LGBTQ Community Gathers Around Housing, Hope and Change

by Laurie Rocello Torres and Debbie Carlsen

On Saturday, November 19th, the LGBTQ community came together to discuss the impacts of the housing crisis at House of Queer: Housing (r)EVOLUTION, an intergenerational LGBTQ conference hosted by LGBTQ Allyship. Attendees gathered at the Senior Center of West Seattle to listen to community members impacted by homelessness and housing instability, seasoned workers in social services, and presenters from the Seattle Office of Civil Rights.

“Housing is a pressing issue that affects us all,” said local comedian Alyssa Yeoman who emceed the event. “This conference was a place for people to give perspectives on housing that aren’t always highlighted and an opportunity to really talk about how to change things for the better.”

House of Queer also featured keynote presentations from Lizz Aguilera and Norma Timbang. Aguilera is a case manager at Downtown Emergency Services Center who is passionate about housing, especially after having experienced the intersection of queerness and homelessness as a youth. In their keynote, Aguilera emphasized the need to really focus on supporting and listening to folks who are most impacted including folks who have disabilities, identify as trans, identify as queer, are low income and are people of color, and/or have intersecting identities.

Timbang is a professor at the University of Washington’s School of Social Work, and active member of the community. She was a founding mother of the API Family Safety Center which now exists as API Chaya, a non-profit organization that serves survivors of violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking, particularly in Asian Pacific Islander and Southeast Asian communities. Her keynote shared deep reflections on her life in the Seattle area as a queer woman of color, how her children were born in Seattle but can no longer live in Seattle, and her growing concerns about aging as an LGBTQ person in a city that has displaced her and her loved ones.

House of Queer provided an intergenerational perspective on LGBTQ housing history and impact on culture and resources from LGBTQ displacement in Seattle over the last 45 years through a workshop called House of Older Queers. Panelists Jack Barker, MaryAnne Moorman, Chad Goller-Sojourner and Luis Fernando Ramirez shared their stories of community change. LGBTQ low-income senior housing needs came up throughout the conference. Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who attended the conference, said “We must ensure LGBTQ housing equity in the  implementation of our 2016 Housing Levy. Across every Census division in the U.S. Seattle has the least developed services for LGBTQ older adults and their families. Unlike most large cities, we are also running behind on developing housing for LGBTQ seniors.

The Council, in putting the housing levy on the ballot, named LGBTQ seniors as a priority population for levy housing production. Now that the levy has passed, we need to ensure this happens”.

Sharing stories and collecting data about LGBTQ housing happened throughout the conference. Allyship launched an LGBTQ housing survey asking community about housing solutions and held a booth where LGBTQ conference attendees could map their housing patterns in King County over the last 10 years. LGBTQ Allyship also facilitated a listening session where community members came together to share their feelings, fears, and hopes given the current political climate and the current president-elect. The listening session then transitioned to a strategy session where solutions and ideas to build capacity and connection were identified.

Over the course of the day, 75 attendees were at the Senior Center of West Seattle.

“House of Queer was one of the smaller conferences I’ve attended, but the folks in attendance that day really showed up,” said Nathan Silpakit, a conference participant and volunteer. “I was blown away by the passion, creativity, and wisdom that came together that day. It is clear to all of us that there will be a tough road ahead but I’m inspired by the collective power held in our community to make it through.”