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West Seattle dads host inaugural Pride Night Out block party

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Photo courtesy of Michael Mattinger
Photo courtesy of Michael Mattinger

Even though block parties are a staple of West Seattle's summertime activities, Seattle transplant Michael Mattinger wasn't sure about organizing one for this particular month.

"Being from Florida, I was sweating bullets sending an email," Mattinger said last Thursday. He had asked himself, "'Does anybody wanna celebrate Pride as a neighborhood?' If this was in my hometown. I would've gotten crucified."

But he spoke about this on a sunny sidewalk corner, on a hilltop overlooking Elliott Bay, and just a few yards from a couple of pop-up canopies. The folding tables in the shade underneath were loaded with food and drink brought by neighbors and their friends, and the warm air was alive with music and conversation.

Evidently, there was little to worry about after all. He had searched out similar events in the area, and he counted over 30 others in "Shoreline, Kirkland, [and] Bellevue that are doing this exact same thing with the exact same sentiment."

After he had finally sent that email, Mattinger's inbox was flooded with messages of enthusiastic support. Neighbors pooled money and consolidated their mailing lists. Some even volunteered to walk door to door and hand out flyers.

"It got so overwhelming that we actually created a little planning committee," Mattinger said. And we had a little pizza party at my house, and from there people started raising their hands, like, 'We should have a drag performer. What about a bounce house for the kids? We gotta make it super kid friendly.'"

Sure enough, children with rainbow face paint and Pride flags had the whole block mostly to themselves. There was a bounce house in a front yard a few houses down, and towering on the opposite sidewalk was drag queen Dolly Madison, who spoke casually with the guests and answered questions from parents.

"One of the things that she ...[talks] about [is] drag culture," Mattinger said. Madison "kind of [demystifies] the aspect of, like, this is an illusion, this is an art form."

Mattinger maintained that none of his straight neighbors had a problem with drag. One white-haired guest, who went by Barb and had lived in West Seattle for "way too long," said, "I'm old enough that I saw the first disco, so anything's good with me."

Photo courtesy of Michael Mattinger  

Support from neighbors and parents
"Night Out" block parties are a regular occurrence on this particular intersection, Mattinger said. But none so far, to his knowledge, had been held to celebrate Pride.

"My husband and I, we just had kids about two years ago," Mattinger said. "And being from a small town, I think it was super important for my husband and me to show our kids — and kind of show ourselves — that we live in a community that is really supportive of our life, and supports Pride and what it means."

Mattinger and his husband weren't aware of the area's reputation as a destination for Gay dads. Back in the day, when Capitol Hill was the gayborhood for dating, West Seattle was for settling down. By most accounts, Seattle's gayborhood has spread out across the city now, to places like White Center, where the Lumber Yard Bar hosts "Dolly and the DJ" each Saturday.

Photo courtesy of Michael Mattinger  

Dolly Madison's performance at Pride Night Out was glamorous and fun, but it was also educational for many of the straight couples attending. After a lip-synching number on a front porch, Madison's story about acceptance and coming out was clearly meant to make an impact.

She said, "I was very, very fortunate in that when I was very young, I wanted to play the flute and my parents encouraged it. I wanted to draw and my parents encouraged it. I wanted to be in the school play. My parents showed up at every performance.

"These were things that, although they did eventually shape me, had nothing to do with how I identified, had nothing to do with who I loved, had nothing to do with any of that, other than just doing the things that I wanted to do, things that I was inspired by.

"And my parents supported me with that without question, because they knew it didn't have to do with any of those other things. They knew they just wanted to support their kids."

She paused to take a deep breath and compose herself before continuing.

"I remember getting choked up talking to my mom, and she said, 'You can tell me.' Well, I wasn't expecting that. And I was like, 'I have something important to tell you. I'm just really nervous.' She said, 'You can tell me anything, because I would die for you.' And that made a big difference to me."

"So, parents," Madison said, "what you do, how you support your children — regardless of how they grow to love, who they grow up to love, who they grow up to be, or how they identify — what we do now is so important to them... They know who they are, and you don't have to understand that, but you can still support them in whatever way you can."

Earlier, Mattinger had reflected on how the LGBTQ community, and drag especially, is being maligned socially and legally in other states. He joined Madison on the pathway up to the steps, and with his kids at his side and teary-eyed families all around, he thanked everyone for making Pride Night Out happen.

"When Bradley and I first moved here, we saw you and DJ performing," he said to Madison. "And to have you in our home and in our community and saying such rich words about Pride — it's such a beautiful moment. So thank you so much.

"Our two little ones are going to grow up with two loving parents who just so happen to be Gay. And I just want them to know that at least their neighborhood supports them and supports their family."

As for the possibility of another Pride Night Out next year, "I think we have to do it!" Mattinger said.