October 20, 2016 at 1:00 pm EDT | by Brock Thompson
Time to make 17th Street our official gay street
17th Street, gay news, Washington Blade

A portion of 17th Street was named for veteran LGBT rights pioneer Frank Kameny, third from left, in 2010. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In this “Best Of” issue of the Blade, we’re reminded of the best things about being gay in this fabulous city of ours. Practically everything is here – the best this, the best that – it’s truly an honor just to be nominated, probably. And truthfully, we get to highlight some very cool places and very deserving people.

I’ve even explored all the great and gay things I love about D.C. before in this column. One reader liked that piece so much they commented, “I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.” I assume they threw up out of excitement, like the Labrador we had when I was a kid. But of all the things I love about D.C., the one thing I’ve come to really appreciate is 17th Street. After all, it’s our street.

I enjoy strolling down 17th Street just about any time of day. We all know the stretch I’m talking about, those few blocks between S and P streets. Dito’s Bar, JR.’s, Cobalt, Annie’s, and some sexy, sultry frame stores, 17th Street is just too damn charming. It’s right that the gay community coalesced around it. It’s tree-lined, quiet-ish, and more appealing than nearby 14th Street. When I saw a baby stroller literally jammed in the revolving door of a popular 14th Street restaurant, I knew that strip had seen its heyday. But 17th endures.

When I think of other cities that I’ve been to recently that boast similar gay neighborhoods, I’m reminded that we can do a better job of really making 17th Street our own. But how to go about designating that? Chicago’s infamous Boystown has those large, rather phallic looking things with rainbow rings running around its base lining Halsted Street. The symbolism there is rather subtle, don’t you think? Google that, hit images. You’ll see what I mean. But, nevertheless, there is a benefit to designation. It helps clarify, impart, and promote the benefits of history, especially important for minority groups.

Visiting Montreal for the first time this past summer for a friend’s bachelor weekend, I was struck by what an importance the city places on pedestrian-only streets coupled with public art installations. The heart of the gay neighborhood, there known as “the Village,” was free of cars during the summer months. Not only that, the street was lined with thousands of pink balls hung overhead. Also, it was peppered with public art pieces, including an upright piano free for anyone to play. It was fascinating to watch people, gay and straight, respond to these things.

Chicago and Montreal are but two examples. D.C. can do this. And D.C. needs to do this. And yes, I know that a few of those blocks on 17th Street are designated as Frank Kameny Way, just look up at the street sign next time your at Dupont Italian Kitchen. Sadly, though, not a lot people are familiar with who Frank Kameny was or what he did. That’s a column for another time. My point, we can do more. I’d like to see 17th Street pedestrian only, if not just for a few days or even weeks around Pride. I’d like to see more of an effort from the city to help, with anything from painting the crosswalks in rainbow colors to some of those blue neighborhood heritage trail signs that you see around other neighborhoods in the city.

Seventeenth Street is our street. And it’s time to officially designate that. It’s really one of the best things about living in D.C.

Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to the Blade.

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