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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 20, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 20
Seattle LGBT Commission to put survey findings to good use
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Seattle LGBT Commission to put survey findings to good use

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Last week, the Seattle LGBT Commission released a preliminary report of the results from a six-week online survey to assess the needs of Seattle's LGBT community on issues including housing, education, health, public safety, and community involvement.

Nearly 1,600 people participated in the survey from June 18 through July 31, 2010.

Choosing from a multiple-choice list of answers, participants' top three concerns were marriage equality (55.5%) hate crime violence/harassment (39.0%) and healthcare (32.0%). The survey also asked respondents about the biggest issues impacting them personally. Healthcare (51.6%), marriage equality (49.0%), and lack of jobs in this economy (43.4%) were the most popular responses.

This week, Seattle Gay News spoke with Eleazar Juárez-Díaz, co-chair for the Commission, to find out what the group intends to do with the data.

The top concern among LGBT Seattleites, according to respondents, was marriage equality. Eleazar agreed that result comes as no surprise.

'Sadly, no one is surprised to see that LGBT folks don't always feel safe in their communities, or that marriage equality is an issue for us. We are excited, however, to have concrete data of what all of these issues look like in Seattle because it is one of the only ways to move forward with real solutions,' Eleazar told SGN. 'The Commission's role is to advise the mayor and the City Council around any issues that are important to the LGBT community. When we set out to do the survey, we wanted the data to be a community resource with information that would benefit nonprofits, city departments, etc. Not every question on the survey will necessarily correlate to specific actions by the Commission and we want to work on the areas where we'll have the most impact. For example, our work on harassment and relationship-building with the Seattle Police Department really leverages our role as a city commission.'

'We know that this [marriage equality] is going to be a priority for our community until we get those rights, so it will continue to be an issue that the Commission works on,' he said. 'Like with any issue, we will take any opportunity to support existing work that community groups might already be doing and to advocate for the efforts with city government.'

Remember the Capitol Hill crime spree last summer? The survey came out during the spike in assaults, muggings, and other such crimes. Not surprisingly, the second most important topic of concern from respondents was hate crime violence/harassment.

According to Eleazar, the Commission already participates in the Seattle Police Department's LGBT Advisory Council and meets regularly with SPD officials to bring issues to their attention and to help provide feedback and possible solutions. He said the LGBT Commission is wholeheartedly committed to holding SPD to a very high standard when it comes to handling bias crimes and engaging with the LGBT community.

'I think it's important to note the high percentage of people who aren't reporting incidents of harassment. While Seattle may be generally very safe, these results are telling us there are a lot of things going on that aren't being officially recorded,' he said. 'We need to find out why LGBT people aren't reporting harassment and then figure out how to increase that reporting. It will help SPD and the LGBT community to have a more complete picture of what types of harassment are going on, where these incidents are happening, who's being targeted, etc., so that we can better direct resources towards the problem.'

Health care was also an issue of concern. Recently the LGBT Commission has taken a leading role on this.

'We are committed to ensuring that the city of Seattle removes exclusions for Trans employees from its insurance plan, but we are also concerned with making sure that LGBT folks have access to LGBT-competent healthcare,' said Eleazar. 'We are often going to a physician who does not understand our lifestyle or doesn't take into consideration the different health care priorities of LGBT folks. The LGBT community is often subjected to insurance plans that don't recognize same-sex couples, and that can be a huge financial burden for LGBT couples.'

Just like anyone else without health insurance, uninsured LGBT people are placed in a tenuous position. However, the survey shows that there are a lot of LGBT people with chronic or ongoing medical issues, and there are some national studies showing that LGBT people are at higher risk for a variety of health problems. For example, when managing a substance abuse problem or dealing with depression or trying to maintain a drug regimen, not having insurance can be a life or death situation.

'We also thought it was really important to ask the question about what types of health issues LGBT people are dealing with,' Eleazar pointed out. 'We really didn't know if the LGBT population in Seattle had specific health care needs. By getting more data about our own LGBT community here, we can help the city and community organizations identify what types of services need to be prioritized.'

So why did the Seattle LGBT Commission conduct this survey in the first place? The answer, said Eleazar, is that there was a need to compile concrete evidence that was representative of our community.

'In 2008, Mayor Nickels held a roundtable with LGBT stakeholders, and while a great deal of important issues came up in the conversation, there was a lack of data to back them up,' he said. 'Mayor Nickels asked for more concrete information on the LGBT population in Seattle, and Seattle Snapshot is the first step in gathering this valuable data.'

Many of us are aware of the needs and concerns of our community, but without concrete data it is hard for us to create policies or budget recommendations and speak to the overall state of our community, he said.

'Non-profits and community groups also work hard on our issues and will hopefully benefit from this data and somehow use it to support their work or to seek grant funding to finance it,' continued Eleazar. 'The Seattle Snapshot survey is not the be-all and end-all of what the LGBT community looks like, but a snapshot to provide jumping-off points and guidance. We hope it starts a conversation about how we can all work together.'

While the survey reflected a diverse cross-section of the LGBT community, the Commission acknowledges that it is impossible to accurately capture every segment of the population. While homeless, Trans, seniors, and youth were represented in the survey, the Commission doesn't feel like the samples were adequate. As a result of that effort, they are now reaching out to these communities to get their input before they submit a final report (and suggestions) to Mayor McGinn and the City Council.

'We are working on setting up a meeting and gathering feedback from groups who were not represented as thoroughly in the survey as we would have liked,' said Eleazar. 'We are meeting with folks individually, going to their group meetings, or asking them to come to this forum. We will give a brief presentation on the results the survey has produced so far and will seek their feedback on that information as well as listen to what they have to say. We're looking to find out if the survey is reflective of their experiences, but we also want to know what ideas people have for solutions. This isn't just about identifying problems; we want to start creating a plan for moving forward. We want as diverse a cross-section of the LGBT community as possible to be represented in our final report to the mayor and City Council.'

The forum will take place in the Rainbow Room at Seattle Counseling Service on May 31 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

'The Commission works hard to make sure that we are part of any dialogue within the city government that might pertain to the LGBT community and that we are committed to representing our community's needs as best we can,' said Eleazar. 'Seattle has a long legacy of considering the needs of LGBT people. It is the reason why so many of us live here. It is the Commission's responsibility to ensure that Seattle lives up to our community's expectations.'

Seattle LGBT Commission meetings are public and they welcome members of the community to come and talk with them about the issues affecting the community. They meet in City Hall on the third Thursday of each month from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

'There are opportunities to work with us or become a commissioner,' said Eleazar, 'so I would urge people to come to a meeting and engage with us.'

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