WASHINGTON — My earliest sense of what it meant to be gay in the nation’s capital came more than a decade ago when I was a summer intern. I was a few blocks from Union Station when a congressman walked by and gave the reporters I was standing with a big, floppy wave hello.
“You know what they say about him,” said one of them, the inflection of his voice rising to a squeak so there could be no mistaking what he meant.
I didn’t know, in fact. I wasn’t even sure what the congressman’s name was. But the message was as clear as it was unsettling for a 20-year-old struggling with his own sexual identity: There were plenty of gay people in Washington, even at the highest levels of government. But instead of being widely accepted, they were usually whispered about derisively, suspect characters to be mocked and maligned.
Today, having moved here 10 months ago after six and a half years of living in Manhattan, I hardly recognize that closeted, often intolerant Washington I first glimpsed as a 20-year-old. I now live in 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.