Monthly Archives: April 2017

An Open Letter to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray

Dear Mr. Mayor,

For the purpose of this letter, I am going to assume that the civil lawsuit filed against you last week is completely baseless and without merit, as are the previous allegations from your days in Portland.

You should still end your campaign for re-election. It’s unfair and infuriating, I know, but it is by far the best option for both you and your constituents. Indeed, it is the only option that, once you are exonerated, keeps your legacy focused on your many accomplishments over decades of public service.

Put simply, even after less than a week, the lawsuit and its impacts, including your responses to it so far, are deeply dividing this city. They are making the gay community you’ve championed for so long a target, and also pitting that community against itself. For legitimate survivors of rape and of sexual and child abuse, the allegations themselves, and the extensive publicity given to public reactions to them, have been deeply triggering to many. You undoubtedly consider your aggressive response to your accusers the best way to address the accusations in a way that wins your case and salvages your job, but it has the tragic side effect of demanding that your accusers be silenced – a dynamic that every abuse survivor knows all too well, and one that your own example helps encourage in their lives. Even if you are the victim in this case, you are victimizing many, many other people in what surely seems to you like a necessary response.

Almost all of that goes away if you drop your re-election bid.

You are about to turn 62. Your next job will likely be your last, and opportunities for higher public service were already limited. Seattle just elected a young, dynamic new Congressional representative. Even if a Democrat should retake the White House in 2020, the chances that you would be offered a job in their administration, against much competition, were not great. And Seattle politicians don’t fare well in statewide elections. The most recent to run for Governor (Norm Rice in 1996) or US Senate (Ron Sims in 2004) were both beloved local politicians – and both failed to make it out of the primary. Both are African-American, but at least as important a factor was the animosity towards Seattle from the rest of the state. You know that well from your long years in the state legislature.

Such positions weren’t looking likely for you to begin with; regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome, the publicity from it has already made such further advancement far more improbable. It’s grossly unfair, but it’s reality.

What, then, will be your public service legacy?

Your re-election campaign is what’s driving tensions that on a daily basis are damaging both your constituents and Seattle’s national and international reputation. As you’re well aware, the lawsuit was timed before the filing deadline for mayoral candidates, but late enough that the suit almost certainly won’t be resolved before the primary or even the general election. This means that every Seattle voter is faced with the question of whether to support or oppose your re-election bid, and how strongly to do so. Most people would be content to set aside any opinion on allegations of decades-old misconduct until a court has had its say – but for Seattle voters, this isn’t an option. Even your most ardent supporters will be asked to justify their support. Barring an astonishing legal development, by definition there’s only one way public debate over the lawsuit’s legitimacy dies down before November – and that’s if Seattle voters don’t each feel the need to judge your personal fitness for another term, because you’ve ended your bid for it.

You will save yourself months of agony – which you may not care about. You’ve never been one to back down from a fight or challenge. But more importantly, our city will be torn apart by another seven months of this, including, inevitably, more hate crimes against LGBTQ constituents, and the death of past abuse victims who would otherwise continue to survive. These are not your responsibility, of course – but your actions can impact those outcomes, and people know it. Your legacy of accomplishments would be overshadowed by “…but he sacrificed his city, especially some of its most vulnerable residents, so he could get re-elected.” And that’s even if a court completely exonerates you.

By stepping aside now, you can support a candidate that you trust to finish your unfinished work. Voters can decide whether to ratify your work without the baggage of pending allegations against you. You will be remembered for putting the city first, and your ability to pursue whatever post-public service passion you prefer expands greatly. And you earn the gratitude of many, many Seattleites who are presently dreading the next seven months.

Against this, beyond the gross unfairness of it all, there’s an obvious objection: Wouldn’t this mean that any public official’s career can be shattered by a well-timed lawsuit, no matter how spurious?

Certainly, there’s a risk of that in the future. But several elements in this lawsuit are particular to your case: for starters, the plausibility of the lawsuit (due in large part to the previous allegations), the thankfully now archaic cultural norms of gay men before and during the worst of the AIDS years, and the confluence of sex, age, and sexual orientation involved. And if stepping aside increases the chances that your priorities will continue under a sympathetic successor, this lawsuit is hardly inspiration for the enemies of any future elected official. That simply leaves the motive of personal animus, and there are plenty of other, less painful ways for personal animosities to find expression.

You can’t control what people do in similar cases, especially hypothetical future ones. But you can control how your city responds to this case, in a way that concedes nothing to guilt, saves untold damage, and helps cement your reputation as a leader who put his constituents first.

Sometimes our moments choose us. This is your moment.

It’s time. It’s time to suspend your campaign, serve out your term, and on January 1, 2018, cheer the swearing in of the 54th mayor of Seattle.


