March 4, 2021 at 10:24 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
D.C. LGBTQ groups seek new building for expanded community center
gay events dc, gay news, Washington Blade
The DC Center, located in the Reeves Building, has a wide array of virtual events planned in the coming week. The Reeves Center building is slated to be torn down, displacing the Center for the LGBT Community. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

At least four prominent D.C. LGBTQ organizations, including the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, are working on plans to seek D.C. government support for the purchase of a building in which more of the city’s LGBTQ groups can share space and become more accessible to the people they serve.

“At present, four organizations have committed to relocating their entire operations into a shared space: The D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, the Capital Pride Alliance, Casa Ruby, and Rainbow Families,” according to a Feb. 23 letter sent to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and all members of the D.C. Council by the DC LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition.

The letter, a copy of which the coalition sent to the Washington Blade, calls on the mayor and the D.C. Council to provide a $1 million line-item capital expense allocation for an expanded D.C. LGBT Center. The proposal is part of a request for a total of $3.8 million in city funds for several LGBTQ-related programs as part of the city’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget.

“D.C. has the highest per capita LGBTQ+ population of any state, with 8.6 percent of the population identifying as LGBTQ+,” the letter says. “The National Capital Region is also the sixth largest metro region in the country,” the letter adds. “Despite this, the District does not have a sufficient, dedicated LGBTQ+ community center.”

The letter notes that the city’s Reeves Center municipal building at 14th and U Street, N.W., where the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community and Capital Pride Alliance are currently located in rented space, is expected to be closed and demolished to make way for a major new development project. City officials announced last July that tenants in the building would likely have to move out in about two years or just a little later to make way for the new project, in which the NAACP would be one of the project’s occupants upon its completion.

“This situation has created an opportunity for multiple LGBTQ+ organizations to co-locate in a shared community center,” the LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition’s letter states.

“Collectively, this new building would offer space for support groups, food delivery, counseling, events, emergency housing, and many other possibilities for some of the most vulnerable members of our community,” the letter says. “Co-locating would also enable these organizations to share knowledge and administrative resources such as accounting, legal, and human resources, and event planning, thus reducing overhead costs,” according to the letter.

It says that based on its assessment of the needs of the organizations expected to be a part of a shared space, the coalition is currently searching for a building with at least 10,000 square feet of space in a location accessible by public transportation with some parking.

Alexis Blackmon, Casa Ruby’s director of government and public affairs, said Casa Ruby has suggested that the coalition ask the city to consider doing what other cities have done for their respective LGBTQ community centers – donate an abandoned city-owned building for use as an LGBTQ center.

Blackmon noted that the coalition’s member groups would then raise money through their support networks and possibly obtain a bank loan to cover costs for renovating such a building for use as an LGBTQ center.

Japer Bowles, who serves as coordinator of the LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition, said he and others working on plans for the expanded community center expect many more local LGBTQ organizations to become part of an expanded center.

“These are the for-sure four organizations that are interested,” Bowles said in referring to the DC Center, Casa Ruby, Capital Pride Alliance, and Rainbow Families that are pushing for a new shared community center building.

Capital Pride Alliance has organized the city’s annual Capital Pride Parade and Festival along with other Pride-related events for many years. Rainbow Families is a volunteer-led nonprofit group that provides support and services for LGBTQ families, including LGBTQ prospective parents, according to the group’s website.

“The Capital Stonewall Democrats, they would most likely have a desk,” Bowles said. “The ANC Rainbow Caucus would likely have a desk,” he said. “We’re looking to get pretty much the entire LGBTQ community to at least have a locker, a desk, or office space or to host community meetings or events at that space,” he said.

“Co-locating with the Capital Pride Alliance, Casa Ruby and Rainbow Families,  will enable the community center to serve as an even stronger hub of LGBTQ life in the DC metro area,” according to D.C. Center spokesperson Rebecca Bauer.

Capital Pride Alliance Executive Director Ryan Bos said Capital Pride is pleased to be joining other groups in exploring the best possible options for a new LGBTQ center.

“One of the positives of this leadership group and budget coalition is having these organizations coming together and strategizing together and working together,” Bos said. “We are open to identifying how best we can serve the community here in D.C.”

Bowles said that among the city offices the LGBTQ groups are approaching for city funding is the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, which is headed by D.C. Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio, who also serves as Mayor Bowser’s chief of staff.

“So, we’re trying to bring him to the table because honestly, it would be a great legacy for the mayor to help us create a center that will be here for decades,” said Bowles.

“We’re also trying to make the argument that although L.A., San Francisco, and New York City and Chicago have these giant centers, Denver and Portland and Boston also have centers. So even comparable cities in size to D.C. also have something more than what we have,” he said.

At the time the mayor’s office announced that the Reeves Center redevelopment project was moving forward, Falcicchio told the Washington Blade the mayor’s office would consider a proposal to assist the LGBT Center in finding a new location when the Reeves Center closes.

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on the LGBTQ coalition’s request for an initial $1 million capital expense line item for the LGBT Center project in the city’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget.

Bowles said coalition members were contacting the offices of D.C. Council members to urge them to support the budget request. The Council must give approval for the city’s budget. He said Council member Robert White (D-At-Large) has expressed support for the proposal.

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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