BY TYLER SIPE / SEATTLE CHANNEL STAFF
George Bakan passed away at his desk last June, surrounded by a symbol of his life’s work: towering piles of the newspaper Seattle Gay News (SGN).
Before the internet and smartphone apps delivered news and connected people, SGN shared stories of Seattle’s LGBTQ+ population who were marginalized, harassed, faced frequent discrimination, and were underserved by the local media. George helped fill that void and gave LGBTQ+ members a voice when he took the helm of the weekly publication in 1983 as publisher and editor.
Under George’s tenure, the country’s third oldest LGBTQ+ publication chronicled the devastating early years of the AIDS epidemic, the struggle for marriage equality, and more recently, the fight to expand rights for transgender people. His true passion — activism — showed through the pages of the weekly newspaper.
“George was a passionate advocate for the equality and justice for all people,” said former Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who was a friend to George and is currently helping archive issues of SGN dating back to 1974, when it was a one-page newsletter. “He was of course really focused on the LGBTQ community, but he also was an advocate for women’s rights, the homeless, and an early supporter of prisoner rights.”
Tom describes George as “a rascal,” having a wicked sense of humor, strong opinions, and was a mischief-maker. He also said George was a complex figure, due in part to the anti-gay times in which he grew up. He was raised in the Mormon church and spent most of his younger years in the more conservative Eastern Washington.
“My relationship with my dad was complicated and sometimes rocky,” said Angela Cragin, who lives in the Tri-Cities
, where George spent his high school years, went into local real estate, and started a family. But when Angela was a young child, George “walked away from everything,” separated from his wife, and moved to Seattle where he’d come out as gay.
“My dad comes from a huge family. He was so adored by his mom and sisters, but they were fragmented, too,” Angela said.
George and Angela stayed in touch
, and over the years, worked on strengthening their relationship. He was an especially proud grandfather to her three daughters.
Two days before he passed away, George tuned in to his granddaughter Molly’s high school graduation. She was a top graduate of her class and delivered a speech that left George beaming, Angela said.
“I feel like that was a huge gift that ‘Papa George’ got to see [Molly] graduate… that we got to experience his joy,” she said.
George left Angela an additional gift by putting her in charge of SGN. The pressure on Angela to honor her father and the responsibility to uphold the community’s memories and history has been weighty.
Following her dad’s passing and the community fundraiser, Angela better understood the impact her father had on Seattle’s LGBTQ+.
“He really did touch a lot of people,
.” Angela said. “I got a call from an SGN reader who told me the paper saved his life. I was confounded by the statement, but the caller reminded me back then, there was no internet… SGN was the community resource.”
George is irreplaceable within the city’s LGBTQ+ community, but Angela is working hard to keep his memory and legacy alive through the pages of SGN. Angela has brought in younger writers with fresh perspectives to compliment longtime contributors who have countless bylines and institutional knowledge. Her goal is to bridge the younger and older generations and make them one community.
“I see my father, his colleagues, and his community as pioneers and trailblazers for the LGBT movement,” Angela said. “I want to honor them and make them all proud.”