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By Mark Segal
This past week was a killer. I participated in a historic conference at the Department of Housing and Urban Development headquarters in Washington, D.C., then headed to New York City for the annual Pennsylvania Society weekend at The Waldorf Astoria. But they both had one thing in common that illustrates a weakness in our LGBT community nationwide. Here are the lessons learned from a week of presentations, meetings, schmoozing and being on display.
At the HUD conference, most cities, when presenting their dream or in-the-pipeline projects for LGBT senior/elder housing, bemoaned the fact that there just is no money out there due to budgets cuts, banks not giving loans and/or the recession. That was until Philadelphia stepped up to the podium and explained that there is money out there: It’s just that, as a community, we have not learned how to get our fair share. And it is fair share. We pay taxes and deserve to have our community receive some of those taxes back for our community, just as other communities do. It’s called equality. It should come back in the form of help for the less advantaged in our community or building for the future where there is no safe place presently.
Many of the LGBT senior-housing projects, in city after city, have not done their homework on funding. They did not know those magic words that other communities know: economic development. Is the LGBT community getting its fair share of economic development? No! So what is it? When a major project is started, in the announcement they state that part of its funding is from a block grant for economic development. Those funds are various government allotments to localities. Is your project an economic development? Here’s what you need to ask yourself. Does it not supply 100-200 construction jobs while being built? Yes. Carpenters, electricians, plumbers and suppliers of all sorts. And if you partner with your local LGBT chamber of commerce, many of those suppliers can be LGBT or LGBT-friendly. That’s millions of dollars in economic development in your locality and your community. You are also creating new full-time jobs when the project is completed.
So the next time you see an elected official announcing a new hotel, community center or convention center, look for the words “economic development grant” and see how many millions of your tax dollars are going to that project. Then start to dream. Have a vision for your community.
As I’ve noted previously, it takes political clout to get this done. And in Pennsylvania, we have an opportunity to see the officials who make funding decisions all in one place each year: It’s called The Pennsylvania Society. At last weekend’s annual event, I saw no fewer than eight LGBT political players — out of over 800 attendees. Now this is Pennsylvania, but there are equivalent organizations in every state and every city. Get yourself invited or become a member. Once there, you must be seen and heard. Take the time to chat with your governor at every chance, whether or not you agree with him or her on any given subject. The same goes for the mayor and every other step of the political ladder to funding.
We are a strong community and we can achieve our community’s needs, but we can only do so in the manner that other communities have done so in the past. While each of us there from the LGBT community last weekend had his or her own agenda, we knew we could call on the others for support if need be: Collectively, we are a force. Not only do we know that, the 800 people present knew that.