By COURTNEY R. SNOWDEN
For the better part of 20 years, the District of Columbia’s LGBT community has had advocates and defenders on the D.C. Council. Come January that reality may all change when Jim Graham and David Catania are no longer on our city’s Council. The recent controversy that has ensued over a film screening of the Harvey Milk story at Catholic University should serve as a reminder to everyone who believes in fairness and inclusion that we need strong LGBT leaders to stand up and represent these views on the Council.
You’ve read about this story time and again. The forces against equality are never silent for long, whether it is Fred Phelps and his army of hate, or people committing hate crimes against innocents like Matthew Shepard or James Byrd or a religious institution of higher education excluding students from discussing the struggle for LGBT rights in America. Given the amazing progress we have made to ensure that D.C.’s vibrant LGBT community is respected and valued here it is easy to think we have moved past such eruptions of intolerance in the District.
However, Catholic University sent a clear reminder that we have not. Bayard Rustin, Barbara Jordan, Harvey Milk and Frank Kamney all made amazing contributions to helping this country live up to what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the true meaning of its creed” — equal rights for all — gay and straight, black and white, Jew and Gentile.
Now the leadership at Catholic University, which receives taxpayer funds, is fighting the Human Rights Amendment Act of 2014. This legislation would simply require all colleges and universities in the District to treat student groups equally. Seems fair to me. Yet, the administrators at Catholic have chosen discrimination over equality and freedom, to move backward instead of forward, together — all because some students on its campus wish to explore the life’s work of an LGBT elected official and activist, Harvey Milk.
Over the course of my professional life, I have learned an important lesson — if you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu. Well, come January, the LGBT community may find itself being served up, with no one, who personally has been impacted by its struggle in the most personal way, there to prevent it.
The District is changing in many ways, mostly for the better, but this incident is a reminder that we must have a Council that is representative of all citizens. Having native Washingtonians on the Council matters because so many of us feel as if we are being left behind. Having parents on the D.C. Council matters because the laws passed by this body have a direct impact on our children and their ability to thrive. And, yes, having an openly gay member of the Council matters because without one we are in jeopardy of not having a fighter standing guard when discrimination rears its ugly head. I am proud to be all three.
Catholic University has been a pillar of the District and educated many of our citizens. I expect it will play a strong role in our future, but it must be a source of pride, not embarrassment in an era of inclusivity. The District has fought for too long to be inclusive of all of our citizens to let any of our institutions backslide now. Our city has already made its choice when it comes to equal treatment for all. It is now up to Catholic University to choose fairness and equality over fear and discrimination.
Courtney R. Snowden is a principal at The Raben Group and a candidate for D.C. Council At-Large.