To move or not to move?

There has been much talk lately about moving Seattle's 2006 Pride Parade and Festival to the Seattle Center. Is a move beneficial to the community? Would moving downtown increase visibility, growth and opportunities for revenue? And, for the past few weeks, the response from the community, including many of our Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA) members has been a resounding "no." So, the next response is: Why?

When the parade is over and the police are gone, how safe will our zany parade goers be as they make their way home from downtown Seattle?

Seattle may be a progressive city that does its best to provide all residents with safety, but ask a member of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered (LGBT) community, or for that matter, any marginalized community, where they feel most safe to be themselves and the answer is, in their own neighborhood. Now, some may argue that LGBT folks live and work everywhere, and that is true, but it is still Capitol Hill (or the Castro in San Francisco, the Village in New York, etc.) that is most identified by gay folks as their neighborhood where they are most comfortably themselves.

Capitol Hill is the cultural center of the LGBT community. It is our "gay district." When an out-of-towner calls the GSBA and asks, "Where's the gay neighborhood?" or the same tourist calls the local tourist bureau, and asks the same question, what would they say? I have no doubt that they would refer the visitor to Capitol Hill. We certainly refer visitors to all our fabulous member restaurants, theaters and bars everywhere, but make no doubt that we always proudly send our tourists, or take our own guests up to Capitol Hill to show off our gay district. What benefit would it be to weaken that identity?

Capitol Hill is home to LGBT businesses and nonprofits that serve the gay community. Does that mean that all businesses and nonprofits on Capitol Hill are gay or LGBT owned? Or, conversely, that there aren't any LGBT owned businesses off the Hill? Of course, not - there are LGBT businesses and residents in every part of the city, and there always have been.

However, for the most part, the businesses on Capitol Hill were many of the first to put out the welcome sign for our community. Whether it is a rainbow flag, a fundraiser being advertised for one of our nonprofits, a copy of the GSBA guide on the counter or just a warm smile at a couple of women or men walking in for dinner - we know we are in a welcoming and inclusive establishment.

Do we not owe these businesses our loyalty? The amount of business generated during Pride Week for some of our businesses rivals what other businesses make during the Christmas season. And, these businesses don't just make money off of us, but they are the businesses that give all year to our community - you can walk in to one of our bookstores or video rental businesses or restaurants and someone is advertising a fundraiser for one of our nonprofits. Certainly, the LGBT businesses in other parts of the city are also generous and deserve our support, but many of these business owners also feel that maintaining a strong gay district benefits us all.

The city of Seattle has acknowledged the importance of revitalizing Broadway and Capitol Hill, and understand that a vibrant Capitol Hill is a benefit to all of Seattle. The Broadway BIA and the city are working hard to bring back the vitality to this important district. During this pivotal time, why would our own community make a statement that gives an exact opposite message?

It is now time to support Capitol Hill, patronize our businesses, donate to our nonprofits, increase our visibility and expand our Gay Pride identity - not only in June, but all year long. Keeping Pride celebrations on Capitol Hill is integral to our identity, unity, safety and new revitalization plan.

The result of a strong LGBT community will help us tear down the remaining vestiges of discrimination against our community. As GSBA celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2006, we invite you to join us in celebrating our pride as we honor all those who came out first so that we can live openly and with dignity.

Louise Chernin is the executive director of the Greater Seattle Business Association.

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