The Seattle LGBTQ Commission has called on Mayor Jenny Durkan to resign after a close vote on the issue, joining the Seattle Human Rights Commission in taking that stance. The commission’s vote on Oct. 15 was 6-5, with one abstention.
In a letter to Durkan and the City Council this week, the LGBTQ Commission said the mayor should immediately step down “for failing to uphold and protect the human rights of the people of Seattle,” citing concerns about her record on police violence, homelessness and budgeting. Durkan’s office objected to multiple assertions in the letter, describing them as inaccurate or incomplete.
Up for reelection in 2021, Durkan has drawn criticism from many Seattle residents this year for allowing the Police Department to crack down on Black Lives Matter protest crowds, though she also has drawn criticism for allowing demonstrators and others to occupy some blocks on Capitol Hill for several weeks. The mayor meanwhile has clashed with council members over homeless encampment removals and the Police Department’s budget.
The 21-seat LGBTQ Commission is a city-sanctioned body of volunteers who advise the mayor, the council and city departments on issues that affect people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer. Commissioners are appointed by the mayor, by the council and by the commission itself.
At the moment, there are five mayoral appointees, seven council appointees, three commission appointees and six vacancies.
“It is with a heavy heart that we call for Mayor Durkan’s resignation. Mayor Durkan is Seattle’s first out lesbian mayor and only the second woman to hold that office. … Such representation is important,” the commission said in its letter.
“However, that representation must involve work to protect our community members from very real harm and violence that has been leveraged against Black and brown LGBTQ+ people,” the commission added. “Mayor Durkan’s actions in office have not only failed to create meaningful change for our community, but have indeed undermined other efforts within Seattle to create a more just future.”
The Human Rights Commission took the same position earlier this month, citing similar concerns.
“For decades, Mayor Durkan has been on the forefront of LGBTQ issues in Washington state and Seattle,” Durkan spokesperson Kelsey Nyland said in a response, mentioning advocacy for civil rights and marriage equality.
Durkan was the first openly gay person appointed as a U.S. attorney, and as mayor she has championed housing and shelter for LGBTQ seniors and youth, Nyland noted.
“This year, Mayor Durkan has been leading the city at an unprecedented moment through a pandemic, civil rights reckoning, climate crisis, and the worst economic crisis that Seattle has faced in generations,” the spokesperson added, mentioning that Durkan has recently been subject to homophobic and misogynistic attacks from some critics.
“The Mayor has worked to find a common path forward on each of these challenges and will continue to do so,” Nyland said.
Members of Seattle’s large and diverse LGBTQ community hold various views, the mayor’s office stressed.
Chris Brown, a commissioner who opposed this week’s letter, said he took his lead from commissioners of color who worried Durkan’s resignation could destabilize City Hall, delaying important projects and grants. Many people were traumatized by the Police Department’s response to protests this summer, but level heads are needed, Brown said.
“It is true that not every single LGBTQ person” in Seattle thinks Durkan should resign, said Byram Simpson, a commissioner who voted to send the letter. But the overwhelming majority of community input the commission has received, mostly via social media, has been supportive, Simpson said.
The LGBTQ Commission began discussing Durkan’s actions in July and initially decided to “try to engage” with the mayor’s office. The response was insufficient, the commission said in its letter. However, Nyland said Durkan’s office has been in regular communication with the LGBTQ commission for months and has answered the commission’s requests for information.
With regard to police violence at protests, Durkan has said the City Charter delegates management of the Police Department to the police chief, not the mayor. The mayor has the authority to remove the chief and can take control of the police force in an emergency, the commission noted, mentioning that tear gas seeped into homes in Seattle’s historic LGBTQ neighborhood.
The mayor is counting on the city’s police-accountability system as a way to address allegations of misconduct at protests and has requested a broad review of the Police Department’s tactics, Nyland pointed out.
While many protesters and community groups have called for City Hall to cut the Police Department’s budget by 50% and reallocate the money to other needs, Durkan has objected to reductions on that scale, the commission said in its letter. The mayor instead has proposed $100 million in undetermined investments for communities of color through a process that some community groups have criticized, the commission said.
Durkan opposed a new tax on big businesses passed by the council this summer but has proposed using the proceeds to balance the city’s 2021 budget, and her administration has continued to remove homeless encampments during the COVID-19 pandemic, the commission said, noting that people experiencing homelessness are disproportionately Black and LGBTQ.
The city has removed a limited number of encampments that have been hazardous, Nyland said. Durkan reduced the Police Department’s budget by $20 million this year and has proposed additional reductions for next year, partly by transferring civilian units to other departments, the spokesperson noted. The mayor believes the $100 million in investments cannot come from the Police Department right away, Nyland said.
“While some in the community have disagreed with the Mayor (and the city’s police chiefs) on issues like defunding SPD by 50%,” others have supported those decisions, Nyland said. Durkan believes the city “must get beyond slogans to work towards long-term solutions on these immense challenges,” Nyland said.
The Human Rights Commission called on the council to remove Durkan from office, if necessary. The LGBTQ Commission didn’t take that stance.