Mayor Muriel Bowser wants to co-opt the annual High Heel Race, claiming it as her own to present. Must every LGBTQ event be sponsored or presented by a politician, a big bank, or corporation, or do we deserve to have our events stand on their own?
Every year thousands come to 17th Street to watch drag queens, drag kings, and every queer Halloween concoction imaginable race, strut, or prance to the finish line of Washington, D.C.’s High Heel Race. But this year, it won’t be the community’s event, it is now called “Mayor Muriel Bowser presents” the High Heel Race.
It’s wonderful that Bowser has been a grand marshal at the High Heel Race for the last two years. It’s great that she hosts an annual race reception, which this writer can attest has been a delight to attend. It says a lot about the District that for nearly 20 years, mayors have ensured the District absorbs many of the event’s costs. But, there is a fine line between being a supportive friend and being that tacky person that throws their name on everything.
This annual running of the heels is an event free from politics, corporate sponsors, and judgement — it’s just a fun night. Slapping one’s name onto the event — that just happens to be one week before Election Day — makes the event more a campaign rally than the fun night free of politics it has been. It is the sort of thing we’ve come to expect from Donald Trump, not the mayor of our nation’s capital.
It is also a glaring reminder to the LGBTQ community that we can’t have anything that isn’t presented by someone or something. Nothing is truly our own anymore. Almost every Pride parade in America is presented by some company: Here in Washington, D.C., it’s the Pride Parade Presented by Marriott International, and in Pittsburgh, Pride celebrations are named after a fracking company. Meanwhile, nearly every major LGBTQ organization has lists of sponsors whose names are plastered all over their events and websites. Now, even a fun night of queers in heels needs to be presented by a sponsor too.
Mayor Bowser shouldn’t have put her name on the High Heel Race, but she is not the problem. The problem is we as a community have become complacent. We must not let every company that wants our money, or politician that wants our vote, think they can court us by simply throwing us a few dollars or whisper a few soothing words in our ears.
My friendly advice to Bowser, don’t speak a few nice words and go to a few fun events. Work to help the LGBTQ community. Washington, D.C., has seen multiple hate crime attacks in the U Street corridor. In July, Fox 5 reported that half of all LGBTQ hate crimes between 2016-2018 in D.C. ended in charges being dismissed and not a single perpetrator was convicted under the District’s hate crimes law. Hate crime prevention is just one of many important issues facing Washington. Nearly half of all homeless youth in Washington are LGBTQ. The District also needs to confront how its criminalization of sex workers impacts transgender women.
Mayor, instead of politicizing the High Heel Race, tell LGBTQ people what you have done for our community. Your answers may earn you more praise than you think.
Alex Morash is a D.C.-based writer. The views expressed here are his own.