INITIATIVE 13 STORIES
Citizens to Retain Fair Employment
Interviewed on June 3, 2000
by Larry Knopp and Mikala Woodward
Transcribed by Renia Ehrenfeucht
"Sometimes progress requires a shove."
Charles: Glen [Hunt] at one point said that we [Dorian Group] should
have a lunch get-together -- maybe it was to celebrate somebody's
birthday. So I said, “Okay, fine.” As long as he did the phone calling,
I didn't care. We had our first lunches at the Mocambo. The Mocambo even
at that point was pretty dreary so we shifted over to a place on Cherry at 2nd -- the Fox and Hounds. . . . The group around the table was a cross section of folks in the gay community. Dominantly male, but people working downtown, and they were the antithesis of the stereotype that predominated media and public perceptions. So I said we ought to start asking some [non-gay] people to come to the lunch. People were very unhappy with that idea. The closet was still the dominant ethic.
It was very informal. At that point, we may have been ten people. . . .So I stewed on it and then I invited the woman who was the director of the Office for Women's Rights, because OWR had the ordinance responsibilities for sexual orientation and gender. She had been attempting to reach out to the various organizations in the gay community because Mayor Uhlman wanted her to.
Larry: At that point, the city Housing and Fair Employment Ordinance had already been amended to include protections on the basis of sexual orientation.
Charles: The City has two separate ordinances, unlike other municipalities which combine them. . . .The Council passed fair employment and then separately did the housing ordinance. By the time that came up, the Dorian Group had already been established. I was called by [councilwoman] Jeannette Williams’ staff and asked to testify in support of it. They needed somebody from the gay community to do that. . . . So I invited her, the OWR Director, to a luncheon. Everybody was pissed. [laughs]
Mikala: You didn't tell people beforehand?
Charles: Sometimes progress requires a shove. [laughs] But you can't set a bunch of gay people around a table and keep them quiet all through the lunch hour. So the conversation struggled along and finally got bubbling. Towards the end of the hour she said, "I'd like to say a few things about what OWR does and why it might be of interest to you." And of course, she is a very easy going, very pleasant woman and she made her little presentation. Afterwards people were saying, "My, that was interesting. We should do it again." [laughter] Thus gave birth to the luncheons that the Dorian Group started. We kept inviting people. All I needed was that encouragement. Then it was easy to grow and we eventually took over the whole Fox and Hounds from half the room to the whole thing. . . .
Mikala: It does seem like before you got to Seattle, there had been this radical gay liberation movement going on.
Charles: It has its ties to the long tradition of radical politics in this area. I have my own opinion about why things like this happen. The extreme left capitalizes on various problems in society and sort of rides them for a while. My thinking at the time, and I haven't given it any critical review, was that it was time for the middle class gay people to take a step forward and express themselves. They first had to get the damn closet door open, though. That was the reason we never made Dorian a membership organization until later on, because we wanted the threshold to be so low that people would move across it without even knowing. Once you put your name on the list, because you felt good – they could sign up and voila! They were part of Dorian. We circulated that list at the end of the lecture, by the way. [laughter] We were feeling upbeat! . . .
Mikala: It sounds now like you did intend to start some sort of movement.
Charles: Not in the beginning. I didn't have the political organizing experience or skills but -- as it went on month after month, picked up popularity -- I saw the potential. Initially it was to break down these myths and stereotypes between the city leadership and the community, and get people to talk to one another, to see that the myths and stereotypes were not true. And then it was KIRO calling me, Jeanette Williams’ office calling me, and I thought well, okay. [laughs]
Mikala: It seems like the problems between the Dorian Group and the radical organizations – you didn't see them coming.
Charles: Not initially, but I could see them coming once – because the approaches were so different. The traditions of picketing and civil disobedience. The them-versus-us approach of the radical group was not my kind of politics. I want to sit down with people.
Larry: Where do you think your politics came from? Family? Community?
Charles: Well, my mother was the Democrat and my father was the Republican. I think the only time I ever heard them argue about something political was over the Dewey-Truman race. But I majored in political science. It was history and political science, my interests. . . .
Larry: Anything going on in San Francisco that informed your politics?
Charles: Society for Individual Rights was the dominant group in San Francisco. I had gone there largely to get a better understanding of what a gay person was. I had read some crazy books. I had seen "Boys in the Band." All the then prevalent negative things. There was a psychologist, a kind of distinguished guy, prematurely white hair. He used to hold open meetings at the SIR offices on Friday evenings. Anybody could walk in and talk about it. He had a definition of homosexuality and a perception on what it all meant. He provided some basic answers to some great mysteries that I had. That's how I got started. After that, within six months, I got transferred up here.
I call Jeanette Williams the mother of gay rights in Seattle, in terms of the ordinances, because she was the lead sponsor on both of them. One of the issues became -- the mayor needed to have a liaison to the gay community. It was that era when we thought if we had somebody to talk to in the mayor's office, a lot of problems would get resolved. Somehow I met Wes [Uhlman]. He got reelected and the firefighters attempted a recall. That was my first time I ever got involved in raising money for a political campaign. I raised almost a thousand dollars, which no one had ever done before from the gay community, and that sort of gave me access to the mayor. . . .
Mikala: You said your political consciousness wasn't about civil disobedience and protesting. What was it from?
