The History of the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement in the Seattle Area

Photo Credit: Tim Bieler

This month is Pride Month, and many people and organizations have chosen to celebrate and learn more about what it means to be a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Historically, the concept of Pride Month and LGBTQIA+ rights, in general, have only come into focus within the past few decades, with the most recent decade showing a lot of progress when it comes to accepting and defending the gay community. A Gallup poll has found that 5.6%, or one in every 20 Americans, identify as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. O

Going back to the establishment of King County in 1853, King County was originally named after the 13th Vice President, William Rufus Devane King. He was from Alabama, owned slaves, and never actually visited Washington, D.C. Interestingly, he and President James Buchanan had a close relationship, and neither man ever married. The pair actually lived together and were speculated to have been lovers, although there is not much evidence in their surviving correspondence to suggest they were having a sexual relationship.

Fast-forward 70 years to the Roaring Twenties and through the Great Depression, where the LGBTQIA+ community began to become more visible and Seattle followed suit. Just as other cities did, the population growth in Seattle led to gay bars springing up around Pioneer Square (the longest-running gay bar being the Double Header, which opened in 1934 and had its doors open all the way into 2015). It is sometimes credited as the oldest gay bar in the United States which, when taking the circumstances into account, had to have been a momentous task and was a remarkable achievement to have happened.

Later in the 20th century, the LGBTQIA+ community began to fight harder for representation and acceptance during the civil rights movement. Established in 1967, which was years before the Stonewall riots, the Dorian Society was formed to fight for acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community in Seattle, while also advocating for the repeal of laws in Washington state that criminalized homosexuality and LGBTQIA+ rights. They also helped establish the first counseling center for the LGBTQIA+ community, which was desperately needed at the time. After the Stonewall riots made the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights public, the City of Seattle was also one of the first cities to have anti-discriminatory policies on the books, which started with an ordinance against housing discrimination being passed in 1975. Voters in Seattle also voted down an initiative that sought to remove the words “sexual orientation” from ordinances against housing discrimination. Even as the decade closed, and the AIDS epidemic tore through the community, Seattle’s LGBTQIA+ community played a major part in the life of Seattle, from nightlife to politics.

The situation for the LGBTQIA+ community has significantly improved during the past few decades and Pride Month is proof of that. However, one major thing to remember is that learning about the past gives a more in-depth outlook on the present. Regarding that, the history of the LGBTQIA+ community is no different regardless of whether someone will celebrate Pride Month or not.