by James Whitely -
SGN Staff Writer
'Truth be told, Federal Way isn't really ready,' said Tyler Young, who is starting what he says is the first LGBT group based in Federal Way, Washington, a city of approximately 86,000 located between Seattle and Tacoma. Federal Way is also one of the 10 largest cities in the state of Washington, but Young isn't letting that stop him. He's already alerted the Federal Way City Council of his intentions.
The Gay 21-year-old's interest in starting a group where Gays and Lesbians could get together in Federal Way is longstanding, but he's received increased attention lately over an op-ed he was asked to write for the Federal Way Mirror.
'I agreed to write the op-ed because it's important for Gay people in Federal Way to have someone expressing their frustrations and needs to the general community,' Young told SGN.
His op-ed - and a particularly hateful opinion letter he received in response - has generated a debate within Federal Way and Seattle about whether a Gay group is acceptable and possible in a city like Federal Way.
In his op-ed, "Gay revolution in Federal Way" (July 10), Young wrote, "You don't see Gay people here. There is no Gay culture. & Even though Gay people make up roughly five percent of the population, zero tax dollars that they pay go into diversity funding and community building to help Gays."
He also stated that the creation of an LGBT group was necessary for both political and social reasons.
"Politically, because the city council needs to be reminded that Gay people live here, too. They pay taxes, they have been here since the city was founded 20 years ago, and some of those taxes go to diversity funding and community building that excludes Gay people," wrote Young.
"Socially, we need this because without a group it is very difficult to tell who else is Gay, so connecting with similar individuals is difficult. Most Gays here can count on one hand how many Gay people they know living in Federal Way."
This sparked confusion among some residents writing into the Mirror, who were under the impression that Young was asking the city to directly fund the Gay group.
"I don't think our tax money should go towards Gay dating, though," read one online response on the Mirror website.
"When I mentioned Gay people having equal funding, I said that since Gay people are paying taxes, some of the money the local government is already putting into diversity and community building should also go to Gays. This funding could include awareness about AIDS/HIV - something that benefits non-Gay members of our city, too - or paying for teacher workshops that help teachers deal with Gay and Lesbian issues, such as bullying," Young responded. "That seems reasonable to me. I'm a Gay American who pays taxes, and should be treated equally by the Federal Way government."
According to him, the written responses he received from council members have been generally helpful, but very formal.
"Only three of the seven council members ever bothered to reply. Jack Dovey, Linda Kochmar, and Jeanne Burbidge all replied," said Young.
"Because it's a city council for a non-major city, subjects like this never really come up that often," Young told SGN. Currently, Young is trying to understand the position of each individual council member on LGBT issues.
GROUP WILL FILL THE SOCIAL NEEDS OF THE COMMUNITY
"Gay in Federal Way" is intended to primarily serve as a networking group for Gays and Lesbians to meet others like themselves, although all colors of the LGBT spectrum, including allies, are welcome.
"There isn't diversity in Federal Way the way there is in Seattle," Young told SGN. "Most Gay people know a couple other Gay people, maybe two to five; it's sort of like little pockets of networks. & That's why I created the group."
Young has lived in Federal Way all his life. However, according to him, unlike most other Gays and Lesbians who were born and raised in Federal Way, he's been "absolutely out since middle school," leaving him with a bigger Gay network than other Gays and Lesbians in the city, who are either only out to their friends or still completely in the closet. This helped him to see the need of a Gay social group for everyone.
The group had their first meeting on July 25.
"Being Gay is much more controversial in Federal Way," Young told SGN. According to him, the social networking site Facebook could not be relied upon for the group, because joining a "group" or committing to an "event" on Facebook could potentially out those participating. "Doing something like that could raise serious suspicion of them," said Young.
Despite the risks, Young thinks it's about time that LGBT Federal Way residents should not have to travel to Seattle whenever they want to feel accepted for who they are.
"[In Federal Way] I always have to keep my guard up, it's a very strange difference," said Young. Young travels to Seattle regularly as he attends school in Seattle and his partner lives in the First Hill neighborhood.
CONTROVERSIAL COMMUNITY RESPONSE
Another response, a letter to the editor titled "Pandering to the Gay lifestyle," was printed in the Mirror on July 14.
"I have lived in Federal Way for over 30 years and raised a family here," read the letter, credited to T. J. Brown. "One of the main reasons I chose Federal Way over a larger city like Seattle was precisely because Federal Way did not pander to Gays and their perverted lifestyle with Gay bathhouses, Gay bars, and dykes on bikes parades."
In his hostile letter, Brown told Young to "get out of Federal Way, and don't come back." Young responded in the July 21 edition of The Mirror. Addressing Brown's misconceptions about Gay people, he wrote, "Me and you aren't so different. I hope we meet, I hope you'll learn to see the humanity in me, and I hope someday you'll be ready to shake my hand. It will always be there for you."
Despite this incident, Young says that in general, the discrimination he has faced for being an out Gay man in Federal Way has been fairly minor. He told SGN of how, during his youth, he was removed from a class because it became known that he had a crush on his male teacher, and that during his middle and high school years some teachers thought that he was "probably pretending for attention," but Young does not fear violence in Federal Way.
"If somebody wants to beat me up, I'll kick their ass," Young told SGN.
Young also voiced his support for the police force in Federal Way. He mentioned that some of his Gay friends have been vocally discriminated against by Federal Way police in the past, but he personally has not.
"The police force is always going to reflect the community, because the police force comes from the community," said Young.
The group currently meets at the Federal Way Regional Library (34200 1st Way S.). Next month's meeting will feature a celebrity guest appearance from openly Gay actor/model Daniel Skelton (Eating Out 3: All You Can Eat).
"It's time for the Gay revolution in Federal Way to begin," said Young.
To learn more about the group and check meeting times, check them out on Facebook or at www.gayinfederalway.blogspot.com.
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