Transgender Health Empowerment, a non-profit group that has provided a wide range of services for D.C.’s transgender community for more than a decade, is struggling with a financial crisis that has prevented it from paying its employees on time and has triggered staff layoffs and resignations, according to multiple sources familiar with the organization.
Public records at the D.C. Recorder of Deeds office show that the IRS filed at least 10 liens against THE over the past three-and-a-half years. Most are due to THE’s failure to pay employee payroll taxes, the records show.
Sources familiar with the situation say the liens prompted the D.C. Department of Health to suspend some or all of its funding for THE for HIV/AIDS-related services. The funding suspension reportedly was triggered by a procurement rule that restricts city funding for vendors or contractors that are in violation of the law, including federal tax law, the sources said.
A former THE employee and current client said they each were told by THE staffers that a delay in city funding forced the group to cut back on its drop-in services at its headquarters at 1414 North Capitol Street, N.W., and to limit services to clients by appointment only.
“The whole month of March we didn’t get a paycheck,” said the former employee, who was laid off in April because of THE’s financial problems, the former employee told the Blade.
Among THE employees not getting paid or getting paid late are THE official and longtime transgender activist Earline Budd, THE Director of Programs Brian Watson, and transgender activist Jeri Hughes, sources familiar with the group said.
Top officials with THE and the Department of Health have not responded to repeated requests by the Blade for information about the cause of THE’s financial problems and the status of city funding for the group.
“At this particular time, there’s no comment,” Brian Devine, THE’s finance manager, told the Blade. Devine said THE Executive Director Anthony Hall also had no comment.
“We just had a board meeting and that was one of the issues we spoke of,” said Devine, adding that the board decided not to issue a statement about the situation at the present time.
DOH spokesperson Najma Roberts said she would make inquiries about the THE funding status when contacted by the Blade last week. As of press time this week she had not responded.
The Blade filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the DOH deputy general counsel, Phillip Husband, on April 3 seeking the information that the department has yet to release through Roberts, the press spokesperson. Husband said the department usually takes up to 15 business days to respond to a FOIA request.
“My biggest concern is THE’s clients,” said transgender activist Ruby Corado, director of Casa Ruby, an LGBT community center in Columbia Heights that caters to the Latino and transgender communities.
Corado said some of THE’s clients have been coming to Casa Ruby after being told that THE’s drop in center had curtailed its services.
Corado and other transgender activists called THE the D.C. area’s preeminent service provider and advocate for the transgender community.
They note that THE also operates the city’s only housing facility dedicated to homeless LGBT youth. The facility known as the Wanda Alston House has been nationally recognized as an innovative resource for LGBT youth that offers counseling, employment and vocational training, and other services.
Among THE programs funded by DOH is its highly acclaimed Comprehensive Risk Counseling Services or CRSC program, which offers risk reduction interventions for preventing HIV infection among transgender people, especially transgender women, whom experts say are at high risk for HIV. THE also offers HIV testing and counseling.
“THE is a transgender institution for D.C.,” Corado said. “There are a lot of people counting on its services, especially those living with HIV. It is an organization that cannot go away,” she said.
“So the question I have is what is the Department of Health doing about this,” Corado said. “Why aren’t they talking about what happens to those clients? Are those clients OK?”
Transgender activist Alexandra Beninda, who serves on the D.C. Human Rights Commission, was among those who praised THE for its work in the transgender community but said she was unaware that the group was having financial problems.
She said she hoped the community would rally in support of THE but expressed concern that news of the group’s problems had not gotten out to those who might be willing to help.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the D.C.-based National Center for Transgender Equality, said she, too, was unaware of the THE financial problems.
“They are the centerpiece for local transgender efforts,” Keisling said.
Records of the IRS liens against THE filed with the D.C. Recorder of Deeds show that between March 2010 and earlier this year the group owed the IRS a total of $260,075. The records don’t show how much of that amount was for unpaid taxes and how much, if any, was for interest and penalties.
