May 1, 2014 at 11:00 am EDT | by Mark Lee
Is city funding complaint by D.C. gay groups valid?
funding, money, gay news, Washington Blade

In the case of gay service groups, a dearth of public funding will further exacerbate competition. The city will seek to address a wide range of needs for the broadest number in the most effective manner.

Is it legitimate for LGBT organizations to advocate deferential consideration or funding favoritism when seeking D.C. government financial support?

Asked another way, is it valid for gay groups to demand dedicated earmarks?

The answer is no.

Some of the D.C. gay organizations unsuccessfully applying for city grants released a statement last week lamenting that no LGBT-specific organizations received funding in the first of four rounds of awards. This prompted them to renew a call for set-aside allocations.

“A dedicated public funding stream needs to be made available for programs and services for the LGBT community,” concluded the statement released by the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, the Center for Black Equity, Casa Ruby, SMYAL, Us Helping Us, HIPS and the Human Rights Campaign. Also not funded but not joining in the statement were Whitman-Walker Health and Food and Friends.

The complaint by the six organizations raises questions about their reaction and demand for special consideration in the distribution of government monies.

The real question is whether LGBT groups should be treated differently when competing for limited government funds alongside a large number of other non-profits. If they receive preferential status, other demographic-focused organizations would justifiably clamor for the same.

When the City Fund announced the winning proposals on April 16 it was evident that the decision-making process had been rigorous in evaluating the huge number of submissions. The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, administering the city-funded program, received 315 proposals requesting more than $30 million.

The foundation was able to award grants to 58 groups, or less than one-in-five applicants, distributing more than $3.5 million. Established last year with $15 million in District tax revenues by Mayor Vincent Gray and approved unanimously by the D.C. Council, the City Fund’s mission is to “grow and diversify the District’s economy, educate and prepare the workforce for the new economy, and improve the quality of life for all.”

Terry Lee Freeman, president of the Community Foundation, told the Blade in a statement last week that the D.C. government instructed that grants “target issue areas rather than specific populations.” Mission focus includes the arts, education, environment, health, job readiness, public safety and senior services.

“Funding in each area is intended to serve as wide and diverse a population as possible, including District residents in the LGBT community,” Freeman added.

Of note, at least two non-LGBT-specific organizations did receive funding for services of gay community interest, including Metro Teen AIDS. TrueChild, an organization educating the public on gender role discrimination, also received a grant to develop programs to prevent violence against transgender women of color.

In defending the evaluations used to determine awardees, Freeman indicated that some of the gay organization requests were deficient in complying with proposal requirements, were outside the guidelines or funding criteria, or sought funding for programs generating concerns over ongoing project viability or staffing-to-service expenditure ratios.

In other words, in a highly competitive grant making process with submission protocols and utilizing industry-standard evaluations to distribute finite resources, applications by at least some of the gay groups proved deficient.

Disappointment, however, is not justification for returning to the days of government earmarks.

It might just be that the same effects of cultural assimilation and community integration that have reduced the number of gay-centric local businesses are the newest challenge for gay non-profits. While there remains intrinsic benefit in maintaining both, gay-centric organizations are subject to new realities.

In the case of gay service groups, a dearth of public funding will further exacerbate competition. The city will seek to address a wide range of needs for the broadest number in the most effective manner.

D.C. should not return to a system of public grants driven by politics and favoring connections and influence. All organizations should welcome the opportunity to compete on a level playing field.

After all, being treated equally in D.C. is the community’s greatest achievement.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at

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