What I Learned on Capitol Hill

Years ago, after I’d moved from Utah to Seattle I interviewed for a job that consisted of managing a 20 unit apartment complex. Before the interview a friend warned me that the complex was located in the gay district of the city, two blocks below Broadway on Capitol Hill. At the time I lived in a tiny apartment near the University of Washington.

The initial interview went well. A few days passed and I decided to follow up with the woman who interviewed me. I had no apartment management experience, but I explained to her that I needed the job and would work my butt off. I don’t know if she had planned to give me the job, but I was persistent. She told me to drive by the apartment complex to get a feel for the area and then, if I was still interested, to call her again.

I knew exactly what she meant when she told me to get a feel for the area. Capitol Hill is an eclectic and densely populated area just a short walk from city center. Like any neighborhood that borders a major city, it’s full of diversity, especially to a kid who was born and raised in Utah.

When I called back and told the woman I was still interested in the job, she was genuinely surprised. The apartment was the perfect size for me, my cat and my computer. I had little else to my name having just come off a divorce. But I didn’t need much.

I eventually got moved in and settled. I loved that I could walk to my full-time job located in the city. On Saturdays, I walked to the bagel shop on Broadway to people watch. There was also a great newspaper shop that carried all sorts of rare computer magazines. I spent so many hours in that store they should have hired me.  And I don’t want to think  about all of the money I dropped at the used CD shops. You know, the ones that only play Velvet Underground over crappy JBLs. 

Occasionally I was reminded by friends that I lived in the gay district.  I suspect they were looking for a reaction from me. If they were, I’m sure they came away disappointed as I didn’t have a single salacious story to share with them. Since I walked most places, I got to know my neighbors well. In a short period of time I came to love Capitol Hill and couldn’t imagine moving away. Kim loved it too, so when we were married, we decided to stay in the same building for another four years.

I made a number of good friends as well. One of the tenants told me about a job his employer had recently posted. I applied and landed the position. We’d worked together for a year when he told me I was the only straight person in the apartment complex. When I see him today, we still laugh about that.

Maybe I was naïve. I’m sure I was. Yet I don’t recall anyone judging me for who I was while I lived on Capitol Hill. One meets a number of good and not so good people trying to rent apartments close to a large city. But, for the most part, people were incredibly kind to me at a time in my life when I had no family and few friends to fall back on.

I’m thankful for that experience living on Capitol Hill because my uncle recently announced that he is gay. Like me, he was raised in a Mormon family and served a mission. Unfortunately he lives in a part of the country which is known for being hostile towards people like my uncle. 

I’ve wondered how my family would take the news, but that’s not something I can control. My uncle didn’t have to come out to me. But I appreciate the time he took explaining how he’s continuing to figure out what this means for him while respecting the beliefs of his friends and family.

What I can control is how I treat others, and that’s the lesson I want my children to learn. When I was a young boy, it was OK to play games during recess called “Smear the Queer” and call people “faggots” or refer to someone “being gay”.  I hope such games and language are no longer tolerated.

When the president of a popular fast food establishment comes out in support of traditional marriage he has every right to make his beliefs known. But when profits from that business are funneled to groups that continue to promote inequality and hatred, those same owners are responsible for how their words and actions damage their reputation and make expansion into some cities more difficult. I will vote with my wallet to make sure none of my money goes to support these groups.

I postponed writing this post for a few days while I gathered my thoughts. Last night I’d decided to keep my thoughts to myself. But today I decided to write. My aim is not change minds as I know that’s impossible. No, I decided write because I’d like my children to know where I stand on the issue and learn from the mistakes I made when I was their age.

I look forward to the day when I tell people I lived on Capitol Hill they ask me about the bagels.

Comments

  1. I lived on East John…. I remember Rocket Pizza and how awesome it was.

    I was thinking about playing “smear the queer” when I was a kid. Besides being the skinniest and smallest, which meant I was almost always the designated “queer”, I am not sure I even knew what a queer was, and I am not sure anyone else in my redneck town did either.

    I remember the 80′s had the word “gaywad” and that is what we called each other… what the hell is a “gaywad” anyhow? I agree with you on this. I want to teach my kids to love everyone, regardless of whether the way they live their life is in perfect harmony with our beliefs. ( Admit it, you thought I was going to use the non-word irregardless right back there, didn’t you.)

    I have been a musician for quite a while and have played in bars and coffee shops, much to the consternation of others that I interact with. I obviously don’t live my life in agreement with how some would expect I should… I also have a cousin who is gay that I love.

    I have some great memories and stories from my days on Capitol Hill… I was up there at Dicks with my family last night after LDS night at Safeco Field.

    I have purposely ignored the whole chicken debacle. For a few reasons. 1. Because I have been too busy to educate myself about it. 2. Because we don’t even have one of these Chicken establishments in Washington. 3. Because I refuse to be lured into a debate where people are so worked up that there is little civil discourse happening.

    Homosexuals make up a pretty low percentage of the population. ( I think I read 6% at one point.) I doubt that most of the inane comments are made by people that don’t know someone who is gay.

    We as a society have to combat a lot of incorrect assumptions about homosexuals. The men don’t go around in drag looking for little boys to molest. (yes I dated a girl once that insisted that they were all predators.) The girls don’t all have butch haircuts and flannel shirts and hate men.

