INITIATIVE 13 STORIES
Citizens to Retain Fair Employment
Interviewed on August 30 and September 13, 1997
by Mikala Woodward
Transcribed by Teri Balkenende
"The ďEl AlameinĒ of the gay-rights movement"
Roger: I knew something about what was going on fromí72 to í77, but I
was in Ellensburg so I wasnít involved in Seattle affairs. But the Dorian Group -- I had become a member and was getting newsletters, so I knew they had this [office manager] position open. It paid $833 a month or something. . . .
I was ridiculously overqualified and I think what sold them was that I was able to type like the wind. My job was to open an office, and I loved the Smith Tower, so we opened the office in room 826. My job was to do the newsletter and handle volunteers. And Charlie Brydon -- [Dorian Group] was his group still. (He was [also] running AFIA insurance and the staff were gay people too -- we used to call it ďAllied Faggots In Action.Ē)
I must say, in first mentioning Charlie Brydon, I donít think anybody has done more for the city. . . . He [was] connected with people and geared towards being effective, as opposed to being right, or being dogmatic, or being recognized, even. . . . He was not schooled in the Freedom Socialist version of sexual politics as I was -- which is not something I embrace but at least it helped to open my mind more. I learned to be more self-critical of my beliefs. . . .
The Dorian Group -- a great civil rights and education organization, the ACLU for the lesbian and gay world. They did a lot of correct things, like trying to maintain gender balance and involve minorities, but it was still a pretty middle-class organization. The same themes kept coming up: why arenít more women and minorities involved? We agonized about that. Weíd do all we could and end up feeling guilty. Are we racist and sexist because theyíre not here? Or is it a reflection of the way life is? Women and minorities donít have a lot of extra time because theyíre paid less. . . . Like it or not, when youíre a white male whoís been to Harvard -- you just get a lot of support that other people didnít get. But we kept trying, and I think that was important -- that those principles mattered. . . . The Dorian Group continued to be the place the mainstream looked for information. It was the place [to bring] the government, could get the chief of police, could get the congressmen, could get the gay leaders. . . .
Shortly after the fall of 1977 -- everything started happening at once. SEAMEC got started, so I got involved in that. That was in part another Charlie Brydon brainstorm. . . SEAMEC was in part a response to the Anita Bryant [movement]. We already had gay rights here. It passed because of connections people had in the [City] Council to gay people. Council members, in reviewing the anti-discrimination laws of housing and employment, added the sexual orientation language, without a lot of hoopla. . . .
[Also] the Office for Womenís Rights was important, [and] the Womenís Commission. We were linking ourselves to the Womenís Movement, deliberately, because it was part of the battle against sexism and heterosexism. . . .We didnít see a connection to the labor movement so much, or a connection to class struggle. . . .
So Anita Bryant was doing her thing off in Florida and having great success. Then they went to Nebraska and then to Eugene, and it was getting fairly close to home. And thatís what led to the initiative campaign in Seattle. . . .
Wayne Angevine deserves a mention in this history, because [he] was a city clerk at the time. He telephoned our office to say that two police officers had just filed Initiative 10. . . . Wayne was the first person to know about it. I was the second person to know about it, and Charlie Brydon was the third person to know. . . .
Initiative 10 was to take out the employment ordinance. They learned later there was also a housing ordinance so they came back with Initiative 11. The way it was written was very amateurish. They kicked it out. They came back with Initiative 12, which would have been okay, and then they learned about the Office for Women's Rights and decided to go after that as well. Finally they got some help, [and] wrote a more well-crafted thing. They got the lovely number of 13. . . .
One of the most creative things that came out of the campaign was a little button: ďThirteen-ly not.Ē I think that was a Randy Henson idea.
Randy Henson was probably one of the most clever and fun-loving, yet effective, people in our movement. The Tacky Tourists was partially his brainchild. He became the office manager for Citizens to Retain Fair Employment. There was a debate for some time: should the Dorian Group become involved in the campaign against Initiative 13? Should there be some special group created for fighting Initiative 13? Should we freak out the public now and discourage signature gathering, or should we lie low until the signatures have been filed? There were pros and cons -- and real anger behind the different sides.
There was a lot at stake here because to make a big stink would draw more attention to the existence of the measure. We felt it would help the other side to gather signatures. It was a question of, what is our goal with these initiatives? Our goal is not to let them pass. Our goal is not, then, to use this opportunity to teach the public about homophobia, our goal is not to use this opportunity to go down fighting. We tended to be the folks who came out of the Dorian Group approach: letís not be politically correct, letís not be philosophically pure, letís not be dogmatic, letís not be perfect. Letís be effective. . . .
