Summer of '74 When Seattle's Gay Community 'Came Out'

It was the summer of 1974, and Seattle’s emboldened gays and lesbians were beginning to flee their collective closet.

This weekend, Seattle Gay Pride will be celebrated with picnics, parties, and reunions rife with tears and hugs, and culminate Sunday in a huge parade, the city’s largest. Pride spokesman Adam McRoberts expects in excess of 400,000 people to pack the parade route down Fourth Avenue as glittering floats make their way to Seattle Center, beginning at 11 a.m. Bands will play and nostalgic songs will be sung. More than $450,000 has been raised to finance the festivities, much of it from corporate sponsors—T-Mobile, Microsoft, Captain Morgan, Alaska Airlines, to name a few—eager to show their colors.

But what a starkly different picture it was four decades ago when a young man named David Neth, who spearheaded efforts to open the Gay Community Center in a $100-a-month rundown house on Capitol Hill, decided the time had come to roll out the first Gay Pride Week in Seattle.

“We were ready,” says Neth. “The climate was right. I’d seen what New York, San Francisco, and L.A. had done a few years earlier, and I thought we needed to put Seattle on the map.”


First Pride Week Poster, photo by Morgen Schuler
The seven-day affair was staged for just $589, coming to a climactic end on June 30, 1974, when fewer than 50 happy gay individuals—including a bare-chested Neth, draped in pearls, wearing cutoffs and a white floppy hat–danced with frenzied joy around the International Fountain at the Seattle Center.

It was the early summer of 1974. Nixon would soon resign, Bundy had begun his killing spree, and Dylan was recording Blood on the Tracks. Women wore hot pants to discotheques, the men in bell bottoms. In Seattle, Wes Uhlman was mayor, the Kingdome was still under construction, the average home fetched $125,000, and Ed Murray was 19—six years removed from coming out as a gay man—and traveling through Ireland.

All the while, antigay epithets—faggot, sodomite, pervert, queer—were hurled in fear and hate, and spewed far more frequently than today.

“If you were ‘out’ then, you were an activist, because being openly gay in the early ’70s was not for the faint of heart,” remembers Neth.

“It was all very secretive, covert. I remember in 1972. I was a park ranger then at Mount Rainier. I was maybe 22. So I had tracked down one of the gay bars in Pioneer Square, the 614 Club. And I remember I drove there, 70 miles from Sunrise, and I just stared at the door for 20 minutes. I couldn’t go in. It seemed so dangerous. I might be raped. It was too scary, so I got back in my truck and drove 70 miles back to Rainier.”

Neth is 66 now, a realtor with a shaved head and a wry sense of humor. He’s an engaging man, a good storyteller with a keen institutional memory of what Seattle was like for gays and lesbians those many years ago, back when one could (and did) lose everything for revealing one’s sexuality.

“But we were young, so we had the least to lose,” Neth says, seated at a dining-room table inside his light-drenched Capitol Hill home, old photographs of the 1974 undertaking scattered in front of him.

Neth grew up in Gettysburg, Penn., a conservative farm town in the ’50s and ’60s. A dutiful Lutheran boy, he played football and ran track. He also had an artistic side. His mother taught him to sew, and he came to enjoy embroidery so much that his older brother nicknamed him Daisy Mae. As a teenager he messed around with a male cousin, but figured that was all part of growing up. He says he assimilated the messages early on: Being “a full-fledged homo” would lead to a miserable life, perhaps even suicide.

Neth appeared to be a straight man in 1970, nearly out of college and about to transfer from his ranger job in Gettysburg to Mount Rainier National Park. That year he had sex with a man and realized that he himself was gay. He didn’t hide it. Ranger David came out of the closet and headed west.

He gave up the Mount Rainier post after a few years, and in 1973 landed in Seattle. “I didn’t know a soul. I had no job, nothing,” Neth recalls. “But then I gravitated to the Seattle Counseling Service for Sexual Minorities.”


David Neth postering for first Seattle Pride Week. Photo courtesy David Neth
Founded in 1969 by Dr. Richard Deisher, a University of Washington physician and educator, the counseling center, known also as Dorian House, was the first public gay institution anywhere in the city. Located then at 320 Malden Ave. E., it became the epicenter of Seattle’s gay and lesbian community—a place to meet, to congregate, a sorely needed and welcome alternative to unnerving gay bars and clandestine bathhouses.

