by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Seattle celebrated its first Gay Pride Week June 24-30, 1974, with a variety of activities at private and public venues around the city.
Mayor Uhlman gave the event an official endorsement in 1977, declaring June 25 to July 1 to be Gay Pride Week in the City of Seattle.
Keith Luttenbacher, in his July 5, 1977 letter, was one of many who wrote thanking Mayor Uhlman for his support, 'especially after the negative press due to Ms. [Anita] Bryant.' Local opponents of Gay rights were incensed by the mayor's proclamation, and reactions ranged from letter-writing campaigns to published threats of recall to picketing outside City Hall.
Ultimately, Mayor Uhlman's endorsement of Gay Pride Week gave added significance to the city's first Gay Pride March, held in 1977.
The Gay Rights Movement and the City of Seattle during the 1970s
During the decade of the 1970s, Gay rights issues repeatedly found their way onto the municipal agenda, reports the City of Seattle on its website for city archives.
'At the decade's start, members of the city's Gay constituency began developing a public profile after decades of life hidden from public view. The social tumults of the late 1960s in general - and the battle cry of homosexual rights sounded in New York City's Stonewall riots of 1969 particularly - inspired a confident sense of activism among many Seattleites,' says the archives. 'Interest groups like the Dorian Society, Seattle Gay Alliance, and the Lesbian Resource Center mobilized this exuberance, and turned it towards gaining new legal recognitions of their rights as municipal citizens.'
'Concentrated on the area surrounding the modern Capitol Hill neighborhood, these groups formed a core around which a constellation of Gay-centered businesses and establishments grew, initiating the area's long-standing reputation as the center of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) life in Seattle,' says the archives.
'The Dorians, for example, founded the Seattle Counseling Service for Sexual Minorities in a residential area near 15th Ave. E., one of the first support centers of its kind in the country,' says the archives. 'Even the 'drag' community of cross-dressers and female impersonators, once fiercely underground for its own safety, began to occupy public spaces in clubs and bars, and after 1971, elected an annual 'Imperial Sovereign Court of Seattle' to act as its symbolic leadership.'
In 1973 City Councilmember Jeanette Williams introduced a proposed revision of the city's Fair Employment Practices Ordinance that would prohibit job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Williams, a Gay rights advocate and early sponsor of the Seattle Women's Commission, gradually garnered sufficient support for the revision from fellow councilmembers and Mayor Wes Uhlman.
On September 10, the new ordinance was passed 8 to 1. This episode was momentous not only for the protections gained against job discrimination, but for the historic introduction of sexual orientation into Seattle's legal record. Organized Gays and Lesbians became legitimized actors within the City's political constellation.
By 1975, activist groups were continuing to press for legal protections similar to those in the Fair Employment Practices Ordinance.
'The Dorian Group, a loose organization of prominent Gay businessmen and activists led by Charlie Brydon, proposed a revision of the city's Open Housing Ordinance that would make it illegal for landlords and home sellers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, much as it already was on the grounds of race,' reads the archive. 'Sponsored by frequent Dorian Group ally Councilmember, the revised ordinance was introduced to heated debate that lasted for over a month, with strong opposition by the Seattle Apartment Operator's Association clashing against proponents like the Seattle Gay Alliance's Tim Mayhew.'
After Mayor Uhlman's announcement that he would sign the law if it reached his desk, the ordinance was eventually passed on August 4, though by a tenuous 5 to 4 vote. The responsibility for monitoring and enforcing compliance with both the Open Housing and Fair Employment ordinances rested with the Office for Women's Rights, which would fill the role of organizational advocate for LGBT rights within city government through the 1970s.
Continuing legal victories in the City Council paralleled Seattle's jubilant new celebration of an annual Gay Pride Week. Started in the summer of 1974, the events surrounding Pride Week were growing larger and better attended, culminating in the first Gay Pride March that was scheduled for 1977. Mayor Uhlman, encouraged by a close political relationship with Charlie Brydon, chose to commemorate the parade with a historic first, officially declaring June 25 to July 1 to be Gay Pride Week in the City of Seattle.
Local opponents of Gay rights were enraged by this, which appeared to them to be clear evidence of the mayor's endorsement of what they viewed as the 'amoral' homosexual lifestyle. Reactions ranged from letter-writing campaigns to published threats of recall to picketing outside City Hall. Uhlman's ceremonial acceptance of the LGBT community, nevertheless, resulted in an outpouring of support for the embattled mayor, and gave added significance to the Pride proceedings of that year.
