January 3, 2015 at 9:56 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Muriel Bowser sworn in as D.C. mayor

Muriel Bowser, gay news, Washington Blade

Muriel Bowser on Friday was sworn in as D.C.’s next mayor. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A large contingent of LGBT people joined fellow city residents in turning out on Friday for the swearing-in ceremony of Mayor Muriel Bowser and seven members of the City Council.

Many of the LGBT attendees at the swearing-in ceremony also attended the new mayor’s inaugural ball. Both events took place at the Walter Washington Convention Center.

“Let’s always remember our LGBT friends,” Bowser said in her inaugural address. “While we achieved marriage equality we still have to fight for fair housing and employment in the District of Columbia for all,” she said.

Bowser’s reference to the LGBT community came after she pledged to build on the successes of her predecessor, Vincent Gray, who LGBT activists have called the city’s most LGBT supportive mayor.

Bowser beat Gray in the Democratic primary last April before finishing ahead of gay D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) and former Council member Carol Schwartz, a former Republican who ran as an Independent, in the November general election.

“Two months ago, we came together on Election Day to re-affirm our democratic values,” Bowser said in her inaugural speech — “that each of us is equal in the eyes of God and our government.”

She added, “That every Washingtonian deserves a fair shot and a seat at the table, that every Washingtonian deserves the opportunity to live in a safe and affordable home, and that the middle class is worth protecting and fighting for.”

Although Bowser has been a strong supporter of LGBT rights during her tenure on the City Council, most political observers believe the LGBT vote was divided evenly between her and Catania in the general election.

Many LGBT Catania supporters said they did not doubt that Bowser was a friend of the LGBT community. They said they backed Catania, among other reasons, because he had a more extensive record on LGBT equality and other pressing issues in the city during his longer tenure on Council.

A number of LGBT activists who backed Gray over both Bowser and Catania have said they believe Bowser will continue Gray’s pro-LGBT policies, including Gray’s policies on transgender rights, which activists have considered to be groundbreaking.

“I have no reason to believe that she won’t continue to be as supportive of the LGBT community as her predecessor was,” said gay Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Alex Padro, whose ANC district is in the city’s Shaw neighborhood.

“So hopefully we’ll have another four years of continued progress in quality of services and equal rights for everyone here in the District of Columbia,” said Padro, who attended both the swearing-in ceremony and the inaugural ball.

Others attending the swearing-in ceremony, the inaugural ball or both were Gertrude Stein Democratic Club President Earl Fowlkes, Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance President Rick Rosendall, gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, gay businessman David Franco, and gay and lesbian activists Kadihja Tribble, Chris Dyer, and Paul Frene.

“Muriel Bowser’s inauguration really seemed to portend the ‘Fresh Start’ she spoke of,” Rosenstein said. “She gave a great speech in which she eloquently spoke of her continued commitment to the LGBT community.”

Among the Council members taking the oath of office were three newly elected members, including the two who have replaced gay long-time Council members Catania and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).

Catania gave up his Council seat to run for mayor. Graham lost his re-election bid in the April Democratic primary to political newcomer Brianne Nadeau, who has pledged to be a strong supporter of the LGBT community.

Democrat-turned-Independent Elissa Silverman won the at-large seat vacated by Catania in a hotly contested multi-candidate race. Among the candidates Silverman beat was lesbian public relations executive Courtney Snowden, who received the endorsement of local and national LGBT organizations.

Like Nadeau, Silverman has expressed strong support for LGBT rights. Prior to running for public office Silverman worked for many years as a journalist and later as an official with a non-profit organization.

Also expressing strong support for the LGBT community was Democrat Charles Allen, who won election to the Ward 6 Council seat that incumbent Tommy Wells gave up in his unsuccessful run for mayor in the Democratic primary. Allen served as Wells’ chief of staff before declaring his candidacy for the seat.

Another two newcomers will join the Council in April following a special election called to fill vacant seats in Wards 4 and 8. The Ward 4 seat, which was held by Bowser, became vacant on Jan 2 when she was sworn in as mayor. The Ward 8 seat became vacant in November following the death of Council member and former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry.

The departure of Catania and Graham has resulted in a D.C. Council without an out gay member for the first time since 1997.

“In the short term I don’t think it’s going to be a problem,” said Padro. “I think there is an understanding of the importance of the LGBT community in the city,” he said. “And I think our community has plenty of friends on the Council, even among the people that have just been elected.”

Four incumbent Council members also took the oath of office on Friday following their successful re-election bids in November. They were Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and Council members Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), and Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5). All four have been strong supporters of LGBT equality.

Also taking the oath of office on Friday was attorney and law firm partner Karl Racine, who won his race in November as the city’s first elected attorney general. During the fall campaign Racine, along with each of his four opponents, expressed strong support for LGBT rights. Among the candidates he beat was lesbian attorney and former Stein Club president Lafeefah Williams.

Bowser, meanwhile, has named lesbian housing and homelessness expert Polly Donaldson as director of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, a cabinet level position. But Bowser has yet to make appointments to a number of high-level city offices, including the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • “While we achieved marriage equality we still have to fight for fair housing and employment in the District of Columbia for all,” she said.
    Kudos to Mayor Bowser for noting the importance of fair employment for DC's LGBT workforce!

    Let's applaud Mayor Bowser's promise of fair LGBT employment — including, persumably, fair LGBT hiring, LGBT recruitment, LGBT retention and LGBT merit promotions.

    There is no better and easier place for Mayor Bowser to make that a reality than within the DC government work force she now commands.

    Six years ago, President Obama set about to make all U.S. federal workplaces a consistent and model place for employment opportunities and career advancement for America's LGBT workforce.

    And the president succeeded in that noble endeavor. Indeed, it was one of the Obama Administration's first and most notable LGBT-equality success stories.

    According to a Gallup poll in 2013, fully 10% of DC's adults identify as LGBT. That is the highest rate in the country.

    With a few adjustments, there is no reason at all that Mayor Bowser's DC government workforce can't soon proudly reflect and honor that demographic at all levels of the DC government's workforce, too.

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