fbpx
News Feed

A history of LGBTQIA+ resistance and solidarity at Pike Place Market

Posted June 19, 2024

This month we remember that Pride is not just a celebration – but a protest. We honor the advocates, elders, and community members at Pike Place Market who fought back against systems of oppression and built opportunities for LGBTQIA+ people to access healthcare, childcare, and community in our neighborhood.

Rachel the Piggy Bank wearing a rainbow tutu for Pride

Rachel the Piggy Bank welcomes our LGBTQIA+ neighbors to Pike Place Market

Today, as hundreds of anti-LGBTQIA+ bills sweep the U.S. and threaten the health, safety, and existence of queer people, we recognize that this fight is not over and will require constant vigilance in order to protect the lives of our community members. By working together, we can nurture a more thriving district where all of our LGBTQIA+ neighbors can live their best lives.   

This Pride Month, we’re highlighting an important decade in Market history: the 1980s. In the face of threats like the HIV/AIDS crisis, slashed social service funding, and anti-gay sentiment, advocates in our neighborhood mobilized to bolster a network of services inclusive of LGBTQIA+ people in the Market community and greater downtown.  

It is out of this mobilization that the Pike Place Market Foundation was born in 1982 – as a mechanism to sustain the Market Medical Clinic’s community health model, Pike Market Preschool’s vision for an inclusive learning space, and the future of a thriving Market community.  

The Market Clinic offers a new vision for community care  

Pike Market Medical Clinic staff photo from the 1980s

Pike Market Medical Clinic staff in the 1980s

Though Seattle’s LGBTQIA+ community made tremendous strides in the 1980s by growing community coalitions and increasing civil rights protections, the HIV/AIDS epidemic had an unspeakably devastating impact on the local community 

As the first Seattle cases were diagnosed in 1982 and the health department characterized it as merely “a gay disease”, LGBTQIA+ organizers mobilized to start providing counseling, grow funding, and dedicate resources towards the impending pandemic. The Seattle AIDS Support Group, Chicken Soup Brigade, the Northwest AIDS Foundation, People of Color Against AIDS Network, and Shanti/Seattle were all essential organizations primarily shaped by the dedication and ingenuity of these community networks. Lesbian groups mobilized, becoming became highly involved in activism, caregiving, and opening community spaces. The all-volunteer-run Seattle Gay Clinic in Capitol Hill became an essential hub for information exchange and an alternative to the public STD clinic housed in the same building as the police department.   

“Stan Henry was a key volunteer at the Seattle Gay Clinic, and he was also the receptionist at the Market Clinic,” said Chris Hurley, founder and former Executive Director of the Pike Market Medical Clinic, now a clinic of Neighborcare Health. “Stan began referring patients to us, and was a key part of how people were directed to the Clinic. That connection really facilitated a lot of our internists becoming embedded as a key resource in the world of HIV care. 

But it wasn’t just referrals from other gay neighborhoods –  LGBTQIA+ people in the Market community would also be affected by the virus, and turn to their Clinic for support.  

“Market bartenders and servers, people who worked on the craftline, artists, they all used the Clinic as a primary care provider,” said Carol Glenn a nurse at the Clinic during this time. “Eventually, most restaurants and small businesses in the Market had workers suffering with HIV, and the Clinic was there to support them. We always took care of our people.” 

Pike Market Medical Clinic Staff photo from 1980s

Pike Market Medical Clinic staff pose with medical equipment. Chris Hurley is pictured far left, and Joe Martin front row second from right.

“There was a reason the Clinic ended up being a key source of primary care for people with what became known as AIDS,” said Chris. “Our docs routinely attended to their patients in the hospital, unlike family practice physicians at other clinics. Also, Clinic physicians were internists who really specialized in care for people with chronic illnesses, complex and compound problems. They really matched the need – and then some. ”  

Pike Market Clinic doctors Tom Heller and Lester Pittle, nurse practitioner Patricia Richert, nurses Cecil Frank, Carol Glenn, Jacqueline Meyers, Janna Pekaar, Gayle Reed, Marta Richardson, and other staff continued to tend to their patients despite the perceived risks. Their team was instrumental in providing initial care when so much about the virus was unknown, and hysteria about potential exposure ran rampant in Seattle.  “There was a misguided sensibility that this could somehow be caught, or was transmitted in the air,” says Joe Martin. “Not to mention the anti-gay rhetoric. But the Clinic was caring for them regardless. People on staff were being affected, their community was being affected. Stan Henry, who is now deceased, God bless him. Scott Glasscock, God bless him. They were saints, the doctors.”  

Activists described it as three pandemics: HIV itself, the fear of HIV, and underlying it all, a fear of LGBTQ+ existence as a whole. Some people had no place to turn to, but their community and the Clinic at Pike Place Market. 

In the years following those early months of HIV arriving in Seattle, tremendous strides were made to treat and manage the disease. In 1985, the Department of Public Health’s AIDS Prevention Project was the second unit dedicated to HIV/AIDS in the country. In 1987, Seattle’s HIV Vaccine Trial Unit became the first of its kind in the U.S., and King County prohibited discrimination against county employees with HIV/AIDS. In 1994, effective antiretroviral treatments became available, and AIDS-related deaths finally began to decline.   

