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With all due respect to James Jones, who I think is doing a great job as the new Loose Lips columnist, his column recently (4/15) had a very one-sided representation of the proposed legislation introduced by Ward 1 D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham to give the Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Affairs statutory authority.
That office, which was set up by the mayor’s executive order on Sept. 8, 2004, is the office of which Wanda Alston, whose recent senseless murder we all mourn, was acting executive director. We also have an Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, an Office on Latino Affairs, and an Office on Aging, all of which currently have statutory authority. The debate now raging in the halls of the Wilson Building is whether D.C. needs an office representing the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) community that has statutory authority.
There are two camps: One basically includes only the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA), the self-proclaimed leading gay advocacy group in the District. I would agree the group does great work and is the oldest GLBT civil-rights group in the nation, but it does not speak for the majority of the community on every issue. GLAA thinks that such an office will marginalize the GLBT community and the efforts we have made over the past 25 years to be fully integrated into the fabric of the community. Most of the rest of the community, including the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, contend that without such an office written into law, future mayors, who might not necessarily share the commitment of our current mayor to the GLBT community, would not even need to name a liaison to the community.
While it is true the GLBT community has made such great strides that no one running for citywide office in D.C. can win without the support of our community, that doesn’t guarantee that our views will be heard once a candidate is in office. Our presence here is significant—estimates indicate as high as 30 percent of all single men and women in the District are gay.
But all that notwithstanding, giving the Office of GLBT Affairs statutory authority is an idea whose time has come. Jones says that some suggest we shouldn’t mix tragedy—Wanda Alston’s death—with politics. But I would say that passing this bill now is a nice way to honor Wanda—clearly not the only way, but a nice one nevertheless. She worked hard to see this office come to fruition under the executive order and would have been pleased to see it become law.
No matter how integrated into the community we are, GLBT community members still have issues that are our own and need to be addressed: domestic partnerships, securing mortgage and business loans, protection from hate crimes, protection for our young people in schools, health issues and health care for gay men and lesbians, issues facing GLBT seniors, transgender issues of access and protection, to name just a few of them. These are issues that the straight community doesn’t face at all, or at least not in the same way. I see the need for an office that will work with the community and groups such as GLAA to recommend and monitor policy and legislation, to protect and further the interests of the community.
The bill introduced by Graham is really very simple. It calls for the office to be minimally staffed and to have authority to work with all city agencies and commissions; requires the mayor to appoint an advisory committee for the office that is representative of the wide diversity of our community and that will work with community groups to help them get technical assistance and grants; and requires the office to work with the Department of Health’s GLBT health specialist, who will be writing the annual State of GLBT Health in the District report.
The bill would require the director of the Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Affairs, appointed by the mayor, to provide technical assistance with respect to services for the GLBT community to the mayor, D.C. Council, and city agencies and departments. With the aid of the mayor’s GLBT Advisory Committee, the office would identify areas of need for service or improvement to services and bring them to the attention of all of the above. The director would also be required to meet with each department and agency director and assist him or her in establishing a GLBT point of contact or coordinator within each agency and department.
This proposed legislation would not set up a huge new bureaucracy, but rather would ensure that the needs and views of the GLBT community were represented in every agency of government as a matter of course.
A couple of years ago, the mayor announced his plan to bring 100,000 new residents to the District; the assumption is that many of them will be part of the GLBT community. The new slogan used for that announcement, “city living, dc style,” was aimed at us, even if they forgot to mention that at the original press conference. The campaign talks about nightlife, culture, entertainment, and affordable housing. It’s aimed at people who aren’t waiting for the school system or child-care options to improve before moving here.
I respect GLAA and much of its work, but I would have thought that Loose Lips would ask other GLBT community members what they thought of the Graham bill. I think they would have agreed with me that we should ask the council to pass this bill now and ensure that Washington, D.C., makes a real and lasting commitment to the GLBT community.
Mayor’s GLBT Advisory Committee