This run of prominent successes was certainly noticed by conservative-minded elements in Seattle, who banded together to aggressively challenge LGBT legal protections during 1978. The organization Save Our Moral Ethics (SOME), founded by Seattle Police officers David Estes and Dennis Falk, spearheaded a successful signature drive to place an initiative on the November ballot giving voters the choice to remove 'sexual orientation' from the text of the Fair Employment and Open Housing ordinances.
As part of a nationwide conservative reaction to Gay activism's political triumphs, SOME operated among a wave of anti-Gay initiative campaigns, supported politically and financially by conservative activist Anita Bryant's Save Our Children group. By late 1978, the first of these efforts proved successful, limiting protections in Miami, Wichita, and St. Paul-Minneapolis. Anxious to prevent a similar defeat, Gay and Lesbian activists quickly rallied in opposition to the upcoming Initiative 13, as it was known. The most prominent of the anti-Initiative associations was Charlie Brydon's Citizens to Retain Fair Employment, which organized an array of fundraising and promotional activities aimed at educating the public on the perils of rolling back discrimination protections.
Following months of demonstrations, debates, and heated rhetoric from both sides, the Initiative 13 proposal was put to a vote on November 7. To the surprise of many, it was defeated by 63 per cent to 37. Coming a day before the defeat of the similarly-themed 'Briggs Initiative' in California, the vote was hailed by many activists as a heartening rejection of the resurgent anti-Gay sentiment represented by groups like SOME and Save Our Children. Not all the news was positive that month, however, as Harvey Milk, San Francisco City Supervisor and the nation's first openly Gay elected official, was slain by disgruntled ex-Supervisor Dan White only a few weeks following the victory.
After Initiative 13, the LGBT community ceased to pose any issues of citywide importance for several years. By 1983, however, the growing public awareness of AIDS' devastating impact upon Seattle's Gays prompted a program of surveillance and education by the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health, as well as further debate on what else should be done. This crisis ultimately overshadowed the great strides previously made in political representation, though the community mobilization of that decade would prove valuable in the fight against the epidemic.
By the close of the 1970s, the LGBT community could no longer be ignored within the centers of municipal power. Seattle's sexual minorities had taken their place as vibrant members of Seattle's civil society.
Who Started Pride Anyway?
In 1974, David Neth spearheaded efforts to open the Gay Community Center in a $100-a-month house on Capitol Hill. He also decided the time had come to roll out the first Gay Pride Week in Seattle.
'We were ready,' said Neth in an interview with Seattle Weekly. 'The climate was right. I'd seen what New York, San Francisco, and L.A. had done a few years earlier, and I thought we needed to put Seattle on the map.'
The first Seattle Pride was a seven-day affair staged for just $589. On June 30, 1974, fewer than 50 individuals - including a bare-chested Neth, draped in pearls, wearing cutoffs and a white floppy hat - danced in bliss around the International Fountain at the Seattle Center.
In May 1974, the same month the Gay Community Center opened at 16th Avenue and E. Olive Street, David Neth and a few other organizers called a meeting at Volunteer Park for anyone interested in pulling together a Gay Pride week. A dozen or so activists attended, and events were mapped out.
The venture would begin the evening of Monday, June 25, with a panel discussion sponsored by the Stonewall Recovery Center, a drug treatment program. The following day there would be a talk about the issue of Transsexuality.
On the night of June 27, Neth said a memorial service was held at the Metropolitan Community Church to commemorate the 32 lives lost in the arson of the UpStairs Lounge, a Gay bar on Chartres Street in New Orleans' French Quarter, on June 24, 1973.
Following the memorial, Rebecca Valrejean, a friend of Neth's, put on a one-woman show to dramatize in words and song the horror of the deadliest attacks on Gay and Lesbian people in U.S. history. 'I called my show 'Lavender Troubadour,' ' says Valrejean. 'It makes me cry to think back to all of what we went through then [in 1974]. We had no one on our side, no one. You don't know what we sacrificed,' she told Seattle Weekly as she began to cry. 'I'm Queer. It's amazing that no one killed me on stage. I'm sorry I'm being so emotional.'
