“I am one of those people who always felt, for a long time, that my voice wasn’t being heard and that I didn’t see myself represented on the Council,” says Anthony Lorenzo Green, a lifetime resident of Washington and one of only two openly gay candidates seeking a seat on the D.C. Council.
Green is right when he says there aren’t many like him in the world of D.C. politics. He hasn’t worked for a think tank, or headed a major political organization. He hasn’t worked his way through the ranks of various government positions, and he wasn’t a political appointee in charge of a major city agency — as was Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray, the incumbent he’s challenging, who oversaw the D.C. Department of Human Services under the chaotic administration of former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly.
But the 34-year-old resident of Ward 7’s Deanwood neighborhood and local ANC commissioner, says his atypical resumé — which includes stints as a consultant, a claims examiner for the D.C. Department of Employment Services, and a rideshare driver, primarily for Uber — as well as his experience as a community organizer outside of work hours, are benefits that put him more in touch with the feelings and concerns of working-class Washingtonians.
“We’ve always seen a certain type of leadership that caters to a certain crowd,” he says, “while so many working-class families are getting up every day trying to find ways to make ends meet, and are not seeing policies that uplift their lives.”
Green is keen to highlight the anxiety and stress that burden the District’s working class, as well as the seeming lack of attention that those worries receive in relation to other issues. For Green, it’s a personal fight. He sees himself and his closest neighbors struggling to pay bills in a rapidly gentrifying city that has become very unaffordable.
“I woke up one day, with my own apartment and my own car, and realized, ‘I’m working more than 40 hours per week and I still can’t pay this rent,” he says. “And I’m in a position of: do I pay rent this month, or do I buy food? And when you try to apply for help, you realize my income is slightly above what you’ve set as the limit, but what I’m making now isn’t putting food on my table, so where do I go for help? So that’s what really pushed me to get involved in politics.”
Born in Southwest Washington, Green was primarily raised by his grandmother in the Deanwood neighborhood of Northeast D.C. He attended public schools, matriculating at H.D. Woodson High during the “Tower of Power” years, when the school’s seven-story frame loomed large over the ward, making a young Lorenzo feel as though he was entering a penitentiary more than a place of learning. He dropped out in twelfth grade, but with the assistance of a concerned and dedicated teacher, managed to earn a GED instead of having to repeat his senior year.
Soon after, he began working at the National Business Travel Association as a global relations and programs coordinator, a job that not only introduced him to business travel, but his first experience flying on a plane.
Although he later lost that job due to cutbacks after the financial crisis in 2009, he landed a position as a visa and passport specialist for CIBT, and another, a few years later, in the call center of the District’s Department of Employment Services, where he fielded calls regarding unemployment compensation. He was later promoted to the level of examiner, serving until October 2017, when he left to open up his own consulting business while working part-time as a rideshare driver to supplement his income.
Green, who identifies as “same-gender-loving,” says he knew from a young age that he was different, eventually acknowledging his sexual orientation by the time he was eleven. But because he was raised in a very religious home — and in the Holiness denomination — there was conflict, resulting in what he calls a “traumatic upbringing” in terms of his spiritual life.
“With many black churches, homosexuality was not something accepted at all,” he says. “I was told it was a phase, and you’re going to break out of it.”
When he was nine years old, he was “prayed over” by several ladies in the church, as well as by his pastor on a separate occasion, in hopes that they could “pray the demon out.”
“The ladies pinned me down on the floor and prayed over me for three hours,” he recalls. “I was scared and screaming for them to let me up. The second two hours, I just gave up and went to sleep…. To this day, I have this very strange relationship when working with churches. I consider myself very spiritual, but I do not appreciate the trauma that young boys like myself had to go through to figure out who we are.”
Green also had to battle for acceptance closer to home.
“My uncle, who was the only person who was a father figure in my life, had a moment where he pulled out a gun and said I could not be gay, that he would not allow it,” Green recalls. “Now, mind you, that same night, he came back drunk, crying, and apologizing for what he did, because I was his baby…. He was raised a certain way and thought he could force it out of me. I forgave him, because I understood where he was coming from.”
As one of six candidates challenging Gray in the Ward 7 Democratic primary, Green has keyed in on economic justice as a crucial plank of his pitch to voters. It’s something that comes naturally to him, having advocated for pro-union and pro-worker policies as an ANC Commissioner, both in Ward 8, where he lived until mid-2016, and in Ward 7, where he now lives with his elderly grandmother, serving as her caretaker. His bid for office has been endorsed by the Working Families Party, which seeks to elect politicians who will push for worker-friendly public policies once in office.
“I am progressive, and I’ve gotten comfortable with owning the title of ‘radical,’ because certain people have been throwing that label on me,” he says. “But we’re in a time when you need radical leadership, because incrementalism has been destructive for the lives of many working families, which is why I’m proud to have the Working Families Party endorsement.”
Asked to diagnose what ails his community and others like it, Green says there’s a great deal of disengagement because people often feel they’re being “talked at, as opposed to listened to” by politicians.
“When you listen to folks, they’ll tell you ‘I’d love to get a college education, or a skill that would allow me to have a lifetime career. But I’m not seeing programs to support that. I’m not getting help to make it able for me to survive just to make it to next week,'” he notes. “People want someone who’s going to advocate on their behalf and direct them in a certain way that’s going to make them able to resolve their problems.”
