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Creating safer schools

D.C. plans to expand GSAs as students prepare for return to classes

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SMYAL youth say a plan to expand GSAs in D.C. schools is a good idea. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Administrators within the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) are at the beginning of a long-term initiative to bring about more awareness and acceptance of the LGBT community in area schools.

Through the intended growth of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) across the school system, the visibility of LGBT students, families and teachers is expected to grow.

Coming out of the 2010 school year — one tainted by the tragedy of teen suicides as a result of bullying across the country — DCPS administrators felt an increasing need for a formal LGBT outreach program.

In 1998, the Gay-Straight Alliance Network was created to help empower students to unite and fight homophobia in schools. By 2005, the National Association of GSA Networks was formed, with the mission of uniting statewide organizations supporting GSAs and accelerating the growth of the movement nationwide. D.C.-based SMYAL is a member of the association.

Carolyn Laub, founder and executive director of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, sees tremendous growth in the movement over the past two or three years.

“Year after year there’s just this incredible growth of the GSA movement, nationwide. That growth of the GSA movement is being supported by, fueled by, local and statewide organizations that are supporting the GSA clubs in their region,” she says.

Despite the growth, there are still some great cultural shifts that need to be made in some states for GSAs to take root.

“Depending on what part of the country you are in, there are obstacles that might range from lack of administration support or teacher support in places where there is not employment protection for teachers,” Laub says. “Teachers will be reluctant to become a GSA adviser because they are worried about their own job security. That’s the case in places like Alabama. Teachers are reluctant to stick their necks out and become a GSA adviser.”

DCPS hopes to set an example for how a formal plan within a school system can bring about positive change. With only five or six out of 20 high schools in the District having formal GSAs in place, DCPS staff feels the time is right to expand.

“In the news last year there was a lot of information about kids committing suicide and we just felt that something needed to be done. … The moment was now,” says Diana Bruce, director of health and wellness for DCPS.

The DCPS looks to combat that fear and isolation in its schools through a publicity campaign.

Over the past few months, DCPS has been meeting and consulting regularly with parents, social workers, teachers, openly gay students as well as organizations like SMYAL and The Trevor Project. These individuals and groups formed a steering committee to put together a road map for how the District can be more proactive in putting an end to bullying and bringing about more awareness of the presence of LGBT students. What they have come up with is being referred to as “The LGBTQ Plan.”

The plan targets three groups: LGBT students, family and staff. DCPS staff met with each and conducted listening sessions.

“Not all of our schools are where we want them to be when it comes to welcoming and including LGBTQ students. Additionally, we heard that our staff wants more support around being able to be out, being able to have a picture of their spouse or partner on their desk. Some of our family members who identify as LGBTQ also said that they sometimes felt invisible,” Bruce says.

A key instrument in fulfilling the needs of the three groups is the idea of growing and enriching the role of GSAs in the public school system. The DCPS is essentially making a public statement regarding policies of tolerance and acceptance within schools surrounding the LGBT community.

“One way that we can support schools and staff who want to become advisers for GSAs is for DCPS centrally to communicate our values publicly,” Bruce says.

It’s making small but significant steps. In June, the school system made its first appearance in the Capital Pride parade. And a new Facebook page (facebook.com/dcpslgbtq) has been established. So far, fewer than 100 have “liked” the page, but they’re just starting to get the word out about its existence.

DCPS intends to use the Facebook page to get information out to interested parties. Individuals will be able to find out what schools have GSAs and their upcoming events and programming. While DCPS staff maintains control of the site and prohibits individuals from writing on the page’s wall, they intend to regularly share photos and feedback/suggestions for programming through it. In the long term, DCPS hopes to develop a private Facebook group for GSAs and SMYAL officials to share information among leaders and school administrators.

There are other plans that will be implemented pending funding such as a possible pilot program with 20 schools to study GSA benefits, updating all family-related teaching materials to include LGBT representation and having Trevor Project suicide-prevention material and training in place.

Andrew Barnett, executive director of SMYAL, praised the efforts.

“The Office of Youth Engagement at DCPS is showing great leadership in their work to make the system safer and more affirming for its LGBTQ students and other constituents, and SMYAL has appreciated being a part of the effort,” he says. “We’ve also been very impressed by the way in which Diana Bruce and her team have engaged so many different important stakeholders throughout the process. This critical work addresses one of our core responsibilities as a community: to provide a supportive path to adulthood for all of our young people. We look forward to seeing LGBTQ students have more opportunities to learn and thrive within DCPS as a result of this initiative.”

