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D.C. Center announces new board

David Mariner, Michael Sessa, D.C. Center, LGBT, gay, bisexual, transgender, lesbian, gay news, Washington Blade

We are thrilled to welcome such distinguished members of D.C.’s LGBT community to the Board of Directors,’ said outgoing Center Board President Michael Sessa (on left) and Center Executive Director David Mariner. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A civil rights attorney with the U.S. Justice Department, an assistant professor of women’s studies at the University of Maryland, and an official at the international human rights organization Freedom House were recently elected to serve on the board of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community.

The three new members are joining 13 existing board members and several new officers who were elected or re-elected at the Center’s annual meeting on Dec. 16, according to Matthew Corso, a board member who serves as the Center’s chief communications officer.

“We are thrilled to welcome such distinguished members of D.C.’s LGBT community to the Board of Directors and are excited to see a new leadership team take the helm in 2014,” said outgoing Board President Michael Sessa and Center Executive Director David Mariner in a statement.

The new board members are Louis Lopez, Deputy Chief of the Employment Litigation Section at the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division; Julie Enszer, a Ph.D. candidate and visiting assistant professor at the Department of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland; and Mindy Michels, Program Director for the Dignity for All: LGBT Assistance Program at Freedom House.

The existing members returning to the Center board are: Corso, Eddy Ameen, John Crow, Martin Espinoza, Michael Fowler, Holly Goldmann, Dr. Patricia Hawkins, Jason Laney, Michelle Ross, Michael Sessa, Ashley Smith, Kelly Zimmerman, and Patrick Zornow.

The board officers for 2014 elected at the annual meeting are Fowler, chair (new); Hawkins, vice-chair (new); Crow, treasurer (returning); Ameen, secretary (new); and Corso, chief communications officer (new).

The new and returning board members and officers assume their positions less than two months after the Center moved into its new and larger home at the city’s Reeves Center municipal building at 14th and U St., N.W.

More information about the board members and the Center’s programs and upcoming events can be found at


BHT Awards

The community support organization Brother, Help Thyself held its annual grant awards ceremony at Ziegfeld’s/Secrets on Saturday. (Washington Blade photos by Damien Salas) buyphoto 


BHT awards $75,000 in grants

Brother Help Thyself, BHT, Ziegfeld's, gay news, Washington Blade, grants

The Brother, Help Thyself grant awards ceremony was held at Ziegfeld’s last weekend. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

Brother, Help Thyself, a local organization that supports LGBT and HIV/AIDS work, awarded about $75,000 in grants to 31 area nonprofits last weekend at a reception held at Ziegfeld’s/Secrets nightclub.

Among the grant recipients were: AIDS Action Baltimore, the DC Center’s HIV Working Group, DC Rape Crisis Center, Equality Maryland Foundation, Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, Helping Our Brothers and Sisters, HIPS, Latino GLBT History Project, Rainbow History Project, SMYAL and the Wanda Alston Foundation.

“What really makes this annual event so wonderful, on top of the awarding of the actual checks, is the opportunity for our grantees to network and connect,” said BHT President Jim Slattery. “They all do such great work and their expertise and best practices are vital to our community and each other.”

In addition to the grants, BHT presented four annual awards. The Billy Collison Award, BHT’s underdog award, was given to Baltimore’s Hope Springs. The George Dodson Business award went to The Founders Award, given to an organization doing great work with little funding, went to Casa Ruby LGBT Community Center. And the Anthony J. Bachrach Award, which recognizes an individual doing outstanding work on behalf of the community, was presented to David Mariner, executive director of the DC Center.

Click here to see a photo gallery of the event.


Stadium deal prompts D.C. Center to reconsider move

Reeves Building, D.C. Center, gay news, Washington Blade

Reeves Building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Center for the LGBT Community announced late Friday that it has put on hold the renovation of the space into which it planned to move in September in the city’s Reeves Center municipal building following news one day earlier that the building will likely be demolished in three years.

Mayor Vincent Gray and at least three of his top aides said the city would help the D.C. Center find a new location if and when the Reeves building closes.

Gray’s comments came during a news conference on Thursday in which Gray announced that the Reeves building at 14th and U streets, N.W. would be given to a private developer in exchange for land to build a new soccer stadium in the Buzzard Point section of Southwest D.C.

“We are going to make sure they are relocated to a suitable place,” Gray said in response to a question from the Blade.

