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LGBTQ Activism in Seattle History Project

A brief history of LGBTQ Activism in Seattle

by Kevin McKenna and Michael Aguirre

The story of LGBTQ Seattle is over 130 years in the making.  In the 1880s same-sex relations were of little concern to most residents.  Later, in 1893, they were declared a crime, and in the late 1960s, activists politically organized around same-sex intimacy.  Gay Seattleites fought for nondiscrimination in the 1970s. Transgender activists likewise fought for inclusion in Seattle’s nondiscrimination ordinances in the 1980s.   From the 1880s through today, Seattle’s LGBTQ history has been about laws, morality, understanding, cultural and political expressions, and city space.  At the heart of Seattle’s LGBTQ history are people, those who have persecuted same-sex sexuality, those who have challenged heterosexist oppression, and those who wanted to live a life free of persecution and judgment.

This essay explores Seattle’s gay history from the late 19th century up to 2012. It was commissioned by and appears here courtesy of the Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest.

Vice, the Tenderloin, and Rehabilitation

When Arthur Denny and his colonizing party landed on Alki Point in 1851, the Puget Sound area was already part of a larger indigenous and Euro-American economy.  The base of this economy was organized around extracting resources, especially timber, and shipping these materials across the area.  In 1880, Seattle had a humble population of about 3,500, but the growing town serviced a sizeable number of migrant laborers who worked in the timber industry or as casual workers in numerous jobs.  Boarding houses, bars, gambling dens, and brothels soon became concentrated in the section south of Yesler Way, what is today Pioneer Square.  The Tenderloin (as it was known then) gained a reputation for vice, including various sexual practices.

Transient worker life was governed by a different set of codes and standards than those of Seattle’s middle- and upper-class people.  Sexuality for transient men and youths was largely organized on a jock-punk relationship, in which the older man (jock) was the penetrator during interfemural (between the thighs) or anal sex with the youth (punk).  The available evidence from transient networks across the Pacific Northwest suggests that men and youths entered into sexual relations with each other to gain protection and material goods for the youth and sexual release in the absence of women for the older man.  Transient male-male intimacy was not necessarily labeled as gay or homosexual by contemporaries, but was instead seen as a threat to the ideals of a heteronormative family and Christian values of Seattle’s moral guardians.

In 1893, Seattle not only gained the Great Northern transcontinental railroad line, but it also took a stand against sodomy.  For reasons not entirely clear, the Washington state legislature passed an antisodomy law in February of 1893.  Referred to as a “crime against nature,” _sodomy_ was a term that could apply to anal or oral sex for both hetero- and homosexuals.  Sodomy could also mean bestiality and other forms of nonprocreative sex.  However, the law was applied almost exclusively to male-male sexual acts, and breaking this law could result in a sentence twice as long as the punishment for heterosexual rape.  When the 1897 Klondike gold rush was underway, Seattle officials seemed to turn a blind eye on male same-sex relations.  Just four years after the disastrous Panic of 1893, the city was profiting by providing supplies, rest, food, and entertainment in the Tenderloin to miners traveling to and from Alaska.  As the Klondike gold rush slowed down, however, the city of Seattle began to seriously crack down on men having consensual sex when Kenneth Mackintosh was elected chief prosecutor in 1904.  His deputy, George Vanderveer, took a particular interest in suppressing male-male sexual behavior in the Tenderloin, and Vanderveer replaced Mackintosh as chief prosecutor in 1908.

During these early investigations into same-sex sexual relations, not every participant was homosexual.  In the late 19th and early 20th century, the term “homosexual” implied an effeminate male who desired sex with other men.  In 1918, Progressive physician and diagnostician Lilburn Merrill wrote an academic article on juvenile delinquents in Seattle.  In this report, Merrill concluded that the male youths who were sexually involved with men or boys were not homosexual.  Instead, Merrill believed that these young men were resorting to same-sex relations out of material necessity, but they preferred sex with women.

The first documented person who might be considered transgender in Seattle was Nell Pickerell, who went by the name Harry Allen. Nell/Harry was written about in The Seattle Times, which identified her as a woman; however, Nell passed as Harry, working many men’s jobs, including serving as a bartender and a farmhand. The first story about Nell appeared in 1901. Pickerell was arrested numerous times, including once for transporting a prostitute, who was Harry’s partner at the time, across state lines from Portland.

