Web Analytics Made Easy - Statcounter

Gay City's Fred Swanson passes the torch

Share this Post:
Fred Swanson — Photo courtesy of Gay City
Fred Swanson — Photo courtesy of Gay City

After over two decades of running the local LGBTQ organization and community center Gay City, Fred Swanson is stepping down from his role as executive director and passing the torch to a new generation of community leaders, a press release from the organization said.

Photo courtesy of Gay City  

Gay City was founded in 1995 by a group of community activists during the height of the AIDS crisis, "with a bold vision of building a community stronger than HIV while centering Queer voices," its website says. It has remained King County's leading HIV/STI tester, and continues to host a growing number of resources for the LGBTQ community.

One such resource is its wellness center, a dedicated clinic that provides PrEP, testing for both COVID-19 and STIs, and many other services at no cost. Another is its arts program, which includes an annual festival, arts mentorship programs for both youth and adults, and large exhibitions like Shann Thomas's Gender Gems.

This winter, Gay City plans to open a new community center on Capitol Hill, at the intersection of Pine Street and Bellevue Avenue. It will include a youth space, a large meeting space for rental, a pharmacy, and a library with new furniture.

Fred Swanson — Photo courtesy of Gay City  

Most, if not all, of these programs have coalesced and evolved with Swanson's oversight since he was hired at the end of 2001. "I was a fan of Gay City at the time," Swanson said of his hiring. "[It] was one of the handful of organizations really well known in what was called the Gay men's health movement."

Before he got the call, he had met Gay City's then-executive director, John Leonard, and other Gay City staff at the National Gay Men's Health Summit in Boulder, Colorado.

For a better sense of the time that has passed since then, this was just after 9/11. Swanson said he remembered wondering if his flight to Seattle, for the job interview, would even happen.

Through all the changes in the country since then, Swanson said, he has made a lot of connections in the field of national LGBTQ nonprofits and activism. For that reason and others, he described his feelings about stepping down as "complicated."

"Having moved [to Seattle] for this job, and having only had this job for 20 years, every aspect of my identity in Seattle is somehow linked to this role," Swanson said. "On the other hand, [stepping down] is also really liberating, and it feels really good to reflect on 20 years of a thousand different changes that have happened here, and a thousand different ways that we've tried to move, and grow, and respond. And to no longer have to carry that, and to go back instead to just kinda being a dude — that also feels good."

Being a dude, in Swanson's case, includes being a dad. His focus now, at least for the summer, will be spending time with his three sons, two of which are in middle school, and one of which will be touring college campuses before his senior year of high school.

After that, plenty of doors are open. While Swanson promises to remain a fan and supporter of Gay City, he said he doesn't plan to go into another job with an LGBTQ nonprofit. He'll be looking at other types of nonprofits, or government work, and potentially exploring writing, but nothing's set in stone yet.

Swanson will remain with Gay City until June 1, 2022, to help with the transition, during which a "leadership model task force" will work together to decide on the organization's future structure. They may phase out the traditional executive director role entirely, opting for co-directors, or something new.

Swanson said he was "excited" to see how the organization would evolve, and that he was glad to be leaving it in a good place.

For the interview's last word, Swanson expressed his thanks:

"The real joy of being in this job for 20 years, for me, has been the people. We've had such incredible volunteers, and staff, and board members, and community that have supported me. Mentors, fellow executive directors — both national leaders and the LGBTQ movement, who have been resources for me, as well as local leaders... — I'm grateful for all of the mentorship and support that I've received... as well as Gay City has received. "