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Casa Ruby named ‘fiscal agent’ for Wanda Alston House

City’s only LGBT homeless youth shelter ‘stable’ after T.H.E. collapse

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The Wanda Alston House,
The Wanda Alston House,

Wanda Alston House official Brian Watson, far left, and transgender activist Earline Budd, right, look on while the mother of the late Wanda Alston cuts a ceremonial ribbon marking the opening of the Alston House on July 8, 2008. (Washington Blade file photo by Henry Lisner)

In a little-noticed development, an organization that oversees the city’s housing programs for the homeless terminated its contract with the local group Transgender Health Empowerment to operate the Wanda Alston House, the city’s only residential facility for homeless LGBT youth.

The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness on July 1 awarded the Alston House contract to Casa Ruby, an LGBT community center on Georgia Avenue in Northwest D.C. with an outreach to the Latino and transgender communities.

The action by the Community Partnership, which is funded by the D.C. Department of Human Services (DHS), came after it determined that T.H.E. was no longer capable of overseeing the Alston House due to financial problems that forced it to lay off most of its employees in May, sources familiar with the organization said. T.H.E. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July 7.

“They reached out to me and asked me if Casa Ruby could do this and, of course, I said we would,” Ruby Corado said in referring to a call she received from the Community Partnership’s executive director, Sue Marshall.

“My immediate reaction was it would be a tragedy for the clients if the Wanda Alston House was forced to close,” Corado told the Blade.

Corado is the founder and executive director of Casa Ruby

Under the new contract the Alston House will continue to operate at its current location at 804 46th St., N.E.

Dora Taylor, a spokesperson for DHS, said the contract was awarded to Casa Ruby on an interim basis and is scheduled to last until the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Although the contract places Casa Ruby in charge of the Alston House’s finances in the role of fiscal agent and case manager, staff members formerly associated with T.H.E. will continue to operate the house.

Corado said she is considering taking steps to have the contract extended beyond that date, saying she believes Casa Ruby provides a good fit for the Alston House and its programs.

However, Earline Budd, one of the founders and most recently a program director for T.H.E., said former T.H.E. official Brian Watson informed her he was in the process of creating a new non-profit corporation to operate the Alston House called the Wanda Alston Foundation.

Records with the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs’ Office of Corporations show that someone reserved a corporate name of Wanda Alston Foundation on July 2 but the required incorporation papers had yet to be filed.

Watson, who has been involved in the day-to-day operations of the Alston House since it opened in July 2008, was reluctant to comment two weeks ago when the Blade contacted him about the status of the Alston House in the midst of T.H.E.’s financial crisis.

“Right now the house is stable and open and occupied to capacity,” he said “I can’t comment on any changes that may have taken place.”

He didn’t respond to calls from the Blade this week seeking information about his plans for an Alston House Foundation.

A call placed to the Alston House was answered by a recorded message that identified Watson as the director of the house. A July 11 message posted on a Facebook page created by the Alston House states, “On behalf of the Wanda Alston House, we are pleased to announce its services are up and running under the Wanda Alston Foundation!”

The Facebook posting adds, “With the support of Casa Ruby, as its fiscal agent, the Wanda Alston House is moving forward with its mission, to increase the overall quality of life for LGBTQ youth in the District of Columbia.”

A message posted on the website of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community on May 17 suggested the Alston House at that time was encountering problems meeting the basic needs of its clients.

“A collection box has been set up at the D.C. Center (1318 U St., N.W.) for donations to the Wanda Alston House” for items such as shampoo, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, canned food, toilet paper, and bed sheets and pillows, among other items, the D.C. Center message said.

David Mariner, the center’s executive director, and Michael Sessa, the center’s board president, each said the center has provided assistance to the Alston House at various times since it opened in 2008. Mariner acknowledged that Watson contacted the center but said further details on the matter should be obtained from Watson.