Gray announced that the land swap was part of a proposed $300 million deal involving the city and D.C. United, the major league soccer team that has long sought to move out of the city’s aging and outdated RFK Stadium.

“Since signing our lease in January of this year, the D.C. Center has expended thousands of volunteer hours and thousands of dollars in renovating the space in the Reeves Center with anticipation of a September move-in date,” Center Board President Michael Sessa said in a July 26 statement.

“Unfortunately, continued renovation of the Reeves Center space will stop effective immediately until we have a better understanding of where the mayor proposes to relocate the D.C. Center,” Sessa said.

The soccer stadium deal and land swap must be approved by City Council. And two other private owners of land needed for the new stadium, including PEPCO, have yet to consent to sell their respective properties.

But Gray and five members of Council who support the deal predicted the remaining obstacles would be overcome because the multi-million dollar project would be of great economic benefit to the city.

Matthew Klein, president of the Akridge development company, which would acquire the Reeves building in the land swap, unveiled an architectural drawing at the news conference of a new building that would be constructed at the site of the Reeves building. The new building is expected to include residential and commercial space.

D.C. Center Executive Director David Mariner noted on Thursday following the mayor’s news conference that the Center’s 15-year lease at the Reeves building requires the Center to spend at least $70,000 to renovate the first-floor, storefront space to get it ready for occupancy.

Mariner said the demolition part of the renovation has been completed through the help of volunteers from the community. With the sudden news that the Center’s stay in the building is likely to be two or three years rather than 15 years or more, Mariner said the Center’s board must decide whether it still makes sense to move into the Reeves building.

“I don’t think we are prepared to invest the time, energy and labor on a massive renovation project if you can’t guarantee that we’ll be there for more than two years,” Mariner told Brian Hanlon, director of the D.C. Department of General Services (DGS) in a conversation following the news conference.

“You mentioned time and money and investment and I think there are ways to incorporate all those things into where we’re going,” Hanlon told Mariner.

Hanlon said one possible way to address the expenses noted by Mariner is for the city to offset them in a new rental agreement at another nearby city-owned building or city-operated building.

Tony Robinson, a spokesperson for the Office of the City Administrator, told the Blade that Gray and other city officials were looking into new rental space for the center at a private building in which a number of city agencies are located at 1250 U St., N.W. The building is two blocks from the Reeves building and one block from the D.C. Center’s current space at 1318 U St., N.W.

The Center had to look for a new location after an unrelated development project required that it vacate its current U Street space.

“What I’m saying is the DGS, the mayor, the government is committed to making sure you all find a home in Ward 1,” Hanlon told Mariner. “It’s my understanding that that’s the epicenter of the community that you serve. So we’re committed to working that through.”

Sessa told the Blade earlier in the day on Friday that Center officials will be meeting next week with Gray’s chief of staff Christopher Murphy and possibly others from the mayor’s office to discuss the Center’s options.

“Of course that’s under review,” said Sessa when asked if the Center was considering dropping plans to move into the Reeves building. “Everything is under review. But what action we take has to be based on our discussion with the city, which hasn’t happened yet.”

In the Center’s statement released later in the day on Friday Sessa said, “We have requested a meeting [with city officials] immediately as we are scheduled to vacate our current space within less than 60 days. We look forward to hearing the mayor’s plans and working with the city to ensure a permanent home for the LGBTQ community.”

Fate of gay nightclub unclear

Ziegfeld's, Secrets, gay news, nightlife, Washington Blade

Ziegfeld’s/Secrets (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Robinson of the City Administrator’s office told the Blade the soccer stadium proposal calls for building a hotel and other businesses such as restaurants and shops near the site of the new stadium.

The gay nightclub Ziegfeld’s/Secrets is located in that area at 1824 Half St., S.W., which is outside the footprint of the soccer stadium but within the area for the ancillary development.

Robinson said the property owners of buildings and land outside the stadium footprint are free to decline to sell to developers and remain in the area as long as they wish.

“There are no plans to do eminent domain for anything except what’s in the footprint of the site [of the stadium],” he said. “There are no plans to close any other facility.”

However, Ziegfeld’s/Secrets currently rents its space in a building owned by Denver businessman Marty Chernoff, who owned and operated the former gay nightclub Tracks in a warehouse building that has since been demolished to make way for an office building.

