There wasn’t enough time, or room at Martin Luther King FAME Community Center, for the hundreds who wanted to share their fury Wednesday night about the mostly privately-funded city proposal to install a children’s play area at Denny Blaine, Seattle’s gayest and nakedest beach.

A full-on movement has emerged to save the beach made up of queers, naturists, nudists, beach mainstays, transplants escaping oppression elsewhere, and even two men who sucked the air from the room with professions of straightness and queerness before launching into passionate defenses for the park as is. Leading the charge is Save Denny Blaine, a newly formed grassroots organization.

The auditorium spilled into the lobby. A line for public comment snaked around the room. People held cardboard signs high above their heads Sharpied in block print with messages like “DON’T BULLDOZE GAY HISTORY'' and “LET YOUR FREAK FLAB FLY.”

About 50 people spoke and every one of them opposed the project. What may seem small and rocky to the uninitiated represented an unbroken chain of fun and freedom for generations of nudists and LGBTQ people in Seattle. 

“I’m looking around this room, and I see people who want to preserve our spaces versus one man with the power of a checkbook,” said a speaker who joked that many of his friends were seeing him clothed for the first time. “The Parks are here listening to us tonight, but they still move forward anyway because one person has that power.”

How did this start?

The battle for Denny Blaine began two weeks ago, when news of the proposal and a mysterious funding source spread on social media after Capitol Hill Seattle Blog first broke the story.

Seattle Parks and Recreation said the neighborhood had no playgrounds within 10 to 15 minutes walking distance, and putting one at Denny Blaine would fix the problem. It would also cause another. 

Denny Blaine, while not officially designated a nude beach in Seattle, is understood as one. Also known as “Dykekiki,” the park has been a summer hangout for queers since at least the 1980s. Putting a playground at a gay nude beach, in this political moment, felt like a trap that perpetuated the “groomer” lie, or even put bathers at risk of catching an allegation of indecent exposure from an angry parent. Activists worried one complaint could put them in legal peril.

As of Thursday morning, more than 8,300 people have signed the Save Denny Blaine petition to stop construction. The group has suggested alternate nearby locations, like Lakeview Park, as a possible solution to both problems.

Denny Blaine is also in a wealthy neighborhood, with residents who have complained about noise. Suspicions grew after Parks revealed a private donor planned to foot the bill, and wished to remain anonymous. The Stranger has submitted multiple records requests for their identity and other details about the project. 

"Gay buns over shady funds." VIVAN McCALL

The Only Cool Place in Seattle

Parks and Recreation had planned the community meeting before any of this outrage. Before taking public comment, Seattle Parks Deputy Superintendent of Operations Andy Sheffer told the crowd no decisions had been made and the department was there to listen. They would summarize their comments in a report before taking the next steps. He acknowledged the park’s history as a nude beach.

“The process starts right here–validating a need for a play area at Denny Blaine and public engagement,” Sheffer said. “It's well-resourced, and for that reason, it's not in our capital plan to put a play area there.” The crowd applauded. He continued.

“The donation does provide an opportunity–,” he started, but booing from the crowd interrupted him.

After a short presentation on the project and more than an hour of emotional testimony, Sheffer assured the crowd Parks would have more answers about Denny Blaine in two weeks.

During public comment, people shared their personal connection with the beach. (Most did not share their names, and The Stranger could not ask for their name or pronouns before the meeting dispersed.)

A man from a traditional Hispanic family in Florida said he suffered from suicidal thoughts and body dysmorphia when he came out eight years ago. But his emotional health improved after a few visits to Denny Blaine. He met lifelong friends and began feeling secure, beautiful, and normal. He no longer thought of suicide. He asked Parks to consider how far LGBTQ kids who grew up with nowhere to play had to walk to Seattle.

A mother tearfully said she loved playgrounds, but Denny Blaine was the only place in Seattle where she could sunbathe pregnant without judgment. Another commenter, Angela, said the beach was one of the few places a small, femme-bodied person could go and not be fucked with. Kim, who described herself as a fat, non-binary queer femme, said she has been sexually harassed in every Seattle park except Denny Blaine.

Raleigh, a bisexual man from Texas, called Denny Blaine the only cool place in Seattle. Families dominated the other beaches, where he worried about offending parents if he stepped the wrong way or swore around their children.

“Which is fine!” he said. “They have that and we have this. If you take this away to make one rich guy happy, where do I go? What other city should I move to? … If you do this, and you do it for the children, A, no one will ever believe you, and B, none of us will ever forgive you. No child who lives in a $3 million house is ever gonna play on that crusty pile of rocks.”

An older man became overwhelmed with emotion as he told the story of his granddaughter on 24-hour supportive care after drowning in a pool. Another person in the crowd took over when he could no longer speak. He held out pictures of the young girl before and after the accident.

“How could you ever consider putting a playground within 50 meters of Lake Washington?” he asked. Two others also raised the issue of child drownings at a beach with no lifeguard and poor visibility.

Trans men and women, many of whom fled from states that passed anti-trans laws this year like Texas and Kentucky, said being visibly trans at the beach was terrifying. Rae, who said she survived conversion therapy, said she and her girlfriend were transgender. She felt normal on the beach and asked Parks not to take that away from them. 

Before learning of Denny Blaine in a trans support group, Vince never thought he’d swim in Lake Washington again. The Black trans man said the beach was the first place he felt dignity outside.

Parks almost cut off public comment before Brother Jim could talk, a man with a blonde cataract of hair that flowed down his shoulders who spoke with the cadence of a professional wrestler.

“I love to do yoga,” he said. “I love to do it naked in nature. And Denny Blaine is just a beautiful space to do that. I consider everyone who uses Denny Blaine my family. And I don’t like my family members being pushed around. We aren’t going to let it happen.”

District 3 Council Member-Elect Joy Hollingsworth watched the commenters from the stage. When Parks handed her the mic, she told the crowd that constituents had flooded her inbox with emails about Denny Blaine. She said would be taking a look at the issue when she assumed office in January, but did not state a position on the playground. 

Outgoing Council Members Khsama Sawant and Teresa Mosqueda both said in a Parks budget meeting last month that they do not support the proposal. Mayor Bruce Harrell's spokesperson Jamie Housen said the office was grateful the community was making their voices heard, but deferred any comment on the project to Parks.

After the meeting, Save Denny Blaine organizer Milo Kusold told The Stranger they teared up three times from the overwhelming show of support.

“I am so happy and proud,” they said. “I was afraid no one would show up, and yet everyone is here.”