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Spokane's new mayor vows to stand up for LGBTQ+ rights

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Photo courtesy of City of Spokane Mayor's Office  

On Wednesday, December 27, Lisa Brown was sworn in as mayor of Spokane at the Central Library. She is the first Democrat to serve in this position since Mary Verner in 2007. She defeated incumbent mayor Nadine Woodward in a close and hotly contested election.

"I'm relieved to have the campaign over. It got a little nasty," Brown admitted in an interview with the SGN. "The city of Spokane has some big challenges, but we have a lot of great opportunities, too. I'm hopeful that we can pull together after that divisive campaign and make progress."

Brown's campaign theme was "There's a better way," a nod to many of the issues the city faces when it comes to homelessness and hate crimes against marginalized communities. "That's what I want to start showing: that the better way starts here and now," Brown said.

A victory following vandalism
Her election comes on the heels of several targeted attacks against Spokane's LGBTQ + community. In October, the Odyssey Youth Center, a nonprofit program, was repeatedly vandalized. Rainbow sidewalks outside Odyssey, as well as in downtown's Riverfront Park, were painted over, and Pride flags were defaced or stolen out of yards.

Following the vandalism, Woodward posted pictures online of her posing with an anti-Trans activist wearing a "Don't Mess with Our Kids" shirt. The Spokane City Council also denounced her in September for her participation in a Christian-extremist event that also hosted anti-Queer pastor Matt Shae.

"It was a unique time for us, as well, because we had some pretty direct and pretty scary vandalism and hate crimes against our building and similar spaces," Odyssey director Ian Sullivan said. "I think it painted a decent picture of how the campaign was run and who these politicians were, based on these reactions."

Spokane Mayor Brown's first day in the office — Photo courtesy of City of Spokane Mayor's Office  

Brown believes the LGBTQ+ community in Spokane pushed her campaign to victory. She has been an advocate for Queer rights throughout her political career.

"I marched in the first Pride Parade in Spokane in 1992, and I think one thing that is important to realize is that Spokane has a positive history when it comes to LGBT rights," Brown said.

While working at the state level (including eight years as the first Democratic female majority leader of the Washington State Senate), she used Spokane's City Council as an example when advocating for antidiscrimination legislation, as the city passed it before the state did.

"I know there are often stereotypes about the political differences between the west side of the state and the east side of the state, but I want people to understand that Spokane has this important [and] proud history of being there," Brown said.

Plans for the future
Originally from Robinson, Illinois, Brown moved to Spokane in her early twenties, where she was inspired to plant roots. "This community is very rich in educational resources, outdoor activity, and [recreation]," she said. "It's culturally a significant resource for the indigenous populations. It was a gathering place. It has a spirit about it."

Brown's plans for the city start with providing for those with nothing. "We have too many unhoused people sleeping outside in Spokane and not enough places for them to be," she said. "So, coming together with nonprofits and big communities and the city administration and public safety departments, and figuring out what that plan is going to look like — or doing outreach and transitioning people into safety and security, and ultimately affordable housing — is going to be a top priority."

She also recognizes that Spokane has the potential to influence some of its economic neighbors in northern Idaho, which is becoming increasingly inhospitable for LGBTQ+ people.

"We're more of an economic region with Cour 'd'Alene and North Idaho, and yet our state policies, from a human rights or civil rights perspective, there are a lot of differences," Brown said. "Being able to stand up proudly for the LGBTQ+ community, for women's reproductive choice and reproductive freedom — those kinds of things are something I believe are a part of my success in this election. People wanted a leader who [would] be a voice, an advocate, and a defender of those rights. That's an issue that infuses everything we do."

Spokane has always had a vibrant Queer community. With Brown at the helm of local government, voters like Sullivan are excited to see how it can thrive.

"There's a Queer community here. There's plenty to do. Don't just write us off because we're east of the mountains. A lot is going on east of the mountains and here in Spokane," Sullivan said.

"It's a great year to make a plan to visit Spokane," Brown added.