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Sheila Alexander-Reid, a longtime community advocate and activist, has officially stepped down as director of the D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs to take a position with Los Angeles-based consultancy start-up BiasSync.
“We do an online assessment for companies to assess bias in the workplace, using proprietary software to anonymously identify unconscious bias in your company, whether it’s by department, by location, or whatever,” Alexander-Reid says of her new position with BiasSync. “It’s really sort of groundbreaking. I focused a lot on the LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections while the D.C. government. So I think this is sort of like taking it to the next level. I’ll focus on LGBTQ bias, as well as racial bias and gender bias.”
Alexander-Reid previously announced her intent to step down from the Office of LGBTQ Affairs last month, but had kept the identity of her new employer close to the vest, saying only that she would enter the private sector as a consultant in the area of workplace bias and diversity training. She is grateful to Mayor Muriel Bowser for giving her the opportunity to work in a prestigious and highly visible role within the mayor’s administration for the past six years.
“Six years, I thought, was a good run and I thought it was just time for me to sort of pass the baton to someone else, to continue the work and continue some of the progress that we have made and in our agency, as well as me looking forward to what’s next in my life,” Reid told Metro Weekly in an interview. “I plan to be able to do some more traveling, I plan to become a thought leader in the diversity, equity, and inclusion space, and I just felt that this was where opportunity meets preparation, and I had to go with it.”
As director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, Alexander-Reid was tasked with providing LGBTQ-related diversity training for D.C. government employees at all city agencies, advocating for policies and programs benefiting the District’s LGBTQ community, providing grants to community organizations, and working to combat LGBTQ youth homelessness, among other projects.
Alexander-Reid, who helped grow the staff of LGBTQ Affairs Office from two full-time employees to four full-time employees, says she’s particularly proud of her work to find homeless LGBTQ youth find emergency shelter and first aid, followed by temporary, transitional, and ultimately permanent housing. She touts the creation of a workforce development program for the transgender and nonbinary community, as well as financial resources allotted to the community in the mayor’s upcoming budget.
“We put several hundred thousand dollars in the budget for a new workforce development program for transgender and nonbinary adults. Last year’s budget included a workforce development program for LGBTQ youth, and I think that we did a great job on bringing to her attention the fact that there’s a gap between what the youth are receiving and what adults are receiving, so we’re filling that gap,” she says.
“This program came out of that, and it’s going to include wraparound services. Because you find that you can’t just give somebody a job and expect them to go be successful if they don’t have housing, if they don’t have mental health services, if they don’t have proper attire, and a proper sort of skill set. So these are the sorts of things that will be entrenched in that program that’s coming out next next year.”
Alexander-Reid also touts her work increasing the number of senior housing vouchers to try and help LGBTQ people remain in place or find affirming housing without having to “re-closet” themselves when they are forced to move into assisted-living facilities. The city also has plans to create the city’s first-ever domestic violence shelter for transgender and nonbinary adults seeking a safe space and support resources to help them deal with intimate partner violence.
“In addition, while we’ve always had grant authority, we haven’t always had a whole lot of grant funds,” she notes. “So the mayor put $70,000 in our budget for us to to use our grant authority to distribute and way that we see fit that go beyond just addressing homelessness. … That could be capacity building, that might be addressing public safety issues, or mental health issues. There’s a myriad of things that that we could use that money for, so I’m excited that that’s going to happen.
“There’s so many things that that we’ve been sort of advocating for, and to see all that coming to fruition is just really exciting. So I feel like now that’s a great legacy to leave this for someone else to build on these sort of very groundbreaking investments in the community,” Alexander-Reid adds. “I think that it’s going to put my office in a great place to move forward with whoever takes my place. And it’s going to allow D.C. to continue to be a leader in LGBTQ rights and protections.”
Over the past three decades in which Alexander-Reid has been a public figure within D.C.’s LGBTQ community, she is particularly impressed with how the transgender, queer, and nonbinary communities are being increasingly embraced by the larger movement.
“I think we’ve done a disservice to the transgender community, quite frankly. When we think about gay and lesbian rights and the whole sort of struggle for equality and equity, a lot of our ‘leaders’ of this movement really left the transgender community behind. And when you’re fragmented within yourself, it’s really hard to get society and mainstream America to come stand with you,” she says. “So what I’ve seen is this community coming together to realize that you have to help the least among us in order for us all to be successful, for us all to be treated fairly. That leaves me with a certain level of peace of mind, knowing that we are headed in the right direction.”
Alexander-Reid expects an interim director to be named to succeed her while a search is conducted for a permanent director. But she has some advice for her successor.
“Before you to come in with some sweeping changes, get the lay of the land and get the trust of the community. You’re really not going to be able to do much without having that support,” she says. “I think sometimes a lot of people come in and want to establish themselves as being in charge and make changes for the sake of making changes. But I would say, get the lay of the land, go around, talk to some of the key stakeholders, as well as some people who are not the usual suspects, and see what they need. Then. come back and assess where the gaps exist and come up with some policies and programs to address those gaps. But I would just say: listen first and act second.”
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