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Black voters on support for white mayoral hopefuls

For some in D.C., appeal of Evans, Wells transcends race

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Tommy Wells, Jack Evans, District of Columbia, white, gay news, Washington Blade
Tommy Wells, Jack Evans, District of Columbia, white, gay news, Washington Blade

The city’s two white Democratic mayoral candidates, Tommy Wells and Jack Evans, are drawing diverse support. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

D.C. political races are often divided by race. Even when all of the viable candidates are African American, support for a particular candidate still is usually easily discernable by race and geography. This year, we will probably have the closest Democratic mayoral primary since home rule. It is also the first year that we have white mayoral candidates who have a reasonable chance to be elected mayor.

Based on history, conventional wisdom suggests that most African Americans will support one of the African-American candidates. However, there are some black District residents who are strongly supporting white mayoral candidates in the Democratic primary. It may surprise some folks that the African Americans who are unabashedly supporting Tommy Wells or Jack Evans, the two white Democratic candidates, are quite diverse in background. Once you start discussing Wells’ and Evans’ campaigns with their African-American supporters, you realize that they are a hard group to generalize.

Dominic Sanders, 23, is a senior social work major at Millersville University and he defies every stereotype of a Tommy Wells supporter. He is an African American, native Washingtonian from humble beginnings, who grew up in several Ward 6 neighborhoods in Southeast and Southwest Washington. This May, he will become the first person in his family to graduate from college.

Sanders met Wells through late D.C. activist Jan Eichhorn when he was six. He kept asking Eichhorn, who organized a local mentoring and tutoring program, for a mentor and eventually she introduced him to Wells and they have been friends ever since.

“Tommy exposed me to a lot,” Sanders said. “He took me on an airplane for the first time at 12. It was my first time out of D.C. He took me to a cabin in Minnesota with his family. He also sent me to basketball and baseball camps out of my community. He showed me that there is stuff bigger than where I live.”

While Sanders’ support of Wells has a lot to do with the bond they developed over the years while Wells mentored him, he clearly believes that Wells is the right choice politically. When discussing Wells’ politics, he mentioned Wells’ minimum wage challenge this past December, where Wells purchased groceries and traveled on a minimum wage salary of $8.25 per hour for one week to show how difficult it is to live in D.C. on minimum wage.

“I don’t think there’s another candidate who will go as far as him to prove his point,” Sanders said. “He’s always willing to push the envelope and do things the average person wouldn’t do. He’s the first white guy I saw who would come to pick me up in the hood, wait 20 or 30 minutes in a car, and not think about it.”

“I look at his whole track record. When I first met him he was an ANC commissioner, then he got on the school board, then the City Council, and now he’s running for mayor. That’s my motivation that you can always do more than what you do.  You watch the stuff he does for people. I know I’m not the only person he helped out and mentored. He took me to play basketball with the kids in the youth detention center in Northeast and there were no cameras around, we would just go. He’s that down to earth and that grounded.”

Jacques Point Du Jour, 27, is also an African-American native Washingtonian. He lives in Ward 6, works as an assistant at a legal consulting firm and supports Jack Evans for mayor. He was introduced to Evans by one of his friends and he believes that Evans’ “history has been nothing but amazing. He played a vital part in revitalizing 14th Street. I remember 14th Street 20 years ago and I see what it is now.”

Point Du Jour said he did not consider race when deciding to back Evans. “It’s 2014 and it shouldn’t be about race,” he said. “Race tends to get in the way of the greater role.”  He hasn’t experienced any backlash from his friends for supporting a white mayoral candidate. Many of his friends aren’t even paying attention to the election. “People in their mid or late 20s don’t think supporting a mayoral candidate is relevant,” he said, “but I think it’s extremely important.”

Point Du Jour, who described his political leanings as “Democratic toward the liberal end of the spectrum,” said Evans’ pro-business reputation does not bother him at all. “If you don’t have business connections, how would you create jobs and bring in more prosperity.”

