Olympia LGBTQ+ History: "Pickets Protest Disco Treatment"

Welcome to the Trans and Queer Generations blog! Along with providing updates and getting folks (like YOU!) involved in making Olympia’s LGBTQ+ community center happen, we’ll use this blog to highlight events and people in our Northwest queer and trans history.

In particular, we want to acknowledge the people who labored -- and those who are still laboring -- to make our communities safer and more welcoming for all LGBTQ+ people.

We found today’s LGBTQ+ history snippet via the Olympia Gay/Lesbian History Walking Tour, developed by local heroes Llyn De Danaan and Carol McKinley.

As you probably know, it wasn’t until 2006 that  discrimination based on  sexual orientation and gender identity was banned in our state. (Future posts will focus on the decades-long struggle to pass that law, and the obvious reality that banning discrimination doesn’t make it disappear.) Prior to the ban, it was legal and easier for restaurants, bars, and many other places to refuse service to people because they were (or looked like they might be) queer. Generations of people have worked to make it safer for LGBTQ+ people to simply be themselves in public.

One local example of this type of discrimination -- and a fabulous response by the LGBTQ+ community -- is the story of Olympia's Conestoga Roadhouse, a bar and dance hall that was located on Columbia St. in the 1970’s.  As you can see from this 4/29/79 article from The Daily Olympian, local woman who wanted to dance with other women told reporters that they “encountered harassment from patrons...when they danced at the Conestoga, that they were denied service, that they were asked to leave and were not giving what they considered due protection by dance-hall security employees.”

The article details a protest led primarily by lesbians, who picketed outside of the bar. The bar-owner, who apparently thought that discriminating against same-sex couples was a good thing, is quoted as saying, “we do have the right to refuse service. If you let certain types of elements take over a place, you’re going to be hurting.”

disco protest.jpg

The  “certain types of elements” continued to fight back. On their Queer Space Reclamation Project blog, Karama Blackhorn writes, “in April 1979 three women met with the management to the Conestoga to present a statement demanding that women be allowed to dance together and that dress codes be applied equally to all, not just used to keep certain women out. Police were called to escort same-sex couples out, there was picketing by men and women and same sex couples danced in the restaurant in protest.” (Note: Karama is another local LGBTQ+ hero we’ll honor in a future post). {Please continue reading after the break.}

 

The Queer Space Reclamation Project contains interviews by local LGBTQ+ folks.  One of the interviewees, called "Anna - Lesbian -Olympia" on the website, says of the Conestoga that “We decided on a strategy of doing weekly actions by sending in a steady stream of same gender couples to dance until they got thrown out. We put together flyers that said “Gay Night At the Conestoga” and featured the Conestoga logo and we put them up all over town…{one plan} was to go in as opposite gender couples and get up to dance in same sex couples. Of course they would always throw us out. The straight men would smash into us on the dance floor and be nasty. The Bar kept trying to figure out how to get rid of us, so they created a dress code…” 

The series of creative protests eventually shut down the bar, according to the Gay and Lesbian History Walking Tour (noted above).

In the end, it appears the the owners misguided opposition to the fabulous "certain elements" led to the closing of the bar. Apparently he was surprised that LBBTQ+ folks were willing to do the labor to make it safer for them to dance his dance club. Too bad the owner wasn't willing to just let people dance!

We'll be back soon with more history of the LGBTQ+ community's struggles for safe places to dance and to work, live and just exist as they are.  Thanks for reading this, and be sure to check out the rest of the Trans and Queer Generations website and our campaign to create an LGBTQ+ community center in Olympia.

 

 

 

Bryn Houghton