LGBTQ Struggles for Equality in Washington State
by Mariah Bell-Stuart, Todd Abrams, and Shalea Semana
Seattle, Washington is a city of rich culture, activism, and nonprofit work. It is a city of entertainment and arts, and remains one of acceptance. Known for its overall ‘tolerance’, it has the second largest gay community in the U.S., next to San Francisco.
In the 1960s and 70s, Seattle experienced an influx of gay men moving from areas of hate crimes to a more open-minded environment. The greater Seattle Area historically has been accepting of LGBTQ people. One salient way Seattle caters to the community is through bars and other socializing venues that cater to LGBTQ singles and couples.
Seattle political leadership also recognizes the historical importance of the LGBTQ community and is attempting to preserve important sites of historic and contemporary significance for LGBTQ flourishing and wellbeing. These places include bars, stores, community organizations, health centers and other places that specifically cater to the LGBTQ community (Vandenorth 2012). By preserving these places it ensures that Seattle continues to be a leader in equality and protection for the LGBTQ community.
In many other parts of the country tolerance for the members of the LGBTQ community and their own institutions is lacking and in many places open direct hostility and discrimination remain not just evident but in many respects a growing menace. For example, recently some men entered the home of a lesbian woman in Nebraska and carved the word ‘dyke’ into her stomach. They repeatedly assaulted her and once they were done with the beating, they set her house on fire (Schwartz 2012). The persistence of hate crimes remains a fundamental problem in efforts to gain security, safety, and equality for LGBTQ persons.
These trends are troubling but so is the favorable mode of so-called tolerance. Our understanding of tolerance is that it involves accepting something that is viewed by the dominant groups as wrong or immoral. One tolerates a pain that is not life threatening. The ability to tolerate is a privilege; it arises only when someone exercises the power to accept something that is disapproved. Our view is that no one should have that sort of power over others. We don’t need tolerance; we need equality without prejudice or hatred (see the Beyond Tolerance report of the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission).
Hip-Hop and the struggle for equality in Washington State
With these national hate crimes came the worldwide development of violent anti-gay music in hip-hop culture. Seattle’s unique characteristics as a city allows for many alternative cultures to thrive. One aspect is the rise of a powerful pro-gay counter-narrative in the hip-hop music scene here in Seattle.
Ben Haggerty, with the stage name known as Macklemore has been releasing his music independently since 2000 and has gained a significant fan base since then. A single taken from his joint Macklemore/Ryan Lewis album The Heist, released in 2012 supported the legalization of same-sex marriage during the campaign for Washington State Referendum 74, a measure to approve or reject legislation passed in February 2012 to legalize same-sex marriage in the state of Washington.
In November 2012 Referendum 74 was approved in eight of Washington’s 39 counties. This was a real rural versus urban and eastern versus western Washington split. The cities and Western side of the state prevailed. Acceptance of the LGBTQ community by voters in the Greater Seattle area affirmed the legislation for marriage equality leading to a majority vote of 52 percent to 48 percent (Turnbull and Mayo 2012).
“Same Love” was written out of Macklemore’s frustration with hip-hop’s position on homosexuality. Macklemore states that, “Misogyny and homophobia are the two acceptable means of oppression in hip-hop culture. It’s 2012. There needs to be some accountability. I think that as a society we’re evolving and I think that hip-hop has always been a representation of what’s going on in the world right now” (Haggerty 2012). By the use of advocacy in song lyrics, he was able to support the LGBT community of Seattle with positive reinforcements in music, which lacked existence in hip-hop culture. A verse in “Same Love” reads:If I was gay, I would think hip-hop hates me Have you read the YouTube comments lately? ‘Man, that’s gay’ gets dropped on the daily We become so numb to what we’re saying A culture founded from oppression Yet we don’t have acceptance for ’em Call each other ‘faggots’ behind the keys of a message board A word rooted in hate, yet our genre still ignores it Gay is synonymous with the lesser…
The song directly criticizes the anti-gay rhetoric of dominant hip-hop culture. Macklemore addresses the issue that LGBT communities were “founded from oppression,” meaning an entire culture experienced cruel and unjust discrimination toward them, often issuing from powerful authorities. The LGBTQ community is heralded for continuing to strive for justice as a people. In this verse, Macklemore expresses outrage against the discrimination directed against homosexuals and the hate that thrives in those who commit violence against them. Hatred and the violent acts it propagates become the norm in society. To reveal the popular culture’s language of hate, Macklemore invokes words like “faggot” that are used for sole purpose of degrading people through the use of words with negative connotations.