He thinks that Evans can serve the entire city. “I heard him talk about meeting with communities in Ward 8 and how it’s important for them to take part in the prosperity.”

Maceo Thomas, 42, a property manager from Ward 7, is a Wells supporter. Thomas said he supports Wells because “there is a real issue around integrity in our government. It’s not confined to D.C., but we have a big problem in D.C. I watched Tommy from afar and watched him get punished in the Council for doing what’s right.”

“People are rushing to get into Ward 6, into the Capitol Hill area, because of the schools and the amenities,” Thomas said. “Tommy was in a leadership position to help the community get those things. Those are the same things we want in ward 7 and east of the river.”

When asked about any resistance that he has faced in supporting a white mayoral candidate, Thomas acknowledged that when he “went door knocking with Tommy near the Minnesota Avenue Metro, some folks responded that [Wells] is white.” However, Thomas said that after people started “talking to Tommy for a little bit, they were shaking their head and following along in the conversation.”

Thomas said he did not consider race when he decided to support Wells. “Black people are much smarter than people give us credit for,” he said. He added that people are wrong “if they think we wouldn’t vote for Tommy Wells because he’s white.” Thomas attributes Wells’ limited support outside of Ward 6 to there not being “a lot of media around Council members, so people don’t know who he is. As more people examine who he is, I think they will give him a chance.”

While I personally have limited my mayoral choices to three candidates — one of the candidates featured here, along with two of the leading African-American candidates — I would be disingenuous if I did not acknowledge that race, or more so the ability to appeal to all races, is at least part of my consideration. I would never vote for anyone who I don’t believe is qualified to run the city well, but it is also important to me that all Washingtonians feel that they are a valued part of the city. Candidates of any race can do that, but it is imperative for the next mayor to have that quality.

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 [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @lateefahwms.

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Roe ruling returns us to the discriminatory 1950s

For the first time, I no longer think of our nation as a democracy

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A scene from 'Father Knows Best' aired on Oct. 3, 1954. (Screen capture via YouTube)

(Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part column.)

I love looking at photos of my grandmother in the 1950s, going out to lunch with her friends, wearing hats with combs, white gloves in hand.

The 1950s had it all over us in style, I think. 

Until, I remember:

• Black people who were discriminated against had little or no legal recourse;

• Most women couldn’t get a charge card, let alone buy a home, unless their husbands got it for them;

• If you were queer, you could be arrested for dancing with someone of the same-sex at a gay bar, or lose your job because of your sexuality.

Those memories erase my 1950s nostalgia. I’ll enjoy family pictures from that era but I don’t want to return to the 1950s.

Unfortunately, that’s what the Supreme Court has done. The court’s overthrow of Roe v. Wade (in its 6-3 ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization) thrusts us back to an era that threatens to be as repressive as the 1950s.

The court’s reversal of the landmark Roe v. Wade wasn’t surprising. 

Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign made it clear: If elected he would appoint Supreme Court justices who would likely rule to overturn Roe v. Wade. Trump isn’t known for his truth-telling or promise-keeping. But in this critical matter, he wasn’t lying. He kept his word.

But the court’s ending nearly 50 years of a fundamental right is still gut-wrenching.

We’ve known that America, though a democracy, has long had a record of denying rights and dignity to all of its citizens.

Black people were enslaved. For a good part of our history only white men could vote. Japanese people were put in concentration camps during World War II.  To avoid being scorned by their families, most queer people had to be closeted.

Yet until the court overturned Roe v. Wade, no civil right had been taken away.

Now, for the first time, I no longer think of our nation as a democracy.

As I’m writing, at least 13 states have laws that will immediately or in a short time ban abortions. States where abortion remains illegal are looking to find ways to prosecute out-of-state clinics and doctors who perform abortions.