Saturday, June 29, was the picnic at Occidental Park. 'This was very significant for us,' says Neth. 'We weren't behind closed doors and we weren't in a bar. We were in public space, out in the open. We might have had 200 there that day and we danced until midnight.'
'Trying to get a use permit for the park was a pain. It was one obstacle after another. And then at the picnic, I remember, me and another guy got arrested for jaywalking, and the police called us faggots as they were taking us in.'
According to Neth, it was an unusually warm day in Seattle when the first Gay Pride festival reached its high point. The mercury climbed to 86 degrees for the 'Gay-In' at the International Fountain that Sunday afternoon, June 30, 1974.
On a large cotton sheet, Neth spray-painted the words 'Proud to be Lesbian, Proud to be Gay' in red and blue. 'We all wore zany clothes and held hands, and we danced around the fountain, twice.'
So just how big is the Pride Parade? Pride began in the early 1970s as a response to anti-Gay discrimination and violence. What started as a gathering and civil rights march on Capitol Hill of hundreds for basic civil rights has grown into a celebration attended by more than 150,000 people in downtown Seattle.
Here is how the Pride Parades were described through the years by Seattle P.I. reporters:
1984 Gay Rights Rally Hears Attack on Initiative Drives
'Supporters of Gay rights took to the streets yesterday to celebrate Gay/Lesbian Pride Week and to lambaste initiatives aimed at limiting employment of sexual minorities.
Close to 1,000 took part in a parade down Broadway on Capitol Hill, and 10,000 gathered at the Volunteer Park amphitheater to hear speakers, observers estimated.
Speakers ranging from elected city and state officials to prominent Gay activists who exhorted the crowd to fight state Initiative 490, which would bar homosexuals from being employed in schools, day-care centers and social programs. A second signature campaign would put an anti-Gay employment initiative on the King County ballot later this year.'
1989 Politicians Join Seattle Gay Pride March and Rally
'Thousands of Seattle Gays and supporters, including several political hopefuls, turned out for a festive march down Broadway yesterday in the city's annual Gay Pride Parade.
Marchers clad in leather and lavender walked, danced, drove and rode motorcycles along a parade route that extended from Pike Street to Volunteer Park.
At the park, marchers and spectators took part in a rally.
'This is a monumental event,' said Chris Smith of the parade's organizing committee.
'It's the second largest parade in the city of Seattle (behind the Seafair Torchlight Parade), and it deserves to be given some attention.'
Smith estimated yesterday's turnout at 20,000 marchers, up from 17,000 last year.'
1992 Gay Pride Event Goes Political/Parade Brings 35,000 People to Capitol Hill
'The Gay pride movement yesterday served up a measure of Gay politics, as thousands thronged Seattle's Capitol Hill for the annual Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Pride Parade and rally.
The Gay and Lesbian activist group ACT-UP launched a campaign that might be called 'none of the above presidential candidates.'
'We don't support anybody,' ACT-UP member Jeff Harris said. The organization can't support H. Ross Perot, who has said he wouldn't name a homosexual to his cabinet, Harris said. President Bush is out 'because he's using Dan Quayle as an attack dog with rhetoric about traditional family values,' implying an erosion of rights for Gay and Lesbians.
1995 Thousands Celebrate Gay Pride On Parade
'With a splash of colorful dress and behavior, thousands of people celebrated their homosexuality yesterday as they marched in Seattle's annual Gay Pride Parade through Capitol Hill.
The parade slowly made its way along Broadway to Volunteer Park. The street was packed on both sides with tens of thousands of men and women who watched the parade and cheered, whistled and shouted for the participants.
Hundreds of others found good vantage points from the roofs of businesses along Broadway.
Marchers threw condoms and candy to wildly applauding crowds.
There was no official estimate of the crowd size, but police had predicted as many as 40,000 would turn out.
One of the biggest crowd pleasers was a group of women riding motorcycles and calling themselves Dykes on Bikes.'
1998 Diverse Community Celebrates Gay Pride/Seattle Parade Draws 50,000
'The Gay Fathers' Association drew big cheers from the crowd as it marched up Broadway in Seattle's Gay Pride Parade yesterday.
So did the Rainbow City Band - 42 marching musicians who blasted out tunes such as 'Over the Rainbow' and 'Macho Man.'
