D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy visited a gay rights meeting this week and wound up rejecting an opportunity to become a major gay rights advocate in the city.
"I can't be a leader of the gay rights movement," a somewhat embarrassed-looking Fauntroy told a reporter, shortly after he declined the leadership invitation from a lesbian activist. "I've got my other priorities."
The situation arose Monday night, when Fauntroy, a Baptist minister and one of the few local politicians who has never paid homage to the city's gay community by attending a Gay Pride Day, spoke to the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club. The organization is the major gay rights political group in the city.
Breaking with his previous low-key contact with gay rights groups, Fauntroy trekked down to the stuffy meeting room of the Gay Community Center on 15th and Church streets NW to ask a crowd of 75 persons for help in the foundering Congressional voting rights drive.
Fauntroy drew strong parallels between the civil rights movement, in which he was one of the chief lieutenants of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and the gay rights movement. He assured the club's members that he would join them in a planned Oct. 14 national march in Washington in support of lesbian and gay rights, "if I'm here."
But when lesbian activist Mary Spottswood Pou pressed Fauntroy to act as a liaison between the overwhelmingly white gay activist community and a surrounding black community with which it sometimes feels strained relations, Fauntroy declined.
"I cannot be the leader for (several) movements," Fauntroy said. "I have the full voting representation thing...which consumes most of my time and energy.
"I cannot become your leader in that sense. You wouldn't want it that way. So when I can't come to all your things, you'll understand."
Fauntroy said afterwards that he went to the Monday night meeting simply because he had been asked to come. It had nothing to do, he said, with the notion in some political circles that he is trying to broaden his base because he is losing influence and is perilously close to facing serious opposition.
Tom Bastow, president of the club, said Fauntroy's office became more interested in the gay political movement after some of the delegate's precinct workers discovered last May that gay voters were a formidable force in some areas of the city.
That discovery, Bastow said, came when Paul Kuntzler, who is gay, defeated a candidate backed by some of Fauntroy's associates in a bid for a seat on the D.C. Democratic State Committee from Ward 2. Gay voting strength is considered strongest in that area of the city.
That defeat, plus the news that City Councilman John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2), a political darling of the gay community, is contemplating running against Fauntroy, has made the delegate more interested in gay voters, Bastow asserted.
"I think one of the things in the congressman's mind is to keep his flanks covered," Bastow said, shortly after Fauntroy received a standing ovation for his speech Monday night. "And I thought he did a pretty good job of keeping them covered."
Fauntroy has been somewhat of a closet supporter of gay rights in the past, even though ministers in the city - especially black Baptist ministers - have publicly frowned upon gay rights. He has twice been among several cosponsors of federal legislation for a national gay rights bill.
Last year, the Stein Club endorsed Fauntroy "kind of as an afterthought," Bastow said. It was in appreciation for his endorsement of the national bill, which has yet to pass Congress.
Remember Mayor Marion Barry's complaint about the month-long frustration he encountered trying to get a poster desgned to promote his pet project, the summer jobs for yough program?
"There are some people who are just incompetent," Barry told a reporter in April. "As I said to (acting labor director) Matt (Shannon) the other day, I said, "Matt, if we can't get a damn poster from a GS-14, we ought to fire him or do something with him..."
One of the problems with the posters Barry rejected, it now turns out, is that they did not include his name or his picture. An initial design didn't even mention that the mayor was sponsoring the program. A second poster said it was the "mayor's" program but did not name the mayor.
The third version which Barry finally accepted, included his name and photograph. It was adopted as the major poster for promoting the jobs program - after the city had already paid more than $800 for 600 other posters the mayor did not like.
Alan F. Grip, director of the D.C. Department of Communications, said that his newly formed office had not been fully operating as a central clearing house for D.C. government graphics at the time the posters were planned.
"The labor department just went about doing things the way it's always been doing things," Grip said.
And the first two posters just weren't Marion Barry's style. "It wasn't that the mayor didn't like them because they didn't have his name on them," Grip said. "He just didn't like them. It's a subjective thing."
The posters have not been the only credit-where-credit-is-due item to add to the cost of the jobs program.
When Barry announced last week that he had reached his goal of providing 30,000 summer jobs, he was surrounded by youth workers in white T-shirts that read, "Mayor's 1979 Summer Youth Job Program." The city purchased 23,000 T-shirts at a cost of $1 each.
Those at the press conference were given their shirts. However, Audrey Rowe, Barry's special assistant for youth affairs, said youngsters will be asked to pay $1 each for the shirts. Those who cannot afford to pay will be given a shirt anyway, she said.
Funds for shirts - equal to the amount of money that could provide 38 additional summer jobs - came from a separate training grant the city received from the U.S. Department of Labor, Rowe said.
"We wanted all of the youngsters to have a way of identifying themselves as youngsters who are working," Rowe said, "and to identify with each other."