by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
When Jeffrey King, president of OutVentures, an outdoor organization for the LGBT community, began the process of procuring booth space at PrideFest, the annual Gay Pride celebration at Seattle Center, he was faced with a policy that he just couldn't stomach: all organizations and businesses wishing to set up shop at PrideFest are required to submit to a policy stating that they offer or could refer people to smoking-cessation services.
The plan this year is simple: If you do not comply, you cannot rent a booth.
King was outraged. OutVentures has been a part of PrideFest for years. 'Why the new requirement?' he wondered.
'Our board does not believe that any outside body has the right to dictate any policies we should or should not have. The particular policy they are asking us to add or change is completely irrelevant,' King told Seattle Gay News. 'What is relevant is that Gay City - and PrideFest, for that matter - are requiring businesses and organizations to add a policy into their by-laws; a mandate that we believe flies in the face of what Pride is all about.'
Pride is about individualism and celebrating who we are, said King, not about changing the core of organizations to suit what someone else thinks they should be.
'This is what the Pride movement has been about from the beginning,' he said.
King set about telling the members of OutVentures in an email, 'The OutVentures leadership feels that an outside organization should not be allowed to dictate to us what policies we do or do not have, and it is not our place to tell our members what they should or should not be doing. So, we are going to have our booth at the Broadway Festival on Saturday the 25th, not the PrideFest on Sunday the 26th.'
The email continued, 'Thank you for understanding that we don't take this action lightly and hope you understand how difficult it is for us to break our long-standing relationship with the official pride celebration. OutVentures has been a loyal part of Seattle's Gay community for almost 10 years. We are saddened to think that many organizations probably felt trapped and simply capitulated to this request & which in the long run makes [the] policy, and its intent, meaningless. Your OutVentures leadership has chosen NOT to capitulate to this request. It is my sincere hope that we can rejoin the Seattle Center Pride celebration next year.'
Tobacco use is the leading cause of death in King County, claiming 7,600 lives per year and costing the state nearly $2 billion in health care annually. Each Washington household has an added tax burden of $625 every year for tobacco-related health care, even if nobody in the household smokes. A strong foundation of effective tobacco policies has led to a large drop in overall tobacco use and reduced secondhand smoke exposure.
However, said PrideFest officials, it's clear that these wins are not evenly distributed among all population groups. For example, King County has huge disparities in smoking prevalence by race and ethnicity, income, sexual orientation, and geographic area. In fact, LGBT people show some of the highest smoking prevalence rates of all disproportionately affected populations - we are twice as likely to smoke as the general public.
Festival director Egan Orion said he stands in solidarity with Gay City. 'We at PrideFest strongly believe in a libertarian approach to government and society, and believe that there is undue influence on LGBT people that directly impacts our health with regards to tobacco in particular,' he said. 'We've partnered with Gay City Health Project to make sure every vendor, sponsor, and non-profit at PrideFest 2011 has a tobacco policy in place, to commit to not taking Big Tobacco's money, and to ensure that every organization has resources in place to support those who may want to quit smoking.'
'We are not anti-smoking,' he said. 'We are for limiting the undue influence of money from tobacco companies and in support of access to resources for all organizations [that] choose to be a part of the festival.'
For organizations such as OutVentures, that do not have a policy in place, Orion says they advised them on how to proceed.
'If you don't already have a tobacco policy in place, it takes just a minute to work with Gay City to develop one,' wrote Orion on the PrideFest's official website, www.seattlepridefest.org. 'It's a small step, and is just another way PrideFest and Gay City are working together to help make our community healthier.'
Gay City's staff did make contact with OutVentures. They wrote to King in an email, 'For an organization like yours, it could be a simple referral statement saying that you will refer members to the [Tobacco] Quitline if they would like to stop smoking. Something like this: It is the policy of OutVentures to provide members seeking smoking-cessation services with a referral to 1-800-QUIT-NOW and www.quitline.com.'
King declined the offer.
'POLICY REQUIREMENT CLEARLY SPELLED OUT'
PrideFest officials say they refuse to shy away from the issue. In fact, Orion says he welcomes it.
'Through the PrideFest website, the only place for vendors to book their booth space, this policy requirement was clearly spelled out from the start, and it was indicated that Gay City Health Project would work with participating vendors to help confirm or draft tobacco policies appropriate for their organizations,' he pointed out.
One Degree Events rents space to non-profit organizations (which have been the primary sources of complaint so far) at below the actual cost because they provide essential services to the community.
'To be a vendor at a public event is never a right - there are always vendor requirements,' said Orion. 'The fact that our requirements for PrideFest 2011 have to do with support of LGBT health and wellness should come as no surprise with our long-standing partnership with Gay City Health Project.'
Organizations and businesses that rent space at PrideFest have direct access to the LGBT community, and either serve or want business from the community. In exchange for the privilege of that access, said Orion, 'all we were asking for this year was for organizations to work with Gay City to draft a tobacco policy that made sense for that organization.'
It could be as simple as making a pledge to not take money from big tobacco companies and providing employees and/or volunteers with the number for the Tobacco Quitline, he said.
'For some organizations, like the ACLU, there was initial concern about the requirement, but once they learned what we were looking for, it was no big deal and they worked with Gay City to either provide their policy or put together something for their organization,' continued Orion. 'In the case of other organizations, like PFLAG or Equal Rights Washington, they were totally on-board with the policy commitment but hadn't put it into their organization's policies just yet, and were grateful for the help.'
To qualify the requirements, this is not about telling individuals what they can or cannot do, he said. 'For One Degree Events & this has always been about limiting the influence of Big Tobacco and providing resources to those who want to quit. The higher rates of smoking in the LGBT community are the result of the target marketing by tobacco companies and cultural influences within the community. This has a direct effect on the long-term health of our community, and if we can in some small way through policy changes help the health of those in our community, then we're all in, and anybody who serves our community should have a role in this process too.'
'I would think that these non-profits would be enthusiastic about this, particular these sports/outdoors organizations, but as an event organizer, you can't dictate enthusiasm,' concluded Orion. 'We can, and have, drafted requirements for PrideFest 2011, and we think that it will ultimately have a positive role in the conversation on tobacco policy and ultimately the health of our community.'
As a presenting sponsor of PrideFest 2011, Gay City's goal is to have 100% of this year's vendors enact an effective Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy.
'This collaborative effort toward promoting the health of the LGBT community will be publicized through a variety of media leading up to, and during, the event,' said Gay City officials. 'Your business or organization will be showcased as a supporter of LGBT pride, community, and health!'
Still, King and OutVentures say they aren't buying it.
'In general, we support the work of Gay City, but simply disagree with their methods on this particular point,' said King. 'Our organizations have never crossed paths before and most likely never will again, and for them to require us to change our by-laws 'for all time' for this one brief interaction seems unreasonable.'
'I'm forced to wonder,' he continued, 'what if this was not a requirement? How much participation would they have had? If vendors show up at PrideFest without turning in a policy, will they be turned away? I wonder how they can claim this is purely for 'health and wellness' when they don't require a policy against alcoholism - which is rampant in the Gay community. Is it because their King County funding is only for tobacco?'
'It's pretty clear,' Fred Swanson, executive director for Gay City, told Seattle Gay News. 'We're not asking anyone to change their charters. We are just asking them to make a policy that supports Queer people who want to quit.'
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