INITIATIVE 13 STORIES
Women Against Thirteen
Interviewed on June 27, 2000
by Charles Fuchs and Larry Knopp
Transcribed by CHloe Martinez
“You find allies in places you don’t expect.”
Larry: What’s your take on the [Freedom Socialist] party’s relationship to the campaign against Initiative 13?
Doug: We’d been very active. I joined the Union of Sexual Minorities, which was a group that was active [in] ’75, and our organizing -- when I got there -- was around police brutality issues. We organized a demonstration and I designed and silk-screened a poster with the police logo on it.
Larry: Our understanding is that the USM was kind of a creature of FSP. Is that correct?
Doug: No -- International Socialist, and other tendencies in the left, were involved. And independents -- Jerry DeGriek and others that were not affiliated with left groups.
So, we were organizing against police brutality. I think that was the first visible expression that I saw of the split in the lesbian/gay movement. We organized a demonstration, we tried to get the police chief to meet with us. We showed him documentation -- lots of people have been assaulted in Seattle, and the Counseling Service was keeping track of it. Lists of the types of assaults that were taking place of lesbians outside of bars, gay men being beat up in Volunteer Park. And the police chief, Hanson, wouldn’t meet with us so we had a demonstration in front of the mayor’s office. We were down in the street in front of it, and Charlie Bryden from the Dorian was up with the mayor looking out over the balcony at us, and criticizing us in the press, and saying that we really didn’t want to solve the problem, we just wanted to embarrass the police chief and the mayor.
I began to realize there was quite a schism here in the gay community [laughs] between our approach, to trying to organize a militant mass movement to pressure for political change, and the Charlie Brydens that wanted to do back-room deals and keep it quiet, and not ruffle any feathers. So, that was an introduction, before Initiative 13 hit, to the different approaches that were going to be taken.
Larry: At some point USM morphed into Washington Coalition for Sexual Minority Rights, correct?
Doug: Yeah -- around the time of the Gaylord Decision, Tacoma, when that teacher was denied his post, that coalition was formed.
Larry: Can you shed some light on distinction between USM and WCSMR, and why that had to happen?
Doug: It was broader. It involved other groups and individuals that wanted to work on the campaign, but we didn’t want them to have to join our group because ours, USM, was a left group.
Larry: As WCSMR wasn’t necessarily?
Doug: No, it was broader. We didn’t have to have the same analysis or idea -- it was a different analysis. It was a broader coalition as opposed to USM at the time.
Larry: And then, Seattle Committee Against 13 and Women Against 13 in turn came out of WCSMR. What’s the reasoning for that hiving off?
Doug: Gosh. Women Against 13 -- I worked intimately with them, not with SCAT, because I was doing a lot of labor work, and they were doing labor work. I don’t remember what the arguments were at the time for the divisions. People felt like they had to set up a group that was different so that they would deal with election laws and finances, but there’s also some political differences between SCAT and WAT. WAT wanted to do a more multi-issue approach to fighting Initiative 13 and Initiative 15, which was the one around the police ability to shoot fleeing suspected felons.
And then there was Initiative 350, the bussing initiative. So Women Against 13 really wanted to focus energy on bringing those different groups together that are under attack, to show that there’s a right wing behind this that’s trying to put us all down, and to build a stronger campaign against all three initiatives.
The coalition meetings I remember were -- you probably went to some [laughs] -- big and argumentative, a lot of debate and discussion. We were debating within our group how much to organize around the three different initiatives but also debating and arguing against what the Dorian [Group] was doing.
[Citizens to Retain] Fair Employment first came out with a button that said, “Who’s next?” And we thought that was great, but it implied that there was other people that were on the hit list, and they didn’t want to fulfill that, what was implied in the button. So then they switched to this campaign where you couldn’t even tell -- They showed a picture of someone, and saying, “You too can be discriminated against if this passes.” They didn’t even say that it was about gay rights. The same thing was going on in [Eugene]. My mom sent me some press from the Eugene campaign and it didn’t say “gay rights” in it anywhere. You couldn’t tell what the initiative was about, you know?
So we said, that’s not the way to fight the campaign. Then some of the men in SCAT didn’t want to connect as strongly with the other two initiatives and try and build those alliances. They wanted to address it more as a gay rights issue, just as a single issue versus multi-issue approach. In the movement that had been debated over the years, and was coming out in this arena.
Larry: Do you think that ultimately those tensions and schisms were good for the campaign, good for the gay and lesbian community, good for the broader community or -- ?
Doug: I think they’re very important discussions to have in the movement, and I’m really glad we had them because it helped educate people. Unfortunately a lot of people didn’t side with Women Against 13, and as a result we won on the gay rights but we lost on the other two. And you’ve seen, they just shot another black man up here on Queen Anne, you know. Initiative 15 allowed them to do that. It created a sense in the black community that there wasn’t reciprocal support. And then the right wing hired a black preacher to support their side, and we worked with other black preachers to try and pressure him to step down. There was a sense that there has to be some solidarity, and I think it had an impact on the movement, in terms of educating people about which side to be on, on those issues. So in that sense it was good, and it’s part of what happens in organizing. …
So, what did I do? I remember when John Rodney was shot. One of the two sponsors of that anti-gay initiative killed a black man, a retarded black man that was unarmed in the backyard of someone’s house. It really sent shock waves through the black community about police brutality. This was obvious, this connection between the same people.
