Barbara Bailey was a beloved bookseller, LGBTQ+ rights activist and Seattle native — and her name might live on in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
Mayor Jenny Durkan is proposing to rename a portion of Capitol Hill’s East Denny Way after Bailey, who died in September after suffering a stroke. She was 74 years old.
“Barbara loved Seattle and she poured herself into making it better,” Durkan said in a statement. “She was an early pioneer for LGBTQ+ rights … She cheered on public good and fought against any injustice. She championed civil rights here in Seattle for communities of color and for the LGBTQ+ community.”
Durkan submitted her proposal to the City Council on Monday, according to the statement from her office. If approved, a block of East Denny Way between Broadway East and 10th Avenue East would be renamed to Barbara Bailey Way. The change would take effect 30 days after council approval.
Bailey’s older brother, Bruce Bailey, said he and his family were incredibly honored to hear about the proposal, but because his sister was fairly humble, she never would have seen it coming.
“Barbara was a pretty special person obviously to us, and I think with her death, we realized how many different groups and individuals she impacted,” he said. “I think we’re a little overwhelmed, but very proud of our sister.”
Barbara Bailey Way would run between Cal Anderson Park, which was named for the state’s first openly gay legislator, and the city’s new AIDS Memorial Pathway plaza, which will open next year. It’ll also be a few blocks south of the former Bailey/Coy Books, one of Bailey’s two bookstores in Seattle.
Bailey/Coy Books opened its doors in 1982 on Broadway, five years after Bailey’s first bookstore, B. Bailey Books, set up shop in downtown Seattle’s Rainier Square building, The Seattle Times reported last year.
“People felt so comfortable there,” Bruce Bailey said.
Both were cozy, organized spaces that offered a wide variety of books, but they also grew into a home for many LGBTQ+ individuals.
“They were … safe and welcoming spaces for the LGBTQ+ community, particularly for those just coming out and during the height of anti-LGBTQ+ actions,” Durkan said in a 2018 statement. “In Barbara’s bookstores, there was no shame and nothing secret or hidden – ‘our’ books were placed prominently next to all The New York Times bestsellers.”
But Bailey didn’t limit her activism to her bookstores, her brother said.
Katelen Kellogg, a spokeswoman for the Pride Foundation, said Bailey was also key in creating the Seattle-based LGBTQ+ organization in 1985.
“It was a discussion between her and several other activists literally around a kitchen table,” Kellogg said. “That discussion led to the founding of Pride Foundation … Everyone who knew and loved Pride Foundation knew of and heard stories of Barbara Bailey.”
After Bailey died, her family asked people to donate to a Pride Foundation scholarship fund in her name. The outpouring of support was shocking, Bruce Bailey said.
“She was my best friend, bigger booster, and she kicked me in the rear when I needed it,” he said Tuesday. “But even I didn’t measure the impact she had on the community … The street renaming just came at us, and we’re so grateful. That’s appropriate recognition for her in an appropriate place because that’s a place where she lived and worked and had great impact.”
City Council members are expected to vote on the mayor’s proposal on Monday.