Seattle’s LGBTQ Commission is taking issue with the way Seattle mayor Ed Murray is defending himself against allegations of sexual abuse. In particular, with the effort to discredit accusers.
Days after the commission called for Murray to step down, commission co-chair Julia Ricciardi explained her reasoning to KIRO Radio.
“I think he could have handled [the allegations] differently,” Ricciardi told KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz and Zak Burns.
“Particularly in the spring when they first surfaced, sort of painting the picture that anyone critiquing him or anyone calling for a more thorough investigation was doing so out of homophobic motivation. We felt like that was really evasive and we know that many members of the LGBTQ community have experienced sexual abuse in their own lives. So we feel that Mayor Murray is kind of pitting those two groups of people against each other in a divisive way when in reality there’s much more nuance and intersectionality.”
Four men have accused Murray of sexually abusing them in the 1980s. One accuser, Jeff Simpson, was the subject of a 1984 Oregon Child Protective Services report obtained by The Seattle Times on July 16. In it, a child welfare investigator validated Simpson’s allegation of sexual abuse and recommended Murray “never again be utilized as a CSD resource for children.”
Murray has denied all accusations, claiming the criminal history of one accuser, “proves he cannot be trusted.” (Of note, Murray added that he would “never suggest those with criminal histories cannot be victims of abuse.”)
Ricciardi believes Murray could have addressed the allegations in a way that would be more acceptable to the commission. Namely, doing so without questioning the criminal or substance abuse history, and credibility, of his accusers.
Call for Murray’s resignation a complicated decision
The situation surrounding Murray poses a unique and complicated issue to the LGBTQ community; the commission noted as much in an open letter. If Murray is indeed innocent, calling for the removal of the city’s first openly-gay mayor is harmful. It would also echo destructive stereotypes that face gay men, in particular.
Has Murray lost the support of the gay community?
“Many of the people that I speak to do tend to think that — to tend to fall on the side of his abusers and those who have said they have survived sexual abuse,” says Ricciardi. She clarifies that the commission is not passing judgment on Murray’s guilt or innocence.
“We’re not a law-enforcement body and we’re not here to sort of adjudicate the legal evidence,” she said. “But there’s a lot of evidence and a lot of research that shows survivors of sexual assault don’t make false accusations, and there are very few instances of folks being shown to have made false accusations.
“We’re not really in a position to say exactly what did or did not happen, but we do feel like there’s enough evidence — and, you know, it takes a lot of courage, I think, as a survivor to come out and tell your story in the face of someone who has a lot of public authority and who’s well-respected in the community. And so we feel like the accusers who have come forward and shared their experiences are quite courageous. And we’ll leave the legal matters up to those who can review that from a legal point of view, but we do feel that Mayor Murray could have handled this situation in a more professional and respectful manner.”
Ricciardi’s point has been echoed by other critics. Elyse Rylander, the executive director of Out There Adventures, spoke to The New York Times about Murray’s predicament.
“We don’t want to contribute to the vilification of a member of our community,” said Rylander. “But we also don’t want to be supporting someone who maybe was an abuser. We don’t want to alienate people who have been abused.”
As for Ricciardi, she believes that the public trust in Murray’s leadership has been eroded. Worse still, it has distracted the city from more pressing matters.
“The way that the Mayor has handled it hasn’t really lived up to what we expect from a leader of our city.”