Skyline of Spokane
Skyline of Spokane (Photo: David Kent, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

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.”

About the author

Caya is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor based out of Spokane, Washington, writing about Lilac City politics, the Evergreen State's 5th Congressional District, and related politics. She previously hosted the inaugural episodes of NPI's PNWcurrents podcast. She works at the Unemployment Law Project and is a graduate of Central Washington University, with a bachelor's degree in liberal arts and sciences. Caya also has a minor from CWU in law and justice.

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