LGBTQ business owners lament Capitol Hill’s eroding gayborhood in meeting with Sen. Murray

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Sen. Murray (front left) meets with small business owners at E Pine’s Sugarpill apothecary. (Image: CHS)

In the midst of Congress’s summer recess, Senator Patty Murray visited our Capitol Hill Wednesday morning to hear from LGBTQ small business owners about issues facing Seattle’s gayborhood. Their response was fairly unanimous: the biggest concern is that it is disappearing.

As three small business owners sat down with Murray inside the Sugarpill apothecary on E Pine, the conversation quickly turned to rapidly rising rents and how they erode LGBTQ small business, displace artists, and diffuse the center of Seattle’s gay community.

For Sugarpill owner Karyn Schwartz, the recent mass shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub crystallized the issue as she said many gay people she knew in Seattle were left feeling vulnerable without a well established community to grieve with.

“It used to be that because we weren’t accepted in our families we had to ban together, and now that’s changing,” Schwartz said. “The center of gravity is different and I think people freaked out.”

Even more than the influx of Amazon employees, Schwartz said the prevalence of online retailing has dwindled the number of community-centered businesses. Marination owner Roz Edison said she has faced a similar issue with online delivery services as fewer people want to come into her restaurants, which also decreases tips.

For Edison, being gay has had little to do with successes or challenges as a business owner on Capitol Hill. “Working for a woman is more interesting to our employees than working for a gay individual,” she said. Instead, she said Seattle’s rapidly rising rents and new box-retail developments makes it virtually impossible to expand.

“Two blocks down, they’ve mowed the whole street and its all six-story mixed-used buildings,” said Ryan Ceurvorst, co-owner of the small communications outfit Tango Foxtrot.

Murray’s visit was meant as a listen and learn stop, so there was no speechifying or bills to sell. Still, she has been active on several LGBTQ issues, including work on a recent bill that would effectively ban gay conversion therapy nationwide — a follow up to Seattle’s recent ban on the discredited practice.

“It takes time to get people to recognize it, which is what great about cities like Seattle doing it because that will allow other people to say ‘oh that is something you can do,’” Murray said.

During her summer recess Murray also had a primary election to contend with, which she easily won with 54% of the vote. Her next closest challenger, Republican Chris Vance, took 28% of the vote to make it to the November election. Murray did even better in King County, where she won 68% of the vote.

Despite her widespread popularity in Seattle, Murray did ruffle some feathers earlier this year. Following Washington’s presidential caucus, where Sen. Bernie Sanders won in a landslide victory, Murray dismissed calls to change her delegate support for Hillary Clinton. Clinton and Murray have long been political allies. When asked on Tuesday if she would be interested in joining a Clinton administration, Murray said, “I love my job right now. I need to be where I am to tell her what to do.”

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14 thoughts on “LGBTQ business owners lament Capitol Hill’s eroding gayborhood in meeting with Sen. Murray

  1. These arguments fascinate me. The assumption is that “we have always been here” or maybe “now that we’re here no more change can happen”. Ridiculous. In this case, CH has not always been a gay neighborhood. We started as a wealthy suburb, the businesses that were here supported a wealthier population. PIke-Pine was auto row in Seattle for decades and the last auto dealer moved away just a few years ago. After the car became ubiquitous the wealthy moved farther out of the city and this area became a low income neighborhood with apartments replacing the smaller homes and many of the larger homes being converted to multi-family. The businesses changed to accommodate the new populace. Many of the new populace were gay people congregating for security and acceptance. As we grow somewhat more tolerant of those who are not like us the “minority group” feels more comfortable in other neighborhood and “majority groups” feel more comfortable moving into those so called “sketchy areas”. So what’s the bottom line? Right now, CH is becoming a wealthy neighborhood again as it was a century ago. This too will pass.

    Change is not only inevitable it is desirable. The lack of change is not stability. It’s stagnation at best, decay and death must follow. Embrace change. Adapt to change. Find the next “sketchy neighborhood” and work to make it better, just as previous generations have. I’ve lived on the Hill for nearly 40 years. You can do it, I know.

    • No kidding. I just don’t get this sense of entitlement to the neighborhood, nor the inability to even fathom finding the next place to colonize. It’s been like this forever– gays find a downtrodden neighborhood, recognize the potential, fix it up, and move on to spruce up somewhere else when the masses finally catch on. Seattle isn’t unique here, it happens in every big city. But in most cities the GL(nowBT) crowd moves on in search of another beautification project. In passive Seattle everyone stays put and whines. I feel like the old man on The Simpsons shaking his fist (“kids these days are lazy!”). It’s hard to get worked up about this– it’s nothing new. At all.

    • I’m a gay man and I cannot agree more with your comment! Wake up you old-school gay people and realize that since we are now so openly accepted by “general” society, we have chosen to move out into that loving, accepting “general society” (here in Seattle) and so we no longer need a gayborhood. I have been here in Seattle since 1998, am 48 years old for reference, and I love going out to non-gay bars on Capitol Hill and feeling like one of the crowd. I very rarely pick a gay bar when I go out with friends. We no longer feel the need to. So stop whining like we got pushed out of Capitol Hill. We simply got what we’ve been asking for–complete and utter acceptance by the greater society as a whole (yes of course there are still haters but most everyone is not them)–so this is the natural result. I rolled my eyes when our useless gay mayor finally got his butt out onto the Capitol Hill nightlife scene as was all “omg what happened to the gay life”…dude, that necessarily disappeared 10 years ago…get your head out of the hole it’s in.

