With close to 100 LGBT community advocates looking on, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Thursday announced she has appointed veteran lesbian activist and media professional Sheila Alexander-Reid as director of the newly renamed Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs.
Bowser said her administration, which took office Jan. 2, decided to take steps to change the name from “GLBT” to “LGBT” Affairs Office to better reflect the term preferred by the community it serves.
She said the change would likely require a “legislative tweak” from the City Council, which approved legislation in the 1990s creating the office.
Bowser also announced she has named gay activist Terrance Laney, a former legislative correspondent and office manager for U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), as deputy director of the LGBT Affairs Office.
“These are experienced, strategic leaders,” Bowser said in describing Alexander-Reid and Laney. “Today with this announcement we’re taking the next step in assembling the best and the brightest team.”
Added Bowser, “We’re going to have a robust LGBT operation and outreach strategy. The Office of LGBT Affairs will address the important concerns of the District’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents through capacity building, outreach, education and training along with technical assistance.”
Alexander-Reid becomes the third openly gay or lesbian cabinet-level official that Bowser has appointed so far.
In December, Bowser named lesbian housing and services-for-the-homeless expert Polly Donaldson as director of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development.
A short time later, Bowser named Matt Brown, who served as director of the D.C. Department of Transportation under Mayor Vincent Gray and who’s gay, as director of the Mayor’s Office of the Budget.
Alexander-Reid’s many years of involvement in the D.C. LGBT community became evident at the announcement event, held in a community room at the Shaw Neighborhood Library, when she was greeted and cheered by many of the activists that have known her through her numerous community involvements.
She most recently worked as Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at the Washington Blade. Prior to joining the Blade last year, Alexander-Reid worked as Director of Strategic Engagement for the Washington City Paper. Both positions involved marketing, advertising sales and community outreach duties.
“We’re sorry to see her go,” said Blade publisher Lynne Brown, “but we know she’ll do terrific work for the city under Mayor Bowser and we wish her the best in this important new role.”
Among her community projects, Alexander-Reid is the founder and former executive director of Women in the Life Association, a social justice organization advocating for lesbians of color. She has also served as producer and host of Inside Out, the D.C. area’s only LGBT radio show, which airs on WPFW FM.
Alexander-Reid said she hosted her last show a little over a week ago after giving notice that she would be leaving to take on her new role as head of the LGBT Affairs Office.
She and Laney have also served in the past as officers of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest local LGBT political group.
“Sheila is so well-known in the community,” said Earl Fowlkes, the Stein Club’s current president. “She has so many connections to so many different communities that she will serve the mayor very well,” he said.
“The turnout here speaks for itself,” said lesbian activist Barbara Helmick, who serves as vice chair of the Mayor’s LGBT Advisory Committee. “The community is very excited about these appointments. The enthusiasm in the room is very high and I share that.”
In announcing Alexander-Reid and Laney’s appointments, Bowser said she had appointed LGBT people to other positions in her administration, including gay activist Jim Slattery as director of the Mayor’s Correspondence Unit, and Steven Walker, former political director of the Democratic National Committee, as director of the Mayor’s Office of Talent and Appointments. That office was formerly known as the Office of Boards and Commissions.
“I’m excited to be named to this position and I’m proud to be part of a leadership team that prioritizes the needs of all of its citizens,” Alexander-Reid told the Washington Blade.
“Ten years ago my good friend Wanda Alston held this position,” said Alexander-Reid. “So it’s a poignant moment for me to step into her shoes. She left some pretty big shoes to fill.”
Alston, who was named to the post by former Mayor Anthony Williams, was stabbed to death in an apparent robbery attempt inside her home in March 2005, a development that shocked the LGBT community and city officials. Friends and associates have said Alston’s legacy lives on through the Wanda Alston House for LGBT Homeless Youth, a first-of-its-kind LGBT housing facility named in Alston’s honor.