An Emerging Community

It was not until the 1930s that a visible gay Seattle began to emerge.  Like other gay communities across the United States, Seattle’s formed within the context of industrialization.  From 1880 to 1930, Seattle’s population grew from about 3,500 to an incredible 365,588, a 10,353 percent jump.  Although gay individuals lived in rural areas, cities provided opportunities for men and women to escape the supervision of their families and neighbors, allowing for the possibility of forming distinct identities, communities, and cultures.

Men and women often looked for same-sex intimate partners in bars, yet the combination of Prohibition (1919-1933) and increased prosecution of sodomy cases during the Progressive Era made this possibility difficult.  In 1930, Joseph Bellotti opened the Casino Pool Hall, which allowed same-sex dancing.  Patrons nicknamed the hall “Madame Peabody’s School of Dance” as a code phrase that described what visitors practiced.  When Prohibition ended in 1933, bars catering to men seeking sex with men began to open.  Bellotti then opened the Double Header bar above the Casino Pool Hall in 1934, believed to be the nation’s oldest continuously operating gay bar until its closure in on December 31, 2015.  These bars were heavily concentrated in the Tenderloin/Pioneer Square area, and were welcoming to lesbians as well.  Many working-class gay men and lesbians who could be considered the first stalwarts of Seattle’s gay community frequented these spaces.  Some middle-class individuals entered the bar in hopes of an anonymous sexual encounter without compromising their identity in their daily life.  The Tenderloin was slowly developing a gay community where people drank together and sought same-sex companionship.

World War II was a particularly important event in crystallizing gay identities and urban gay communities, particularly in port cities such as Seattle.  While gay communities were already forming prior to the war, mass urbanization and industrialization during World War II brought many people together in the armed services and defense industries.  Many men with homosexual tendencies met one another in the service and went in and out of major port cities that had visible and developed gay subcultures, while women with sexual interest in othe women could meet in wartime factories.  For men, same-sex sexual relationships during the war were hidden so that friends and family would not think negatively of them.  Also, if a serviceman was accused of being gay, he faced the real possibility of a dishonorable discharge and declared ineligible for veteran (GI) benefits.  Women in the armed forces faced similar consequences if they were accused of same-sex intimacy.

Following the war, gay venues proliferated not only in Pioneer Square, but also in other areas of downtown, including First and Second Avenues.  While not every tavern was gender-integrated, gay men and lesbians largely belonged to the same community and could feel comfortable visiting establishments that might cater to the opposite sex, as they had during the Great Depression.  Seattle’s first bars catering explicitly to lesbians sprung up during the 1950s.

Drag performances quickly became a central feature of the gay community, first appearing in vaudeville performances as early as 1898, when the nationally recognized female impersonator Edward Stewart performed in a Seattle Theater production of 1492.  The Garden of Allah, a gay cabaret located on First Avenue between University and Seneca Streets that opened in 1946, became a central venue for drag performances in the postwar period.  The Garden of Allah was of particular importance in fostering Seattle’s gay community until its doors closed in 1956.  This venue was the first gay-owned cabaret in Seattle, and many of its visitors were heterosexual tourists and military servicemen who came to see its famed drag performers, including Skippy LaRue and Jewel Box Revue.  In addition to being a drag performer, Skippy LaRue founded at least two boarding houses for gay men.  Drag performances during this time often provided social commentaries on heteronormative culture.  The military thought differently of drag performers and The Garden of Allah.  During the Lavender Scare of the Cold War, the armed services banned personnel from visiting such venues, arguing that homosexuality—and by association, drag—would place servicemen in danger of being blackmailed by communists.

Bribes and the Law

Gay bars in Seattle were not raided or otherwise harassed by the police as often as they were in most major cities with a large gay presence, such as San Francisco and New York.  The reason for this was that some officers of the Seattle Police Department forced institutions, including gay bars, to pay them off.  As long as the bar owners paid, the police left the bars alone.  For example, Golden Horseshoe owners Joe McGonagle and Jake Heimbigner agreed to pay the police $100 a month to ignore drag shows and an extra $50 a week to overlook same-sex dancing.  Operators of bath houses catering to gay men also paid off the police.  With the safety provided by the payoffs for patrons of gay spaces, the number of gay bars increased dramatically in the 1960s in Pioneer’s Square and into the Central Business District.  The police even bargained with gay business owners MacIver Wells and Jake Heimbigner to open a new after-hours gay dance club in 1965.

