The mood was high. After all, there was much to be excited about.
After three long years, the Young Democrats of Washington were celebrating three firsts: their first in-person convention since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic; their first hybrid convention; and their first convention east of the Cascades in nearly a decade, in my hometown of Spokane.
The convention proper spanned three days and five separate locations, offering participants a chance to really experience the city.
Saturday’s proceedings, a series of panels and talks about issues facing the region, were held at North Central High School.
I had the honor of attending one such discussion on Saturday morning about the experience of being LGBTQ+ in Eastern Washington.
Though Washington has historically been one of the safer states to be queer, the LGBTQ+ experience east of the Cascades is a very different one due to the Republican-leaning local governments. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that it wasn’t very safe to be out in Spokane, the biggest city in the region.
Sadly, even today, the fear of discrimination prevents many of us from outing ourselves, even for the purposes of data collection.
A recent estimate placed Spokane’s LGBTQ+ population at 3.8%, but it is likely that the true number is even higher.
That said, Spokane is gaining a reputation for being one of the friendlier cities. Our Pride festival is growing every year, drawing more than 25,000 people to the streets of downtown Spokane to celebrate queer joy.
We have an LGBTQ+ business chamber, queer-affirming churches, Odyssey Youth Movement (an organization geared towards LGBTQ+ youth), Spectrum Center Spokane (an LGBTQ+ nonprofit), and queer-friendly spaces such as Boots Bakery, nYne Bar, and Neato Burrito. Spokane Pride, the overseer of all events Pride, served 27,000 people in 2019. Today? The number is closer to 50,000.
And, in the last local election cycle, Zack Zappone made history as the first openly bisexual member elected to the City Council.
One thing is certain: Spokane is becoming more queer. However, even with our progress, city leadership has yet to truly reflect our growing demographics.
Esteban Herevia chose to run for City Council representing District 3 precisely because of this lack of representation. He is the former President and CEO of Spokane Pride, and Strategist for Health Justice and Belonging at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine. If elected, he would be the first Latine member of Spokane City Council.
Herevia led the session, titled LGBTQIA in Eastern Washington, by talking about his experiences as an out person running for office.
He spoke of the perils of working with those even within the party who hold reservations against the queer community.
“People hear ‘Pride’ and they hear two things,” he said. “ ‘Oh, that’s too progressive.’ And on the other side, folks say ‘oh, that’s too mild.’ ”
“But when we look at what a city council member is, it’s somebody who can transform change, make sense of policy, [and] make sense of change.”
The task facing Herevia is no small one. Herevia’s District 3 contains the West Central neighborhood, the poorest neighborhood in Spokane. The median income is $31,313. It has the most renters, there are no colleges in the district, and it is one of the most diverse neighborhoods. LGBTQ+ adults are more likely to experience poverty than their heterosexual, cisgender peers, so these indicators are unfortunately not surprising. Given the needs of the community, Herevia wants people in office who are “representing the realities of our voters.”
Joining him in conversation was Leiyomi Preciado, a trans woman of color who ran for Kitsap County Commissioner last year. Her message for allies was strong: “[It] doesn’t need to happen for you in order for you to care.”
“What may happen to trans people,” she said. “May then go onto gay people.” Indeed, there has been much fear within the community about the onslaught of violent, anti-trans legislation pouring out of states with right-wing governments, and what this could mean for the rights of LGBTQ+ people overall.
Preciado spoke of the importance of being representation in governance: “Being out, and visible, and proud to show that any negative connotation they have against trans people isn’t warranted.”
She expressed concern with those among the Democratic Party who are Democratic “in name only;” who express allyship, but may not be fully in line with marginalized communities. She asked Herevia how young Democrats can overcome these party dynamics, especially from the older guard.
Herevia emphasized the value of community building: “The kitchen table is the most important table when you’re running!”
For LGBTQ+ candidates running for office, gathering the support of other candidates and sympathetic businesses can be of utmost importance. After all, there is a strong queer community in Spokane, as mentioned.
However, aggressive transphobic and homophobic propaganda has painted our community in a bad light, despite the fact that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to be victims of violence. Circling back to Preciado’s experience in her own district, connecting with others, helping them realize that queer and trans people are heir neighbors, their grocery store clerks, their doctors, and their friends, can go a long way in dismantling deeply held biases. Herevia said there are “candidates who have money from power, but they don’t knock on doors.”
With that being said, LGBTQ+ aspirants can still suffer from undue scrutiny. In an antiquated system that favors wealthy donors over grassroots activism, people of color and members of other marginalized communities have expressed frustration with having to meet shifting goalposts that their white, cisgendered, heterosexual peers are not held to. Herevia himself recounted instances where people expressed surprise at his qualifications despite his lengthy resume!
Despite these challenges, the tone of the session centered on the power of legislation to cement long-lasting change. In a world where we are constantly under attack, it is impossible to underestimate the radicalizing power of joy.
“When I think of queer liberation, it’s tied to policy,” Herevia said. “When we’re able to realize our own joy first… [we forget] the system. We don’t need it.”