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DC trans group files for bankruptcy

T.H.E. seeks Chapter 11 protection; reports $566,000 in debt

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Earline Budd, T.H.E., Transgender Health Empowerment, gay news, Washington Blade
Earline Budd, gay news, gay politics dc

Transgender activist and one of DC trans group T.H.E.’s founders, Earline Budd, is owed $4,615 in back wages. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Transgender Health Empowerment, which has been recognized as D.C.’s preeminent organization advocating for and providing services to the transgender community since 2004, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July 7.

The 56-page bankruptcy filing came two months after the D.C. government revoked or suspended most of its contracts and grants for T.H.E.  The cut off in funds came after D.C. officials learned the IRS filed tax liens against the group seeking to recover more than $260,000 in unpaid payroll taxes, possibly including penalties, that accumulated since 2008.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who praised T.H.E.’s work on behalf of the LGBT community, said the city was forced to withdraw its funding for the group under a “clean hands” policy that bars city funding for vendors and service providers found to be in violation of the law, including federal and local tax laws.

LGBT activists familiar with the group have said it ceased most of its operations and laid off nearly all of its employees at the time the city cut off its funding for the group.

T.H.E.’s bankruptcy filing with the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia shows it has total remaining assets of $37,009 and liabilities totaling $566,544.26.

The filing identifies the IRS as the single largest creditor, showing the group owes $264,247.91 in employee federal payroll taxes between 2008 and 2013. The filing shows T.H.E. owes the D.C. government $22,485 in employee withholding taxes and $15,663 in D.C. “unemployment” taxes.

The group owes the State of Maryland $8,695 in “employment taxes/withholding” for 2012 and 2013, according to the bankruptcy filing.

Under the U.S. bankruptcy law, a Chapter 11 filing allows a business or organization to obtain temporary relief from paying its creditors while it reorganizes its corporate structure and works out a plan with creditors to eventually repay the debt.

Records filed with the bankruptcy court show that a meeting of creditors is scheduled to take place at the court, located at 333 Constitution Ave., N.W., at 3 p.m. on Aug. 8.

In a press release issued on Wednesday, T.H.E. discussed its financial problems for the first time since news of its money problems surfaced earlier this year.

“Transgender Health Empowerment (T.H.E.), a non-profit group that has provided a wide range of services for D.C.’s TGLB (Transgender, Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual) HIV+ and homeless community since 2004 has been struggling with financial challenges that have prompted us to curtail some services and suspend others,” the press release says.

“Communicating with our community and clients is of utmost importance to the Board of Directors, along with overseeing solid organization recovery,” it says.

The release, however, makes no mention of the bankruptcy filing, saying only, “Our renewed goal is to protect the organization financially to ensure that programs and services that are being provided have adequate support and to ensure that the actions of those we entrust adhere to the policies and direction set by the Board of Directors.”

Although T.H.E. has not published the names of its board members since its website was shut down earlier this year, the bankruptcy filing identifies 11 people as current board members. Among those identified as board members in the filing is D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).

However, Graham told the Blade on Tuesday that he is not now and has never been a T.H.E. board member. Instead, Graham said he has served on a T.H.E. advisory committee.

The filing identifies Rhonda Steward as interim chair of the board, Marjorie Borders as secretary and Rodney Pierce as treasurer. Gay Democratic activist Bradley Lewis is listed as a member of the board.

The T.H.E. press release, which appears to have been issued by the board, doesn’t mention the role the group’s executive director for over five years, Anthony Hall, will play in the reorganization.

Hall and other T.H.E. officials have declined to respond to requests by the Blade since May for an explanation of the root causes of the organization’s financial problems.

A document obtained by the Blade from the D.C. Department of Health through a Freedom of Information Act request, says the DOH decided in early May to discontinue its funding for T.H.E. after learning that the IRS had filed tax liens against the group and its financial prospects were grim.

The April 24 document, identified as a Programmatic Site Visit Report, says Hall told DOH officials during their visit to T.H.E.’s headquarters at 3339 10th Place, S.E., that much of the group’s financial problems stemmed from outstanding debts with the IRS and D.C. and Maryland tax offices related to unpaid payroll withholding taxes.

“This, he mentioned, was the result of incorrect filings of successive accountants,” the DOH report says. “He has since contracted with Wells Fargo Bank to manage the organization’s payroll and remit all withholdings and related tax obligations.”

