Philip Pannell (2009)

Philip Pannell arrived in Washington in 1975. 
Photo © Patsy Lynch

“... I am exceedingly proud to live in a city that protects minorities from the possible tyranny of the majority... We live in a society where it is still acceptable to discriminate against lesbians and gays and advocate measures that will give rise to public expressions of prejudice.”

''I would say to my fellow LGBT brothers and sisters, we are the ones who know about the oppression of the closet. We should definitely feel the need for our disenfranchisement to come out of the shadows... We, in a way, should understand exactly what it means that not only are we facing homophobic oppression on a daily basis in our society, but then you have those of us living in the District of Columbia, which means we're also second-class citizens."

“Is it fair that a heterosexual couple after a night of carousing in Las Vegas can wake up the next day and discover in the midst of their hangovers that they got married several hours earlier and immediately have all rights; yet, two persons of the same gender who have been in a responsible, committed, loving, long term relationship have no opportunity to achieve even a fraction of those rights?”

Thirty-five years after coming to DC to work for Councilmember Arrington Dixon in the first post-home rule City Council, Philip Pannell is still hard at work for his communities: gay, African-American, citizens of the District, and residents of Anacostia.

He still works with Dixon – as executive director of the Anacostia Coordinating Council.  Since 1974, Phil Pannell has become a spokesman, a political tactician, an instigator, an agitator, a community organizer and a lightning rod for the aspirations of the gay community, the Ward 8 community, and civil libertarians across the city.

Phil’s list of responsibilities and accomplishments ought to belong to two or three people.  Somehow he marshals reserves of energy, enthusiasm and anger that keep him going and pressing his issues. He is still on his toes, still keeping folks on their toes.  He doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the talk.

Serving as Dixon’s constituent services liaison in the mid-1970s put Phil in the middle of such gay community issues as the carding used to exclude African-Americans and others and community relations issues created by the presence of the new Clubhouse dance club at 13th and Upshur.  By the time the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club formed for gay Democrats in 1976, Phil was already president of the city’s Young Democrats club.  As he says, “[In the 1970s] Being black gay and political, and particularly mainstream Democratic, I was a rarity.  Some probably thought I was an oddity.”

Shortly after the DC Coalition of Black Gays formed in 1978, he became a member and has been one ever since.  He also joined the Langston Hughes Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club, an alternative to the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club.  Phil has been at the heart of African-American gay politics and issues for years.  He was enthusiastically involved in Marion Barry’s second campaign for mayor, wrote for Sidney Brinkley’s BlackLight gay periodical, and worked with the Evan-Tibbs Gallery, especially on fundraising events.  With other African-American gay and lesbian leaders he organized a fundraiser at the Clubhouse for Barry.  In 1983, he was named to the DC Human Rights Commission for a two year term.

He has served six terms as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner largely in Ward 8 in Anacostia and five terms as head of the Ward 8 Democratic Party.  He has run for offices on the DC School Board and for shadow Senator from the District.  For nine years he served as a member of the DC Public Libraries board.

Phil’s fearlessness has undergirded his campaign to remove drug paraphernalia from shops in his Anacostia community. In 2006 he led opposition to the sale of materials for drug use at gas stations, grocery stores, and other shops in the area.  That same year he was part of vehement local opposition to opening slot machine gambling hall in Anacostia, commenting that "A casino at this location would be a death knell for development. Slot machines would be a bad bet for development.”

Phil Pannell is equally outspoken and firm in advocating the rights of all citizens of the District to representation in the national legislature, making the link between other forms of oppression and the second class status of citizens of the District.

For his community of LGBT citizens, Phil campaigns unrelentingly for basic civil rights for the gay community, most recently for establishment of same-sex marriage rights.   He hardly hesitates to point out the bigotry in initiatives to restrict the legal and civil rights of residents and to undermine the scope and authority of the city’s human rights act. Phil served as the first mayoral liaison to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community

As someone once remarked, it is so much better to have Phil on your side than against you.