Chernoff told the Blade that he has known Ziegfeld’s/Secrets principal owner Allen Carroll for a long time and will give Carroll the first right to buy the building if and when Chernoff decides to sell it. He said at least one real estate broker representing a developer has approached him to buy the building.

“I want to make it completely clear that I am not the one forcing him out,” Chernoff said. “So if he chooses to do something because of whatever economic pressure there is or something like that, that would be his choice.”

Carroll couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance President Rick Rosendall said LGBT community advocates called on the city to help Ziegfeld’s/Secrets find another suitable location when it was displaced in 2006 by construction of the Washington Nationals Baseball Stadium.

The baseball stadium development forced Ziegfeld’s/Secrets, which features drag shows and male nude dancers, and four other gay clubs to move from the unit block of O Street, S.E., where they had been located for close to 30 years.

Rosendall said GLAA would urge the city to assist Ziegfeld’s/Secrets to find a suitable new home if the club is displaced yet again by development triggered by the proposed soccer stadium.


Provocative pages

William Sterling Walker, OutWrite Book Fair, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay author William Sterling Walker will present his New Orleans-themed short story collection at the OutWrite Book Fair Saturday at 11 a.m. (Photo by Lenora Gim)

LGBT Book Fair
Today through Sunday
Starts Friday evening at 6:30 p.m.
D.C. Center for the LGBT Community
1318 U Street, N.W.
‘Women Write Gay Erotica’
Continues Saturday at the Reeves Center
2000 14th Street, N.W.
Ends Sunday with events starting at 10 a.m.
At the D.C. Center
Visit for full schedule and details

It would be a mistake to assume that all the authors appearing at this year’s OutWrite LGBT Book Fair are small-time writers who’ve all self-published their work.

Novelist Manil Suri, who will be presenting his adventure novel “The City of Devi,” had his first book “The Death of Vishnu” become a bestseller in several countries that has been translated into 27 languages. Poet Joseph Ross — like Suri, a teacher/professor — had his books published by Main Street Rag Publishing based in Charlotte, N.C., and even though William Sterling Walker’s short story collection “Desire: Tales of New Orleans,” is his first book, it was published by Chelsea Station Editions (which will exhibit at this year’s fair) and his stories have appeared in several magazines and anthologies.

“We got a lot of submissions from folks who want to come read so it’s actually become quite competitive,” says David Mariner, director of the DC Center, which produces the fair, now in its third year. “We were lucky to have [lesbian writer] Julie Enszer on the planning committee this year and she was … very valuable in the process.”

Mariner says in previous years the readings typically attract 30 or 40 people at any given time with a “couple hundred” visiting the fair altogether. It kicks off tonight and runs through Sunday. Saturday the events will be in the atrium at the Reeves Building. Tonight and Sunday, readings will take place at the Center’s current location on U Street. Mariner says the events will not be affected by last week’s announcement about changes to the Reeves Building’s fate, where the Center had been planning to move permanently.

Mariner says “the majority” of this year’s authors have had their work published by traditional publishers but he says that’s less a significant distinction than it may have been several years ago as the industry is changing rapidly.

“It’s a little harder to say now who meets that criteria because the lines have really blurred,” Mariner says. “In fact, that’s one discussion we’re going to have at the fair.”

Ross has been writing poetry since college about 20 years ago. The D.C. resident says his poetry book “Gospel of Dust,” which came out in July, touches on everything from the notion of various riots being somewhat ritualistic in nature and the sometimes unexpected places religious elements are found in everyday life such as in the lives of people like Rosa Parks or Matthew Shepard and even in the work of local graffiti artists.

Joseph Ross, OutWrite Book Fair, gay news, Washington Blade

Joseph Ross will read from his poetry collection at 3 p.m. (Ross photo by Ted Schroll)

“Poetry has the power to move us both emotionally and intellectually,” Ross says. “No one says, ‘Would you read an essay at our wedding?’ It’s there in our important moments — births, deaths, marriages, people turn to poetry. It’s not above anything else, but it moves us in ways other genres can’t.”

Suri’s latest book, which came out in February from Bloomsbury, tells an adventure story of a woman searching Bombay/Mumbai (Suri’s native land where all his books are set) for her missing husband with — unbeknownst to her — a gay guy who had been her husband’s lover. Suri says the book, which he spent about 12 years working on off and on, offers a snapshot look at gay life in India.

