From parties to virtual events, this Seattle group is finding creative ways to build community for LGBTQ+ women

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From left: Hannah Balducci, Eve Matson, Varsha Nandula and Siobhan Fox, core organizers of Sapphic Seattle, a community group for queer women, pose for a portrait at Supernova Seattle late last month in Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

One of the most talked-about additions to the local LGBTQ+ nightlife scene that has emerged from the pandemic era is Sapphic Seattle, a group that organizes events aimed at carving out space for young people who identify as lesbians, queer women, trans or nonbinary.

Founded by Hannah Balducci, who was looking for ways to connect with other queer women, the group takes its name from Sappho, the ancient Greek poet of the isle of Lesbos, who was known for penning romantic poems to women. 

The term “Sapphic” puts emphasis on orientation or attraction, rather than gender, the group’s founder says. People who come to Sapphic Seattle’s events might identify as lesbian, queer, bisexual or pansexual, or simply as “Sapphics.” 

“There’s a necessity for queer women and Sapphic-oriented spaces,” Balducci said Hannah Balducci. “You have this huge vacuum.” 

The number of lesbian nightlife spaces nationally has shrunk at an alarming rate in recent years. According to The Lesbian Bar Project, only 21 lesbian bars remain in operation in the U.S., with three of those on the West Coast — one of which is Seattle’s Wildrose. 

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“So many women are coming out as bisexual, lesbian, queer and it’s a dichotomy — why is the community growing when these spaces are shrinking?” Balducci says. 

So in May 2021, after the COVID-19 vaccine had become available to most, Balducci decided to create a new outlet to help queer women meet one another. 

“I had a variety of dating app accounts and I would just kind of swipe on everyone and be like, ‘Party tonight!’ Send [a photo of] your vaccine card in exchange for the address. Come through!” said Balducci, who has since roped in collaborators Siobhan Fox, Varsha Nandula and Eve Matson to help organize events.

What started as do-it-yourself house parties with around 30 attendees quickly gained traction through word-of-mouth and social media. They experimented with venues, hosting an event on the beach at Carkeek Park and another at queer women-owned Mose Auto in Georgetown, and quickly realized they were growing so fast that “a house [party] wasn’t going to work if anywhere from 200 to 300 people showed up,” Balducci said. 

So after taking two months off at the beginning of this year due to a spike in King County coronavirus cases, Sapphic Seattle hosted its first event at Supernova, a 6,500-square foot, 600-person capacity Sodo club known for its artsy, immersive experiences, and an intergalactic disco theme that includes a giant rotating Pegasus, disco ball, DJ booth, go-go dancers and confetti cannons. Although not owned by an LGBTQ+ person, Supernova has a reputation for amplifying queer talent, and owner Zac Levine helped the Sapphic Seattle organizers successfully scale up their formerly intimate-sized events.

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Sapphic Seattle, a community group for queer women, organizes parties at Supernova Seattle, seen between events in May in Sodo. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

Levine has “been kind of a mentor,” Fox said. “Whenever we deal with things we don’t know how to handle, and just giving advice on how to run a business and nightlife in Seattle.”

“We sort of skipped 50 steps,” Balducci said. “There was a lot of venues we could have done in between, but we sort of went from smaller scale events to these massive parties. We have three DJs, we have aerialists, we have pole dancers, we have a host. The production value is very high.” 

Sapphic Seattle requires proof of vaccination to attend all events, and encourages attendees to use Washington state’s contact tracing tools. Upon entering a Sapphic Seattle event, attendees are presented with a choice of wristbands. Pink indicates a person is open to flirting. Yellow means you’re seeking friends only. At Supernova, guests pass through a hall of infinity mirrors into a packed club with aerialists, pole dancers, multiple DJs spinning pop and hip-hop, and a host who facilitates icebreakers and conversation starters. Organizers want everyone attending to feel welcome, regardless of whether they’re coming alone, as a couple or in a group. The idea is to create a safer space to flirt and dance, where consent is prioritized. 

The all-queer Sapphic team works exclusively with queer talent and performers, prioritizing Black, Indigenous and people of color dancers, DJs and entertainers. Recent lineups have included DJs KWEEN KAYSH, MIXX America and Hershe; host Shadae Simone; and dancers Onyx Wolf, Harley B and Lavender Sinclair.

But what they’ve built isn’t just about the parties. A mere year into its founding, Sapphic Seattle considers itself a community builder and content creator as well as an event organizer. The group’s Instagram, TikTok and Facebook group accounts have drawn thousands of followers — particularly on TikTok, where they’re up to more than 45,000 followers as of June 1. They’ve put on a variety of events including virtual speed dating and even hosted a Minecraft server. They’ve also seen the birth of a network of book clubs, group chats and Discord channels whose occupants met and got to know each other through Sapphic Seattle events. 

“It gave me a sense of belonging within the queer community and empowered me to be my ‘most gayest’ self,” said K.J. Ahn, an Asian American and Pacific Islander queer woman from Hawaii who’s attended many Sapphic Seattle events. “Sapphic events really gave us the power and permission to explore parts of ourselves that many of us historically were told not to.”

Sapphic’s events attract people from as far away as Canada and the Midwest because “there are so few, if any, spaces for queer women and Sapphics in those areas that many are willing to travel,” Balducci says. “People are coming from Oregon, they’re coming from Vancouver [B.C.]. They’re staying at Airbnbs to go to the events. People are really hungry to have anything specific to their community.” 

If you go

Sapphic Seattle is revving up for Pride this year. The group will participate in the Seattle Pride Parade with Supernova and BeautyBoiz on June 26. Here are some parties they’re hosting. 

Prom-themed party 8 p.m.-2 a.m. June 2; Supernova, 110 S. Horton St., Seattle; $17-$18

Isle of Lesbos party 8 p.m.-2 a.m. June 23; Supernova, 110 S. Horton St., Seattle; ticket prices to be determined

Sapphic pride party 8 p.m.-2 a.m. June 24; Chop Suey, 1325 E. Madison St., Seattle; $21-$23

Pride party 4-9 p.m. June 26; Neighbours Nightclub, 1509 Broadway, Seattle; ticket prices to be determined

Check @sapphicseattle on Instagram or on TikTok for more details.

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Correction: A previous version of this story referred to Hannah Balducci as co-founder of Sapphic Seattle, and stated that the organization was in its second year. She is the organization’s sole founder, and Sapphic Seattle is 1 year old.

Mark Van Streefkerk: is a Seattle-based freelance writer and journalist. He loves to cover local news, arts and LGBTQIA+ topics. He can be reached on Twitter at @VanStreefkerk.