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Jack's Take: A beach and a community

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Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo

When I was a child growing up in Cleveland, I used to love to anticipate spring by sprinting outside our house in my bathing suit on the first warm day of the year, when the last of the snowmelt had disappeared. It was a freeing experience. In my childhood exuberance, it didn't matter if the thermometer had barely reached 60 degrees. The fact that the sun was blazing, the cherry trees were starting to bloom, and the green grass was showing itself were signs enough for me. There was an innocence, a hope, a beauty in my action.

Fast-forward to my twenties. While backpacking through Europe, I met a Dutchman named Tomás, who one weekend introduced me to Scheveningen, a beach on the North Sea. We arrived by bicycle, and the first thing I noticed were naked people sprawled on the sand. He told me it was a nude beach popular with the Dutch and Germans.

At first shy, I soon slid off my bathing suit and, with a running start, dove into the sea. It was salty and cold but so refreshing as I jumped up and down in shock from the temperature. I felt that childhood exuberance again and asked my new friend to take my picture as I stood proudly wearing not a stitch.

I brought that electrifying experience back with me to the States that summer and soon discovered there were beaches both in Seattle and Vancouver, BC, that welcomed people to swim and sun without having to don a clinging piece of fabric that restricted and prevented you from feeling the natural glide of the water. The freedom of not wearing a swimsuit also established an equal footing between me and others who also opted to ditch the suit.

Courtesy photo  

That freedom and sense of communal joie de vivre is why I attended a Madison Park neighborhood hearing to protest a children's playground being installed at Denny Blaine Park on the shore of Lake Washington. Hundreds of beachgoers showed up to testify that the playground, to be paid for by an anonymous donor who lived nearby, would destroy the character of the place, which has been a nude beach and gathering place for the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups for over 40 years, if not longer. People argued that by building this playground — which was not a safe location anyway, due to sightlines, the ease of toddlers running from the playground into the water, and the lack of lifeguards, not to mention the lack of facilities and parking, etc. — the city would not only endanger children's lives but encourage attacks on an existing community of people.

Some at the hearing called the donation "blood money" that would lead to attacks and violence as people unfamiliar with Denny Blaine come looking for trouble or to make a point. One person pointed out that LGBTQ+ community members have long been stereotypically lumped in with child molesters, and that parents unfamiliar with the nature of the place and seeing naked people would likely call the police, causing further agitation and conflict.

In a healthy, body-positive world, the existence of nude bodies near a children's playground would not be deemed threatening but we are far from that world — even in so-called liberal Seattle. In fact, there is no law against public nudity in our city, only what is considered lewd or lascivious behavior. Who defines what that is, though? And does it vary depending on the eye of each beholder?

It's unfortunate that one wealthy person's influence could destroy a place of welcome and community for those who have struggled to fit into the larger society and find a sense of calm, balm, and freedom.

Happily, Seattle Parks and Recreation made the decision two days after the hearing not to proceed with the playground after so many spoke out against it. I encourage readers to contact the Mayor's Office (https://www.seattle.gov/mayor/contact) and Seattle Parks and Recreation ([email protected]) to thank them for protecting and preserving Denny Blaine as a historical gathering place for our community, friends, and allies.

Always remember, our voices when united can make a difference.

By the way, at the meeting at Madison Park, one attendee suggested placing Denny Blaine on the National Register of Historic Places and designating other parks and beaches in Seattle as clothing optional as well.

Now that would be an even greater dream come true!

Jack Hilovsky is an author, actor, and blogger who has made his home in Seattle since 1986. His first book, RJ, Farrah and Me: A Young Man's Gay Odyssey from the Inside Out, was published in June 2022. It can be found at Elliott Bay Book Co., Madison Books, Nook & Cranny, and Third Place Books (Seward Park), among other local booksellers.