In Texas, citizens are legally permitted to sue anyone (from an Uber driver to a clergy person to a doctor or clinic) who performs an abortion or helps anyone to obtain an abortion.

Putting reproductive freedom into the quagmire of state legislatures isn’t enough for many Republicans and members of the religious right.

They’re chomping at the bit, if the Democrats lose their slim majority in Congress and a Republican becomes president in 2024, to impose a federal ban on abortion.

To add to this toxic mix, some Republicans and members of the religious right want to punish women who’ve had abortions.

I am terrified for all who seek reproductive health care.

I have childhood memories of my mom, who had type 1 diabetes, having an abortion pre- Roe v. Wade. If my mother hadn’t had the abortion, she may have died when I was 7 and my brother was 4. Though devastated by the stigma of having an abortion when terminating a pregnancy wasn’t legal, my mom was lucky. She could afford to have an abortion.

Then (as now), many poor women couldn’t have afforded to have an abortion or have the means to travel out of state to end their pregnancies.

One in four women have had an abortion. Now those needing reproductive health care (whether an abortion or, in some cases, treatment for miscarriage) again face stigma. Poverty will prevent many from having legal, safe abortions.

People won’t stop terminating their pregnancies. If they have to, they’ll resort to unsafe, self-administered abortions.

As a lesbian, I, like many queer folk, fear that the repeal of Roe will be a foreshadowing of the overturning of LGBTQ rights (from marriage equality to the right to have sex with whom we love).

In post-Roe America, fighting for the rights and dignity of women, LGBTQ folk and other marginalized people will be the life’s work of our generation and of generations to come.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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We need more inclusive data to drive progress for LGBTQI+ communities

Bill would require federal surveys to include questions on sexual orientation, gender identity

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As we celebrate the immeasurable contributions of LGBTQI+ people during Pride month and commemorate the 53rd anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, we must also renew our commitment to advancing a more equitable America for our LGBTQI+ communities.

Seven years ago, the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land, but despite this progress, over half of U.S. states can still deny LGBTQI+ people in the United States basic freedoms. LGBTQI+ individuals can still be denied a rental home or a wedding cake, simply because of who they love or how they identify.

Even worse, conservative lawmakers in state legislatures across the country are passing extreme bills targeting LGBTQI+ communities.  These Republican-sponsored measures directly attack LGBTQI+ youth—their identity, dignity, and even access to basic health care.

The historic inequities faced by the LGBTQI+ communities and the uptick of radical, anti-LGBTQI+ attacks demand a coordinated federal response.  But for far too long, policymakers have lacked the data necessary to craft and implement public policy that serves LGBTQI+ people in the United States. 

While the federal government currently collects some data on LGBTQI+ people, it falls dramatically short. 

The American Community Survey only accounts for cohabitating same-sex couples—meaning that it does not capture more than 5 in 6 LGBTQI+ adults. 

That is why the U.S. House of Representatives passed the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act last week in a historic bipartisan vote of 220-201.  

The bill would require federal surveys to include questions pertaining to sexual orientation, gender identity, and variations on sex characteristics on a voluntary, confidential basis. By doing this, the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act would ensure that lawmakers and federal agencies have the comprehensive data they need to advance polices that better serve LGBTQI+ people.

Solid data on sexual orientation and gender identity in federal surveys will help lawmakers craft policies to remedy the disparities faced by LGBTQI+ individuals—particularly LGBTQI+ people of color, who are disproportionately impacted by these disparities.  More comprehensive and inclusive federal data could help remedy systemic inequities in unemployment, health care, housing instability and more.

Earlier this month, President Biden issued a groundbreaking executive order to advance equality for LGBTQI+ people across the United States — including by expanding the collection of data pertaining to LGBTQI+ people in the United States.  This legislation would expand the ability of our federal agencies to follow the President’s directive so that we can craft policies tailored to the specific needs of our LGBTQI+ communities. 

