“Humbling, sobering…a great responsibility” – those were the words that Zachary Parker used to describe his recent victory as D.C.’s first Black, out LGBTQ+ council member.
The newly elected Ward 5 councilmember said his approach to leadership centers heavily on facilitating community engagement.
Parker told The Wash that he has “already established a help team where constituent services can help address neighbor concerns,” started a weekly newsletter, and will soon be appointing a community engagement director to his team. He said he hopes that this engagement and his focus on providing “strong constituent services” that will guide Ward 5 residents towards the best channels for addressing their concerns will foster inclusion.
“On one hand, black, gay, lesbian, trans folk in the broader gay community don’t always feel seen and heard. And so that is important for me to help reflect that and change that on the council,” Parker said. “At the same time, within the black community, as D.C. is changing so rapidly, many within the black community feel as though that change is happening to them versus with them, that they are not participating in the growing prosperity of the city.”
Parker said that “tailored policy prescriptions” are needed that “meet the realities of Washingtonians” and ensure that their voices are heard.
At the top of his agenda are responding to the demand for affordable housing – which Parker notes is rising given the “changing face of D.C.” – and public safety.
“We’re on the heels of a tragic mass shooting in Colorado Springs. And so that responsibility goes beyond just representation, but that I actually need to fight for the community and provide a voice at the table –through policy, through action, through oversight – to make sure that the LGBTQ+ community is centered in the city’s policy decisions,” Parker said.
He said that the shooting “reinforces the need for us to address the crimes here locally”.
“And so, it’s just a reminder that what the LGBTQ community needs is much more than parades and flashy events, but actually housing and protection and access to jobs. And those are the things that I’m going to be fighting for and against.”
Parker views inequity in the city’s housing market as a larger system issue affecting marginalized communities, one in which “Wards 8, 7 [and] 5, usually in that order, start seeing disproportionately more cases of everything – violence, sickness, cases of COVID”.
A former representative of the D.C. State Board of Education for over a decade, Parker views public school safety as yet another example of entrenched inequity.
“What we’re seeing happen is a system issue within our schools. And it is unconscionable that we would have students in school buildings work without working HVAC systems, heating systems, and it will be important for me to hold the city, including our mayor, accountable to the interests and the needs of Ward 5 residents,” Parker said.
Parker said that public-school safety is an issue that affects Black and LGBTQ+ disproportionately and described the importance of acknowledging intersectionality amongst his constituents “because those challenges are not the same across the community.”
“We know that bullying in school is on the rise. We know that, as members of the community affirm their own identity with their family, at times, that puts them out on the street either because the family is not accepting or welcoming, or they are facing bullying within the home,” Parker said.
“So, very quickly, you can see how members of the community, especially marginalized members of the community, are facing many barriers in many facets of their lives, working to housing to safety, and the list goes on. And it’s important for us to address that.”