Almost exactly one year ago, gay Democrats in the District of Columbia found themselves confronted with a problem.
Then-D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser – a well-known progressive – had just whopped former Mayor Vincent Gray in the Democratic primary for mayor.
For LGBT Democrats, it would have been a no brainer to vote for her – except for the fact that a gay person was running on the independent ticket in the form of former D.C. Council member David Catania.
Although it might not have been obvious by the final vote count in the general election – Catania garnered a paltry 36 percent of the vote compared to Bowser’s 55 percent – a spirited debate occurred in gayborhoods across the District about which candidate was most deserving of the gay vote.
And, by the way, Bowser’s margin of victory is the smallest it’s been in four decades, with half of the traditionally gay precincts like Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan largely voting for the independent. That suggests that perhaps LGBT groups’ split support might have helped Catania’s candidacy.
Clearly, Bowser had a strong record in the City Council as a liberal on LGBT rights and otherwise. But was Catania’s go-getter attitude a better choice for a city that has in recent years felt like it lacks political direction?
Bowser’s first few months as the city’s leader should quell any of these concerns. Gay voters rest assured: This city made the right choice.
Bowser doesn’t just say she’s pro-gay – she surrounds herself with gay leaders who inform her political views and help steer her administration.
In the three and a half months she’s been mayor, Bowser has appointed a series of lesbian and gay leaders to her cabinet, including Sheila Alexander-Reid and Terrance Laney as the director and deputy director of the Office of LGBT Affairs.
But she’s also appointed out leaders to positions not specifically geared toward LGBT people, like, for example, gay urban planning specialist David Do to direct the city’s Office of Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs. She even appointed a lesbian – activist and lobbyist Courtney Snowden – to a newly created position as deputy mayor for greater economic opportunity in the Executive Office of the Mayor.
As the adage goes: If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu. Having more LGBT people in leadership positions ensures our continued success on the myriad issues District LGBT residents face.
More recently, she joined the ranks of top Democratic powerhouses like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo by instituting a ban on the use of city funds to travel to Indiana following the state’s anti-gay “religious freedom” law. (She later rescinded the ban after Indiana GOP Gov. Mike Pence backed down.)
In her first State of the District address, Bowser said issuing the travel ban was an “easy” decision.
“Because we always stand with the LGBT community, we won’t sit by as discrimination is veiled in misguided belief,” she said, echoing similar comments made by President Obama about “less than loving expressions by Christians.”
By appointing LGBT advisers and aligning herself with other progressives on LGBT rights, Bowser proves that she is genuinely focused on these issues in a city where, thankfully, it is not politically risky to do so.
Bowser isn’t married, although she did tell the Washington Post in a recent profile that despite her busy schedule, “I get in my friends, my family, dating, you name it.” Her lack of a partner to publicly trot around has sparked a flurry of questions about her sexual orientation.
But we should cut the speculation: Whether she plays for our team or not, she’s certainly rooting for us.
Justin Peligri is a student at George Washington University.