D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser weighed in for the first time publicly last week on a request by a coalition of 15 local LGBT and LGBT supportive organizations for an additional $3 million in funding for the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs.
Earlier this year the groups unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the D.C. City Council to add $3 million to the city’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget to create within the Office of LGBTQ Affairs “a competitive grant program focusing on health equity to support LGBTQ organizations.”
To the dismay of the LGBT activists pushing for the funding, the Council did not include the proposed funding in its budget. Some Council members said privately that the LGBT groups didn’t do a sufficient job in advocating for the funding in a budget process where the council must choose between dozens of competing interests for funds.
Members of the coalition dispute that claim, saying they testified before a Council committee requesting the funds and met with members of D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson’s staff to discuss the funding request.
In an interview with the Washington Blade at a D.C. statehood rally on July 18, Mayor Bowser raised what some activists and political observers say is a philosophical difference over what the role of the mayor’s LGBTQ Affairs Office should be within the city government.
Similar to the view initially taken by some D.C. Council members, the mayor appeared to take the position that individual city agencies rather than the LGBT Affairs Office should operate and fund specific programs that serve the LGBT community.
When asked what her position is on the now revised request by the LGBT groups that she reallocate $3 million from the city’s existing budget for the grants program, the mayor gave this reply:
“Well we think we have advanced the appropriate budget for the office,” she said. “But certainly the office supports making sure that all D.C. government agencies are supporting the community. So their job is outreach and coordination and facilitation of policy and initiatives among all the agencies,” the mayor told the Blade.
“So if you look at the [Office of] Aging budget you’ll see commitments to LGBTQ Affairs,” Bowser continued. “If you look at the Department of Human Services or the Department of Housing and Community Development there are investments in LGBTQ issues. So that’s where we see the additional investments — in the agencies themselves.”
When told that the LGBT groups wanted the LGBTQ Affairs Office to use the $3 million to directly fund LGBT organizations that provide services to LGBT people in need such as the LGBT youth services group SMYAL, the Wanda Alston Foundation, or Casa Ruby, the mayor said she wasn’t aware of receiving such a request during the budget process.
“I don’t think any additional request came up to us during the budget formulation process or the budget engagement forums that I host across the city,” she said. “And we feel like we landed in the right spot for the office itself, but also the additional investments in housing, aging issues, and youth homelessness.”
She said funding for LGBT-related programs for those subject areas went to individual city agencies.
Transgender rights advocate Monika Nemeth, who serves as president of the city’s Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, said she understands where the mayor is coming from in her apparent preference for LGBT programs to be operated by city agencies. Nemeth said members of the coalition of the 15 organizations along with LGBT Advisory Neighborhood Commission members who recently formed an ANC Rainbow Caucus are seeking a meeting with the mayor to discuss these issues.
“We have met with several Council members over the last few days,” said Nemeth. “We look forward to meeting with the mayor.
Among other things, Nemeth said the coalition members will urge the mayor to look for unspent funds from city agencies that surface every budget year as well as other available funds within the budget to go toward some or all of the $3 million grants program they would like the Office of LGBTQ Affairs to operate.
Nemeth and gay rights advocate Mike Silverstein, a member of the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission, each said the coalition hopes to clarify why its members feel local LGBT groups rather than city agencies should operate some LGBT-related programs, especially those that serve members of the LGBT community with special needs.
“Specifically those who are the most vulnerable and the most at risk is where the entire focus of this is,” said Silverstein.
He noted that the coalition has become aware of programs operated by city agencies, including some from the Office on Aging, which recently has become the Department of Aging and Community Living, where LGBT seniors were mistreated by other seniors participating in activities such as free lunch drop-in centers. He said the DC Center for the LGBT Community has been unsuccessfully seeking city funds to expand its LGBT seniors program, and the Center would be a good candidate for a grant to do that from the LGBTQ Affairs Office if the office receives the $3 million to allocate such grants.
While pushing for the reallocation of funds for fiscal year 2020, Nemeth and Silverstein said the coalition is taking steps to push for funding for the grants program by the D.C. Council for fiscal year 2021.
The coalition’s 15 groups include Capital Pride Alliance, Capital Trans Pride, Casa Ruby, Collective Action for Safe Spaces, DC Center for the LGBT Community, Federal City Performing Arts Association, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, HIPS, LGBT Bar Association of D.C., Mary’s House for Older Adults, Rainbow Theater Project, SMYAL, Team D.C., Us Helping Us-People Into living, Inc.