Moving to Seattle has been a true cultural revolution. Each day brings something new that I’m unfamiliar with and I couldn’t ask for a better way to break into the Emerald City. A lot of what they say about the city is true, green is everywhere you look. Even the gardens in front of homes put the best Omaha had to shame. It is by far a pedestrian’s city with mass transit not just being a viable option, but a preferred option supplemented by ride-sharing options. But the one thing that has surprised me is how prevailing and welcoming the rainbow has been.
For a bit of context, in Omaha there is Leavenworth Street. It’s a street that used to be more known as “The Gay Street”, but since those days there aren’t a whole lot of reasons to call it that. But it is still home to one of two business in the city presenting a rainbow on the outside. These business are the Omaha Mining Company and Flixx. The third gay bar in the area, The Max, doesn’t present anything outside to let you know LGBT folk have found a safe space.
Why bring this up? Because in Seattle, the rainbow is everywhere. More plentiful than any coffee shop or blooming flower. Every business I’ve walked into since moving has a sticker by the door proclaiming it a safe space for LGBT patrons. That kind of support may seem small, but it’s monumental compared to what I used to know. Seattle is a place where I feel like I could be decked out in neon proclaiming my sexuality to the sky and not be bothered by others by it because of those signs. So, imagine how I felt when I visited the Capitol Hill district for the first time.
Capitol Hill is the gayborhood of Seattle, and goes far above the “Safe Place” stickers everywhere else in the city. Here, I walked into a Starbucks and was greeted with a Pride flag draped on the wall with the community fliers. A short walk away there were more flags prominently showing in business windows, and even the crosswalks were rainbow-colored. I’m sure for some of you reading this it must be old hat. San Francisco’s Castro has had these crosswalks for sometime as well. But to someone that felt like there was no public representation in the Midwest, seeing the rainbow everywhere feels like a confirmation and affirmation. Something that says “Yes, you belong here.”
Yet more surprising than openness of Capitol Hill was a revelation at a bar called Rookies. Rookies is a sports bar within Seattle’s Columbia City. Inside are multiple pride flags adorning the walls and a bartender wore a shirt with the bar’s name in a rainbow design. Yet the person I was with explained that in Seattle some restaurants would showcase the pride flag but that doesn’t necessarily make it a queer space. That instead, it would mean that queer folk are not just accepted but encouraged to be themselves. That sort of mentality goes against what I have experienced prior where a pride flag meant something was a queer space. And I couldn’t be happier with this new idea.
After seeing that for myself it made me think of how someone fleeing a small town might feel. To go from an environment where expressing yourself is looked down on and going to an environment where it’s encouraged has to be the most freeing thing out there. But that isn’t the solution everyone can have. I hope that in smaller cities there are folks that are fighting for this kind of representation for all persons. I’m reminded of Zen Coffee in Omaha, which has a display in it’s window proclaiming it a safe space for all people regardless of race, gender, orientation or identity. Yet it’s the only business I can think of with any similar notion in Omaha.
Point is, I sincerely hope that in the future places like Omaha start to explode with more acceptance for people that don’t fit the white, straight, cisgender mold. Is it completely up to the LGBT community to do so? Absolutely not. Allies of all varieties can start it up, while those of the community that then feel safe enough can run with it.