  2. This is good news. In much the same way historically black colleges are a needed victim of integration, the wide social acceptance of gays means or should mean plenty of options to live full lives outside of a gay ghetto. And agree that the years as a gay area are few and even then it has never been a predominantly gay enclave. This is not even a 1st world problem.

    • If neighborhoods didn’t have character then Seattle would be an incredibly boring place.

      Minorities sometimes enjoy being around people with similar backgrounds than them instead of being diluted by the majority cis/straight/white population. That’s not saying anything bad about the majority, it’s just nice being around people that you can identify with when all other aspects of your life are dominated by the culture of the majority.

  3. Scary response. Look at restrictive covenants on the books around the area that are no longer legal. If a white cis person wants to only have similar folks around him/her, is that less OK than if a minority wishes to live around their own group? I run a business. What if I decided I wanted to spend my days only around people who look like me? What may be nice as you say, is not necessarily right, if by doing so, it discriminates against others. In the end, the only way to ensure that your neighborhood looks like you, is to say no to those who don’t. And that is plain wrong and I think you know it.

    • Except that nobody is saying “no” to anybody. Precisely the opposite, Capitol Hill is saying “yes” to everybody. And that’s a good thing. People (i.e. LGBT people) who don’t want to live in a heterogeneous/mixed community are always free to vote with their feet and settle somewhere else. Nobody’s being discriminated against here– this is the option of voluntary, self-imposed segregation we’re talking about. It doesn’t need to be “fixed”.

    • It’s a matter of different concentrations, not exclusion. Minority people like being around other minority people for a lot of reasons. That means that they will sometimes prefer to be around a group of people with a higher concentration of minority people. No one is saying no cis straight white people allowed. If smaller populations do not group together then the culture just homogenizes towards the dominant culture since they are so outnumbered in general society.

    • True– but then it’s up to those groups to seek out a space of their own, if they still need or want it. Not stay put and complain about the other people moving in. And it’s not up to the “old-school” gays to keep repeating the process. It’s always been the creative, entrepreneurial, and often younger sorts that seek out the new spaces. And there’s usually an economic factor too, not just a cultural one. Younger LGBT people shouldn’t expect the old guard to keep doing it for them.

    • @Jim98122x – yeah that’s fine. I was trying to illustrate why some people feel sad about Capitol Hill changing and how it’s a reasonable reaction, even if you don’t think it should be prevented. It is difficult when you feel like your cultural home is disappearing and it’s not like LGBTQ people are super organized and mobile and can just pick out a new neighborhood to call home. It’s an organic process and it might not even happen again in Seattle. I’m trying to inject a little empathy into the conversation, not make arguments about making Capitol Hill gay again.

    • Tegan & Jim, I think you both have valid perspectives. As a 51 year old gay man who’s lived on and off CapHill, as well as enjoyed the nightlife up here since the 1980’s, I celebrate the fact that our beautiful gayborhood has outlived it’s usefulness. I’m also not one of those gays who only wants to be around LGBT people. In fact, my favorite place to dance is Century Ballroom because it’s an idealized mix of straight, gay, young, old, black, white, brown and green, and probably the best darn mix of people I’ve seen up here. I no longer go to ‘gay places’, because the need to segregate has indeed greatly lessened as we gain more and more acceptance. At the same time, I do look around our ‘hood with a bittersweet lens, noticing the punk/goth kids are gone, the nightlife scene grew too big, the crime has gotten much worse in the past decade, and with the exorbitant rental prices, only well off people can move here now, further skewing the neighborhood towards the tech community; one demographic. For decades, Capitol Hill was substantially more diverse than it is now, and for that reason, my partner and I are making plans for our own exodus to the suburbs. It’s absolutely a good thing that we don’t need a gay ghetto anymore, but we can still be sad the flavor is disappearing.

  4. For me, it’s been a blessing to live/work in Capitol Hill as it has really helped me in understanding, acceptance, and support of my LGBT co-workers and neighbors.

    I don’t blame anybody for wanting to be around people of a similar culture and background. If the culture that you most identify with began to dissipate, then that would be an issue of concern for you as well. LGBT people will always face different challenges than the straight majority and it’s better to appreciate that rather than dismiss their needs and desire to be part of a healthy community.

  5. Seattle is a place where you now can be LGBTQ anywhere! It’s time to move on from this need to congregate in one area. I have lived in many neighborhoods in Seattle and had many LGBTQ neighbors from Ravenna to Queen Anne and West Seattle to Judkins Park! The vibrancy of Seattle is brought to us by the diverse neighborhoods that we can all share freely!

  6. I agree with most of the people here. Leave it to Seattle progressives to be pissed off about actual progress! The dismantling of the gay ghetto is a good thing! It was the entire point of the gay rights movement. We won! Let’s move on and mingle. We don’t need our own spaces anymore.