Lesbian activist and events promoter Sheila Alexander-Reid has announced she’s stepping down from heading the D.C.-based Women in the Life Association after 18 years. It concludes with a bounty of activities this weekend.
A party being billed as “The Last First Friday” is tonight from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. at the Loft at the Warehouse (4th and Penn streets, N.E. off New York Avenue). An open mic night was held Thursday night. On Saturday, a cocktail reception will be held at Martin’s Lounge at 1919 9th St. (near 9th and U) from 7-11 p.m. featuring singer/songwriter Angie Head. Admission to tonight’s party is $20. Saturday’s is $15. Visit lastfirstfriday.com for more information.
Women in the Life has been mostly inactive for the last year. Alexander-Reid said many of the factors that contributed to the group’s founding are moot points now. She’s also at a different time and age in her own life, she said.
“I’m quite frankly just tired,” she said. “I’m hearing from all over the country people saying, ‘You can’t let this die, it needs to continue,’ and so on. When we started there was more of a need for safe spaces for professional lesbians of color to get together, raise visibility in the greater LGBT community … some of the main reasons we started are no longer needed. There are other needs that I’d eventually like to address, things like mental health concerns, obesity, smoking, but right now I’m taking a break. It remains to be seen if this is just a hiatus for Women in the Life or the end. It may come back in a different incarnation, but we’ll see. I’m open to that but I’m not committing to that.”
Bob Witeck, of Witeck-Combs Communication and a former Women in the Life board member, said it’s a different era in many ways from when Alexander-Reid formed the organization.
“She was pre-Internet,” he said. “None of us had these tools to connect the way we do now. I wouldn’t say she’s old school, but the place she held has changed and those gaps and vacuums are different than they used to be.”
Witeck said Alexander-Reid deserves high praise for her efforts.
“She fulfilled a pioneering leadership that is unparalleled,” he said. “There really isn’t a counterpart for the bridge that she built. Plus she’s just exciting to be around with her warmth and her curiosity. She’s a dynamo who changes and improves everything she touches.”
Women in the Life began as a for-profit events agency providing First Friday nightclub events for local black lesbians. Alexander-Reid said over the years, her crowd was typically between 75-80 percent black. It broadened into the scope of a non-profit in the early ’00s when she started publishing a newsletter/magazine for her regulars that was extraordinarily popular. After her friend, Wanda Alston, was murdered, she started Wanda’s Will Project to encourage lesbians to get wills in place. All along, Alexander-Reid maintained her job as a business development manager at City Paper. She said eventually Women in the Life got out of control and could have easily been a full-time job, so she pulled back.
“I feel good about what I accomplished,” she said. “But our community has so much more now and I’d like to take a break.”