Once upon a time, in a land not too far from here called Pioneer Square, there was a set of stairs that led into underground enchantments. Only known to certain people, what these stairs led to was kept a secret from all others. This place would reveal a truth that the land would not be ready for. It was said that once inside, one could “come out” and reveal their true self. This was something which could not be done above grounds in those times. If seen, they would be tortured by the towns people, treated inhumanely as diseased animals, and locked up out of sight.
It happened, right after prohibition had ended, where the people could not come together to carouse and drink. A clever merchant saw an opportunity to make good money turning an old underground dance hall into an enchanted land for LGBTQ people. As the people flocked down those stairs and through those magical doors, the troll who policed the land started to notice the strange movements. One troll held a meeting with the merchant, and said, “I see a lot of things that shouldn’t be seen going on in here.”
Merchant replied, “Oh kind sir, just a few people hanging out.”
The troll smacked his club on the table and demanded, “30 gold pieces a month. I’m happy, you’re happy, and they’re happy.”
All was well after that as the merchant obliged.
As the LGBTQ community grew, more places opened for hangouts, another merchant wanted more: some dancing above ground. So, he goes and talks to the troll and after exchanging a few words, an agreement was made and now women were allowed to dance together. The community was excited.
Another merchant noticed the dancing of women and wanted dancing also, but for men. So, he goes and talks to the troll and after exchanging some words, an agreement was made and now men were allowed to dance together. The community was excited.
Then another merchant saw what was happening and wanted men dancing together also, but in his own enchantment. So, he goes and talks to the troll and after exchanging some words, an agreement was not made. This time the troll said, “No, there is enough dancing now and the townspeople cannot deal with more than that.” The merchant was not happy.
However, the merchant persisted and was eventually allowed to have men dancing together also, but at a bigger cost. The merchant became more confident, throwing wonderful events with glamourous performances by drag queens. The community was excited.
In the meantime, while all of these events were taking place, the trolls of the land gathered and came up with their own scheme to collect more gold. They realized that they could collect a lot from this community. They thought of creating a place that would give them much more gold than ever. This time, they also wanted 50 percent of the profits.
A merchant accepted the deal and together with the troll built the most wonderful enchantment for the grandest of all balls. What made this the most spectacular of them all, was that the stair case did not lead into an underground room, but rather, the stair case to this new enchantment went up.
This lead the LGBTQ community in a direction they had never gone before. Going upwards brought new joy and all was wonderful, at least on the surface.
Behind the scenes, some merchants faced increasing levels of harassment and extortion. In fact, the harassment started bleeding out from behind the scenes to bothering the patrons of those establishments. With the trolls on their backs and the townspeople also against them, the community came together with their own scheme to end the harassment. On top of that, they wanted what the townspeople had: children of their own for them to pass their own stories down and for the townspeople to understand them.
The merchant and the LGBTQ community sought help from a priest whose church sat on the top of the hill where he had been watching. The town gathered, and the priest said to the townspeople, “If you try to take these people down and shut them out, they will continue to fight and nothing good will come from it. Let them have their ways of being.” The priest then turned to the LGBTQ community and said, “Live your lives as you are, but please keep in mind that you are one community of a larger one. Live your ways respectfully alongside the townspeople as they have their ways set and let time allow for a better understanding of all.”
All people agreed. The LGBTQ community was excited, so excited that they threw the biggest ball ever. They all got to put on their best features and danced together as husbands joined hands with husbands, wives joined hands with wives, and partners joined hands with partners, where they all lived happily ever after.
This might be a beautiful fairy tale, but there is truth to this story. The Casino and the Double Header were two of the first bars that started the movement for LGBTQ people in Seattle, transforming an old theater into a safe space for them to connect and network as they were just learning of this community to be a part of. This took place in Pioneer Square right as Prohibition ended in 1933 leaving behind corruption and criminal activities from many sides. The police were not immune to corruption and began extorting Seattle’s minority group establishments, including the Central District, Chinatown International District and the LGBTQ.
The harassment increased and eventually MacIver Wells,owner of the Madison, and Jim Watson, owner of the Blue Note, sued the city in 1965. They also worked with the Seattle Times in 1966 to release a story revealing what the police had been doing, which began the collapse of the police extortion. They settled with an agreement that the police were not to ask any questions without real cause, so they could not just go into the taverns and bother the patrons. This in a way allowed LGBTQ to publicly hang out in Seattle almost without fear. This win allowed for Seattle to become a “gay friendly” city.
It must be noted that the Sodomy Law was still in effect in the country until 1976. Basically, the law did not allow same sex relations and was used to abuse LGBTQ people across the country. While other cities’ gay establishments were getting raided, Seattle’s were somewhat protected.
The LGBTQ community grew from hiding in underground bars in Pioneer Square to establishing organizations across Seattle from UW to Capitol Hill. They provided support for each other taking care of their own in many ways: from counseling services, offering support in coming out, to clinics helping teach young LGBTQ how to be safe sexually and teach about the AIDS stigma
It took the planning of the Reverend Mineo Katagiri of the St. Marks Cathedral in Capitol Hill and the Dorian Society who were the first to start officially fighting for gay civil rights. This, along with MacIver’s exposure of police corruption, and decades of activism would lead to the change of the definition of marriage, allowing those of the same sex to be married in 2012.
All this is not to say that the fight is over and happily ever after. We all must work to create a more inclusive society and to keep the trolls of the world in line.
We all have our own stories and the more stories that are told, the more opportunities for acceptance there will be. In sharing, we can open doors to find new ways to connect to one another, closing the gap of understanding between each other so that we can all live more peacefully and comfortably. I want to ask all of you to help me share this story, for it is our shared connection to Capitol Hill.