by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
On Wednesday, July 15, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray spoke at a Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea) sponsored, Equality Coalition for Housing and Opportunity (ECHO) organized, community forum at City Hall addressing Transgender homelessness.
Murray was particularly focused when he stated that, after his mentor, Washington state's first openly Gay elected legislator Cal Anderson, passed away in 1995, and he was unsuccessful in winning an appointment to fill Cal's seat in the legislature, he put a campaign together and it was Transgender people who volunteered.
'I haven't forgotten who got me to the dance,' said the mayor. 'I'm here with you. I will not leave the dance without you.'
Murray was also the first to say something that would become a theme for the evening: 'We must move forward together.'
'Trans Homelessness: Stories & Statistics' brought together personal stories from diverse Seattle and South Sound homeless or formerly homeless Transgender individuals and concerned citizens to come up with action items to help address the problem.
Yani Robinson moderated the event, with special guest speakers Seattle Mayor Ed Murray; Homeless Youth Initiative lead with the King County Committee to End Homelessness, Megan Gibbard; Seattle Office for Civil Rights Director, Patricia Lally; a representative for Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, Jennifer Samuels; ECHO Co-Founders, Zoe Euster Omega and Doug Hamilton; and Transgender Advocate/Activist, Lonness Valenna.
The panel of speakers for general thoughts and Q & A included Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets (PSKS) intern, Selam Abunu; Seattle LGBT Commissioner, Mitch Hunter; LGBTQ Allyship Director, Debbie Carlsen; Ingersoll Gender Center Director, Marsha Botzer; and Gender Justice League Director, Danni Askini.
The panelists were able to share what they've learned while working on this issue, and in addition, share Trans Community leader's proposed ideas of how to move forward from here.
Robinson reminded attendees, 'Seattle is an amazing place of opportunity and freedom, and the things that draw our staggeringly high level of homelessness are the same as draws everybody here.'
'We come for the beautiful climate, a culture affirming of diversity and creativity, jobs,' Robinson continued. 'This is especially true for us in the LGBTQ community. Not so much affordable housing. Over the course of the year (October 2009-September 2010), the 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report found that 1,593,150 individuals experienced homelessness in the United States. There are about 8 to 10 thousand homeless individuals in Seattle on an average day, nearly 3 thousand of whom have been counted sleeping outside in January.'
Zoe, who co-organized the event, said, 'We've noted the homeless population growing in our urban core, and that a certain portion of that population defies gender norms. Our question is, how many? And more specifically, how do we know that funds allocated to address the concerns of LGBT homeless people are spent for the purpose of addressing their unique challenges?'
'Without the data, the people we bring before you tonight are invisible and so are their stories,' said Zoe.
Selam Abunu is a Queer community outreach worker from PSKS. Abunu, who has been a public speaker since 17 years old, was a part of the documentary Put This on the Map, and was part of the Reteaching Gender and Sexuality Tour.
Abunu's story, although Abunu says it is not so different, seemed to stick out in my mind because of all the different ways the youth had reached out to different people, organizations and services, but to no avail, over the years. Abunu spoke of the struggle of having family threatened because of their Transgender status, being kicked out of the house when they were 17-years-old and of continued homelessness that has caused them to drop out of college.
When asked what could be done to help, Abunu said matter-of-factly rent control, Transgender specific housing options, and for other organizations that exist to respect Trans folks.
Debbie Carlsen, executive director of LGBTQ Allyship talked about the work that Allyship does; much like its name suggests, Carlsen and volunteers work on ways to support other communities of marginalized people; such as the Transgender community.
Danni Askini, Executive Director of Gender Justice League, talked about the need for action and the impact of Institutionalized Transphobia. Askini is a skilled public speaker and activist and cut straight to the point - there are certain actions that each of us can take - allies included - to begin to improve the lives of Transgender folks and it begins with economic justice.
Speaking on statistics solutions, Mitch Hunter, a Seattle LGBT Commissioner, talked about coalition building, respect, the need for space and more.
Transgender and homeless activist Lonness Valenna, well known as the Fairy Godmother of the Sound, and co-founder of two private Trans houses talked about an idea to retrofit buses that could be used as shelter for homeless folks at night.
(More on that idea can be found in the Seattle Gay News story 'The solution to homelessness? One Transgender leader's idea on how we can afford to help 4,000 people not to have to sleep on the streets of King County' - http://www.sgn.org/sgnnews43_24/page6.cfm - published in the SGN on June 12, 2015.)
Marsha Botzer, founder of Ingersoll Gender Center and longtime Transgender activist, advocate, and organizer gave the speech of the evening. If anyone has ever heard Botzer speak they can tell you that it's not surprising. However, there was something different about the way Botzer spoke on Wednesday night. Almost as though she can feel change is about to come; like redemption is around the corner. Or maybe that is just her way. But when Botzer spoke about coming together to truly give it an honest try, she said, 'We can come up with the answer. I know we can. We've got enough amazing minds here to do it.'
While there were many opinions and many ideas, nothing concrete came out of the meeting per se, due to time constraints and the fact that there was so much to cover. But what did make itself known was that people want this to continue and so ECHO has decided to host a once, per month, roundtable with the organizations that participated in the event to come up with tangible things to move on. You can keep up with ECHO and the many things they are working on - including their schedule of events - by liking them on Facebook. Their official page is: https://www.facebook.com/echohousingopportunity?fref=ts.
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