“You see some of that in the characters,” he says. “Initially it was very oriented toward anonymous sex and been sort of 10 or 20 years behind the U.S. but now you see more liberal attitudes and people are thinking about settling down and having relationships and … you see how people treat Jaz and Karun as a couple even though they don’t know they’re together explicitly.”

Walker says the nine short stories in his book “Desire: Tales of New Orleans” all pertain to the title city in some way and have gay themes.

“I’m gay and I have always considered myself as having a gay audience,” he says. “I’ve always felt that way. I consider myself a gay writer with gay sensibilities.”

He says it’s important for gay writers to have spaces such as the OutWrite festival.

“There are very few venues left for gay books,” he says. “There are very few gay bookstores left and other independent bookstores are going away too. … I think it’s very important for writers and readers to connect and to do so on the face-to-face level and this is one way to do it.”

Mariner agrees.

“The overarching message of all of our arts programming is that it’s very powerful and moving and affirming when we hear our own stories through our own voices in our own spaces,” he says. “It’s a powerful and important part of building our community.”


Local LGBT groups assist with Obamacare

David Franco, gay news, Washington Blade

Local businessman David Franco was among several D.C.-area advocates who spoke at a news conference at the National Press Club on Tuesday to draw attention to what they consider the strong advantages of the Obamacare program. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

At least seven D.C.-based LGBT or LGBT-friendly organizations sprang into action on Tuesday to help members of the LGBT community and people with HIV choose a health insurance plan under the controversial U.S. Affordable Care Act that’s better known as “Obamacare.”

Similar to reports surfacing from across the country, officials from the local groups said some of their clients encountered computer glitches on the website for D.C. Health Link, the city’s online health insurance marketplace or “exchange” on its first day of operations on Tuesday.

But all of the officials contacted by the Blade said they were optimistic that the exchange program in D.C. and those in neighboring Maryland and Virginia would soon be operating smoothly and would be an important resource for LGBT people looking for health insurance.

“I’m excited about it,” said Ron Simmons, executive director of the D.C.-based Us Helping Us, an HIV services organization that reaches out to black gay men.

“We have so many clients who don’t have health insurance,” Simmons said. “If you are HIV positive you need a certain type of insurance, and we are ready to help people choose the best policy suited for their needs.”

Ron Simmons, Us Helping Us, Whitman-Walker Health, gay news, Washington Blade

Ron Simmons, president/CEO of Us Helping Us (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Us Helping Us is one of five D.C.-based organizations that received a grant from the D.C. Health Benefit Exchange Authority to recruit members of the LGBT community to sign up for insurance under the Obamacare program. The grant calls on the five groups — as well as another 30 organizations that received grants to work with other constituencies — to help their clients navigate the complicated process of choosing the best possible insurance plan.

The other organizations that received grants to work with the LGBT community on the Obamacare program are Whitman-Walker Health, D.C. Care Consortium, Damien Ministries and Health HIV.

Health HIV, a new national AIDS advocacy organization located in the Dupont Circle area, applied for its grant in partnership with the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community and Westminster Presbyterian Church’s START program. The START program provides HIV/AIDS-related services with a special outreach to people with substance abuse problems.

“This is an important opportunity to engage our communities in a conversation about healthcare and for us all to better understand the changes that are taking place in the healthcare system,” said David Mariner, executive director of the D.C. Center.

“Our goal is to help 300 individuals enroll in a healthcare plan and to make the process as simple as possible for them,” Mariner said.

Simmons of Us Helping Us said his group has a goal of helping to enroll 1,000 people on a health insurance plan through the D.C. Health Link system during the nine-month-long grant period.

“We will have town hall meetings,” said Simmons. “We will go to the clubs. Our purpose is to help people enroll in the plan best for them.”

Under the Affordable Care Act’s various provisions, Tuesday, Oct. 1, became the first day that the health insurance exchanges opened for business, enabling people to review dozens of options for insurance plans. Consumers may sign up for a plan between now and next March during the program’s first annual open enrollment period. Insurance policies won’t go into effect until Jan. 1.

In order to receive a policy that begins Jan. 1, people must sign up and pay their first monthly premium by Dec. 15, government officials in charge of the program said. People may still sign up between Dec. 15 and March 31, with their policy taking effect at the first day of the following month. After the March 31 deadline, enrollment in the program will be closed until October 2014.

Experts monitoring the system have said the cost of premiums and additional payments such as deductibles and co-payments for doctor visits and prescription drugs vary widely with the different options available. But those familiar with the program say the costs so far appear to be significantly lower than health insurance available in the past in the private market.

