March 24, 2016 at 2:24 pm EST | by Brock Thompson
Life in the D.C. gay bubble
D.C. gay, gay news, Washington Blade

Capital Pride Parade (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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.

1 Comment
  • I don’t remember the bowflex one, maybe if I google it but I do recall Jim Palmer in underwear. I think he looked nice.

    It wasn’t only gays in the South that had it hard back in the 1980s. I grew up in Massachusetts and despite the liberal association with that state, anything that had to do with gay was highly taboo and scorned. We had zero protection under the law in pretty much all the states except I think for Wisconsin. Police were more our enemies than allies. We were still seen as criminals due to sodomy laws. It was common to have people drive by gay bars and yell anti-gay obscenities and we often had to be concerned about being bashed walking out in public. Being ostracized by friends, family and co-workers was common.

    We also had the emergence of the AIDS crises which resulted in many losing their lives, fear and an anti-gay backlash. Those were the conservative Reagan years when social conservatives were in power.

    Yet despite all we endured, we had a very strong community and our gayborhood and bars where we could find others like ourselves gave us strength to be ourselves despite the risks. It helped us to develop a sense of pride and dignity that we were often deprived of before we connected to that community.

    I think many gay people today live under a false sense of security taking all we have achieved and gained for granted. They also don’t appreciate what it is to have a gay community. They think being fully integrated means having gay exclusive places is irrelevant and lose sight of the fact that without them we really have no community anymore. The virtual world will never replace being around actual people.

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