Read7: Initiative 13

At Seattle rally against Anita Bryant, 1978

By 1978, through behind-the-scenes organizing, Seattle’s LGBTQ citizens had convinced the City Council to ban anti-gay discrimination in housing and employment. But then conservative spokeswoman Anita Bryant launched her national crusade to repeal all such local ordinances, starting successfully in Miami-Dade County and marching steadily westward. No one knew whether Seattle could resist the assault, particularly when a police officer, David Estes, launched Bryant’s campaign. It was time to learn how to publicly persuade. These excerpts are from Chapter Fourteen, “Coming Together, Learning to Persuade.”

The news that David Estes could begin collecting signatures for the anti-gay initiative arrived the same night in February 1978 that Charlie Brydon’s friends had planned a retirement dinner for him. The dinner was to be held at one of the bars that were carving a new gay territory away from the mud flat, Ken Decker’s Brass Door located at Pike Street and Harvard Avenue, on Capitol Hill. Harassers had tossed a smoke bomb through the door just a few days earlier, but Decker continued to prepare for Brydon’s reception. Pete Francis planned to be there, as did Doug Jewett, the prosecutor who had tried to win the payoff convictions and who had just been elected city attorney. Their presence would be evidence that the civic discourse with gays and lesbians was widening and Brydon, of course, was getting the credit. Even five Everett Community College students came to thank Brydon for helping them win recognition from school officials for a new gay student alliance at the college.

That night, the dinner went as planned, the usual affair of congratulations, but the gossip among those attending focused as much on the uncertain future as on the achievements of the past. People nervously wondered whether the police officer was going to triumph as easily in Seattle as Anita Bryant had in Florida.

As the dinner ended, Brydon rose to reassure the audience. “This is not going to be a Dade County II,” he proclaimed forcefully. “This is Seattle, not Miami.”

Then came a surprise from the man who supposedly was retiring: A small group of gay leaders including himself, he told the audience, had already taken matters into hand and was meeting privately to shape a response to the initiative. Few had known about it before that moment.

The crowd applauded. Brydon knew how to get things done. Quickly. Behind the scenes. With insider clout. Two weeks later, Brydon called a press conference to unveil the new organization, Citizens to Retain Fair Employment. He was ready to enter the fray

Charlie Brydon, 1978

again, and he had recruited a steering committee for CRFE that, itself, was a testament to just how much support he had been able to build among heterosexuals in Seattle. Among its members were City Council members Paul Kraabel, Phyllis Lamphere and Jeanette Williams; state Senators Pete Francis and Jim McDermott; state Representatives Bill Burns, Jeff Douthwaite, and Gene Luz;  UW professors Giovanni Costigan, Pepper Schwartz, and Jennifer James; developer Paul Schell and long-time Seattle jeweler Herb Bridge; activist and Seattle writer Walt Crowley; Secretary of State Bruce Chapman; and a diverse range of gays and lesbians. Cherry Johnson, for example, had volunteered for the Lesbian Resource Center but mostly knew Brydon through her work as secretary for the Dorian Group in 1977. Similarly, William Etnyre had been the group’s treasurer. There was a young aide named Cal Anderson, working in City Council member George Benson’s office. He had mostly been active with the Democratic Party. Two men, Lee Trinka and Jerry Reese, represented the drag courts. Greg Kucera was a young artist who had been featured in a KING-TV documentary about gays at the end of 1977.

Significantly, the important political committee, which would decide campaign strategy, was chaired not by a well-known gay activist but by Walt Crowley, who had helped create an underground newspaper, the Helix, during the anti-Vietnam years, but who was heterosexual and had played little role in gay politics. A City Hall insider, a lesbian named Shelly Yapp, who had earned an economics degree from the University of Washington and was becoming Mayor Royer’s deputy director of policy planning, would assist him. Other political committee members included Tim Hillard, who had been Uhlman’s liaison to the gay community; Hugh Spitzer, who was replacing Hillard; Brydon himself; and Pepper Schwartz, the UW teacher.

Pointedly missing from either the executive or political committees were any of the names of the most prominent gay activists on Capitol Hill or of the more radical or socialist feminists–people like Dick Snedigar, Patrick Haggerty, Cindy Gipple, Laurie Morton, Betty Johanna, Jane Meyerding, Faygele benMiriam, or even Jim Arnold or Jim Tully, two supporters of the Gay Community Center who had become the owners of the major gay newspaper in town, the Seattle Gay News.

