Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Project


Citizens to Retain Fair Employment

Oral History:

Randy Henson

Interviewed on August 13, 2003
by Roger Winters and Larry Knopp

"We really did change the tide of history."

Randy: In '77 I attempted to go back to school, and then this initiative was filed. I think it was Charlie [Brydon] that called me and said, "Do you want to come to work for this campaign that we're going to start?" I said, "Sure." They had already lined up the office space, but I had to go around gathering furniture. I remember going to a couple different union offices -- offering us furniture and office equipment.

Roger: Where was that office, for CRFE?

Randy: At the time it was called the Indian Center Building, at 2nd and Cherry, practically on top of the 611 Tavern. They were in the building next door. We were, I think, on the second floor. We had a large conference room [where] we could have meetings and news conferences. I was the first person hired, and then they recruited Jill Schropp as the campaign manager. There ended up being four of us on the paid staff. Other people came on later to do public outreach, public education, going to community council meetings, and things like that.

That campaign was really enlightening for me, because we were in the news, dealing with the news all the time. That was definitely a stage for me coming out of the closet, partly by accident, because one of the big debates that year was about the Gay Pride march. At that time it was still a march, basically sponsored by Freedom Socialists, Radical Women, Stonewall Committee -- the left. Our steering committee for Citizens -- I had to go to their meetings to keep minutes -- just ongoing debates about whether or not to be involved with that. Finally they decided to be conservative and not endorse the march. Not to make an overt effort to discourage people from doing it but they figured, by marching in the streets, it would just bring the issue to the headlines. They [the other side] were nearing their deadlines for getting the signatures. We figured that that would only help get more signatures, having this Gay Pride march.

Roger: There's a photograph in the History Museum Project's exhibitions. You see a Dorian Group sign, in '78, I believe, heading down towards Occidental Park.

Randy: I participated in it, not in official capacity, but just because I wanted to be there. One of my roles on the campaign was being the liaison from the Citizens campaign to [the] three other campaigns. One was the Women Against Thirteen. The other was Seattle Committee Against Thirteen. And then the Church Council had another organization. We would meet -- at least once a month, maybe biweekly throughout the summer -- to discuss strategies and share information. So because I was in that liaison role I participated in the march, and I would have anyway.

But maybe two days before the march -- I was the only one in the office and the phone rang, and it was a reporter for the Seattle P-I. I ended up being quoted in the paper, even though I had said, "I am not the spokesperson for the campaign. You should call back." But what I did was read the news release that was sent out. So they used my name with the quotes.

Larry: Saying what?

Randy: Just stating the campaign's position about why we were not participating in the march. It appeared in the paper the next day and the Seattle P-I got delivered east of the mountains. A couple friends of my mom read that paper. So I called my sister and came out to [her]. So she came over within a few days and met people in the campaign, and told me that she would support me, no matter what. The irony of this is that she had already shared, with her husband and my nephew, that she already suspected that I was gay. She was just waiting for me to come out to her. So I figured that was the time. I might as well get it out. As it turns out, nobody in Quincy noticed, because Mom said she never heard about it at all.

Roger: It's a name that could be any --

Randy: It could be several people, true.

Roger: "Not our Randy!" [laughter]

Randy: You won't believe this. In a little town of 3500 people, there were two other people named Randy Henson. One of them was younger than me by about four years, and the other was about three or four years younger than him. None of us were even remotely related to each other. The one that was four or five years younger was the hell-raiser. He was always getting in trouble. So people would read about this guy -- the first couple of times it happened, people would call my parents and say, "Is that your son that did that?" [laughter]

Anyway, I was very involved in the campaign, and that was one of the things I'm most proud of. Because we really did change the tide of history, as far as the gay rights movement goes. Between that and the initiative that happened in California -- the Briggs Initiative.

All of a sudden, after these anti-gay initiatives going across the country from Florida to Minnesota, Kansas, and Eugene -- then finally things changed. And it was because the campaign had really good, very smart, politically minded people strategizing for our campaign, learning from what other people were doing, learning about mistakes.