Charles: Probably practical politics. I've always voted. I didn't come from any ideological stream. I probably could have been a Republican as easily as a Democrat. It was largely the receptiveness to being gay -- that one door was open. The other was: no, I don't think so. [laughs] That's basically all. If anything, I'm a practical person, not interested in ideology. Ideology in church or any ideology. I want to see results. Reforms of the great world problems can come later, but I want to see something happen today. . . .
Mikala: The story of Initiative 13 – if you want to tell us what you or the gay community learned.
Charles: It was probably the lowest day of my life when the initiative got filed and the signatures qualified for the ballot. I remember that clearly -- when the two cops filed the initiative with the city clerk. The Uhlman people immediately came out and said, “We'll do anything and everything we can to help you.” He was willing to put his whole campaign organization -- contacts, money, mailing lists, and advice -- at our disposal. So we had some early conversations – primarily, just a few people around Dorian. . . .
The Anita Bryant phenomenon [had] started to erupt and you could see it marching across the country. None of them had been successful from our standpoint. It was inevitable that it was going to get here at some point. Proposition 6 [the “Briggs Initiative”] got filed in California. It looked pretty awful.
I turned to the people in the Dorian Group. Then a whole bunch of other folks came out of the woodwork saying, “We want to get involved.” We have the support of the [Uhlman] organization. They immediately did a poll for us. Walt Crowley, who was part of the [Uhlman] organization, got drawn into it. Walt did that magnificent poster, the keyhole. That was so brilliant.
The poll showed we could win if we made it a right to privacy. Up to that point, the argument had been – well, in Dade County, it was constitutional grounds. But none of the arguments advanced by the pro-gay rights side were resonating with the general public. We had to get a message that made people feel like they had a personal investment in the outcome. The right to privacy did it, and there were brilliant television ads done. A fishbowl and people sitting in a glass house. . . .
[The anti-13] organizations institutionalized the divisions in the community. It became really clear to the community, as well as the public at large. It was my group, Citizens to Retain Fair Employment [CRFE], Seattle Committee Against Thirteen -- SCAT (which I thought was a horrendous acronym at the time), and then Women Against Thirteen. I think there was a fourth group. But we all went about our tasks and there were some early tensions between them -- tremendous tensions.
There was a fear that SCAT and the others might harm the results because of their ideological drives, when we were so focused on a practical message that the majority of voters could identify with. I attribute it to a lack of political sophistication. There's a wide area to play in here and everybody can take some role and some responsibility and not necessarily get in one another's way.
Larry: Do you think they also had fears about your group?
Charles: Oh, I suppose they did: our message was too mushy. You'd have to ask the folks there what their fears are. I was more worried about what they were going to do to what we were doing. [laughs] But they had a good bus poster. Some of their folks did quite well with the labor unions, which was very important in this town. So in spite of ourselves, we managed [laughs] to do quite well. Actually, our vote outcome tally 2 to 1 beat [California’s] Proposition 6 [that is: its win ratio]. I remember that night calling from the Eagles Auditorium and talking to somebody in Los Angeles and crowing about our vote tally. [laughter] It felt good.
It was a huge night. Of course, there was a major parade, demonstration in downtown. And the Eagles Auditorium –an immense hall. It is where the Convention Center is now. Jammed to the gills. It was a very exciting evening.
In the very earliest days after the initiative qualified, I started going around to the organizations that I knew, the little clubs, primarily social. The question was, how can we defeat this thing? Because Dade County, St. Paul, Colorado, they had all fallen like bowling pins. I realized that I had to be convincing, so I had to convince myself first. [laughs] By just saying to people, “Yes, we can defeat this thing.” Because they were quite demoralized before it even started.
The exuberance at the end was just fabulous. There was plenty of celebration for everybody. But I think the lesson was learned then, and paid off when we did the Hands Off Washington. [a 1993 campaign to defeat two statewide anti-gay ballot initiatives, 608 and 610]
Mikala: What lesson?
Charles: Trying to bring all the people under the same tent during the campaign. That was more exhausting by far, because so much energy had to go into holding everybody together instead of dealing with the opponents. . . .
Mikala: You said to me that you felt Initiative 13 gave people in Seattle a sense of complacency.
Charles: We had done what was perceived to be impossible. We defeated one of these anti-gay initiatives at the municipal level. I think that set up an environment here that gave people tremendous confidence about where they were, who they could be in this town, without dire consequences. I think that became widely known and a lot of gay and lesbian people came to the city. Out of that arose a kind of complacency -- that everything's fine. We don't have to worry about anything and we don't have to do anything either. The Dorian Group had a struggle and serious decline after Initiative 13. I am a great believer that organizations that get set up to do a job ought to do that job and then fold their tent. . . .
Dorian Group helped prepare the community for Initiative 13. Once Initiative 13 had happened, then it was a struggle to keep it going when there didn't appear to be any threat. I evolved a belief out of that: community is great at responding to threats, but terrible at seizing opportunities. I've tried to figure out why the heck that is. I think it partly is, is because the community in essence is a slice of the country. You've got all that diversity within this piece of the pie and it's very hard to get them focused, absent this threat. . . .
Probably for a shy person, politics is a great way to create a structure in which you have to be more engaged with people than you might otherwise be as a wallflower [at] some bar.
Larry: You would describe yourself as a shy person underneath it all?
Charles: Oh, yes. It's a nice crutch, I guess.
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