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) Â
The shooting of a transgender woman early Thursday morning on Eastern Avenue in Northeast D.C., which took place six days after another trans woman was stabbed 40 times near Stanton Road, S.E., has prompted LGBT activists to call a âcommunity responseâ meeting tonight at the LGBT community center.
Police announced they made an arrest in the stabbing case on Wednesday, charging 23-year-old Michael McBride of Southeast D.C. with assault with intent to kill. McBride was scheduled to appear in court on Friday for an unrelated robbery charge.
âIn light of the recent violence against the transgender community, Earline Budd along with D.C. Trans Coalition, Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence, and the D.C. Center invite you to a community gathering this Friday, [June 28] at 5:30 p.m.,â said D.C. Center director David Mariner in a Facebook announcement. The D.C. Center is located at 1318 U St., N.W.
Police officials andÂ members of the departmentâs Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit were expected to attend the meeting.
Budd, a longtime D.C. transgender activist, informed fellow activists early Thursday morning in an email alert that police had just reported that a trans woman was shot by an unidentified male suspect about 6 a.m. on or near the 6000 block of Eads Street, N.E.
Police said later that the woman, whose name had not been publicly released, was standing near the corner of Eastern Avenue and Eads Street when two male suspects approached her. One of the suspects shot her in the left buttocks in what was said to be a non-life threatening gunshot wound, a police source said.
The woman was taken to a nearby hospital where she was treated and was expected to be released later in the day or on Friday.
Police in D.C. and Prince Georgeâs County, Md., which borders on Eastern Avenue, and community leaders from both sides of the city-county line, have said the area is widely known as a place where transgender sex workers congregate. However, transgender activists have said the area is also known as a gathering place for transgender women who are not involved in prostitution.
In an email to LGBT activists, Sgt. Matt Mahl, supervisor of the D.C. police departmentâs Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, said police found the woman suffering from the gunshot wound on the 6000 block of Eads Street, N.E., where she is believed to have fled immediately after being shot.
Mahl said affiliate members of the GLLU were among the first officers to arrive at the scene. No arrests had been made in the case as of late Thursday night. He said that as of late Thursday investigators had not identified a motive for the attack.
The stabbing victim, Bree Wallace, 29, told police she knew the man who stabbed her from the neighborhood where she lived. A police report said the stabbing took place inside an abandoned house at 3038 Stanton Rd., N.E., which is located a few blocks from the 2400 block of 15th Place, S.E., where Wallace lives.
Budd said Wallace was one of her clients at the D.C. transgender advocacy organization Transgender Health Empowerment. Budd said Wallace told her that the suspect, later identified as McBride, sent her a text message asking to meet her. The police report says Wallace told police she intended to meet up with McBride to buy a cigarette from him.
McBride âthen suddenly started to stab [her] for unknown reasons,â the police report says.
In a telephone interview with the Blade from her hospital bed on June 23, Wallace said, âI donât know why he did it. He didnât say anything.â
Budd and transgender activist Ruby Corado, director of Casa Ruby, an LGBT community center that reaches out to the transgender and Latino communities, each have made appeals to the police and LGBT community to take action to address a growing problem of anti-transgender violence in the city.
The D.C. Center for the LGBT Community is scheduled to move into its new space in the cityâs Reeves municipal building on Sept. 1, according to executive director David Mariner.
Mariner said the renovation of the new space may not beÂ finished at that time but the ground floor office space with street access will be sufficiently completed to allow the center to move in.
And while the move-in date wonât take place until Sept. 1 the Center will hold its first official event at the Reeves Center Aug. 1-4. Mariner said the Centerâs annual OutWrite Book Fair will be held in the Reeves Centerâs first floor atrium, where book readings,Â book discussions and poetry readings will take place.Â Vendors are also expected toÂ offer a wide selection ofÂ new and used books at the event.
The move-in comes three months after the Center signed a 15-year lease with the city to rent space in the highly desirable Reeves Center, which is located at 14th and U streets, N.W. Plans to build a new high-rise office building at the site of the Centerâs current location at 1318 U St., N.W. forced the Center to look for a new home.