The Alston House is named after the late lesbian activist who, among other things, served as director of the city’s Office of GLBT Affairs under Mayor Anthony Williams. Alston was stabbed to death in her home in Northeast D.C. on March 16, 2005, in what police said was a robbery attempt by a male neighbor that was not linked to her sexual orientation.

Her murder shocked the LGBT community, which recognized Alston for years of advocacy on behalf of LGBT and feminist causes, including efforts to assist LGBT youth.

Christopher Dyer, who served as director of the GLBT Affairs office under Mayor Adrian Fenty, said Watson played a key role in pushing for city funding for an LGBT youth homeless facility more than a year before the Alston House opened.

“Brian has been the one who has pushed for this from the beginning,” Dyer said. “I’m really pleased that it was able to survive.”

In a 2008 press release announcing its opening, the mayor’s office described the Alston House as a “groundbreaking housing program for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth in Washington, D.C. It is the first transitional living program dedicated to preparing GLBT youth for independent living and adulthood in the District of Columbia.”

The house accommodates eight residents and has facilities for one or more adult supervisors who are present at the house on a 24-hour basis.

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Comings & Goings

Nathanson takes role at Outright Action

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Rikki Nathanson

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Rikki Nathanson on her new position as Senior Advisor – Global Trans Program with OutRight Action International in New York. Nathanson will be based in D.C.  

 “I am absolutely thrilled to be taking on this new role as Senior Advisor in OutRight’s Global Trans Program,” said Nathanson. “I have finally found the perfect fit for me: as a trans woman who has been fighting for equality not only for myself, but for others globally, this position is not only a job, it’s intrinsically part of who I am. So, what better way to live, nurture and grow myself.” 

Nathanson will be working closely with all program staff to ensure a cohesive and intentional approach to gender issues throughout OutRight’s programs, including its approach to gender ideology movements. She will lead new initiatives on gender advocacy and policy change, focused but not limited to legal gender recognition and anti-discrimination legislation and policies.

Prior to this Nathanson was director of housing programs at Casa Ruby in D.C. She has also held a number of other positions including: founder/executive director of Trans Research, Education, Advocacy & Training (TREAT), Zimbabwe; chairperson Southern Africa Trans Forum, SATF, Cape Town, South Africa; executive director, Ricochet Modeling Agency, Zimbabwe; and company secretary for Dunlop Zimbabwe Limited, Zimbabwe. 

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SMYAL Director Shakir to step down Dec. 31

Board to launch Executive Search beginning in January

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SMYAL Executive Director Sultan Shakir addresses the crowd at the 2021 Fall Brunch. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sultan Shakir, who has served as executive director of D.C.’s LGBTQ youth advocacy organization SMYAL since August 2014, announced on Friday that he will be stepping down from his position effective Dec. 31.

In a Dec. 3 announcement, SMYAL said details of Shakir’s future career plans would be announced in the coming weeks.

“While we are sad to see Sultan leave, we wish him nothing but the same success in his new endeavor as he had at SMYAL,” said Rob Cogorno, SMYAL’s board chair. “His leadership and vision enabled SMYAL to expand greatly needed services to LGBTQ youth in the DC metro area throughout his tenure,” Cogorno said.

“I am immensely proud of the work we have been able to accomplish together in my time at SMYAL,” Shakir said in a statement released by SMYAL. “SMYAL has been an integral and vital resource in the DMV community for over 37 years, and while we have come a long way in combating homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexual health stigma, homelessness, violence against the LGBTQ community, and oppression, we have a long way to go,” he said.

“This work has never been about one person,” said Shakir. “SMYAL was founded by our community and we’re still around because of our community,” he said. “I leave knowing that the commitment and passion of the SMYAL Board, staff, volunteers, and youth leaders have created a solid foundation from which our work will continue to grow until LGBTQ youth no longer need us.”

The SMYAL statement says that under Shakir’s tenure, SMYAL, which stands for Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, expanded its programs and services for LGBTQ youth. Among other things, in 2017 SMYAL opened its first of several housing facilities for homeless LGBTQ youth that include culturally competent case management, education and employment assistance.

