Ben Finzel

Being Gay in D.C.

Filed By Ben Finzel | June 27, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, Politics

I'm a gay man and a resident of the District of Columbia.

Q: Which of these two facts makes me a minority?

A: Both of them.

When LGBTQ people talk about identity, we often consider sexuality, gender and related issues. When I talk about identity, I also think about where I'm from. I'm a resident of Washington, D.C. (not to mention a native). And that fact means I see things from a different perspective.

As a District resident and native, I am keenly aware that although we live in the United States of America, District residents do not yet have full and equal rights as citizens. Of course, as a gay man, I can say the same thing.

I think that makes me a minority in more ways than one. And I think that ought to be of concern to anyone who believes in equality and justice for all.

My elected "U.S. Representative" to Congress, the fabulous Eleanor Holmes Norton, can't vote on the floor of the House - although she can vote in committee. That fact means I don't have a voice in the very chamber that passes laws that affect my life.

District residents don't have U.S. Senators at all - unless you count the "Shadow" Senators who can't vote at all and who don't even have federal staff or a budget. So forget filibustering a bad law or speaking out against an anti-gay Supreme Court nominee.

District residents pay federal taxes - and send a higher percentage of our residents to fight and die for our country than most states - yet we have no say over how those taxes are spent. Laws created by our city council, and signed by our mayor, are subject to Congressional scrutiny before enactment - meaning that attempts to grant D.C. residents rights such as recognition of marriages performed in other states can be overturned by Congress.

In as much as there are thousands of LGBTQ people living in D.C., full rights for D.C. residents is a gay issue. Taxation without representation is a gay issue. As D.C. residents, we can't exercise our voice - nor our right - to equality under the law, because we don't really have a voice in the first place. That is wrong.

Of course, the list of inequalities under the law for LGBTQ people is even longer. And the list of cultural and societal inequalities that exist for women and people of color, despite changes in law, is equally offensive.

My point is that we must recognize the totality of the inequalities in our society and acknowledge that many of them are interrelated. As Martin Luther King, Jr. told us;

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

So, when I am implored by gay groups to contact my legislators to ask them to vote for this or that federal legislation or push for this or that federal action, I am left wondering why those LGBTQ folks don't get that my political powerlessness should be of concern to them. I'd love to help, but there's not much I can directly do - since my representatives don't have a voice, nor a vote, in Congress.

I'm not trying to say that statehood for D.C., full voting rights for our residents, or whatever your preferred solution to "taxation without representation" might be - is it more important than full equality for LGBTQ people? It isn't.

But it is very important and should be recognized as such by our advocates, allies and friends.

We're doubly discriminated against as LGBTQ residents living in D.C., and we can't do much to help the rest of the country pass gay-positive federal laws and regulations until the rest of the country helps us secure equality under the law for our residents.

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