It was Madison Tavern owner MacIver Wells who exposed the police payoff system by cooperating with the FBI over a seven-year period, keeping records of payments paid to police officers and the officers involved.  However, when the story broke in the _Seattle Times_ in 1966, the reporters did not indict corrupt police officers but instead remarked on Seattle’s “homosexual problem.”  A year later in 1967, the _Seattle Times_ gave more details about police bribes after reporters were thrown out of the police chief’s office.  By the early 1970s, some, but not all, of the corrupt officers were put on trial and convicted of receiving bribes and payoffs.

Seattle Police Chief George Tielsch was hired to reform the police force following the payoff system. Tielsch had a particular penchant for policing vice crimes, which resulted in a greater policing of gay life than had existed under the payoff system. This brought Tielsch into conflict with Mayor Wes Uhlman, who signed Seattle’s employment nondiscrimination ordinance including sexual minorities in 1973. As a result, Tielsch resigned his position in March 1974.

Despite the toleration and even promotion of gay bars on the part of police, gay men were still vulnerable to sodomy convictions.  Keith Rhinehart founded the Seattle Aquarian Church and promoted the right of individuals to sexual privacy regardless of preference.  The church grew to more than 600 members.  Despite shaky testimony and conflicting evidence, Rhinehart was convicted of sodomy in 1965.  The trial hinged on the multiple confessions and recantations of James Miller, a man alleged to have intercourse with Rhinehart.  Seven years after his incarceration, Rhinehart was finally released in 1972.  Rhinehart was one of the last people convicted of sodomy—Governor Dan Evans signed a bill that decriminalized the act in 1976.

Gay Liberation

The widely accepted beginning of the Gay Liberation movement was late June 1969 when patrons of the Stonewall Inn in New York City fought back against a routine police raid.  Seattle had few raids because of the police payoff system.  Regardless, the Seattle gay community quickly adopted Gay Liberation: the philosophy that same-sex sexuality should be open and celebrated rather than hidden and persecuted.  Seattle was one of a handful of cities—also including Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles—that commemorated the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots.  To this day, Seattle holds Gay Pride Week the last week of June along with New York, San Francisco, and Chicago, in commemoration of the Stonewall Riots.

Seattle’s first gay organization, the Dorian Society, predated Stonewall by two years.  Formed in 1967, the Dorian Society sought to serve the gay community and educate mainstream Seattleites on homosexuality.  In one of its first public acts, the group worked with the _Seattle_ magazine and placed Peter Wichern, a gay businessman, on the cover.  Wichern and the Dorian Society signaled a different homosexual lifestyle from the Tenderloin, one more palatable to middle-class Seattleites.  In a picnic sponsored in part by the group, attendees were not allowed to wear drag, an indication that the Dorian Society was trying to move away from certain forms of gay cultural expression to achieve respectability in the eyes of hetersexual residents.  The society opened a house in 1969 that served as a de facto gay community center on Capitol Hill.  The house provided counseling services and employment help for gay Seattleites.  The Seattle Counseling Services for Sexual Minorities emerged out of the Dorian House, the first organization of its kind in the United States.

During the era of the civil rights movement and Vietnam War (1960s-70s), Seattle’s gay activists and lobbyists were transforming Seattle into a city increasingly tolerant of homosexuality.  After the Stonewall riots and with increasing momentum generated by Gay Liberation activists, Mayor Wes Uhlman declared the city’s first official “Gay Pride Week” in 1977.  Organizations dedicated to gay pride included the Union of Sexual Minorities, the Gay Women’s Alliance, the Seattle Counseling Service, the Gay Community Center, Seattle’s chapter of the Gay Liberation Front, Stonewall (a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center), and the Lesbian Resource Center.  The language of power, pride, and freedom from oppression from the civil rights movement influenced many of these organizations.

Sexual minorities gained a major legal victory with the passage of city ordinances banning employment and housing discrimination against sexual minorities in 1973 and 1975, respectively.  Seattle voters defeated a city referendum challenging both ordinances, Initiative 13, in 1978.  Along with the defeat of the Briggs Initiative in California, which would have banned homosexuals from teaching, these were the first democratic defeats of antigay initiatives that sprung up beginning in 1977.  Proponents of Initiative 13 argued that gays were not a minority group that required legal protection like women, blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, and other ethnic and racial groups.  Led by a Seattle police officers David Estes and Dennis Falk, the group Save Our Moral Ethics (SOME) led the effort to overturn nondiscrimination for sexual minorities.  Countering SOME were three main organizations: Women Against Thirteen, the Seattle Committee Against Thirteen, the Citizens to Retain Fair Employment (CRFE).  Despite disagreements over political messages and tactics between the first two organizations and CRFE, gay activists defeated SOME and Initiative 13 on November 7, 1978, with Seattle voters rejecting the initiative by a near two-to-one margin.