The records show that THE has since made payments of $91,912 to pay off the back taxes and currently owes the IRS $168,163.
As a non-profit, tax-exempt organization, THE doesn’t pay taxes on its income from donors or from government grants and contracts. The records indicate that most of the money owed is for employee payroll taxes.
Due to THE’s refusal to comment on the matter it couldn’t immediately be determined what caused the underlying financial problems that prevented THE from paying its employee payroll taxes.
Ron Simmons, executive director of the D.C. AIDS service group Us Helping Us, which also receives city funding, said smaller community based groups like THE sometimes encounter cash flow problems when the city takes too long to reimburse the group for its services. He said DOH in the past has taken 90 days or longer to reimburse vendors and service providers.
“Among other things, they are the only LGBT homeless shelter for youth,” Simmons said. “We absolutely can’t let them go under,” he said of THE.
THE’s most recently filed IRS 990 finance report that is available for public viewing is for the fiscal year of Oct. 1, 2009 through Sept. 30, 2010.
The report shows that THE’s income for the year was $960,834 and its expenses came to $1,093,816, with a deficit of $132,982.
Gay man attacked, beaten by neighbors in Northeast D.C.
Police list incident as hate crime but courthouse ‘backlog’ could delay arrests
A woman, her daughter, and a man believed to be the daughter’s father repeatedly punched a gay man in the face while the mother called him a “Jewish faggot” and other anti-gay slurs during an Oct. 13 incident on the grounds of an apartment building where the victim and the two women live, according to the victim and a D.C. police incident report.
The victim, Antonio Zephir, 51, told the Washington Blade the incident began after the mother began shouting anti-gay slurs at him as he walked past her and his roommate outside the Northwood Gardens Apartments at 4870 Fort Totten Dr., N.E. at about 12:40 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 13.
Zephir identifies the mother as Aurlora Y. Ellis in court papers seeking a restraining order against her that he filed in D.C. Superior Court. He said she had acted in a hostile way toward him before the assault incident.
“For several months, every time Ms. Ellis sees me, she shouts homophobic slurs and I continued to ignore her,” Zephir told the Blade in an email.
He said that minutes before the Oct. 13 attack, Ellis yelled the words “Jewish faggot” when he walked past her as she was talking to his roommate, Steven Johnson. Zephir said it is well known among his neighbors at the apartment complex that he is of the Jewish faith.
“I responded with not-so-kind words. She ran towards me and assaulted me with hard punches toward my face,” Zephir wrote in his email to the Blade.
“I punched back in an attempt to defend myself,” he wrote. “Mr. Johnson tried to break us up when her daughter Latera Cox and [Cox’s] father assaulted me,” according to Zephir’s account of the incident. “Ms. Ellis yelled, ‘Call the police, you bitch faggot. They’re not going to do anything. This isn’t over yet.”
At that point, Ellis, her daughter Latera Cox, and the man Zephir believes to be Cox’s father fled the scene, Zephir told the Blade.
The D.C. police incident report, which lists the assault as a suspected hate crime, says, “All three suspects then fled east bound” on the 4800 block of Fort Totten Dr., N.E.
Zephir said he immediately called police, who arrived on the scene and took a report on the incident. The report obtained by the Blade lists the incident as a simple assault, which is a misdemeanor under D.C. law.
But Zephir said a detective working on the case told him this week that police were looking into speeding up the process of obtaining warrants for the arrest of the three attackers based, in part, on the injuries Zephir suffered from the attack. He provided the Blade with a medical report issued by the Washington Hospital Center, where his roommate took him to the emergency room the day following the attack, in response to severe pain he was experiencing to his face and head.
The report from the hospital, which treated and released him on Oct. 14, says he was diagnosed as having a fractured nose; a fracture of the “interior orbital wall,” which is the bone surrounding one of his eyes; subconjunctival hemorrhage or bleeding of his left eye; and “laceration of oral cavity” which means an injury inside his mouth caused by trauma from the assault.