But according to the report, “T.H.E. has no cash on hand and does not appear to have a realistic chance of working out a resolution with the IRS…Many of their staff has already been laid off and a limited few are volunteering to perform limited duties,” it says.

“Their clients are already impacted and have limited or no servicers…In all practicality, T.H.E. has already shut their doors and cannot even be paid were they to invoice further.”

The report recommended that all DOH sub-grants “be suspended immediately and appropriate providers identified to provide the services.”

Among the other creditors listed in the bankruptcy filing are 23 mostly former employees who are owed back wages ranging from between $3,000 and just over $5,000. Included among them are longtime transgender activist and one of T.H.E.’s founders, Earline Budd, who is owed $4,615 in back wages. Gay activist Brian Watson, who has served as a T.H.E. program officer, is owed $5,653, according to the bankruptcy filing.

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Maryland

AIDS Action Baltimore to honor John Waters at 35th anniversary commemoration

Honorees to include John Waters and Pat Moran

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John Waters (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

AIDS Action Baltimore will mark 35 years of service next month by paying tribute to six people who have helped keep it in operation, including filmmaker John Waters and his friend and movie industry colleague Pat Moran.

AIDS Action Baltimore’s 35th Anniversary Commemoration, planned for Sept.18, is a cocktail reception and brunch that’s also a fundraiser for the non-profit organization, which was started in 1987 to fight HIV/AIDS and provide a safety net for people living with HIV/AIDS and experiencing a financial emergency.

“John has supported us from the beginning,” said Lynda Dee, co-founder and executive director of the organization. “All of his movie premieres benefitted AIDS Action Baltimore. Without his help, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Waters has directed 16 movies and written 10 books, and he was named in June to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Based in Baltimore, he has two museum exhibits coming up, “Coming Attractions: The John Waters Collection,” an exhibit of art from his personal collection that he’s donating to the Baltimore Museum of Art, at the museum from Nov. 20, 2022, to April 16, 2023, and “Pope of Trash,” a career retrospective at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles next summer.

Moran is a three-time Emmy Award-winning casting director who has worked closely with Waters and others on films and television shows made in Baltimore. She is one of three co-founders of AIDS Action Baltimore, along with Dee and Garey Lambert, who passed away in 1987.

Waters said he’s pleased to support AIDS Action Baltimore. 

“I’m really happy to be involved,” he said. “Pat was one of the first people that started it. I’ve been a supporter always just because I believe I’m lucky I didn’t die of it. Plain and simple. I give money as a superstition that I won’t ever get it. And Lynda Dee is a tireless AIDS warrior. The gay community owes her great, great credit … It’s an organization in Baltimore that has kept many, many people alive … I’m just honored to help them in any way I can.”

Other honorees include:

Richard Chaisson, professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and principal investigator of the Hopkins Center for AIDS Research;

Carla Alexander, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, a fellow of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Care, and an internationally recognized expert for those living with HIV disease;

Debbie Rock, a disco singer-turned-HIV activist who is the founding CEO of LIGHT Health and Wellness, a non-profit that provides a range of services for children, families and individuals in Baltimore affected by poverty, addiction, mental illness, HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses, including day care and respite care for children with HIV/AIDS; and

Carlton Smith, a community health worker with the state of Maryland, founder of the Center for Black Equity, and chair of the Ryan White Planning Council, which provides medical care and support services for people with HIV in Baltimore. 

Since 1987, AIDS Action Baltimore has helped more than 8,750 people, distributing $3.145 million in assistance for items such as rent and utilities. It also has a number of programs to fight HIV, from town hall meetings to testing assistance to prevention campaigns, including outreach efforts to at-risk populations.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31,676 people aged 13 and older were living in Maryland with diagnosed HIV at the end of 2020, and an estimated 3,559 people in Maryland were living with undiagnosed HIV at the end of 2019.

Dee wrote in June that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for AIDS Action Baltimore to provide the services it does.

“COVID-19 is eating a large percentage of U. S. Health and Human Services funding,” she wrote she in an open letter to friends of the organization. “We are in danger of losing all our hard-won treatment and prevention gains. Because of COVID-19, it is much harder to obtain the money we need to fight HIV.” 

