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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 30, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 53
Biggest local LGBTQ news of 2016
Section One
ALL STORIES
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Biggest local LGBTQ news of 2016

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

While it is true that 2016 will go down in history as one of the worst for LGBTQ people (the Pulse shooting, anti-Trans initiatives, etc.), we still have a great deal to look back on with pride in Seattle as far as this year is concerned. While there is still a great amount of work left to do, Seattle's LGBTQ population made some advances in 2016, and we continue to see more and more allies on our side when our rights are challenged, our safety is called into question, and our children are bullied. Seattle Gay News has compiled a list of some of the biggest LGBTQ local news items of 2016:

WASHINGTON SAFE ALLIANCE COALITION DEFEATS I-1515

This year, a coalition of organizations and individuals across Washington state joined together to defend long-standing anti-discrimination laws, especially for the Transgender community. The Washington SAFE Alliance successfully prevented I-1515 organizers from gaining the number of signatures needed to put the anti-Transgender initiative on the ballot.

Local leaders in the Transgender movement, like Gender Justice League's Danni Askini, rolled out an education campaign to inform people of the facts: survey results by the National Center for Transgender Equality that show that 53% of Transgender people reported being harassed or disrespected in a place of public accommodation, and that fears of sexual assault or rape (because Transgender people use the bathroom that is consistent with the gender they identify with) are unfounded.

It worked. On July 11, it was announced that the campaign for I-1515 did not qualify for the ballot, and nondiscrimination protections remain on the books.

Seth Kirby, chair of Washington Won't Discriminate, the main campaign to defeat I-1515, said, 'In a matter of mere months, the No on I-1515 campaign mobilized thousands of grassroots supporters and united an unprecedented coalition of transgender Washingtonians and their families, more than 150 businesses, hundreds of faith leaders, education advocates, and more behind the simple notion that discrimination has no place in our state.'

The Washington state legislature passed a law in 2006 that provides protection for Transgender people against discrimination in employment, housing, credit, lending, insurance, and places of public accommodation. Still, right-wing conservatives introduced a number of anti-Transgender 'bathroom' bills at the start of the 2016 session, all of which failed. Republicans were upset over new language in the administrative code of the state's Human Rights Commission that explicitly protects the right of Transgender people to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity. It now reads that where public and private buildings offer gender-segregated facilities (not gender-neutral restrooms), any individual must be allowed to use the facilities 'consistent with that individual's gender identity.' The policy went into effect December 26, 2015.

SPD SAFE PLACE EXPORTED AROUND NATION

Seattle Police Department's Safe Place program saw unprecedented growth in 2016, as police departments from around the nation adopted the program - including the Orlando Police Department, following the Pulse nightclub tragedy.

According to LGBTQ Liaison Officer and the program's creator, Jim Ritter, Louisville, Kentucky; Vancouver, BC; Orlando; and Tucson, Arizona, have all recently adopted the program. He said about 30 other cities have also expressed interest.

Safe Place is a campaign against bias crimes that labels businesses as LGBTQ allies and trains employees to call 9-1-1 to report hate crimes while harboring victims until police arrive. The campaign also includes a webpage with resources and an anonymous reporting form at www.SPDSafePlace.com.

Seattle police unveiled their Safe Place rainbow-shield stickers in May 2015 alongside Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea), a local social justice organization that works on anti-crime initiatives with the department for the LGBTQ and allied communities. Since its debut, some 4,000 coffee shops, retail stores, banks, and other businesses in and around Seattle have asked to join the Safe Place program.

HOMELESSNESS ON THE RISE

Few issues grabbed local headlines in 2016 as much as homelessness. And for good reason: the number of homeless people in Seattle has reached a tragic level. In the Seattle-King County area, there are about 10,000 homeless people living on the streets or in shelters. There are nearly 3,000 people in Seattle who are unsheltered. The number of homeless or unsheltered people in our city rises each year and yet no solution has been reached.

Homelessness is growing much faster in King County than the county's overall population. More people are without homes in the Seattle area than in other cities our size. Only New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas areas have bigger homeless populations than King County.

We know that LGBTQ people - teens in particular - are disproportionately impacted by homelessness. National numbers put LGBTQ homeless teens at 40% or more of the total of homeless teens living on the streets or in shelters in America.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray called the issue a crisis and has asked for federal dollars to help. That call has gone unanswered by the feds. Nearly 6,000 units of affordable housing have been built, more than in any city except New York or Los Angeles. Still, it's not enough.

Between the shootings (among other reported crimes) at and closure of the Jungle to RV parks and homeless encampments, the problem persists. This year, Seattle spent about $50 million on programs to address homelessness, including $7.3 million the mayor and City Council set aside when Murray declared a homelessness state of emergency in November 2015. Millions more will be spent in 2017. All told, King County officials estimate that a billion dollars or more has gone to help the county's homeless over the past decade.

SEATTLE FEELS THE BERN

While running his grassroots campaign for president, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Seattle became a thing. In August 2015 Sanders made a visit to Seattle that grabbed headlines, as he was blocked from speaking at a at a Social Security anniversary celebration at Westlake Center, due to a disruption by Black Lives Matter protesters. Later that evening Sanders spoke to more than 12,000 potential voters inside UW's Hec Edmundson Pavilion.

Then, on March 20 of this year, Sanders returned to Seattle. Only this time, he spoke in front of 10,000 people at Seattle's Key Arena. Sander's campaign messages that the nation's economic, campaign finance, and criminal justice systems are being 'rigged' and criticism of the pharmaceutical companies for rising drug costs seemed to strike a chord with Seattleites. He vowed to recalibrate the economic disparities he accused corporate America of creating by raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, among other promises.