Zephir told the Blade that the same detective told him last week that due to a “backlog” in cases at the D.C. Superior Court, it could take between one and two months for police and prosecutors to obtain warrants for the arrests of the two women and the man who assaulted him.
A police spokesperson told the Blade the case remains under active investigation. A spokesperson for the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, which acts as the prosecutor for adult criminal cases in D.C., said he would look into whether the office could publicly comment on the status of efforts to obtain arrest warrants for the three attackers.
Zephir said rumors had surfaced prior to the assault incident that Ellis may have access to a gun. Based on what he feared was a threat by Ellis when she told him during the attack that “this isn’t over yet,” he said he persuaded his roommate to drive him to the courthouse on the same day as the attack to apply for a court restraining order to prevent Ellis from harming him again.
Court records show he also filed a civil complaint against Ellis, Ellis’s daughter, and Ellis’s roommate, Linda Miller, who Zephir says in the complaint acted as an “enabler” for Ellis’ hostility toward him.
The complaint, which is a civil lawsuit that Zephir wrote by hand and filed by himself without hiring a lawyer, calls for $18,000 in damages.
“I have nightmares,” Zephir told the Blade. “I can’t believe it happened. I keep reliving the experience over and over and over in my head,” he said. “And I feel like I’m a prisoner in my own apartment. I don’t feel safe because I, honest to God, feel like she is going to bodily harm me and I might be, God forbid, murdered.”
Ellis, Cox, and Miller could not immediately be reached for comment.
Biden endorses Roem for re-election
Former journalist is first out trans person in any state legislature
President Biden on Tuesday endorsed Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) for re-election.
Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax County) is among the other Democratic members of the Virginia House of Delegates who Biden backed. Biden in his tweet also stressed his support of Terry McAuliffe, who is running against Republican Glenn Youngkin to succeed Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.
“Building back better starts in the states,” tweeted Biden. “Since flipping the legislature in 2019, Virginia Democrats have been a model of progress—including helping us vaccinate folks to beat the pandemic. To keep our progress, we must elect Terry McAuliffe and Democrats up and down the ballot.”
Building back better starts in the states. Since flipping the legislature in 2019, Virginia Democrats have been a model of progress—including helping us vaccinate folks to beat the pandemic. To keep our progress, we must elect @TerryMcAuliffe and Democrats up and down the ballot. pic.twitter.com/NsJiiPNzlv
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) October 19, 2021
Roem, a former journalist, in 2018 became the first openly transgender person seated in any state legislature in the U.S.
Biden called Roem on the night she defeated then-state Del. Bob Marshall and congratulated her. A Washington Post picture that showed Roem crying moments later went viral.
The Manassas Democrat who represents the 13th District in 2019 easily won re-election. Christopher Stone, the Republican who is running against Roem in this cycle, opposes marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples.
Conservatives blame pro-trans policy after assaults in Loudoun schools
‘Gender fluid’ 15-year-old accused of attacking female students
The Loudoun County, Va., public school system’s recently adopted policy of allowing students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity has come under fire over the past two weeks by outraged parents and conservative political activists following reports that a 15-year-old “gender fluid” boy allegedly sexually assaulted two girls in different high schools.
The parents of one of the girls released a statement through the Virginia-based Stanley Law Group blaming school officials for failing to put in place safeguards to prevent the boy, who they say was dressed in a skirt, from entering the girl’s bathroom to assault their daughter at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, Va., on May 28.
The statement accuses Loudoun County Schools officials and the Loudoun County Board of Education of failing to take steps to prevent the same 15-year-old boy from allegedly sexually assaulting another female student at Broad Run High School, also located in Ashburn, on Oct. 6 in a vacant classroom.
School officials acknowledge that the boy was transferred to the second school after law enforcement authorities released him from a juvenile detention facility following his arrest for the first case, in which the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office said he was charged with two counts of forceable sodomy against his female victim.
“The sexual assault on our daughter and the subsequent sexual assault by the same individual were both predictable and preventable,” the parents’ statement says. “Subsequent to the sexual assault on our daughter, Loudoun County Public Schools formalized the policy regarding restroom use that was easily exploitable by a potential sexual assailant,” the statement continues.
