On September 8, 2004, former Mayor Anthony Williams signed a mayor’s order creating the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs, establishing it as a permanent office within the Executive Office of the Mayor. It was to be lead by leaders from the District’s LGBTQ community. The mission and objectives of the office are to:
Mayor Muriel Bowser was sworn in on January 2, 2015 and immediately got to work appointing her cabinet. Among them were many members of our community: Courtney Snowden, David Do, Steven Walker, Polly Donaldson, Eric Shaw and the brand new Director of the Office of GLBT Affairs, Sheila Alexander-Reid. When asked why she hired so many gay people, the Mayor’s response was, “I just hire good people.” It was a new day in D.C. This new day brought a brand new focus for Director Alexander-Reid and her office. The motto of the Bowser administration is “Fresh Start.”
Mayor Bowser’s first order of business was to change the name from the office of GLBT Affairs to The Office of LGBTQ Affairs. It was time to change the name to reflect the direction of the movement.“The fact that the Mayor knew it was outdated showed me that she was ahead of the game and was standing with the community,” says Alexander-Reid.
Employment is a big deal with this new administration, specifically unemployment within the transgender community. The unemployment rate in the trans community is as high as 50% and disproportionately affects trans women of color. Mayor Bowser has an aggressive plan to address this issue. As important as these plans are, equally important is that everyone knows they exist.
Plan 1: To hire trans people into city jobs. Director Alexander- Reid and the Mayor have regular meetings to discuss the progress of matching trans candidates into open city jobs. The office is working with the Department of Employment Services to match qualified candidates to city jobs.
Plan 2: To partner with Whitman-Walker Health for their upcoming transgender career summit to ensure maximum opportunities for all trans applicants. The summit is also taking steps to ensure their placements are made with companies with LGBTQ competencies.
Plan 3: To work with Project Empowerment, an existing program specifically for returning/at risk citizens who may need retraining or honing of skills. This is an intense 21-day program designed to address everything one would need to be successful in a job placement. Once one completes the training program, the candidate is placed with an employer for six months. At the end of the six months, the hope is for the position to turn into full-time placement or at least to give a new set of usable skills. All employers who participate in this program are also mandated to receive LGBTQ competency training.
This administration is directly attacking the issue of “houselessness” (renamed by Mayor Bowser) by setting aside 100 million dollars to end this crisis. While the sole focus of this money is not our community, our Mayor recognizes that our community is disproportionately affected by houselessness, especially with the trans and youth communities. Of the homeless youth in our country, 47% are LGBTQ.
This funding will work to get them off of the street and into transitional and eventual permanent housing by addressing the issues causing them to experience life in the “school to streets pipeline”.
“Affordable housing is at the top of the Mayor’s list. She campaigned on it and is making sure the LGBTQ community is accounted for in the solution,” says Alexander-Reid.
In 2011, Chief Cathy Lanier of the MPD released the findings of the Hate Crimes Assessment Task Force (HCATF) she convened in December 2011. Almost immediately a coalition of community leaders and organizations provide their own assessment to Chief Lanier with many items never even addressed on the original report. Less than a week after receiving this report from our community, MPD responded with a “Next Steps” outline to implement the Task Force recommendations. In March of this year the community leaders revisited the recommendations and created a report card.
With the national focus on policing practices and abuse, it is important that the MPD, be held to a high standard of accountability.
The Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU) is a team of dedicated officers that focuses on the public safety needs of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and their allied communities and is headed by Sgt. Jessica Hawkins.
“Thanks to our monthly meetings and the report card, MPD is being trained in LGBTQ competency. It’s starting at the top. GLUU is participating in the training of their fellow officers. The training is an intense four-hour course with video statements of trans citizens that have been victims of violence. They share how they were mistreated by the police. It’s an eye opening training and will be what makes the difference,” says Alexander-Reid. “It addresses bias like not assuming a trans woman walking down the street at night is a sex worker. It will teach them to address her with respect. It will teach them not to assume there is no victim if two men are fighting. It is the start and they are committed. Once the training is completed, we will revisit it and see how things are changing. Let’s equip them with the tools, then evaluate them on their progress.”
Getting back to the basics and taking care of the most marginalized and vulnerable of our community is what has this administration’s focus. As the nation’s capitol, we lead the country in equality. We have the opportunity to lead in caring for our entire community and gain some freedom from the singular focus of a white male dominated agenda. This administration and this brand-new Office of LGBTQ Affairs has its priorities inline with the needs of the community and plans to move forward with razor focus.
There are opportunities for volunteers, individuals looking for internships, employers looking to hire transgender employees, and businesses interested in becoming an employer for Project Empowerment. To get involved on any level, contact Director Sheila Alexander-Reid at 202-442-5143 or stop in her office at the Reeves Center.