In the last year, there have been at least five LGBTQ-related attacks in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, many involving drag queens walking home alone after a show.
“It just kind of came to a head one weekend when one of the drag performers, Ade, got attacked,” says Jennifer Dietrich, owner of Dr. Jen’s House of Beauty on Pike Street on Capitol Hill.
“That same weekend, just down here, like a block away, a girl got raped by three dudes. When I heard about it, I just snapped. I don’t know why the police aren’t here. I don’t know why you can’t get any help after dark. If they’re not going to do anything, then somebody has to do something.”
Fed up with the violence and lack of police presence, Dietrich started an all-volunteer neighborhood patrol group called Outwatch.
“The idea is to basically have a group of four people per patrol. We’ll be walking the streets on Capitol Hill just keeping an eye on things. If somebody needs us to walk with them, we’ll walk with them. If we need to walk them to their car, we’ll do that. We’re also going to have a service where we’re going to pick up performers and bar staff at the end of the night and actually drive them home so they’re safe.”
The goal is to have the first patrols out for Pride weekend, complete with a live dispatcher.
“There will be a number people can text, people can call. The SPD has a hotspot map on their website so we’ll be watching that, as well, to know where to send the patrols, where there are issues,” says Dietrich.
Dietrich wants to make it very clear that this is not a vigilante group. The goal is to diffuse any potential situations verbally, and volunteers will be trained on how to do that, as well as trained in self-defense. She’s just sad that she even has to do this at all.
“The police should be doing this. Absolutely. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to stay up ’til four in the morning, three nights a week, walking the streets,” she says. “I also don’t want people to get attacked. I want people to be able to walk around on Capitol Hill without being harassed, without being attacked, and the police are largely unconcerned. I’m very, very disappointed and angry with SPD at this moment because I’ve called them. I’ve been here late at night and had things happening and no one has come. I’ve heard all kind of excuses. ‘We don’t have a police chief. You guys always yell at us about excessive force.’ I don’t care. I just want to be safe.”
Cherry Sur Bete lives and works on Capitol Hill, as a drag queen and as a manager at Dr. Jen’s.
“I’m standing there on the corner, at two o’clock in the afternoon, with my acrylic nails on and they think they can take that opportunity to call me ‘tranny’ or any of the other really hateful, vile things,” says Sur Bete. “I’ve had to remind people, this is a queer neighborhood. This is our neighborhood. We came here to escape from you.”
He has a point: Dr. Jen’s shop is located on the same block as a sex-positive sex toy shop, a Wiccan book store, and rainbow flags even fly in the windows of corporate chains. So why is the LGBTQ community being targeted in their own neighborhood?
“It’s kind of a perfect storm down here,” Dietrich says. “You’ve got this influx of straight people who walk by, harassing the LGTBQ community. Then you have the douches from Belltown coming up. And then you have the mentally ill and homeless running around and no police presence. You’ve just created a perfect storm for violence and harassment.”
Outwatch is reminiscent of Q-Patrol, a now defunct Seattle group formed in 1991 in response to gay violence.
“The only difference between us and Q-patrol is I’m not necessarily exclusively working on protecting LGBTQ folk,” says Dietrich. “If you’re human and you’re walking around on Capitol Hill, I intend to make sure that you’re safe.”