- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 8, 2004

D.C. officials will provide a program in which homosexual adults will mentor foster-care teens who say they are homosexual, the acting director of a newly created city agency said yesterday.

“We are trying to do something good,” said Wanda Alston, acting director of the Mayor’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs. “This is a tough city, and we’ve got a lot of kids we’ve got to look out for, and that is across the board.”

According to Ms. Alston, D.C. Family Court officials would pair children as young as 15 with homosexual mentors, who would act as “good role models.” Her office would recruit potential mentors, and the court would screen them and the children to prevent the youngsters from being victimized.

“We are not indoctrinating anyone [into a homosexual lifestyle],” Ms. Alston said. “The goal is not to address the lifestyle, but the individual. … If [homosexual mentors] can help a person with their life and to assimilate into society, which is hard, that is the goal — to help them with their everyday life.”

Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, said the homosexual-mentor program could be beneficial, as long as the adults are chosen carefully.

“There has to be a thorough background check for mentors, whether it’s teachers or guardians or no matter what the program might be, when you are dealing with youth,” said Mr. Lynch, whose group represents 39 downtown churches. “In general, I don’t think sexual orientation [affects] someone’s ability to be a mentor.”

The Washington Interfaith Network and the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church, declined to comment on the proposed program.

But Mr. Wilson, whose Southeast church boasts more than 7,000 members, has said he has “no problem” with an office dedicated to homosexual residents.

“I guess that’s part of the constituency,” said the pastor, a former mayoral candidate. “They have got offices for everything else.”

Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday named Ms. Alston to head the new, Cabinet-level office. She had served as the mayor’s special assistant for homosexual issues since November 2001, and the promotion increased her salary by $4,000 — to about $76,000 a year.

The office will serve as a liaison to the homosexual community, identify their special needs, advise the mayor on homosexual issues, and provide opinions and information on policy and legislation affecting homosexuals.

“Today, we join cities like Boston, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, which all have offices or senior officials designated to address [homosexual] health,” Mr. Williams said.

The office will have two staff members, Ms. Alston and her assistant. Its operations will be funded in the mayor’s executive office budget for fiscal 2005.

Ms. Alston said she will seek separate funding from the D.C. Council next year.

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