The fellowship is designed to fine tune and enhance the skill set of gay and lesbian political leaders from around the nation. Here Delegate Washington describes her time at Harvard, what she learned from the experience and her vision for the marriage referendum.
Rev. Meredith Moise (MM+) What is the fellowship?
Del. Mary Washington (MW): The David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellows program at the Harvard Kennedy School, the only mid-career training curriculum of its kind in the nation, has produced some of the country's top LGBT political talents. The fellowship was created to develop a strong cohort and network of LGBT public officials by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute and the David Bohnett Foundation. Since 2002, the program has sent 101 outstanding LGBT leaders to the Harvard Kennedy School of Government for its 3 week long Senior Executives in State and Local Government Residential Program in Cambridge. The benefit to our community as a whole is that leadership training can be one of the many ways of advancing a number of civil rights involving marriage and family equality and workplace protections for gays and lesbians. I would highly recommend it.
MM+: What are three things you learned about leadership?
MW: Firstly, it’s (leadership) a verb, not a noun. It’s not easy. Making the decision to lead can be a lonely place, could end a career and can also be exquisitely satisfying. Mentorship is very important. It’s important to mentor, and you are never too old or experienced to solicit a mentoring relationship.
MM+: Was there anything specific to the LGBT community in the training?
MW: Not really and that is the point. We were there with 78 other students and 8 of us were openly lesbian or gay, Once there was a very brief discussion about the ways that the African American Community and the Gay and Lesbian Community are pitted against each other in electoral politics to the detriment of both and the benefit of our mutual opposition. It made me realize that we in Baltimore need to get handle on this recurring dynamic in a thoughtful and persistent way.
MM+: We know you are an Obama delegate for the Democratic National Convention in September. What are some of your expectations for the convention?
MW: It was such an honor to pledge my support of President Obama and to be elected in April by my fellow Democrats to be one of the 64 Congressional District Level Delegates. I am pleased be to a member of the largest contingent of openly LGBT Delegates ever to attend a Democratic convention. It’s my first time going to a convention, so I don’t know what to expect.
I’m so excited to meet people from across the country and have serious discussions about the future of our nation and our party. Maryland will have one of the most diverse delegations on the floor, as a same gender loving woman and an African American, I can’t help but wish that one of my heroes, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm lived to see this day.
MM+: The Democrats have added marriage equality to their platform. How will this play a role in the President's chance for re election in November?
MW: It is important that the Democratic Party’s 2012 Platform reflect a progressive social and economic agenda that to seeks to move our country and our people forward and we need Barack Obama to continue to shepherd us through these difficult times. Marriage equality is consistent with the values of President Obama, and he stood up for us in the face of very strong and virulent opposition, now it is time that our community and our allies to protect him at the ballot box and give freely of our time and money support his reelection. It’s up to us to determine how this plays out at the ballot box.
MM+: And finally, the referendum. What are your top three suggestions for the LGBT community regarding winning marriage equality in November?
MW: One, contribute and Raise Money for the Cause. As we saw in the North Carolina anti-marriage equality vote last spring, we know that tens of millions of dollars will pour in from across the country to deny lesbian and gay couples in Maryland the right to marry. The opposition will purchase print media and radio and television time to depict our community and our relationships in the worse light and in an attempt to sway the public opinion that is beginning to slowly but steadily lean our way.
It is up to each one of us to do all we can to make sure that Marylanders for Marriage Equality have the resources they need to respond with our message of commitment and love, not just door to door but also on all available media.
Two, register to vote, vote early and volunteer to help get our supporters to the polls.
Early Voting starts October 27, 2012. Three, make sure your friends and family are registered and that they vote early. The last day to register to vote is October 16, 2012
Editors note: Contributions of any amount may be sent to www.marylandersformariageequality.org or Marylanders for Marriage Equality, 1010 Hull Street, Suite 202 Baltimore, MD 21230