Queer Issue 2024

The Books of Love

Charlie’s Queer Books Is a Welcoming Space for Seattle’s LGBTQ+ Lit Nerds

The Future of HIV Treatment Is Injectable

Promising Drugs Could Expand Treatment–If We Get Out of Our Own Way

What’s Next for Denny Blaine?

Maybe New Rules, but Certainly Fewer Thorns

Dave Upthegrove Wants to Save the Trees

...And Become Washington State’s First Gay Executive While He’s at It

Queer Issue 2024 Pickup Locations

Looking for a Copy of This Year’s Queer Issue? You Can Find One at the Following Locations.

Can Seattle Drag Afford to Stay Weird?

Rising Costs, and Fewer Beginner-Friendly Venues, Are Sanitizing Seattle’s Drag Scene

50 Years of Queers

Gay Betrayals! Rich Prudes! Queer Futures! And an Absolutely Stuffed Pride Calendar!

The Gays Who Slayed and the Gays Who Betrayed

Not Every Queer Politician Is an “Ally”

The Reality Behind the Story I Told The Stranger

I Said I Was Detrans, but Really I Was Struggling

Out of This World

Forming the SassyBlack Universe

The Futures of Seattle’s Gayborhood

An Architect, an Urban Planner, a Documentarian, an Academic, and a Business Owner Imagine What Capitol Hill Will Look Like in 50 Years

Basil Mayhan stands at Denny Blaine Park before a tangle of Himalayan blackberries. The blackberries like to grow along the shore of Lake Washington and intermingle with native wild roses, but they’ve got to go. So does the English holly and the English ivy scaling a nearby fence bordering the park. Mayhan calls this trio the “Axis powers” as he rips a handful of leaves from the fence, executing a plan approved by the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department to replace the park’s invasive species with native plants. Besides, “It’s stupid to have a spiny plant around naked people,” he said.

Mayhan instructs the ten or so volunteers carrying dirt-covered shovels and loppers not to harm the native roses, which may be replanted elsewhere.

It’s a bright, breezy day–cold enough for the pants and long sleeves needed for crawling into the spiny brush, but warm enough that people are lounging near the water.

The summer that seemed like it may never come for Denny Blaine Park was nearly here.

The trouble started in November when the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation announced its plan to build a privately funded, nature-themed children’s “play area” at the historically queer nude beach. The department said the neighborhood didn’t have a playground within walking distance of the park, and their plan would fix that.

People went ballistic. The day news broke, thousands signed petitions demanding the City kill this plan. Activists formed Save Denny Blaine, a loose coalition of queers and naturists. Emails flooded the inboxes of public officials, and the City would decide to call the whole thing off in December after activists packed the MLK Fame Community Center with signs, slogans, and nearly 400 bodies telling the City to keep its hands–and its playgrounds–off the beach.

Absolutely nothing about the reaction was surprising.

Denny Blaine has been a gay, nude hangout for at least 40 years. It was once commonly referred to as a Dykekiki for the topless lesbians. The beach is packed during summer, and people say it’s one of the last authentically queer places left in Seattle where you can go without spending money. Like most gay beaches in the country, it’s not the crown jewel of the waterfront. That’s how queer people claimed it in the first place.

Aspen Coyle, who was hacking at a blackberry plant during our interview, remembers the first time she came to Denny Blaine, newly out as trans and six months on estrogen. She was freaked out until she heard a group of trans girls chatting about chess. They invited her to a group chat where she met her closest friends. She sees Denny Blaine as the genuine trans spot in a city that’s becoming more trans as people stream in from states where they’re no longer welcome or legally safe. (The person next to us chimes in and says, “Don’t forget about Kremwerk.”)

During public discussions about the proposed playground, queers felt the City’s plan amounted to an eviction notice with a sick twist. We’re living through a far-right crusade against transgender rights and an escalating moral panic about queer people “grooming” kids by merely existing. Building a children’s play area at Denny Blaine at this moment seemed like a trap and an attempt to subvert Seattle’s permissive nudity laws, which have allowed us to trounce around naked since 1990.

After the loud December meeting, Parks decided to sit down for several stakeholder meetings with both sides of the struggle. The Seattle Parks Foundation-affiliated Friends of Denny Blaine took one side, and neighbors who lived next to the park took the other.

They hashed out a solution to divide the park into two zones: a naked one down by the beach and a clothed one past the small parking lot. Both sides hated the plan for different reasons.

The park users thought it gave neighbors undue power when the law says nudity is okay.

The neighbors, who started a group called Denny Blaine Park for All and hired Lee Keller of The Keller Group to handle public relations, said in a statement that, in this “wait and see” period, they support guidelines that address the Park’s “serious problems” and enforce existing laws and policies so it can be a respectful place for “everyone” to enjoy.

Keller said neighbors are concerned about drug use, public indecency, garbage, traffic, and more, and they are urging the City to address those concerns. She added that their concerns do not lie with the LGBTQ community.

“Our concerns, however, ARE about lewd harassing behavior and open sex — behavior that overflows into the park and onto neighborhood streets,” she said. “... Sadly, as it stands now, the park is a public nuisance.”

At a May meeting, Parks employee Justin Hellier said neither neighbors or activists supported public sex (which is not legal anyway), but they disagreed on how often it happened. Coyle said the occasional leering creep is there to harass queer park-goers. Friends of Denny Blaine is currently seeking a City grant to fund an anti-masturbation campaign.

Parks had initially planned to present the proposed guidelines to its board on May 23, but they rescheduled the meeting for June 13. (Public comment closes tomorrow if you’re cracking open this newsprint on June 5).

At press time, it is unclear which version of the policy the board will get, but I saw evidence that at least one part of the department’s plan is advisable: an idea to install a sign informing visitors that Denny Blaine is clothing-optional.

Such a sign could be useful. In May, I witnessed one man ask his dog if he saw the puppy by the stairs. Then he looked up to see a bunch of naked bathers. He froze, turned around, and said aloud, “That was not the beach we thought it was.”

The dust is still settling on the debate, but a couple things are clear: Parks lost major trust with the community over this fiasco, and the City gave credence to the belief that poor Seattleites have less say than rich ones like Stuart Sloan, the 80-year-old businessman and philanthropist who KUOW identified as the mystery donor last month. Keller also represented Sloan and told the public radio station that he was not the only person willing to pay for the playground, and that the playground had been the City’s idea, not his.

KUOW also reported that before any plan had gone public, Sloan had texted Mayor Bruce Harrell’s private cell phone to complain about Denny Blaine. A few months later, Parks employees and Harrell’s staff met with Sloan.

Harrell maintained he didn’t know the donor’s identity, even after The Stranger asked about the two in-person meetings we discovered. The two men first met to discuss the issue in November of 2022, and later on December 9, 2023, the day after the City nixed the playground plan. In the first meeting, they apparently discussed trash and safety. In the second meeting, the Mayor wanted to personally update Sloan on “progress being made on these issues” after all the media attention. You can’t buy a public park, but you can try.

As I left the beach that day in May, a volunteer yelled with excitement. They held a tuberous nexus of roots that Mayhan called “the heart” of the blackberry bramble. Removing it is the only way to stop the plant from spreading; it’d grow back otherwise. The volunteer threw it on a growing pile, nicknaming it “Mr. Potato Head.” They cheered.