Geov Parrish

On Ed Murray and those 1980s rape allegations

The Seattle Times dropped a bombshell on the local political scene tonight, publishing a lengthy account of interviews with three separate men who claim that Mayor Ed Murray paid them for sex and then raped them for years while they were underage gay drug abusers in the 1980s. The men – two of whom met Murray beginning in 1980 when he lived in Portland, and the third, a Kent man who filed a civil suit today alleging Murray did the same to him beginning in 1986, after Murray had moved to Seattle – gave similar stories, including collaborating details like Murray’s intimate physical characteristics.

This is truly gnarly stuff. Pederasty. Money for sex, which was then used to feed drug habits. These sort of allegations, when credible – and these are – can abruptly end political careers. No doubt a lot of would-be mayoral candidates, scared off this year by Murray’s formidable warchest, are looking anew at their contact lists.

There’s a lot I don’t like about Murray’s record as mayor, starting especially with how he exploits our most vulnerable residents for political points while doing far less than you’d think to help them. But this is much bigger than that. The civil suit doesn’t even need to go anywhere for Murray’s career to be over. The court of public opinion can do that if the allegations are bad enough, and the details here sound really, really bad.

And yet tonight there are plenty of people, especially gay men of A Certain Age, who are defending Murray. To understand why, you have to appreciate two critical bits of context that won’t be included in most news accounts, because those accounts are being written by people who weren’t young gay men in the ’80s. I was.

The very first national gay/lesbian march was held in 1979; the gay rights movement was still a fringe cause in its infancy, and gay male culture was still in thrall to the sexual promiscuity of the ’70s and the reflexive secrecy of since forever. There were no positive role models on TV, or anywhere else, for young gay men.

And, so, a common feature of gay male culture of the era was the notion that young men needed to be “initiated” into their gayness by older, usually middle-aged men. I helped pay for my college expenses (at considerable higher rates than Murray’s more desperate teens supposedly got) catering to the edgier desires of older men like Murray – horny or lonely or predatory or all three. All of them – ALL OF THEM – rationalized their interest in me as not just lust for a hot, barely-of-age twink, but as passing their hard-earned carnal wisdom on to the next generation.

Well into the ’90s this attitude lived on strongly enough among older gay men that NAMBLA – yes, THAT NAMBLA – was allowed to march in gay pride parades around the country, its members arguing that they were just misunderstood gay men who loved little boys. Seriously.

Almost nobody defends those types of practices today. But 30 years ago? It was, in circles Murray surely circulated in, a cultural norm. As personally nauseating as I find today’s allegations – and I didn’t care for such men too much back then, either – part of me wants to give Murray a pass. How fair is it to hold him to a shifted cultural standard of a generation ago, and alleged crimes long past the statute of limitations, just because he’s now become a powerful public figure?

But then there’s that second bit of context. AIDS.

I was really, really lucky; my sex work ended just before AIDS (initially, the “gay cancer”) exploded on the scene. We knew how it was spread long before we understood what it was. For a full decade until initial treatments were developed that could keep it at bay, getting AIDS was a cruel, agonizing, utterly final death sentence. It was an invisible holocaust; countless men died while President Reagan couldn’t even bring himself to utter a word about it. The pandemic thrived in secrecy, shame, and the open glee of religious zealots around the country. AIDS decimated every gay community in the country, and those of us who survived were haunted and terrorized.

Murray’s alleged Portland abuse of runaway foster kids began just before AIDS struck – but by 1986, the year today’s plaintiff says Murray began paying him for sex in Seattle, the New York Times reported that over a million American men had been infected. With no known treatment, let alone a cure. One . Million. Men. Think about that for a second.

By way of comparison, that’s more than 300 times the number of people who died in 9-11.

By the time of the allegations in today’s suit, many tens of thousands of people had already died, including a lot of the people who did sex work for gay and bisexual guys. We knew far more about how AIDS was spread at that point than about what kind of safer sex practices would prevent infection. At that point, the kind of behavior Murray stands accused of wasn’t just abusive – it constitutes an unforgivably reckless disregard for the lives of the young men he was paying.

The salacious details of these accusations are going to consume a lot of local air time in the months to come – and someone’s also going to notice that nugget, buried in the Seattle Times story, that when the Portland men first publicly accused Murray in 2008, he spent campaign re-election funds to help quash the story. That is a potential legal problem well within the statute of limitations.

But there’s this: by 1986, a lot of the young men trading sex for money (or drugs, or housing, or whatever) were dying – because gay men who knew or suspected that they might be infected, and didn’t wish to harm their usual lovers, often turned to desperate – and usually drug-seeking – sex workers instead.

I hope the gay men who inevitably react to this story as an anti-gay smear remember that the sorts of teenage boys Murray allegedly groomed were often themselves gay.

And I wonder how many other 40-something men might also be accusing Mayor Murray if they had lived.