The state has a new LGBTQ Commission, and former Tacoma Rainbow Center director Manny Santiago has been named its executive director.
Santiago starts his job Monday.
The commission will identify the needs of and advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities. Like other state commissions, Santiago’s office will collect information to advise policymakers from the Legislature to the governor.
“It feels exciting,” Santiago said of his role. “As a gay man of Latino heritage, I feel a responsibility to all of my communities.”
Santiago was raised in Puerto Rico and is an ordained minister.
The commission was created by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee in April. The commission has 15 volunteer members appointed by the governor and four members from the Legislature.
Education, Santiago said, is his goal for both government and the LGBTQ community.
“There is a need to educate our community about what our rights are,” he said. Government and business need to know those rights as well, he said.
“The commission can remind agencies of the rights people have,” he said. “You cannot discriminate against them because of their sexual orientation or gender identify.”
LGBTQ residents are a protected class in Washington. That isn’t the case in some other states, including neighboring Idaho.
Competency training, which helps institutions create inclusive, safe and welcoming environments for LGBTQ people, will be left to local, grassroots organizations such as the Rainbow Center, which provides advocacy services, serves as a drop-in resource center, puts on Tacoma’s annual Pride festival and provides cultural competency education to private and public groups.
The commission as a whole will present concerns to the governor and the Legislature.
Santiago said he has three main goals for the commission.
First, he wants to complete an assessment of laws and other protections for LGBTQ workers and residents in Washington.
Second, Santiago’s office will compile a list of LGBTQ resources, such as help lines and support groups, throughout the state — “to serve as a place where people throughout Washington can go to find information in their region,” he said.
“We get calls from Yakima and Spokane and Vancouver (Washington),” from LGBTQ people looking for something like the Rainbow Center in their communities, he said.
His third goal will be to create a snapshot of the LGBTQ population.
“A minicensus of the community, so we know where our community is and what resources they need,” Santiago said.
Washington ranks fifth or sixth in the nation for the percentage of LGBTQ people within its population, according to various scholarly and legal sources. After whites, Latinos are the second-highest percentage of that population, Santiago said.