Macklemore’s “Same Love” does not only address the struggles of the LGBT movement; it also uniquely incorporates the struggles of multiple oppressions. It’s all rooted in the title “Same Love.” Everybody has been through, and is still fighting for equal rights for all; it’s all the same hate, the same struggle, and the same love that will save the people.It’s the same hate that’s caused wars from religion Gender to skin color, the complexion of our pigment The same fight that led people to walk-outs and sit-ins It’s human rights for everybody, there is no difference…
LGBTQ and Latina/o communities: Struggling to find common ground
Seattle is a place of many struggles and movements. The Emerald City is not only accepting of the LGBT community and their movement but of many other communities. It has not always been so, and the struggle continues especially with respect to police violence and the persistence of the poverty of deprivation.
It is too often overlooked that Seattle has had a very active Chicano/a movement. This movement was, and still is, a response to the severe racism and forms of segregation that have existed after the United States’ conquest and annexation of Northern Mexico in 1848. The University of Washington highlights “The Chicano Movement in Washington State 1967-2006” in a beautiful website known as the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project, which was done under the leadership of Oscar Rosales Castañeda. According to Castañeda’s research, the movement “used courts, labor unions and defense organizations like the League of United Latin American Citizens to fight for basic rights” (Castañeda 2013).
All this unfolded during the same time as the LGBT movement in Seattle, in the late 1960s and young activists and organizers who asserted new “Chicano” and “Chicana” identities experienced new forms of struggle and organization. There was an effort to close the generation gap and unite “Mexican Americans and Mexicans, Indian and Hispanic heritages into a common, transnational culture and community, or ‘Raza’…. The Chicano/a Movement impacted Washington State when Hispanic Americans migrated through the Pacific Northwest and an increase of ‘bracero’ farm workers in Eastern Washington during WWII grew steadily” (Castañeda 2013).
The movement in Washington reflected a split geography: Most of the state’s Latina/os resided in the Yakima Valley but it was Chicana/o students who launched many new initiatives from the University of Washington campus in Seattle. This “movement linked together campaigns to organize and support farm workers with projects that served urban communities and educational agendas. The student/youth movement focused on culture and politics. The movement helped construct new, transnational cultural identities and fueled a renaissance in politically charged visual, literary and performance art” (Castaneda 2013).
The LGBTQ and Latino/a communities of Seattle both took steps forward in the 1960s and 70s to transform public attitudes to gain acceptance as equals in society. The long haul to legal rights is well underway. What is still unfolding is the working out of the relationship between these two communities since racism remains a problem in the white middle class LGBTQ ranks while homophobia is widespread across our Latina/o communities.
Being Latina/o and LGBTQ presents some interesting conflicts. Latina/os must deal with racism; many cope by relying on family as a ‘refuge from racism’ (Lourdes Torres, quoted in Blake 2009). However, many LGBTQ-identified persons must rely on their own identity-based community as a refuge from unsupportive families. This is not always possible: Many Latina/o LGBTQ-identified persons are stuck between a community that is prejudiced against their ethnicity and a family that does not accept their sexual identity.
Traditionally, Latina/o societies have been perceived as being more masculinist and heteronormative compared to white American society, yet Lourdes Torres says that this perception is just another example of the racism facing Latina/os: “Men from all sorts of ethnic groups have long acted in a patriarchal manner” (Blake 2009).
Historically, Mexico officially decriminalized homosexuality in 1871, but in reality LGBTQ-identified people were persecuted under political and juridical regimes held in line by the Catholic Bishops. Yet, it is fascinating that Mexico’s federal legislature was a hundred years ahead of the United States in decriminalizing same-sex intimacy. It was not until well into the 21st century that US federal law forced many states to finally repeal their anti-homosexuality laws. Also before (and after) Spanish conquest, many native ethnic cultures in Mexico, such as the Zapotec, have embraced a ‘third gender’ called Muxe, which suggests that native cultures are open to sexualities other than the Western heteronormative binary.
