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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 29, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 30
Sound Transit censors HIV30 banner
Section One
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Sound Transit censors HIV30 banner

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

The HIV30 community art project that adorns the Broadway red wall (the site of a major light rail construction project) is, once again, under attack. Only this time, the culprit is not a young man wielding a sharp object trying to remove it from the wall (as in the July 17 vandalism attempt thwarted by locals), or the few passersby who have tagged it with messages that have little to do with the project (one reads 'DADT is still in place - Obama - U.S.'), but Sound Transit itself - the very people who have ownership of the red wall.

According to Sound Transit leadership, they received some negative and reactionary comments about the banner. As a result, they took what many in the community have deemed extreme action and covered up a portion of the banner they regarded as inappropriate for public display.

Here is what a spokesperson for Sound Transit - an organization created to plan, build, and operate safe and reliable regional train and bus services, governed by an 18-member Board of Directors who are mostly local mayors (including Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn) and county council members - had to say about the complaints:

'When we approved the banner it was reviewed in a very small format compared to the finished size of the timeline montage, and Sound Transit staff did not notice that one of the many images included nudity and sexual explicitness,' Geoff Patrick, media relations and public information manager for Sound Transit, told SGN. 'Once installed, the contractor received complaints about this particular image and alerted Sound Transit project staff. After Sound Transit was alerted we reached out to the HIV30 project director along with our project partners at the Capitol Hill Chamber and asked them to work with Sound Transit to develop an alternate image for that timeline point. We relayed to them that the nudity and sexual explicitness were inappropriate for a display posted by Sound Transit - a public agency. We also placed a temporary patch to cover the explicit image.'

Fred Swanson, HIV30 project director and executive director for Gay City, says he was indeed contacted, but no resolution had been reached. When Sound Transit called Swanson on July 5, he says he expressed his dismay and frustration and offered to discuss the possibility of changing the image in the banner reprint with the HIV30 group (which meets Fridays at 1 p.m. at Gay City), 'but there was no stopping them.'

In other words, without any resolution on the side of the HIV30 group, Sound Transit went ahead and covered the image immediately.

Swanson and the HIV30 group had originally scheduled a reprint of the banner due to earlier vandalism. Now he isn't sure the reprint will happen.

'We initially said that we'd be happy to work with them to resolve any concerns with the reprint,' he told SGN. 'I put a hold on the reprint until the group could discuss, and was feeling good about the likelihood of finding a mutually agreeable solution.'

'The real issue for me was the sudden demand that the current banner come down immediately,' he said. 'Their alternative, which was cutting the picture out, was unreasonable.'

The HIV30 group is scheduled to meet July 28 to discuss what actions, if any, they are prepared to take.

The issue at stake is the sudden censorship of the image, approved weeks ago, that has taken place without the consent of HIV30 - the group that not only has ownership of the community art piece, but has future plans to unveil two more banners leading up to World AIDS Day. The question that many in the community are asking is, 'What gives Sound Transit the right to alter a piece of community art?'

'Sound Transit has a long history of support for the LGBT community and Capitol Hill. We are proud members of the GSBA. We have participated in the PRIDE festival for the past several years on the Hill (you may have seen the 'Ride with Pride' banners) and during last year's holiday season, we highlighted the Gay City Health Project as part of the 'Stars on Broadway' display,' Geoff told SGN. 'Recently, Sound Transit was asked to support the HIV30 effort by posting a display graphic of a timeline on the wall surrounding our contractor's Capitol Hill Station construction site. We recognize the importance of the issues the HIV30 project is addressing - and its significance to Capitol Hill - and were pleased to participate. Sound Transit routinely posts displays on the wall as part of our efforts to mitigate the community impacts of the construction project.'

Sound Transit leadership maintains that they fully support the project, as long as it does not contain nudity or sexual explicitness.

'Sound Transit stands by both our support for the HIV30 project and the LGBT community and the decision that this particular image was inappropriate. That decision was not based on, and is in no way related to 'un-family friendliness,' but instead on the nudity and sexual explicitness of this particular image.' Geoff said. 'The initial decision made by our project staff after informing our project partners, HIV30 and Capitol Hill Chamber, was subsequently reviewed by Sound Transit senior management, which concurred.'

'This is the first of three panels and we are looking forward to the second and third installations scheduled for later this year, and our continued support of this important project and the message it conveys,' he said.

For now, it would seem the next move belongs to the HIV30 group. Swanson says they will meet to decide how to proceed on the issue.

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