So did the Broadway New Avenue Grill float, carrying eight drag queens dressed up in their enormous wigs as first ladies.
Under gorgeous, clear skies, thousands of people marched up Broadway and packed the sidewalks in a coming together of the diverse groups that make up Seattle's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender communities.
In all, 124 groups marched from Pike Street to Capitol Hill's Volunteer Park, representing service organizations, religious groups, city and county government offices, corporations and political organizations.
2002 - It's Tradition - 29th Gay Pride Parade
'Snuggled in a backpack, the wide-eyed baby peered from beneath his red hat at the pageantry of yesterday's 29th annual Seattle Gay Pride Parade.
'It's his first parade,' said Pat Fremon, the adoptive father of 6-month-old Mark.
'This might become a family tradition.'
Fremon and his partner, Tim Sheehy, who have been together 20 years, said they were happy to see so many Gay and Lesbian families at the Capitol Hill parade, which attracted about 100,000 people, according to parade organizers and police.
'It's a great way for the Gay community to get together and see how diverse we are,' Fremon said.
One mother said there's a 'Gayby boom' happening as more and more Gay and Lesbian couples become parents.
2005 - Colorful, Outrageous, But 'Family-Friendly' / Change In Tone Cited For Larger Crowd / 150,000 Turn Out For Biggest Gay Pride Parade In Seattle History
'About 150,000 people lined Broadway and packed Volunteer Park yesterday for the biggest, lengthiest Gay Pride parade in the city's history, possibly the last one on Capitol Hill.
The crowd's large size reflected efforts to broaden the parade's appeal to draw more families and make the event an important campaign stop for local politicians.
People stood seven deep in some spots to catch a glimpse of the parade's record 184 entries, from the raucous, roaring 'Dykes on Bikes' to the nude body-painted cyclists bringing up the rear.
Crowd favorites during the three-hour parade included the Righteously Outrageous Twirling Corps, who drew roars of approval for their disco-tinged routine, and the Just Pink float, which featured dancing men in fluorescent-pink wigs and pink polka-dot dresses blowing bubbles and tossing strings of Mardi Gras beads to bystanders.
'Seattle puts on a good parade,' said Steve Lent proudly, as he watched the members of Poodles for Pride make their way down the street.'
2007 - Many Have Chosen Sides in Gay Pride Celebrations / Events Held On Separate Days This Year
'For the second consecutive year, fans of Seattle's annual Gay pride celebration will be confronted with two parades and two festivals competing for their attention.
A downtown parade promises visibility and progress, while a parade on Capitol Hill touts loyalty to the Gay and Lesbian community that nurtured the celebration there for more than 25 years.
The dual celebrations were born when Seattle Out and Proud, the group that organizes Seattle Pride, decided to break rank and move the festivities to the Seattle Center last year.
While fans don't technically have to choose between the events - a Saturday march on Broadway and a Sunday parade on Fourth Avenue - many have already taken sides.
'Our loyalty stays here,' said Rick Elander, who owns the Capitol Hill bar R Place with his partner. He is among a handful of businesses boycotting the downtown parade in a show of support for the Gay community on Capitol Hill and the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Community Center.'
Good Vibrations in 2014
Whether you like it or not or if you are ready or not - Pride weekend is upon us. Pride is bigger and better than ever, which nobody can deny. Seattle Out & Proud paid off its debt to the City of Seattle that was as high as $100,000 when it was incurred in 2006, at a ceremony at the Seattle Pride Picnic in Volunteer Park on June 14 this year. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is Gay. The community is growing in both size and in influence. Marriage equality is sweeping the nation. The city will see its second annual Trans Pride event. And so much more.
While it is true that we have a lot of work left to do in our movement towards true equality and freedom in all 50 states, one can't help but marvel at just how far we've come. It is amazing and wonderful. We've lost many along the way; AIDS was devastating and many of our brothers and sisters have been beaten or killed. But we are a resilient lot and if there is one thing that the LGBTQ community has shown it is that we bounce back each and every time. And we do it in style.
The parade is now a full-fledged corporate sponsored monstrosity. It is no longer a civil rights march per se. But the one thing we must never lose is our memory. On Sunday, June 29, please take a moment to reflect and honor those who came before us and the sacrifices they made to make our big, bright, and oh so Gay Pride Parade what it is today. Before them - there was nothing.
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