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Official Leading Agency For Homeless Placed On Leave After Organizing Event At Annual Conference Featuring Drag Queen

By  Hank Berrien
A general view of the Seattle Skyline and Mount Rainier from Kerry Park during the 2019 Rock'n'Roll Seattle Marathon and 1/2 Marathon on June 9, 2019 in Seattle, Washington.
Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images for Rock’n’Roll Marathon

On Thursday, the director of King County’s coordinating agency for homelessness was placed on leave after she organized a drag queen’s strip show at the agency’s annual conference earlier this week.

As The Seattle Times reports, “Performer Beyoncé Black St. James danced topless in a sheer bodysuit, gave lap dances and kissed attendees, according to a staffer at a local housing nonprofit who attended the conference in South Seattle.”

That prompted the King County Department of Community and Human Services to place Kira Zylstra, organizer of the conference at South Seattle College, on leave.

Journalist Erica C. Barnett reported: “Denise Rothleutner, deputy director of King County’s Department of Community and Human Services, said in an email: ‘The department is aware of an event that occurred during the All Home annual conference on December 9, 2019.  We have placed the director of All Home on administrative leave pending the results of an investigation into the event and the leadership of All Home.  Because there is an active investigation underway, I am unable to respond to specific questions about the event.’”

The Seattle Times reported that Zylstra was paid roughly $123,000 annually, according to a county spokesperson. The Times added that the only note on the agenda for the annual conference was “Lunch with Cultural Presentation,” without a warning or announcement about the performance itself.

A video of the performance reportedly showed St. James performing high kicks in a bodysuit with silver pasties; a staffer said later, “No one expected it. So I think some people felt uncomfortable.”

KIRO radio host Dori Monson commented, “The theme of the conference was ‘Decolonizing our Collective Work.’ How does swinging fake breasts into someone’s face decolonize our collective work?… How do you think we are going to solve the homelessness problem when we have people like these folks in charge of things? How do you think the religiously-affiliated groups that were there, like Catholic Community Services, felt having a drag queen give lap dances at a meeting that should have been about helping those in need?”

The Times noted, “Zylstra has led All Home, King County’s coordinating agency homeless services, since January 2018. But her job could soon become obsolete as Seattle and King County prepare to replace All Home …”

On Wednesday, the Metropolitan King County Council voted for a regional homelessness authority; the idea will be voted on by the Seattle City Council. The Seattle Times noted, “County and Seattle governments’ scattered homeless funding and policies under one regional authority, a plan recommended by consultants who say the system’s lack of recognition has stunted efforts to reduce homelessness here.”

A 2019 report from Seattle and King County on homelessness from the All Home program stated, “A total of 11,199 individuals were experiencing homelessness in Seattle/King County on January 25, 2019. Forty- seven percent (47%) of the population was unsheltered, living on the street, or in parks, tents, vehicles, or other places not meant for human habitation. Compared to 2018, the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in Seattle/King County decreased by 8%. The unsheltered population decreased from 52% of the population in 2018 to 47% of the population in 2019.”


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