In August 2019, we interviewed Sheila Alexander-Reid at her home in Washington, D.C. Reid is the Director, Mayor's Office of LGBTQ Affairs, and Founding Member, Women in the Life Association. She talks about the origins of Women in the Life, her work in the Mayor’s Office, and the preservation of black lesbian herstory.
Sheila Alexander-Reid has been a vital part of the LGBT community for well over 20 years. She started as a party promoter back in the late 80’s/early 90’s with two other friends and called themselves VTR. In 1993, Sheila ventured out on her own and starting throwing Black lesbian parties under the Women in the Life brand. Filling up local party venues such as Tracks and Hung Jury to capacity, the popularity of her parties quickly gained momentum in the community. A stickler for quality and details, Sheila developed a strong following that’s still present to this day.
Moved by the death of her close friend and LGBT activist, Wanda Alston in 2002, she started a nonprofit organization, the Women in the Life Association. Sheila now wanted to use the same resources and drive she used to pack parties to address social justice issues for Lesbians in DC. She did this with cultural programs such as the popular Open Mic series, empowering movies screenings, and the Wanda’s Will Project, which helped raise awareness about the importance of having a written will, specifically, if you’re in a long-term relationship.
Sheila started as an advocate for the DC lesbian of color community, but grew to be a voice for the entire LGBTQ community while serving on the board of organizations such as SMYAL, and the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, a political LGBT organization instrumental in securing Gay Marriage for the District. Sheila’s charisma and outspoken nature enables her to “reach across the aisle” so to speak when it comes to race related issues in what many consider a racially segregated LGBT community here in DC.
Sheila has always worked hard to bring both visibility and awareness to the issues facing the LGBTQ community including transphobia, the stigma of HIV/AIDS, the isolation of older LGBTQ adults, and the impact of youth homelessness. From her printed magazine in the 1990’s, to her position as producer/ host of WPFW’s Inside Out, the only LGBTQ FM radio show in DC, to her current position as Director of the Mayor's Office on LGBTQ Affairs, she’s become a prominent and vocal change agent for our community.
In a 2008 Washington Post article, Sheila was asked what she’d want written on her grave stone. Her response was simply, "She tried to make a difference. “
Years later, it is clear that she has indeed made a permanent and positive difference in improving the lives of the often marginalized LGBT community here in the District.
Women in the Life Association website
Black Lesbian Resistance and Resilience
by Sheila Alexander-Reid, was originally published in the online publication, The Feminist Wire, on February 18, 2019.
D.C. Public Library to digitize Women in the Life Magazine
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