In the first seven months of 2015, there were 41 reported anti-LGBTQ hate-based crimes or incidents in Seattle, a 46 percent increase over last year. Between a rising sense of danger, concern over displacement from what has been considered the city’s queer district of Capitol Hill and frustration over the disproportionately high numbers of LGBTQ homeless youth, community leaders have been pushing for solutions.
The city has responded with an action plan, already visible in requirements that single-stall public and city restrooms be designated all-gendered, in a Safe Place program to enroll businesses as shelters for LGBTQ people under threat, and in the rainbow crosswalks that now adorn Pike and Pine streets.
But the message at a recent forum was clear: There’s still plenty to do.
“The gravest mistake we could make is to think that we are so well-off in this state and city that we can step back and go about our lives,” said Mayor Ed Murray.
On Aug. 11, local leaders, service providers and community organizers dove into a lively standing-room-only discussion at Gay City Health Project, exploring issues that have been at the forefront of Seattle’s LGBTQ community.
The discussion was a campaign event for Seattle City Council hopeful Lorena González.
Many on the panel, including community organizer Josh Castle, Marcos Martinez of Entre Hermanos and Danni Askini of the Gender Justice League, are on Murray’s LGBTQ Task Force, which provided the recommendations behind his action plan.
On the table: safety and gentrification in Capitol Hill; the need for community spaces; the intersection of class, race and sexual orientation or gender identity; and to what extent solutions should arise from within the community or with aid from outside forces.
Panelists called for city grants for community-based solutions, such as the self-defense classes and lgbtq safety shuttle run by Social Outreach Seattle, and expressed frustration at the way funds are currently doled out — either to more mainstream organizations that are not well-equipped to work with specific populations or with arduous requirements.
“A lot of structures around grants are very onerous around proving your worthiness to receive funds and other people’s worthiness to receive assistance,” Askini said. “There is this structural mistrust of organizations and of communities.”
A deeply rooted mistrust of law enforcement within the LGBTQ community heightens the need for community responses, panelists said.
Panelists linked affordable housing, rent control and a higher minimum wage with the preservation of Capitol Hill as a safe and welcoming space for LGBTQ communities. Martinez, whose LGBTQ organization was priced out of its prior location on Broadway and Pike, joked about a rainbow-covered neighborhood where no gay people can afford to live.
“We are really at risk of losing that,” he said. “And the importance of having community space is something we can’t lose.”
For Zachary Pullin of the Capitol Hill Community Council, the struggle to feel safe is embodied in something small: deciding whether to continue holding his fiancé’s hand when they pass a group, then coping with the shame he feels when he lets go or celebrating a victory when he squeezes a little tighter.
“If folks can’t see my queerness, then they can’t and don’t see me,” Pullin said. “People have to see that struggle to understand the reality of our existence.”