“I saw all these happy people there, effervescent people, all of them doing things,” Neth recalls, “and I felt like I belonged. That’s where I connected.”

Living with a boyfriend and squeaking by on various odd jobs—bartending, teaching, working at a metal plating factory at First and Marion—Neth immersed himself in the communes and collectives that had become encampments for the newly emerging LGBT community: the East John Street Gay Men’s Collective, The Little Red Hen, and Sherwood Forest. Neth’s collective was called The Leather Palace, a big, blue mansion at the top of John Street and 14th Avenue, which today houses a violin shop and a chiropractor.

“I don’t know how it got its name,” cracks Neth, “because there wasn’t much leather in there at all.”

Raising money to keep the fledgling Gay Community Center operating was no easy task. At one point, Neth talked co-workers at the metal shop into pledging money on a dare that he would streak through downtown Seattle. With $65 on the line, Neth popped into Kress department store on the corner of Third and Pike, removed all his clothes save for his cowboy boots, and raced naked through the streets.

Neth was also able to pick up dough by placing posters and other materials soliciting donations for various organizations in many of the gay bars in Pioneer Square—places (long gone now, as are the gay collectives) like the Golden Horseshoe, Mocambo, the Poop Deck, and a disco named Shelly’s Leg, then the city’s largest dance floor, located “at the foot of Main.” It helped that Neth had an in with the Queen City Business Guild, a group of bar owners formed to protect themselves after the Seattle police payoff scandals came to a head in the late 1960s.

As Seattle University professor Gary Atkins writes in Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging, which traces the evolution of Seattle’s gay community over the past century, “Once the system was fully entrenched, it did not matter whether anything illegal was actually occurring at a particular bar. Just by making repeated entrances, the police could harass a business operator until the solution became obvious: pay off or close.”

Some months before the 1974 Gay Pride venture unfolded, Neth signed up for a “skate-in” protest at a roller rink in Lynnwood. As he recalls with a smile, “Some same-sex couples had gotten thrown out of there for skating together and holding hands. So we went, and we were all skating and kissing and mingling, and we’re told, ‘No, this is a couples-only skate, and that means one man and one woman.’ And a couple of police officers show up, but nothing happened. It was fun.”

The smile vanishes as Neth recounts the arson that destroyed the Gay Community Center in 1976. “I remember that there was an old lady standing outside the building, and she said, ‘It’s too bad they all weren’t in there when it burned.’ ”


Patrick Haggerty, photo by Morgen Schuler
Patrick Haggerty is a hell-raiser.
Always has been. Watch for him at Sunday’s parade, with his country-western minstrels, Lavender Country, reassembled, seven strong, and belting out “Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears.”

As one old friend Rebecca Valrejean, put it, “Pat will get naked with a sign if that’s what it takes to get attention.”

Earlier this month, strolling through Pioneer Square, Haggerty, the son of a Port Angeles farmer, remembers announcing on June 29, 1969, to anyone who cared to listen, that he was gay. It had been a year since he’d visited a “creepy” gay bar in Spokane, a dark, dingy, nondescript hole in the wall where he’d come “looking for dick.”

“It was the day after the Stonewall riots,” says Haggerty, who then sported a beard and long, flowing hair. “That’s what did it for me, and I told everyone I knew. I was living in Missoula then. I said, ‘Fuck you, this is who I am. I am gay.’ ”

Stonewall was a turning point, not just for Haggerty, but for the gay civil-rights movement. The historic match was lit in Greenwich Village in the wee hours of June 28, 1969, when New York cops arrived at the Stonewall Inn. For years, police raids on gay bars had been routine. But on this night, fed-up gays and lesbians said “No more” and fought back.

The last straw came when a woman in handcuffs was escorted to a police wagon. She resisted, and when she complained that the cuffs were too tight, she was hit in the head with a billy club. One officer proceeded to pick her up and throw her into the back of the wagon. Violence erupted on Christopher Street outside the bar. Beer bottles, garbage cans, rocks, and bricks were fired at the wagon. Police were outnumbered by 600. By 4 a.m., 13 people were arrested. Some were hospitalized. Four cops were injured. News of the riot spread, and hundreds more gathered the next day in protest.

To this day, LGBT communities in Seattle and across the globe commemorate that “Rosa Parks moment,” as it has been called, by holding Pride parades.

