On Sunday, June 7th, Seattle Gay News publisher and editor-in-chief George Bakan was found dead at his work desk. He was 78 years old. George was a much-beloved trailblazer, activist and leader in the LGBTQ+ community, spearheading many of the LGBTQ+ social movements we take for granted today.
George was active in the HIV and AIDS communities, organized dozens of PRIDE events, advocated for LGBTQ+ senior housing in Seattle, petitioned at the national level for marriage equality, helped end “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT), worked tirelessly to get Washington LGBTQ+ politicians elected, and made it his mission to post page upon page of free obituaries for those who died from AIDS in his Seattle Gay News publication’s obit section, a decision that was not very popular at the time. He also served with several LGBTQ-focused nonprofits as either a founding member or Board Chair, including being regional co-chair for the 1987 and 1993 National Marches on Washington, DC. George believed in being a voice for the people and was seen by many as a beacon of hope and a champion of civil rights and social justice for the LGBTQ+ community. Along with Marsha Botzer of Ingersoll Gender Center and others, George helped to get the Transgender and Bisexual communities recognized and represented under the Queer umbrella. Without him, the LGBTQ+ acronym would just be Lesbian and Gay.
Called “hard-headed and soft-hearted” by his close friends, George was fearless in his opinions and his willingness to speak them out loud, no matter how controversial. He was also a mischievous rascal and one helluva storyteller. George was well-known for regaling folks with his personal accounts of Seattle Queer history. If it happened, he was probably there and could tell you everything you wanted to know about the players. A friend, Justice McCartney, said of George’s passing that our community had “lost one of the pillars that has held it up for as long as I have been alive…. He knew everyone and knew how to get things done in this community. Our community was stronger with him in it. He stood for what was right. He stood for the underdog. He will be missed.”
George leaves behind a profound legacy of Queer journalism and activism that will continue on in his memory. Founded in 1977, Seattle Gay News was owned and operated by George for almost 40 years and is the # 1 and third-oldest LGBTQ+ newspaper in the United States. George has received an outpouring of love on his Facebook page, and will be sorely missed by the community he worked so tirelessly to support. It is fitting that he died peacefully at his desk, doing what he loved.
George’s daughter Angela and Sherry Harris are organizing a virtual memorial service for him, with details to follow soon.