February 1, 2017 at 1:31 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Trump order threatens D.C. charities
sanctuary cities, gay news, Washington Blade

‘One thing we can do is support organizations that are effective in our communities because we may need to do more privately if the federal government steps back,’ said Mayor Muriel Bowser.

LGBT community service organizations like Whitman-Walker Health, Casa Ruby, and SMYAL could face a sharp cutback or loss of D.C. government funds under an executive order issued on Jan. 25 by President Donald Trump aimed at so-called sanctuary cities.

In remarks delivered at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on the day he issued his order, Trump said sanctuary cities like D.C., Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, among others, were causing “immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic by refusing to help the federal government identify and deport undocumented residents,” according to the Washington Post.

The executive order, which some observers say is vaguely worded, calls on the Department of Homeland Security to cut back on “federal funds, except as mandated by law” to sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

D.C. budget officials told the Washington Post that Trump’s use of the word “funds” in his executive order could be interpreted to include a wide range of federal funding to the city, possibly including $2.5 billion in annual federal funds for Medicaid. The total cutback in funds possibly could amount to about 20 percent of the city’s total annual spending, the Post reported.

When asked by the Washington Blade at a Jan. 28 event hosted by the LGBT charitable group Brother Help Thyself how Trump’s threats to cut funds for sanctuary cities might impact D.C.’s LGBT community, Mayor Muriel Bowser said she wasn’t sure.

“We know that a lot of polices affect all D.C. communities,” she said. “We don’t really know and I can’t say a lot about what the executive order means around sanctuary cities. But we follow our values and the law and I think that we are going to have to see how that plays out.”

Bowser and members of the D.C. City Council responded to the Trump order by vowing to “defy” the president’s attempts at what they called a violation of the human rights of immigrants.

In a Jan. 25 news conference, Bowser said that in its role as a sanctuary city D.C. isn’t an “agent of the federal government.” She said D.C. police would continue to devote their resources to protecting all city residents regardless of their immigration status.

One day earlier, in apparent anticipation of the Trump order, the D.C. Council voted unanimously to approve a Sense of the Council Resolution denouncing Trump’s immigration policies and affirming the city’s longstanding support for human rights and diversity. The resolution was introduced by Council members David Grosso (I-At-Large) and Robert White (D-At-Large).

“As a Council, we resolved to reject xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, disparagement of people with disabilities, misogyny, and bigotry in any form,” Grosso said in a statement.

The resolution says the Council would “remain committed to our status as a sanctuary city and not participate in any federal immigration enforcement strategies that endanger those within our city.”

Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s largest private organization providing services to the LGBT community and people with HIV/AIDS, received a combined total of $6.6 million in “government grants” in 2014, according to its IRS 990 finance report for that year, which is the group’s most recent publicly released 990 report.

The report doesn’t break down the portion of that amount that came directly from the federal government, which regularly provides funding to Whitman-Walker, and from the D.C. government, which also provides grants and contracts to the LGBT health care organization for various HIV related services.

The report shows that Whitman-Walker’s total revenue for that year was $24.3 million and that most of its revenue came from private contributions, fundraising events, and from reimbursements for medical services by private insurers and Medicaid.

Whitman-Walker spokesperson Abby Fenton said officials were assessing how a funding cut related to the Trump executive order could impact Whitman-Walker but they preferred not to discuss how much the organization received from government grants at this time.

According to Fenton, Whitman-Walker’s legal services department regularly provides free legal services to people seeking immigration or asylum help. She said the group had 143 cases of people seeking immigration and asylum related help in 2015 and 207 such cases in 2016. She said all funding used by the legal services department comes from private sources.

The Trump executive order doesn’t appear to target private organizations located in sanctuary cities that receive federal funds.

But many federally funded programs to community-based health care organizations like Whitman-Walker, especially federal Ryan White Act AIDS funds, are allocated to cities and states, which are charged with dispensing the funds to community-based groups. The Trump executive order doesn’t make it clear whether funds given to sanctuary cities that are earmarked for organizations like Whitman-Walker would be cut off under the Trump order.

A spokesperson for the Trump administration couldn’t immediately be reached to determine whether Whitman-Walker’s federal funds would be jeopardized if the Trump administration cracks down on D.C.’s status as a sanctuary city.

Other LGBT community organizations that receive various amounts of D.C. government funds and that could be impacted by the Trump executive order include Casa Ruby, a bilingual LGBT community services center that assists LGBT Latino immigrants among other LGBT clients; SMYAL, which provides services for LGBT youth; and the Wanda Alston Foundation, which provides housing services for homeless LGBT youth.

During her appearance at the Brother Help Thyself reception, Bowser told the gathering she had deep concerns about how the city would be impacted by the Trump administration and Congress over the next four years.

Republican members of a House committee that oversees D.C. affairs approved a proposal on Tuesday calling on Congress to intervene in and possibly overturn several D.C. laws such as the city’s gun control statute, assisted suicide law, and its law legalizing marijuana possession.

GOP house members have also expressed strong opposition to a policy that Bowser put in place in early January allocating city funds to pay for legal services to help undocumented immigrants challenge deportation action by federal immigration authorities.

“It’s proving to be a very challenging time for our city, our nation, and our values,” Bowser told about 100 people who turned out at the D.C. Eagle for the Brother Help Thyself event. During the event the group gave away $75,000 in grants to 30 LGBT supportive charitable groups in the D.C. and Baltimore areas.

“And it’s even more important than ever that our leaders be as inclusive and loving and caring and empathetic and stay focused on how we can fight back and continue to be leaders,” Bowser said.

“So what Brother Help Thyself is doing couldn’t be more important because what we don’t know is if these executive orders will be backed by Congress, will we have very important programs that the federal government partners with us go away?” she said.

Although Bowser didn’t mention Trump by name she made it clear she was concerned that the president’s policies and recent executive orders could hurt D.C. and its ability to continue to fund community-based organizations.

“One thing we can do is support organizations that are effective in our communities because we may need to do more privately if the federal government steps back,” she said. “And so let’s all hope and pray that it doesn’t come to that. But if it does we’ll be ready. And we’ll also be ready to support any vulnerable population.”

Added Bowser: “It’s not the LGBTQ community right now – not yet. But we know if they come for one it’s only a matter of time before they come for all of us.”

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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