As far back as the 1920’s, Seattle was turning a blind eye to the city’s growing gay population, then confined to the unruly parts of town with the jazz clubs and other dens of ill repute. There were unfriendly laws on the books, but police in the city were known to be the best friends money could buy. Even as law enforcement quietly ignored the jazz and booze and tax-paying ladies of the night, they left alone bars like The Double Header, where men went to meet and dance with other men.
But a blind eye is a sad cousin of acceptance. Seattle was known to be a comparatively accepting environment, and its gay and lesbian population continued to grow over the next few decades. In the 50’s and 60’s, increasing numbers meant increased visibility and, therefore, increased tension. Although remaining hidden was becoming untenable, stepping into the light still took great courage. It was technically illegal just to be gay. In the 60s, owners of drag shows and dance clubs were still were paying the police for protection from the law.
They took up the fight for equality with the weapons at their disposal: intelligence, compassion and money.
That’s when UW Professor Nicholas Heer founded the Seattle chapter of the Dorian Society. Named for the Doric Hellenic warriors of Ancient Greece, they took up the fight for equality with the weapons at their disposal: intelligence, compassion and money. Through a campaign of careful and constant PR, they threw back the curtains and let the light in. One of their members, Peter Wichern, was on the cover of Seattle Magazine in 1967.
The caption: This is Peter Wichern. He is a local businessman. He is a homosexual.
The city gasped. The Dorian Society was not finished. Two years later, they helped to found the first LGBTQ-focused community mental health agency in the world. The Dorian Society wanted not only to challenge misconceptions and stereotypes, but to show those just coming out that being in a sexual minority did not have to mean being alone.
This country has cut a rocky path when it comes to both racial and sexual diversity. Seattle, throughout its own storied history, has been home to pioneers of every kind. With every new turn, our city takes a deep breath and moves forward. Sometimes dragged, certainly, but always forward, always farther into the light.
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