Sanders returned to Seattle again - only this time to a much bigger venue: Safeco Field. On March 25, Sanders drew more than 15,000 supporters, making a final push for a decisive win over Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in the March 26 Democratic caucuses.

Sanders was after the 101 (out of 118 total delegates) at stake in Washington to be awarded proportionally based on the results of the caucuses. The remaining 17 unpledged party and elected leader votes - including Gov. Jay Inslee and the state's congressional delegation - had already said they would support Clinton.

Sanders predicted a big turnout would give him a victory in the caucuses and send a message 'loud and clear: the billionaire class cannot have it all.' Citing favorable polls, Sanders said a win in Washington could propel him to later victories in Oregon and California and eventually the nomination. While Sanders did win 74 delegates, the nomination went to Clinton, who ultimately lost to Republican candidate Donald J. Trump.

Still, nobody can deny that Sanders had Seattle 'feeling the Bern' in 2016.

DONALD TRUMP'S VICTORY SETS OFF PROTESTS AND SCHOOL WALKOUTS

In Seattle, a group of about 100 protesters gathered in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, blocked roads, and set a trash bin on fire after the election results were announced.

Shortly after, thousands of middle and high school students across Seattle walked out of classes to protest President-Elect Donald Trump and his policies. Students who walked out of class got an 'unexcused absence,' according to Seattle Public School.

THE GSBA GUARANTEE

The Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA) celebrated 25 years of scholarships to future leaders, and this year they awarded the largest amount in a single year, $410,000. The most recent class of 55 scholarship recipients began the school year knowing they have the support of GSBA members, the community, and business leaders who have given so generously to make such significant and positive changes for each of these scholars.

The GSBA has made a deeper and more impactful level of commitment to their scholars by ensuring that they provide scholarships throughout the students' four years of undergraduate school. The goal is to support them from the start of school until graduation. They will expand economic opportunities for the graduating scholars as they become future members and business leaders.

'It is no longer about just getting students into college; it's about getting them through college,' said GSBA Public Policy & Communications Manager Matt Landers.

The GSBA is committed to supporting students beyond the dollar. Financial barriers are one of the major reasons students do not graduate from college. By significantly decreasing and in most cases eliminating this barrier, the GSBA has opened doors for students to focus on one of the biggest factors related to a student's ability to persist through to graduation, feeling connected to a community.

CANDLELIGHT VIGIL HELD FOR PULSE VICTIMS

Seattle residents joined thousands of others from around the nation - and the world - by holding a candlelight vigil to condemn the Pulse mass shooting tragedy last June. The Seattle event was held at Cal Anderson Park and was produced by a number of local LGBTQ organizations, backed by Mayor Ed Murray's office.

The vigil started with a chorus singing 'We Shall Overcome,' followed by Mayor Murray, as he expressed grief at the loss of so many members of the LGBTQ community in Orlando.

'We are gathered this summer evening during the month when we celebrate Pride to share our grief and to support each other as we absorb the news of the largest mass shooting in our nation's history and the largest act of violence against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community in the history of this nation,' said Murray. 'We gather tonight in solidarity with those who lost their lives and we offer our support to their families and to the people of the City of Orlando.'

'We are also here this evening because of the slaughter of our brothers and sisters was meant to spread fear throughout the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community across this nation,' he continued. 'We will as we have in the past face this fear. We will not be intimidated. We will stand together and we will be strong.'

Several South Sound community groups, including Rainbow Center, Oasis Youth Center, and the City of Tacoma, also held a candlelight vigil at Tollefson Plaza in Tacoma for the victims of the Orlando shooting. Further south, three community groups (Capitol City Pride, Unity in the Community, and Interfaith Works) held a vigil at Sylvester Park in Olympia.

SEATTLE BANS CONVERSION THERAPY

The Seattle City Council unanimously voted to ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth, becoming the third American city to independently outlaw the practice.

Under the new ordinance, mental health providers are barred from offering or advertising conversion therapy to minors. The practice, which claims to help Gay people overcome same-sex attraction, has been widely discredited by mental health professionals and called potentially harmful by the World Psychiatric Association.

Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez introduced the bill in July, calling conversion therapy a 'harmful practice that needs to end.'

'Being gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, or transgender is not an illness, nor is it something that needs a cure,' she said at the time.

Anyone found to be practicing such therapy on people younger than 18 will now be subject to a civil violation carrying penalties of $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for subsequent ones. The city will also spend around $50,000 advertising primarily to LGBT youth to raise awareness that the therapy is now banned.

SPD PARTNERS WITH TRANSGENDER COMMUNITY ON NEW POLICY

The Seattle Police Department (SPD) released a training video on March 10, produced in partnership with members of the Transgender community, highlighting the steps officers will take to ensure that Transgender individuals are treated with dignity and respect during all contacts with police. The video, produced by the department's Education and Training Section, was prepared in accordance with the department's Transgender policy unveiled on January 1. The video includes personal stories from Transgender individuals in the community.

Under SPD policy, officers shall consider a person to be Transgender if the person identifies themselves as Transgender or upon a reasonable belief that a person may be Transgender. The policy also regulates searches of Transgender individuals, ensuring that they are provided the opportunity to express a preference for the gender of an officer conducting the search. The policy also allows Transgender individuals in police custody to request to be transported and housed alone whenever possible.

A majority of SPD employees completed Transgender interaction training. SPD joins several other jurisdictions, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, and Boston in enacting Transgender interaction policies.

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