By 1978, there had been years of gay evangelizing and intellectualizing, years of entrepreneuring new groups, and years of small protests against specific troubles,  but most communication had been of an “internal” sort, aimed at rallying a new sense of identity and pride among gays and lesbians themselves. It had aimed at making it possible for individuals to come out. Meanwhile, the “external” political persuasion of heterosexuals had primarily been directed at city or state politicians, or to small gatherings in classrooms or churches. When lesbians and gays had won political battles, it had been through the efforts of a few activists who had found heterosexual allies–the early Dorians working with Katagiri and Francis; the city’s feminists gaining Jeanette Williams’ support for a women’s commission; and Brydon working with Uhlman. Gays and lesbians in Seattle had not yet faced the need to persuade a majority of voters to support them, and, as George Cotterill and Mark Matthews had shown at the beginning of the century, the initiative and referendum process could be a thin disguise for a majority telling a minority how to behave socially. What Brydon was about to attempt was a new step, and not everyone agreed Brydon should be the chief choreographer, nor did everyone agree on the rhetoric he would choose. The challenge, then, was twofold: not only to persuade heterosexuals to give gays and lesbians the majority in a popular vote, but also to find a way to come together to do so….

Within two days, another new group called the Washington Coalition for Sexual Minority Rights held its own press conference. The Coalition, discontent with the rhetoric issuing from the Dorian Group, had formed several months earlier as a replacement for the old Seattle Gay Alliance. It was joined at the conference by representatives of the Seattle Counseling Service, the Gay Community Center, NOW, the Feminist Coordinating Council, the Freedom Socialist Party, and Radical Women–all the activist dwellers of the hilltops rather than of the downtown knoll.  The Coalition first explicitly denounced the Estes initiative. Then it implicitly criticized Charlie Brydon by

Two rhetorics: “Gay” vs “Privacy”: SCAT poster 1978

scheduling its own community meeting to discuss strategies for responding to Estes. The Coalition members deliberately contrasted the grassroots way they intended to work against Brydon’s intent to form a professional cadre. In March 1978, more than 300 gay men and women gathered at the Metropolitan Community Church’s site on Renton Hill.

By then, Estes had amended his original petition to overturn not just the city’s job law protecting gays, but also the housing ordinance as well. His initiative had also been assigned a number: Thirteen.

Before many more weeks had passed, the Coalition spawned two political arms to combat Estes. Both would be collectively organized with committees and individual members determining strategy, rather than “leaders” and “campaign directors,” the approach of Brydon’s Committee to Retain Fair Employment. One group, called Women Against Thirteen, would aim at mobilizing those feminists who wanted to work with other women to defeat the initiative rather than having to work with men. WAT ‘s strategy would be to emphasize a little-publicized section of Initiative Thirteen that would strip the city Office of Women’s Rights of its power to investigate complaints of discrimination against women. Estes proposed to transfer those powers to the city Human Rights Department. WAT thought women’s concerns would be diluted if that happened.  The second collective to be formed included both men and women. It would be called the Seattle Committee against Thirteen, or SCAT–an acronym capable of multiple meanings. It, too, would have its own independent strategy, recruiting as many openly gay volunteers as possible and sending them into neighborhoods to challenge heterosexuals directly to support gay rights.

Brydon cringed. The acronym SCAT he thought “horrendous,” and he did not believe that either WAT or SCAT had a message that heterosexual voters would identify with. His group, CRFE, had already commissioned a poll. “We could win,” Brydon remembered in a later interview, “if we made [the argument] a right to privacy.” Indeed,the survey showed that 95 percent of those polled agreed with the statement “everyone has a fundamental right to privacy.” The trick, CRFE figured, was to fit gays’ protections against job and housing discrimination into that rhetoric, not try to make heterosexuals feel more comfortable about homosexuals themselves.

The line between the downtown gays and the hill gays was drawn, and for the next several months, it would be difficult to determine whether the main plot in the fight against Initiative Thirteen was against Estes or against one another.

Copyright 2003 University of Washington Press

Watch KCTS video reviewing gay Seattle history, beginning with the arrest of John Collins for sodomy in 1895 and continuing through Initiative 13 in 1978 : “The History of Gay Rights in Seattle”


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