Gay communities nationwide were known for their gender divisions during the 1970s, and Seattle was no exception.  While the older generation in Pioneer Square was largely gender-integrated, the new generation of Gay Liberationists and lesbian feminists did not always see eye-to-eye.  As the younger generation of gay men established institutions on Capitol Hill, lesbian feminists sought to create exclusively lesbian spaces in the University District.  Decrying “gay patriarchy,” they sought their own separate enclaves where women could focus on issues that affected them in particular, especially rape and sexual harassment.  The Gay Women’s Resource Center (later Lesbian Resource Center) was established out of the University District YWCA in 1971.  The goal of this center was to provide a space where women could identify their sexuality and remove “lesbian oppression” from their lives.  Some lesbian and feminist groups believed that separatism (living, organizing, and socializing with women only) was the answer to ending male dominance, yet the Union of Sexual Minorities, a coalition of gay men and women who shared anti-racist and anti-imperialist views, believed this approach to be shortsighted because society is composed of both women and men.  Meanwhile, many gay men injected a domineering and aggressive masculinity into gay culture unseen before the Gay Liberation movement.  Tensions were evident in the 1980 Lesbian and Gay Pride March.

Throughout the Gay Liberation movement, religion played a part in the debates.  There were three main Christian camps: those who believed gays were children of God, those who argued homosexuals could—and should—change their sexuality through faith, and others who declared homosexuality was a sin of the highest order.  The United Church of Christ and Metropolitan Community Church embraced and preached to gays and lesbians.  The Methodist Church was split in its approach to homosexuals, with the conservative regional Pacific Northwest governing body disagreeing with the open Seattle church.  The Catholic Church was also split in spreading the gospel to gays.  The Vatican was thoroughly against supporting any gay issues or priests that did not declare homosexuality as evil.  Seattle Catholic priests, however, were much more accepting of homosexuals.  Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen hosted a conference of the gay Catholic organization Dignity in 1983 at St. James Cathedral, prompting the Vatican to closely observe the Seattle Archdiocese.

Race and Class

While Pioneer Square and First Avenue were the center of gay entertainment, many gay residents moved to Capitol Hill as post-World War II suburbanization attracted wealthy and upper middle class Capitol Hill families to the suburbs.  Several larger homes were subdivided into separate units or became communal homes inhabited by countercultural youth and gay “families,” a group of gay people living together in a tight-knit community.  The expansion of the African American population in the adjacent Central District during and after World War II also made the southern part of Capitol Hill less attractive to more well-to-do white residents, driving rents down and thereby making the area more affordable for gay residents.

The Union of Sexual Minorities, which was active in the mid-to-late 1970s, carried on the politics of the ealry gay liberation movement, connecting the oppression of sexual minorities with other oppressed peoples. Their politics were explicitly anti-racist and anti-imperialist. The organization Black and White Men Together, now called Men of All Colors and Cultures Together, formed to fight racism within the gay community in the late 1970s. The Seattle Urban League, an African American organization, leased space in its building in the Central District for the Gay Community Center in the late 1970s, and the Central District voted against Initiative 13 at a higher rate than any other neighborhood in Seattle in 1978.

The Gay Liberation movement made it easier for middle-class men to identify as gay without fear of discrimination, especially after the passage of Seattle’s employment and housing non-discrimination ordinances.  As in other parts of the U.S. after Stonewall, gay residential and business areas formed around white middle-class gay men.  The Greater Seattle Business Association was formed in 1981 to foster gay patronage of gay businesses.  Members sought to establish a gay commercial district along Broadway on Capitol Hill, though they never succeeded in creating the kind of strip like San Francisco’s Castro Street or Los Angeles’s Santa Monica Boulevard.  By the early 1990s, GSBA’s focus expanded beyond the gay community, welcoming allies and asserting gay people’s equality via their purchasing power. The role gay businesses played in the economic recovery of the Capitol Hill neighborhood in the 1980s made the GSBA and its members in the neigborhood welcome players in neighborhood politics.