Louis Josey, 18, graduated last year from D.C.’s Maya Angelou Public Charter School. Josey remembers always being comfortable with his sexuality and came out to his family at 12. Even though he was pretty comfortable with being gay, Josey, who plans to enlist in the Navy, believes a GSA would have helped.

Louis Josey (Blade photo by Michael Key)

“There’s always a need for some structure,” he says. “Even though we [other fellow LGBT students] were working together, it took us to talk to every single teacher and every person on staff to figure out what was necessary in order to get our voices heard. If we would have had some structured group or organization there specifically focused on incorporating everyone into the community then I think it would have been a whole lot easier, it would been a whole lot more participants, and it would have just been easier for us to acclimate into the school.”

Though the plan’s success is yet to be determined, organizers are confident.

“We find it to be so powerful when students have the opportunity to network with each other online,” Laub says.

A bounty of resources are available to those hoping to start a GSA including live-stream online tutorials and national conferences and summits.

“GSA clubs take action to begin to change the school environment and they educate teachers and peers, they work to change policies,” Laub says. “That’s what we focus on in our National Gathering is how to help GSA clubs when you go back to your home state … here are the concrete things that your GSA clubs can do to take action to make it better for LGBT youth. Not just to create a safe haven within your club, but then to work on changing the school environment.”

 

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Meg Ten Eyck

    August 18, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    It is so wonderful to see nonprofits working with DCPS to create safer environments for all students. I wish more school districts would follow their lead.

    LGBTEducationForum.com

  2. Barbara Swanson

    May 23, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    I found this amazing site to make a living online…I’m now close to making $3000 a month. http://tinyurl.CoM/p74plm6

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Miscellaneous

The evolution of the open house

The more sophisticated the advertising, the more the events flourished

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From car giveaways in the 1950s to today’s QR codes and virtual events, agents have used diverse strategies to draw buyers to open houses.

In the early 20th century, there were no exclusive agreements between a seller and a real estate agent. Any broker who knew of someone wanting to sell could participate in an “open listing” by planting his sign in the yard of that person and competing with agents from other brokerages who did the same. To the victor who obtained a buyer went the spoils of commission.

The rules began to change in 1919, when being a real estate broker now required a license. An agent might handle only one property at a time exclusively, but an “open for inspection” period could be used to introduce a model home or new community to the buying population. 

According to the National Association of Realtors, Dallas homebuilder, Howdy Howard, hosted one of the most successful open houses of all time in the 1950s. During the first 12 days of the event, an estimated 100,000 people attended, drawn by free sodas and the ultimate prize for the buyer – a new Cadillac.

Soon, brokers began hiring additional agents who could handle multiple properties. Unlike Howard’s marathon open house, agents would now host them for a few hours at a time, usually on a Sunday, to whet the appetite of the buyer pool. 

Classified advertisements with a description of a property would be placed in a local newspaper and potential buyers would review them with their morning coffee to decide which houses to visit later in the day. 

Marketing in newspapers went from a few lines of black and white text to a photo of a home’s exterior, to a multi-page spread that included both photos of houses and the agents who represented them.

The more sophisticated the advertising became, the more the open house flourished as a marketing tool, not only for the home itself, but also for the agent and the brokerage. It allowed agents to prospect for buyers for that home and others, and converse with neighbors who might want to sell their homes as well. 

Soon, the sign-in sheet was born, used by the agent to capture the contact information of a potential client or customer and to let the seller know who had visited his home. While sign-in sheets or cards are still used, some agents have gravitated to electronic applications, using a tablet computer instead of paper for the same purpose.

Fast forward to the early 2000s in D.C., when open houses became the primary source of showing property. An agent would enter a property into the multiple listing service (MLS) on a Thursday, entertain no showings until Saturday, host an open house on Sunday afternoon, and call for offers either Sunday night or Monday. The open house allowed agents to send their buyers rather than accompany them and serve multiple clients at once.  

The delayed showing day strategy referenced above has since been supplanted by the MLS’s Coming Soon status. Agents can now email or text links to upcoming properties to their clients in advance of showing availability and the clients can view photos, read property descriptions and disclosures, and schedule future visits accordingly.

