Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Project


People of Faith Against Thirteen

Oral History:

Rita Smith

Interviewed on November 2, 2003
by Emily Hazen

"I had pushed a lot of doorbells in my life."

Emily: We could maybe go on to Initiative 13? Did you canvass?

Rita: I did. And the areas that I canvassed in, actually, were the University District.

Emily: So what was that like?

Rita: It was actually a very gratifying experience, because it was one of those cases where, you know, you just walk up to somebody and say, “I’m a lesbian woman. I’m your neighbor and this is what’s going on and I’m concerned about it.” People were really receptive, which was what the outcome of the vote showed.

So, one of the most powerful things for me was getting friends who weren’t normally very involved in activist things. I was a precinct committee person. Doorbelling was no big deal to me. I had pushed a lot of doorbells in my life. But I remember one woman in particular that decided she would go out and do it, and how frightened she was when she first went out -- the assumption that she was going run into all this hatred. And coming back and saying, “You know, it was great!” [laughs]

And that sense of, if we get past our own fear -- it’s not that there’s nothing out there that is a danger or a threat to us, but it’s not necessarily nearly as much as we might imagine it to be, you know?

A lot of my work on the Initiative 13 campaign was in coalition with the Church Council. There may have been more cooperative efforts before that, but I felt like that was a real turning point in terms of getting real active, articulate support from the religious community that I hadn’t experienced before.

Frankly, a big part of that was due specifically to Cherry [Johnson]’s determination that that was going to happen. She and I both came out of strong religious backgrounds, and had worked with religious organizations and knew both their power and their limitations. She was willing to take that on and say, “We’re going to get these folks to listen to us. We’re going to ask them to stand by us and work with their congregations.” And they did. . . .

Emily: Did you talk to ministers or congregations?

Rita: I didn’t personally. I went to the coordinating committee meetings with the Church Council. And I participated in a couple of conferences on spirituality and lesbian and gay issues.

Emily: Where Initiative 13 was discussed?

Rita: Yes. In my recollection, it seems that that was when we really began making a very active commitment to working with religious organizations. It had been assumed up to that point that there was no point in doing that. And I feel like that was a very key component to our success. And the campaign was People of Faith Against Thirteen. . . .

The thing is, when you’re doing political organizing, it’s important to get beyond the stance of any overall institution, and figure out if there are key people in that institution who can be useful. And they can either be useful outside of the institution and/or they can be useful in the institution. We’ve seen both -- that people who have been brought on board and educated and sensitized have done more work within their religious organizations. Also, they’ve been able to bring the voice of their affiliation with that organization -- even if the organization wasn’t necessarily right there with them Just being able to say, “I’m a member of such-and-such congregation and this is what I believe in. This is what I support.” That’s important. It causes individuals to take them seriously, even if their own organization hasn’t necessarily stepped right up and said, “Yeah, we’re behind you.”

People of Faith HOME    |||    I-13 Stories HOME


Books on LGBT History ||| LGBT History Links
© 2021 NWLGHMP