More recently, both countries instituted anti-discrimination laws (ca. 2003). In the US this happened under the 2003 Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health case which resulted in a Supreme Court 4-3 decision extending the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to lesbian and gay persons. In Mexico, an amendment to Article 1 of the Federal Constitution was adopted and signed in 2001 and a new Federal law passed in 2003. Mexico City legalized LGBTQ marriage equality with a 2009 statute becoming effective law in March 2010.
Presently, polls by Movement Advancement Project of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) have shown that American Latina/o voters are generally favorable towards LGBTQ groups and a significant majority support anti-discrimination laws, gay marriage, and allowing openly homosexual individuals to serve in the military. Latin American countries are also starting to move beyond tolerance in embracing full equal rights for LGBTQ people (see Figure 1 below). Argentina, Columbia, parts of Brazil and parts of Mexico allow same-sex marriage, and such rights are currently pending review in Chile and Uruguay. Many other Latin countries now ban discrimination while others allow various types of civil partnerships. As stated by Andrew, a Chicano gay man, “I think most Latina/os here are accepting of GLBT people” (Volker Interview 2013). Overall, it appears Mexico and Latin America are much more progressive with respect to LGBT communities than the United States.
Seattle is unique in its acceptance of the LGBTQ and Chicano/a communities and not all areas in Washington are as accepting. In an interview with Erik, a gay man who is a prominent figure in the Lewis County gay community and is of Latino/a descent, he pointed out: “On a state level, there is a large issue with homeless youth in our state. A large proportion of these are GLBT youth that have been forced out of their homes with nowhere to go” (Higgins Interview 2013). Some people and even politicians fought to “protect traditional marriage.”
On October 23, 2012, 20th District State Senator Dan Swecker made the paradoxical comment: “There’s just no way they can be equal. They can’t have kids.” At the same time, Swecker said, “heterosexual couples who do not want or cannot have children, and seniors or people who are past childbearing years, should still be allowed to marry because the government shouldn’t regulate fertility” (Nile 2013). This bizarre statement betrays a basic understanding of the full reproductive capacities of human beings regardless of their sexual orientation. It also is a distortion to emphasize the identity politics focused on sexual acts as the key to the consummation of loving relationships, which are actually forged like any relationships from the bonds of affection, mutual reliance interests, socioeconomic need. In the November election, Dan Swecker lost votes, in part, because of his stance on marriage equality and he lost re-election. Voters are staring to punish not just intolerance but the ignorance that underlies it.
Even though not all Washington communities or persons are as accepting as Seattle, the shift toward unconditional acceptance is increasing as is evident by comparing Referendum 71, the bill that allowed domestic partnership in Washington in 2009, to Referendum 74. Approximately 708,000 more people voted yes for Referendum 74 than for Referendum 71, even though Referendum 71 provided fewer rights to the LGBTQ community (Bell 2013). Steve, a Hispanic gay man who is also a prominent figure in the Lewis County gay community, believes more people voted yes because more people are “coming out” to their families and friends. “We [he and his fiancé Erik] have been genuinely surprised and pleased by how many people want us to be happy. We greatly underestimated the capacity of family members and community members in general to overcome their past views and support us. I think acceptance is a journey, one that anyone can undertake. I think how long that journey takes depends on how far away a person is from accepting GLBT family members.” Andrew (2013) stated “I think being Latino and gay actually has given me a chance to make more Latinos comfortable with the GLBT community. Sharing a heritage I think breaks the ice for other Latinos to ask questions about my life and relationship.”
