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A new home for HRC: the eight-story building, once the target of a terrorist attack, will be Washington, D.C.'s most visible gay headquarters. (Community).

The history of the B'nai B'rith building in Washington, D.C., might have been enough to scare the nation's largest gay and lesbian political organization from making it the group's new headquarters. In 1977 six Muslim terrorists took the eight-story building and its 140 occupants hostage. During the 39-hour ordeal hostages were beaten, stabbed, and threatened with having their heads cut off.

Then, a full 20 years later, the building and the blocks surrounding it were shut down for hours after the B'nai B'rith mail room received a package containing a petri dish and a note suggesting the dish contained anthrax.

Nevertheless, the Human Rights Campaign, which on October 13 unveiled a capital campaign for the purchase and renovation of the building, has never been more excited about its plan--despite the current security concerns plaguing the D.C. area

"Certainly, there are security considerations," said Jeff Sachse, HRC's capital campaign president. "The building is a very visible target. But we also learned from September 11 that structures stand for something important, and this will make us the first GLBT organization to have its own building in the nation's capital."

Indeed, the L-shaped edifice, which Sachse described as "mid-century modern," occupies a prominent corner lot at 17th Street and Rhode Island Avenue--right between the White House and Dupont Circle, the latter being the center of the city's large gay and lesbian community.

The white-brick and glass structure is scheduled to reopen as HRC's headquarters in spring 2003. Close to $19.5 million of the $25 million the group expects it needs to complete the project has already been raised. On October 13 major donors and supporters were the first to see the interior, which has been stripped to its concrete floors and steel beams.

The cavernous first floor will feature an "Equality Forum" for public events and receptions as well as a media center equipped with the latest satellite technology. A huge video monitor, which will run continuous programming, will be visible through floor-to-ceiling windows from the busy intersection. Floors 1 through 5 will accommodate the organization's 100 employees. The top three floors will be leased to tenants.

"This is not just a fiscally sound investment," Sachse says. "Conservative groups like the Family Research Council and the Heritage Foundation have built and expanded headquarters, and we need to have an equally solid base from which to operate."

But not everyone is convinced of the building's advantages. Since the project was announced last year, it has been a magnet for criticism, most of it focusing on the concentration of resources with a single gay and lesbian organization.

"There is no question owning a building can be very important for the long-term stability of an organization," said Bill Dobbs, a New York City lawyer who has sparred frequently with HRC. "But the problem is that there are many smaller, more innovative gay organizations out there that are vulnerable and struggling for money. My fear is, HRC will become a 999-pound monster that will gobble up the entire gay rights movement, and the building will only facilitate that trend."
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Author:Bull, Chris
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Nov 12, 2002
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