Carl Schmid, deputy director of the AIDS Institute, a national AIDS advocacy organization, noted that low-income people may now enroll in Medicaid in the states that have agreed to expand their Medicaid programs under a non-mandatory provision of the Affordable Care Act. D.C. and Maryland opted to become part of the expanded Medicaid program while Virginia declined to do so.

Schmid points out that prior to the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid provision, which took effect last year, low-income people with HIV who didn’t have private health insurance were not eligible for Medicaid unless they were medically disabled with an AIDS diagnosis.

“So now people with HIV who don’t have full-blown AIDS qualify for Medicaid,” Schmid said. “Our goal, of course, is to keep these people healthy.”

Carl Schmid, AIDS Institute, gay news, Washington Blade

AIDS Institute Deputy Executive Director Carl Schmid (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Schmid and others familiar with the Obamacare program note that in Virginia and other states that chose not to participate in the expanded Medicaid program, people with incomes below a certain federally defined level are eligible for federal subsidies to help pay for their insurance premiums and co-pays.

Erin Loubier, director of public benefits and senior managing attorney for Whitman-Walker Health, said people with HIV and LGBT people whose income levels may not make them eligible for the subsidies will benefit from another provision of the healthcare law already in effect.

“Anyone living with HIV or another chronic health condition will be able to get insurance,” she said, noting that prior to the Obamacare law insurance companies routinely rejected people with a pre-existing condition.

She said the generally lower prices for premiums through the exchanges will also benefit those who aren’t eligible for subsidies.

Under its grant from the D.C. Health Benefit Exchange Authority, Whitman-Walker will provide its clients as well as non-clients the services of trained “navigators” or “assisters” to help people choose the best insurance policy through D.C. Health Link. According to Loubier, Whitman-Walker will also provide training for people to become navigators and, similar to Us Helping Us, will reach out into the community to recruit people to sign up for insurance under the Obamacare program.

“The role of these assisters is critical,” she said. “Even computer savvy people may not be able to navigate the system by themselves.”

Guy Westin, executive director of D.C. Care Consortium, which provides services to people with HIV, said his group is providing navigator services to individuals as well as non-profit community organizations about the enrollment process for Obamacare.

D.C. gay businessman David Franco, owner of the clothing store chain Universal Gear and the real estate development company Level Two, said he was pleased to discover that prices announced so far by insurance companies offering employer health plans for small businesses are lower than previously available plans.

“I was able to see in a matter of 15 minutes with a couple of clicks on my keyboard what my rate would be and compare that to an equivalent plan and see the savings that are offered by different insurance companies,” Franco said.

“So the fact that you’ve got this open, free market has really created this price competition, and it’s going to drop the overall cost for the plan for all of my employees,” he said.

Franco was among several D.C.-area advocates who spoke at a news conference at the National Press Club on Tuesday called by D.C. Health Link and the healthcare consumers’ group Families USA to draw attention to what they consider the strong advantages of the Obamacare program.

Similar to Americans across the country, local LGBT advocates working on the Obamacare program say some LGBT people will likely be surprised and put off when they realize they will be subjected to a $95 tax penalty from the IRS in 2014 if they don’t have insurance and fail to buy a policy under the new program.  The penalty for not having insurance in 2015 goes up to $700.

Federal officials in charge of Obamacare point out that people who already have insurance either through their employer or on the private market and people already on Medicaid or Medicare will not be required to do anything under the new program. Their insurance status will remain as it is, officials said.

Following is a list of the seven D.C.- based organizations known to be providing services to the help the LGBT community and people with HIV access the Obamacare program, including the process of singing up for an insurance plan. Officials with the groups say it’s preferable to call first for an appointment but walk-ins are accommodated when possible.


Whitman-Walker Health

1701 14th St., N.W.



Us Helping Us

3636 Georgia Ave., N.W.



D.C. Care Consortium

7059 Blaire Road, N.W., Suite



Health HIV

2000 S St., N.W.



Damien Ministries

2200 Rhode Island Ave., N.E.



D.C. Center for the LGBT Community

1318 U St., N.W.



START Program at Westminster Presbyterian Church

400 I St., S.W.



D.C. Center moves into new space at Reeves Center

David Mariner, Michael Sessa, D.C. Center, LGBT, gay, bisexual, transgender, lesbian, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Center Executive Director David Mariner, right, and Michael Sessa. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

With little fanfare and no official announcement, the D.C. LGBT Community Center moved into its new home at the city’s Reeves Center municipal building last week in the heart of the city’s booming commercial and entertainment district at 14th and U Streets, N.W.