    I can’t imagine the pain and frustration they experience because of the labels people have given them. I can guess, because I am “Mormon”, and everywhere I go I am identified as “that Mormon guy.” Sure I am Mormon, and I am not ashamed of that, but it is only a part of who I am. \

    I am a welder, a carpenter, a musician, a father, a husband, a firearms enthusiast, a libertarian, a hard worker, and even a little redneck…. who happens to also be a Mormon. I am not a Mormon that happens to be all of those other things.

    I am also crude, offensive, total white trash, and I have a host of terrible habits… Even some that members in good standing would look quite unfavorably upon if it were public knowledge. But the reality is that they don’t define me, and I invite anyone that would judge me as a deviant of any kind, to don a pair of concrete shoes and exercise their faith by walking off the end of a dock into a deep lake.

    Don’t worry, you if you would be righteous enough to judge me, so surely you would be able to walk on water.

    It is a tough subject that isn’t easily responded to in a comment box, especially at 1:00 am, but you are right about just wanting to teach your kids to treat people with love and respect.

    I am still trying to decide if I was accountable for those games of “Smear the queer”. I think I am protected either by ignorance or mental deficiency.

  2. My favorite part of this post is the last sentence. There is a lot more to anyone than being straight, gay, or whatever, but being gay is what I am currently thinking and writing about. I may take a 15 or 30 day break from writing about any gay topic to ensure that I have a full-life perspective. I look forward to the day when GLBTQ is not the largest tag in my tag cloud.

  3. Natalie Burrows (Weathers) says:

    Brett — I tried to submit this last night but woke up this mornin and didn’t see it — probably cuz I’m still tryin to figure out how to use my new phone. So just wanted to say I’m glad you decided to go ahead and write this one! I thought it was brilliant! During our senior year in high school back in Utah, I was introduced to two “gay” gentlemen who ended up becoming some of my closest friends. One of them is a prominent dentist still in Utah and was also my dentist for many years until I moved to Arizona. His partner was a doctor and I remember how hard it was because they really had to keep things under wraps, otherwise they would lose patients, especially in light of how crazy the AIDS scare was at that time. When I was reading this last night I was immediately reminded about how much crap I got from people because I was the idiot who went to the gay dentist and obviously I didnt care that I was taking a risk of contracting AIDS! My Mormon family members would go berserk over this constantly. And I remember how upset I was because to me they were also my very dear friends. I’m glad I was able to form my own opinion at an early age regardless of my Utah upbringing. My kids are 17 and 12 now and I’m happy to say they share our views as well. Bravo to you on this! It takes guts to post something like this and I think its important for us to talk with our kids as soon as its appropriate. I really hope its not being tolerated at school but it doesnt mean its not happening. I know that there is still a great deal of behind the scenes bullying that goes on and its never going to get any better unless we educate our children. Good one!! Just read it to my husband and he gave you a thumbs up too.

  4. I agree with everything except the part about how governments should be allowed to prevent businesses from thriving if they support the “wrong” groups. (I don’t approve of those groups either, but I certainly do not think we want politicians acting as our moral guides here. See George W. Bush if you wonder why.) You didn’t say that in so many words, but that is how I interpret your remarks about business expansion.

    Vote with your wallet. Teach your kids values that make our world better. But beware of trusting bureaucrats and slimy, contemptible politicians to vet which enterprises get to exist. Trust me, they’re not going to limit their smackdown selections to the businesses you dislike.

    • Brett Nordquist says:

      I was thinking less about governments and more about people and groups who may not want a business in their community that promotes hate.

  5. I’ve been reading your blog for a long time, and I’ve really liked a lot of posts. You’re a good writer. This post managed to slip through my Google Reader list this week, but I happened upon a link to this it in a totally random way. I really must have been meant to read it. I absolutely love this post, and I love that you’re teaching your kids to love and respect everyone. For lack of a better cliche: It makes my heart sing.

  6. I think we run a very grave risk when we talk about censoring anyone in any way for speaking their mind. Governments, especially, should not be able to prevent a business from opening up because of what its owner or founder has said. What is the point of protecting free speech if you can be bullied for what you say by the government?

    Now do people have the right to boycott something for reasons like that? Sure! You never have to purchase anything (except health insurance, apparently) so you always have the ability/right to *not* purchase, and the freedom of speech to ask others not to either. You can also peaceably assemble to protest. You should not be able to prevent someone from conducting legal business, though, no matter whether you are Joe Citizen or a city mayor.

    Finally, I don’t understand those who angle the stance for traditional marriage (one man + one woman) as being hateful. My father in law is gay, and yet I love him – and I have known other folks who were gay, and never harbored any hatred for them either. On the other hand, I believe (as the founder of Chick Fil A does) that God ordained marriage as the union of a man and woman. I also believe that there is evidence for that pairing being the ideal situation in which to raise successful children. I wish that discussion of these issues could be open and peaceful rather than being clouded by folks claiming that even having a stance like I do must mean I am being hateful.

    • Brett Nordquist says:

      I’m not advocating for censorship. The founder of Chick-fil-A is able to say and donate to any group he’d like. What I’m saying is that if those groups promote hate (which they absolutely do) then he should expect fallout. We’ll look back on this issue and people like this owner will be viewed historically the same way those who wanted to continue segregation are today. He’s fighting a losing battle and damaging his franchises at the same time.

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