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D.C. LGBTQ Budget Coalition urges city to boost funding for queer programs

Most requests not included in mayor’s proposed 2024 budget

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Local advocates are calling on Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. Council to include about a dozen specific programs in the city’s fiscal year 2024 budget.

The D.C. LGBTQ Budget Coalition, which consists of at least 10 prominent local LGBTQ organizations and another nine LGBTQ supportive allied groups, is calling on Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. Council to include about a dozen specific programs in the city’s fiscal year 2024 budget that add up to about $13.5 million in funding.

According to information provided to the Washington Blade by one of the coalition officials, which the official said was subject to change, the mayor’s proposed budget does not include the requested funding for at least 10 of the coalition’s 12 specific requests coming to a total of about $13 million.

Coalition coordinator Heidi Ellis said that among the coalition’s proposals not included in the mayor’s budget is a request for $10.5 million to fund two harm reduction and services centers to address the opioid and fentanyl drug overdose crisis impacting communities, including the LGBTQ community, across the city.

The mayor’s budget calls for $9.5 million to fund a single “stabilization & sobering center” to address the overdose crisis. But Ellis said the coalition does not consider that proposal an acceptable alternative to the coalition’s proposal for two harm reduction centers.

With the mayor’s $9.5 million “stabilization and sobering center” proposal not included as part of the coalition’s budget requests, that means the coalition believes the mayor’s budget only includes about $500,000 out of the coalition’s $13.5 million overall request.

Ellis said that in addition to not including much of the funding the coalition is asking for, the mayor’s budget includes some cuts in funding for LGBTQ-related programs that were included in the existing 2023 budget and previous year budgets. Among the cuts, Ellis said, are for a workforce program that assists transgender and gender nonconforming residents in finding gainful employment and for programs assisting LGBTQ people experiencing intimate partner violence.

One of the the coalition’s proposals that Bowser’s proposed budget does include is a request to continue to allocate at least $500,000 in funds for the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs for LGBTQ community development grants.  

 “We share detailed budget requests that provide crucial services to the LGBTQ+ community of Washington, D.C.,” the coalition states in a nine-page letter sent to the mayor and each of the 13 members of the D.C. Council in February that outlines its specific funding proposals.

“We are a mission-driven group working to advocate for dedicated funding to support LGBTQ+ residents with a focus on trans people of color and low-income residents,” the letter says. “The Coalition has worked tirelessly for several months with the Mayor’s office, the Council, various D.C. agencies, and most importantly, the community to identify these needs,” according to the letter.

“Our recommendations reflect that work in addition to our extensive research around these issues and the broader District landscape,” it says. “We ask that the Mayor and the Council adopt our recommendations as they specifically address some of the chronic and immediate issues facing the District.”

At the time she submitted her proposed $19.7 billion F.Y. 2024 budget to the Council last month, the mayor said the city faces a projected drop in revenue of more than $390 million due, among other things, to reduced tax revenue from commercial real estate along with the end of pandemic-era federal aid to D.C. and other cities.

The projected reduction in revenue will force her and the Council to make difficult decisions on funding reductions, including at least $373 million in proposed reductions in her budget, the mayor said. Among the reductions is the proposed elimination of 749 vacant D.C. government positions.

In response to a request by the Blade for comment on the coalition’s claim that the mayor’s budget does not include most of the requests by the LGBTQ Budget Coalition, Japer Bowles, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, provided a written statement.  

“We appreciate the community and advocacy groups identifying areas of improvement and putting forward their requests,” Bowles told the Blade in his statement. “We are proud to continue all formerly funded LGBTQIA+ programs, albeit at new levels, and our agencies are dedicated to continuing to work with our many LGBTQIA+ community-based organizations and our innovative programs to add resilience and capacity in the long term,” he said.

His statement did not specifically address the coalition’s claims that most of their requests were not included in the mayor’s budget other than to say, “our budget is still feeling the impacts of the pandemic,” a reference to Mayor Bowser’s assertion that the city faces a revenue shortfall and budget cuts would be needed in the fiscal year 2024 budget.