“The Youth Housing Program now comprises five programmatic models that serve a combined 61 youth residents,” the statement says.

It points out that also under Shakir’s leadership, SMYAL expanded the age range of the youth its programs serve under a new Little SMYALs program, which welcomes LGBTQ youth ages 6-12. And earlier in 2021 under Shakir’s guidance, SMYAL began a new Clinical Services Department “which provides affirming and accessible mental health counseling,” the statement says.

“The SMYAL Board of Directors will officially launch an Executive Search beginning in January 2022 and expects to have named a new Executive Director by summer 2022,” the statement says. It says the board will soon name an interim executive director to work with SMYAL’s Deputy Executive Director, Jorge Membreno, and the organization’s leadership team to oversee the day-to-day activities until a new executive director is named.

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Rainbow History Project to honor LGBTQ ‘Pioneers’

Virtual celebration to take place on Dec. 9

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David Mariner, gay news, Washington Blade
David Mariner (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C.’s Rainbow History Project says it will honor and recognize 12 individuals and one organization by designating them as Community Pioneers “for their diverse contributions to the Washington-area LGBTQ community” at a Dec. 9 virtual celebration.

“Rainbow History Project is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to collecting, preserving and sharing the LGBT history of metropolitan Washington, D.C.,” the group says in a statement announcing the event. “The Pioneers awards recognize diverse community leaders for their roles as organizational founders, innovators, advocates and volunteers,” the statement says.

“The Pioneers celebration will be held virtually and is designed with special features that reproduce the feeling of attending in-person, such as live streaming and video chatting with other attendees and Pioneers before and after the core awards programing,” according to the statement.

“Celebrating our Community Pioneers has been a cherished tradition since Rainbow History Project’s founding 21 years ago,” said Rob Berger, the organization’s chairperson. “It’s always an inspiring event, and we are happy that our virtual platform will still allow participants to meet and talk with the Pioneers,” Berger said in the statement.

The virtual event is free and open to the public, the statement says. Organizers released this link for those interested in attending, saying a short registration process may require registering in advance. 

Remo Conference

Following is the list of Community Pioneers scheduled to be honored at the Dec. 9 event as released by Rainbow History Project along with the project’s description of their backgrounds.

Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance, a local group that since its founding has addressed equal rights issues for LGBTQ Virginians from a state and local perspective.

– Eboné F. Bell, founder and editor-in-chief of Tagg Magazine and Tagg Communication LLC.

Bart Forbes, founding member of “Gay Fairfax,” a pioneering television newsmagazine program in Northern Virginia.

– Ellen Kahan, youth and family advocate, president of Rainbow Families, former director of the Lesbian Services Program at Whitman-Walker Health, and currently senior director of programs and partnerships at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

– Theodore Kirkland (deceased), a co-founder of D.C. Black Pride in 1991, member of the Gay Liberation Front and Skyline Faggots, active community health volunteer and advocate.

– Paul Marengo, community leader through LGBTQ organizations including Reel Affirmations, Cherry Fund, and Pride celebrations for youth, Latino, Black and Transgender communities.

– David Mariner, executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, and former executive director of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community.

– Mark Meinke founder longtime chair, Rainbow History Project, and co-founder of Rainbow Heritage Network, a national organization for the recognition and preservation of sites, history and heritage associated with sexual and gender minorities.

– Michael “Micci” Sainte Andress, artist, health educator and advocate and an early leader in bringing African Americans into HIV/AIDS clinical trials.

– Boden Sandstrom, founder and owner of Woman Sound (later City Sound), the first all-woman sound company, which makes LGBTQ rights rallies and the women’s music scene possible.

Casse Culver (deceased), nationally acclaimed D.C. lesbian feminist singer-songwriter, and partner of Boden Sandstrom, whose followers said her love songs and feminist lyrics moved audiences from foot stomping to silent reflection.  

Alan Sharpe, playwright, director and co-founder of the African American Collective Theater in Washington, D.C., in 1976, which now focuses on LGBTQ life and culture in the Black community.

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