On Friday afternoon, D.C. Center Executive Director David Mariner and local interior designer Paul Corrie, who donated his services for the design of the rooms and walls, were overseeing workers and volunteers place finishing touches to the gleaming new space of 2,468 square feet.

Mariner said the Center is looking forward to its official grand opening celebration scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 23, from noon to 4 p.m., to which the public is invited. The new space at 2000 14th St., N.W., Ste. 105, is located less than a block from the Center’s old offices at 1318 U St., N.W.

The move into the smartly designed and furnished new space comes just over two months after the Center learned that the Reeves building was expected to be demolished in two or three years as part of a city land deal linked to plans for a new soccer stadium near the Southwest waterfront.

Center President Michael Sessa declined to disclose whether the city agreed to modify the 15-year lease agreement the organization signed earlier this year, at a monthly rent of $4,000, and to compensate the Center for having to vacate the premises years earlier than planned. At the time the lease was signed, Center officials expected to amortize the more than $70,000 it cost to renovate the new space over a period of at least 15 years.

When D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announced in late July that the Reeves building was expected to close in just a few years, the Center’s board announced it was stopping construction on the ground floor, storefront space “until we have a better understanding of where the mayor proposes to relocate the Center.”

In a separate statement to the Blade on Friday, Sessa said, “The Center is in the process of moving into the Reeves Center now. We need some time to catch our breath, let the dust settle and then we’ll issue a communication for all.”

Sessa added, “I’m working with the board to develop a statement that will articulate where we stand and what has happened since construction was halted.”

City Administrator Allen Y. Lew is in charge of putting together a $300 million land deal in which the city will turn over the Reeves Center to a developer who, in turn, will give the city part of the land in Buzzard Point needed to build the new stadium for the D.C. United soccer team.

According to the Washington Post, Lew insists the deal will move ahead as planned, even though some members of the D.C. City Council – including gay Council members David Catania (I-At-Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) – and Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) have raised concerns about the cost of the project for the city.

On Friday, Mariner and close to a dozen volunteers were busily unwrapping furniture and computer workstations, which will be available to members of the community as part of the Center’s wide range of programs.

A sofa and other furnishings for a lounge located in front of large windows overlooking the sidewalk on 14th Street, N.W., were donated by Mitchell Gold, Mariner said. He said other businesses and organizations helped finance and furnish other rooms by becoming official sponsors of the rooms.

According to Mariner, the Crew Club, a gym and spa that caters to gay men, sponsored the spacious conference room; the Dupont Social Club sponsored the lounge; the Stonewall Kickball League sponsored the activity room; and Capital Pride, the group that organizes the city’ annual LGBT Pride parade and festival, sponsored the reception area.

Mariner said the reception area was placed near the door that leads to the Reeves Center’s first-floor atrium, which he said the Center will use as its main entrance. He said the entrance to the street won’t be used as a primary entrance.


Grand opening for D.C. Center’s new space

D.C. Center, Reeves Building, gay news, Washington Blade

The D.C. Center’s grand opening in the Reeves Center is set for Saturday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and other public officials are scheduled to attend the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community’s official grand opening ceremony on Saturday, Nov. 23, at its new space in the city’s Reeves Center municipal building at 14th and U streets, N.W.

The event, scheduled to take place from 12-4 p.m., represents an important step in the D.C. Center’s 11-year history, according to Center President Michael Sessa.

“The move into Reeves is a monumental milestone not only for this version of The D.C. Center, but for all prior attempts and versions of a ‘GLBT’ center in D.C. since the ‘80s,” Sessa said in a statement.

The new space is located on the ground floor of the Reeves Center, with entrances both on 14th Street and through the building’s seven-story tall atrium, which the Center plans to use for events too large to fit into its new offices.

D.C. Center Executive Director David Mariner points out that the new space is double the size of the space at the old offices less than two blocks away at 1318 U St., N.W. Mariner said that through generous donations from key supporters, including local businesses, the new space was designed as a community center and includes expanded amenities such as a large conference room and office space for at least two LGBT organizations that will share the new space.

