The battle for Denny Blaine continued at a sometimes contentious public meeting at the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation headquarters Thursday evening. 

The department, which last year announced a wildly unpopular, millionaire-funded plan to construct a children’s playground on the grassy area overlooking the shore of a historically queer nude beach, has been meeting jointly with neighbors and activists who have organized a Friends of Denny Blaine Park group with The Seattle Parks Foundation. They all met to reach an agreement hoping to end years of conflict over the beach.

Their solution? Supplementary use guidelines for Denny Blaine that make clear nudity, which is already legal in Seattle, is allowed at the park, with a compromise that establishes locations where the City would request park users wear clothing or a towel “out of consideration for the surrounding neighborhood.” 

If adopted, the City would draw a nudity DMZ at the parking lot and divide the park into two zones: A naked Zone A, composed of the grassy area and beach, and a clothed Zone B, consisting of the loop of road, E. Denny Blaine Pl., outside the park where several neighbors live. The City is taking public comment on the policy until June 6.

Those in attendance didn’t like the idea of a clothed Zone B, at all.

"This Is an Entirely Made-up Problem."

At the end of the meeting, which went 40 minutes over schedule, Friends of Denny Blaine co-lead organizer Colleen Kimseylove asked anyone in favor of Zone B to raise their hands. Only two hands shot up. When Kimseylove asked those against Zone B to do the same, the other 40 or so people in the room raised their hands.

“That was very clear data,” Kimseylove said. Earlier in the meeting, they asked the crowd to ask themselves if this “concession” was worth making peaceful relations with the neighbors possible. 

Justin Hellier, a strategic policy advisor for Seattle Parks and Recreation, began Thursday’s meeting thanking the crowd for being there, despite any community trust lost with Parks over the playground plan.

Hellier said Parks was hoping to find a balance that works “for everyone.” Hellier said earlier that week Parks held a separate listening session with neighbors who felt intimidated at the December meetings. At the negotiation table, both sides agreed a forum for both groups would be unproductive.

Greg Shields questioned why they’d known about this meeting and not the other. Hellier answered that the neighbors and activists were both given meeting times and took different approaches. Friends of Denny Blaine posted the meeting details publicly, and the neighbors kept theirs private.

Others questioned the need for the guidelines when the law already protected their right to be naked at Denny Blaine. 

Nudity has been legal in Seattle since the 1990s; although the City doesn’t believe nudity is allowed anywhere and anyplace in Seattle, Park and police couldn’t enforce clothing in Zone B. The policy would merely be a request from the City on behalf of neighbors, perhaps with a sign with different messages on each side. People coming to the beach would know the place was clothing-optional, and people going would be asked to wear clothes or a towel in the spirit of “being a good neighbor,” according to Hellier.

What is not legal is indecent exposure, which includes things like flashing or public masturbation. However, the offense’s legal definition is slippery, and Hellier said it is not easy to draw the line. 

To be clear, neither activists nor neighbors wanted to protect any right to sexual activity at the park. At least one trans woman named Aspen said she’d seen people having sex there, and the people doing it weren’t queer but rather creeps jerking off at queer people. Kimseylove said they have applied for a grant to fund an anti-public masturbation campaign through the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. 

Others were angry about how the project came together. The day before the meeting, KUOW identified wealthy businessman and philanthropist Stuart Sloan as the donor willing to pay for a playground at the historically gay and nude Lake Washington beach. A communications firm hired by Sloan claimed he wouldn’t have been the only donor, and that the idea came from the City.

The Stranger revealed that Mayor Bruce Harrell, who claimed not to know the identity of the donor, met with Sloan twice, including on the day after Parks killed the playground proposal in December. KUOW found that before the plan was in motion, Sloan texted the Mayor’s personal cell phone to complain about the park.

At the meeting, a speaker on Zoom who identified themselves as “Smook” said the proposal was asking park users to make concessions to the freedom they enjoyed under state law, and they questioned what the neighbors would do to ease the discomfort they felt about the homophobic implications of the playground plan. 

Another Zoom speaker named William called the entire meeting a waste of his time, and he wanted Parks to acknowledge the trust lost with the community. William, who said he lives in Capitol Hill, said he has as much right to the beach as waterfront property owners. He opposed the policy and said it should be rejected as an embarrassing thing that happened in Seattle.

“I’m opposed to policing how people are using the park,” he said. “I don’t want surveillance. I don’t want any weird educators in vests floating around and telling me my hand is too close to my dick or anything. This is an entirely made-up problem.”

Neal, who would not share his last name, considered the policy a concession to the interests of wealthy homeowners. He did not want more enforcement at the beach. He felt the policy could be used to enforce things that aren’t law.

