by George Bakan -
SGN Owner & Publisher
This Pride, we joyously celebrate what many consider to be the culmination of our struggle for equality. As I write this, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional! The Court also found that the proponents of California's Proposition 8 had no legal standing to defend it, thereby re-opening the door to marriage equality in that great state. Truly, today is a magnificent day to be a Gay American!
While I reflect on our momentous victory, I can't help but think about how we got to where we are today. There are countless men and women who gave tirelessly of themselves in the struggle for equality. Some of these people are regularly celebrated - people like Harvey Milk (the first out and proud Gay male to be elected to serve in city government) or the furious and fierce drag queens and Transgendered persons who fought the police in the Stonewall riots, the 44th anniversary of which we celebrate today. Events and people like these are seared in the national LGBT community consciousness. As a lifelong resident of Washington state and a longtime resident of the Seattle area, my thoughts have turned to the historical local efforts for equality.
Seattle's LGBT community is the second largest in the United States after San Francisco. The city of Seattle and its environs have a long history with the LGBT population. In 1893, the Washington Sodomy Law was adopted, and later that year a King County court sentenced a man to seven years' hard labor for the 'intent to know' (i.e., have sex with) another man.
In the 1920s and '30s, community meeting places were concentrated in Pioneer Square (also known as Skid Row or Fairyville). The Casino opened in 1930 on the corner of Second Avenue and Washington Street and was known as the only place on the West Coast that was open and free for Gay people and where same-sex dancing was allowed. The Double Header opened in the space above The Casino in 1934, and remains there today - possibly the oldest continuously operating Gay bar in the United States. It's been long-rumored that these establishments, along with The Spinning Wheel (a cabaret featuring female impersonators), were run by the mob and stayed in operation by paying off the police. Arrangements like this continued through the 1960s.
BIRTH OF A MOVEMENT
In 1967, the Dorian Society was founded by Nick Heer, a professor at the University of Washington. The first organized group in Seattle to support Gay rights, it published a newsletter about current issues and events in the community. The name was a reference to the Doric Hellenic warriors of ancient Greece who considered homosexuality glamorous, and the society was modeled on New Zealand's Dorian Society. Their mission was to create a more respectable image of the Seattle homosexual. They also wanted the reform the city's sodomy laws. In response to their efforts, a 1966 article in The Seattle Times stated that Seattle's 'homosexual problem' was 'out of hand.' This article stated the Seattle police wanted to suppress the LBGT community, partially by revoking the liquor licenses of Gay bars. In May 1967 the The Daily of the University of Washington did a series on the Gay community, which for the first time represented the community in a more positive light. Much of this positivity had to with the vigilant PR and work of the Dorian Society.
In 1971, John Singer (later known as Faygele ben Miriam) and Paul Barwick applied for a marriage license at the King County Administration Building. They were, of course, turned down. Seeking to make a point about having the same rights as straight people, Singer and Barwick brought suit against King County - a suit that ended in 1974 with a unanimous rejection by the Washington State Court of Appeals.
From June 24 to June 30, 1974, Seattle's LGBT community celebrated the city's first Gay Pride Week. Attendees numbered between 200 and 400, with events including the grand opening of a Gay Community Center, a picnic at Occidental Park in Pioneer Square, rollerskating and a sing-along atop the Volunteer Park Water Tower, and a 'Gay-In' at Seattle Center (by contrast, crowd estimates for the 2012 Pride Celebration were above 400,000).
Today, we celebrate a time when sodomy laws have been repealed by the Supreme Court, and where marriage equality is a reality at both the state and federal levels for committed couples in our state. We celebrate all those who came before us in our struggle for equality. We also look forward, asking ourselves - what's next for us?
There exists a great need for Seattle's LGBT community to stand up against hate crimes in our area. Many organizations (SOSea, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and others) will soon be rolling out programs designed to heighten our safety when walking our streets. When presented the opportunity, take the time to learn how to minimize your risks and protect yourself.
The sexual health of our community is arguably the greatest issue facing us today. While HIV may no longer be responsible for the number of deaths it was in the 1980s and '90s, it is alive and well. Treatment is expensive and riddled with side effects. Prevention efforts have become stale as our youth grow more apathetic, yet they remain one of the most at-risk groups for new infections.
This Pride season, we have much to be proud of as we recognize our shared history; we have much to celebrate as we revel in our political and legal victories; and we have much to strive for as we work toward a more healthy community.
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