July 11, 2013 at 11:32 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
DC trans group files for bankruptcy
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.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • Too bad but there are too many national, statewide, and local LGBT groups throughout the USA duplicating the same objectives which ultimately leads to a waste in resources and expediently attaining the advancement of LGTI people.

  • Sigh…. What can we do really… It was a joy working and helping the LGBT community and helping to change the lives of transgenders that walked through the door. I could bash the agency till I'm blue in the face but what would that do. Now is the time for all former employees listed in the court papers like myself to focus on our family's and fixing our set backs from our misfortune. I have 4 kids to take care of. Did this experience hurt me heck yeah real bad but would I change the experience, the people I helped or the people that walked in that door that helped me. nope not at all… Best of luck to us all

  • This is a devasting time in my life as a transgender woman age 54, HIV+, with many health challenges who has tried to keep our mission alive. As former employee, one of the founding members and former Executive Director I am so sorry for the inconvenience caused to the staff, providers, and especially our clients. I now realize that stepping down as Director in 2004 was the worst mistake that I could have made considering the current events. I have cried realizing that there were so many transgender people and others who relied on THE. I am callingout to the community and providers that are willing to help employees like myself continue this great work that THE has done. But most important to remember is that this is not about THE or Earline Budd being the face of the THE, but rather about the services rendered that changed many peoples lives. I feel strongly that the building which THE used for its services should be strongly considered as a continued site as it was structured and built to provide homeless services such as showers, washing and drying clothes, upstairs area for meals, group area spaces and offices that accomodate for 7 employees. I will be reaching out to the DOH to discuss tg services, as I see that it is very unlikely that an agency that was my dream will likely not survive this financial nightmare that has shocked most of us. I pray Gods Blessings on those that are struggling as result of the closing doors of 1414 North Capitol Stree N.W. and the Special Housing program that housed transgender and gay/bisexual individuals.

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