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The D.C. Council voted Tuesday to pass a bill to better meet the needs of homeless youth who identify as ”lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender nonconforming, queer or questioning.” Passing unanimously on its first reading, the measure is expected to pass its second reading at the next full D.C. Council meeting, Jan. 7, 2014, before heading to Mayor Vincent Gray for signing.
The bill, originally introduced in October 2012 but never scheduled for a committee hearing, was re-introduced in January by co-sponsors Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4).
On Nov. 20, the measure went before the Committee on Human Services, chaired by gay Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who opted to amend the bill somewhat. Graham incorporated recommendations from a working group consisting of representatives from the Department of Human Services, shelters, service providers, advocates for homeless youth and representatives from the LGBT community. One such amendment included changing the definition of youth from minors under the age of 18 to a more expansive definition covering 23 and younger. At the request of Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), Graham also added term ”queer” to the bill’s definition of ”LGBTQ.”
The bill would require the Interagency Council on Homelessness to include recommendations for helping LGBTQ homeless youth in its annual report, and establishes a minimum number of beds to be made available for this demographic. The measure would also require shelters and other service providers to implement best practices for providing culturally competent care to such youth, and establishes a grant program to that end. Lastly, the bill adds the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs to the Interagency Council on Homelessness and gives that office grant-making authority.
The legislation also requires shelters to provide an overview of policies regarding protections for residents based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and requires that youth who are gender nonconforming be treated in accordance with their identity and expression, including being able to use gender-specific facilities.
If enacted, the measure will require a minimum of 10 beds be available for LGBTQ and instructs service providers to pursue best outcomes, whether that means mending familial relationships, for example, or providing health education. Funding for the beds and other infrastructure will be funded by a second city grant.
Eddy Ameen, an advocate for homeless LGBTQ youth who was one of those involved in trying to amend the bill to include youth up to age 24 and provide ”separate and secure” facilities for them, said he hopes activists will remain involved during implementation, should the bill become law. ”We hope for the best, and hope we can be part of that progress,” he said.
According to Ameen, District shelters are inadequate for the area’s homeless population, but he hopes that more capacity can be added for the general population as well as for LGBT youth. He also praised the grant processes that may fund the measure, in light of already slim resources.
The D.C. Council on Tuesday also paved the way for a memorial designation for ”Annie’s Way,” a stretch of Church Street NW between 16th and 17th Streets, in memory of Annie Kaylor, namesake of Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse and who was a strong supporter of the LGBT community. She died in July at age 85.