Dorian had a longer term mission -- educational, social. It was a social center. The hiking club and all these other activities were always in the newsletter. This was important. People were beginning to connect socially around things other than baths and political meetings. That was a function the Dorian Group did well.
I continued to be the Dorian Groupís office manager. I did not have a job with CRFE. Part of my job, I always felt, was to keep the two organizations separate. Questions came to us about the initiative -- refer them to Citizens. . . . The point was to prepare, in case they are successful, and we assumed they would be successful. We had to assume that, so that we could be prepared. . . .
[CRFE] caught hell from a lot of people for a closet approach. We werenít confronting peopleís homophobia. Weíre hiding in the closet behind the name of Citizens to Retain Fair Employment? No, thatís not true, we were all well known as gays and lesbians. In the meantime we were creating this great event that occurred at the church at Sixth and Seneca, when the chief of police, the mayor, the members of the city council, the Archbishop of Seattle, several other religious leaders, and dignitaries and opinion leaders, are all gathered with Charlie Brydon to denounce Initiative 13, and to call on the citizens to reject it. A great big splash to show that this city doesn't want this. So Citizens was not so much "The Gay Community" fighting this initiative, but the people of the city. That's a great deal of why they won, in my opinion.
This had all been done in the background during the time of signature gathering -- rather than to be out there on the streets doing bigot-buster stuff. A lot of people wanted to do that simultaneously. Of course you would. Itís a hostile act, to gather signatures in that setting and you want to fight back. But the decision here was to win the campaign, not to give vent to those emotions, reacting in that way. We wanted to take that energy and anger and turn it into victory.
We didnít want to lose the Office for Womenís Rights, or the Housing and Employment protections. Because if theyíre taken away, you arenít going to get them back for a generation. Then you have to do a generation of public education and make it a popular idea to adopt. Frankly, most of the people, then as now, donít want to think about it much because when they think about gay rights, it just automatically turns to sex, and itís difficult for people. Itís difficult in this society to talk about heterosexual sex. Itís difficult in this society to talk about where underarm deodorant goes. [laughter] You know? They donít tell you what Kotex is for; itís just a box. So in this kind of society itís difficult to talk about our issues without people having all this stuff in their heads.
The point was -- the voters need a reason to vote the way we want. It has to work for them. They donít do it because somebody came by and told me, ďOh, Iím persecuted and if youíll vote this way I wonít be so much.Ē So what? When youíre in the voting booth youíre absolutely to yourself. You can vote your prejudice, youíre totally unaccountable. Thatís why I donít like direct democracy because itís making laws by people who donít have to account for it, they donít have to deal with the consequences.
[CRFE] focused on privacy. Hereís the rationale: if itís legal to discriminate against people based on something as personal and private as their sexual orientation, then if somebody wants to find a reason to fire you or get you out of the house youíre in, then they might start nosing into your private life, to find out whether there is some perceived or real sexual orientation on which they can hook their discriminatory intent.
The other piece was that to fight a campaign, you must have the mainstream of opinion leaders and politics and community leadership with you. Or at least you need a good portion of it. You [canít] be totally perceived as an off-the-wall movement, or a fringe group. . . .
So that was two things: One is have a message the voters could embrace, that would give them a personal reason to vote our way. Second, to involve the establishment. Third, to use television. That was done by a commercial that showed a family having dinner, and the camera backing away until finally you see that theyíre under surveillance -- by cameras. Then they say, ďInitiative 13 -- your privacy is at stake.Ē . . .
Then Seattle Committee Against Thirteen came up. They were not able to work with the Citizens to Retain Fair Employment; it did not sit with their beliefs on how things should be done. They wanted to draw a connection between Initiative 15. They wanted to connect with oppression of other groups, and that we needed to confront homophobia. Citizens did not see it as a winning strategy. We felt that if you go door to door saying, ďHow do you feel about homosexuals?Ē youíre going to engage people in what I was talking about -- that uncomfortableness. So theyíre going to want to vote yes in this case rather than no.
In initiative campaigns having the no is a real advantage, and we had the no side. If you just get people doubtful enough, theyíll vote no. You have to convince them to vote yes, but you have to just make them doubtful to vote no. So that was helpful, that we got that side. We also fought over the wording of the initiative. Thatís happened again and again Ö fighting over the ballot titles, because thatís what most voters read, and thatís all they read. . . .
