I recognize that many of our LGBTQ+ neighbors face daily challenges just to live peaceful, productive lives. Some of these challenges are local and well within the grasp of whoever is elected to represent our ward, while others are national – even global – in scope. The breadth of the challenges we face require a councilmember who has demonstrated a commitment to thoughtful, consistent, and collaborative representation and leadership. The goal is to create an environment in which our LGBTQ+ neighbors are not just surviving, but are thriving and prospering.
I’ve been having dozens of conversations with neighbors every day about the issues, and what I hear more often than not is some version of, “I just want someone to help me make sense of things.” As we get closer to Primary Day, I hope to lay out in as much detail as possible how I intend to serve on issues that I’ve heard from residents and challenges I see on the horizon.
All across the country, we’re witnessing an onslaught of efforts to suppress the freedom of our children to explore and affirm their identities; the freedom to conduct personal or business affairs without discrimination; or for consenting adults to do something as simple as declare their love before the eyes of the law and enjoy the benefits that the vast majority of us often take for granted.
As Ward 5’s next Councilmember, I intend to bring these values with me as I legislate and provide oversight on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community. My approach to these issues will differ very little from how I approach the diverse constituencies that make up our Ward 5, but I want to draw out the issues which I believe are most urgent and how I intend to tackle them. But hear me when I say this – if elected, my office will always be open to hear what we’re missing and how we can do better.
Protecting the Transgender Community, Especially Trans People of Color
According to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, there are more than 2 million individuals across the country who identify as transgender. This is a diverse population of residents that contribute to society in significant ways, but don’t have the protections of other groups. Recently in DC, a transgender woman was verbally assaulted on a metro train — that is unacceptable. As Ward 5 Councilmember, I will work to make sure transgender individuals feel safe in the District of Columbia.
- I am committed to working with MPD and other public safety agencies on trainings and professional development to better understand the trans community and its needs and challenges.
- I will work with DC Health and the Department of Behavioral Health to make sure that transgender residents have access to the services they need to assist them through their transition journey.
- I will work with district agencies, including the Department of Motor Vehicles to assist transgender individuals in getting the proper identification that matches their gender identity. These are some of the biggest barriers, from things as simple as travel, to larger things like medical insurance.
Create a LGBTQ+ Advisory Group
As your next Ward 5 Councilmember, I am committed to making sure that ALL residents of Ward 5 are heard and represented. I will establish a LGBTQ+ advisory group that will be my eyes and ears on the ground as it relates to this community. We will meet on a regular basis to discuss issues facing the community and produce actionable steps we can take to protect our LGBTQ+ residents.
Protect Our LGBTQ+ Youth
Far too often we are seeing LGBTQ+ youth taking their own lives, not because of their sexual orientation, but because of how they are stigmatized and mistreated in society (Trevor Project). According to DC Health, more than 6% of Middle School Youth and 12% of High School Youth identify as LGBTQ+. It’s more important than ever that these youth have a safe space when going to DCPS and Charter Schools.
- I will work with DCPS schools and staff to update its Inclusive School Community Document. I will make sure this document is updated for DCPS, and that ALL charter schools that receive funding have a similar document located in a central, accessible repository.
- I will support efforts to protect our students against bullying in our schools. This includes training teachers and support staff to spot instances of bullying, and be transparent about the steps taken to remedy such instances.
End the HIV/AIDS Crisis in the District
According to a DC Health estimate, in 2020, there were 12,161 people presumed to be living with HIV/AIDS in the District of Columbia. This was equivalent to 1.7% of DC’s entire population. At the same time, over a quarter (28%) were Black men who have sex with men (MSM) or intravenous drug users (IDU), and a nearly a sixth (15.5%) were heterosexual Black women.
Combining all identified cases, 70% of those persons living in the DC with HIV or AIDS were African American. By comparison, just a tenth (10.5%) were White.
Since the onset of the HIV epidemic, access to care and treatment has been wholly uneven. Despite advances in prevention, treatment, and monitoring we’re still seeing a disproportionate impact on the Black community. Even more worrying, new cases are most prevalent among some of our youngest. Three-fifths (59.9%) of new cases in 2020 were among residents aged 20-39.
While we have made significant strides to reduce new HIV infections, through initiatives like our model needle exchange program and expanding access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), we can do more.
The District has the resources to ensure universal access to PrEP and PEP; to spread the scientifically-proven truth that Undetectable Equals Untransmittable (U=U) to keep people in treatment and reduce stigma; and to work across government, neighborhood partners, and jurisdiction to ensure we’re taking a comprehensive approach to tackling the HIV epidemic.
