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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 9, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 36
City's 'Only in Seattle' website omits LGBT from Capitol Hill promotion
Section One
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City's 'Only in Seattle' website omits LGBT from Capitol Hill promotion

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

photo by Joe Mabel

On November 16, 2010, the city of Seattle and its neighborhood business district partners launched the Only in Seattle marketing campaign, a visually lush celebration of the many locally owned 'hidden gem' retail shops and restaurants in Seattle's unique neighborhoods.

The investment for 2011 in the Only in Seattle marketing campaign is a total of $40,000, which is for the eight new neighborhoods this year: Belltown, Capitol Hill, Chinatown/International District, Greenwood-Phinney, Madison Valley, Queen Anne, South Lake Union, and the University District.

The marketing campaign is one component of the broader Only in Seattle initiative, which had a total investment of $1 million across 18 neighborhoods.

Inspired by the 'buy local' movement, OED worked with local business owners and neighborhood leaders to develop a campaign that would inspire people to discover and explore new neighborhoods and businesses that make up Seattle's diverse retail community. The initial campaign featured locally owned businesses in five Seattle neighborhoods: Ballard, Columbia City, Georgetown, Rainier Valley, and West Seattle.

Recently, Only in Seattle developed a website, www.onlyinseattle.org. Visitors to the site are encouraged to click on one of many neighborhoods that, according to the site, will 'connect you to a collection of Seattle treasures - independently owned and operated retail stores and restaurants - and to the authentic, historic, and diverse neighborhoods in which they thrive.'

These neighborhoods include Ballard, Belltown, Capitol Hill, Chinatown/ID, Columbia City, Georgetown, Phinney-Greenwood, Queen Anne, Rainier Valley, South Lake Union, the University District, and West Seattle. All great neighborhoods, each a network of streets lined with the businesses and pedestrians that make up the Emerald City.

But there was just one problem.

When Seattle Gay News began to read the description assigned to each neighborhood, we were appalled to discover that the LGBT community was left out of each and every one of them - even Capitol Hill, the center of LGBT history, business, and culture in Seattle.

Needless to say, we made some calls. At first, no one would acknowledge there was a problem. Around every twist and turn, we got the tired old excuse, 'LGBT people live and shop everywhere.'

While that may be true, no one could deny that the Hill is still our home. Broadway and the Pike/Pine corridor are where nearly all of our LGBT nonprofit offices are housed, dozens of Gay owned and operated businesses thrive, and a majority of group meetings take place. Gay City, Pride Foundation, GSBA, and more are all located on the Hill. Our office is here, the office of the Imperial Sovereign Court of Seattle is here, Seattle Out & Proud is here - the list goes on and on.

In short, the Hill is not straight-washed, and we still have visibility. Beyond that, the LGBT community spends millions of dollars a year on the Hill. So yes, SGN felt it necessary for the website to change its description of Capitol Hill from what it was - 'In a city full of distinct neighborhoods, Capitol Hill still reigns as queen. Overflowing with hipsters and creatives of every shape and size, Capitol Hill has personality to spare. Part old money, part counterculture, this quirky metropolis - in all its funky come-as-you-are glory - is uniquely Seattle' - to something that reflected the true nature of Capitol Hill and includes the LGBT community that proudly calls it home.

Well, friends, SGN is happy to report that the Office of Economic Development agreed.

'We appreciate you raising the issue that the LGBT community was not directly referenced in the website copy about the neighborhood. Your inquiry generated some healthy dialogue. We are modifying the website copy to recognize the deep cultural center of the LGBT community on Capitol Hill,' Steve Johnson, OED director, told SGN.

He said the partners who originally worked together to develop the Only in Seattle initiative include himself and Mark Dyce, principal at 206inc, the marketing agency that has assisted OED in developing the campaign, and Michael Wells, executive director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce.

'Many members of the team that worked on this campaign happen to be Gay, and like many others in the LGBT community, we live, shop, work, and own businesses in all neighborhoods of the city,' said Johnson. 'A few even live on Capitol Hill themselves.'

So what went wrong? Why the LGBT snub? Well, according to the Only in Seattle marketing campaign team, 'Capitol Hill is a very diverse and unique neighborhood. Rather than single out any one group, the Capitol Hill Chamber, 206inc, and the Office of Economic Development made a conscious decision to focus on the breadth and diversity of many aspects of Capitol Hill. This campaign is about supporting the small, independent businesses that make Seattle unique and contribute to our neighborhood's economic growth.'

