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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 20, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 47
Tom Rasmussen offers counter proposal to LGBT community center budget item
Section One
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Tom Rasmussen offers counter proposal to LGBT community center budget item

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

At a Seattle City Council budget committee meeting November 16, Councilmember Tom Rasmussen opposed a proposal by his colleague Kshama Sawant to fund a study to explore creating an LGBT community center.

Sawant's measure would have instructed the Seattle Parks Department to develop a plan for the City to create an LGBT center on Capitol Hill.

The idea for an LGBT community center was raised by several of the participants in a March forum on hate crimes organized by Councilmember Sawant and local LGBT activists. The concept was also one of the recommendations of Mayor Ed Murray's LGBT Hate Crimes Task Force.

At the committee hearing, Rasmussen offered a substitute motion that focused on recreational activities and not the community services Sawant had envisioned.

'Community centers are supposed to fulfill the recreational and social needs of all communities,' Rasmussen said at the budget hearing. 'The special needs of the LGBT community are not under the purview of the Parks Department.'

'Community center means community,' Councilmember Jean Godden commented, 'and it should be all communities. There are some parts of this city that don't have a community center. We've been trying to develop a community center in Lake City...'

'This is not about recreational services,' Sawant replied. 'It's in addition to services the Parks Department now provides. If I'm facing discrimination at work, what do I do? If I'm homeless, where do I go? There should be a center LGBT people can turn to.'

In the end, only budget committee chair Nick Licata and Councilmember Mike O'Brien lined up with Sawant to support an LGBT community center focused on providing services, and not merely recreation, to the community.

Council President Tim Burgess and Councilmembers John Okamoto, Sally Bagshaw, and Jean Godden joined Rasmussen to vote yes on in his substitute motion. Councilmember Bruce Harrell was not present.

The statement written by Rasmussen that will go to the full City Council and be voted on as part of the budget now calls on the Parks Department to:

o 'ensure that community centers are the focal points in our neighborhoods and serve as places where people can connect, foster relationships, build community, and enhance their health and well-being by offering programs, activities, and events to Seattle's changing population,' and

o 'ensure community centers are physically and emotionally safe and welcoming places for individual enrichment and community growth.'

The expression 'LGBT' was excised from Rasmussen's proposal which passed by Council vote 5-3.

LGBT activists react
Local LGBT activists, many of whom had recently advocated for an LGBT community center, expressed disappointment at the budget committee's action.

Gender Justice League Executive Director Dani Askini said it was 'a disappointing move by the council, which claims to be 'progressive' - except when it comes to our community.'

'Gender Justice League strongly supported this proposal to STUDY the possibility of an LGBTQ community center supported by the Parks Department,' Askini wrote in an email to the SGN.

'Given that we only have Miller Community Center on Capitol Hill - with very little LGBTQ-specific programming - we have heard a lot of calls from LGBTQ homeless youth, Trans people, and other vulnerable community members that a city-supported study would help us lay a path forward to a successful, self-funded LGBTQ center.

'We are disappointed that the statement of legislative intent was shot down today, but not surprised. While Seattle is experiencing perhaps the highest anti-LGBT hate crimes per capita of any major city, city leaders seem content with 'window dressing' approaches to the issue. Rainbow sidewalks and window decals will not address the root causes of anti-LGBTQ violence. However, an LGBTQ community center would be a vital resource for the most vulnerable in our community.'

Trans activist Jade Vogelsang, who describes theirself as a 'person of color who has struggled personally with homelessness and has been actively involved in the community for quite some time, working as a social justice advocate and as a peer support for other LGBTQ homeless individuals,' noted that Seattle has failed to keep pace with its growing LGBTQ population.

'Due to the lack of LGBTQ-specific resources and safe spaces, our LGBTQ community is divided. And now we are seeing an increase in anti-LGBTQ violence and gentrification,' they told the SGN.

'Whether it's an LGBTQ community center, an LGBTQ service center, or more LGBTQ-specific resources, we need something that can better help build and unite our LGBTQ community and counter the gentrification we are seeing happen here in Seattle. There are a lot of needs that aren't being met for the LGBTQ community, and a lack of representation around these issues.'

Debbie Carlsen, executive director of Allyship, which helped organize the March forum on hate crimes, also said she was 'disappointed.'

'Allyship's 1100+-participant LGBTQ safety survey uncovered that youth between the ages of 18 and 24 and seniors 55 and older strongly support a LGBTQ community center to address LGBTQ public safety and social isolation of youth and seniors in our community,' she said in a statement.

'We need a community center that centers the needs, voices and experiences of the most marginalized in the LGBTQ community and is funded and sustained by the City of Seattle. I want to thank Councilmembers Kshama Sawant, Nick Licata and Mike O'Brien for championing concrete safety solutions for vulnerable LGBTQ community members in Seattle.'

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