by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Any way you look at it, 2011 was a good year for Seattle.
We saw equality advance in ways previously unimagined. We were victorious in our fight for visibility during Pride as the rainbow flag waved proudly atop the Space Needle. Although the news in our community wasn't entirely good, this was still a stellar year for LGBT people living in the Pacific Northwest's largest city.
Let's take a look at some of the events that shaped our lives in 2011.
AN ALL-INCLUSIVE CITY
The Seattle LGBT Commission - which advises the mayor, council, and city departments about sexual minority issues, recommends policies and legislation, and brings sexual minority communities and the larger Seattle community together - successfully advocated for the inclusion of Transgender benefits in health care plans offered to Seattle employees. In May, the commission asked the city to provide coverage of gender-affirming surgical, hormonal, psychological, and medical care for its valued Transgender employees. The city of Seattle agreed and, for the first time in the city's history, Transgender employees now receive full health care benefits.
On November 22, UNITE HERE Local 8 - the union that represents hotel and restaurant workers in western Washington - announced that they'd reached a tentative agreement on a new contract with the Westin Hotel. Among other provisions was enhanced nondiscrimination language that protects LGBT hotel employees. In 2007, Local 8 won a landmark agreement from the Westin explicitly protecting Transgender workers - the first such contract in the country. The new contract expands on that agreement.
In March, the Martin Luther King County Labor Council, which represents some 150 unions and 75,000 workers, reaffirmed support for inclusive nondiscrimination language that protects both sexual orientation and gender identity, and urged all its affiliated unions to adopt such language in their contracts. The action was taken at the urging of Pride At Work, the AFL-CIO's LGBT constituency organization.
The City of Seattle Office of Economic Development launched a website in November of 2010 to help celebrate the different neighborhoods by educating the public on the things that made each neighborhood unique and fun, and why they should bring their business there. The entry for the Capitol Hill neighborhood - home to the cultural center of LGBT history and business in Seattle - initially ignored the community, but after applied pressure, the OED changed the verbiage of the neighborhood description to include the proud history of the LGBT people who live, work, and shop there.
THE PUSH FOR GAY MARRIAGE IN WASHINGTON
We've dreamt about it for some time now. We've all talked about it for years. But it now appears that, in 2012, we, the LGBT citizens of Washington state and our straight allies, will attempt to secure same-sex marriage.
Washington United for Marriage, a broad coalition of organizations coming together in support of the freedom to marry for all, officially announced their formation and the new effort to make civil marriage for all Washingtonians a priority in 2012 at a November 14 press conference in Bellevue, at the Highland Community Center.
In October, UFCW 21, the state's largest private sector union, endorsed marriage equality. UFCW 21 represents some 35,000 grocery and food workers. On November 2, the Martin Luther King County Labor Council reaffirmed its longstanding support for marriage equality and committed to lobby legislators when the bill is introduced.
In May, The Seattle LGBT Commission released a report outlining the results from a six-week online survey that assessed 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 health care (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 (43.4%) were the most popular responses.
While the survey reflected a diverse cross-section of the LGBT community, the commission acknowledged that it was impossible to capture accurately every segment of the population. While homeless, the Transgendered, seniors, and youth were represented in the survey, the commission felt their percentages under-represented them. As a result, 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.
Throughout 2011, Pride Foundation, in partnership with the Greater Seattle Business Association's Scholarship Fund, awarded more than $400,000 to LGBT and straight-ally students from or studying in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. The scholarship program is one of the largest of its kind in the world.
TRAVEL AND TOURISM
There are many different reasons why someone would want to visit Seattle. It's a beautiful place filled with wonderful people. The Greater Seattle Business Association has invested many hours and dollars into ensuring that some of those tourists are LGBT. This year, the GSBA was host to the first-ever West Coast LGBT Tourism Summit. The summit focused on providing tools for attendees to attract LGBT tourism to their city and was attended by LGBT chamber of commerce members, convention and visitor bureaus, travel planners, and chamber businesses.
Thirty years later, HIV/AIDS is still with us. Seattle has a plethora of organizations that aid those living with the disease. To honor those that we've lost to the pandemic, a group called HIV 30 sprang into action to create a timeline of the disease's impact in our city, as well as present community art pieces that were displayed throughout the city.
'Trying to capture 30 years of HIV is overwhelming, but it's an important milestone in our community and world,' Gay City Health Project Executive Director Fred Swanson told Seattle Gay News in August. 'The original idea of a multi-phased project blending art and history came from a discussion initiated by Ro Yoon from the HIV Vaccine Trials Network. We wanted to remember and honor, to both celebrate progress and to reflect on those we have lost.'
'We gathered a collective of community members including artists, volunteers, and staff at local agencies, people living with and affected by HIV, and just began mapping out what it might look like,' he said.
The collective was highly successful and visible, as two community art pieces remain on display in Capitol Hill, Seattle's LGBT cultural neighborhood, which depict a 30-year timeline of pictures and statistics about HIV/AIDS, and a collection of 15 painting, photos, and stories submitted by Seattle-area artists and individuals who spoke of how HIV/AIDS impacted their lives.
In February, Greg Louganis, an out Gay Olympic gold medal recipient and icon, was guest speaker at the annual Lifelong AIDS Alliance benefit breakfast. The breakfast is a community event that provides an opportunity for donors, corporations, and political leaders to join together and make a charitable difference in the lives of those affected by and living with HIV and AIDS.
In December, Paul Kawata, executive director of the National Minority AIDS Council, received the World AIDS Day 2011 AIDS Service Award. Kawata's speech was a highlight of the annual World AIDS Day breakfast as he recognized how far we've come in the fight against HIV/AIDS in 30 years and asked everyone to pledge 25 more years to ridding the world of the disease.
BRUTAL ATTACKS RESULT IN DEATH
Seattle's LGBT community was rocked by two horrific crimes - both of which are still unsolved - in 2011.
In July, Louis Chen, a First Hill physician, allegedly killed his partner Eric Cooper and their 2-year-old son Cooper Chen in their Seattle apartment. The crime sent shockwaves through the community, particularly because the murder involved a child.
Chen has been charged with two counts of aggravated murder in the first degree and, according to the King County's Prosecutor's Office, will not face the death penalty. The trial is scheduled for early 2012.
On November 15, around 8 p.m., Rainier Valley resident and out Gay man Danny Vega was walking in the 4200 block of South Othello Street in Seattle. The 58-year-old man was assaulted and robbed, he said, by three black teens. Days later, Vega died in the hospital.
On November 30, three days after the famed hairdresser died, Seattle police released a video and photo images of three 'people of interest' and publicly declared they will do everything within their power to catch the man's killers.
As of press time, no arrests have been made in connection with the unsolved murder of Vega.
PRIDE AND OUR FLAG
Don't mess with our flag! That is the message the ownership and management of Seattle's Space Needle heard - loud and clear - as they conceded to community pressure to fly the rainbow flag above the iconic Seattle landmark on Gay Pride Day. The community was filled with jubilation. It was an affirmation; a symbol that Seattle and the LGBT community that inhabits it (the second-largest in the nation) are in sync.
Seattle Pride 2011 was the biggest in city history, with more people than ever participating in weeklong events that culminated with the annual Pride Parade and PrideFest at Seattle Center. The parade boasted 180 contingents, nearly 4,500 people marching, and 134 floats and vehicles. The Seattle Police Department estimated that more than 250,000 spectators lined the streets in downtown Seattle to watch the parade.
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