by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Every October 11, thousands of LGBTQ people and their allies celebrate National Coming-Out Day. This year in Seattle, the observation was particularly poignant as the City of Seattle LGBTQ Employees Association and Seattle Public Utilities LGBTQ & Friends Affinity Group gathered together community leaders, politicians, and business owners to recognize the city's support for the local LGBTQ community.
The event, the first of its kind at City Hall, was held in the Bertha Knight Landes Room from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on October 7, four days earlier than the official National Coming Out Day due to a city employee furlough scheduled on October 11.
Local drag celebrity Aleksa Manila emceed the event, which opened with the lyrical stylings of Arnaldo! Drag Chanteuse, a New York Cabaret Bistro Award winner, with Victor Janusz, Seattle's piano man, accompanying.
Seattle LGBTQ Commission Chair Christopher Peguero welcomed attendees by pointing out the importance of National Coming-Out Day. In addition to his work on the commission, Peguero also co-chairs the City of Seattle LGBTQ Employees Association, a City of Seattle Gay-friendly organization that reports to the mayor, Council, and departments about sexual minority communities and recommends policies and legislation, brings the sexual minority communities and the larger Seattle community together through long-ranged projects, and ensures that City departments fairly and equitably address sexual minority concerns as individuals and as a protected class.
The LGBT Commission consists of 15 representative citizens of Seattle appointed by the mayor and City Council to serve in an advisory council capacity to the mayor, City Council, Seattle Office for Civil Rights, and other Seattle City departments.
Julie Nelson, director of the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, spoke to attendees about the city's support for LGBTQ rights that stretch back to the 1970s. Nelson, who has worked for the City of Seattle for over 20 years and served on the boards of many non-profits and worked with many community-based organizations for race and social justice, told the audience a personal story about a job selection board where the conversation began to stray from her qualifications to whether or not she was a Lesbian. 'Since this is National Coming-Out Day,' she said, 'I am proud to stand here today and tell you that I identify as a Bisexual woman. I've had meaningful and happy relationships with both women and men.'
Nelson concluded that, although it may no longer be common practice to focus on sexual orientation when hiring, there is still a lot of work left to be done before we reach full LGBTQ equality.
The Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA), the largest LGBT Chamber of Commerce in the U.S., was represented by the organization's executive director, Louise Chernin, who spoke of the need to return services which had once existed in Seattle. Chernin appealed to community leaders to 'demand that the City of Seattle provide resources and social services for our community' and challenged the LGBTQ community to take a look at providing protections for LGBTQ seniors and to proactively pursue the planning and building of an LGBTQ Community Center.
In addition to its support of LGBT and allied businesses, GSBA sponsors a scholarship program for LGBTQ students, students of LGBT families, and straight allied students who work on civil rights. Since 1990, GSBA has awarded over $1 million to more than 300 undergraduate students in Washington state.
George Bakan, chief editor and publisher of Seattle Gay News, Seattle's LGBT news and entertainment weekly for 37 years, used the podium to issue a call to action in supporting the many local services - Safe Schools Coalition, Youth Suicide Prevention Program's OUTLoud project, and GLSEN - that work towards making Seattle school's safe for LGBTQ teens in the wake of the recent rash of suicides that have caught the attention of the nation over the past few weeks. 'We must wipe away our tears and turn our sorrow into action,' said Bakan, a community activist and leader for three decades. 'There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Many of these organizations are doing great work, but could use our help in raising funds for them to continue the important outreach they provide to LGBT teens across Washington state.'
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn (D) made an appearance and told attendees that the City of Seattle fully supports their LGBTQ Employees Association and that 'We are making progress in the fight for LGBT equality. Although there is still a great deal left to achieve, we can say that as a city, we are moving forward in the right direction.'
McGinn, elected in 2009, has publicly supported LGBT rights.
Marsha Botzer, a national Transgender icon and board member of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, praised the City of Seattle leadership - past and present - for the dedication to Trans-inclusive rights and leading the way in the movement for a part of the community that is often ignored in other parts of the U.S. Botzer requested that people 'Know your history. Educate yourself and get others involved to illuminate our movement.'
Botzer worked as a psychotherapist in private practice from 1990 to 2003 in Seattle. She currently serves on many Boards of Directors of governmental and human rights organizations. Botzer was the principal author of the 1999 change to Seattle's nondiscrimination ordinances. Because of her work, Seattle now prohibits discrimination based on gender identity by specifying it as a distinct protected class.
The last speaker at the event, out Lesbian and City Councilmember Sally Clark, reiterated Louise Chernin's call for the city to provide social services and resources for the inter-sectional parts of the LGBT community. Clark's career includes both non-profit social services and government work aimed at helping people to become their own best advocates and connecting people with government in ways that improve their lives and their communities. She has served on the Seattle City Council since 2006.
National Coming-Out Day is an internationally observed civil awareness day for coming out and the discussion of LGBT issues. The day was founded by Dr. Robert Eichberg and Jean O'Leary in 1988, acting on behalf of their organizations, The Experience and National Gay Rights Advocates, in celebration of the second National March on Washington for LGBT Rights one year earlier, where over 500,000 people marched on Washington, D.C. in support of equal rights. National Coming-Out Day events are aimed at raising awareness of the LGBT community among the general populace in an effort to give a familiar face to the LGBT rights movement.
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