I went to the inquest and organized with a group called Justice for John Rodney, to try and get justice for the family. We decided we needed to really work on Initiative 15 and try and get that working with 13. Larry Gosset, who’s now a county council member, was heading up that committee. There was quite a few people from the black and Chicano communities, and lesbians and gays, active in that group. We had a sit-in at the mayor’s office, demanded changes in the inquest procedures -- because when we went to the inquest the right wing was there, the American Opinion Bookstore. They all had their little buttons on and they filled the whole inquest hearing. There was a police officer’s relatives on the inquest panel. I mean, the whole thing was rigged, and the officers basically got off, got desk duty for a while but nothing happened.
So, we started working with Women Against 13, to educate around these connections. Our organization had a lot of people in unions, so we went to our unions and started raising the need for getting the unions to come out in support of lesbian/gay rights, and against 15 and 350. Between [WAT] and us we got about twenty unions to come out. That was groundbreaking at the time. In the Transit Union it wasn’t easy, people were screaming at you when you got up and talked about gay rights.
Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women had a lot of people in unions, and between us and [WAT], we got twenty unions to come out against 13. In the Metro Union -- we had a meeting of five or six people that were going to raise it on the floor and three of them backed out that day -- didn’t go. And people were making fun of us, cat-calling and stuff. But, over the years that changed. The same thing in the Teamsters Union -- a friend raised it on the floor of Teamsters 174 and she actually got support there and got it passed. So it’s an important arena to argue in.
You find allies in places you don’t expect. The editor of the Washington Teamster is a kind of curmudgeonly, seventy-year-old labor activist. He came out really strongly for gay rights and did a big cartoon about it, and equated it with the right wing, with the Nazis, and helped us organize to get the King County Labor Council to come out for gay rights. We didn’t win on that but we organized a bunch of delegates to go to the meetings they have once a month. At that time the Times and P-I used to send reporters and would cover what was happening.
So it got printed in the paper that there was a fight brewing over this initiative in the Labor Council. The editor of the Teamster and I sat in the back because we weren’t official delegates -- the night we’d organized it, to get it raised on the floor. We must have had thirty or forty supporters there, which was unusual for that kind of campaign. When it was raised on the floor the president of the Labor Council banged the gavel and dismissed the meeting -- shut it down. He didn’t want to have a vote because he knew he was going to lose. So, in that sense we won, and it was an important turning point, I think, for the labor movement here, to have to deal with gay rights.
Larry: Do you think that’s been sustained? Has the labor community been consistently supportive since?
Doug: Yeah. The Out Front Labor Coalition’s now an official part of the AFL-CIO, and Sarah Luthens and others have done a lot of good work recently.
Larry: Was Seattle in the forefront, then, of places where labor was supporting gay issues?
Doug: Yeah. I knew in Florida they weren’t. In Eugene there was some support, in Portland a little bit, a little in New York. But in California there was a strong support between labor and lesbians and gays because of the Coors Beer boycott. That really helped to build a base, and that’s partially why the Teamsters supported [it] up here, because of the homophobia of the owners of Coors Beer. I can’t remember the man’s name in California that organized the boycott in the gay bars, but he built up a really strong relationship with the Teamsters Union. We set up a Coors Boycott committee up here and helped the Teamsters too.
Larry: What was the experience of that time like? And what was the election night like for you?
Doug: It was a very heady -- in a lot of ways, especially as we got closer to the election -- because no one really knew. Women Against 13 was doing a lot of door-to-door knocking, which we thought was really important. People were very friendly when we knocked on doors. We were surprised because we hadn’t done a lot of that, but we weren’t sure how that was going to translate into votes. And the [Anita Bryant-inspired] backlash -- you know,’77? They’d thrown oranges at us at the gay pride march one year, so there was direct confrontation. Lloyd Cooney was speaking out against gay rights on TV, so we organized three thousand people to picket his station.
It was a volatile period -- you never knew what was going to happen. You’d get a phone call that there [were] right-wingers picketing and you’d have to grab a sign and get people to go. It was chaotic, and difficult to tell what was going to happen.
But election night was fabulous on 13. It wasn’t very fabulous for the opponents to Initiative 15 and 350, but for 13 it was a stunning victory. We weren’t quite ready for -- what was it, a two-to-one margin, I guess? And I think the women’s movement, labor, and the people of color that organized on it really felt like there was a coming together around that issue anyway. That laid a basis for a lot of other work.
Larry: Since Initiative 13, what have been the issues that that coalition has successfully been built upon?
Doug: Organizing against the Nazis in Whidbey Island and Idaho. We’ve done a lot of work with a lot of the same people around that. Trying to defend the human rights ordinances, because there was a real weakening of them in the seventies. They took the enforcement power away from the Office of Human Rights and Women’s Rights basically, and they really are paper tigers now. They used to have the ability to really solve discrimination complaints. There were some important coalitions set up to fight that. But in the eighties there was a lot of backsliding, affirmative action fights, and all of that. So you can’t really point to victories, but to more of a holding pattern. It didn’t get as bad here as other cities. The lesbian/gay pride marches have always been a lot more political here than in other cities. I think that’s a lot of the legacy of the fight around 13.
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