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Fifty Years of Pride: Seattle’s Milestone Celebration of LGBTQ+ Community and Culture

Seattle’s 2024 Pride theme—“Now!”—is multilayered in its meaning, nodding to the past as well as to today.

Pulsating street parties painted in colorful hues, exuberant drag shows, inclusive picnics, and energetic parades. While it has always been one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly cities in the United States–with about 10% of its population identifying as being part of the community–2024 holds a particularly striking significance for Seattle’s queer community.

This year marks Seattle’s 50th Pride celebration. From late May until the end of June, the Evergreen City comes to life with rainbow-tinted festivities. To mark the momentous anniversary, the usual street parties, drag shows, parades, picnics, live music, and dancing will be amplified with additional art galleries, performances, and events throughout June that also extend into summer. The month will be both a reflection on the past and the journey that has been walked, as well as on the work still to be done. 

Today, approximately 300,000 people come out for Seattle Pride, and over 200 LGBTQ+ groups openly march in the parade. The month is a flurry of events and festivities in all shapes and forms, celebrating the many dimensions of Seattle’s LGBTQ+ community.

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Seattle’s Pride History

Fifty years ago, in June 1974, Seattle Pride looked starkly different. Just a couple hundred people came out on a momentous weekend at the end of June. This weekend was one of the first times Seattle’s vibrant queer community could be out and open in public and celebrating their rights and living freely.

On Friday evening of the first Pride weekend in Seattle, about 20 people gathered to commemorate the opening of the community center. On Saturday, a picnic followed at Occidental Park.  

“This picnic was significant,” reflects David Neth, a key organizer in Seattle’s first Pride. “We weren’t behind closed doors. We weren’t in bars; we weren’t pretending. We were in a public space, having a good time with our heads held high in the bright sunlight. Later, about 100-150 of us danced until midnight.”

The weekend continued on Sunday at Seattle Center, with makeshift banners and people holding hands and encircling the fountain.

“I have to say, the turn-out at the Seattle Center was disappointing in 1974, but we all had a blast anyway,” Neth continues. “We had an event at the Center the following year (1975) and had a much better turnout. To go to the Seattle Center now, after the parade, and see the place packed with thousands and thousands of people is astounding, uplifting, and powerful.”

Now, Pride extends through the entire month of June, leading up to the annual Seattle Center PrideFest. This year, Pride kicked off on May 30th with “Love For All Boat.” Queer couples from all over were invited to renew their love on a boat cruising along Seattle’s waterfront. The event was hosted by renowned LGBTQ+ activist, Seattle native, and drag queen BenDeLaCreme.

Seattle Pride Parade 2022 on 4th AvenueMario Hagen/Shutterstock

Pride in the Park and Other Events

The 14th annual Pride in the Park officially started the month on June 1 in Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park. Food trucks, Drag Queen storytelling, dance stages, nonprofit booths, and a youth-run section brought this family-friendly affair to life. Pride days continue throughout June, from Seattle Mariners’ games to animal parades at Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo to Pioneer Square’s First Thursday Art Walk, which featured Seattle’s first-ever exhibits at the funky Railspur Gallery.

Patti Hearn, the Executive Director of Seattle Pride, reminisces on Pride 30 years ago in Seattle and how the event was one of the deciding pulls to move to Seattle. “It was a fantastic experience being surrounded by so many queer people. I hadn’t had that before,” recalls Hearn.

Long before 1974, Seattle had been considered a queer hub. During the early 1900s through the end of Prohibition, “Fairyville” flourished in Pioneer Square. Gay bars were abundant and continued to expand despite police harassment. By the 1970s, Capitol Hill had become a center for Seattle’s gay community and a social experiment. Many lived in communal houses in the old buildings in the neighborhood.

“Seattle was a little island of misfits that was more accepting,” said Neth.

