There is a controversy in Seattle over plans for a pride event to charge people more based on their race. The Seattle Human Rights Commission is under fire this week after sending a letter dismissing a complaint over the announcement that the Taking B(l)ack Pride on June 26th would charge White entrants a “reparations” fee. The Commission told Charlette LeFevre and Philip Lipson of Capitol Hill Pride that they needed to “educate” themselves and consider the harm that they would cause by being participants in the event.  Update: While the response of the Commission caused outrage from many, Lipson and LeFevre quickly apologized for even raising the issue.

Promotional material for Taking B(l)ack Pride was posted on Facebook as a “BLACK AND BROWN QUEER TRANS CENTERED, PRIORITIZED, VALUED, EVENT.” The Facebook page adds: “White allies and accomplices are welcome to attend but will be charged a $10 to $50 reparations fee that will be used to keep this event free of cost for BLACK AND BROWN Trans and Queer COMMUNITY.”

Capitol Hill Pride organizers Philip Lipson and Charlette LeFevre  took offense and wrote to the Commission that “We consider this reverse discrimination in its worse (sic) form and we feel we are being attacked for not supporting due to disparaging and hostile e-mails. Please review this event’s stated admission policy as we feel this event is violating Seattle, King County, State and Federal equality laws.”

It would seem a fair complaint since the event was engaging in open racial discrimination. After all, the Seattle Human Rights Commission advises the city “in order to educate them on methods to prevent and eliminate discrimination city-wide.”  Lipson and LeFevre however received a letter that shamed them for even raising a racially discriminatory practice.

The Commission not only shamed them but posted the response so others could read.  The Commission advised them if possible, to “educate yourself on the harm it may cause Seattle’s BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) in your pursuit of a free ticket to an event that is not expressly meant for you and your entertainment.”

The Commission stressed that charging people more based on race does not violate Take B(l)ack Pride “does not in fact violate any of your human rights as stated in the UN Declaration of Human Rights.” The Commission justified the discriminatory policy on the basis of past discrimination against these groups:

“They often face shame not only from the cis-heteronormative community, but within the queer community at large as well. In making the event free for the Black Queer Community, the organizers of this event are extending a courtesy so rarely extended; by providing a free and safe space to express joy, share story, and be in community.

…Furthermore, we would urge you to examine the very real social dynamics and ramifications of this issue.”

We recently discussed how the Biden Administration has been held to be discriminating in different programs giving preferences based on race and gender. What is interesting is that the Commission only considers itself as operating under the United Nations Declaration and makes no reference to the United States Constitution which prohibits such discrimination. Indeed, racist organizations once justified excluding minorities from lunch counters and events based on the claim that such spaces are not set aside for such individual or their entertainment.

Nevertheless, such “justice pricing” is in vogue. Groups are now increasing asserting that they should be allowed to engage in raw discrimination as victims of past discrimination.

This is a private group but it appears to be selling tickets and may require a city permit. The city anti-discrimination laws cover all public accommodations and prohibit discrimination based on race.  The Seattle Office for Civil Rights enforces Seattle’s civil rights laws which include protections against discrimination in employment, public places, housing, and contracting.

Notably, this sensitive subject has led to some sharp words even on the Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Roberts famously wrote in 2007 that “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”  In 2014, the Court ruled 6-2 in Schuette v. Bamn, that Michigan’s constitutional amendment banning affirmative action was constitutional.  Justice Sotomayor chided Roberts with a reframing of his famous line by saying: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.” She went on to write in dissent:

“Race matters. Race matters in part because of the long history of racial minorities being denied access to the political process. … Race also matters because of persistent racial inequality in society — inequality that cannot be ignored and that has produced stark socioeconomic disparities.

And race matters for reasons that really are only skin deep, that cannot be discussed any other way, and that cannot be wished away…Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: ‘I do not belong here.’”

“The dissent states that ‘[t]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race.’ And it urges that ‘[r]ace matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: ‘I do not belong here.’

But it is not ‘out of touch with reality’ to conclude that racial preferences may themselves have the debilitating effect of reinforcing precisely that doubt, and — if so — that the preferences do more harm than good. To disagree with the dissent’s views on the costs and benefits of racial preferences is not to ‘wish away, rather than confront’ racial inequality. People can disagree in good faith on this issue, but it similarly does more harm than good to question the openness and candor of those on either side of the debate.”

What is disconcerting is not just the dismissive attitude of the Commission but how it views discriminatory policies as secondary or irrelevant to human rights if it favors particular groups.  It does not matter that people are treated differently solely on the basis of their race. Indeed, it does not even warrant a consideration of countervailing constitutional and legal authorities. It is done in the name of equity and thus it is treated as not just correct but beyond question. Indeed, an objection to the policy is treated as a lack of understanding and sensitivity, requiring further education.

The question is now what the City of Seattle will do and whether a court will give this matter more thought than did the Seattle Human Rights Commission.  However, Lipson and LeFevre are not likely to raise the matter. They apologized for even raising the issue after a torrent of criticism and cancellations of their own event. They declared themselves educated and regretful as the Commission suggested.



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