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posted Friday, October 16, 2020 - Volume 48 Issue 42
A conversation with Mayor Jenny Durkan
Section One
ALL STORIES
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A conversation with Mayor Jenny Durkan

by MK Scott - SGN Contributing Writer

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan won't be up for reelection until next year, but she did get some great news last week when the Washington State Supreme Court threw out the effort to recall her. With that in mind, I had many questions for the mayor, including the police assault on our very own Renee Raketty and the homophobic and gendered attack on Durkan's home last month. I had a chance to chat with Mayor Durkan over the phone earlier this week.

MK Scott: Well, let's start off with some good news. Last week, the state Supreme Court voted to throw out the recall effort. I just wanted to get your reaction to that.

Mayor Durkan: I think it was a great thing for the court to do, and obviously I was pleased with the decision, but the most important part of it is that it allows me over the coming months to focus on how we meet these challenges and bring people together, and not do it in the midst of an expensive and divisive political campaign.

MKS: One of our reporters was flash-banged near the CHOP area, and the police ruled that there was no evidence for that, even though there is a video out there showing that the police officer actually threw it in her direction and she was the only one standing there.

Durkan: I have not seen the video of that case. And obviously anybody who is serving in a press capacity, we want to make sure that [their] First Amendment rights are protected&to make sure that we did as we could to protect the First Amendment rights of protesters and also protect the First Amendment rights of journalists covering those protests, because those are also important. We've seen incidents where journalists have been caught up in activity and have been impacted by the police tactics in each of those cases. I think it's really important that we have accountability and that there be a thorough investigation. I don't know. And &I have not reviewed the file that you referred to over the decision. But I will say this: I asked the Office of Police Accountability, the Office of the Inspector General, and the CPC [Community Police Commission] to make recommendations on crowd control techniques and how we can improve them. They obviously fell short of what we want of our police in Seattle, but the circumstances are difficult.

And I [have] talked to mayors across the country, and almost every jurisdiction was facing some of the same challenges& how to protect First Amendment rights of protesters while also making sure those who might be embedded in a protest be, you know, stopped from taking improper actions.

So I don't know this individual case, but I will tell you that I think it&shows the importance of having a strong civilian oversight. The Office of Police Accountability looks at individual cases, but the Office of the Inspector General looks at the totality of things and recommends new policies and training. The OIG, as we call it, just delivered a long report, as did the OPM [Office of Personnel Management], the CPC, on changes they'd like to see on crowd management. And we're looking to see how we can implement those quickly with the approval of the court, because the court says that it needs to have final say.

MKS: Yeah, in fact, I was thinking that perhaps maybe it wasn't just the fact that Renee is press, but also because Renee is transgender, and there are a lot of bad apples out there. So we're thinking that that could possibly be it as well.

Durkan: Our trans community is facing enormous pressures on every front, when they were before the protests, and those have only increased. If you look at many of the metrics, whether it's health metrics [or] employment metrics, really our trans community needs more protections... And I'm committed to working to see how we can do that, not just in policing but [in] employment and health care.

MKS: Of course, knowing you and what George [Bakan] always used to say about you is the fact that you were like a major activist back in the day. And so I can completely understand that it may be difficult [to be] on the other side. Because you believe&.[there's a right to] protest, but at the same time, you're also in charge of the police department. So I'm sure that must be a difficult position to find yourself in.

Durkan: So I think we still do have an obligation to make sure I protect the civil liberties of all people, and [I'm] particularly mindful of protecting the civil liberties of those communities who have been most disenfranchised over the years, first and foremost, of course, in these times, the Black community as well as other communities of color and Indigenous communities.

But LGBTQ [people] have had a lot of tough battles to get to where we are today. The number of things that have changed [for the better] in the last decades is important, but [they're] easily lost if we don't continue to fight for [them]. And I know that, because I have been in a relationship for 25 years and had two kids at a time when it was very uncommon for gay couples to have kids.

And even while I was US attorney in the Obama administration, federal law prevented and precluded my partner from being on my health care benefits, for example, because of the Defense of Marriage Act. And also we have had Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Defense of Marriage Act, age-based employment rights, all of those continue. And we've seen that same language and that same type of exclusion used against the trans community for the last four years. That's why we have to be so vigilant to protect people.

MKS: Actually speaking of that, I saw the photos of the damage and the graffiti in front of your home. I completely understand why you need to be in more of a secured location, but a lot of people have had concerns about the particular neighborhood [Windermere} that you live in, which had, I guess, a reputation of being racist and non-inclusive. So I wanted to get more of an idea about that.

Durkan: Yeah, yeah. So I've lived in almost every neighborhood in Seattle, including in the South End, for almost 20 years. Yeah, there are very few neighborhoods in Seattle that did not have racial covenants. And that's true of every city across America. The neighborhood I'm living in no longer has. And they have been [illegal] for many decades in the city of Seattle or the state of Washington.

So my address was confidential because of the very real concerns [about] my previous employment and the death threats I've been receiving [and about giving] people access to me and my family. What is lost in all of this, I think, is the degree to which people are willing to [take part in it]. In a way that would minimize the fact that I'm gay. Yes, and I think that that is a step backwards, too. I am the first lesbian mayor in the history of the city of Seattle and only the second woman. In fact, the protesters were painting homophobic and sexist slurs outside my house. An unthinkable thing.

It's just, you know, the bottom line is this: this has been the most challenging time in our city's history.

You know, we're facing a global epidemic, a pandemic. We have an economic crisis. We're in the midst of a serious reckoning. And every person, every family, every small business is feeling the impacts right now. And really, the most important thing for me is to try to figure out how we get through this and actually come out the other end a more equitable and more just city. And my job is to listen to everybody and to find ways to bring it together, to get to that more just [and] equitable city.

MKS: Last question, it just came to me, that a lot of these protesters were - like with the owner of Uncle Ike's - calling them gentrifiers. But gentrification benefited the lesbian and gay community, so are they also targeting the gay community?

Durkan: You know, it's a really interesting phenomenon. And I think that there is some real harm done by gentrification and displacement. But if you look historically in urban areas, whether it's New York, Washington, DC, [or] San Francisco, those parts of the city where there's gentrification, often that was particularly gay men moving in and changing it. &You know, I used to live in DC, [where] that was the case.

So I think that there is a tension there. But at the same time, we have to remember that our city has grown enormously. I am the first mayor in the history of the city of Seattle who was born in the city of Seattle. That is true! When you have 150,000 people move to a city in a very short period of time, you are going to have neighborhoods change rapidly. And what happened was that the people moving in had the new wealth from the new economy, and the first people that were displaced [were] the communities of color, where properties were less expensive.&The Central District was about 75% black. Today it's less than 40%. That's a huge impact on people, families, and history. And it has caused an enormous amount of pain. So I think there's that we have to make sure that we're not looking at backlash against gay communities [who] because of economics are the first to move into a neighborhood, but at the same time [we] have to be looking at the families that are dispersed.

MKS: So it's kind of more like a straight gentrification coming up in Capitol Hill, pushing the gays out.

Durkan: Exactly right. And the other thing is&when I was coming out and coming of age here, because of the discrimination against gays, having&a community was even more important than it is today. And knowing you could be safe and at home was a critically important resource for you, [to] be accepted [at] bars - where you saw people who were like you [being] put out of them - walking down the street with your partner, all of those things. You felt safer, but there were more people around for building those communities, [a] kind of a natural gravitational pull. But it's an important part of establishing identity.

MK Scott is a Seattle-based public affairs writer. See more of his work at uniteseattlemag.com.

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