I moved to Seattle because it was easy to be gay here. That’s the bottom line. I was living in Portland at the time, and things had gotten just awful. A very real cloud of peril overshadowed everything.
An odious, Westborough-esque hate group called, “The Oregon Citizens Alliance” (never mind that they were carpetbagging Christian bigots based out of Colorado Springs, for God’s sake) had invaded the entire state, and their gaytred was spreading like syphilis on shore leave. And at a time when we were still up to our eyebrows in the swamp of the AIDS crisis…
After sweeping (and deeply troubling) victories with several terrifyingly anti-gay initiatives in Colorado, the craven bigots of the OCA set their sights on the vulnerable gays of Oregon.
Much like Washington, Oregon was (and is still) held solidly blue by the virtues of it’s most major city, Portland. But, very much like our own Seattle, daring to travel just 20 miles outside of Portland in any direction whatsoever would reveal the remainder of the state to be redder than abraded baboon butts. Therefore the glassy-eyed hate-zombies of the OCA felt it would be a good idea to propose many statewide hate-measures against us, usually losing by barely an eyelash, and always with tolerant, liberal Portland winning the day.
The OCA’s agenda was clear as crystal Pepsi: to infiltrate the government at all levels, from the PTA to the police force to the city council on up, and to use these positions to push their genocidal agenda. This was not paranoia, and it was no secret either: they gleefully admitted to it–all the while railing in apocalyptic tones about the ubiquitous and utterly fictitious, “Gay Agenda”. Gays weren’t born, you understand… we were raped into existence by predators! We had to be stopped! For the children!
But “Proposition 9” was to be The OCA’s watershed moment. They needed Prop 9. If they could manage to pass their horrible law in a largely blue state like Oregon…
Prop 9 mandated that homosexuals of every stripe be officially declared, “abnormal and perverse” by state law and stripped us of any and all legal recourse in any situation.
Furthermore, it made it illegal for an LGBTQ person from holding the position of medical doctor, police officer, teacher, clergy–especially anything involving children, who we’d gleefully rape and “convert” to our “lifestyle” (obvs). They really put their backs into the initiative, flooded the streets with anti-gay propaganda of the most vile sort imaginable (they made “Chick Tracts” look like the Denny’s children’s menu), and threw millions of dollars to push their lies.
And of course, these relentless attacks inspired other relentless attacks, emboldened more bigots, dragged more hatred and more violence into our lives. The hatred, fear, and cruelty colored every part of queer life.
The queer clubs I frequented were tear-gassed every weekend for months–unknown persons would empty cans of pepper spray and mace into the air-circulation systems and send everyone scrambling into the street, coughing and throwing-up. As the campaign advanced, the toxic atmosphere of irrational hate and hysteria grew exponentially, finally leading me to exhaustion and despair.
An acquaintance was beaten to death with a skateboard on the sidewalk steps from the door of my favorite gay bar. Large trucks bearing bullhorns and signs writ-large proclaimed the evils of gayness and the need to stamp us all out–and drove day and night up and down the street where I lived. There was nowhere to escape threat or the message that I deserved to be utterly ostracized–and even worse. I’d been attacked on the sidewalk by people screaming nonsense about “God” and “sin”, and I had even taken to arming myself with mace and a titanium asp baton–like the riot police use. Life became stress, paranoia, constant battle, and fear.
I fought The OCA with tooth and claw. I marched, I canvassed, I protested, I signed up voters by the dozen. I had difficult conversations, and even more arguments. And finally, Prop 9 went down in flames–again, just barely. But in the end, I just couldn’t take anymore.
I had old, good friends in Seattle, and was taking the train up literally every other weekend to visit. I was utterly charmed and seduced by Seattle’s infamous “gay ghetto” (Capitol Hill, of course), it’s clubs and cafes and community. It gave me a sense of freedom, queer culture, and most importantly, a feeling of safety. It was a desperately needed respite. So I did the logical thing: I stuffed a U-Haul with everything I owned and fled north. Seattle has been my most constant solace and love ever since.
When I was asked to write my thoughts on the recent tire-fire masquerading as a presidential election last week, I initially declined. I was a-buzz with cynicism and confused anger, full of disbelief, and fear. All I could really do was rail, preach, and wag fingers, and I was reluctant to add to the atmosphere of terror and negativity that instantly followed on the heels of the election results.
But I’ve had some time now to process my feelings, and let the dust settle. But you know? It hasn’t gotten better. I haven’t felt this hopeless, helpless, frustrated, or imperiled since the old Portland days of the Oregon Citizen’s Alliance. That dark cloud of peril is back. Worse, even. Much worse. We are all in serious trouble.
Seattle was even back then far from perfectly safe for LGBTQs, of course, nowhere in this great country of course ever really ever is. I’d been threatened, verbally abused, spat upon, and once jumped by four guys and beaten silly in broad daylight on lower Queen Anne (on my BIRTHDAY no less, because God thinks She’s just HILARIOUS, har-har). But I never really felt afraid. Not with the gay community of Capitol Hill behind me. Not with a place I could honestly call home.
But that’s all pretty much gone now.
Economic violence and the unfettered erasure of our community and culture has all but robbed us of the one place I ever felt truly safe–a place that wasn’t a compromise. The Capitol Hill “gay ghetto” is now a legend to be told by real estate agents. No better are the former gayborhoods of San Francisco, Chicago, Manhattan… all in tatters. The spike of violence against LGBTQs on Capitol Hill alone is hair-raising (I’ve said it before, but I personally know NINE people who have been beaten bloody in the past two years. Nine!), but Capitol Hill is still really our last fig leaf, our last little bit of community and protection. And being priced out now is even scarier than ever before. Our refuge has been sold to the highest bidders, scattered like ashes to the wind, and now that it really matters (again), there’s nowhere left to run.
I guess it’s time to stand and fight. All of us. Tooth and claw. Again.