to that,” he said. “And anybody who would like to march with us, we’d love to have you.”
Among the audience members who spoke at the event was Alvin Bethea, the father of slain transgender woman Deoni JaParker Jones, 23, who was stabbed to death while sitting at a city bus stop in Northeast D.C. in February 2012.
A 55-year-old D.C. man has been charged with first-degree murder while armed in connection with Jones’ murder.
Bethea thanked Gray for his support for the transgender community and thanked the LGBT community for its support for his family at the time of Jones’ death.
Corado and transgender activist Daniel King thanked Gray for a job training program he established for transgender residents at the D.C. Department of Employment Services, which is believed to be the first such program in the country.
But King, Corado and another transgender woman who spoke at the town hall meeting said transgender people continue to face discrimination in the city.
Gray pointed to a city media campaign organized by the Office of Human Rights that seeks to educate the public about the transgender community and promote respect and discourage discrimination.
“I wish I could say money will solve this,” Gray said. “It’s hard to buy new attitudes. In fact, it’s impossible to buy new attitudes…There’s still a lot of discrimination and bias in this city towards people who are lesbians or bisexual, transgender, and gay,” he said.
“Even though we’ve made a lot of progress, we’ve got a long ways to go. But I do think we’re making progress and we’re putting in more dollars into efforts to make that happen.”
In response to questions from the Blade and audience members, Gray made these additional comments:
-He opposes a proposed liquor license moratorium for the 14th and U Street, N.W., corridor where many LGBT people live, that would prevent the opening of news restaurants and bars.
-The D.C. Department of Health is taking steps to arrange for services by other providers for clients of Transgender Health Empowerment, a local transgender advocacy and services group that has mostly ceased operating due to financial problems.
-The city has not had any discussions with a developer to sell the Reeves Center building, which might result in the displacement of the D.C. LGBT Community Center.
The Center is expected to move into the Reeves building in rented space later this month. The Washington Business Journal reported unnamed sources as saying the city was “discussing” the possibility selling or trading the Reeves building as part of a land deal to facilitate the building of a new soccer stadium.
“You know, if there were such discussions – and there haven’t been,” Gray said, “but if there were such discussions we certainly would want to work with the D.C. Center to make sure that whatever would happen they would have a permanent home. But that’s really so premature now. There just haven’t been any such discussions.”