April 7, 2020 at 2:43 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Coronavirus jeopardizes LGBTQ groups’ $22.6 million budget request
budget shortfall, gay news, Washington Blade
Mayor Muriel Bowser said the city will have to make ‘tough choices’ on the budget that will include cuts. (Photo by Lorie Shaull)

A projected $607 million D.C. budget shortfall caused by the coronavirus outbreak has placed in doubt an ambitious request by a coalition of nine local LGBTQ or LGBTQ supportive organizations for $22.6 million in the city’s fiscal year 2021 budget for LGBTQ-related programs.

At a news conference on Monday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said a sharp drop in city tax revenue brought about by the shutdown of hundreds of city businesses in an effort to curtail the spread of the coronavirus makes it necessary for the city to make “tough choices” on the budget that will include cuts.

Bowser and members of the D.C. City Council have not responded publicly to a Jan. 30 letter requesting the $22.6 million budget allocation and an accompanying 19-page detailed proposal for how the money should be spent on a wide range of LGBTQ-related programs.

The Jan. 31 proposal, which was released before the severity of the coronavirus outbreak became known, includes programs to address hate crimes targeting LGBTQ people; financial support for the D.C. Center for the LGBTQ Community and the city’s Capital Pride events; job training for transgender people; support for facilities for homeless LGBTQ people; and services for LGBTQ seniors.

The proposal calls for $3.05 million for the Mayor’s LGBTQ Affairs Office, over and above the office’s current budget, to oversee a competitive grants program to support the work of LGBTQ organizations.

“As D.C. strives to be the most LGBTQ+ inclusive community in the country, we must address the ongoing needs of the most marginalized members of the D.C. LGBTQ+ community,” the groups’ letter to Bowser says. “We are grateful for your dedication to the LGBTQ+ community, and we look forward to your continued support,” the Jan. 31 letter says.

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), who joined Bowser at Monday’s press conference, told the Blade after the press conference that he had yet to review the details of the LGBTQ groups’ budget request. He noted that the mayor’s office was not scheduled to submit the mayor’s budget request to the Council until May 6.

“But I certainly think it has merit to look at,” Mendelson said in referring to the LGBTQ budget request. “I think any suggestions would be considered,” he said. “But the likelihood is the issue. The likelihood of any expanded programs has diminished substantially.”

Referring to the severity of the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the city, Mendelson added, “We’re going to be going into a cut mode rather than an expand mode. I think the [LGBTQ] advocates can continue to press their needs but recognize that the government is shrinking right now.”

The organizations that signed on to the letter to Bowser and the Council requesting the $22.6 million budget allocation include the ANC Rainbow Caucus; Casa Ruby; Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance; SMYAL; Whitman-Walker Health; Capital Pride Alliance; the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community; Wanda Alston Foundation; and the Greater Washington Community Foundation.

Hancie Stokes, a spokesperson for the coalition of groups that made the budget request, told the Blade on Monday that the coalition has not made any changes to the budget proposal submitted to Bowser’s office on Jan. 31 since the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the city became known.

“Coalition members have met to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on individual organizations and the community we serve,” Stokes said. “As a result, the DC LGBTQ coalition is planning on sending a COVID-19 response letter to the Mayor, Chairman Mendelson, and members of the D.C. Council that does not negate our current funding request, but highlights and adds provisions for how the city can ensure that the LGBTQ community is supported at this time,” Stokes told the Blade in an email.

“Furthermore, the D.C. LGBTQ Coalition recognizes that the city will have to make some very tough decisions regarding the FY 2021 budget,” Stokes continued. “Our Coalition will continue to educate our city leaders on the successes of our currently funded programs.”

Stokes said the coalition would release the letter to the Blade as soon as it’s ready to be sent.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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