When he wasn’t busy signing the Defense of Marriage Act into law, former President Bill Clinton became the first Commander-in-Chief to hire openly gay staff members back in the ’90s. Before then, being out and proud automatically precluded you from government positions and the Barney Franks of the world were few and far between — the Massachusetts representative came out publicly all the way back in 1987.
Even some 10 years ago, the climate in D.C. was still one of intolerance, recalls writer Jeremy Peters in his NYT piece. As a 20-year-old “struggling with his own sexual identity,” Washington offered little in the way of support. But what a difference a decade, an administration change and a few key pieces of legislation make. With a pro-LGBT President, the passage of marriage equality in the district in 2009 and the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” — another holdover from the Clinton administration — in 2010, Peters now describes Washington as “the gayest place in America”:
But don’t take my word for it. Consider what surveys by Gallup and the Census Bureau have found about the gay population here. When the District of Columbia is compared with the 50 states, it has the highest percentage of adults who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, according to Gallup. At 10 percent, that is double the percentage in the state that ranks No. 2, Hawaii, and nearly triple the overall national average of 3.5 percent.
The Census Bureau looked at where the highest percentage of same-sex couple households were and also found that the District of Columbia ranked far higher than the 50 states, with 4 percent. The national average is just under 1 percent.
When our federal district is measured against other cities with large gay populations, a comparison that experts say is better than comparing to states, it still ranks at the top of the list. Gary J. Gates, who studies census data for the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, reports that Washington has 18.1 same-sex couples per 1,000 households. That places it eighth among cities with populations larger than 250,000.
Sorry, New York, but you have only 8.75 same-sex couples per 1,000 households. In Manhattan alone, it’s higher, at 16.7, but still not higher than D.C. The top three are San Francisco (30.3 per 1,000), Seattle (23) and Oakland (21). The numbers capture only those who acknowledge being in a same-sex relationship.
Actually San Fran was recently displaced by Seattle as the city with the most same-sex couples, but who’s counting? Numbers aside, Washington, D.C. has got all the makings of a gay utopia — fierce drag queens, gay newspapers, HRC national headquarters, bathhouses, not to mention the country’s biggest phallic symbol this side of Jon Hamm. That it’s the nation’s capital is a reflection on how far America’s come in the past few decades in terms of LGBT rights and acceptance. Now if only some of its more prominent residents could stop generally being the worst, maybe we can make sure the lightbulb in this beacon of democracy doesn’t go out.