Mayor Adrian Fenty has made it clear that he has no pride in D.C.’s LGBT community. When he was elected, many believed that he was the breath of fresh air that our city needed. What began with great hope has turned to disappointment and frustration.
Most recently, the tone-deaf culture the mayor has created in his administration was on full display with the PFOX scandal. Rather than taking responsibility for a mistake and using it as an opportunity to show his commitment to full equality and dignity for LGBT people by condemning an anti-gay group, he blamed it on a staff-level error.
Many asked Mayor Fenty to correct his initial missteps. A Facebook group led to an online petition asking him to “invalidate the certificate of appreciation and publicly condemn PFOX for its policies that undermine the dignity of LGBT people and threaten the mental and physical health of the most vulnerable in our community.” This statement was supported by a majority of the D.C. Council, legislators in Virginia and Maryland, PFLAG, Trevor Project, GLSEN, Americans for Democratic Action, Metro DC PFLAG, the Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and hundreds of gay and allied leaders in our community.
What did the mayor say in response to the request for him to take a principled stand? Nothing. Nada. Zip. In fact, he refused to respond. He was MIA.
Such inaction is a recurring theme for the mayor when it comes to the LGBT community. The most cursory assessment of his contribution to our community is summed up by: “He signed the marriage bill.” On the surface, that may seem to be an indication that he stands with us. But in a town where a citywide candidate is not considered viable without supporting marriage equality, simply signing such an overwhelmingly popular bill is not that courageous.
From the day Fenty took office, he was MIA on the work to make marriage equality a reality, which began with breaking a campaign promise. As a candidate for mayor, he pledged to release the infamous Spagnoletti memo, which purported to advise that the mayor could legally issue an order to recognize valid same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions. He never did.
Three years later, the D.C. Council filled the void of leadership created by the mayor and voted to recognize valid out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples. When asked if he would be involved in an effort to prevent Congress from overturning that action, Fenty responded, “It really just depends on how it erupts.” Thankfully, Congress never took action to overturn this advancement. If it had, our mayor admits that he may have been MIA.
When D.C. Council held a hearing on the bill to provide marriage equality, Mayor Fenty was urged by many to testify in support of the legislation. It was an opportunity to say something more than “I will sign the legislation.” Nearly 300 others testified over the course of two days, possibly a record turnout for a hearing, according to Council Member Phil Mendelson. However, Mayor Fenty was again MIA.
Once the work was done, Mayor Fenty did stage a triumphant ceremony to sign the marriage bill. Finally, the mayor was no longer silent. He was celebratory.
No work, just celebrating after the work is finished. That’s a recurring theme of Fenty’s tenure.
Mayor Fenty has been MIA on nearly every issue important to the LGBT community over the past four years: the highest HIV infection rates ever (which was to be his “No. 1 health priority”), the equitable treatment of transgender people in D.C. jails, the dismantling of MPD’s Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit, the unnecessarily delayed implementation of a comprehensive anti-bullying program in schools, and shortening the housing waiting list for AIDS patients.
He cut funding from the budget that would have provided a permanent home for the DC Center. Since taking office, hate crimes against the gay and transgender population as a percent of all bias crimes went from 67 percent to 85 percent. Only 2 percent of his political appointees are LGBT. Fenty also mysteriously fired the highest-ranking gay official in his administration, parks director Clark Ray, while offering no basis for the dismissal and attempting to replace Ray with someone less qualified, whom the Council rejected. That position remains vacant to this day. And after three and a half years in office, the mayor hasn’t held a single LGBT town hall meeting. He’s been MIA.
But when the gay community celebrates, Adrian Fenty reliably shows up and acts like he’s engaged. Whether it’s the High Heel Race or the Capital Pride Parade, we can always count on him to show up for the fun stuff.
When he marches in the Pride Parade this year, it is our chance to tell Mayor Fenty that he has been MIA and that we want a leader that shows up all the time, not just when it’s easy.
Lane Hudson is a D.C.-based activist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.