According to the group, sexual orientation, race, and religion were never factors when choosing the neighborhoods or businesses that are a part of the Only in Seattle campaign. It was 'not the way we have chosen to describe or categorize the Only in Seattle neighborhoods featured in the campaign,' said the marketing team.

That's a little hard to swallow when all one has to do is click on any of the other neighborhoods to see that this statement is simply not true. The site consistently mentions the cultural flavors of other various neighborhoods.

One example would be the International District, which they refer to as Chinatown: 'Chinatown offers the city an international playground meant to be explored and discovered. Rich with the heritage of its inhabitants, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and Vietnamese live and work together, celebrating each other's food, festivals, and traditions.'

Another example could be the description of Ballard, which they describe as 'like visiting a village in Europe' and mention the Nordic Heritage Museum; Columbia City, where they say you will find 'symbols of the country's most diverse zip code all around you'; or Rainier Valley, which they call the 'hub of Seattle's international culture.'

That seems pretty descriptive to us. In the same way that all of those cultures and landmarks add to the makeup of their respective neighborhoods, so, too, does the LGBT culture of Capitol Hill.

'The mission of the Only in Seattle marketing campaign is to inspire Seattleites and visitors to explore new neighborhoods and shop at the many unique local businesses located throughout Seattle,' said group officials. 'The process for selecting featured businesses in each neighborhood is to work together with neighborhood chambers who suggest businesses that they think are representative of their neighborhood - businesses that are unique, independently owned 'hidden gems.' 206inc then reviews the suggestions and makes a final pick of businesses that fit well with the overall mission of the campaign. We look for businesses that appeal broadly, both in the neighborhood, and also across the city.'

According to Johnson, 'We hoped to highlight businesses in Capitol Hill that varied geographically (everything from Broadway to 15th) and included an even mix of retail and food service. As part of our selection process, we did not ask any questions about owners' ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or other personal information. That being said, some of the businesses chosen happened to be LGBT and some were not. Sugar Pill, one of the current profiled members, is owned and operated by Karyn Schwartz, an active Lesbian in the community.'

But to be fair, that was not our beef, and in the end, Only in Seattle officials could see that what we were saying was just. SGN's intention was not to have every LGBT-owned and operated business listed on the site. Our issue was the absence of the Gay community in the description applied to the Hill.

The OED says it will be changing the wording within the next few days, and we applaud them for that action. In no way are we saying they are an office of bigots - as Johnson said, many on the team are members of the community. What we are saying is we shouldn't try to pretend that LGBT visibility and influence on the Hill is unimportant. In the end, the oversight will be corrected, and that is a good thing.

Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA) officials also asked for the change.

'I am not sure why the LGBT identity, cultural, and historical significance of Capitol Hill was not reflected in the city's promotion of our important neighborhood,' Louise Chernin, executive director for GSBA, told SGN. 'What is most puzzling about this omission is that the City of Seattle's Office of Economic Development has supported and is a partner of GSBA's LGBT Tourism Initiative, Travel Gay Seattle, Where Out Is In. Not mentioning Capitol Hill as a nationally recognized LGBT tourist destination is a missed opportunity - not just for the LGBT community, but for the businesses on the hill that enjoy the economic benefits of our tourists.'

'Capitol Hill is home to many GSBA member businesses, nonprofits, and residents who have given their heart and soul to this neighborhood,' continued Chernin. 'Showcasing the LGBT identity of the Hill is a great asset to the city of Seattle and one that should be proudly showcased on Only In Seattle.'

'What we can all feel good about after this discussion is that awareness was raised, relationships strengthened, and most importantly, positive changes will be made, enhancing the value of Only in Seattle,' she said.

As for the Only in Seattle team, they told SGN, 'We are excited to continue to highlight unique and wonderful businesses in neighborhoods throughout Seattle and look forward to building upon the OnlyInSeattle.org website.'

The Office of Economic Development promotes a healthy business environment for neighborhood business districts and business organizations, and works to help grow and strengthen the business community in Seattle neighborhoods. The Only in Seattle campaign is one of numerous OED-funded projects and activities that improve business districts.

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