Jim Graham, Washington, DC, 1998
Jim Graham (D)
Born August 26, 1945
Councilmember, Ward 1
Elected November 1998
Re-elected 2002, 2004, 2006
Essay by Jim Graham for Out and Elected in the USA
Never in my wildest imagination did I think I would be an elected official in the District of Columbia. I know that's not the way it usually happens.
I remember the "usual pattern" from my younger days in Michigan, and from others I know.
From that, I know that one is supposed to develop political ambitions early on. One then climbs the political ladder, participating in its various machinations, until the opportunity to run comes along. Now I remember having such inclinations back in Michigan, and I suppose if I had stayed there, I might have pursued them.
What extinguished all that was my move to the District of Columbia, now some thirty years ago. Back then, I can remember thinking: Forget about public office. Of course there wasn't much to run for in DC in 1972. Home rule was still three years away. But, even after offices were created and elections held, I assumed with certainty that such was not for me.
Not for me, a highly closeted gay man at a time when homophobia still reigned. A white in a city known as "Chocolate City." What electoral future could there be, I thought, in such a situation?
”None” was my answer.
And so throughout the 1970s I concentrated on my Federal jobs in Washington, DC, the capital of the United States, paying little or no attention to the "other" city, known as the District of Columbia. Indeed, I would have continued pretty much in that vein, had it not been for the astounding event of the Senate going Republican in 1980. All my plans, about remaining on as a Senate Committee lawyer with the Democratic majority, were dashed. I was one of the little people affected by very big events.
I landed a good job, with a good agency, and all of that permitted me to be far more open about being Gay. In April 1981, I was elected Board President of the Whitman Walker Clinic, a wonderful GLBT non-profit that I would head until 1998. Whitman Walker opened the doors to that "other" city, to the District of Columbia and all its diverse needs and neighborhoods. As I labored with many others to build a response to the HIV epidemic, I learned much about DC. I worked hard to open an adjunct clinic in the far east side of the city, across the Anacostia River, on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. As a gay white man, I had to learn to be relevant to the needs of Latinos and African Americans in an epidemic that knew no boundaries.
And so after a number of years, I could begin to imagine a race for the City Council, in a Ward where I not only lived but also had worked for years. I could begin to envision myself as being relevant to the overall good of my city. In that process, I also found that being gay would be but another key element in which I was as a human being; an element that need not be hidden, or broadcast, but simply accepted and appreciated.
The election itself, in 1998, in the City's most diverse Ward, proved to me that others could see that same vision of the "who" and "what" of me. All efforts to type me as a one issue, or one dimension candidate, failed. The resulting victory (with just under 50 percent of the primary vote in a field of five, including an incumbent seeking a fifth term) was in that final analysis an evaluation of me on the merits with full knowledge of virtually every aspect of my being.
And, I am glad to tell you, it has been pretty much like that ever since.