That’s why AIDS Action Baltimore holds events such as the one next month, she added: “We are still doing our best to help ourselves.” 

AIDS Action Baltimore’s 35th Anniversary Commemoration will be held at the Belvedere (1 E. Chase St.) in Baltimore, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 18. Tickets cost $175 per person or $1,750 for a table of 10. They’re available at aidsactionbaltimore.org or by calling 410-437-AIDS. 

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Virginia

Va. students warn against ‘don’t say gay’ policies

New law requires parental notification of ‘sexually explicit content’ in classroom

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(Bigstock photo)

More than 600 students from across Virginia signed a letter from the Pride Liberation Project that calls for the Virginia Department of Education to clarify that teaching students about LGBTQ people and events is not “sexually explicit.”

Senate Bill 656, which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed earlier this year, requires parents be notified when instructional materials contain “sexually explicit content” — without any input from students.

Current Virginia law defines “sexual conduct” as “masturbation, homosexuality, sexual intercourse, or physical contact in an act of apparent sexual stimulation or gratification.”

Because SB 656 does not itself specify what constitutes “sexually explicit content,” LGBTQ students and activists are concerned that the bill will rest on Virginia’s pre-existing definition of sexual conduct.

In their full letter, signees argued that “In effect, SB 656 can potentially be interpreted to define all references to people in same-sex relationships as inherently sexual.”

“Consequently, all references to LGBTQIA+ people in K-12 schools, including Supreme Court cases, historical events impacting LGBTQIA+ people, and discussions about queer authors, may be deemed as sexually explicit content under SB 656, effectively erasing LGBTQIA+ representation in our school curriculum,” reads the Pride Liberation Project’s press release.

Representation has been shown to positively increase academic performance, and LGBTQ youth already face exacerbated risks of suicide and mental health crisis. In Virginia specifically, the vast majority of LGBTQ students reported hearing anti-LGBTQ remarks at school, and 26 percent of LGBTQ students reported being “disciplined for public displays of affection (PDA) that did not result in similar action for non-LGBTQ students.” 

 “Most of my LGBTQIA+ friends are already struggling with their mental health,” said one Loudoun County student in the Pride Liberation Project press release. “I’m scared about the message these guidelines could send and losing the already limited affirming representation in my class.” 

Another student from Richmond said that they “didn’t want to see their friends who are from homes that aren’t accepting not see themselves reflected at school.” 

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District of Columbia

SMYAL announces new executive director

Erin Whelan to start Sept. 1

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Erin Whelan (Photo courtesy of SMYAL)

SMYAL on Thursday announced Erin Whelan will become the organization’s new executive director on Sept. 1.

SMYAL’s mission is to support and empower LGBTQ youth ages 6-24.

A press release that announces Whelan’s appointment notes the organization over the last five years has grown “exponentially.” Its services include affirming programs, housing support, leadership training and mental health services, designed to help LGBTQ youth develop advocacy skills and an educated, welcoming community.   

Whelan most recently served as the director of housing and homeless services at LifeWorks, an Austin, Texas,-based nonprofit that provides youth with housing and services. She has worked in nonprofit management for almost 20 years, and SMYAL’s press release highlighted her commitment to antiracism, equity and the LGBTQ community. 

“Erin Whelan is a compassionate and strong leader who I am confident is the right person to lead SMYAL,” board chair Rob Cogorno said. “I could not be more proud of the tremendous growth in services for our LGBTQ youth and of the SMYAL staff’s hard work that made that growth possible. Erin’s extensive experience in service to youth in need and her passion for that work will help guide SMYAL in continuing its excellent work in this challenging time for LGBTQ youth in our region and across the country.” 

Whelan in the press release shared her enthusiasm for stepping into leadership with this driving purpose. 

“I am beyond excited and honored to join SMYAL as the new executive director. My work has been committed to understanding and seeing the world through the lens of the most marginalized youth and young adults and being a fierce advocate for LGBTQ youth,” Whelan said. “I believe all LGBTQ youth deserve an opportunity to build a life they love and a chance to feel celebrated and affirmed for exactly who they are and strive to be. From the moment I stepped into the SMYAL community, it felt like exactly where I wanted to be. SMYAL creates a community for queer and trans youth where they can feel radically accepted and safe to step into their true selves.” 

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