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The Social Queer:

A Network Collective With

A Cause

By Agazit Afeworki

Users of The Social Queer network concert at Cafe Solstice in Capitol Hill.

Image by Agazit Afeworki

"Can a queer conscious city for some prove to be isolating for others?” This was the question architectural photographer Kristina English wrestled with upon leaving her native Baltimore, latent and comparatively scaled queer family, in 2015 to arrive in the omni-gay metropolis of Seattle. She had marked two years of feeling disengaged socially and decided against the sentiment by going on Facebook this past February. Thus, The Social Queer a community-specific online milieu grew in response to English’s familial void. 


Sectioned around a U-shaped booth at Capitol Hill’s Cafe Solstice, women gathered for the network’s first official concert on May 17 with a curated list of acts— who English discovered as users of her network — including musicians Kathleen Murray,  Michele Freed, Riley Skinner, Ellen Adams, and poet Alyssa Perea. The intimate group conflated coming out stories over tune-perfect guitars, redefining spirituality to permit the gay experience, and poems eliciting otherism at the hands of straight women; it was low-fi and collective snaps instrumented resonation.    


The network is undoubtedly women-centric, “the main goal being to create lifetime friendships,  to make a very strong sense of community; I want people to be able to walk into an event like this and feel like they see familiar faces,” said English. But following the success of The Social Queer’s canned food drive, L-word trivia night last March, she recognized a missing philanthropic element— wherein users wanted to collectivize around experience as well as altruism.  


Along with brew and folk songs, users learned of a way to  bridge the disparate healthcare industry and queer youth through an effectively simple folded card, the size used for business.

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A Q-Card acts as an assertive talking tool for queer youth to access equitable care. Image by Agazit Afeworki

The Q-Card Project designed a fill-in-the-blank style card conveniently allowing queer youth to write out preferred pronouns or circle an identifiable sexual orientation to better inform healthcare clinicians of their individual body and how best to treat them. It’s sort of ingenious: A pocket card empowering youth to access and initiate common communication with health providers. CEO and founder Genya Shimkin believes the information she studied as a grad student of public health at the University of Washington often exists in “ivory tower academic spaces,” as she calls it, but doesn’t necessarily penetrate communities of need. “We have all of this high level research under the Obama administration, there were all these big reports coming out of these federal offices about health disparties in the LGBTQ community and a lot it  included little components about what clinicians can do to help LGBTQ folks in healthcare settings.”


Shimkin knew through anecdotal data, including her own experiences,  that LGBTQIA people overwhelmingly endure a gradient of negative experiences in healthcare. And with focus group assistance from community leaders such as physicians, therapists, social workers, and artists, the Q-card has made its way to high schools, organizations and health offices all over the nation. Outside of remote academia.


English wants to introduce the network’s already 450 members (after merely four months) to matters that concern their community such as the Q-Card Project. “Every opportunity I can, I want to help  encourage raise money or at least inform the rest of the community like ‘hey here is someone in our community doing something that they believe in.”


The network also undergirds an emerging transplant population (census estimates of a 1,000 per week) that may feel disconnected to hyper-local scene. English heeded stories of users wishing to build a strong social presence in the city and not only at places like the Wildrose. Artist Murray moved to Seattle from California in 2014. She met English through friends and shortly thereafter joined the group to meet more queer friends. “I have been out for less than a year, and surrounding myself with fellow queers feels so necessary,” she said, “I can become nervous easily in large social settings, but being in a room of queers lends a kind of magic that calms the nerves.”

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