Enter COVID-19. Due to the proliferation of the virus and the subsequent lockdown, the real estate world had to accommodate new public health requirements. 

One of the first things to go was the open house. Even agent showings were constrained, with visitors limited to an agent plus two people and additional requirements for wearing masks and disposable shoe covers and gloves. 

Overlapping appointments were not allowed, showings were limited to 15 to 30 minutes, and bottles of hand sanitizer sprung up on kitchen counters everywhere.

Ultimately, technology and ingenuity provided new marketing avenues for agents that included 3-D virtual open houses, Facetime and Duo viewings, videos, property websites and QR codes. Many of these marketing techniques remain, even though traditional open houses are coming back post-lockdown.

But are they really necessary? Certainly not for all types of properties. 

I believe the days of using a public open house to procure a buyer are limited. Agent security has become a concern and the desire for in-person viewings during a specific day or time has waned. 

On the other hand, Internet marketing and social media have a much wider reach, so much so that some people now feel comfortable buying a home – probably the most expensive item they will ever purchase – without even stepping into it until after closing.

After all, if we can work in sweatpants or pajamas while Zooming corporate meetings, how can naked virtual reality house hunting be far behind?

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.

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Miscellaneous

D.C. homebuyers face hyper competitive market

Sellers in driver’s seat as region faces record low inventory

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housing market, gay news, Washington Blade

With job growth rising during a period of aggressive government spending and historically low mortgage rates, the spring 2021 market sits at the lowest level of inventory since 1983.

Homebuyers in the D.C. area continue to face an incredibly competitive market. This is truly a seller’s market.

Lack of Inventory: Washington, D.C. has been in a gradually worsening housing shortage since the Great Recession. The area hasn’t had a six-month supply of homes for sale for almost 12 years. Now, we add a global pandemic that seriously altered what homeowners want out of their home, Wall Street on fire, and insanely low interest rates and we get a surge in motivated homebuyers.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the number of homes nationwide reached a record low in December 2020, with just 1.07 million properties on the market. The DC metro area is even worse off than the national average with only one month’s supply of homes. That means if new listings were completely dried up, there would be no homes available in four weeks. On average, D.C. homes have been selling within 11 days, which is 15 days faster than this time in 2020.

Seller’s Market: The time is now for Washington, D.C. homeowners to seriously consider selling their homes if they have played with the idea. Experts predict 2021 will be another strong housing market with an increase in demand from existing homebuyers in search of larger homes and buyers who delayed purchasing a home due to the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Zillow forecasts a nearly 30 percent annual growth in homes for sale in 2021. This would be the largest home sales growth since 1983. Zillow’s annual report stated, “Home price appreciation will reach its fastest pace since the Great Recession, as the inventory crunch continues to pit buyers against each other, competing for a scarce number of homes for sale.”

D.C.’s Current Market: According to the NAR, in March of 2021, D.C. home prices had increased 4.1% compared to March 2020, for a median price of $635,000. There were 1,004 homes sold in March 2021, an increase from 842 at this time last year.

We are seeing many homes receive multiple offers within just a few days in the D.C. area. The average home is selling a little above 1% of the listing price and many hot homes are seeing large bidding wars and selling for 3% or more above the listing price; 42.7% of D.C. homes sold above list price in March of 2021. That is a 13.4% increase from last year at this time. Active inventory for March of 2021 was 1,457 homes, down 9% from March 2020. March 2021 also saw 991 homes sell in the D.C. area, an increase of 31% from February of 2021. March 2021’s total homes sold had a 19% increase from March 2020.

Buying a Home: In the current seller’s market, buying a home can be like playing a chess match. You need to know the rules and be strategic. It can seem more like winning than purchasing a home right now. If you find a home you want to buy, chances are you won’t be the only one making an offer. It is a seller’s market everywhere in the country right now and D.C. is no different. Be sure you know what you qualify for and what you can afford.

Conclusion: The NAR and the Mortgage Bankers Association both project prices of existing homes to increase 5.9% in 2021. This may mean buyers will have to be more flexible than in the past. For example, making an offer contingent upon the sale of a current home may be harder than before. It’s also possible you will pay more than the list price. The D.C. real estate market is on fire and many homes are off the market within 24 hours of listing. For sellers, if you have been thinking of selling your home there is no better time than the present.