The Marriage Equality Movement is expanding not only in the Latino/a and Seattle Communities, but also throughout the globe. It is important to note that there is still more work that the movement needs to do. After their engagements, Steve and Erik, and Andrew and his partner Brian have struggled over some aspects of equality in wedding planning. None of them have noticed face-to-face discrimination but rather excitement from the wedding industry (Bell 2013, Volker 2013). However, they have noticed that numerous places have failed to update their websites, contract forms, or other wedding-related language to reflect the post-Referendum 74 realities:
This presents a dilemma for a pair of grooms like us. For instance, we went to a cake tasting to preview potential wedding cakes at a place owned by a gay couple. Their sign-in sheet only had a place for the name of the ‘bride’. The wedding coordinator at our venue is gay and on his website he states “I love my brides” without any mention of grooms. Our town had a “Bridal Show” that I could not bring myself to go to as opposed to other places that had “Wedding Shows.” Most websites that we have requested sample invitations from ask for the “bride’s” name. Many invitations show heterosexual couples. One website we looked at for a prospective prenuptial lawyer has not been updated and it says something to the effect that in Washington state marriage is defined as a union between one man and one woman. Unless I mention that I am marrying a man, some vendors will ask me about my ‘wife’ (Bell 2013).
Also while shopping for cake toppers Steve and Erik have noticed “there is a limited selection of same-sex wedding cake toppers, and the ones we have found tend to look cheap, tacky or creepy” (Bell 2013).
After same-sex marriage was legalized, many things still need to be updated, but most importantly the Marriage Equality Movement must continue expanding to create equal marriage rights for all. “For some it is a short trip, while others have already arrived. But some have a long serpentine road with detours they need to take before they can reach acceptance. As long as they continue to move in a forward direction I know of no reason that bigotry towards gay people cannot be eradicated someday” (Bell 2013).
It occurs to us, that undocumented immigrants do not have same equal rights, including the right to marriage — since they must leave the country for ten years to regain the possibility of “legal” entry as documented ‘aliens’. LGBTQ activists should not forget this need and many of the undocumented are queer.
The city of Seattle is a relatively inclusive and accepting space with an understanding of all people and cultures. The Seattle community has led the charge for equal rights for the Latino/a community and the LGBTQ community. Many local figures, such as hip-hop singer Macklemore, have joined the Marriage Equality movement to help spread awareness and demand for equality. Similar to the Chicano/a movement in the 1960’s and 70’s, people have united for a cause. Individuals that identify as both LGBTQ and Latino/a have obtained a safe place in the greater Seattle area where they are accepted. Although Seattle is a place of awareness and tolerance, many areas in Washington State and in the nation are still not as accepting. Which is why advocacy for the Chicano/a and LGBTQ communities must be unending movements that continually evolve and expand to overthrow societal oppressions. Although Seattle is progressive, many other parts of the state, nation and world still bleed oppression.
Bell, S. (2013, January). Interview by M.A. Bell-Stuart [Personal Interview].
Blake, J. (2009, September 23). Gay latino americans are ‘coming of age’. CNN, Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/wayoflife/09/09/Latino.gay/index.html.
Castañeda, O. R. (2013). The Chicano movement in Washington state 1967-2006. Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project, Retrieved from http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/Chicanomovement.
Haggerty, B. (2012, November 30). Interview by Rameswaram Sean [Audio Tape Recording]. Macklemore’s gay anthem. Retrieved from http://www.studio360.org/2012/nov/30/macklemores-gay-anthem/.
Higgins, E. (2013, January). Interview by M.A. Bell-Stuart [Personal Interview].
Nile, A. (2012, October 23). Same-sex marriage vote hits home. The Chronicle, p. A1.
Schwartz, B. P. (2012, July 23). Attackers carve ‘dyke’ on ne lesbian woman stomach, burn her home. Examiner. Retrieved from http://www.examiner.com/article/attackers-carve-dyke-on-ne-lesbian-woman-stomach-burn-her-home.
Turnbull, L., & Mayo, J. (2012, November 7). Ref. 74 supporters claim victory. Seattle Times. Retrieved from http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2019631921_gaymarriage08m.html.
Vandenorth, J. (2012, September 10). Preservation of lgbtq places. Retrieved from http://out4s.org/values/preservation-of-lgbtq-places/.
Volkers, A. (2013, January). Interview by M.A. Bell-Stuart [Personal Interview].
Mariah Bell-Stuart, Todd Abrams, and Shalea Semana are students at the University of Washington. This essay was prepared for a class on Comparative Social Movements: Mexico and the United States (Winter 2013 quarter); it originally appeared on the MexMigration blog (moderated by Devon Peña), and is reprinted here by permission.