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Patti Hearn connects and amplifies as Seattle Pride's new executive director

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Patti Hearn — Courtesy photo  

Seattle Pride — the organization behind Pride in the Park, the Seattle Pride Parade, and Seattle Pride Magazine — welcomed Patti Hearn as its new executive director last month, just as the team was closing out the last of June's carryover festivities.

Hearn is a Queer woman and community builder with a substantial background in education. She has lived in Seattle for 29 years, meaning that her 30th anniversary with the city will also be Seattle Pride's 50th — a big task for someone just starting at the nonprofit, but also one for which she seems well prepared.

In 1998, Hearn was part of the group that founded Lake Washington Girls Middle School, the first all-girls middle school in the Pacific Northwest. She called her time there "a really amazing journey for everyone."

"As I was able to help the organization mature, as organizations do, I learned a lot," Hearn said. "I learned a lot about finance, and organizational leadership, and capital campaigns, and fundraising, and all the things that are very much the purview of an executive director."

She took those skills to another head of school role in 2020, and later to her own education consultancy. That's when the pandemic, as it did for many, gave her time to think more deeply about her next steps.

An executive director "wasn't really what I necessarily intended to grow into when I started as a teacher and educator," Hearn said.

But "as a member of the Queer community, I was thinking about places that I could have the most impact," she said. "And I was really pretty narrow in looking for roles . . . I pretty much knew it was going to be in a Queer organization or a youth organization, because those are the things that really matter to me."

It also turned out that the mission of a school, as Hearn saw it, and that of Seattle Pride had a lot in common.

"A school really is a social justice-oriented organization," Hearn said. "You're thinking about who's farthest from justice, and what the barriers are that can be removed to help them move toward justice and really get what they need."

On a more technical level, Hearn was already well versed in guiding an organization, from the individuals up to the grander scheme of things, asking, "Where's the organization going and what does it need? And what are the strategic initiatives that need to be in place to help it grow and sustain into the future?"

Hearn said she saw the opening at Seattle Pride and knew right away that it was "obvious that I needed to apply for it." From there, it seems the right choice only became clearer.

"As I met the board members and the hiring team, every person that I talked to through the process led me a step closer to thinking this was really the right match," Hearn said. "My first call with a board member — totally great. I felt completely like I understood where the organization was, what it wanted to do, what it was looking for."

"I've had a great couple of weeks getting to know board members, and getting to know some of the staff," she said. "And it's been a really positive experience."

"Seeing their enthusiasm, their excitement, their clear love for the organization and its mission — and then also having the aligned experience in the other room with the board — was exactly what I needed to be like, 'Yeah, that's where I want to be.'"

When Hearn spoke over Zoom, it was only her tenth day at Seattle Pride. But given how she sees herself as a leader, it's no wonder that the people working were the tipping point in her decision to join them.

"I think I see myself mostly as a connector and an amplifier," she said. "I mean, one of the things we have to notice: this is a big organization . . . I think it is our prize responsibility, and my responsibility as executive director, to make sure that I can always look for the opportunities to amplify voices, particularly BIPOC voices, in the Queer community."

Hearn also mentioned that Seattle Pride could do a lot to help the Queer communities of neighboring towns as they navigate the rockier terrain of Washington state's red counties. The organization offers grants and sponsorships that could factor heavily in that pursuit.

On that note, Hearn also emphasized that Seattle Pride is active year-round — not just in planning festivities for June, or the quarterly Seattle Pride Magazine, but also in education programming, community building, and advocacy efforts.

And on a more personal level, Hearn has her own fond memories of Seattle's Pride festivities.

"I remember that day of getting ready and going to my first parade in Seattle," she said. "I was so excited. I could tell you what I wore."

She had originally planned to live in San Francisco, but when she arrived in Seattle from New Jersey in May 1994, "the weather was perfect. The street festivals were happening. The Seattle International Film Festival was showing Go Fish, which is a Lesbian movie. And I walked into the theater. It was the most Lesbians I'd ever seen in one place. And then I never left."