Since the 2000 census, Vashon Island has recorded the largest per capita concentration of gays and lesbians in Washington State. Why?
Is there a historical precedent for queer people landing and feeling comfortable on this island? What is the attraction?
What joys and challenges have LGBTQ people faced on Vashon? How have we helped shape island culture?
What closets might you be in, and do you want to come out?
These and other questions will be explored in an exhibit Vashon Heritage Museum will mount next year. Working title: “In and Out of the Closet: The LGBTQ Community on Vashon.”
We are co-curating the exhibit with Bruce Haulman, and we’re looking for stories that illustrate how and why Vashon is a magnet for queer folk, and how the island’s evolution has mirrored or led the LGBTQ community’s struggles for safety and justice worldwide.
We’ve noticed that many of us love nature, so that might be one reason we’re attracted here. It’s also a safe and welcoming place, generally, for people of different cultures and orientations (though that hasn’t always been so). While at one time we were largely invisible, now we’re sometimes front and center.
The island has a rich history of “bachelor farmers,” rugged horsewomen and sensitive artists who have loved it here. Vashon was a safe haven from urban prejudices. For the most part, homosexuality wasn’t spoken about … as Oscar Wilde called it, “the love that dare not speak its name.”
The Stonewall Rebellion in New York in June 1969 is generally considered the birth of the gay liberation movement. Seattle didn’t defeat its proposed anti-discrimination law until 1978, but Vashon had a quiet gay culture protected by the island’s live-and-let-live ethos since the 1940s or earlier.
In the 1980s, a social group of gay Vashon men created “Rock Men of Vashon” and had a float in both Seattle’s Gay Pride parade and Vashon’s Strawberry Festival parade. Groups of lesbians socialized by playing ball together.
Vashon Gay Pride Alliance (now called Vashon Island Pride Alliance to be more inclusive) started in the early 1990s to bring more visibility to the LGBT community. The group led the island’s current penchant for annual fundraising auctions, even though it wasn’t the first island organization to solicit auction items and create fun ways to sell them. Money from those auctions was donated to other Vashon groups with needs; one year the Alliance helped our VFW put a new roof on its building, which hosted the auctions.
Alliance funds also awarded (and still provide) scholarships to deserving high school students at the annual scholarship ceremony.
For a number of years, the Pride Alliance signs along Vashon Highway acknowledging road cleanups were either stolen, defaced or pierced with bullets, indicating that homophobia was, and probably is, alive and well even on Vashon.
A number of famous gay folks have lived on Vashon over the years, including the singer/songwriter Ferron, columnist Dan Savage and artist/author Don Paulson. Important island eateries and institutions such as Dog Day Café, Gusto Girls, Amiad & Associates and Vashon Island Music were or are owned by LGBT people. Know other historical figures? We’d like to know.
We do know this is the tip of the iceberg. We’d love to hear your stories and see your photographs and memorabilia (such as T-shirts, protest signs, rainbow flags, safe business signs) that might help enliven the exhibit. Whether your experiences were positive or negative, we want to hear. Even if you’re not gay, you might have some great photos, memories, historical hearsay or scandalous tales to tell.
We also plan to celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month in 2019 with some special events tied to the exhibit. Perhaps a panel, some films, an interactive dialogue and celebratory dance. Any ideas and suggestions are welcome.
Please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or email@example.com by Labor Day.
— Ellen Kritzman, an islander since 1973, has worked with a number of causes and organizations, including the Vashon Gay Pride Alliance, of which she was a founding member in 1993. Stephen Silha is a 38-year Vashon Islander with a background in journalism, communications, filmmaking and facilitation.