The Pike/Pine Corridor, bordering Capitol Hill and the Central District was a particularly contentious area in which the growth of the gay community came into direct contact with the historical center of African American life in Seattle.  As econonic development and demographic growth pushed racial and ethnic minorities south, social divisions emerged among former residents and the gay community, perceived as white and middle-class.  The Pike/Pine Planning Study, which brought together varoius organizations and financial support from the City of Seattle’s Neighborhood Matching Fund to study the development of the Pike/Pine Corridor, includes the gay community as belonging to the area while ignoring the historical presence of African Americans. Gentrification of this once highly accessible area produced tensions with a gay community viewed as exclusively white and middle class by the early 1990s.

A number of organizations have been formed in recent years to address the needs and increase the visibility of sexual minorities of distinct racial and cultural backgrounds. Entre Hermanos formed in 1991 to promote the health and well-being of LGBTQ Latinos. Pride Asia empowers and nurtures the diversity of LGBTQ Asians and Pacific Islanders, and Trikone Northwest provides support, education, and political space for LGBTQ+ South Asians in Seattle. The Center for Multicultural Health sponsors Emerald City Black Pride, which promotes sexual health and well-being Black LGBTQ Seattleites. Noor provides a meeting space for LGBTQI people who have ever identified as Muslim.

AIDS Awareness

Signs of AIDS preceded the first diagnosed case in Seattle in November 1982, but Seattle never received the kind of attention around “gay cancer” or GRID (Gay-Related Immuno-Deficiency) that Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York did.  AIDS was known, named, and linked to gay men by the time the first case received attention in Seattle.  The city council promptly set aside funds for AIDS treatment and research, becoming the second municipality in the United States to do so in 1983.  Gender divisions softened during the 1980s.  More lesbian spaces opened on Capitol Hill, including communal houses.  Many lesbians became involved in AIDS activism, often as caregivers for sick gay men in the group Chicken Soup Brigade.  The Northwest AIDS Foundation (NWAF) gained a seat at the table with Seattle-King County Public Health (SKCDPH) in the mid-1980s and received funding from SKCDPH for outreach in the gay community.  ACTUP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) first formed in New York City as a radical protest organization that sought to draw more public attention and funds to AIDS research in 1987, and the ACTUP chapter in Seattle was quite active by decade’s end.  For example, they picketed centers of clinical trials for AIDS treatment, demanding quicker trials for faster relief.

People of color responded to AIDS by forming organizations focusing on non-white AIDS patients.  One of the major groups was the People of Color Against AIDS Network (POCAAN) established in 1987. Like NWAF, POCAAN received funding from SKCDPH for outreach to communities of color.  The main goal of POCAAN was to educate gay men of color about safe sex, AIDS awareness and treatment.  These groups provided a space where gay people of color and AIDS patients could feel culturally welcomed.  Specifically, Entre Hermanos addressed its audience in Spanish and English while also combating homophobia in Latino culture.

By the year 2000, AIDS had claimed the lives of 3,500 Seattleites.  Numerous gay activists passed away, including many of those who had made gay Seattle.  Cal Anderson became the first gay member of the Washington State legislature when he was appointed in 1987 to serve Seattle’s 43rd District (central Seattle) in the state house.  He won election to the state senate in 1994, but served less than one year before dying of complications related to AIDS.

Trans Activism

Native Seattleite Marsha Botzer founded the first transgender center in the United States, the Ingersoll Gender Center, in 1979. She was inspired by counselors at the Seattle Counseling Service for Sexual Minorities, the oldest mental health counseling service specifically for sexual minorities in the United States. The center has served as a community center for transgender and gender-questioning people, and in its early days it assisted in raising funds to help transgender people get the surgeries they desired to fully transition. To this day, Ingersoll holds a support group every Wednesday night.

With the greater sense of identity and community, which Ingersoll helped generate among transgender people in Seattle, the transgender community turned to political activism. Acitivsts sought the inclusion of gender identity and expression in the City of Seattle’s nondiscrimination ordinances. The annual Pride Parade first included Bisexual and Transgender in its official title in 1992. That same year, the Seattle Commission for Lesbians and Gays became the Seattle LGBT Commisison. Seattle added gender identity to its nondiscrimination ordinances in 1999.

While transgender identity most often involved a transition from male-to-female (MtF) or female-to-male (FtM) in the twentieth century, today, gender fluidity and genderqueer identity are also common. To reflect this gender diversity, the term trans is used rather than transgender, a word that implies a transition from one gender to another.

When the Washington State legislature passed a gay nondiscrimination law in 2007, trans activists, many of whom hailed from Seattle, successfully won the inclusion of language protecting people from discrimination based on gender identity and expression.

