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Party on: The LEO Party returns August 14

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Joe Torres and Aleksa Manila — Photo by Nate Gowdy
Joe Torres and Aleksa Manila — Photo by Nate Gowdy

Seattle's annual LEO Party is making a return to Capitol Hill next Sunday, August 14.

The event began in 2003 at Neighbours Nightclub, when founder Joe Torres sought to turn his birthday into a community-centered night of fun and fundraising for everyone to enjoy. Torres, who moved to Seattle in his teens, spoke to the SGN about his inspiration and motives for starting the LEO Foundation, citing the found family he discovered after arriving to the city.

"My friends... became my family when I moved up to Seattle. I was at a point in my life where I was working a lot, and I felt like I needed to give back."

He explained that from the beginning, the LEO Party has always been focused on creating a safe space and giving back to the Seattle community. This year, all profits from the event will be donated to two beneficiaries: C89.5 radio station and Pride ASIA.

C89.5 is owned by Seattle Public Schools and operates from Nathan Hale High School in North Seattle. It is one of the oldest dance-music radio stations in the US, and also has other platforms that cater to LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC communities, including a podcast and a series of student-led discussions about mental health called "Coping 101." On choosing C89.5 as a beneficiary, Torres explained, "I really just wanted to give the kids a good start and an opportunity at creating a better future."

Pride ASIA is an API-centered, Queer nonprofit in Seattle. According to its website, the group's mission is to "celebrate, empower, and nurture the multicultural diversity of the LGBTQ communities through the Asian Pacific Islander lens." The organization was founded in 2012 by social activist Aleksa Manila, who also happens to be close friends with Torres and helps him organize the LEO Party each year.

On her personal connection with the event, Manila cited her close friendship with Torres as a key motivator. "I got involved of course because Joe and I are good friends, but I'm also a community organizer and event planner, so I just pull in that skill set. I've been helping him produce it and host it over these past 19 years," she explained in an interview with the SGN.

"He leads with his heart, so I don't really question his decisions. He is a natural giver," she said. "I believe I speak for the rest of the community when I say how selfless he is. I couldn't ask for a better representative of the Seattle Queer community."

Neighbours hosting again
The LEO Party will take place as usual at Neighbours, which opened in 1983 and is one of the oldest Gay nightclubs in Seattle. The venue, where Torres has worked as a bartender for the last 20 years, has offered its space to the party since it began in 2003, excepting 2020, when it was closed during the pandemic.

As this is an event centered around community and inclusion rather than Queer or non-Queer people, Neighbors Nightclub is an obvious fit as host.

When asked about the venue as both a place of work and place of community, Torres said, "It's great. It was always for the community, and a lot of people go through there: Gay, straight, Bi, curious, or allies. I've seen a lot of individuals come through who are curious or want to come out, and they usually go there because it's a more comfortable bar to feel okay in without going straight into a Gay club.

"It's always been a stepping stone."

After a brief pause in 2020 during pandemic closures, the LEO Party was able to resume operations last August, with some restrictions.

"It was light. Whatever the state guidelines were at the time, we were following," Manila recounted regarding last year's event. "...As a community, we were just trying to follow the rules and be safe."

This year the event will function in the context of both COVID-19 and the newer monkeypox virus (MPV). While capacity limits and masking requirements no longer apply, ongoing health concerns have affected certain aspects of the event. This year's party will not be able to offer meet-and-greets with artists and performers, as it had done pre-pandemic.

This year the party is made possible by volunteer work by Joe Torres, Aleksa Manila, and members of both Pride ASIA and KNHC 89.5; Neighbors Nightclub; sponsorship by Muckleshoot Charities; and ticket sales and donations from the greater Seattle community.

Torres offered a final note about his motivations and goals for the LEO Party, saying, "Throughout my journey in life, I've come to accept everything about me and love myself, and that way I can learn to care about others. That's what has driven me to do what I do."

If a night of drag, music, and inclusive community sounds like a good night for you, join the LEO Foundation team this Sunday at 7:00 p.m. Regardless of who you are or who you love, the party has room for everyone.

The LEO Party will begin at 7:00 pm at Neighbors Nightclub this Sunday, August 14. General admission tickets are $20 pre-sale or $25 at the door, and VIP tickets (which will include a "light buffet & thank-you gift'') are $40 pre-sale and $50 at the door. Go to http://www.leofoundation.us for tickets.

If you are looking for a way to directly support grassroots efforts in the Seattle community, head to the same website for more information. Online donations are also possible for those who cannot attend the party in person but still want to show support.