Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Project


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Women Against Thirteen (WAT)

In the years following the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion, many lesbian activists had become frustrated with the dominant role that gay males tended to assume in the struggle for rights. In cities around the country a network of women-only or women-led organizations emerged to address lesbians’ specific needs. These “women’s communities” found, in the non-patriarchal principles of radical feminism, a compelling approach for advocacy for lesbian-focused health care, training and support for entering traditionally male trades, and securing custody of their children, among other issues. This sense of commitment also spurred them into advocacy for all women needing supportive services in cases of sexual assault, domestic abuse, and sex discrimination.

It was in this spirit that some women who attended the early anti-13 organizing meetings decided to form their own organization. Of special concern was the measure's weakening of the Seattle Office of Women's Rights. Women Against Thirteen’s outlook on how to oppose the measure paralleled, in many ways, that of Seattle Committee Against Thirteen, as did the task group/steering committee structure. The two groups shared office space on Pike Street, and planned some activities together, but WAT’s autonomy provided a platform for independent action and creativity. Both groups endorsed NO votes on two other ballot measures: Seattle I-15, which would allow greater leeway for police in using deadly force; and statewide I-350, which would ban mandatory busing. Unfortunately, the NO vote lost on the two latter measures.

Like Seattle Committee Against Thirteen, WAT emphasized the presence of gays and lesbians in straight voters’ family, social, and work lives. WAT spearheaded a broad-ranging doorbelling effort in swing voting districts across the city, which carried on from the summer months into the week before the election. WAT’s media committee ran ads in neighborhood newspapers and generated handouts for leafletting and canvassing. Tradeswomen in WAT succeeded in gaining endorsements from local unions. The most imaginative of its outreach programs was the WAT Theater Group, who wrote and performed skits forecasting the negative outcomes for women and blue collar workers if I-13 should pass.

Post-election some WAT women discussed how to use the energies harnessed among lesbians and straight feminists to address other issues. In January a recombined group carried on for about another year as Women Acting Together. Focussing on violence against women, the group presented educational progams and convened a gathering of social service administrators and public officials.

In this section WAT organizer Jan Denali recalls the power and exuberance of campaign work. For Vernell Pratt involvement in a succession of political movements provided an important sense of community. Some gay men, like Freedom Socialist Party member Doug Barnes, were already comfortable with women in leadership roles. Doug chose to work with WAT because of their emphasis on involving labor organizations.

WAT and SCAT celebration

WAT/SCAT candlelight victory celebration -- Freedom Socialist Party archives / courtesy of Doug Barnes

Women Against Thirteen -- Contents

Oral Histories:

Jan Denali

Vernell Pratt

Doug Barnes

Documents and Images:

Canvassing material -- 1

[other documents, to come]

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