Mary Washington is not only a newly elected Maryland state legislator, who won her seat as a Democrat in the 141-member House of Delegates on Nov. 2. She is also only the second out black lesbian elected to statewide office in the nation.
And she’s confident about the expansion of LGBT rights in decidedly blue Maryland. Does she see same-sex marriage rights coming soon?
“Yes,” she declares, “I’m very encouraged that we will absolutely see recognition of civil marriage in Maryland within the next four years.”
Washington was endorsed by the Ministerial Alliance, the most prominent area inter-denominational coalition. She adds that “gays and lesbians have moved so far in Maryland already, and I strongly feel that we also now need to focus on protections for transgendered people.”
She recognizes that Maryland bucked “a red tide on Election Day,” when Democrats lost more than 650 state legislative seats nationwide. “Maryland now stands as a beacon of hope for progress and social justice,” according to Washington. The reason the Republican riptide faltered in Maryland is that, “we have a tradition of moderation and civility and we don’t typically have strong, ultra-conservative voters,” and she adds that “we also know how to organize our candidates for great campaigns.”
But even so, dirty tricks were employed late on Election Day, when robo-calls — what Washington called “ugly phone calls” to suppress minority turnout — went to more than 50,000 voters, urging them to “relax” and stay home instead of voting. According to stories in the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun, the automated calls were at the behest of a political operative working for former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, the Republican who lost the rematch race to Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat.
Washington, 48, the eldest of six children, is a Philadelphia High School for Girls graduate. She took a while to complete college, calling herself “a very non-traditional student” who had to work for several years and then enrolled in Antioch University’s branch campus in Philadelphia. She earned a bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate in 1987.
While in college she was already politically active, she says, protesting often against Reagan-era social and economic policies. She coordinated volunteers for voter registration during the Rainbow Coalition’s Freedom Summer in 1984.
In 1989, she moved to Baltimore to begin a doctoral study in sociology at Johns Hopkins University, where she was elected president of the university’s Graduate Student Association. With her emphasis on demographic studies, population statistics and education, she focused in particular on racial data gathered through the U.S. Census.
As for Baltimore, it was love at first sight for the city, she now says. But in 1996, she began a four-year stint teaching sociology at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and then in 2000 she won a post-doctoral fellowship back in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, she was exploring her sexual orientation and coming out, but she mostly keeps such aspects of her personal life, including details on the person she is dating now, private.
After her return to Baltimore, she founded the city’s HousingStat program, targeting the municipal housing agency to make it more accountable to the needs of residents. In her own northeast Baltimore neighborhood, she served as president of the Abell Improvement Association for two years.
In 2006, she ran for but narrowly lost election to the House of Delegates. Then, in 2007-2008 she was an organizer in Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. But she also had her eye on running again in the next state legislative election in 2010. This time Washington ran on the “leadership team” in the 43rd District on a slate with Sen. Joan Carter Conway and Dels. Curt Anderson and 18-year House veteran Maggie McIntosh, also a lesbian, who since 2001 has been in the House Democratic leadership as majority leader.
The state will now send a record number of seven openly gay or lesbian lawmakers to Annapolis, three more than before, including incumbent State Sen. Rich Madaleno in Montgomery County, along with incumbent Dels. Heather Mizeur, Anne Kaiser and McIntosh, joined by freshmen Dels. Bonnie Cullison, Luke Clippinger and Washington.