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 cityâs 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.
Grayâs 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.
âWe are going to make sure they are relocated to a suitable place,â Gray said in response to a question from the Blade.
GrayÂ announced that the land swapÂ 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 cityâs aging and outdated RFK Stadium.
âSince 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,â Center Board President Michael Sessa said in a July 26 statement.
âUnfortunately, 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,â 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 isÂ expected to include residential and commercial space.
D.C. Center Executive Director David Mariner noted on Thursday following the mayorâs news conference that the Centerâs 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 Centerâs stay in the building is likely to be two or three years rather than 15 years or more, Mariner said the Centerâs board must decide whether it still makes sense to move into the Reeves building.
âI donât think we are prepared to invest the time, energy and labor on a massive renovation project if you canât guarantee that weâll be there for more than two years,â Mariner told Brian Hanlon, director of the D.C. Department of General Services (DGS) in a conversation following the news conference.
âYou mentioned time and money and investment and I think there are ways to incorporate all those things into where weâre going,â 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. Centerâs 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.
âWhat Iâm saying is the DGS, the mayor, the government is committed to making sure you all find a home in Ward 1,â Hanlon told Mariner. âItâs my understanding that thatâs the epicenter of the community that you serve. So weâre committed to working that through.â
Sessa told the Blade earlier in the day on Friday that Center officials will be meeting next week with Grayâs chief of staff Christopher Murphy and possibly others from the mayorâs office to discuss the Centerâs options.
âOf course thatâs under review,â said Sessa when asked if the Center was considering dropping plans to move into the Reeves building. âEverything is under review. But what action we take has to be based on our discussion with the city, which hasnât happened yet.â
In the Centerâs statement released later in the day on Friday Sessa said, âWe 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 mayorâs plans and working with the city to ensure a permanent home for the LGBTQ community.â
Fate of gay nightclub unclear
Robinson of the City Administratorâs 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 Ziegfeldâs/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.
âThere are no plans to do eminent domain for anything except whatâs in the footprint of the site [of the stadium],â he said. âThere are no plans to close any other facility.â
However, Ziegfeldâs/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 Ziegfeldâs/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.
âI want to make it completely clear that I am not the one forcing him out,â Chernoff said. âSo if he chooses to do something because of whatever economic pressure there is or something like that, that would be his choice.â
Carroll couldnât immediately be reached for comment.
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance President Rick Rosendall said LGBT community advocates called on the city to help Ziegfeldâs/Secrets find another suitable location when it was displaced in 2006 by construction of the Washington Nationals Baseball Stadium.
The baseball stadium development forced Ziegfeldâs/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 Ziegfeldâs/Secrets to find a suitable new home if the club is displaced yet again by development triggered by the proposed soccer stadium.
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 thedccenter.org for full schedule and details
It would be a mistake to assume that all the authors appearing at this yearâs OutWrite LGBT Book Fair are small-time writers whoâve all self-published their work.
Novelist Manil Suri, who will be presenting his adventure novel âThe City of Devi,â had his first book âThe Death of Vishnuâ become a bestseller in several countries that has been translated into 27 languages. Poet Joseph Ross â like Suri, a teacher/professor â had his books published by Main Street Rag Publishing based in Charlotte, N.C., and even though William Sterling Walkerâs short story collection âDesire: Tales of New Orleans,â is his first book, it was published by Chelsea Station Editions (which will exhibit at this yearâs fair) and his stories have appeared in several magazines and anthologies.
âWe got a lot of submissions from folks who want to come read so itâs actually become quite competitive,â says David Mariner, director of the DC Center, which produces the fair, now in its third year. âWe were lucky to have [lesbian writer] Julie Enszer on the planning committee this year and she was âŠ very valuable in the process.â
Mariner says in previous years the readings typically attract 30 or 40 people at any given time with a âcouple hundredâ 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 Centerâs current location on U Street. Mariner says the events will not be affected by last weekâs announcement about changes to the Reeves Buildingâs fate, where the Center had been planning to move permanently.
