The good news came in June. The bad news followed in July. Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) needs to find ways to close a projected budget gap of approximately $6 million, and The Center, D.C.'s GLBT community center, is being asked to take a dramatic hit -- following the budgeting of new funding that would have taken The Center to the next level.
While The Center cuts are just one component of a very broad fiscal strategy, there is a fear that the GLBT community is being asked to make a disproportionately large and, some argue, a possibly fatal sacrifice to its community center.
"It is important to note that these monies are not supplemental funding, but are core to The DC Center's functional operations and absolutely essential to its survival," offered Pat Hawkins, a member of The Center's board and a licensed clinical social worker and clinical psychologist, who has worked in the community for decades, in testimony delivered at a July 24 Committee of the Whole public oversight hearing.
What was budgeted in June was $500,000 to help The Center find a permanent home. Currently, The Center occupies third-floor office space at 14th and L Streets NW, where the leadership has expressed a desire for a street level space more accessible to the community. The June figures also pledged an increase for The Center's Crystal Meth Working Group, raising funding for the successful program from $100,000 to $150,000. The budget-gap proposal would reduce the $500,000 to $200,000, and cut funding for the CMWG to $60,000.
"I think the Council understands the importance of a community center, but they're stuck with some difficult financial decisions," says David Mariner, executive director of The Center, adding that the budget-gap plan came as a surprise. "If it was an across-the-board cut, while that seems fair, it assumes everyone had the appropriate budget to begin with. I don't know if they understand how reasonable the original request was."
Mariner and others who testified July 24 point out that of the cities believed to have the largest gay populations, citing census data, D.C. is in the Top 5. The remaining four have GLBT community centers that own their buildings, thanks to substantial support from the cities in which they exist. By contrast, The Center is a much more barebones entity than those other centers.
Joining Hawkins and Mariner in testifying on The Center's behalf were Todd Metrokin, co-chair of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV), which is affiliated with The Center; Mark Meinke, founder and chair of the Rainbow History Project; and Mitch Wood, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance.
Metrokin's testimony may have been the most moving, as he explained how, after suffering a savage and homophobic attack in Adams Morgan a year ago, the roots for GLOV were planted at The Center: "I arrived to a small meeting room cramped with six people. With those six people, we quickly realized there was a problem in D.C. and I realized that with their support, I had a voice."
Mariner says he hopes to have a better sense of how the budget issues may be resolved within a couple of weeks. Till then, he'll be left to imagine worst-case scenarios.
"I'm nervous. We can't operate without support from the city."
For more information about The Center, visit www.thedccenter.org or call 202-682-2245.