Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Project


INITIATIVE 13 STORIES



Seattle Committee Against Thirteen


Oral History:

Jerry DeGrieck

Interviewed on Autust 17, 2000
by Larry Knopp and Charlie Fuchs
Transcribed by Susan Crandall-Tobey

"It was my life for many months."

Larry: It sounds like for you, finding, making community and social life in the gay community had a lot to do with political involvement.

Jerry: Yes, I would say most of it. Thatís how I made my connection in the gay community. I canít remember whether it was í76 or í77, but the first major gay rights march in Seattle -- I was very involved in those early marches and helped organize them. That was a lot of fun. In those days they were not parades; they were definitely marches, and they had a political purpose. . . .

Larry: Then along came Initiative 13. . . . It was my life for many months of that year. A wonderful time, probably the most fulfilling political thing Iíve ever done. Partly because in addition to being, politically, something really good to do, it was personally fulfilling, and reinforcing to who I was and my humanity. I felt a spirit of camaraderie and togetherness with people that Iíd never really felt before and certainly have never felt since that time. It was dynamic. It was amazing what we were able to accomplish with just very little. I always spent way more hours than I should doing my job. During that time, I probably spent just the hours I was supposed to [at work] and every other waking hour involved in the campaign. . . .

Luckily, my staff was great. They were all straight, but they were all very supportive of the campaign. Straight friends were very supportive in the campaign.

What the Initiative 13 campaign meant for those of us in -- first [Union of Sexual Minorities] and later in the Washington Coalition for Sexual Minority Rights -- was a great opportunity. In those days I didnít see much value in the ordinance per se, because what can an ordinance really do to protect gay rights? Part of me still believes that, but today I believe more (a) the symbolism is concretely important, and (b) it can marginally affect the lives of people. But what I felt then and what I feel now, it was a wonderful opportunity to educate people about being gay and also making connections with non-gay people, too, who were progressive. That was the fundamental difference between us and [Citizens to Retain Fair Employment]. . . .

[CRFE] didnít want us to raise issues. They didnít want to have people who looked weird in the gay marches because that would turn people off. I donít agree with that perspective, because I think itís a good way to engage folks. . . .

They saw it strictly in terms of winning the election only. I think we did a much better job. Who knows? We can argue that forever and ever. In my heart of hearts, though, I think we had a lot more to do with the margin of victory, because we took it as an opportunity to educate people. They [CRFE] took it as an opportunity only to win, and the way they perceived to win was to make it just a privacy issue. Ö I believe in privacy. I think privacy is a great cause and I think it should be emphasized, but you basically miss the point. You miss a huge opportunity. You can talk about what being gay means and the connections between people, and try to build coalitions between progressive people. Thatís what we were trying to do. Because we were not just involved in 13, we were involved in the other campaigns going on that year. We had joint rallies. We had joint campaign literature. So thatís the fundamental difference that I see in terms of the two groups.

Larry: Just to clarify, Seattle Committee Against Thirteen was an offshoot off the Washington Coalition for Sexual Minority Rights.

Jerry: Right.

Larry: [SCAT] had a committee structure. Which committee were you involved in?

Jerry: On all of them! I was on the Steering Committee. . . . I jumped to a lot of different committees where I was needed, or where I thought I could make a difference. I remember being involved in the counter-petitioning that was going on, which I thought was a wonderful thing to do. Which was very early in the process, basically a wonderful way to educate people -- why you shouldnít sign this initiative. Not blocking people from doing that. Not saying, ďYou canít,Ē but to educate people why they shouldnít.

It wasnít to explain it to the people who were collecting the signatures, because I donít think they had many paid people. So those folks were true believers who were gathering these signatures. It was going to people who were going to sign the petition and speak with them.

[There were] some media things that I was involved in, though I was not on the Media Committee. Oh, God, we had airplane banners, I think. We held rallies.

Larry: How did it feel that night of victory?

Jerry: It was probably not as bad for me as some, partly because during the campaign I met someone and fell madly in love, which is probably why I canít remember the details of other things. [laughter] I met him through the campaign, at a rally. He was involved in the campaign as well. So thatís probably why it was such a wonderful experience as well. . . .

That night, it was great! I donít remember feeling empty or sad that it was over. Whereíd we have the victory party? I remember the place.

Larry: The Market School.

Jerry: Right. Sitting there, talking to people, and feeling almost numb, but not a let-down numb.

Charlie: Could you believe it? That you won?

Jerry: This was early in the evening. I didnít know yet. Then, when we finally did win . . . I felt ecstatic. We had done it! There were a lot of places around the country, the previous year and that year, where gay rights had lost on the ballot. And we had done it in Seattle! We won! We made a difference. It was a great feeling.

Larry: What about the days and weeks after . . . when all this purpose, this reason for existing, was gone?

Jerry: I remember a lot of -- you know, people trying to create something next. I had a sense for some reason that this wasnít going to go on, that thereís no way we could recreate the energy, the purpose, the wonderment of it all, in something else. There was a lot of energy and work around having a gay community center. I had no interest in that.

I, for some reason, have often shied away from those aspects of the gay movement having to do with social things. I was more interested in the political things, which I think is ridiculous now in some ways. But thatís how I had chosen to spend my time. So some of my energy changed at that point. It was not an immediate, ďOh, Iím going to become less political.Ē I had no conscious thoughts of being less political. I continued to be active in some things, but in no way were they as compelling as Thirteen.


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