Taffy Johnson, founder and executive director of UTOPIA Seattle (United Territories of Pacific Islanders Alliance), entertains guests at the grand opening of the organization’s downtown Kent center last Saturday. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

Taffy Johnson, founder and executive director of UTOPIA Seattle (United Territories of Pacific Islanders Alliance), entertains guests at the grand opening of the organization’s downtown Kent center last Saturday. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

Being bold, being heard

UTOPIA Seattle working to enhance the lives of queer and trans people in the area

Taffy Johnson and her group want very much to be better understood, represented and included in the communities they serve.

It’s all part of a grassroots organization’s mission to be a part of a diverse and changing face of Kent and the greater South King County area.

Johnson is founder and executive director of UTOPIA Seattle (United Territories of Pacific Islanders Alliance), a queer and trans people of color-led organization working to advance the lives of LGBTQ people living primarily in Kent, Auburn and Federal Way.

As Johnson explains, UTOPIA Seattle was born out of the struggles, challenges, strength and resilience among the Pacific islander LGBTQ community.

“UTOPIA is family … that’s what it is all about, building relationships, bridging that gap,” Johnson said, “and making sure that our communities are not only still integrated into our cultural perspectives but also … to reach out to the communities as a whole.”

And to better represent the community and connect to services locally, the group secured a space – at 205 E. Meeker St. – after eight years as an all-volunteer organization. The center officially opened its doors last Saturday to family, friends and supporters. The center will serve as a hub for members and guests to gather, network and help those access resources they otherwise might not have in Seattle.

“We’re excited to have a space where all LGBTQ people are welcome to live their authentic selves free from discrimination,” said Johnson, a trans woman of color from Samoa who lives on Auburn’s West Hill.

Johnson, a queer and trans activist and community organizer, has a background in human services. She has been a resource, refuge and supporter to many Fa’afafine and Pacific islander individuals who have made the long journey to the Pacific Northwest in search of better opportunities, such as she did.

The group has made progress but considerable work remains as the organization – about 40 member strong – tries to become a stronger voice in community organization, political engagement and cultural stewardship. Just as significant, the group continues to fight for equitable access to education, employment, housing, health care and other services and resources for queer and trans Pacific islander youth, adults, elders and families.

“We want to make sure our voices are at the table as far as when we are fighting for civil rights, human rights in the communities,” said Joseph Seia, co-chair of UTOPIA Seattle. “We believe that elevating our voices, elevates all voices.”

Learn more at utopiaseattle.org.

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