Hello, readers! After a short break, your exclusive update from City Hall returns! I have just completed my first six months as your LGBTQ liaison in the office of Mayor Catherine E. Pugh and I could not be more thrilled about the work I have the pleasure of doing, the work our mayor is doing, and the work our community is doing to move Baltimore forward.

The Baltimore City LGBTQ Commission is shaping up to be an impactful group of advocates who are ready to get to work. Our commission last met in January, where we began to brainstorm and design our strategic direction, starting with our mission, vision and values. Words such as “connect,” “capacity,” and “advise” came up commonly in our brainstorming. We feel it’s important to be able to clearly communicate who we are and what we do as a new working group, not only for the community’s understanding, but also to protect us against anyone who may appear to be inconsistent with our values and direction. To our benefit, this commission convenes a diverse group of opinions, identities, talents, and backgrounds. It becomes important for us to ensure all members at the table are moving in the same direction for the benefit of all our community. Our commission unequivocally stands with and for the transgender community, women and lesbians, and against any ideas which seek to exclude any member of our community.

Although the commission is in its beginning stages, members have already involved themselves in some exciting and important projects. Members of the Economic Development and Employment committee drafted and submitted testimony for Senate Bill 280, an effort to raise Maryland’s minimum wage to $15 by 2023. The committee’s testimony stressed the importance and impact for the LGBTQ community, particularly our youth. The education committee recently testified at a Baltimore City Public Schools Policy committee meeting to show support for district policies that would enact important protections for transgender students. Members of the health and human services committee participated on a panel discussion for the Atlantic Fellows for Global Health, a program out of George Washington University. The event welcomed a group of 30 fellows from all over the globe to Baltimore City Hall, where we discussed LGBTQ health disparities and lessons learned from Baltimore that can be applied to approaches to health inequity around the world. If you are interested in becoming involved with the Baltimore City LGBTQ Commission, please do not hesitate to contact me for information about joining.

Key leadership positions are changing in our city, including a new police commissioner. The mayor’s office worked diligently to ensure citizens of Baltimore have accessible facetime with the incoming commissioner. Acting Police Commissioner Michael Harrison just finished a tour of community meetings in all nine police districts, which I’ve heard has gone well. Of course, I am very interested in meeting with Acting Commissioner Harrison to discuss issues of safety and engagement with the LGBTQ community. It may surprise you to learn that there is an LGBTQ Police Commissioner Advisory Group, a group I worked with years ago. I plan to re-engage with this group, and enjoy a chance to meet and get to know Acting Commissioner Harrison. Our community is on its way to reclaiming our traction and visibility in Baltimore, and many of us have strained relationships with police officers. It is important we are on his radar and our well-being be included in his vision of success for our city.

Often, I am contacted by community members who feel like they have nowhere else to turn. They have learned about my role and are desperately looking for an advocate. I see this as an incredibly important part of my job, helping our community navigate city services, city agencies, housing and employment concerns, or experiences of discrimination and harassment. Thank you to those who have referred folks to me, and please continue. I have also enjoyed being a needed resource inside of our government. I am currently preparing to provide LGBTQ cultural competency training for the Mayor’s Office of Human Services, Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, and the Mayor’s Office of African-American Male Engagement. One of my goals is to see every office and city agency receiving ongoing training, and employees and consumers feel empowered to speak up when something goes wrong.

Just because something isn’t labeled as LGBTQ specific, doesn’t mean our community cannot take advantage of the opportunity. Exciting things are coming to our city, like opportunity zone funding and community catalyst grants. I encourage our community to see themselves fully within the fabric of our city and consider these programs. Although you will be updated here monthly, make sure you are following the Baltimore City LGBTQ Affairs Facebook page to stay updated in real-time. As always, I can be contacted at ​jabari.lyles@baltimorecity.gov​. It is an honor to be our community’s connection to local government. Please contact me at any time for questions or more information. t

The author is Baltimore City LGBTQ Affairs liaison.

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Jabari Lyles