Tugging at his Polynesian hat made of palm leaves, Haggerty, now 70, reflects on his life upon arriving in Seattle in August 1969. “Oh, yes, it was still a very outlandish proposition to be openly gay. I was a graduate student at the UW Department of Social Work, and I am quite sure I was the only open gay individual,” he says.

“Then in the early ’70s, we were angry and questioning who we were and how we fit in. Most of us were still in the closet,” the longtime political and gay activist continues. “I remember going to a Vietnam War moratorium march in 1970. It was very threatening.

“We had a banner that read ‘Gays Against the War,’ but a lot of protesters didn’t want that to be seen in the march. Yeah, Seattle was a pretty liberal, Democratically controlled city even then, but still, no leftist organization was very sympathetic toward gay rights. So anyway, there were fisticuffs, but we beat ’em down and we marched with that banner.”

Haggerty’s band, Lavender Country, was formed in 1973, a time when few musicians had the guts to sing about gay rights or the virtues of homosexuality. As Dave Lake wrote for this paper several months ago, the lone album Haggerty recorded—also known as Lavender Country—“was to become widely recognized as the first gay-themed country LP ever released . . . and was eventually archived in the Country Music Hall of Fame.”

At a coffee shop near Occidental Park, with his partner of 28 years, Julius Broughton—whom he married in Canada in 2004—at his side, Haggerty observes, “In 1974, conditions in Seattle were there for the gay-rights movement to take off, to take a major leap forward. The modern-day women’s movement was in full bloom, and the civil-rights efforts underway gave us a social context, a platform.”


David Neth, photo by Morgen Schuler
In May 1974,the same month the Gay Community Center opened at 16th Avenue and Olive Street, David Neth and a few other organizers called a meeting at Volunteer Park for anyone interested in pulling together a Gay Pride week. A dozen or so activists attended, and events were mapped out. The venture would begin the evening of Monday, June 25, with a panel discussion sponsored by the Stonewall Recovery Center, a drug treatment program. The following day there would be a talk about the issue of transsexuality.

On the night of June 27, says Neth, a memorial service was held at the Metropolitan Community Club to commemorate the 32 lives lost in the arson of the UpStairs Lounge, a gay bar on Chartres Street in New Orleans’ French Quarter, on June 24, 1973. Following the memorial, Rebecca Valrejean put on a one-woman show to dramatize in words and song the horror of the deadliest attacks on gay and lesbian people in U.S. history. “I called my show ‘Lavender Troubadour,’ ” says Valrejean, 64, in a phone interview from her home in the Bahamas, where she now lives and works as an art teacher. ?It makes me cry to think back to all of what we went through then [in 1974]. We had no one on our side, no one. You don’t know what we sacrificed,” she continues and begins to cry. “I’m queer. It’s amazing that no one killed me onstage. I’m sorry I’m being so emotional.”

Saturday, June 29, was the picnic at Occidental Park. “This was very significant for us,” says Neth. “We weren’t behind closed doors and we weren’t in a bar. We were in public space, out in the open. We might have had 200 there that day, and we danced until midnight.”

The city, however, didn’t make it easy, he adds. “Trying to get a use permit for the park was a pain. It was one obstacle after another. And then at the picnic, I remember, me and another guy got arrested for jaywalking, and the police called us faggots as they were taking us in.”

It was an unusually warm day in Seattle when the first Gay Pride festival reached its high point. The mercury climbed to 86 degrees for the “Gay-In” at the International Fountain that Sunday afternoon, June 30, 1974.

On a large cotton sheet, Neth spray-painted the words “Proud to be lesbian, Proud to be gay” in red and blue. “We all wore zany clothes and held hands, and we danced around the fountain, twice,” marvels Neth.

“I was dressed as a clown-faced troubadour,” regales Valrejean. “I held a sign that said ‘Love without shame.’ People stared at us, but didn’t say anything. I don’t think they knew what to say.”

Haggerty, meanwhile, says of the occasion, “It was a very nice day. I ran around the fountain and got wet. What was so great about it was that it was a celebration that at last we were being recognized for who we are.”

This Sunday, David Neth, Patrick Haggerty, and Rebecca Valrejean will be riding aboard the lead float in the parade.

David Neth and Pam Weeks, founder of Seattle’s first Lesbian Resource Center, are co-hosting a 40th-anniversary Pride reunion at Neth’s home from 4 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 28. Early-1970s activists who want to attend should contact David at 206-818-7300 or e-mail him at neth@q.com.

econklin@seattleweekly.com

 
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