October 21, 2020 at 4:34 pm EDT | by Robert C. White, Jr.
Do our policies match the District’s pride?
Robert White, gay news, Washington Blade
D.C. Council member Robert White (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

After Pride month, once restaurants take down the rainbow flags outside, the galas are over, and the parade passes, are allies doing enough to push for progress?

As a city that is recognized for its vibrant LGBTQ community, it is easy for allies or members outside of the community to assume that we have done enough, but as a Black man, I know too well that just because a community is resilient or celebrated does not mean that it has achieved equality. So we have to ask ourselves, do our policies match the Pride energy that makes headlines across the country?

Four years ago, I ran for office to be a voice and ally for the underrepresented, and as I met with residents, I heard from many LGBTQ District residents about the struggle to gain access to healthcare services and housing, difficulty securing and protecting safe community spaces, and employment discrimination. So during my first term, I’ve fought to change that. I have introduced policy solutions and funded programs that specifically address the needs of the LGBTQ community.

I co-authored the LGBTQ Health Data Collection Amendment Act with Council member David Grosso to ensure that the District understands the specific health needs of our LGBTQ residents by surveying the community annually and publicly reporting on health-risk behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among the LGBTQ community. This bill also pushed back on efforts of the Trump administration to pretend as if the LGBTQ community did not exist.

In response to two of the challenges I heard from LGBTQ seniors, affordable housing and social isolation, I funded a senior community dining program so that our LGBTQ neighbors have safe and affirming space regardless of age, and I funded housing vouchers specifically for LGBTQ seniors. I also introduced the “Golden Girls Bill” that would give a stipend to seniors who rent rooms to other seniors, allowing them to age-in-place while also creating small communities of support and companionship. Further recognizing the need and importance of safe spaces, I secured funds to assist the DC Center for the LGBT Community to relocate to a new space.

I later co-introduced Council member Grosso’s Community Safety and Health Amendment Act to decriminalize sex work. We know that many engage in sex work as a form of survival because of overt discrimination in the job and housing markets, and tragic family conflict. So, I worked to include in our most recent city budget, a study on D.C. government agencies’ hiring and employment practices related to transgender and non-binary employees and applicants. I hope to improve workplace culture, reduce hiring and wage discrimination, and reduce the high employment discrimination against transgender residents across the city, starting with our own government.

While I am proud of the work that I have done in strong partnership with LGBTQ community leaders, I recognize that we have more work to do. When our region tragically lost two members of the LGBTQ community, Zoe Spears and Ashanti Carmon, within a few months of each other, I sent a letter to the mayor and the chairman of the Council, with an critical ask — that we work with government agencies and LGBTQ organizations to take immediate and ongoing action to resolve the underlying issues that make LGBTQ residents vulnerable to violence and stall progress.

It was an important step that brought LGBTQ community leaders to the table to bring their policy proposals and ideas directly to top government officials. Over the last fours years of a Trump administration, we have seen how dangerous it can be for communities when we do not have policy in place to protect residents.

I’m proud to be a strong ally for the LGBTQ community, earning a +10 GLAA rating and the endorsement of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, but I recognize that this trust comes with great responsibility. In these next four years, we will have to work quickly either to seize the moment or to defend every right and liberty LGBTQ leaders have fought for over the past decades. Whatever Election Day brings for the White House and Congress, we have to be ready.

Robert C. White, Jr. is seeking reelection to the D.C. Council as an At-Large Democrat.

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