Bowles added that the Office of LGBTQ Affairs “will be providing more training funding for LGBTQIA+ cultural competency,” as requested by the coalition. He said the mayor’s office would also be sending the D.C. Council a letter identifying “corrections and amendments” to the proposed budget, but those changes will not bring about “significant adjustments to agencies budgets related to the [coalition’s] request at this time.”

Before his appointment by Bowser to become director of the LGBTQ Affairs Office, Bowles served as coordinator of the LGBTQ Budget Coalition after playing a role in creating the coalition as an elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner.

Among the LGBTQ and LGBTQ supportive organizations that are members of the D.C. LGBTQ Budget Coalition are Capital Pride Alliance, the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, Capital Stonewall Democrats, the Wanda Alston Foundation, the LGBTQ youth advocacy group SMYAL, the sex worker advocacy group HIPS, the Washington AIDS Partnership, Us Helping Us, the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA), the ANC Rainbow Caucus, Damien Ministries, and the Latin American Youth Center.

In its nine-page letter to the mayor and the Council, the coalition included these funding requests for the 2024 budget:

• An LGBTQ+ reentry ‘Housing for All’ Pilot Program at the city’s Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants for citizens returning from incarceration — $750,000.

• Additional housing vouchers for LGBTQ+ residents for the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs to help support those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness — $500,000.

• Harm Reduction Services & Centers — $10.5 million. To address the “alarming” and growing number of fentanyl and opioid related drug overdose deaths in the city, this calls for funding two Harm Reduction Centers on each side of the Anacostia River that will be open 24 hours each day to “aid in eliminating the stigma around substance usage, to avoid the burden on our criminal justice system, and to, most importantly, save lives.”

• Employment & Workforce Development Programs for the Department of Human Services — $500,000. A request for an “enhancement for the Transgender & Gender-nonconforming workforce program to ensure a long-term approach to closing the employment and wage gap for T/TNC residents in the District.”

• Employment Coordinator/Employment Case Management Advocate for the Office of LGBTQ Affairs — $75,000. This position would “help LGBTQ+ residents navigate these workforce programs by serving as point of contact for community members seeking employment and those trying to access the aforementioned workforce programs.”

• Health Initiatives — no specific funding request. A call for the city’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STI, and TB Administration (HAHSTA) to take steps to reverse a trend brought about by COVID in which the number of people seeking HIV testing across the city fell by 20 percent. The city should also address “the disparity of testing in marginalized communities, specifically Black and brown women, TGNC, etc.” communities.

• Safety & Inclusive Emergency Services — $860,000. Out of this total, $60,000 for the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs to improve and expand its cultural competency training for D.C. police and D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department first responders; a total of $600,000 for the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants to expand its services and outreach to the LGBTQ+ community for intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and hate crimes; and $200,000 to establish a Violence Prevention and Response Team (VPART) coordinator at the Office of LGBTQ Affairs to focus on anti-LGBTQ hate crimes.

• Improving Language Access & Immigration Services — $250,000 for the Department of Human Services and $100,000 for Office of LGBTQ Affairs. An increase in migrants sent to D.C. from other states, including LGBTQ+ immigrants, has created a need for more language interpretation services for those who are Limited English Proficient (LEP) or Non-English Proficient (NEP)

• Supporting the Newly Established DC LGBTQ+ Community Center — $200,000. The mayor’s office has already awarded a $1 million grant to help pay for the renovation of the section of a new building the LGBT Center will be moving into later this year. Those funds have been “exhausted,” the coalition says, for the building renovation. “The DC Center and Capital Pride Alliance, in partnership with the Coalition, are requesting $200,000 in recurring dollars to support the operating costs associated with the Center.”

In a separate letter to the D.C. Council, GLAA expressed concern that the mayor’s proposed budget calls for eliminating at least six staff positions at the D.C. Office of Human Rights (OHR). The OHR, among other things, enforces the D.C. Human Rights Act, which bans discrimination against LGBTQ people.

The GLAA letter, signed by GLAA President Tyrone Hanley, calls for the budget to fund one additional OHR staff person to support the enforcement of a city law protecting tenants from unfair evictions, another new OHR staff person to address OHR’s “outdated case management system,” and one or more additional staff to help enforce the D.C. Domestic Workers Act, which supports the rights of domestic workers.

