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Washington, D. C.  
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The capital of the United States since 1800, Washington, D. C. has also been one of the capitals of glbtq life in the country for more than a century, despite periodic crackdowns by the police and government.

Historically, the city's gay population has been divided by race and gender, which led to the early development of vibrant black glbtq and white lesbian communities and established the District of Columbia as a leader in the black glbtq and lesbian feminist movements.

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The city has also been at the forefront of enacting glbtq rights legislation, even though the federal government has continually tried to thwart any local measure favorable to glbtq communities.

Cruising Men in the Nation's Capital

Washington's gay history dates back at least to the early 1890s, when black men in "womanly attire" held an annual "drag dance," and eighteen men, the majority of them African American, were caught engaging in oral sex in Lafayette Square across from the White House within the span of a few months in 1892.

The threat (and reality) of arrest notwithstanding, men seeking other men for sex continued to frequent the city's extensive federal park system. For example, "Jeb Alexander," a white, middle-class government employee, regularly cruised downtown parks, as well as sought sexual partners in the city's theaters and burlesque houses, during the early 1920s.

African Americans in the Life

With segregation limiting the access of African Americans to public establishments in the District until the 1950s, the parks were one of the few places where blacks and whites interested in same-sex sexual relationships could interact with each other, although several interracial clubs catered to lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals during the 1920s and 1930s. In the late 1940s, a bar located near Howard University was popular with black gay and bisexual men and white men looking to meet black sex partners.

Since African Americans who were "in the life" could not patronize many of the gay restaurants and bars that arose in Washington in the early and mid-twentieth century, they often entertained at home or socialized in bars or after-hours places with other African Americans.

They also began to create their own bars, including Nob Hill, which opened as a private club in the early 1950s and was thought to be the oldest continuing black gay bar in the country for many years before it closed in 2004.

Glbtq African Americans in the capital have continued to make history, establishing the Baltimore-Washington Coalition of Black Gay Men and Women, the nation's first black gay activist organization, in 1978 (which continues today as the D. C. Coalition of Black Lesbians, Gay Men, and Bisexuals) and the nation's first Black Lesbian and Gay Pride Weekend in 1991.

The District of Columbia has also been a cultural center for black glbtq artists, most notably in the 1980s, when local performers, including Essex Hemphill and Michelle Parkerson, achieved national acclaim.

Lesbian Feminist Activism

Lesbian feminist activists in the city have also had a national impact. The theory and practice of the lesbian feminist movement was shaped in part by the writing of the Furies, a collective of twelve white women who lived and worked together in Washington in 1971-1972. Members of the group, including Rita Mae Brown, Joan E. Biren (JEB), Ginny Berson, and Charlotte Bunch, subsequently became pioneers in lesbian literature, art, music, and politics.

In 1990, lesbian activists in the District founded the Mary-Helen Mautner Project for Lesbians with Cancer, the first national organization whose mission is to provide support to same-sex loving women affected by the disease. The group also seeks to educate lesbians about their cancer risk and medical practitioners about the community's health care needs. In large part because of the Mautner Project's efforts, the impact of cancer on lesbians and bisexual women is beginning to be discussed by the American medical establishment.

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The U.S. Capitol in Washington D. C.
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