Like thousands of offices and businesses across the city, the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community was forced to close its offices at the Reeves Center municipal building at 14th and U Streets, N.W. on March 16 in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
More than 25 local LGBTQ groups and D.C. Center related programs that have held their meetings at the Center have either temporarily cancelled meeting or events or have joined countless others in turning to online “virtual” meetings.
Among the D.C. Center groups that has made the switch to a virtual meeting through the now highly popular online platform Zoom is Coffee and Conversation for LGBTQ older adults. Gay seniors advocate Ron Swanda, who has been attending the group’s Monday morning coffee gatherings at the Center for more than five years, said this week’s virtual gathering provided a nice respite at a time of social isolation due to the epidemic.
“I have been very uplifted by the fact that I see so many faces of people I’ve been meeting with for five or six years,” he told the Washington Blade. “You see their faces on the screen. It’s good to see everybody. It’s kind of uplifting during this time period.” Swanda said about a dozen people attended Monday’s virtual gathering.
D.C. Center spokesperson Rebecca Bauer, who is a member of the Center’s Board of Directors, said Center official Justin John is among the Center officials that help the various organizations with the technical issues involved in setting up virtual meetings or events.
Bauer said the Center remains fully operational with its six staff members, including Interim Executive Director Kimberley Bush, working remotely at home while the office is closed to the public.
“I think the Center staff has been in good spirits,” said Bauer. “From what I’ve heard, a lot of our virtual sessions have been very well attended. We’ve been receiving positive feedback and I think people are happy to have that as an option.”
At least one of D.C.’s largest LGBTQ organizations, Casa Ruby, a community services center that, among other things, provides emergency housing for homeless LGBTQ youth and adults and services for the transgender community, has remained open for in-person services, according to Executive Director and Casa Ruby founder Ruby Corado.
“With the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), many service organizations are making the difficult choice to temporarily suspend their onsite services,” a message on the Casa Ruby website says. “This is not possible at Casa Ruby,” the message says. “We cannot close and ask our clients to call from home. We are their home.”
The message adds, “For LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness and vulnerability, we are their first responders. And now they need us more than ever. We need to keep our doors open.”
Corado told the Blade Casa Ruby is “taking every step possible” to protect its clients and staff from exposure to the coronavirus. She said the relatively large size of the Casa Ruby building at 7530 Georgia Ave., N.W. makes it possible to follow the social distancing guidelines announced by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser last month.
“You know, we have a 22,000-square-foot facility,” Corado said. “So for access there’s a blessing that we don’t have to be cramped in a building,” she said, noting that Casa Ruby can utilize additional outdoor space in its front and rear parking lots.
Corado said that while her building’s size is a benefit to Casa Ruby’s ability to provide services for its clients, she is concerned that the coronavirus outbreak has so far resulted in a 40 percent increase in clients at a time when financial contributions from many of its most loyal donors – hotels and restaurants – has declined due to the forced shutdown of those businesses.
“So we have an increased number of clients and a decrease in donations,” Corado said. “We have made a call to action on our Facebook page. I’m concerned because we’ve always made things work, but when your supporters are also suffering themselves the decline in support is understandable but troubling.”
Whitman-Walker Health and Us Helping Us, two D.C.-based healthcare centers that provide services for the LGBTQ community, have joined most other local healthcare centers by limiting visits to those arranged by appointment and conducting other “visits” virtually online or by phone.
Among the numerous churches and religious organizations that have switched to virtual worship services are Dignity Washington, and organization for LGBTQ Catholics, and the Metropolitan Community Church of D.C., a nondenominational Protestant church that caters to the LGBTQ community. The two were offering Easter week services through sites linked to their websites, dignitywashington.org and mccdc.com.
Dignity Washington President Daniel Barutta said his group was arranging for the recording of services on Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and a Saturday night Easter vigil so viewers could see them at a later time.
The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the largest local D.C. political organization, is also among the groups that have switched to virtual meetings for its upcoming vote to endorse candidates running for the D.C. Council and other local elective offices. Stein Club President Kent Boese said the coronavirus restrictions forced the club to cancel its plans for two separate candidate forums in which candidates for the D.C. Council and other offices would have spoken in person to club members and others in attendance.