Green also retains a good amount of criticism for the Democratic Party, both locally and nationally, for straying from its working-class roots in an attempt to pursue the votes of the historically Republican-leaning professional-managerial class.
“We’re seeing a trend of young black millennials and Generation Zs who are not registering as Democrats, who bristle at the Democratic Party label because they see it as a corporate entity, a party that caters to capitalism as opposed to working people, and the few working people they do cater to seem to have a white face and be from Middle America. Every election cycle, there’s an initiative to get down to the grassroots level, where they’re pushing hard for black and brown voters to turn out, but when it comes to the policies that will help them, we’re not seeing that push.
“That whole pitch of the ‘return to normalcy,’ the nostalgia for the Obama years doesn’t sell, because it ignores the fact that those were some hard years for many people as well,” Green warns. “We can’t go back. We need policies that are actually going to protect us and get back to the root causes of poverty.
“Even at this moment, you’re seeing organizers on the ground say, ‘You know what, maybe this [COVID-19] crisis is the opportunity to flip some of these political tables,’ and push policies that address the issues affecting people struggling every day to put food on their table, clothes on their back, and make sure their kids get to school with a good education. That’s all we want is the basics, and that’s how we look at it: as the basics. What we’ve been doing for years is not something that seems to be benefitting working folks.”
To further his point, Green points to the elected Democrats in positions of power in D.C.
“I believe we have a trend of electing Democrats in this city who tend to govern like Republicans,” he says. “You have these people who are afraid of going back to an era in D.C. where there was so much entrenched poverty everywhere. So they always return to this narrative of needing to invest in developers to put up buildings that are unaffordable.”
In his own ward, Green ticks off a number of issues of concern to his neighbors, many of which are long-festering problems that have gone largely unresolved since his own childhood. People are concerned about the scarce number of grocery stores east of the Anacostia River, and the quality of the products at those specific locations. Rents are rising and even so-called “affordable housing” developments that are being built seem to be marketed toward more affluent city residents. People, particularly young black males, are concerned about the use of increased police presence to solve social ills, and the at-times strained relationships that can exist between police and community members.
One of the issues that has come to a head in Green’s neighborhood is the issue of sex workers who seek out customers along the Eastern Avenue corridor, often putting themselves at risk of violence, with two transgender women losing their lives last year. As a result, Green has come out in favor of decriminalizing sex work in the District, a position that puts him at odds with some of his fellow residents, as well as city politicians including Mayor Muriel Bowser, who opposes decriminalization.
“We have a historic stroll that’s been around on Eastern Avenue since I was a baby,” he says. “And the solution that people wanted to follow was to put as many police officers as possible in that corridor and have them try to arrest their way out of the problem. That has led to police officers abusing their power, on both sides of the border, using their badge and gun to get services for themselves, using their badge and gun to strike fear in people who are on the street.”
From Green’s perspective, the abundance of sex workers is testament to the lack of policies to address the economic insecurity, housing insecurity and homelessness that many sex workers face. Additionally, arresting the women and charging them with crimes makes it harder for the women to find employment or housing once they try to leave sex work.
“I know people will use the pain of others to politicize the issue and say ‘Lorenzo just wants more prostitution.’ That’s false,” Green says. “But I’m sick of sitting in church pews, with police at the table in front of us, having the same-old conversations we’ve been having since I was little. Now I’m at the table, and I’m not gonna sell you the same old story. We have to peel back these layers and provide resources to people at the margins of our society.”
If elected, Green says he would develop programs intended to create a “dedicated pipeline for employment opportunities” in D.C. government that allows transgender individuals to be hired. He notes that it can’t be a temporary, one-off, or “token” program where only one person or a handful of people get hired in a small number of departments.
Of course, some of Green’s positions have already earned him derision, particularly from his opponents.
“There have already been folks trying to assassinate my character on the low, as we say,” he notes. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some PAC that ultimately decides to try to come for me and spread false narratives about me.”
While Green has support from some LGBTQ individuals in his ward, he doesn’t enjoy a substantial amount from the larger LGBTQ political establishment in the District. But he suggests that those establishment figures may have subliminal or internal biases that lead them to favor incumbent politicians, or candidates who are more educated, from professional backgrounds, or white, when determining who to support.
“It goes deeper than just politics,” he says of the divides between white LGBTQ community leaders and LGBTQ people of color. “I’ve had friends who have been sex workers…. Even with my friends who have made this a career, when you listen to stories of who their clientele is, it’s often white gay men who like to spend their time with black gay men, but when it comes to pushing for policies that would uplift the lives of black boys or black men, they’re not there to fight for them.
“It really goes to the issue of ‘Who fights for whom?’ and who shows up when we need them,” he adds. “And it goes far beyond gay marriage. We all need the opportunity to marry who we love, but we also want to see that same organizing strength to ensure that black LGBTQ folks can actually have a place to live in this city, and can actually operate in a city that is not constantly criminalizing them.
“We need people who are part of this big, diverse community to understand we have to fight for all of us, not just a certain segment that is attached to money, power and privilege,” Green says. “White supremacy is something deeper than just a white nationalist entity, it’s deep in the structures of our society. So we need folks who are going to be willing to show up and tear down those barriers in our society so we can all fulfill our fullest potential in life.”
For more information on Anthony Lorenzo Green’s campaign for D.C. Council, visit www.greenward7.com.
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