 

Khalil El-Ghoul is Principal Broker for Glass House Real Estate. Reach him at [email protected] or 571-235-4821. Glass House Real Estate is a modern, more affordable way to buy and sell a home in the D.C. Metro area. Learn more about what makes us different at glassshousere.com.

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Miscellaneous

Kick-ass crossovers

Still the hottest vehicles in dealer showrooms

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crossovers, gay news, Washington Blade

Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat

Crossovers keep wending their way into our driveways—and our hearts. After overtaking sedans, station wagons and minivans as the hottest vehicles in dealer showrooms, crossovers are now taking aim at the most quintessential of American rides: the muscle car. With naughty looks and hepped-up engines, the two dynamite crossovers below are sure to blow your mind—and just maybe your budget.

DODGE DURANGO SRT HELLCAT
$81,000
Mpg: 12 city/17 highway
0 to 60 mph: 3.5 seconds

For more than 20 years, the Dodge Durango has been a solid if nondescript family hauler. But this year the automaker jazzed up its midsize crossover with brawnier styling and the latest tech toys. And for the first time, Dodge is offering a limited-edition Durango SRT Hellcat—a high-test model with the same hellacious Hemi V8 engine in the Challenger super coupe and Charger sport sedan. With 710 horsepower, this blazingly fast crossover can kick some serious ass, outrunning many a Ferrari and Lamborghini.

The upgraded suspension provides more dynamic handling and cornering, as well as selectable steering for better grip. For straight-line acceleration and to prevent nasty fish-tailing, I simply flipped the “launch control” toggle switch. The massive Brembo brakes also were stellar, with stop-on-a-dime performance and flaming red calipers on each wheel. Another plus: the iconic Hellcat exhaust rumble could be heard blocks away—music to the ears of any auto aficionado. As with all Durangos, this bruiser has best-in-class towing capacity of 8,700 pounds.

Inside, there’s plenty of space, including more room than expected for third-row passengers. The steering wheel, dash, and trim accents now have trendy Euro styling, though it’s more VW than upscale Audi. And you can opt for flashy seatbelts and premium seats in a color Dodge calls Demonic Red, along with black velour floor mats and a soft-touch headliner. Other features include heated/ventilated seats, a large 10.1-inch touchscreen, wireless smartphone integration and the ability to pair two Bluetooth devices at once. Options include a 19-speaker Harman Kardon stereo and rear-seat entertainment with Blue-Ray player. Alas, this is a limited-edition model and all 2,000 of these speed demons quickly sold out months ago. But there’s still hope: Dodge allocated some of the racy Durangos to select dealerships, so you can call around to see if any are still available. And you can always try social media to find a lucky Durango Hellcat owner who just might be willing to sell this rollicking ride, if the price is right.

LAND ROVER DEFENDER X
$85,000
Mpg: 17 city/22 highway
0 to 60 mph: 5.7 seconds

For decades, both the Land Rover Discovery and Range Rover have been ubiquitous in the United States. Not so the smaller and less ostentatious Defender, often seen as a work-horse vehicle in BritBox reruns or action flicks like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. But last year the Defender returned to these shores after nearly a quarter-century hiatus.

Available in two- or four-door models, both Defenders start around $50,000. My test vehicle was the new top-of-the-line Defender X, which added—yikes!—another $35,000 to the sticker price. The look on these crossovers is boxy chic, which allows for a ginormous amount of headroom, legroom and cargo space. Land Rover also added extra stowage areas and cubby holes, as well as transom windows and a sliding panoramic sunroof to keep things airy. While the cabin may be sparse and full of solid plastics, the walnut trim on the center console and door panels is quite elegant.

Land Rovers have a somewhat infamous reputation for less-than-stellar electronics, but the 10-inch touchscreen was crystal clear and synced up seamlessly with the infotainment system. Tricked out with a jet-black roof, hood, and side cladding, the press vehicle I test drove was painted a haughty Eiger Gray Metallic. It also came with thick all-terrain tires, adding to a slightly menacing vibe. A full-size spare is conveniently mounted on the vertical tailgate, which swings completely open like a refrigerator door for easy access. The Defender X may not be as lightning quick as a Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat, but it’s still plenty fast. And this brute can tackle the toughest of terrains, thanks to locking differentials, hill-descent control and a standard air suspension that can raise the chassis 11.5 inches above the ground. Overall, the Defender X can’t quite hide its refined roots as a tony Land Rover. But as with the Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat, this burly crossover flexes some serious muscle.

Land Rover Defender X

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