When D.C. Council member David Catania last week announced that he had formed an exploratory committee to consider a possible run for mayor as an Independent candidate in next year’s general election, he made a significant observation in an interview with Washington Blade reporter Lou Chibbaro.
Recalling his first, and successful, run for Council – as a then-Republican in a 1997 special election to fill a vacant At-Large seat he has held ever since – Catania noted that “16 years ago when I was first elected to the Council in every sentence in every report, every story that came out in the weeks following my election there was always a comma – openly gay. It was a label that no matter what I was talking about it always included my sexual orientation. And 16 years later we don’t see that anymore.”
In other words, it now matters little that he is gay.
Catania is correct. There is, however, another side to the equation.
No more than perhaps a small number of District voters might reflexively hesitate before casting a vote for an openly gay candidate for public office solely due to sexual orientation. Conversely, there no longer exists much inclination by LGBT voters to support a candidate merely because he or she is gay.
With an estimated 10 percent of District adults being LGBT, the pool of gay voters is sizable. In fact, some political observers suggest that the community’s share among those casting votes might be even higher due to perceived greater electoral participation rates.
The impact of such a transition in LGBT voting proclivities is potentially substantial in D.C., if only as a factor for which a gay candidate can’t count on reaping a baseline benefit. We’re also more likely to react negatively to a vote-seeker’s too-transparent pandering based on our sexual orientation, whether by gay or non-gay candidates.
In a city where essential rights and responsibilities convey without restriction to all residents, LGBT voters will turn their attention to other issues affecting their lives and the community in which they live. There will undoubtedly be additional issues particular to LGBT voters despite the overall equality environment. However, as we have witnessed in recent months on matters of public policy affecting transgender residents, for example, there is little-to-no opposition among elected officials. There simply isn’t much left to fight over these days in D.C.
Likewise, as equality broadens among jurisdictions across the country and LGBT issues decline in significance for politically integrated gay voters, it is likely that previous differentials in voting patterns and party preferences will diminish over time.
The new reality in D.C. politics – the result of a gradual evolution rather than a dramatic tide-turn in ballot box behavior – has broad implications for both local and national politics and political parties. We will increasingly enjoy the freedom to choose based on the same types of considerations and evaluations influencing every other voter.
We will vote more like the America that we have battled to become a part.
LGBT cultural assimilation and political normalization will increasingly become the standard across the country. Some among us may mourn the loss of a stronger community identity – or the prospect of exploring fundamentally distinct options for organizing our lives, constituting our families and constructing our friendships. In a larger context, however, we sold our souls a long time ago on much of that in an effort to seek the comfort of ordinariness.
Former political allegiances and party preferences based on the politics of our sexuality will be far less a factor, if much at all, in the future. Advancements toward equality that unfold in the nation’s towns, cities and states will bring closer the day we will come to be conventional citizens and just-your-average voters.
That is what equality will look like – and, to quote a shopworn slogan, we’d better “get used to it.”