By STEPHANIE SCHWARTZ & JACKIE BRYKS
One of my proudest moments occurred when my mother, Carol Schwartz, won the National Capital Area Leadership Award from the Human Rights Campaign in 2002. In her acceptance speech, my mom told a story I had never heard. In high school and college, she had two friends who were gay. A few years after graduating, both committed suicide. It’s rare that my mother doesn’t share what’s on her mind, but I guess in this case, her friendships with these two men and their endings had weighed on her mind, silently until then.
I think my mother’s early experience with discrimination made her particularly empathetic to those who face it. Though nothing like many LGBT youth or other minorities endure, she did face anti-Semitism while growing up in West Texas. During the only snow day of her childhood, she got out of school early and a group went to a friend’s house. But the mother wouldn’t allow a Jewish person in her home so she stood outside in the snow for hours, waiting for the others. This incident of prejudice was not the first or the last—and they scarred. In addition, her only sibling Johnny, 18 months older, had intellectual disabilities, and she had to protect him from taunts and ridicule. That, plus the racism she observed in that place and time, made her “intolerant of intolerance” — a phrase Mom uses. I am sure that feeling has fueled her work in public and community service, starting as a special education teacher.
It is fortunate that in the last decade many people have joined the LGBT cause. But Carol Schwartz was there early on, fighting for our rights 40 years ago. When she was on the D.C. Board of Education in the mid-1970s, she pushed through the law that forbade employment discrimination against DCPS teachers and other personnel based on sexual orientation.
During her four terms on the D.C. Council, that commitment continued. She introduced the law that prohibited the harassment of students based on sexual orientation and gender identity. She provided additional funding for the Office of Human Rights. She spoke out against the effort to exempt transgender people from certain protections under the D.C. Human Rights Act. She was instrumental in pushing the domestic partnership law—the strongest in the country—and had she been on the Council in 2009, would have voted for same-sex marriage. She was an active proponent of and a contributor to needle exchange programs and co-sponsored medical marijuana legislation, and lobbied Congress to stop the hold-up of both.
She also protected workers by putting forth the strongest Whistleblowers Protection Law in the country, which the federal government replicated, and made D.C. the second jurisdiction in the country to give sick and safe leave to workers who did not have that human benefit—and lost her Council seat because of it.
What someone chooses to do outside their role in elected office is also revealing. My Mom has chosen to lend her leadership skills to a host of volunteer community service organizations. To name just a couple, she was a member of the board of the Safe Haven Outreach Ministry, a service provider for low-income and homeless adults, who are substance abusers living with HIV/AIDS. And she was elected to be a 17-year member of the board of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, including during the worst years of the AIDS crisis, and was elected its vice president.
Her work, both elected and volunteer, earned her Best Straight Ally three times from Blade editors and readers as well as the Blade’s Local Female Hero.
One of my mom’s proudest moments was when she walked me down the aisle as I married my spouse Jackie in October of 2012 in New York. Years before, I had been engaged to a man. Soon after my broken engagement I became involved with a woman, then a man, then a woman again on my journey to where I belonged. But through it all, there was my mom, always supporting me. That support wasn’t a surprise. She had already been a member of PFLAG as a friend for decades before she knew she would qualify in every category.
As her daughter I have gotten the unique perspective on relationships she’s formed. Friends can’t have a birthday without getting an off-key birthday song on their voicemail. She looks after numerous seniors. And like many, she’s lost too many friends to AIDS, but there she was saying goodbye during their last moments, lying in bed with them, holding them. The faces of those friends are still displayed in photos in her home.
A good gay friend of hers often asks, “Do you ever spend time with people who aren’t gay?” “Yes,” she answers, “When I have to.”
She’s been a good role model. I have tried to follow her lead in my own career — working in a group home for people with cerebral palsy, serving as criminal defense attorney for Legal Aid, and advocating on behalf of victims of child abuse as a Children’s Services attorney for NYC in the Bronx.
Her empathy helps her build bridges. One of the reasons my Mom stayed a Republican all those years was because she was better able to lobby Congress on behalf of D.C. When a member of Congress put forth a rider that banned gay and lesbian adoptions, she and activist Carl Schmid were able to get an appointment. In that meeting, she spoke about her LGBT friends who had adopted children and the vibrant and loving families that exist for these kids who barely had hope for one — and cried. Later that day, the rider was withdrawn. This is what D.C. needs — someone who can be tough when called for but is always compassionate and unifying.
As D.C. is economically booming, it’s too easy to forget those who are left out. What we need now is a strong caretaker who has proven she can take care of business and people, and who will also continue the fight for LGBT — and voting — rights. I know of no better leader—or person—than my mom to be your mayor.
Stephanie Schwartz, Democrat
Proud of my mother in law
Soon after meeting my now wife, I made the charged pilgrimage from my home in New York for the first meeting with her mother, Carol Schwartz. You know the deal, everybody on their best behavior trying to make a good impression. Carol seemed to like me a lot, but I can say for certain that she blew me away. All I knew going into that first meeting was that Carol was some sort of local D.C. politician, a Republican no less. This meeting took place more than six years ago — a time during which the national Republican Party was less than welcoming to gays and lesbians. So let me be frank: As a lifelong gay rights advocate, I had some misgivings, apprehension even. But the reality upended all my preconceptions (a life lesson against pigeonholing people if I ever saw one).
Because what I found was the most progressive, most welcoming, most gay-positive person I had ever met. And these many years later, after marrying Carol’s daughter, Stephanie, I have been proud to learn — and not just from the family — that Carol, being Carol, used her estimable energies over decades to transform this progressive instinct into concrete policies supporting the LGBT community.
I was also proud that when the Republican Party continued to drift further and further to the right on social issues — notably on women’s health and LGBT rights — Carol, though usually loyal to a fault, decided to leave the party and register as an Independent. To me, that label suits her to a tee.
Jackie Bryks, Democrat