As parents, we also championed this legislation because it will help parents across the country better understand LGTBQI+ youth and their experiences.  LGBTQI+ youth deserve the best available data-driven information and resources to validate their experiences, protect them from harm, and help them thrive.  Together, we’ll be able to provide these resources for LGBTQI+ youth who are higher risk of depression and attempted suicide.

The LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act is a long overdue step in the right direction, and it could not have been possible without the tireless work of LGBTQI+ organizations and activists.  More than 150 LGBTQI+ groups and allies have helped shape this bill to ensure that Congress enacts the most comprehensive and effective legislation possible.

Policymakers have a duty to lift LGBTQI+ voices and ensure our LGBTQI+ constituents are all seen, heard, and counted. The House made history this Pride month and passed the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act, we urge our colleagues in the Senate to do the same.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D) is a member of the U.S. House from Arizona; Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D) is a member of the U.S. House from New York.

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Turkey Pride crackdowns only strengthen LGBTQ resistance

Hundreds arrested in Istanbul on Sunday

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Police crackdown on the Istanbul Pride march on June 26, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Hayri Tunç)

The waving colors of the thousand shades inside of a rainbow,

The sparkling joy from the pride and honor of self-declaration, 

The echoing sounds of the steps for solidarity in the cobblestone streets of İstanbul, 

To unite for equality, for justice, for solely our right to be. 

This was our goal, our expectation and our hope for Pride Turkey 2022. It has, however, been overshadowed by the government’s vicious attempts to repress the colors of the LGBTQI+ community. 

First, it started with the ban of Pride speeches and panels that many district governors and other local authorities across Turkey announced. Local police officers raided the many event venues as if “illegal” activities were being conducted. 

As in the last couple of years, it was already expected the government would ban the Pride marches in many cities. It was, however, the first time the government officially tried to prevent even face-to-face community gatherings of LGBTQI+ organizations. It was a type of intervention reflecting the level of fear and intolerance of the government regarding the growing connection, solidarity and public visibility of LGBTQI+ community.

Nevertheless, oppression often brings out the most creative means. As such, Pride committees have carried all the activities on digital platforms. Many activists and civil society representatives have shown support by participating in live broadcasts from event venues, and the voice of LGBTQI+ solidarity still reached a wide audience. 

Subsequently, the most drastic pressure by the government has manifested itself during the Pride marches. The police violently intervened and used unproportionate force against marchers in many cities, which resulted in a radical number of unwarranted detentions. 

While 530 LGBTQI+ activists were taken into custody over the last 37 days across Turkey, 373 of them were arrested during the Istanbul Pride march on June 26. This constitutes a first, since the Istanbul Pride arrests constituted the largest number of people taken into custody during a street march since the Gezi protests.

Will these enormous efforts to pressure win the day? The answer is “definitely no.” On the contrary, it sparked a backlash by triggering strong solidarity among Turkey’s queer community. The outstanding resistance of LGBTQI+ marchers gained public recognition on social media, while persistent legal support of LGBTQI+ initiatives canceled all the detentions. In the end, the exhaustive pressures of the government could not manage to fade the multicolor of LGBTQI+ identity. In fact, it helped our rainbow flag to shine even more glamorous and visible.  

We, as members of the LGBTQI+ community, have once again proved through this entire experience that solidarity, togetherness and collective resistance are the most powerful facilitators in our fight to exist equally.   

In honor of the unbreakable resistance of Turkey Pride 2022 supporters, 

Thanks to you, the cobblestones of Istanbul and every street in Turkey echoed with the steps of LGBTQI+ solidarity.

Dilek İçten is a journalist, researcher and civil society expert with a demonstrated history of working in interdisciplinary and investigative research projects examining the socio-cultural dynamics of media, gender and migration. The focus of her work varies from freedom of expression, media censorship and journalistic independence to gender based-discrimination and hate speech against disadvantaged groups and minorities.

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