Much has been made of the external challenges we face in DC as we build a movement to win and keep marriage for same-sex couples including the possibility of a Prop 8 style ballot fight and potential intervention from members of Congress. Each of those is a challenge that we must deal with, but for the moment I want to deal with some of the internal challenges we face and how we can turn them into opportunities.
Disclosure: I am co-chair of DC for Marriage, a grassroots group working to win marriage in DC.
The DC LGBT community, led largely by groups such DC Coalition of Black Lesbian and Gays, Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, and Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, has many legislative accomplishments for which it should be proud. The District has one of the strongest domestic partnership laws in the country, non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and the recent passage of marriage recognition legislation show the degree to which we have become a powerful political force that has built strong relationships with members of the City Council and various mayors. These successes speak to the tenacity, visibility and policy talents of local activists.
There are, however, three key areas where we will need to strengthen our local community in order to win marriage equality:
- building stronger and more diverse organizations
- working together in coalition with other LGBT groups and
- building relationships with District residents outside of the LGBT community.
In a city that is nearly 60% African-American and includes large populations of Asian-Americans and Latino/as our local LGBT political groups remain overwhelmingly white. And though we have a large and politically engaged student population, we have not engaged smart LGBT and allied young activists in using their considerable creativity and passion to advance LGBT equal rights in the District.
This deprives our community of an activist base that looks like and is engaged with segments of the DC community that don't necessarily reside in Dupont or Logan. It also robs us of a powerful reserve of future leaders who can lead our organizations as older activists move on to other interests or become focused on personal issues. We also end up with groups with static membership at a time when we need a broader base of support that is energized and ready to take on the new challenges that we face.
In order to build an effective marriage equality movement it is critical that we move past the insider politics that has won us so much to a more visible and civic-minded politics that requires building common ground with residents outside of the LGBT community bubble. We must create opportunities that engage and support new people with an eye on building a diverse and multi-cultural movement that unites young and old, gay and non-gay, Black, white, Asian and Latino and people of faith and non-believers.
As we move towards building relationships with people outside of the LGBT community, it will be crucial that we learn to work more cohesively within the LGBT community. When I have said similar things to friends who have long histories in the local LGBT community their response as been "Good luck with that." Its as if they have given up on the ability of DC LGBT people to come together for a common purpose. I admit that marriage equality is the first serious effort that I have been a part of locally even though I have lived in the District for nine years, but I have worked for LGBT equal rights at the national level and have seen what is possible when we put aside our egos, biases, and personal histories to focus on a common goal.
That means we have to come together to craft a coordinated and smart strategy to win and keep marriage. No one person or organization can do the incredible amount of work needed to engage DC residents in ways that build support for marriage equality, help defeat a possible Prop 8 style ballot referendum, and successfully ward off possible intervention from conservatives in Congress. Going forward we need to share information, divvy up responsibilities, and communicate with one another before taking action to ensure that our work builds on the work of the others.
That work to win and keep marriage must include face-to-face conversations with residents across the city including wards east of the Anacostia River. As scary as it may sound, this kind of education and community outreach is critical to building support among open-minded people. When people get to know us they are far more likely to support our quest for full and equal treatment under the law. We will find that with a little effort that we will identify support among residents in parts of the city that we never dreamed would support us.
My belief is that accomplishing these steps are not only necessary, but that they are also definitely possible. To do so, we will have to operate in ways different from how we have operated before. I am fully committed to doing so and I hope you are too.