Seattle Committee Against Thirteen takes total credit for the victory. And nobody from the Citizens to Retain Fair Employment does, except Iím doing that now. I donít think Seattle Committee Against Thirteen won the election; they helped. They brought together the people who listened to them. They mobilized the folks who were part of their affinity groups. They got out there and they were active. And they were making people doubtful -- they were bringing the no votes forward. But not most of them, because the margin was two-thirds virtually, 65% as a total turn-around from what Anita Bryant was getting elsewhere.
There was also, interestingly, Women Against Thirteen. And they helped, to mobilize some womenís energy. So -- everybody helped.
The Briggs initiative in California happened the same time and was voted down the very same night. This was an anti-gay teacher measure in California, which got most of the attention. This writer in Saturday Review [called] Seattle the ďEl AlameinĒ of the gay-rights movement. El Alamein was a battle that turned the tide in World War [II] -- where a series of defeats was turned to a great victory. Because after Seattle the Anita Bryant effort fizzled out. And it wasnít because Anita Bryant was ever here. There was some Anita Bryant money supposedly. But we proved it was possible to beat them, in a decisive way -- and not based on confronting homosexuality.
I thought that the difference in spirit of the thing was shown the night of the election when we were winning. We [CRFE] had reserved the Eagleís auditorium, and the mayor was there and everybody was having a party. It was just delightful, to have won on such a margin, to have the people on our side that day.
But Seattle Committee Against Thirteen and Women Against Thirteen were having a candlelight march through the streets. Now why would you have a candlelight march except to mourn a death, or commemorate a tragedy? They fully expected a loss, I think. They expected that ďWe shall overcomeĒ will be the message instead of ďWe won, hooray!Ē They were prepared for continuing struggle. Well, of course itís a continuing struggle, but itís a difference of spirit. The party spirit versus the taking-it-all-so-seriously spirit. . . .
It has not been politically fashionable to oppose the gay community since then in the city of Seattle. I think the people said that discrimination was wrong and that they werenít going to go for that. . . . We ask sometimes, ďWhy did Seattle go this way?í Part of it was, Seattle has the lowest per capita church attendance in the country, I think. Itís a good live and let live city. . . .
All the attention brought to gays in Dade County and everywhere Anita Bryant went -- it didnít create more Christians, it created more open, out gays. She was counter-productive for everything they were out to do. Well, hallelujah, that it should work that way.
Unfortunately it took away some laws, but those laws werenít necessarily that effective. People could never access them anyway -- just out of fear. But it was important [that] those laws be on the books. It was important that they could be reneged off the books. A lot of these folks wanted to take everything back they could, to re-criminalize sodomy. . . .
One thing that Iíve realized over the years is that the gay movement is very moral activity. Weíre fighting for individual freedom. Weíre fighting for human dignity. You donít have dignity if youíre not free. If youíre not able to make your own choices, then youíre a child, a slave, or something sub-human. The people who make choices for you -- actually their morality is lowered by that. They donít see it that way. They see themselves as superior, and thatís what that struggle is about. . . . Thatís what always motivated me. . . .
Sure, it came from a selfish attitude -- Iím a gay person and I want to be supported. But I havenít done all these things on account of, for me. I was doing okay. Iím a white, male, well-educated person whoís had a lot of privileges and opportunities. But this isnít just helping gay people and lesbians, itís something thatís good for the world. The world doesnít know it yet. But just learning to be accepting of gay people is learning to be accepting of people as they are, the way they come out of Godís hands, or however you want express it.
And frankly, the people who disagree with this are engaged in a very evil enterprise. Itís very dangerous before their God to go up and account for themselves, as to, ďHow did you spend a lot of your energy in life persecuting other people who were trying to believe in me too? How did you decide for yourself that you are the one to carry out my will? And -- to know what my will is?Ē
One thing my dad, who was a preacher, always said is that the greatest wisdom of people is foolishness in the eyes of God -- no one can know Godís will. All these folks saying, ďGays should be persecutedĒ -- these people are very misguided and their souls are in danger, if any of that has any truth to it at all. Theyíre in big trouble, [laughter] as far as Iím concerned, but itís not to me to give them that trouble. . . . .
I just hope and pray that thereís not some political shift that puts us back to the í30s, when the Nazis were able to begin the process of complete annihilation, with the acquiescence of churches and governments everywhere.
Note: portions of this account about the city clerk and the various versions of the initiative are taken from the Randy Henson interview, in which Roger was a co-interviewer.
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