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This article appeared in the Blacklight issue Vol., 4, No. 4.

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Blacklight Home Page

A History of the Gay Movement in

Washington, D.C
.

If there were any doubt about Black Gay's ability to deliver, their active role in Marion Barry's reelection campaign alerted both his administration and the White Gay power structure to their potential. Nevertheless, it is not unfair to say that this activity never attained a collective focus or an enduring organizational base.

By Melvin Boozer

When Lawrence Washington, a former president of the D.C. Coalition of Black Gays, and currently a co-chair of the D.C. Black Gay Men's and Women's Conference, recently confronted Mayor Marion Barry in an open meeting with the charge that Black Gays were underrepresented in the Mayor's appointments to city boards and commissions, the startled Barry defended himself by saying that Black Gays had not been "visible" to him until his reelection campaign.

This response left some to wonder whether the Mayor's vision or memory were to be faulted with such a glaring omission, but the Mayor quickly followed up with the unprecedented appointment of three Black Gay activists to city boards and commissions.

In doing this, the Mayor signaled to the Black Gay community that he could see it "plain and clear." Why was he not able to do so before? His explanation is remarkably similar to those of certain White Gay activists who have only recently "discovered" Blacks: They were not "there." Blacks had not "participated." Blacks were not "organized." Blacks never asked for anything and, perhaps more to the point, Blacks were not credited with being able to deliver anything.

Yet, if there were any doubt about Blacks' ability to deliver, their active role in Barry's reelection campaign alerted both his administration and the White Gay power structure to their potential. These observations do not take into account that Black Gays were active in politics before Barry's reelection campaign.

Nevertheless, it is not unfair to say that this activity never attained a collective focus or an enduring organizational base. Yet, the litany of apologetics so readily endorsed by the Mayor tell only a part of the story. The reasons behind these perceptions were based as much on what Whites were doing as they were on what Blacks were not.

In the wake of the Mayor's victory, it was inevitable that his perceptions of the leadership structure was, by his own admission, the only one which had been visible to him. But who are these leaders, and whom do they represent?

They are the Gay power "elite" a small, close-knit group of men who enjoy ready access to the Mayor and his top assistants. They have enormous influence over the Mayor's perceptions of the Gay community's needs and wishes-and over which of these needs and wishes he should address.

And whom do they represent? Nominally, they enjoy the good will of a much wider circle of influential White activists, but their real mandate is a function of their relationship with the Mayor.

How did they achieve their present level of influence? What impact have they had on the development and expenditure of the community's political capital? The answers to these questions are essential to understanding how Gay political power is currently organized and controlled; and understanding that is necessary to the development of future strategies for the Black Gay community.

What follows, then, is a history of Gay politics. It is not intended to be comprehensive, nor could it be said to be objective. You may well ask if all of this is really necessary. Of what relevance is a review of ancient facts, much of it about Whites, to the future of the Black Gay community?

My answer is plausible only if you accept the premise that it is in the best interest of Blacks to cooperate with Whites when our common welfare is concerned, and therefor, Blacks must understand why Whites sometimes take positions which appear to conflict with theirs.

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