INITIATIVE 13 STORIES
Initiative 13, 1978 – Background
In January of 1978, two Seattle police officers, representing the organization Save Our Moral Ethics (S.O.M.E.), filed Initiative 13, which sought to repeal protection for lesbians and gays in housing and employment in Seattle. Seattle’s lesbian and gay community was divided over how best to combat the initiative, splitting into several organizations with very different tactics. Citizens to Retain Fair Employment (CRFE) emphasized the right to privacy, keeping discussion of homosexuality itself to a minimum. Two other organizations, Seattle Committee Against Thirteen (SCAT) and Women Against Thirteen (WAT), emphasized the human rights aspects, linking it to other ballot issues concerning police brutality and busing. Outreach to local progressive groups, unions, and the liberal faith community resulted in ad hoc coalitions and efforts like People of Faith Against Thirteen.
In addition, an autonomous protest action carried out by two local lesbian activists prompted the anti-13 groups to evaluate the role of independent actions not sponsored or sanctioned by the organized opposition. Inspired by non-violent resistance and feminist philosophies, the "Blood on SOME" incident was cheered by some and critiqued by others, impelling many into a closer clarification of political values.
Throughout the summer and fall, the anti-13 forces engaged a wide range of constituences and neighborhoods. Though similar anti-gay initiatives had been successful in other cities, in November Seattle voters resoundingly rejected Initiative 13, 63% to 37%. The anti-13 campaign of 1978 was an important step in the development of a gay political force in Seattle. A common threat had galvanized the LGBT community, and the flurry of fund raising, leafletting, doorbelling, public speaking and advertising had brought out many people who had never been politically active. Gay men and lesbians had also come together politically in a way they had not before.
-- adapted from “Queen City Comes Out,” a history display by the Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Project
The Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Project has conducted oral history interviews with I-13 activists of varied political approaches. Their stories are presented here, grouped by their respective affiliations, along with images and documents of the campaign.
Note that the stories in this section, like all narratives that emerge from the oral history process, are a snapshot of the narrators' reflections and opinions at the time of the interviews, which took place between the mid-1990s and the following decade. While some of the narrators have passed away in recent years, many others are still living lives of involvement, and their evaluations of past experience continue to evolve.
Opinions varied vociferously, both in the aftermath of 1978 and in hindsight, concerning which strategies played a greater role in the victory. Debates -- over the value of all-out pragmatism for an immediate win, versus longer-term visions of consciousness raising and coalition building -- continue to come up whenever the campaign is recalled. The History Project is pleased to present this range of narratives in the hope of engaging current day activists, immersed in the fervor of present day dialogues, with predecessors who have trod this ground before. May the generations of change makers know that they are truly linked in dedication, conscience, and spirit.
I-Thirteen Stories: Contents
Winning over the powers that be.
Going for Liberation.
How to work in coalition.
Forging a significant relationship with the religiuos community.
The activists' first person accounts and position statements.