Mayor Bowser has already committed to ending the HIV epidemic in DC by 2030. I believe with the right person asking the questions and working collaboratively we can do it. As Ward 5 Councilmember, I will:
- Expand funding for HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and TB Administration (HAHSTA)
- Lower the age of eligibility for on-demand PEP to 13
- Introduce legislation allowing minors, 13-years-old and up, at high-risk of HIV infection access to PrEP with consultation from a doctor
- Expand funding for the DC Health and Wellness Center to ensure neighbors, regardless of their ability to pay, have access to the lifesaving care they deserve
- Expand funding opportunities for community based organizations engaged with and serving LGBTQ+ neighbors, persons with HIV and AIDS, and communities at high-risk of HIV infection
Secure Housing for All – Ending the LGBTQ+ Homelesness Crisis
In 2016, the District’s first-ever Homeless Youth Census found that 43% of our homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. Nearly half. We know housing is key to care and as Ward 5 Councilmember I intend to be a champion for LGBTQ+ housing – across the spectrum of needs.
As your Councilmember, I will:
- Introduce legislation that requires the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and DC Housing Authority (DCHA) to conduct an annual census of LGBTQ+ residents participating in the Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) program, Housing Choice Voucher (HCVP) or other publicly-funded or subsidized housing programs
- Work to expand the availability of supportive housing aimed at serving LGBTQ+ youth and seniors by dedicating annual funding for this purpose.
Work on an Adoption Tax Credit, Inclusive of LGBTQ+ Parents
According to a 2020 Census report, almost 15% of the 1.1 million same-sex couples in the United States have at least 1 child under 18 living under their roof, and were more likely than opposite-sex couples to adopt a child. LGBTQ+ caregivers have long served as a critical resource for many child welfare agencies. According to the Williams Institute at UCLA, same-sex parents are 7x more likely to raise adoptive and foster children than opposite-sex couples; and they are more likely to adopt or foster LGBTQ+ youth. However, there are barriers, including financial, that prohibit many couples from adopting, especially same-sex couples. My goal, as Ward 5 Councilmember, is to make DC safe and welcoming for all. I want to incentivize those who adopt, and welcome a baby or young person into their homes.
- I will work with our Chief Financial Officer and Office and Tax and Revenue to study the possibility of adding a Tax Credit for adoption or fostering-to adopt, inclusive of same-sex couples.
Build a Safe, Accessible, and Dignified Economy for All
- Strengthening the Office of Attorney General, Office of Human Rights (OHR) and Department of Human Resources (DCHR) to ensure increased responsiveness to complaints
- Establishing a workforce development pipeline based in the Department of Employment Services for our LGBTQ+ neighbors
- Increase support for the OHR’s Human Rights Liaison to expand access to its “Know Your Rights” presentations and ensure DC’s businesses are at the forefront of protecting vulnerable communities
- Establish a business incubator for minority-owned businesses and entrepreneurs housed in the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs
- Convene a working-group of Ward business owners and leaders, community-based organizations, neighborhoods, and other stakeholders to expand
- Ensuring government grants reach community based organizations that work on LGBTQ+ inclusion in our workforce.
A Commitment to a Diverse Council Staff
- It will be important to have a Council staff that will reflect the diversity of our full community and can inform the interests of the LGBTQ+ community
- Work to expand the purview and capacity of the Council Office on Racial Equity (CORE) to examine potential effects of proposed legislation on other protected classes and communities of interest
- Provide timely and coherent responses to CORE’s Racial Equity Impact Assessments (REIAs) and other analysis on legislation I introduce
- Support efforts to require Council committees to submit timely responses to REIAs and other CORE analysis which conclude a piece of legislation disproportionately impacts a protected class and other communities of interest
Beyond my values and intentions, I actually have the qualifications, experience and knowledge of how to do what I propose. As DC’s Student Advocate, Ombudsman for Public Education, and the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs, I know what questions to ask, how to get the answers, and how to deliver solutions.
Throughout my career, I’ve learned that one’s lived experience, or lack thereof, matters. In too many sectors, people responsible for delivering goods and services to marginalized communities are nothing like the people they’re serving. I learned something even more galling — those with an ability to do impactful work for our vulnerable neighbors care little about listening.
In my time as a public servant, I adopted a set of practices in how to deliver for the people – especially for those made vulnerable by centuries of racist, sexist, and otherwise exclusionary policy: to hear with an open mind; to see with an open heart; and to serve with honesty about what’s possible today, but to not close the door to what’s possible tomorrow.
This month, May 26 through May 31, Washingtonians and visitors to our community will observe DC Black Pride, the celebration of the Black LGBTQIA+ community. Many of these celebrations will happen in our Ward 5. And of course, we look forward to the Capital Pride celebrations in June.
This year, I plan on honoring the contributions of those who paved the way for our family, friends, loved ones and neighbors to be their unashamed selves. Next year, I hope to honor DC Black Pride with a ceremonial resolution as a member of the Council.