May 19, 2011 at 2:46 pm EDT | by Mark Lee
D.C. Center shouldn’t rely on city funding

Complaints by the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community over a lack of District government funding strike a notably out-of-tune chord in the context of a huge ongoing local budget deficit and the nationwide reexamination concerning the limits of the taxpayer dole and appropriate government spending.

Recent public statements by the Center’s executive director intimating that his personal political support, and the endorsement by a local political operative and Center board member, of Vincent Orange’s victorious campaign in last month’s special election for a D.C. Council At-Large seat somehow portend that government assistance will soon be forthcoming have made this even more apparent.

Such political naiveté is nothing more than wishful thinking. The group needs to stop whining and face reality.

Ever since the D.C. Council cancelled funding earmarks for private organizations and withdrew a proposal in the summer of 2009 to grant the group half-a-million dollars to spend on purchasing a property — in order to close a then-puny $6 million city budget gap — the subsequent relentless indignant chorus emanating from the Center has sounded mostly like a bad Donna Summer song refrain from the ‘80s.

Having recently closed a nearly $200 million budget shortfall and facing another deficit well over $300 million, the city cannot afford to earmark taxpayer money for private groups. Nor should it even if it could.

A prominent local LGBT community activist famously remarked a while back that the Center is “a solution in search of a problem.” Rank-and-file community reaction to the idea has consistently remained lukewarm at best, skeptical and in opposition at worst.

After the original community center organizing group formed nearly 10 years ago frittered away a hefty sum totaling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars raised through special events and spent on studies and surveys and travel to other cities, a new group sharing the belief that Washington needed a permanent community “headquarters” began more than 5 years ago.

Since that time, the Center has gone from being an online virtual resource to renting downtown business district office space to utilizing storefronts made available by a local real estate development firm on a temporary basis in the high-rent U Street commercial area. The Center currently spends $2,500 a month to lease retail space at 1318 U Street, N.W., in a second generous deal with a prominent local residential and commercial real estate developer. Due to the company’s plans to begin construction of a major hotel project on the site, the Center will need to relocate within the next year.

Cue the chorus again.

Regardless of how you evaluate the necessity or priority of purchasing a building to house a community center – or the actual usefulness of such a center – perhaps the group’s employees and board members should approach their objective more like a small business and discontinue the ongoing public hue and cry pleading for government underwriting.

Actually, business-friendly D.C. Council member Orange — the newest addition to an anti-tax-increase coalition who won election on a platform to reign in and reform government spending — might agree.

Both a rethinking of the physical plant requirements and a creative new approach to shared-usage opportunities with other existing community groups and non-profit organizations would be more productive than constantly begging for D.C. tax dollars.

Or maybe exploration of potential longer-term partnerships with businesses in less expensive and development-intensive areas of the city might, in fact, better serve those where the availability of a LGBT community center able to offer the limited resources the project can realistically provide would be of greatest benefit.

And a simple Hint from Heloise: remember to give credit and express public appreciation to the businesses that have generously supported the Center to date, rather than posing as a pitiable put-upon victim being “thrown out on the street” again.

Just sayin.’

Mark Lee is a local small business manager and long-time community business advocate. Reach him at

  • I see two other reasons why the center should not seek D.C. funding:

    1. From my experience volunteering with service organizations in D.C., I know that when the city pays the piper, the city calls the tune, and the tune isn’t always the one to which you want to dance.

    2. Seeking tax dollars doesn’t exactly overcome the common perception of LGBT activists as looters and moochers.

  • Personally I’ve never understood what the Center hopes to accomplish with a dated, brick-and-mortar community center when the community itself is more spread out, more integrated, and less centralized than ever. The very idea of a community center when there is no longer a defined geographic “community” anymore, is silly. Noble idea, a few decades ago. I’d prefer my tax money be given to WWC, not a community center that boasts a lending library and free internet. Most of the services of real value that the community needs, already exist…HIV testing, substance abuse and 12-step programs, mental health, etc. And for the politically minded, there’s HRC. What’s left? Ah, right – the lending library.

  • I can’t believe this is still being discussed. The era of gay community centers has come and gone.

  • I don’t fault the hard work and effort that has gone into the many great programs that have come out of “The Center.” However I do take issue with the center’s current and long time Board President. From my experience with him he seems to be the kind of person that is all about having his “picture” in the paper. Not the kind of person that needs to be in that position working hard and raising money for much needed programs for our GLBT population. So my suggestion is get rid of the Board Chair and allow someone else to come in and develop a long term plan. Board hands down and many agree with me, the “fame” monger at the top needs to let go.

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