Many of those Pike Market Clinic staff who saw the devastating early impacts of the virus continued to devote their lives to improving care for people living with HIV and developing long-term care services. Clinic Executive Director Chris Hurley and Clinic Coordinator Betsy Lieberman went on to establish Bailey-Boushay House in Seattle: the country’s first inpatient hospice facility where people living with AIDS could get the best possible treatment and end their lives in dignity.  

After nurse Carol Glenn left the Pike Market Clinic and began working at a large Seattle hospital, she helped build a distribution network of patients, their friends and families, along with many HIV care providers and agencies. Together, they worked to distribute leftover or no longer-needed HIV medications and supplies across the country and abroad at a time when the medication was inaccessible. 

“It didn’t matter whether you were in Kenya or Kentucky, people couldn’t get the treatment they needed,” she said. Carol’s secret activism ultimately cost her the job and ended her 44 year nursing career, but helped countless people prolong their lives. “I loved being an HIV and AIDS nurse, I would have done it forever,” she reflects. 

Health officials now agree that the city’s quick initial response continues to have a lasting impact and lower infection rates to this day. Now dubbed the “Seattle model,” this wraparound approach to addressing HIV/AIDS through grassroots activism, political engagement, and accessible, community-specific healthcare proved instrumental in managing the epidemic.  

Fostering a community for all families 

In the same year that the clinic was fostering a transformative healthcare approach and the Market Foundation was mobilizing to raise funds, another social service agency was born out of a need for quality childcare for Market families. The community opened a preschool in the Market that could welcome all families, value diversity, and provide high-quality early learning opportunities. In the 1980s, staff openly welcomed gay parents to the Preschool, much to the objection of local media. “Pike Market Child Care and Preschool has always been a welcoming community where parents and teachers and staff are out and proud,” said Ilene Stark, Former Executive Director at the Preschool. ”We have served many families from the LGBTQIA+ community, and staff members could be fully themselves. Our commitment to anti-bias education has always included gender equity.” 

Pike Market Preschool kids at Rachel the Piggy Bank

Pike Market Preschool kids and families from the 1980s

Teachers at the Preschool have been actively engaged in anti-bias education and anti-racist work since 1991. With a renowned early learning model, the Preschool has long believed that children and their families thrive in diverse communities and have the power to make the world a more just place.

“We are an inclusive community comprised of remarkable little humans, families, and staff alongside our Market neighbors,” says Arigin Sakda, Executive Director of the Pike Market Child Care and Preschool. “We value inclusivity and welcome everyone from all backgrounds as an anti-racist and LGBTQIA+ affirming organization. Our early learning center is an intentional and playful school that cultivates belonging deeply rooted in equity with an anti-bias curriculum and a focus on social-emotional development as well as child-centered reflective practices. We celebrate empowering individuals daily and welcome all who would like to celebrate that with us!”

A Foundation to sustain this vital work

In addition to silently presiding over thousands of HIV-related deaths, the Reagan administration’s federal budget cuts slashed the Market’s social service funding in half just as needs were rising. To preserve Market agencies like the clinic, the Pike Place Market Foundation was founded to fundraise the difference and help fulfill the Market’s historic charter of providing services in the Pike Place Market neighborhood. 

This charge was led by community advocates like Chris Hurley and her spouse Marlys Erickson, who worked in various roles at the Market Foundation from 1982-1988 and later served as Executive Director from 1991-2012. The Foundation proved to be the lifeline to preserve the services that the Market community deeply needed during the 1980s. The Market Foundation continued to serve as a steward of this unique community: part fundraiser, part convener, part advocate, part facilitator. Working in close collaboration with service partners and relying on community feedback has allowed the Market Foundation to be nimble in our response and committed to preserving a healthy neighborhood for all who live and work here.  

Continuing the legacy 

Pride Window Display at The Market Commons

Collaborative Art Display at The Market Commons for Pride Month

Today, LGBTQIA+ people in Seattle still experience challenges in accessing housing, healthcare, economic stability, and other factors needed in order to live a healthy life. Twenty percent of our LGTBQIA+ neighbors earn less than $15,000, and 15% earn between $15,000 and $30,000, making it difficult to survive Seattle’s high cost of living. 

 The Market Foundation works to combat these disparities through our healthy community model, improving access to social determinants of health (factors like food, education, economic stability, physical environment, community context, and healthcare). Together with our service partners, we are working to remove barriers to these social determinants so that everyone in our community can live their best lives, including our LGBTQIA+ neighbors. 

More articles on Seattle history: 

https://www.thestranger.com/pride-2023/2023/06/23/79048037/an-oral-history-of-the-first-seattle-trans-pride 

https://www.solid-ground.org/pride-history-the-fight-to-include-bisexual-and-transgender-in-seattles-lgbtq-celebration/  

https://frontporch.seattle.gov/2023/06/21/seattle-histories-pride-edition-the-1992-battle-over-seattle-prides-name-to-include-bisexual-and-transgender/  

Further readings/resources 

Featured News

Sign up for news