Fourteen years ago, I endured the unimaginable — a storm for the record books produced rain the likes of which I had never seen in Seattle. Madison Valley, where I shared my home with my partner, Kate, was inundated by rising water that fatally trapped Kate in her audiobook studio in our little home’s basement.
That night I learned that our 10-year relationship had no legal recognition and thus barred me from being by Kate’s side when I arrived at the hospital to be with her in the last moments of her life. In 2006, there were no legal protections for same-sex couples in Washington state and our nation.
Shortly after Kate’s death, I met Jenny Durkan, who took on the city of Seattle and sued it for neglecting the long-standing flooding issue in Madison Valley that tragically took Kate’s life. I respected Jenny’s leadership and compassion from the moment I met her. It was her encouragement that gave me the strength to testify in Olympia a month after Kate’s death, helping to pass the first of many LGBTQ civil rights victories in Washington state before finally securing marriage equality in 2012.
The recent action of six people who are part of a 21-person LGBTQ+ “advisory” commission clearly demonstrates that they do not know who Mayor Jenny Durkan is. Sadly, they did not take the time to learn of the decades of work Jenny accomplished to better the LGBTQ+ community’s lives. The very rights we all enjoy today are a result of Jenny’s leadership and commitment to the LGBTQ+ community’s civil rights. Unfortunately, they chose to speak on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community with no mandate, asking the mayor to step down. This misguided attempt to besmirch our mayor’s dedication is why I feel it necessary to set the record straight.
As the former chair of the Washington State Human Rights Commission, where I served for 10 years, I learned the essential quality of being a commissioner for our state and city. As a commissioner, it was my job to uphold Washington state’s laws against discrimination. These laws protect not just the LGBTQ+ community but every resident in Washington state with a fair and equitable understanding and application. The mentoring from strong women like Jenny Durkan is what I drew upon for guidance and counsel in my work as a commissioner.
Our progress on LGBTQ+ rights results from decades of leadership by Jenny and many others in our community. Jenny’s commitment and tireless efforts for marriage equality is just one of many instances of her work on behalf of LGBTQ+ rights. Jenny worked and pushed for the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy and expanded protections for the LGBTQ+ community in Seattle and beyond.
President Barack Obama knew of Jenny’s leadership when he appointed her to serve as U.S. Attorney — the first openly LGBTQ person appointed by any president in U.S. history to a Senate-confirmed position in the Department of Justice. Jenny used that barrier-breaking opportunity to advance LGBTQ+ rights and the rights of communities of color by creating a special civil rights unit in Western Washington. She also led the civil rights investigation into the Seattle Police Department that began addressing the use of force against Black, Indigenous and people of color communities in Seattle.
As mayor, Jenny has continued to advance new LGBTQ+ affordable housing, support for LGBTQ+ small businesses, and increasing resources for LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness, and confronting rising hate crimes in Seattle toward LGBTQ+, BIPOC individuals and people of faith.
At this critical moment in our city and nation, Jenny has been nothing but a strong leader for Seattle during truly unprecedented times — a once in a lifetime pandemic, a civil-rights reckoning, and the worst economic crisis Seattle has faced in generations. She has continued to do so, all while being subjected to repeated intimidation, threats, and homophobic and misogynistic attacks. However, the LGBTQ+ Commission has yet to speak out against these attacks on our mayor. Instead, its focus has further divided our community when now more than ever, we must pull together.
Our city, state, and country are being divided and defined by hate, distrust, inflammatory rhetoric, and at times, very little resembles the truth. Activism matters, but activism cannot effectively be accomplished without thoughtful and collaborative communication with the very community you claim to represent. It’s why we elected Jenny, who values listening to find commonality and who continues to support progressive changes we need in our community for civil rights, health care, policing, housing, community safety and education. Jenny wants to make long overdue investments in communities who have faced institutionalized and systemic racism addressing the deep disparities and inequalities facing the BIPOC community, especially acknowledging that Black trans people have not shared fully in the gains of the LGTBQ+ community.
The actions and words of a few do not represent the community at large or the reality of who Jenny Durkan is and her commitment to fighting all these years for LGBTQ+ rights and civil rights broadly. Jenny serves as an example of what people in the LGBTQ+ community can accomplish when they work together as a community. Moving forward, this should be a reckoning and an invitation for the commission to refocus its energy on genuinely working with the mayor and the entire community to create a better city for us all.