Several D.C. Council committees that oversee various D.C. government agencies were scheduled to make final recommendations to the full Council this week in a process known as a “markup” for the budget. The Council is expected to vote on its final version of the D.C. budget in May.

Full details of the coalition’s budget requests and the names of the organizations that make up the coalition can be viewed at the DC LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition website.

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District of Columbia

D.C. Public Schools’ LGBTQ+ program helps ensure students feel safe

More than half of queer students experience bullying, harassment

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According a study from Theirworld of LBGTQ+ Gen-Z youth, students feel unsafe in schools. D.C. Public Schools is trying to combat the problem in the District. 

“Research shows that the way schools and families respond to LGBTQ+ youth can affect their physical health, mental health outcomes, academic outcomes, and their decision-making later in life,” said DCPS’ LGBTQ+ Programming Specialist, Adalphie Johnson. 

DCPS’ LGBTQ+ Program started in 2011 after a 2009 survey from GLSEN revealed that 9 out of 10 queer students reported in-school harassment. 

In response, they have created extensive programming to ensure students feel safe at D.C. Public Schools. In 2015 they created a trans and non-binary policy that included guidance on LGBTQ+ terms, locker room accommodations, gender-neutral dress codes, and more. 

In addition, they host an annual conference for queer and trans DCPS students. 

“The “Leading With Pride” conference increases networking, and builds the leadership capacity of our students and faculty advisers to implement school-level LGBTQ programming,” Johnson said. 

In 2023, more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in state legislatures according to HRC. This year, Theirworld’s survey found that more than half of LGBTQ students experienced bullying and harassment at school.

Johnson said that students feeling safe in school requires creating an environment where all students can thrive. 

“We encourage students to report incidents without fear of retaliation and ensure that reports are taken seriously and investigated promptly,” she said. 

Johnson also pointed out that as a result of discrimination, students are more likely to miss school, which can lead to low grades, along with impairing cognitive responses. So, she said, it is best for schools to respond with action swiftly. 

However, Johnson and the LGBTQ+ programming team acknowledge that not all students come from supportive backgrounds. 

As a part of their trans and gender-nonconforming policy, staff are expected to work closely with students to determine how involved parents are with the transitioning student, before contacting parents. 

Johnson gave parents eight steps to ensure the safety of their child, if they are in the LGBTQ community.  

8 Steps For Parents

1. Educate Yourself. Learn about LGBTQ+ identities, issues, and terminology. Understanding the basics can help you provide better support and avoid misunderstandings.

2. Listen and Communicate. Create an open and non-judgmental space for your child to express themselves. Listen to their experiences and feelings without interrupting or offering unsolicited advice.

3. Advocate for Them. Stand up for your child in situations where they may face discrimination or misunderstanding. Become actively involved in the PTA and other parent groups within the school.

4. Seek Support. Lead or organize programming with/for other parents of LGBTQ+ children can provide  valuable insights and emotional support.

5. Respect Their Privacy. Allow your child to determine their own level of outness at school. Don’t share their identity without their permission.

6. Create a Safe Environment. Inform the school of any homophobic or transphobic remarks or behavior from others.

7. Inform school about their needs. Recognize that each LGBTQ+ person’s experience is unique. Ask your child what they need from you and how you can best support them. Communicate those needs to the school. This would be a great opportunity to develop and share a Safety Plan for the student while at school. 

8. Promote Inclusivity. Encourage, support and inform inclusive policies and practices in your child’s school community. 

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District of Columbia

SMYAL for Summer returns July 25

‘Their hard work, resilience, and identities are valued and celebrated’

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A scene from last year's SMYAL for Summer. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

SMYAL for Summer is back at Franklin Hall on July 25, where the youth services organization will honor the next generation of change makers in the LGBTQ community. 

“In a tumultuous year for policy against LGBTQ+ youth, celebrating the achievements of our scholarship winners sends a powerful message that their hard work, resilience, and identities are valued and celebrated,” said Caro Vordndran, SMYAL’s Development Coordinator. 

At the event, SMYAL, the D.C. queer and trans youth advocacy organization, will honor recipients of its Youth Leadership Award and the Sophie’s Live Out Loud Scholarship. Plus, the event will feature a drag performance from Mia Vanderbilt. 