While the Ingersoll Gender Center continues to support people in the community grappling with gender identity issues, the Gender Justice League was founded in 2013 to address systemic oppression faced by trans people. GJL is particularly concerned with intersections of social, economic and racial justice.

Gay Marriage and Queer Visions

While marriage equality is a recent political movement, sexual minorities have ridiculed the gender exclusivity of marriage for deades. When drag performer Jackie Starr married Bill Scott around 1950, their nuptials took place without the permission of the state, yet legal authorization mattered little to the newlyweds in celebrating their matrimony.

Two decades after the Starr-Scott wedding, Gay Liberation Front members Paul Barwick and John Singer challenged the legality of heterosexual-only marriage by requesting a marriage license in September of 1971.  The request was denied by King County.  Barwick and Singer pointed out that Washington State law did not specify marriage as a union between a man and a woman, so a same-sex couple should receive a marriage certificate.  However, the Washington State Court of Appeals ruled in 1974 that marriage was intended to be a procreative partnership.  Barwick and Singer revealed a key logical flaw in the court’s ruling: What if a heterosexual couple could not have children?  Why should these partners be given a marriage license while same-sex couples could not?  These questions went unanswered for another thirty-eight years.

While Barwick and Singer did not win their case, Seattle was the site of the first successful lesbian mothers’ custody case. Madeleine Isaacson and Sandy Schuster won custody of all of their children when their husbands challenged their custody based on their sexuality by proving they maintained a respectable, religious home. The judge, however, ruled in 1972 that the two women had to live separately. With the help of the Lesbian Mothers’ National Defense Fund, which formed in Seattle in 1974, they won the right to live with their children in a joint household in 1978.

In the 21st century, marriage equality took hold of the time and resources of mainstream gay activists.  Washington State passed a domestic partnership law in 2007, and gay marriage passed in 2012.  The law formally went into effect after Washington voters approved Proposition 74 on November 6, 2012.

While most gay men and lesbians supported the struggle for marriage equality, a smaller number of queer activists would rather have seen energy and resources go to causes such as ending the bullying of gay and queer youth.  Many queer activists believed marriage should not be a state institution and that same-sex relationships should not depend on the approval of the state.  Queer critiques also questioned if marriage equality would apply to partners who did not fit the heteronormative concept of a relationship and family.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, queer theory developed in academia.  The core of queer theory critiques the idea of an unchallenged state and fixed sexual and gender identities, showing how each develops at certain historical points and revealing non-heteronormative ways of living and expression.

The group, Queer Nation, took the ideas of queer theorists and sought to foster a new queer politics.  Most Queer Nation “tribes” lasted only a few years, as activists did not always share the same agenda.  Some members supported the liberal “equal rights” approach that depended on the state for the recognition and protection of sexual minorities.  Queer activists, on the other hand, embraced a politics that did not support integration into mainstream society.  These queer activists questioned the enforcement of heteronormative behaviors and institutions.  Seattle’s Queer Nation tribe was the seventh formed in the country, in August 1990, and it lasted until 1995.  This activism contributed to greater awareness around bisexuality and transgender identities as well as queer identity.


Same-sex relationships and gender non-normativity have been part of Seattle’s history and peoples for over a century. From the earliest cases of sodomy in the early 1890s to Referendum 74 in 2012, the Emerald City has responded to same-sex sexuality in various, often conflicting ways.  Amidst changes in morality, law, political movements, and urban landscape, Seattle’s LGBTQ+ community has remained steadfast in its opposition to silence.

The history of Seattle’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer peoples is an ongoing historical process that is continually being rewritten as new evidence becomes available to researchers.  Archives are in need of more documents to provide scholars the opportunity to compose histories that can better reflect how the past explains Seattle’s present.  Paying attention to other factors that make up a person’s identity—especially class, race, ethnicity, and gender—will reveal a much more complex LGBTQ community and history.  It is our job to critically understand Seattle’s LGBTQ+ history and question any attempt to oversimplify this history.


Atkins, Gary. Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging. Seattle: Univeristy of Washington Press, 2003.

Helquist, Michael. _Marie Equi: Radical Politics and Outlaw Passions. _Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2015.

Paulson, Don. An Evening at the Garden of Allah: A Gay Cabaret in Seattle. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

Pettis, Ruth, ed. _Mosiac 1: Life Stories from Isolation to Community. _Seattle: Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Museum Project, 2002.

copyright © 2016 Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest