By Natalie Wendt
f you, like me, ever wished that Spokane had a gay district, you're not alone. Back in 2005, Spokane got national attention when a group called "Let's Get Visible" tried to create one. No building ever took place but the plan drew commentary from religious groups, media outlets, bloggers, and gay communities across the country. Four years later, it seems the whole thing has faded into history without ever breaking ground. Why? It all started in the early 2000s when the Spokane Downtown Partnership began studying the Creative Class Theory of Richard Florida. Florida's theory focuses on "the creative class," the roughly thirty percent of workers whose careers depend on their ingenuity. According to Florida, talent, technology, and tolerance are needed to draw these workers to your city. Creative class workers are a group Spokane tends to lack. In researching why, the Partnership concluded that though we have technology and talent, our city wants for the diversity that the creative class craves. The Inland Northwest Business Alliance's "Vision Commitment" wondered if a more visible GLBTQ community would help attract creative class workers. Developing a gay district leaped to the forefront of ideas. So in 2004, the Vision Committee surveyed the GLBTQ community of Spokane about the idea. Inspired by the large majority who supported the possibility, that November they held a workshop about the gay district. Local news coverage of the workshop sparked letters to the editor from both supporters and opponents. As the project developed, the group behind the plan spun off of the Vision Commitment and renamed itself "Let's Get Visible." Over the next few months AP Press picked up the story. NPR commented on it. Free Republic posters typed away about the
that never was
proposed neighborhood's likeness to Sodom and Gomorrah. Local networks of conservatives claimed the district would clash with Spokane's image as what former Mayor John Talbott called "a family-friendly, traditional values community." Opponents of the plan worried that the district would bring crime, drug use, sexual predators and other social ills. Walton Mize, bishop of the Christ Holy Sanctified Church declared, "It's a culture based upon sex" and warned of the "underbelly" of the gay community. Others claimed, falsely and rather absurdly, that heterosexuals would be denied residence in the district. A few bloggers complained that a gay district was a step away from inclusion and towards segregation and gay ghettos. Meanwhile, members of the gay community wondered if a gay district could really be planned, as most thriving examples, like San Francisco's Castro or Seattle's Capital Hill, evolved organically over time. The public uproar raised questions about the value of announcing intentions to create the district before building. Supporters countered that the visibility of the project assured developers and investors that there was interest and inspired involvement. Proponents of the plan explained that it fit with the city's efforts to get the creative class, and that the district's new businesses would mean more jobs. They also hoped that increased visibility of the gay community would make Spokane a more welcoming environment to come out in and help GLBTQ young adults find positive role models without needing to flee to Seattle, New York or San Francisco. The district was to be a mix of businesses and residential homes, a vibrant place to live, work, and play. Yet the district never found a home. In trying to track down the proposed neighborhood's location, INBA's Jeremy Bolton told me in an email, "One of the proposals at the time was to look for land near or around the Kendall Yards project. Unfortunately the high-end Kendall Yards is no longer being built." INBA is no longer tied to Let's Get Visible or the gay district project. The city government was not involved in funding the district. Private investors backed the project, but the economic downturn took its toll. Let's Get Visible is a volunteer organization, and despite repeated attempts, could not be reached for comment on this article. Did the criticism kill the project, or was the gay district's downfall simply an uncooperative economy? We'll never know for sure. But Spokane's GLBTQ did indeed become more visible, so Let's Get Visible lived up to its name.
Natalie Wendt grew up in Idaho and graduated from College of Santa Fe in 2005. She is a substitute teacher and lives in Spokane.
www.qviewnorthwest.com | Q View Northwest - Spokane Edition | May 2009 |