The below letter was sent this week to city councillors:

I have looked at the 2011-12 budget message and once again note that the GLBT Commission is invisible. It doesn’t appear in the organization chart and it of course has a budget of $0 with no staff.

Contrast this to the Human Rights Commission with a budget of $222,615; the Women’s Commission with a budget of $217,720; the Peace Commission with a budget of $119,590. The budget for the Disabilities Commission is not clearly visible so I don’t know it’s size. I pick these four other commissions because they, like the GLBT Commission, were created to address various human rights issues and to serve the needs of a set of people who among other things have a history of discrimination.

Of course their functions and operations are different, but still I’d like to know how such an allocation of funds and staffing is justified and what you could do to improve the situation?

As a review:

The GLBT Commission was formed in 2004 as the result of an order from councillor Denise Simmons and commenced meeting in 2005. An ordinance (2.125) was created in 2007 to properly define the commission thanks to the help of then councillors Michael Sullivan and Brian Murphy, who were co-chairmen of the Ordinance Committee. Among other things, Section 2.125.050 of the ordinance states “There shall be an Executive Director of the GLBT Commission …”

We have an active commission — most of the commissioners do work between meetings and I believe we have accomplished a lot with no staff support or budget. We have been doing lots of outreach with tables at city events such as Mayfair and are participating in events such as the LGBT film festival and the LGBT Equal Rights conference. We have been vigilant about expiring terms and reappointments. You can see our minutes on the commission Web pages: http://www.cambridgema.gov/glbt

The commission has used several GLBT town meetings, input from the commissioners — many of whom are connected to other GLBT organizations — and other input from the public to decide what to work on. The initial focus was youth in the schools, public safety and seniors. Our two most salient accomplishments were as follows:

For youth we were successful in getting Project10 East reinstated and properly budgeted, as well as support for the GLBT family liaison; we continue to work with this group. For public safety, our work with the police department got GLBT training by the Gay Officers Action League instituted as a part of the standard training, and we now have a commitment from the fire department for this training. The commission got an award from GOAL for this effort in 2009, and this year Lt. Rick Riley was recognized by GOAL for his work with the police and fire departments.

The commission has gotten some support for small projects, including some minor expenses, from the mayor’s office, both when Simmons was mayor and since David Maher was elected. Minor expenses have also been covered from commissioners’ own pockets.

In 2007 we defined a project to assess the policies and practices with regard to GLBT seniors in housing and medical facilities. This is a very important issue for a growing number of people, and when described to various professionals and individuals in the city government, agreement was reached that such an effort was merited. The scope of this effort is far beyond what can be done by volunteers on the commission and needs some staff support. This year the mayor’s office is about to hire an intern to commence work on this project; it will need funding as it goes forward. As a member of the Silver Ribbon Commission, I feel it will be an important issue to include in the Aging in Place initiative.

There are a number of projects we want to work on but are hampered by not having staff or even a representative anywhere in the city government outside of the council and the commission itself. Late last year we raised two issues: gender-neutral bathrooms and a remedy to the unfairness of the federal Defense of Marriage Act on the taxation of benefits. Simmons placed several orders. These are being worked on (I hope) in the city offices, but there is no champion on the city staff to help see that these efforts move forward.

We worked with the Cambridge Public School system earlier to reinstate and augment funding and staffing for Project 10 East and more recently in a more passive fashion. There are many other high school-aged youths attending private and charter schools in Cambridge that do not have active gay-straight alliances, but the lack of our staffing makes it difficult to press this issue. The recent state bullying law has been enacted, and our commission wants to make sure the training and related programs in all schools in Cambridge properly address GLBT issues; but again, doing so is beyond the means of volunteer commissioners.

I have met several times with Deputy City Manager Richard Rossi, who has said he would help find some support. For last year he said that the new to-be-hired executive director of the Human Rights Commission might be able to take on some projects; for various reasons that didn’t work out, and that executive director resigned later in the year. I met again with him and he talked to Colleen Johnson and Brian Corr of the Human Rights and Peace commissions about providing some help. Sarav Chidambaram (the other co-chair) and I met with them several times but essentially they profess to be too busy to help other than a few minor things.

As a possible remedy to the lack of budget, councillor Leland Cheung placed a policy order May 10, 2010, that you all sponsored, asking the city manager to address the issue of unfunded commissions (I think the GLBT Commission is the only one, not counting the Immigration Commission, which was never even created). This order has been carried in the Awaiting Reports section of the council agenda as item 10-79 for almost one year!

I am asking you to address this issue with the city manager and find some funding for miscellaneous expenses and some dedicated staff. The ordinance specifies an executive director; this does not have to be a full-time position, but to meet the needs and issues faced by some of the GLBT people who live in, work in and visit Cambridge there should be some dedicated staff to work on projects identified by the GLBT Commission.

I am happy to meet with any or all of you to discuss this further.

Sincerely,

John W. Gintell, co-chair of the GLBT Commission