During a press conference earlier this week, Mayor Jenny Durkan, who is gay, said that small businesses within the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) zone had been vandalized with anti-LGBTQ graffiti by people inside the protest area. “I have talked to many small business owners that literally have just been holding on. It was their week to reopen, and their businesses are sanctuaries for many people, including the LGBT community,” Durkan said.
“They’re not only closed, but there’s graffiti with homophobic slurs written on their buildings. That’s not who we are in Seattle and we’re going to do everything we can to change that dynamic.”
Two days after Durkan’s comments, I spent a couple of hours in the CHOP searching for homophobic graffiti on buildings in the area. I didn’t see any (on this or any prior walk through the CHOP), although I could have missed it or it might have been scrubbed away. There were, however, many signs and spray-painted messages supporting the black trans community, which one of the groups most targeted by hate crimes and police violence in the United States.
In fact, the only “slurs” I could find were the spray-painted message “Fags against cops,” painted on a rainbow crosswalk across from Cal Anderson Park, two that read “Dykes 4 BLM,” and one that read “Dykes 4 Anarchy.”
When I sent a couple of photos of these messages to the mayor’s office to find out if this was what Durkan was referring to, a spokeswoman said, “She met with [business] owners including some LGBTQ biz owners who had mentioned the tag of the f-word on/near their business. Not sure the specific location of the photos referenced below. But that specific word in graffiti is what she was referencing.”
Louise Chernin, the head of the Greater Seattle Business Association (the city’s LGBTQ+ business group), said she had not seen any homophobic graffiti herself, but added that “more than one person told me they saw homophobic graffiti around the neighborhood.”
Reclaiming words meant as slurs, of course, is a long and proud tradition among oppressed groups of all kinds. (“Queer,” the Q in LGBTQ+, is a great example of a term for identity that began its life as a slur.) Bottom line: Calling the “f-word” homophobic in every context is like saying it’s misogynistic for women to start a magazine called Bitch.
Durkan has repeatedly implied that the ongoing presence of protesters, barricades and graffiti in the six-block CHOP area is harming the LGBTQ+ community on Capitol Hill, a “historic sanctuary” for LGBTQ+ people. What is clear from even a brief walk through the neighborhood, however, is that the majority of the signs, graffiti, and even pro-protest posters hung up by businesses themselves, are overwhelmingly pro-queer—and that a lot of it is explicitly anti-Durkan.