As 2013 winds down, the District is poised to have a hotly contested mayoral race in 2014. While it is much too early to know who will prevail, one thing is certain: the LGBT community will not overwhelmingly line up behind any one candidate. This was made abundantly clear to me by the various candidates that many of my friends support and was further confirmed by Lou Chibbaro’s Blade article earlier this month.
While some may see this as problematic, I see this as the ultimate sign of progress. The reason that the LGBT vote is so split is because every major mayoral candidate is very good on LGBT issues. The District has had marriage equality for several years now, and while we still have a ways to go to make the community safe and welcoming for all LGBT residents, District legislators tend to overwhelmingly support legislative measures to do so. As a result, D.C. has some of the most LGBT friendly laws in the country. Thus, the solutions to ensuring that all members of the LGBT community, particular transgender residents and LGBTQ youth, thrive seem to lie in changing the minds of residents and providing more resources.
Don’t get me wrong. There are still some LGBT issues that need to be addressed, such as the lack of transitional housing for LGBTQ youth, ongoing discrimination against the transgender community and hate crimes. It’s important to pose questions to the mayoral candidates about these issues so we can learn what solutions they have because when everyone is professing support, it’s the proposed solutions that will separate the candidates.
That said, the mayoral candidates’ strong support of LGBT issues has the community rightly looking to non-LGBT issues to decide which candidate to support. Each voter will have to decide how much weight, if any, to give to LGBT issues. As for me, I am still undecided and will look to key answers to questions facing the District as a whole when deciding whom to support.
Some of the issues that will impact my decision are: which candidate will improve the public school system (preferably in a way that boosts achievement, while working with students, parents and teachers as partners in the process); which candidate will work to keep all neighborhoods safe; which candidate will ensure that all communities benefit from the District’s economic renaissance; and which candidate will commit to providing affordable housing and ensuring that low and moderate income residents are not displaced.
The challengers that I am considering — Council members Bowser, Wells, Evans and Orange, along with Reta Lewis and Andy Shallal — will need to convince me that the city is better off shifting to a new path rather than continuing on the path established by Mayor Gray, who I am also strongly considering. That is no easy challenge considering that the city is running well and while LGBT issues will not dictate my vote, I cannot ignore that Mayor Gray has probably been the best mayor in the nation on transgender issues.
I encourage undecided LGBT voters to go to several debates to learn more about all of the candidates. Some of the debates that deal with specific policy issues, such as economic development or education, are quite helpful in illuminating candidates’ records and views on these important issues.
Meanwhile, since the LGBT vote will be split in many directions, it is important for our community to give our perspective on other key issues and show how those issues impact the LGBT community. If a debate on affordable housing arises, LGBT voters should attend to hear the candidates broadly address the issue for all District residents, as well as to highlight concerns about the large number of homeless LGBT youth in the District who need housing.
During education debates, in addition to actively participating to see who has the best plan to improve achievement among all students, LGBT voters should also express concern about the high number of LGBT youth who drop out due to harassment and fear.
The pending split LGBT vote in the upcoming mayoral race is evidence of how far our community has come and how supportive our city’s leadership is. Now, when deciding among friends, we must focus on broader issues when deciding who is the best individual to lead our city.
Lateefah Williams’ biweekly column, ‘Life in the Intersection,’ focuses on the intersection of race, gender and sexual orientation. She is a D.C.-based political and LGBT activist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @lateefahwms.