It’s certainly not Kansas and isn’t exactly Oz, but for gay and lesbian Americans there is no better place to call home than the District of Columbia, all other things being equal.
LGBT residents of D.C. enjoy an expansive complement of rights and protections equivalent to or exceeding those found anywhere else among the states. We are welcomed and embraced as full and equal citizens able to traverse life without much concern for legal or legislative matters related to sexual orientation — at least insofar as issues within local prerogatives not subject to exclusively federal governance.
It is considered virtually impossible to be elected to political office in D.C. – except perhaps a hyper-local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) position in a scarce few outlier neighborhoods – without being supportive of LGBT civil equality. Two gay politicians have long served on the D.C. Council. We are employed at all levels of local government and are active in all dimensions of broader community engagement, local issue advocacy and civic decision-making.
Being a locally focused gay community political activist in Washington has become roughly equivalent to the circumstance of the Maytag repairman famously characterized in commercials first televised in 1967, two years before the Stonewall Rebellion that launched the modern gay civil rights movement and which the annual Pride celebrations held across the country commemorate. There just isn’t that much to do.
There are scant business segments, industries, professions, or communal or social environments in the District you won’t find us. We really are absolutely everywhere.
Except for a few lingering myths held by some that our lives are intrinsically more fabulous or that we receive some special training in haute couture fashion, most of our neighbors treat us with the same level of benign disinterest that is the measure of interaction with their other urban neighbors. When plopped down at night on the sofa after a long day we might be watching “RuPaul’s Drag Race” instead of “America’s Got Talent” – or maybe not – but we’re just as likely to find a little mindless solace in front of the TV as the people next door.
In other words, we have become extraordinarily ordinary as residents of the nation’s capital.
That’s how it should be. Or at least that’s what we’ve collectively chosen to become.
Although our neighbors from surrounding locales in adjoining Maryland and Virginia are granted varying, and lesser, degrees of official recognition and civil protection, life for most of us in the metropolitan area is one of integration not of much unique concern to others. Over time and with rapidly accelerating momentum, acceptance and assimilation, including respect for our personal relationships, is increasingly the norm. The genesis of whatever obstacles we may confront or challenges we may encounter for the most part have little to do with our personal identities and relational, even familial, constructs.
As a result, we have the freedom to choose more geographically dispersed, less community cohesive domiciles and increasingly diverse contours of living than ever before. And we do.
Our personal search for identity, sense of belonging, circle of friends and a place to call home is less gay-centric today than at any time since those hustlers, drag queens, students and other patrons fought back against the police in that now historic Christopher Street bar and the slogan “Gay Power” became the rallying cry of the era.
While the annual gay Pride event schedule, parade and festival may not merit the same place on many a personal calendar as in years past, each June brings an opportunity for recalling our history, those who led us to where we are today, the memories of those no longer with us, the liberties still denied and the excitement of even better days to come.
Most important, though, is that at every Pride in every city or town every summer it is someone’s first time. For them it’s a chance to connect with something larger and a multiplicity of community endeavors, affirm their humanity and discover the confidence and comfort to move through the world. That, above all else, is the reason our annual freedom celebrations remain important.
For at least a day, or a weekend, we all feel a little bit more than ordinary.
Mark Lee is a local small business manager and long-time community business advocate. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.