Is D.C. Mayor Fenty Our Friend? | Filed by: Guest Blogger
June 10, 2009 3:30 PM
Editor’s Note: Guest blogger Tim Newman is a DC-based activist working primarily on economic justice and global justice issues.
Gay pride month has a particularly important significance this year as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots on June 28th. This commemoration provides a good opportunity to reflect on the state of our movements to support the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, intersex, gender non-conforming, two-spirit and queer people.
As these movements have grown and been mainstreamed in some respects, we should also be asking what it means for someone to be an ally in this struggle and exactly what we expect from public officials who want to support us.
This Thursday, the Gertrude Stein Democrats, the DC chapter of the Stonewall Democrats, will honor DC Mayor Adrian Fenty at an awards ceremony. Presumably, Fenty will be honored for not vetoing the recent City Council bill recognizing gay marriages performed outside of the District. Some might call this an important step forward, but before recognizing Fenty as an advocate for equality, it is important to evaluate how some of his other policies have affected queer communities in DC. If you consider Fenty’s policies in the areas of housing, HIV/AIDS and criminal justice, his record starts to look a little less friendly to queer folks.
While people across the country and the District struggle to remain in housing, the Fenty Administration is pursuing policies that increase displacement, including shutting down emergency shelters. For example, this past fall, Fenty shut down the Franklin School Shelter days before hypothermia season began – despite strong opposition from the shelter residents and advocates for the homeless. Fenty’s decision to close the shelter went against both his mayoral campaign promises and a resolution passed by the City Council.
Queer youth are disproportionately represented in the homeless population nationally and DC specifically, but it has been only recently that the Fenty Administration has dedicated any funding and resources toward programs that specifically address the needs of queer and trans youth – and it’s still not enough to meet the existing needs of this community.
The housing problem also intersects with the AIDS crisis our nation’s capital is facing. The latest reports released in March revealing that DC is being hit by an HIV epidemic have not been met with sufficient urgency by the Fenty Administration, according to groups like DC Fights Back. While our people are dying, our HIV positive neighbors, both queer and straight, are sitting on waiting lists for access to affordable housing and medication, which are both essential for curbing the spread of HIV.
Fenty’s criminal justice policies criminalize queer and trans communities who frequently experience abuse from the police. An excellent community research report titled “Move Along: Policing Sex Work in Washington D.C.” by the Alliance for a Safe and Diverse DC explains how sex workers, especially those who are young, queer, trans, people of color and immigrants, are harmed by policing strategies like “Prostitution Free Zones” and “All Hands on Deck.”
Additionally, these communities face constant profiling, harassment and abuse by DC police. Amnesty International’s recent report “Stonewalled” shows how LGBT people face abuse and misconduct from police on a national level and includes many examples from the DC area. The DC Trans Coalition has been involved in a long struggle to protect the rights of trans people in DC jails. “Move Along” also describes how the trends of gentrification and development in the city have caused businesses, as well as public spaces where queer folk have historically congregated, to shut down.
This process has been going on for years, but Fenty’s policies have continued to exacerbate the problem. For example, Empower DC’s People’s Property Campaign has done an excellent job tracking how a large amount of public property and land has been sold off to private developers under Fenty’s watch. As public space is decreasing, leaving young people particularly with fewer options of places to gather, they are also subjected to unfair curfews and quality of life policing that causes more youth – especially queer and trans youth – to get caught in the criminal justice system.
It’s no surprise that in addition to being honored by the Gertrude Stein Democrats, Fenty was just feted at a black tie event sponsored by the District of Columbia Building Industry Association.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive analysis of all of Fenty’s policies and of course many of these trends began before he took office and are fueled by additional actors both in government and in the private sector. However, all of these examples illustrate how the policies Mayor Fenty implements hurt a range of queer and trans people in DC and the families and communities of which we are a part.
While the Stonewall riots for which the Stonewall Democrats got their name were largely fueled by the action and organizing of trans people, sex workers, homeless youth and people of color and were specifically fighting against police abuse, the exclusive focus of many mainstream gay organizations on extending marriage rights to gays and lesbians has caused many of us to narrow our vision of liberation so much that we can apparently ignore the impacts of many politicians’ policies on the most marginalized queer communities.
Of all of the people in DC fighting for our rights and collective liberation is Fenty the best we can come up with to honor? There are plenty of examples in our community of individuals and organizations that have been working tirelessly to truly advance our struggle. Beyond this specific event, I think it’s time for queer activists to hold our public officials accountable to a higher set of expectations and to also re-commit ourselves to a broader agenda for change.
Forty years after Stonewall, if this the best leadership we can come up with, I think I’m ready for another riot.