Let’s face it, to be gay and living in Washington, D.C., at this moment — we’re pretty fortunate.
I was reminded of this while having cocktails with work colleagues last Sunday afternoon. We were all from the South, and all around the same age, and beyond that what we really share in common is that we all left as soon as we could. We laughed as we talked about our gay childhoods, remembering that all we had in the way of material was the JC Penney’s men’s underwear advertisement in the Sunday paper. Now I wonder how I ever found Jim Palmer sexy. That’s what we had until a few years later when the Bowflex commercial began to air. You remember that one, right? The shirtless guy in the red shorts? I’ll let you Google that yourself.
Well enough about that. That was Arkansas in 1988, and now I’m in Washington in 2016. And anyone who has been in this town for at least, say, 10 minutes, knows that we love our gay brunches and happy hour fundraisers. And last week I went to a couple of these for two very worthy gay organizations. The first was the Williams Institute, a sort of gay and lesbian think tank and research center run out of UCLA. They tackle everything from immigration rights, to HIV/AIDS health, and have actually made a considerable mark on queer law and public policy. My friend Jonathan invited me along. Poke around their website, particularly the research they’ve compiled about LGBT life in the South. Pretty fascinating stuff.
The second event was an afternoon fundraiser for SMYAL, held on a trendy rooftop bar on U Street. If you haven’t heard of this wonderful organization, you should really acquaint yourself. Deftly managed by Sultan Shakir, SYMAL empowers LBGT youth within our city by providing a safe space and a plethora of resources. The organization is well worth your charity.
Though of course different, both organizations are alike in their mission — how to strengthen our community by providing resources and advocacy to those who may not have it. And with the noble efforts of these organizations and others like them, I have to ask: Why is there not a larger effort by our community to take on these issues? Specifically, after our marriage victory, what does equality mean now? And for us that live here in D.C., that enjoy relatively full equality under the law, where being gay probably helps you get a job, what responsibility do we owe those who live in places around the country who may see full equality as a bridge too far?
To be honest, it seems as a community we’ve had a hard time pivoting from our marriage victory to other issues that are more important and more pressing, especially to our peers outside the safety of city walls — fair housing and employment protection. Also, the fact that most Americans think this is already law should tell us we have some catching up to do, or at least that we need better messaging.
But how do we play catch up? I realize, too, that I’m writing this up from a white, middle-class perspective. That’s also a conversation worth having. But again, if there is a national dialogue happening around any of this, I appear to be missing it.
Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based freelance writer. He writes regularly for the Blade.