Seattle’s 2024 Pride theme—“Now!”—is multilayered in its meaning, nodding to the past as well as to today. “It’s about being in the present, being in the now,” commented Hearn. “We don’t want to get stuck in the past. We aren’t going to wait for our rights, and we need to take action now.” The theme also plays a tribute to history. Many events throughout this year’s Pride month have been an ode to history and to the 1970s, such as a Studio 54 ’70s-style disco soiree.

“Looking back at 1974, it wasn’t as much about protesting as it was just about being out in the sunshine. We aren’t going to wait for rights or to be in the open,” reflected Hearn.

Pride month in Seattle reaches its peak during the last weekend in June with a colorful flurry of celebrations and parties. Many of Capitol Hill’s most popular queer establishments host individual Pride parties year after year. Kremwerk hosts a weekend of dancing and drag, while the Cuff Complex throws a wild and evocative three-day street party featuring DJs and RuPaul Drag Race alumni. Wildrose—Seattle’s only lesbian bar and one of the country’s oldest lesbian establishments—hosts events, DJs, and performances throughout the weekend. Queer/Bar’s Pride Festival is an annual sell-out during the final weekend of June this year featuring headliners Santigold and Tegan and Sara.

The month is closed out by the Seattle Pride Parade on June 30. The march takes place in downtown Seattle, celebrating the vibrant kaleidoscope of LGBTQ+ communities in the Emerald City. You can join the march or enjoy the parade from a rooftop drag brunch. The Pride Parade concludes in Seattle Center, where marchers can join the festivities of the city’s annual PrideFest with vendors, music, dancing, food, and community.

Seattle Museum of History and Industry shows its pride Visit Seattle/Jean-Marcus Strole

Although Pride month is by far the most momentous occasion, Seattle’s LGBTQ+ spaces vibe year-round. Localized Pride celebrations continue throughout the summer. From gay clubs and bars to hiking clubs, bookstores, drag shows, and literary events, Seattle’s queer community is an ever-evolving multifaceted space that offers opportunities to learn, participate, connect, celebrate, and join together in activism throughout the year.

Some of Hearn’s favorite LGBTQ+ spaces involve literature and theater. Elliot Bay Book Company and Charlie’s Queer Books are two LGBTQ+-friendly bookstores worth a stop. There are theater groups, bookstores, meet-ups, comedy shows, and so many other cultural spaces for LGBTQ+ communities to gather in Seattle.  

The same goes for sports and recreation, including rugby, soccer, softball, cheer, and hiking groups. Every March, Crystal Mountain hosts Pride in the Pow, a weekend event that provides a safe space for LGBTQ+ people to gather, ski, snowboard, and have fun in the snow. During the summer, sun chasers can soak up some rays on the shores of Lake Washington at Denny Blaine and Howell Park, two nude-friendly LGBTQ+ beaches.

For more educational experiences, take a guided tour along the AIDS Memorial Pathway. This powerful exhibit on Capitol Hill traces the history of the AIDS epidemic from the 1980s to today. To learn about the roots of Seattle’s LGBTQ+ community and how the city became a queer cultural hub, join the Seattle History Queer Tour, offered every third Sunday. The tour brings you to underground spots and nightlife hubs in Pioneer Square that were important to the gay community over the years.

Many of the other hosts of Pride events during June are LGBTQ+ gathering spaces throughout the year. Book a seat at Julia’s on Broadway for brunch and enjoy benedicts and mimosas to the backdrop of drag cabaret. Let your wild side shine at one of The Cuff’s eclectic leather parties, or dance your heart out at Pony Bar or Kremwerk. Wildrose is one of Hearn’s favorite nightlife spots in the community. “You can feel the history. It’s well-loved and an important space.”

From pre-prohibition to 1974 to 2024, Seattle’s LGBTQ+ community has been a cornerstone of the city’s nightlife, culture, history, arts, outdoors, literary and sports spaces, and beyond. Seattle’s 50th anniversary Pride is an occasion not to be missed—and a colorful, experiential part of the storytelling of the community’s past, present, and future.