November 25, 2013 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Mayor attends grand opening of D.C. Center’s new home
Jack Evans, Vincent Gray, D.C. Center, David Mariner, gay news, Washington Blade

Mayor Vincent Gray and four members of the D.C. Council were on hand for the D.C. Center’s grand opening on Saturday. (Washington Blade photo by Blake Bergen)

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and four members of the City Council joined more than 100 guests on Saturday for the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community’s grand opening celebration of its new offices in the Reeves Center municipal building at 14th and U streets, N.W.

With Gray and Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) standing before an overflowing crowd in the Center’s conference room, Center President and CEO Michael Sessa drew loud applause and cheers when he shouted, “We’re finally here – hooray!”

Also attending the event were Council members David Grosso (I-At-Large) and Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Busboys and Poets restaurant owner Andy Shallal, who donated food from his restaurant.

Shallal, Evans and Bowser have announced they are candidates for mayor in the April 1, 2014 D.C. Democratic primary. All three as well as Gray, who has yet to announce whether he will run for re-election, have been longtime supporters of the LGBT community.

Gray reiterated statements he made earlier this year that the city will make sure the D.C. Center finds another suitable space in which to move if the Reeves Center closes over the next two or three years to make way for a new development project linked to a land swap deal to build a soccer stadium next to the city’s Southwest waterfront.

“I just want to put that to rest as best we can, that we didn’t come this far to have this be just a temporary stopover,” Gray said. “We’ve come this far to make sure that the D.C. Center has a place in the future that it can count on to be able to do its work.”

Gray and the Council members attending the grand opening celebration called the D.C. Center a vital part of the LGBT community and an important part of the cultural fabric of the city.

Gay sports advocate Brent Minor announced at the gathering that on behalf of the Dupont Social Club, which organizes the city’s annual Miss Adams Morgan drag pageant, he was presenting the D.C. Center with a check for $16,000 to help support the Center’s programs.

Martin Espinoza of Stonewall Kickball, a D.C.-based LGBT sports league, announced his group has donated $10,000 to the D.C. Center and has pledged $50,000 in contributions to the Center over the next five years.

Bernie Delia, executive director of Capital Pride, the organization that sponsors the city’s annual LGBT Pride parade and festival, said Capital Pride has pledged $5,000 to the D.C. Center. Capital Pride rents office space at the Center.

D.C. Allen, co-owner of the Crew Club, a D.C. gym and spa catering to gay men, said the Crew Club was pleased to have donated $25,000 to the D.C. Center earlier this year to “jump start” the Center’s campaign to raise money to complete the renovation work needed to get its new space at the Reeves Center ready for occupancy.

Saturday’s celebration marked the culmination of a competitive bidding process that began more than two years ago in which the Center submitted a bid to rent space at the Reeves Center under a city program that invited both commercial businesses and non-profit organizations to propose different ways the space in the city-owned building could be used that would benefit the city and the community. Gray announced last December that the D.C. Center won the bid after a restaurant that initially had been selected for the space withdrew.

“I want to thank the mayor and his staff,” Sessa said. “They have been wonderful to work with. They have been gracious. They have been patient. They have really helped us establish this fabulous space.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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