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A Gay stay at McMenamins Elks Temple

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Poker Face: A Tribute to Lady Gaga — Photo by Cameron Martinez
Poker Face: A Tribute to Lady Gaga — Photo by Cameron Martinez

For Christmas this year, my mom gave the family a stay at McMenamins Elks Temple in Tacoma. While the intention of the trip was to view a holiday-themed drag show, I was unprepared for just how Queer my night would be.

Photo courtesy of Cameron Martinez  

A bit of historical context
"The Elks Temple was built in the second Renaissance Revival style in 1915-16, when fraternal organizations were an important part of the community and had the money to build beautiful buildings such as this one," the website states.

Before the building's full renovation in 2017 by the Pacific Northwest chain McMenamins, it was left in a state of complete disrepair. As part of the restoration, the company dedicated each hotel room to famous people, organizations, and groups from the Tacoma area.

A painting of John Reed and Kenny Olson — Photo by Cameron Martinez  

My room was dedicated to John Reed and Kenny Olson, a pair of Queer friends who were established leaders in Tacoma's Gay community in the 1970s.

At that time in Tacoma — and pretty much everywhere in the country — the Queer community faced constant harassment and was relegated to the seedier parts of town. With that in mind, the pair held Tacoma's first major Gay event, the annual Barony Ball, in what is now the McMenamins Elk Temple in 1975 for a crowd of over 300.

"Kenny and I wanted to get Tacoma noticed in the Gay communities of the West Coast, particularly the Pacific Northwest," Reed said of the event in an interview with McMenamins' history department. "Tacoma was usually ignored or made fun of; we were out to change that."

I have never thought of Tacoma as a Queer city, but after seeing my rainbow-clad hotel room with a painted portrait of Reed and Olson, my mind has been changed.

How times have changed
After spending the day discovering all the artwork, history, restaurants, and even an ultra-hidden speakeasy, my girlfriend and I ventured to the Elk Temple's Spanish Ballroom for the main entertainment of the night, called the "Naughty Christmas Party," featuring a performances called "Poker Face: A Tribute to Lady Gaga," as well as drag by Rococo Macaroon, Bobbi Jo Blessings, Brandi Marxxx, Ursula Major, and Crystyl Jewyl Box.

While I watched the performances and took in the vibrant energy of the crowd, I thought about Reed and Olson's ball that took place back in 1975.

Seeing people being celebrated for being unapologetically themselves in one of the most gorgeous buildings in Tacoma is exactly what that pair wanted, and I was very happy to be a part of it.