“Because of poor planning and misguided policies, Loudoun Schools failed to institute even minimal safeguards to protect students from sexual assaults,” says the statement.
Loudoun County Schools Superintendent Scott A. Ziegler apologized at an Oct. 15 news conference for what he acknowledged was the school systems’ mishandling of the two sexual assault cases. He noted that school officials should have publicly disclosed the two cases or at least alerted parents at the time they occurred. But he said a federal civil rights law known as Title IX that mandates how schools must respond to cases of sexual harassment appeared to prevent Loudoun school officials from initially disclosing the two cases of sexual assault until they were investigated by law enforcement authorities.
Ziegler said the school system was revamping its disciplinary procedures and its interaction with the Loudoun Sheriff’s Office to ensure that parents and students are alerted to potential danger similar to the cases where the 15-year-old boy allegedly assaulted the two female students.
Meanwhile, school officials and the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Loudoun have pointed out that law enforcement officials have yet to confirm whether the 15-year-old boy charged in the two cases was actually dressed in women’s clothes during the first incident or whether he is trans or gender fluid.
Equality Loudoun’s president, Cris Candice Tuck, released a statement to the Washington Blade on Oct. 18 that she said was the first official known statement responding to the Loudoun school controversy from an LGBTQ organization.
“In light of the reporting of recent sexual assault allegations, the Board of Directors of Equality Loudoun wishes to extend our deepest sympathies to the victims of these heinous attacks and their families,” the statement says. “Equality Loudoun advocates for due process and justice for the victims regardless of whether the alleged perpetrator was a member of the LGBTQ+ community,” the statement continues. “Such actions have no place in our community, and Equality Loudoun does not condone any form of sexual violence, assault, or harassment,” it says.
“However, the accusations that the alleged perpetrator of these assaults is transgender or genderfluid have so far been unverified,” the Equality Loudoun statement asserts. “Attempts to shift blame of this incident to any individual, group, or policy – other than the alleged perpetrator – does a grave disservice to the victims of these crimes and already marginalized youth in our community.”
The statement adds, “We remind those advocating for change to the laws and policies that the initial assault predated any enactment of Policy 8040 by almost 4 months.”
The Equality Loudoun statement was referring to the fact that the Loudoun County School Board did not vote to approve the school system’s trans nondiscrimination policy until August of this year, more than three months after the first of the two sexual assault incidents occurred.
The policy, among other things, allows transgender and genderfluid students to use the school bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. The policy also requires that teachers, school administrators and fellow students address a trans or genderfluid student by their chosen name and pronouns.
“Inadvertent slips in the use of names and pronouns may occur,” the policy states. “However, staff or students who intentionally and persistently refuse to respect a student’s gender identity by using the wrong name and gender pronoun are in violation of this policy,” it states.
The statement says that rumors of a bathroom “pilot” program that predated the official approval of Policy 8040 that would have allowed female trans or genderfluid students to use the girls’ bathrooms “are simply untrue” and were never put in place.
In a separate statement to the Blade, Equality Loudoun’s Cris Candice Tuck challenged claims by some parents and conservative political activists, some of whom are supporting Virginia’s GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin over Democrat Terry McAulliffe, that the trans nondiscrimination policy is placing students at risk for sexual assault.
“The adoption of nondiscrimination policies are in no way endangering students,” Candice Tuck said. “Across the country, sexual assaults have occurred in schools for decades before any transgender inclusive policies were passed,” she said. “And in those counties and states where such protections have passed in recent years, there has been no verified incidence of anyone abusing such policies to commit such attacks in schools.”
Candice Tuck added, “The focus should be on improving systems of reporting, coordination, and investigation, protecting the victims of these attacks, and creating safer school environments by creating modernized areas and bathrooms that increase protection for all students, including LGBTQ+ students who are statistically more likely to be the victim of such a crime.”
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