“I think we’re one step closer to the community center that we’ve dreamed about,” Mariner said. “And with twice as much square footage we’re going to be able to do a lot more,” he said.

The city announced earlier this year that it plans to sell the Reeves Center to a private developer and that the sale would likely result in the building being demolished as soon as three years from now. But Gray and other city officials have promised to make sure the D.C. Center finds a suitable new home if and when it’s forced to leave the Reeves Center prior to the end of its 15-year lease.

Sessa, meanwhile, announced in a Nov. 14 statement that he will be stepping down as the Center’s president and CEO on Jan. 1 but will remain on the board. Sessa said Mariner is being promoted to a new post of executive director and CEO.

“My goal in serving as president and CEO was to ensure the long-term sustainability of a center, to get one established, as I always truly believed D.C. would be better served by a community center similar to how so many other cities across the nation and around the world have benefitted,” he said.

Sessa has played a lead role in transforming the Center from a fledgling start-up project with no permanent home in 2002 to a thriving LGBT organization, according Center board member and veteran lesbian activist Patricia Hawkins.


Mayor attends grand opening of D.C. Center’s new home

Jack Evans, Vincent Gray, D.C. Center, David Mariner, gay news, Washington Blade

Mayor Vincent Gray and four members of the D.C. Council were on hand for the D.C. Center’s grand opening on Saturday. (Washington Blade photo by Blake Bergen)

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and four members of the City Council joined more than 100 guests on Saturday for the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community’s grand opening celebration of its new offices in the Reeves Center municipal building at 14th and U streets, N.W.

With Gray and Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) standing before an overflowing crowd in the Center’s conference room, Center President and CEO Michael Sessa drew loud applause and cheers when he shouted, “We’re finally here – hooray!”

Also attending the event were Council members David Grosso (I-At-Large) and Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Busboys and Poets restaurant owner Andy Shallal, who donated food from his restaurant.

Shallal, Evans and Bowser have announced they are candidates for mayor in the April 1, 2014 D.C. Democratic primary. All three as well as Gray, who has yet to announce whether he will run for re-election, have been longtime supporters of the LGBT community.

Gray reiterated statements he made earlier this year that the city will make sure the D.C. Center finds another suitable space in which to move if the Reeves Center closes over the next two or three years to make way for a new development project linked to a land swap deal to build a soccer stadium next to the city’s Southwest waterfront.

“I just want to put that to rest as best we can, that we didn’t come this far to have this be just a temporary stopover,” Gray said. “We’ve come this far to make sure that the D.C. Center has a place in the future that it can count on to be able to do its work.”

Gray and the Council members attending the grand opening celebration called the D.C. Center a vital part of the LGBT community and an important part of the cultural fabric of the city.

Gay sports advocate Brent Minor announced at the gathering that on behalf of the Dupont Social Club, which organizes the city’s annual Miss Adams Morgan drag pageant, he was presenting the D.C. Center with a check for $16,000 to help support the Center’s programs.

Martin Espinoza of Stonewall Kickball, a D.C.-based LGBT sports league, announced his group has donated $10,000 to the D.C. Center and has pledged $50,000 in contributions to the Center over the next five years.

Bernie Delia, executive director of Capital Pride, the organization that sponsors the city’s annual LGBT Pride parade and festival, said Capital Pride has pledged $5,000 to the D.C. Center. Capital Pride rents office space at the Center.

D.C. Allen, co-owner of the Crew Club, a D.C. gym and spa catering to gay men, said the Crew Club was pleased to have donated $25,000 to the D.C. Center earlier this year to “jump start” the Center’s campaign to raise money to complete the renovation work needed to get its new space at the Reeves Center ready for occupancy.

Saturday’s celebration marked the culmination of a competitive bidding process that began more than two years ago in which the Center submitted a bid to rent space at the Reeves Center under a city program that invited both commercial businesses and non-profit organizations to propose different ways the space in the city-owned building could be used that would benefit the city and the community. Gray announced last December that the D.C. Center won the bid after a restaurant that initially had been selected for the space withdrew.

“I want to thank the mayor and his staff,” Sessa said. “They have been wonderful to work with. They have been gracious. They have been patient. They have really helped us establish this fabulous space.”


D.C. Center Grand Opening

The D.C. Center for the LGBT Community held a grand opening and open house in its new location in the Reeves Center on Nov. 23. (Washington Blade photos by Blake Bergen) buyphoto