Defending a Compromise

In response to critiques from attendees, Friends of Denny Blaine Park co-lead Sophie Amity Debs said that the policy protected the long-term future of the beach. She said some people didn’t feel confident they could go to the beach and not be harassed by cops, and that putting these guidelines in writing would prevent future police crackdowns and the potential for indecent exposure charges. She said whether this draft is final, or whether changes are made, Friends of Denny Blaine Park believes that this supplemental language would prevent anyone from saying they didn’t expect to see nudity there. Co-lead organizer Kimseylove said neighbors were willing to consider the threat of legal consequences for nudity.

“We think that getting a very clear recognition on the books from the parks department, and you know, as city ratification that this is a historically clothing optional beach … makes it a hell of a lot harder to put a playground there in the future.” 

Neal said that he agreed, and it would be good to codify that Denny Blaine is a naked space, but that it should be the only thing in this policy document.

If any neighbors were in attendance, none spoke up. Some have formed Denny Blaine Park for All, a group that identifies itself as an association of “concerned neighbors dedicated to creating a welcoming and safe environment at Denny Blaine Park.” Their website calls for clear policy language, signage with a code of conduct, an enforcement plan developed with Parks and the Seattle Police Department, and “clear accountability measures.” On a donation page, the group says contributions will help fund essential outreach and administrative efforts and community outreach programs.

The Stranger requested an interview with Denny Blaine Park for All and sent a list of questions asking the group to explain its concerns, including what it wanted a sign to say, which enforcement actions it wanted, more details on accountability measures, and what legal fees it anticipated. Denny Blaine Park for All did not reply.

The group’s website claims it is actively negotiating the policy with activists. Kimseylove, co-lead from the activist group Friends of Denny Blaine Park, said they aren’t aware of overlap between the people who’ve come to the table to hash out a solution and the neighbor’s group.

Next Thursday, Parks employees will present the proposed supplementary use guidelines to the Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners at a public meeting at Martin Luther King FAME Community Center. 

Parks will return to the Board on June 13 with the public comments and any revisions to guidelines. Hellier said Parks was likely going to recommend the Board vote to adopt the policy.

After that, Parks Superintendent AP Diaz decides whether to adopt the guidelines; Hellier told the crowd that it’s technically Diaz’s decision, but generally Parks listens to how the Board votes.

Wait, How’d This All Start Again?

The fight over Denny Blaine began last November, when the Parks Department announced it would build the “children’s play area” at the park. Regulars saw problems right away, like that Denny Blaine was a place gay people have gone to chill naked for at least 40 years or more. At the time, many told The Stranger that it was one of the few authentically gay places left in Seattle where you could go without spending a cent. Trans people told this reporter they felt unsafe stripping down anyplace else.

For many, building a “children’s play area” at Denny Blaine seemed less a mood-killer than an attempt to use vicious stereotypes against the community. 

Across the country, Republican politicians, right-wingers, and anti-trans activists are claiming that LGBTQ people, especially drag queens, are predators attempting to hypnotize their children into gayness. This ancient, derogatory claim has no basis in fact, and yet it has been used successfully to pass everything from bathroom bans, restrictions on drag performances, and bans on transgender health care for kids. Seattle queers feared that if the playground had been built, simply going to Denny Blaine could have been used against them, or that police would charge them with indecent exposure. (Some said they could almost picture the salacious Fox News headline, and so could we).

It’s unclear whether donor Sloan, the City, or the neighbors were even aware that the plan could have been seen as malicious. The Stranger asked Denny Blaine for All if it understood why people perceived the plan as an attack, but it did not respond. Kimseylove told The Stranger that during the first meeting with activists, neighbors said that homophobia was not a motivating factor. They said neighbors later “vehemently” opposed designating Denny Blaine as a historic LGBTQ beach, something Kimseylove is pursuing at the state level. At the meeting Thursday, Hellier said Parks didn’t want to designate Denny Blaine as an official nude beach because they worried it would cause overcrowding.

On December 6, activists flooded the Martin Luther King FAME Community Center with bodies, signs, and slogans. The City contended that the neighborhood needed a playground, as none were within 10 or 15 minutes walking distance.

About 50 of the 380 people in attendance testified to the sanctity of Denny Blaine, including a mother who said she loved playgrounds but asked where else she could sunbathe naked without judgment, and a man who said he conquered body dysmorphia and suicidal thoughts on that beach. A trans woman who survived conversion therapy and fled red state laws felt safe there, too, as did a Black trans man named Vince Reiman, who proclaimed Denny Blaine was his “miracle.” Together, they sent a unified message to the City: Hands off the beach.

That night, parks department administrators told the crowd they’d have an answer for them in two weeks. It was a Wednesday; the plan was dead by that Friday.

Correction: This post originally stated that the neighbors supported designating Denny Blaine as a historic LGBTQ beach, but they opposed it. We regret the error.