Long-time community leader Jabari Lyles discusses his new role as the LGBTQ Affairs Liaison in the Baltimore City Mayor’s Office.

Jabari Lyles

Earlier this year, I moved on from my role as board president of Baltimore’s LGBTQ community center, GLCCB. After three eventful years of serving as president, acting executive director, and Baltimore Pride chair, I was ready to take everything I had learned, ponder what I hadn’t learned, enjoy some time to heal, and re-emerge into the next phase of life. I am confident GLCCB is in a better place today than how I found it on the third floor of the Waxter Center in 2015. I was well into my second year as executive director of GLSEN Maryland, advocating for safer schools for LGBTQ youth, when I learned about the new position at the mayor’s office.

After working for GLSEN in various roles for over 13 years, spending some time at FreeState Justice, GLCCB, and being an elementary and middle school teacher, I left the world of nonprofits, grassroots organizations and schools, and found my way to City Hall to work in local government. I am just over one month into my new role as LGBTQ Affairs Liaison, working in the office of Mayor Catherine E. Pugh. Words cannot express how grateful and excited I am to employ all of the strategies, relationships, and lessons I’ve learned working in nonprofits and teaching, and apply them towards making far-reaching, systemic change for our community and for our city.

Our community has existed in Baltimore City for years without a strongly defined relationship with city government. Our leaders, service providers, activists and families have worked hard to meet the needs of our community. Every year, for over the past forty, we have gathered to celebrate our identity and take pride in who we are. When we didn’t have a way to disseminate news and information relevant to our community, we created one. We watched our loved ones die, or become victims of hate crimes, discrimination, and violence. Our organizations struggle to find dollars to support all of the complex issues we face. Although the epidemic was and is a terrible scourge on our community, and yes, also showed how strong we truly are, we are more than HIV/AIDS. We are business leaders, academics, artists, consumers, and voters. We play a tremendous part in making this city run. Our youth are strong and our elders are wise. Our history is rich, and our time is now. It is about time our community takes its rightful place as a salient part of Baltimore’s identity.

I see my role in the mayor’s office as the first step towards ensuring the promise of living, working, and playing happily in Baltimore is fully extended and available to the LtGBTQ community. I am grateful for the commitment of Madame Mayor Pugh and her administration to see this vision through. During this first month in the mayor’s office, I have been warmly welcomed, well respected and diligently consulted as a leader and a resource to help this city serve all of its people. I have started to navigate and introduce myself to the many departments and offices within City Hall to offer my perspective and service. I am still learning the layout of the building, and have at many times, admittedly, gotten lost. Things are looking up, though! Last week, I found my way to the Mayor’s Office of African-American Male Engagement all by myself. Everyone I’ve met so far in this office is professional, competent, caring people who want to make a difference in this city. I am honored to be on this team, and honored to work with the mayor on her top issues that more broadly affect everyone in Baltimore, such as violence reduction, neighborhood investment, youth empowerment, job creation, and extension of essential resources.

The support and encouragement I’ve received from the LGBTQ community of Baltimore has been overwhelming. I know I’m in the right place because many of you have said so. When my new role was announced, the consistent message I heard was, “you were the right person for the job.” To have the trust of this community in a role like this is invaluable. Over the years I have proven my commitment to the people, my willingness to listen, my allegiance to my community, and my insistence on quality, change-making work. You trusted me when I took over the GLCCB years ago, during a time when it was easy not to. I appreciate your trust in me now.

So, what am I up to? Aside from having necessary introductory meetings with community leaders, city agency leaders and community members, I’ve started to involve myself in aa few key initiatives important to our community. I have been actively participating in meetings and conversations regarding the Baltimore Police Department Consent Decree, and have been closely following the efforts of the BPD Monitoring Unit. I have joined the Maryland LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, working to strengthen relationships and improve programs for LGBTQ-owned businesses here in Baltimore. Recently, you may have seen the mayor declare recognition of National Coming Out Day and Baltimore’s participation in the Open to All public engagement campaign, to ensure our businesses and public spaces are open to all individuals. I’ve started official Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram profiles to share events and information for the LGBTQ community. I’ve met with several leaders of local organizations to brainstorm ways government can help with achieving their missions. I’ve met with community associations to support LGBTQ citizens living in Baltimore’s neighborhoods. I’ve had substantive conversations with LGBTQ community members in restaurants, bars, events, or right in the middle of Park Avenue. Most relevant to this writing, I have arranged a monthly column here in Baltimore OUTLoud, where I hope to update the community each month on what I’m up to!

My number one goal is to stay connected and accessible to the community. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail at jabari.lyles@baltimorecity.gov. Let’s sit down and discuss what your plans are for our community, and together we’ll find a way to make it happen. Thank you again for your support and your trust.

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