The "Keep Cap Hill Queered" mural appeared on the side of a building at Pike and Harvard on Friday of Pride weekend and quickly jumped to social media. "Kudos to the cisgendered str8 man who helped gather folks to paint this mural," a commenter on Instagram wrote on a post. Evann Strathern, 36, is the str8 man who conceived and painted the mural (with the help of volunteers). Strathern works on the digital learning team at Starbucks and teaches a spinning class at a gym on Broadway. We spoke by phone.
So you painted that mural, huh?
I was a part of painting it. It was my idea, an idea I had last year. It’s based on—inspired by—that “Keep Portland Weird” and “Keep Austin Weird” stuff, those campaigns. I started thinking about keep Seattle weird—unique—but I didn’t know what I would or could say about all of Seattle. But I know Capitol Hill well. So last year I made some buttons with a friend with “Keep Cap Hill Queered” on them and we walked around passing them out at Pride. That led to talking with someone, a woman named Kathleen Warren who runs Urban Artworks, which does murals around town, working with youth. With her help we wanted to make sure to get it up at some point—as a mural—and we thought it would be fun to have it up for pride this year. She had done a previous mural on that wall, and she knew the building was coming down soon. We got the OK to go from the owners and with a group of volunteers—ten or fifteen of them—we got it up in time for pride.
The rumor mill tells me you’re straight. Is that true?
Why did you want to send that message over Pride weekend?
I want to send that message every day.
Why "QUEERED” instead of “QUEER”?
I went back and forth on two of the words a million times. The first one is easier to explain. Cap Hill. I never, ever call it Cap Hill. I call it the Hill, or Capitol Hill. But I wanted it to have the same two-beat as “Keep Portland Weird.” Portland, Austin, Cap Hill. And I was inspired by an article in The Stranger about John Criscitello, by the anti-gentrification stuff he puts up, his “Woo Girls” posters and “Bellevue Wives Matter” posters. The people who call it “Cap Hill” are the ones who don’t understand what this neighborhood is, what it means. I was trying to use the language of the aggressors against them. It was a fuck you to the bros who come up here, using their own words.
And to get to queered—well, “Keep Austin Weird,” Keep Cap Hill Queered.” But when I thought about it more, “queered” felt more active. Keep it queered, we queered this place, queering it was something we did and we made it a safe space. I’m not in any way saying that the word “queer” is passive, just that “queered” felt more active.
How long have you lived on Capitol Hill?
We bought our place in 2010, right off Bellevue in an old coop.
Did you know the building you painted your mural on used to be home to a gay bar? The Brass Connection. We called it the Ass Infection. Before your time, right?
Totally before my time. I didn’t know that but I know it now. Someone in my spin class told me about that, and about another bar that was there—Blue?—and I have to admit that there’s a lot of stuff I don’t know about the history of Capitol Hill. I went to the Old Pony one time. I haven’t been to the new Pony or the Pride celebration at the Cuff. So there’s a lot I don’t know about this neighborhood—about it’s history. But there’s a lot I do know. I’ve got a working history from living in this space. My wife and I bonded over karaoke at the Crescent. We used to go the Elite, another gay bar on Olive, now closed, and we made friends there with people who are still are friends now.
Straight people hanging out in gay bars—straight people coming into queer spaces de-queers them, don’t they? And straight people moving to Capitol Hill in large numbers has un-queered the neighborhood, hasn’t it?
Wow. That’s a big, big question. And I understand it’s a big question. There’s no succinct way for me to answer it. The one word answer to both those questions is, “Yes.” The two-word answer is, “It can.” A longer answer might go like, “There’s a way to be in a space without taking up that space or crowding others out of it. There’s a way to become a part of a community—I’ve learned this in social justice communities I’ve been a part of. They talk about when to step up and when to step back. I was never dancing on a pool table at the Elite with my shirt off. We would go with friends and watch a college basketball game upstairs and the bartenders were really nice. We were in that space without taking it up.
So by simply being chill, straight people can come into gay bars without de-gaying or de-queering them. Keep your shirt on, don’t start woo-wooing—hang back, be the unobtrusive straight person?
That’s what I’d like to be. I’d like to be that person. I strive to be that person. I understand a lot of the the privilege I hold, and I understand that there needs to be space people have without me there. I try to be conscious of that space as much as possible. I’m never going to be perfect, but I try to listen.
So the mural is gone already—the building was torn down a day or two after it went up. Some are saying the disappearance of your mural is a metaphor for the de-queering of the Hill.
We knew that was going to happen. We thought it would be coming down in a couple of weeks. But we got there on Friday to paint the mural and found out Monday was the day the building was coming down—so another apartment building could go up. But we still wanted to get the mural up. We’re hoping by this having been out there, even just for a day or two, it will get some sort of momentum going—and some community buy-in—to get it up somewhere else, and permanently.
I get a lot of letters from girls who are worried their boyfriends might be gay because their boyfriends like having their nipples played with, show too much interest in their girlfriend’s asses, or saw a musical once. Is your wife worried you might be gay because you, well, you like to hang out in gay bars and you painted that mural. Am I going to get a letter from her about you?
You will not get a letter from here about that at all. She’s not worried.