by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
The Seattle Chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender persons (PFLAG) held their first 'PFLAG Presents' gathering at the Producer's Club Lounge at the 5th Avenue Theater on March 31. The first in a series of periodic events intended to support the LGBT community by celebrating families, teaching tolerance, and advocating justice by engaging the local community in dialogue about LGBT issues, the gathering spotlighted three out local elected officials: Seattle City Councilmembers Sally Clark and Tom Rasmussen, and Washington State Senator Joe McDermott, who represents the 34th Legislative District.
The discussion was moderated by Seattle Channel City Inside/Out host C.R. Douglas and was an evening of thoughtful dialogue and renewed community connections. Throughout the two-hour, town hall-style forum, conversations with the politicos centered around their personal experiences as members of the LGBT community and how that affected their approaches to politics and policy. The group also discussed ideas on reducing hate crimes, promoting equality and workplace fairness, the future of the local LGBT community, and ways to strengthen collective goals.
Clark, McDermott, and Rasmussen, with the help of moderator Douglas and Seattle PFLAG President Barbara Clark-Elliott, successfully created a community feeling by talking about issues that any LGBT person could relate to. Topics were heavy on personal experience and focused less on political posturing. Truth be told, all discussion was light-hearted, and by the end of the forum it was clear that as far as LGBT advocacy is concerned, Seattle is in good hands.
Although there were a number of topics that stood out, it was the question-and-answer portion of the forum that empowered the audience and brought the PFLAG Presents event full-circle.
When asked about the lack of Seattle Police Department (SPD) foot patrols on Capitol Hill, both Clark and Rasmussen agreed that it was a needed service. 'Foot patrols are a great way to make our streets feel safe and civil,' said Rasmussen. 'I have seen foot patrols make a big difference in some troubled areas of our city.'
Clark agreed, but mentioned that if members of the LGBT community have concerns about safety, they need to 'become engaged in the discussion for finding a police chief.'
Continuing with another SPD issue, the concern was raised that we do not have a large number of LGBT police officers - or firefighters, for that matter. In response, all three politicians said this was due to the nature of the culture that exists within the lower ranks of both emergency service providers.
Fittingly, the topic of the needs of LGBT youth came up. Since the closure of the Seattle LGBT Center, the demand for a space where non-profit and community organizations and LGBT youth can meet and feel safe is in high demand.
So, what worries the out politicians?
'Young people of color have an increasingly & tough time coming out,' Rasmussen told the audience. 'This is an issue that needs to be addressed and we need to work with communities of color to fix the problem.'
According to Clark, her main concern rests with the homeless LGBT youth. 'Our biggest challenge is, once we identify these kids, how do we properly restabilize them?'
McDermott agreed with both Rasmussen and Clark, but took his concern one step further, saying, 'In our search for equality, I worry about assimilation. I worry that we might be losing our cultural identity as a community.'
PFLAG promotes the health and wellbeing of LGBT persons and their family and friends, so beyond the realm of politics, a large chunk of time was dedicated to 'coming out' stories.
Clark, who says she came out as Lesbian at age 19, said she believes that Gay youth should 'make sure that the environment is fundamentally safe' before they come out. It has become clear, she said, that many of the homeless LGBT youth were kicked out for coming out, and that although it may be difficult to remain in the closet, there is, unfortunately, a time and a place to admit your sexual preference.
Rasmussen, who admits to coming out at age 24 but jokingly says he's never come out to his parents because 'I didn't have to,' said, 'There really is no rule - just know the territory you are living in.' In other words, like Clark, Rasmussen suggests that safety should trump coming out.
McDermott, who is the youngest of the three politicians but came out later, at age 30, said, 'I came out in a very strategic way. I think that it is different for everyone. You just have to know the right time and place, and for each one of us, that age or location will be different.'
'Coming out still seems to be taken good or bad by parents depending upon political or religious views,' said Seattle PFLAG President Barbara Clark-Elliot. 'Not much has changed in a generation. No one is required to come out. But when you do, be thoughtful about it. Be conscious that it may be a shock to your family.'
Barbara and PFLAG members across the country have been lauded for providing families of LGBT persons with support to cope with an adverse society, education to enlighten an ill-informed public, and advocacy to end discrimination and secure equal rights.
PFLAG provides opportunity for dialogue about sexual orientation and acts to create a society that is healthy and respectful of human diversity. Keeping families together is the mission of PFLAG. Their family values include education, understanding, acceptance, and support, but most of all love, thereby empowering children - straight and Gay - to lead happy and productive lives.
Seattle PFLAG consists of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, children, spouses, and friends and allies of LGBT persons.
Get in touch with Seattle PFLAG at www.seattle-pflag.org, or call 206-325-7724.
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