In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Los Angeles LGBT Center Chief of Staff Darrel Cummings received a phone call from U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, who represents several of the Center’s locations as part of California’s 28th district.
“He had two questions for me: ‘How are you and everyone at the Center doing?’ and ‘What can I do to help?’” Cummings shared during the virtual Big Queer Convo—the Center’s ongoing series of provocative community forums—featuring Schiff on April 28. “These two questions typify the relationship that the Center and our community have had with Congressman Schiff for a long time.”
During the one-hour conversation, Schiff recalled speaking at a somber gathering at the Center’s Village at Ed Gould Plaza the night after the 2016 Presidential Election.
“I think it’s fair to say none of us expected the hardships that would follow, even as pessimistic as we might have been on that night,” said Schiff, a 10-term congressman. “But we were able to gather as a community, and there was some comfort and healing in that. We’re not able to do that in person right now in this crisis, so we get together in virtual form. It’s very important to get together as community in any way we can to discuss the challenges that we face. As I said that night three-and-a-half years ago, this too shall pass. We will get through this.”
Cummings and Schiff were joined at the virtual event by Center staff members and clients from various departments who touched on several issues of the day, including COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, federal funding programs, and emerging needs as a result of the pandemic.
Seeking PPP Funds for The Center
With nearly 800 employees, the Center has so far not been able to qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides emergency loans for small businesses impacted by the pandemic. The PPP program tops off at 500 employees.
“It’s so galling to see these large companies and large lucrative businesses taking advantage of the small business program when a frontline health care provider like (the Center) can’t participate,” said Schiff, who is pursuing lifting the 500 person PPP cap on health centers. “I never imagined it was intended to cut off a vital health clinic like the Center is for our community.”
In response to COVID-19, the Center has quickly reinvented how to deliver much of its essential work in health, senior, and youth services as demand remains at pre-pandemic levels or higher.
“We had to figure out how do we not only rise to the occasion and continue to operate, but even expand our services,” explained Terra Russell-Slavin, the Center’s director of Policy and Community Building.
The Need for COVID-19 Testing and Tracing
Also discussed at length was concern over people—and politicians— being vigilant enough against the spread of the virus under mounting public and political pressure to reopen society.
“I am particularly worried that all of the talk and momentum around opening up our society will happen at the expense of our community and the community at large,” Cummings said. “The idea of opening up Los Angeles or California when we have no idea what the exposure might be—and the consequence of that—is really frightening to those of us who have seen these kinds of decisions before and understand communicative diseases.”
The congressman said it is essential that a real strategy be implemented from a scientific and public health perspective around testing, surveillance, and contact tracing in order to know the full scope of the spread of the virus.
“The LGBT community has experience with a health crisis like this, with the need to test and trace, and with discrimination in the face of a health crisis like this,” Schiff said. ”I think the community should be viewed as a great resource in terms of a wealth of information about dealing with an epidemic or a pandemic. Your insights are enormously important.”
For the latest news on the Center’s response to COVID-19 pandemic, visit lalgbtcenter.org/updates.