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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 17, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 16
Homeless youth lead Take Back the Hill march
Section One
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Homeless youth lead Take Back the Hill march

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Seventy-five people braved a hard rain to 'take back the hill' in a march on April 10.

The march, led by homeless Queer youth, was intended to highlight the need to protect safe space for young people in the neighborhood that has historically been the heart of Seattle's LGBT community. That space is now threatened by development and gentrification, march organizers said.

As the march made its way through the Pike/Pine corridor - now the epicenter of new commercial development - marchers stopped to commemorate recent acts of violence targeting the LGBT community.

The march also stopped at local bars Pony, the Wildrose, and the Eagle, where organizers delivered letters asking the establishments to open gender-neutral restrooms that would be safer and more welcoming to Trans and other gender nonconforming people.

According to Allyship's Debbie Carlsen, Pony has already agreed to a gender-neutral restroom.

Speaking with SGN the day before the march at the PSKS offices, young organizers said that anti-Queer violence has gotten worse in recent months.

'I've lived on Capitol Hill for four years,' Bas told SGN, 'and I've only experienced violence in the past year.'

Bas was badly beaten in an assault in March, ironically just before the March 3 hate crimes forum hosted by Gender Justice League and Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant.

'I've been punched once before,' they explained, 'and it was related to my gender identity, but that's not the same as three people ganging up on me and leaving me unconscious.

'The worst part - it was on Pike Street where I like to hang out. I felt like it was my space, and now I don't feel safe there anymore.'

Ryn, another organizer, said she had been assaulted in the U District only two weeks before the hate crimes forum. Vanessa added that she too had been assaulted in the U District. Other young people nodded in agreement.

In spite of the fact that many of the homeless Queer youth involved in PSKS have been targets of hate crimes, none said they reported the assaults to the police.

'No, I didn't report it,' Bas said. 'As a homeless person, I have a lot of negative interaction with the police. They tell me I can't hang out on the street corner. I have to move. If I can't get access to a restroom, I can't use the alley.

'I've had bad experiences with SPD,' Ryn agreed. 'They actively dehumanized me by using slurs against me. It wasn't just that they slipped up and used the incorrect pronoun, they actively misgendered me.'

Bas and Ryn were skeptical of SPD's plan to recruit neighborhood businesses to act as 'safe space' for community members who might be harassed or assaulted on the street, and to mark those businesses with distinctive shield-shaped window stickers.

'The stickers are meaningless unless they come with training on what to do if there is a hate crime,' Bas said.

Bas was also wary that some businesses might not welcome Queer youth.

'If the customers are the same 'bros' who continue to harass me, why would that make me feel safer?' they asked.

'I talked with [SPD's LGBT liaison officer] Jim Ritter,' Ryn added. 'He was adamant that SPD doesn't have the money to enact training [on LGBT issues], so they're unwilling to meet us halfway.

'Right now there's no accountability, no training, and no gender-neutral restrooms,' she added.

Speaking with SGN after the march, Carlsen said she believed it was a success.

'We wanted to engage youth in how to build a direct action, and we wanted to empower youth to shape their own message,' she said. 'There is tension with the police. Youth don't feel safe. I hope this will begin a broader dialog around this issue.'

SPD liaison officer Jim Ritter, who marched with the group, was also happy with the outcome.

'There was no violence and there was no property damage,' he told SGN. 'I'm happy and the captain [the East Precinct's Capt. Paul McDonaugh] was happy.'

Police maintained a hands-off approach to the march, only intervening to stop traffic and allow marchers to take the street, and to cordon off what they described as 'three intoxicated individuals' who heckled the marchers as they passed.

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