Mid-summer there was a conference in the Twin Cities, where people from all these other cities had been involved in these other campaigns. They converged -- and learned. They shared information about what worked and what didn't and why, after all these surveys leading up to the vote, where people went into the voting booth and -- totally different than what all the surveys would show.

It was because [of] last-minute fear campaigns that the right wing would put out, and it played on people's fears. So that was the one thing that the people from our campaign -- Charlie and Jill -- came back with: if we're going to win we have to play on people's fear. We have to play on their emotion. We have to get to them with a hot-button, emotional issue. We did this telephone survey asking so many different questions. When we got the results back from the campaign consultants, they said, "This is your issue. It's privacy." Because something like 98 percent of the people -- and there were hundreds of people surveyed -- agreed that everybody has the right to privacy. So that became the theme of our campaign, and how we fought the initiative.

We based it on, not an attack against gay people, but an attack against a fundamental -- everybody's right to privacy. The people from Freedom Socialists and Radical Women thought we were selling out. But what we were trying to do was to appeal to that 40 percent of the voters in the middle. In every city, we knew we had at least 30 percent of the vote. The other side could count on 30 percent of the vote. But there was this 40 percent in the middle that could be swayed either way, and we were losing most of those people at the last minute. So [Seattle Committee Against Thirteen] and Women Against Thirteen were focusing on get-out-the-vote drives, in the minority communities and in the gay community as well. And we wanted them to do that. We encouraged them to get the non-traditional voters -- to motivate them to vote, by making it a minority rights issue and a women's rights issue. And then what we focused on were the middle-of-the-road voters -- in Ballard and West Seattle. Those two areas was where we did most of our doorbelling.

Larry: So you didn't see the two strategies, by those two camps, as contradictory? You saw them as complementary?

Randy: No, they complemented each other. And that's what we kept telling them, "What we're doing is complementary. You guys are going after Capitol Hill, the U-District, and the Rainier Valley. We're going after Lake City and --" Mostly, I remember the focus on doorbelling was in Ballard and Wallingford and West Seattle, because those were the swing voters that we had to get. And our strategy ended up working very well. . . .

I don't know if anybody else has discussed this, but another turning point in that campaign was when one of the two police officers [John Falk] shot the young Black guy that was fleeing from trespassing. That's all he would have been charged with, was trespassing. And that stifled -- because they [SOME] had gotten this very shrewd black guy -- Wayne Perryman [as a spokesperson].

Larry: He disassociated himself from the campaign rather quickly.

Randy: He did, after that happened. . . .

Things That Go Bump in the Night evolved from the Halloween Against Thirteen at the Aquarium. That was the first big gay Halloween party that really had an impact and drew a big crowd. . . .

The party at the Eagles Auditorium was one of the things I helped organize. One of my job duties was to organize special events. We'd already organized [a] partly successful fundraiser there. A few people wanted to do this big talent show type thing, and we did it at the Eagles Ballroom earlier in the year. It wasn't a very successful fundraiser, but it was very successful in recruiting volunteers. Because of that experience we chose to use Eagles again, partly because of its history as a social gathering place throughout the 60s and 70s. . . .

It wasn't long after that that the religious right started using the "special rights" thing. It wasn't "gay rights," per se. They came out with "special rights," because they knew they couldn't win just attacking us for being sinners.

Larry: Actually, I remember them using that during the Initiative 13 campaign.

Randy: Yeah, they did. But they did slightly fine-tune their points and stopped using the religious argument so much. . . .

I remember the incredible joy we all experienced as a result of that election. That was the first time I ever traveled out of state as a gay man, that following New Year's holiday. I went with my partner and some friends to San Francisco. First time in the big city. Non-stop partying for four or five days. I remember when I would tell people I was from Seattle, instantly getting acknowledged for what we had done here. Not just from people in San Francisco but people [from] other parts of the country. So it really was significant.

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