With a larger than usual audience in attendance, the Advisory Committee to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs voted unanimously Monday night to approve a resolution calling on the mayor or the D.C. Council to allocate $3 million to fund an LGBT competitive grant program to be operated by the LGBTQ Affairs Office.
The advisory committee also unanimously approved resolutions calling on the D.C. Council to pass a bill banning the so-called LGBT panic defense in criminal trials and a separate bill to provide services for LGBT seniors and seniors with HIV. Both bills have been stalled in committee.
More than 50 people, mostly local LGBT activists, turned out for the meeting, which was held in the Old City Council Chambers at the city’s One Judiciary Square Building at 441 4th St., N.W.
The advisory committee’s discussion and votes on the resolutions came after Sheila Alexander-Reid, director of the Office of LGBTQ Affairs, and officials with six D.C. government agencies briefed the committee on various LGBT-related developments and programs their respective agencies were conducting.
Among the government officials speaking was Lt. Brett Parson, director of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department’s Special Liaison Branch, which oversees the department’s LGBT Liaison Unit. Parson gave a report on the department’s efforts to investigate LGBT-related hate crimes.
The other agencies for which officials spoke included the Department of Employment Services, the Department of Health, the Department of Aging and Community Living, the Department of Human Services, and the Office of Human Rights.
Several transgender activists questioned Department of Employment Services’ Job Coach, Charles Smith, and its deputy director, Charles Jones, about Project Empowerment, a program started by former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray to provide job training for transgender people. Two of the activists said the program was not working for many of the transgender women of color who remain unable to find work.
“We want people employed,” Charles Smith said in response to the questions. “Does it work? I would say yes,” he said. “But we can’t do it all.”
Alexander-Reid said the city has recently issued a request for proposals to community based organizations to assist in Project Empowerment. “Give us a month or so and we will give you more details,” she said.
Among the LGBTQ Advisory Committee members attending the meeting and voting for the three resolutions were the committee’s chair, gay activist and LGBTQ Victory Fund official Reggie Greer; transgender activist and Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Monika Nemeth; gay activist and Dupont Circle ANC commissioner Randy Downs; Ward 8 gay and community activist Brand Lewis; transgender activist and Casa Ruby staffer Consuela Lopez; and Brother Help Thyself former president and mayoral staffer Jim Slattery.
Nemeth and Downs are members of the recently formed ANC Rainbow Caucus, which is part of a coalition of 15 LGBT and LGBT supportive organizations that petitioned the D.C. Council earlier this year to add the requested $3 million for the Office of LGBTQ Affairs grants program to the city’s fiscal year 2020 budget. The Council declined to approve the requested funds, drawing vocal complaints from local LGBT organizations.
Neither the mayor nor Alexander-Reid took a public position on the request for the $3 million funding for the LGBT grants program at the time the coalition was asking the Council to include the funding request in the city budget.
In response to a question from the Washington Blade in July, Bowser said she believes various D.C. government agencies were providing services to LGBT people and she thought individual city agencies would be better equipped to provide funds, including grants, to LGBT organizations rather than the Office of LGBTQ Affairs.
“But certainly the office supports making sure that all D.C. government agencies are supporting the community,” Bowser told the Blade. “So their job is outreach and coordination and facilitation of policy and initiatives among the agencies,” she said in referring to the LGBTQ Affairs office.
LGBTQ Advisory Committee members Downs and Nemeth, among others, have taken the position that the LGBTQ Affairs office is better equipped to directly operate an LGBT-related competitive grants program that the coalition of groups has been proposing. The coalition has proposed that the grants should be awarded to LGBT organizations with a strong track record of providing culturally competent services to LGBT people in need, such as Casa Ruby, the LGBT youth advocacy group SMYAL, and the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community.
A spokesperson for the mayor’s office didn’t immediately respond on Wednesday to a request by the Blade for comment on the LGBTQ Advisory Committee’s resolution calling on the mayor to reallocate funds from the fiscal year 2020 budget to pay for the proposed $3 million grants program.
Nemeth said members of the coalition pushing for the grants program put in a request in July to meet with the mayor to discuss the proposal, but she said such a meeting has yet to be scheduled.