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Resolutions and Russia

Recently there have been articles about Russia’s new laws against gay “propaganda” being distributed to minors (you know, like propaganda about healthy relationships and safer sex), increasing hostility to LGBT people, and outright attacks on LGBT people. Some people have said it’s time for LGBT people to “flee Russia.” Next year’s Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi won’t have Cher performing, but that’s really the least of the issues, as sponsors and LGBT civil rights advocates pressure the International Olympic Committee to pressure the Russian government to join the modern world, the one that doesn’t jail, torture or kill LGBT people.

I believe the gay propaganda law passed in Russia is abhorrent.  Persecution against LGBT people is unacceptable and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposed policies, which include taking children away from gay parents, are especially awful to those of us who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. I am personally appreciative of the work Seattle residents are doing to work against this persecution.

A few of you know there’s been a debate recently about whether the Council should do a resolution regarding the situation and stating the City’s official position. Resolutions are non-binding pieces of legislation that express a policy intent or an advocacy position or sometimes lay out a work program. I recently declined the Mayor’s suggestion to do a joint resolution stating the City’s position regarding the situation in Russia. I’ll explain a bit about why – and offer a few ideas about what we could do that would be truly meaningful.

A little background on how this conversation started

The Mayor’s liaison to the Council asked me September 12 if I would be interested in signing on to a letter from the Mayor to the Russian Consul General in Seattle. The Consul General had sent a letter to the Mayor regarding his participation in a protest outside the Consul General’s home highlighting LGBT persecution in Russia. I read the draft reply letter from the Mayor and thought it was great; clear and strongly worded. I thanked the Mayor’s liaison for the opportunity to sign, but declined because I didn’t attend the protest and hadn’t been involved in the discussion with the Consul.

The Mayor’s staff also asked if I’d be interested in exploring a joint Council-Mayor resolution on “Russia’s discriminatory laws.” I declined this offer, as well, because, personally, I believe resolutions adopted by the Council should be specific to issues affecting life for people in Seattle.  For people who want the Council to pass a resolution this approach can be maddening, but we need a filter of some kind. We have an active, passionate citizenry in Seattle which is great. We could pass resolutions in every meeting of the Council and we would never cover the breadth of issues important to Seattleites.

Also, international affairs? Not our specialty. I’m not saying we should never go there with resolutions, but we should, in the words of one e-mailer this week, tread gingerly and with the help of people who actually know what they’re talking about. I’ll say more about that in a moment.

If the Mayor disagreed with me or if he thought this subject should be treated as an exception, he could have called me. He could also have consulted with other councilmembers. Any councilmember can take up a resolution and argue that it’s appropriate for action.

I can hear the charge of, “But you’re the Council President.” I don’t commit my colleagues to voting one way or another on an issue. We’re nine people who make up our own minds.

Also, when the Mayor was asked in the Consul General’s letter if his support of the protestors reflected the official position of Seattle authorities, isn’t that when you say an unqualified “yes”? Isn’t that when you highlight that we’re a city in a county that just approved marriage equality by 67%; we’re a city that made City Hall available at no cost for weddings; we’re a city that added gays and lesbians to anti-discrimination laws in 1978; we’re a city with some of the most innovative queer youth support organizations in the country; and we’re a city proudly known as one of the best places for transgender people to live and work.

Back to resolutions and whether we should pass one

How connected a potential resolution subject is to life in Seattle is something we debate every time an idea for a resolution comes forward. I agree that injustice to one is an injustice to all. I believe the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice and that we need to push the arc in every generation. I believe even one person can make a difference raising his or her voice. And I think that when the Council adopts a resolution it should be because that resolution means something.

There are examples of resolutions the Council has passed where that connection has been stretched, but I know that, for my part, when I am approached about a resolution I push on what the local connection is that makes the resolution right for us to consider.

People have brought up immigration and the resolution we passed opposing Arizona’s approach to immigration law. In that resolution we called for a federal level approach to immigration reform.  I have argued before and will continue to argue that immigration reform is a city issue because we have people living in our city who can’t call for police or fire help without fear; who can’t go to the hospital without fear; who can’t engage in full lives without fear.  Immigration reform is a city issue.

People have brought up the resolution on health care reform from a few years back. Not a city issue? Tell that to the uninsured in our city. We’re partners with King County in operating public health clinics that ensure health care access for the poorest among us. We need health care reform in our city.

And then I’ve heard that if Seattle cares enough to support circus animals and removal of the Snake River dams, then we can certainly show we care about LGBT people in Russia.  Those two resolutions from a decade ago come up over and over as examples of how the Council’s voice can be diluted or misunderstood.

What now?

What’s happening in Russia is deplorable. Let’s also recognize that what’s happening in 75 other countries not mentioned in the recent focus on Russia is equally deplorable (http://76crimes.com/). Instead of building conspiracy theories about why I didn’t say yes to a resolution, why not come up with strategies to better educate people on what’s happening in Russia and in these 76 countries, and give people real ways to be heard and make change. And do you want to talk about the situation for women in far too many parts of the globe? That can keep us busy with resolutions for a while, too.

If we need to do a resolution to make the point super clear, great, let’s do it — and let’s do it right. Let’s use the Council’s convening power and the platform made possible by Seattle Channel to get the best information we can about international human rights abuses against LGBT people in Russia and elsewhere, and let’s identify constructive steps City government and others in Seattle can take to effect change. I think the City’s LGBT Commission and Human Rights Commission can assist, but so can other Seattle-based organizations deeply involved in world affairs.

The resolution should mean something and shouldn’t be the end of people’s attention to what’s happening around the world and the attacks that happen in our own city and country.

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