Fix the Perception
Maybe we would propose legislation that targets "nuisance behaviors" such as hitting on straight men, or wearing disruptively flamboyant or sexually suggestive clothing, or maybe we would ask the city to do a study on how much sex is happening in downtown bathrooms, and what we should do to address this problem. Perhaps we would ask the question about how "sanitary" Jake's is. Perhaps we would quote statistics on the number of sexually transmitted diseases in the gay population, and ask whether advertising a bar as being queer-safe presents a public health risk. Perhaps we would consider an ordinance prohibiting the sale of liquour to known homosexuals.
Please don't think that I am taking that scenario lightly. It makes me sick to think about this kind of stuff happening. And its not an imaginary scenario. Such laws used to be commonplace. Gay people have been targeted by city ordinances very similar to the ones Olympia has recently proposed targeting the poor. Some people believe homosexuals to be dirty, sick, perverted, antisocial, a public nuisance and a safety issue. Bigotry is part of the lived experience of people who are gay.
Thankfully, our community has little tolerance for gay-bashing. In fact, councilman Jeff Kingsbury is in office largely because of this. Not because he is gay, but because he has made himself a leader for civil rights. People in Olympia want an official who will stick their neck out for the marginalized in our community.
Of course, there are a few homophobes that stick around this town and complain that Capital City Pride is "intolerant" of their way of life. They are not taken seriously by the majority here. We know that the "nuisance behavior" when it comes to homosexuality is people who find it acceptable to force others into a life of hiding, and harrass homosexuality out of public life just because they don't agree with it. We don't go out of our way to appease homophobic perceptions of safety.
Jeff Kingsbury played on Olympia's commitment to social justice during his campaign. At a forum on poverty issues, I remember him saying "believe me, I will stand up for everyone's civil rights in this community". I think he really meant that.
Now he is one of the two councilmembers advocating laws that are just as bigoted as the ones described above. Like those above, they are designed to target a certain population by banning activities that are a part of that subculture's lifestyle. Merely discussing such ordinances is a way of implying that this population is legitimately sick, criminal, dangerous, and shameful. The worst thing about this is not the ordinances, but the propaganda campaign it creates around an already stereotyped group of people. It is documented that when these sort of ordinances are proposed, hate crimes against the homeless go up.
We should expect this kind of thing from Doug Mah. He has always been a business-backed official, elected to office to serve the interests of the rich. (As the old folktale goes, "You knew I was a snake when you picked me up!")
But I feel betrayed by Jeff. The progressive community has really backed him. We backed him because we trusted him to stand up for humane legislation, and an inclusive community. I don't think he could have been elected without the progressive/leftist vote. Does he think we will accept him talking this way about the homeless?
We won't. Just as we didn't accept the the way religious extremists tried to discredit Jeff during his campaign.
I'm not just angry about the concept of exploring possible ordinances. I am angry at the smear campaign that Doug and Jeff are unleashing on downtown Olympia. I hope that Jeff will soon realize how wrong it is to indulge bigotry and fear in downtown Olympia.
The council admits that what we have is a "perception" problem. You don't go to the optometrist with a depth perception problem in order to have him move all the furniture for you. You pay the optometrist to correct your perception so that it correlates with reality. This is also the duty of city officials when it comes to people's irrational fear and prejudice. Responding to imagined dangers as real threats will not make our community safer.