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White Center Pride rises from the ashes of Rat City

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The sign outside the Drunky Two Shoes BBQ — Photo by Daniel Lindsley
The sign outside the Drunky Two Shoes BBQ — Photo by Daniel Lindsley

Even as the sun shined and DJ Baby Von Beezy filled the corner of Delridge and 16th with music, the breeze flowed freely in the space between the booths and buildings. It was the last sigh of a cloudy morning before the sky cleared, and the sun wasn't yet beating down so much as patting visitors on the back. These were the heralds of this year's White Center Pride celebration, after two years of waiting.

Almost all organizations present were local, not only to Seattle but often West Seattle in particular. The real estate agencies, the food bank, the bunny-themed bakery, and the rest — the few that weren't Queer owned were allies showing support.

Meanwhile, there was little corporate presence, if any at all, which was fitting for a Pride event taking place in the heart of West Seattle's punk scene. T-Mobile did not stray from its store across Roxbury Avenue, far removed from the festivities.

The Burn Out Brass Band finishes a piece with style — Photo by Daniel Lindsley  

By 2 p.m., the crowd had grown, perhaps in in anticipation of the Burn Out Brass Band, a local Queer brass troupe dressed in dark, translucent clothes, pentagrams, and horns. The sun glared hotter as they played. Pride banners strung up on the fence of an empty dirt lot went limp and transparent as the air stilled, and people took shelter from the heat, their backs leaning against graffiti murals on plywood in the shade.

Pride banners on 16th Avenue — Photo by Daniel Lindsley  

As vibrant as the murals were, they were solemn reminders of the events of last year — that is, rendered on the walls and window boards of a commercial building that was all but abandoned, after an arsonist set fire to the Queer-friendly Lumber Yard bar.

The bar was able to recover, thanks to community support via crowdfunding. Rhonda Bleck, a broker at the Queer-owned real estate company Metropolist, said the White Center community is "very close-knit."

"This is the most diverse neighborhood in all of Seattle," she declared at the Metropolist booth. "And it always has been."

Fellow broker Ray Hillstrom seemed to agree: "I can remember putting my kids in school — they were in first grade at Gatewood, which is in West Seattle — and running into, like, four or five other Gay parents at the time. [My kids] are 23 now."

Perhaps it's no wonder, then, that the Lumber Yard got the funding that it did; the roots of the Queer community reach deeper in West Seattle than some might expect.

A few other businesses along that strip have also recovered with community help, such as Mexican grocer La Típica Oaxaqueña, which still occupies its old corner. The Lumber Yard and Rat City Tattoo relocated just across the street, and the latter was using Pride as an opportunity to show off the progress at its new location. Now occupying the old site of a pornography shop, the Lumber Yard has seen quite the glow-up, with a bar of nicely sanded wood, a skylight with pots of succulents, and a much bigger space than before.

Dottie's Double Wide, another bar damaged by the fire, wasn't so fortunate. It went under after its crowdfunding campaign fell short. Local hiphop artist Sarey Savey lamented the state of businesses like it: "People I know, and the nonprofit I work for — they'd like to see some more support for the BIPOC businesses that are here, because those are the people who are struggling, y'know?"

When asked about the origins of White Center's nickname, "Rat City," a vendor of T-shirts said he'd heard three theories. Two of them were acronyms, so the last stood out. "It was the rats," the vendor growled. Word was they had infested the buildings along 16th Avenue in the past.

A wrestler responds to a heckler outside the Lariat — Photo by Daniel Lindsley  

A parade began soon after the brass band's performance, but not the usual kind: a handful of revelers had dressed their dogs in simple costumes for a "Pet Pride Parade." Their march led to a wrestling ring, fenced off on the street outside the pro wrestling—themed Lariat Bar.

A regular, who was volunteering ringside serving hot dogs, said the place had only been around for a year. That day it was hosting a tournament for a Pride Championship belt, with contestants from the DEFY wrestling league and a crowd that knew when to cheer or jeer.

Back at the main stage, there were plenty more performances on the docket. "Sex pop" band Creature Hole brought stunning vocals and sensual tunes, followed by the Boom Box Babes, a lineup of lip-syncing drag queens, including Rylee Raw, who appeared at Pride ASIA earlier this year.

The Latin, pop, and world-music group The Pazific played a set with diverse instrumentation. Artist, activist, and performer Tinashea Monét joined other Queer performers of White Center for a show, and drag DJ Cookie Couture carried the night to a close.