When I heard about Marion Berry’s wild, misguided rant against gay marriage in D.C., I had just one question: Who the hell cares? Let’s review the elements of this story for a brief, dispassionate moment.
First off, Chocolate City has long had one of the more pro-gay, progressive municipal governments around. Let us count the ways…
* Absent the strong arm of congressional control over its affairs, D.C. would have had domestic partnership way back in 1992; Congress didn’t get out of the law’s way until 2002. It is today one of the nation’s most expansive partnership statutes. Oh, and Barry has joined repeated unanimous votes in support of it.
*The city’s decades-old human rights law protects against bias based on not only sexual orientation but gender identity as well. Anti-gay bullying in schools is a crime. The public schools also have drafted a sex-ed curriculum that—and this is exceptional nationally—includes teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity. Condoms have been available in schools since 1992.
*The police department has a nationally recognized special unit to liaison with the gay community, dealing with everything from hate crimes to domestic violence. There remain concerns about how the cops and the corrections department deal with transgender folks, but they’re actually talking about it. You’ll look long and hard for many other examples of that dialogue.
*Culturally, D.C. boasts one of the nation’s oldest, largest and most active black gay communities. The Memorial Day black gay pride festival was the first of its kind and is attended by people from all over the world; dozens of cities have tried to recreate it. For years, the festival was held in a park near Howard University, with little drama. A well-attended picnic in, yes, a southeast D.C. park was for years another staple of the weekend.
*A larger percentage of D.C. households than any city in the country told the 2000 Census that they were gay, and the city has two City Council members who have run and repeatedly won as openly gay candidates.
Now, all of this has unfolded in D.C. for a long, long time. The city’s black residents have never lost their minds over it. Barry has himself vocally supported gay rights throughout much of his tragic career. And as Dayo notes, the gay marriage vote was 12-1. Yes, 12-1. The popular and black D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes-Norton cheered its passage. Black Mayor Adrian Fenty said he’d sign it.
So what’s this race war Barry’s talking about? “All hell is going to break lose,” Barry told the WASHINGTON POST. “We may have a civil war.” This is patently absurd and should be reported as such. In fact, the marginal ministers leading their marginal anti-marriage campaign have a long career of spitting in the wind to stop pro-gay and sensible sexual-health policies in the city. (P.S. Any reporter who cared could have learned all of this context with an hour browsing the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance’s exhaustive website.)
There’s no question that, in D.C. as elsewhere, gay rights advocates need to spend meaningful time articulating their movement in black communities. And there’s no question the national movement has been dreadful at doing so—in no small part because its leadership is so lily white. But D.C.’s gay politicos actually have a long, multiracial history—and the story of blacks vs. gays is pure sensationalism.
Moreover, the real conflict isn’t blacks vs. gays; it’s D.C. vs. Congress. Representatives elected in other cities—largely white ones, by the way—still ultimately get to decide whether black D.C. gets the gay rights its elected officials have overwhelmingly endorsed. Rep. Jason Chaffetz—a white congressman from Utah who campaigned on building prison camps for illegal immigrants—has said he’ll block it. Race war indeed.