One of the scholarship recipients, Lion Burney, said that in addition to the scholarship they were most excited for the community they will continue to seek in SMYAL’s safe space. 

“The SMYAL community means a lot to me. From found family to open expression to endless support — I am beyond grateful to be a part of this experience,” Burney said.

This is SMYAL’s 12th annual SMYAL for Summer event and the 40th year of creating community for D.C.’s youth. Given SMYAL’s history, alumni like Nathan Handberg often come back to keep traditions alive. 

Handberg was an awardee in 2019 and served on the selection committee this year. They said they felt great about their continued involvement with SMYAL.

“Being a previous winner really gave me insight that helped with the process of choosing the winners this year and I like that I have the ability to help shape future leaders in our community,” they said. 

Tickets for the event range from $10 for students and $20 for general admission, up to $500 for Platinum Supporters. Tickets for the event will contribute to funding for SMYAL’s year-round youth advocacy programming. The event will run from 6-8 p.m.

“They have housing programs for queer youth… they’ve done queer sex education classes filling in critical gaps that are left by our education curriculum,” Handberg said. “Honestly they do so much more, I could write multiple pages on my experiences with SMYAL and all they do.”

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District of Columbia

Congressional budget amendments target D.C. Office of LGBTQ Affairs, Human Rights Act

U.S. Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) introduced proposals

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U.S. Capitol
Two Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced budget amendments that would defund the D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs and prohibit the city from using its funds to enforce the D.C. Human Rights Act in cases of discrimination against transgender people. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Two Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced separate amendments this week to the D.C. budget bill that would eliminate funding for the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs and prohibit the city from using its funds to enforce the D.C. Human Rights Act in cases of discrimination against transgender people. 

The two amendments, along with as many as 10 other amendments introduced by GOP House members targeting the D.C. budget, were expected to come up for a vote in the House Rules Committee, which is now considering the D.C. budget bill, during the week of July 22.

Congressional observers have said the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate, as it did last year, was expected to reject most of the House amendments to the D.C. budget bill if they were to pass in the full House.

Under the D.C. Home Rule Act, in which Congress established D.C.’s home rule government consisting of an elected mayor and City Council, Congress retains full authority to approve, change, or reject any laws passed by the city, including its annual budget. 

U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) introduced the amendment calling for eliminating funding for the Office of LGBTQ Affairs. U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) introduced the amendment calling for ending funding for enforcing the D.C. Human Rights Act regarding discrimination based on gender identity and expression. 

Spokespersons for the two House members couldn’t immediately be reached by the Washington Blade for comment on what prompted them to introduce their amendments. 

Sharon Nichols, a spokesperson for Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said Norton strongly opposes the two amendments and will be urging her House colleagues to oppose them. 

The amendment introduced by Gosar calling for defunding the LGBTQ Affairs Office states “none of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act, including titles IV and VII, may be used for the salaries and expenses of the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Affairs established under the Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Affairs Act of 2006 (Sec. 2-1831 et seq., D.C Official Code.”

The D.C. Council on June 12 gave final approval for D.C.’s fiscal year 2025 budget that includes $1.7 million in funds for the Office of LGBTQ Affairs. Among those who will lose their salary if the full Congress approves the amendment would be Japer Bowles, the LGBTQ rights advocate who currently serves as director of the LGBTQ Affairs Office. 

The amendment introduced by Mace would prohibit D.C. from using federal or local funds to enforce the part of its municipal regulations that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression, which pertains to trans people. The regulations in question pertain to the D.C. Human Rights Act. 

“It is no surprise to me that Republicans filed two anti-LGBTQ+ amendments to the D.C. appropriations bill,” Norton told the Blade in a statement. “D.C. has some of the strongest non-discrimination initiatives in the country, including regulations protecting individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” Norton said.

“The Republican amendment that would prohibit funds from being used to enforce anti-discrimination regulations and the amendment to defund the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ+ Affairs are disgraceful attempts, in themselves, to discriminate against D.C.’s LGBTQ+ community while denying D.C. residents the limited governance over their local affairs to which they are entitled,” Norton told the Blade. “I will do everything in my power to prevent these amendments from being included in the final bill.”

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