Mariner says âthe majorityâ of this yearâs authors have had their work published by traditional publishers but he says thatâs less a significant distinction than it may have been several years ago as the industry is changing rapidly.
âItâs a little harder to say now who meets that criteria because the lines have really blurred,â Mariner says. âIn fact, thatâs one discussion weâre going to have at the fair.â
Ross has been writing poetry since college about 20 years ago. The D.C. resident says his poetry book âGospel of Dust,â 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.
âPoetry has the power to move us both emotionally and intellectually,â Ross says. âNo one says, âWould you read an essay at our wedding?â Itâs there in our important moments â births, deaths, marriages, people turn to poetry. Itâs not above anything else, but it moves us in ways other genres canât.â
Suriâs latest book, which came out in February from Bloomsbury, tells an adventure story of a woman searching Bombay/Mumbai (Suriâs native land where all his books are set) for her missing husband with â unbeknownst to her â a gay guy who had been her husbandâs 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.
âYou see some of that in the characters,â he says. âInitially 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 âŠ you see how people treat Jaz and Karun as a couple even though they donât know theyâre together explicitly.â
Walker says the nine short stories in his book âDesire: Tales of New Orleansâ all pertain to the title city in some way and have gay themes.
âIâm gay and I have always considered myself as having a gay audience,â he says. âIâve always felt that way. I consider myself a gay writer with gay sensibilities.â
He says itâs important for gay writers to have spaces such as the OutWrite festival.
âThere are very few venues left for gay books,â he says. âThere are very few gay bookstores left and other independent bookstores are going away too. âŠ I think itâs 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.â
âThe overarching message of all of our arts programming is that itâs very powerful and moving and affirming when we hear our own stories through our own voices in our own spaces,â he says. âItâs a powerful and important part of building our community.â
With little fanfare and no official announcement, the D.C. LGBT Community Center moved into its new home at the cityâs Reeves Center municipal building last week in the heart of the cityâs 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 Centerâs 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 Centerâs board announced it was stopping construction on the ground floor, storefront space âuntil we have a better understanding of where the mayor proposes to relocate the Center.â
In a separate statement to the Blade on Friday, Sessa said, âThe 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 weâll issue a communication for all.â
Sessa added, âIâm working with the board to develop a statement that will articulate where we stand and what has happened since construction was halted.â
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 â including gay Council members David Catania (I-At-Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) â 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 Centerâs 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 cityâ 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 Centerâs first-floor atrium, which he said the Center will use as its main entrance. He said the entrance to the street wonât be used as a primary entrance.
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and other public officials are scheduled to attend the D.C. Center for the LGBT Communityâs official grand opening ceremony on Saturday, Nov. 23, at its new space in the cityâs 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. Centerâs 11-year history, according to Center President Michael Sessa.
âThe 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 âGLBTâ center in D.C. since the â80s,â 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 buildingâs 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.
âI think weâre one step closer to the community center that weâve dreamed about,â Mariner said. âAnd with twice as much square footage weâre going to be able to do a lot more,â heÂ 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 itâs 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 Centerâs 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.
âMy 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,â 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.
The D.C. LGBT Community Center held a fundraiser Jan. 8 at MOVA to launch a new program to assist LGBT foreign nationals who apply for U.S. political asylum to escape persecution in their home countries.
The program, called Center Global, is aimed at providing temporary housing, financial assistance and referrals to service providers for LGBT foreigners in the D.C. area who are going through the complicated process of applying for and awaiting approval for political asylum, according to Center director David Mariner and Center Global coordinator Matthew Corso.
The two noted that legal groups have long provided pro bono legal representation for people going through this process, some of whom have fled their home countries such as Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Jamaica after encountering violent assaults and death threats due to their sexual orientation.
But those going through the legal process are banned from working in the U.S. until their asylum application is approved, making it difficult for them to pay for housing, food and other basic necessities, Mariner and Corso said.
âBasically, what weâre trying to do is raise the funds to help support the folks who are here going through this process,â said Corso. âWe also want to raise awareness within the D.C. LGBT community of the plight of LGBT people being persecuted in other countries around the world.â