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Opinion

Wed., May 11, 2005

West shows need for human rights parity

A person’s sexuality is a private matter, and Spokane Mayor Jim West’s sexual orientation should be no exception. However, the hypocrisy, cynicism and lies upon which Mr. West built his political career harmed homosexuals in our state, and his sexual orientation is thus a legitimate topic for discussion.

Over the years, Mayor West furthered his political career in part by opposing equal rights protection for all citizens. By opposing civil rights legislation that protects gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered – through his actions and his rhetoric – Mayor West enhanced his standing in the Republican Party and with Washington’s conservative voting bloc.

As a city councilman, state legislator and mayor of Spokane, West practiced politics that perpetuated prejudice and discrimination against Washington’s gay community. For 30 years, Jim West and politicians like him have killed bills that would make it illegal to discriminate against people due to their sexual orientation. Emboldened by leaders like West, many citizens treat homosexuals, bisexuals and transgendered people unfairly because they know there is no legal prohibition.

Jim West opposed every piece of gay-rights legislation he could vote on, claiming homosexuals need no protection. Yet by staying “in the closet” Mayor West illustrates the fact that homosexuals face more hardships in their day-to-day lives than straight people.

However, Jim West chose to promote the stigmatization of men and women who, like him, are attracted to people of the same sex.

Sadly, lawmakers who supported gay-rights legislation and who knew West didn’t confront him on his hypocrisy. If they had had the spine to do so, House Bill 1515 may have become law in Washington and homosexuals could live more free today. For just as it took courage and truth-telling to end Jim Crow and the systematic dehumanization of African Americans, the dehumanization and marginalization of the GLBT community won’t end until the Jim Wests in our midst are defied.

Jim West certainly excels at politics, but I found him to be duplicitous and devoid of any guiding vision or morals.

I met and talked with Mayor West last year because he wouldn’t reappoint human rights commissioners who’d applied for another term. In that meeting he was angry and bullying, and he lied when there was no reason to lie. (He claimed it was John Powers who denied the reappointments.) He also stated that the commission’s positions on human rights constituted a “liberal political agenda” that we had no right to pursue.

I’ve met generals, senators, congressional representatives and CEOs, but until that meeting with West I never felt I was in the presence of power without principle. That’s the Jim West I see in the stories of people to whom he offered city posts and in the transcripts with “Moto-Brock.”

The former Customs agent posing as a gay high school student said he was 17. Still, Mayor West sought to groom the 17-year-old in a manipulative and predatory manner. After the “boy” turned 18, the mayor further exploited the benefits of his position to woo this young person into a sexual relationship. This is unconscionable in light of the legislation and policies West has supported during his political career.

Regardless of his sexual orientation, Mayor West abused his office by offering gifts, jobs and commission appointments to people with whom he wished to have sex. A compassionate and caring human rights commissioner even felt the need to quit his position due to West’s abuse of power.

While it’s up to a prosecutor to prove any illegal quid pro quo, even low-ranking civil servants must obey strict ethics rules – and the mayor’s conduct was patently unethical.

When I first heard rumors that the mayor was gay, I wanted to write a letter in support of him and his right to privacy, while still criticizing his odious, anti-gay politics. I wanted to say that he could take the high road and help others by his example. But what the facts tell me, what these reports tell me, what his own words tell me, what his political history shows, is that Jim West lacks the integrity required of a mayor and he should resign.

Mayor West shrewdly accrued power in part by denying homosexuals equal protection under the law — and in some cases supported laws that diminished their rights. Whatever else happens, I hope those who shared West’s politics will renounce their prejudice and support equal protection for all our citizens.



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