D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced at a news conference Tuesday night that he has appointed longtime gay activist Sterling Washington as the new director of the Mayor’s Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs.
At the same news conference Gray announced the city has accepted a bid by the D.C. LGBT Community Center to rent store front space in the city’s Reeves Center, an eight-story office and retail building located in the heart of the 14th and U Streets, N.W., entertainment district.
The mayor’s dual announcement drew applause from more than 50 LGBT activists who assembled in the Reeves Center’s first floor atrium, steps away from the interior entrance to the Center’s soon-to-be-opened offices.
“What a great time of the year to be able to make the announcement,” Gray told the gathering. “We are at the day when there will be a permanent home for the D.C. Center.”
Gray was referring to the D.C. Center’s years-long search for a permanent location that has brought it to at least three temporary locations over the past several years.
Its current home at 1318 U St., N.W., less than a block away from the Reeves Center, is about to be razed to make way for a new high-rise office and residential building similar to numerous other buildings popping up in the booming neighborhood.
In announcing Washington’s appointment to head the Office of GLBT Affairs, Gray said he is certain Washington will continue the office’s high standards set by his predecessor, Jeffrey Richardson.
Richardson left the GLBT Affairs post last month after Gray appointed him as executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Volunteerism, which is also known as Serve D.C.
Washington, 39, is a D.C. native with a political science degree from George Washington University and a music degree from Howard University. Among his numerous LGBT community activities, he was co-founder of the Bisexual, Lesbian and Gay Organization of Students at Howard known then as BLAGOSAH.
He worked as a presidential appointee in the Clinton administration in the 1990s and later worked for the D.C. HIV/AIDS services and prevention organization Us Helping Us. Washington currently serves as resources and grant development manager at the Center for Black Equity, which was formerly called the International Federation of Black Prides.
“Sterling Washington is well acquainted with a broad swath of the District’s LGBT community, and I expect him to be a natural fit for this important role,” Gray said.
“I’m proud that D.C. is a national and international leader in protecting our residents’ rights regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and Sterling is eminently qualified to continue the excellent work that Jeffrey Richardson has done in ensuring we continue to be a city that values safety and equality for all,” the mayor said.
“I’m honored to serve under Mayor Gray, who has a very clear outline of what he wants the LGBT community to be,” Washington told the Blade. “All of his priorities are integrating every member of the LGBT community into the city as part of his One City Action Plan.”
Washington said he will remain in his current job for the next few weeks and is scheduled to begin as director of the GLBT Affairs Office on Jan. 7.
D.C. Center President Michael Sessa said the developer that owns the building where the Center is currently housed had offered the Center a $15,000 rent rebate if it vacates the premises by Dec. 31.
Sessa said that as recently as Monday, with the Center still searching for a new home, it appeared that it would have to stay in its current building a while longer and miss out on the rebate offer.
But to his and Center Executive Director David Mariner’s amazement and delight, an official with the D.C. Department of General Services informed the Center late Monday afternoon that the city had accepted the Center’s bid for the Reeves Center space.
“We’ll be calling on volunteers and lining up help to move into the new space as best we can by the 31st,” Sessa said.
The D.C. Center’s new location at the Reeves Center consists of 2,468 square feet of space and it includes a street entrance on 14th Street as well as an interior entrance, according to Darrell Pressley, a spokesperson for the Department of General Services.
Sessa said the new space is about double that of the current space. He said the rent will be $4,000 per month, a figure between 50 percent and 60 percent below market value for rent in the area.
Sessa and Mariner said the below market rent is part of a city program that seeks to bring in community services to the bustling business and residential area as a means of enhancing the neighborhood and the community.
The rental agreement allows the Center to remain in the space for up to 15 years.
“The D.C. Center participated in a competitive bidding process for the space that included both non-profits and local businesses, submitting their original proposal in April 2012,” the Center said in a statement posted on its website Tuesday night.
“In June of 2012 the D.C. Center was notified they were not selected for the space,” the statement says. “The business that won the initial bid, however, decided not to move forward with the project, and the D.C. Center had the opportunity to resubmit their proposal in October 2012.”
Mariner said nine members of the D.C. City Council wrote letters in support of the Center’s bid for the Reeves Center space. He said gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who spoke at Monday’s news conference, was especially helpful in advocating for the Center to obtain the Reeves Center space, which is located in Ward 1.
In his remarks at the news conference, Graham thanked Gray for taking the lead in creating an atmosphere in the city supportive of LGBT equality.
“It’s just an enormous sigh of relief to see that the District of Columbia, which cares so much about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community and to say, ‘We want you at the Reeves Center at 14th and U,” Graham said.
“And we want you there for 15 years and we want you there for a reasonable rent, and we want you to feel secure,” he said. “I think the first person to thank for this and the attitude and fortitude that he brings to all of this is the Mayor of the District of Columbia, Vincent C. Gray. Thank you.”
Mariner said the rental agreement at the Reeves Center requires the Center to pay for renovations needed to convert what had been a restaurant into office and meeting space for the numerous LGBT groups that use the center for meetings and office space.
“As we move forward we are counting on our supporters to help with the renovation, both financially and with ‘sweat equity’” Mariner said. “We have a unique opportunity to create a space that we can be proud to call our own for the next 15 years, and a big job ahead of us.”