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Officials hold groundbreaking for new D.C. LGBT community center

Activists, community members tour unfinished space in sprawling Shaw building

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The D.C. Center for the LGBT Community and the Capital Pride Alliance hosted a ceremonial groundbreaking on Wednesday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Center for the LGBT Community and the Capital Pride Alliance hosted a ceremonial “groundbreaking” on Wednesday to showcase the yet unfinished 6,671-square-foot space on the first floor of a five-story building in the city’s Shaw neighborhood where the center plans to move later this year.

Nearly 100 local LGBTQ activists and community supporters turned out for the event, and were given a tour of the sprawling space located in The Adora, a partially renovated warehouse building at 1827 Wiltberger St., N.W. The building is located steps away from the Howard Theatre and a little over a block from the Shaw-Howard University Metro station.

The D.C. Center and Capital Pride Alliance, which organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride events, announced last December that they had signed a joint lease to move their operations into The Adora, with several other local LGBTQ organizations agreeing to occupy space in the building.
The new space is more than double the 2,400-square-foot offices the D.C. Center and Capital Pride currently occupy in the city’s Reeves Center municipal building at 2000 14th St., N.W.

“Thank you so much for joining us this afternoon as we mark this momentous occasion on our ceremonial groundbreaking,” said Andrew Zapfel, president of the D.C. Center’s Board of Directors. “As you know, groundbreaking ceremonies take place at the beginning of a project. And in this case the beginning of a new community center.”

Added Zapfel, “And talking about service delivery and giving back to our community, we are pleased to announce today that Wegmans, a longtime supporter of the D.C. Center, will fund the completion of our food pantry. Not only that, they are also going to be providing in-kind sustainable support.”

He was referring to Wegmans Food Markets, Inc., the national supermarket chain that center officials say will provide, among other things, food for the food pantry.

Others who spoke at the ceremony were Kimberley Bush, executive director of the D.C. Center; Rehana Mohammed, vice chair of the D.C. Center’s board; Ryan Bos, executive director of Capital Pride Alliance; Ashley Smith, president of the Capital Pride board; and Japer Bowles, director of the D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

Each of the D.C. Center and Capital Pride officials attending the event, including Bush and Smith, thanked D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Bowles for what they said was their effort to help provide city funds to support the new D.C. Center space. D.C. Center officials announced in December that the mayor’s office provided the Center with a $1 million city grant to help cover some of the costs for the build out renovation project for the new D.C. Center space.

D.C. Center Executive Director Kimberley Bush, on right, presents Japer Bowles of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs with a Pride flag-inspired hardhat as a gift to the mayor. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“And speaking of build out, thank you very much to the entire architectural team for helping us design this space that will help us with all of our needs to help our community,” Bush told the gathering. “When community members come to this new space, they will see a broader range of life and human services offered and an enhanced experience will aid in increasing their health and wellness,” Bush said.

“The new D.C. Center will be a state-of-the-art space for the community to gather, connect, collaborate as well as seek and receive an array of services in furtherance of liberation,” an information sheet released at the ceremony says. Among other amenities, the information sheet says, the new center will include meeting and conference room space, cyber computer space, a food pantry, Americans With Disabilities Act accommodating shower and bathroom, and a clothing closet and lockers.

Center officials have said the expanded accommodations are aimed at assisting LGBTQ people who may be homeless or in need of mental health support. A second information sheet released at the ceremony says therapists, counselors, and case managers will be available at the new center along with HIV and STD testing and counseling services.

“On behalf of the Capital Pride Alliance, I want to say how excited we are to have been able to join the D.C. Center to support this opportunity and come together in a new and larger space with fuller community organizations and leaders,” Bos said at the ceremony.

“We have shared office space with the D.C. Center for over 12 years,” said D.C. Center president Smith. “And our thrill is creating this bigger space and to allow other organizations into this space to be partners, advocates, activists, and service providers,” Smith said.

Among the other LGBTQ organizations that have so far signed on to lease space in the new center include Rainbow Families, the Wanda Alston Foundation, Team DC, SMYAL, the Equality Chamber of Commerce, Mary’s House for older LGBTQ adults, and the LGBTQ supportive consulting firm GIII Associates.

At the time plans for the new D.C. Center were announced in December, D.C. Center officials said they expected the renovation and build out project to be completed in time for the new center to open in July or August of this year.

But center officials said this week that the renovation work, which has yet to take place, was expected to begin in July. Mohammed told the Washington Blade at the Wednesday ceremony that an increase in expenses for the build out construction has created a shortfall in funds that the center hopes to remedy through additional support from the mayor’s office and private sector supporters.

“We have some fantastic partners who have already signed on to support the project,” she said. “But we absolutely need more funding to complete it this year as planned,” she said, adding, “supplies have gotten more expensive due to supply chain issues and inflation, and we simply need more funds to close out this project.”

Asked when the new center will hold its grand opening, Mohammed said, “We don’t have a date for the grand opening ceremony yet. But we’re anticipating we’ll open our doors this year for the community. So, we’re very excited about that.”

Added Mohamed, “It really depends on how the construction progresses. We’re now waiting to get the go-ahead on our permit and start construction in the next few weeks.”

D.C. Center’s Rehana Mohammed leads a tour of the new space at 1827 Wiltberger St., N.W. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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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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