I’d Like You to Know
Identity and Awareness
Mentoring and Support
Spirituality and Religion
Spokane in Perspective
The very first time I remember [an LGBT non-discrimination measure] almost passing [in Washington State] was in ’93. Senator [John] Moyer—the [Washington] State Senator, a rare Republican in the 3rd District—he was the deciding vote. At the very last minute decided to vote against it, so it’s gratifying to hear [that it passed] 13 years later . . . Unfortunately it took that long.
***[I went to the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights because] I was coming out. I’d started to be active in ’92 politically before, so I had other friends and circles. I’d started to meet the PFLAG group. When I heard they were going, I couldn’t be on the sidelines. It’s like, I had to be a part of this event.
I remember flying out of Spokane. There were only a few of us in the Spokane group, because we all came different days and times. Might be four or five.[There was] very little [coordination among people from Spokane who went to the march]. My sense is that there were a couple of individuals who took it on themselves—and I don’t mean that in a bad way—but they were just who they were. Gene [Otto], for instance, and Helen [Bonser]—a couple of people that were point persons to help get you to the travel agent. But there was never, you know, “the Spokane delegation meets at 8:00 a.m. for breakfast together.” I don’t think that they avoided it. I think whenever possible, they’d try to get word out. But especially for the folks with some money who traveled a lot, this was their chance to see friends from other parts of the country, so that would be understandably a priority. [We all paid for our own trips.] There was no funds available.
When we flew out of Spokane, it was just typical Spokane folk and others. Very low key plane. We had a connecting flight in Chicago. The plane that we had to catch was coming from San Francisco. Virtually everyone on it was headed to the march, so it was like a small Pride parade. That was just overwhelming and shocking in some ways—the difference from one plane to the next.[I traveled with] the moneyed gay male community, which made the bulk of the contingent [from Spokane]. They were cute: Gene [Otto] and Ted [Clark], and some of the others, really took me under their arms. I didn’t even know how to hail a cab or whatever. So they’d always make sure I’d do those sorts of things. These were folks who’d been participating in the gay community for years. They were very used to flying to Seattle, Los Angeles, or Paris and having a wide variety of experiences. I had never had any of that. All of I knew was Spokane and Tacoma, where I went to my undergrad school. Yeah, it was a big wake up call for me.
I remember . . . It might’ve been the night before the march. It was really cool, because as people would arrive in Washington, D. C. , they’d come in on the subway and stuff. They’d come into the Dupont Circle area, and there was an area [that] was the entrance from the subways to the street level. I just remember people standing around those entrances and cheering, you know, because you’d see hundreds of people pour out [of the subways]. It was just the sense of community and being with people from all over.
I remember some of the crowd getting upset, because the national media, and local, would be gravitating toward, like the drag queens or others [who were flamboyant]. There was a sort of push back of saying, “Wait. Wait a minute. We don’t want biased coverage. We want a cross section of who’s really here.” That was an early expression of that concern [about the image of the community]. I think at the first [gay rights march in D. C., in 1987] . . . It was almost the equivalent of Stonewall with the drag queens. The few who were there were brave, and really pushing through. But already by the early ‘90s, they began to be much more aware of the consequences of media coverage.
I remember the [AIDS] names quilt, because they were billing it as the last time the full quilt would be publicly displayed. I remember, because I’d only been around HIV/AIDS and LGBT issues for a couple of years, not thinking it would be all that powerful. I’m thinking, “It’s just a quilt.” But I just remember the enormity seeing it in the National Mall. You could only look for five or ten minutes. Then you’d read something that would just overwhelm you and you’d leave to cry. At that point, I didn’t know anyone who’d been either infected—that I knew of—or had died.[I did go to] the march itself and just things in the periphery. [I wore a tee shirt that read “Let Us Serve.”] That military issue was front and center when I came out to my family members. I couldn’t say the word “gay” at that point. So, I would basically say, “Let’s just say, if I wanted to serve in the military, I couldn’t.” For me, the military issue was huge, because I was still struggling to say the word aloud in relation to myself.
I remember the East Coast bias because there was, I think, the morning of the march, there was a “marry in.” I remember standing in the street and someone asking where I was from. I just said, “Washington,” and they assumed Washington D. C., so they started asking for directions. I realized Washington State really didn’t exist on the East Coast.
It was very empowering. I still remember the debate about the [head] count, because we were aiming for a million and they reported 300,000. So, we talked about the parallels with the African-American community, with the 3/5 clause and that these [gays] only count 1/3. It was amazing: the turn-out. Seeing some of the entertainers and politicians who spoke, it was a glimpse of the fact that this was still much more mainstream nationally than it was in Spokane. I remember that sense of empowerment.
I was kind of naïve thinking that interaction [at the march] would have much more of an effect. [Among some of the people who went from Spokane] there was really a sense of, “That’s an experience we have ‘over there.’ But when in our day-to-day lives, it’s very different.’” There wasn’t a sense that, “’We’re going to go there, bring this back, and achieve it.’” It was more like, “’We’ll go there. We’ll have this really powerful experience. Then we’ll come back to our lives [in Spokane], which are very different.’”[But] I came back and began to get more actively involved with the LGBT-specific community. Prior to that time I was still working mostly within the Democratic Party, candidates, and other causes. It was empowering. I’m not saying that I’m the only one. I think there are others, Dean [Lynch] and . . . [There] were some others. But there were [also] some very closeted wealthy folks, who came to have fun, party, and then went back to normal.
***[In June 1993, I went to the second Pride march in Spokane.] The only sort of Pride impressions we had as a whole were big parades like San Francisco, L. A., and New York. So, it just seemed very small by comparison which, of course, it had to be in that regard. But they did a fine job—the organizing committee. They worked so hard. It was very intentionally approached, really from year one. It was quality. From my recollections—there was probably a PFLAG group and stuff—but the groups were pretty minimal. I think people were just kind of clumped and lumped together as a whole. Much more than so probably now.
I think [the police] were very prepared in case there were trouble. I remember there were protestors—a few. But just the sense of being relieved that there wasn’t more conflict or more negative, because I think we went in expecting the worst and were surprised to have almost the best. The police were very good about it. They were supportive and they helped participate in the training of the volunteers, so kudos.
I went to most of [Spokane’s Pride celebrations] between ’93 and ’99. Some years I didn’t do the march itself. I did it probably three or four years, but then we’d just go to the time in the park afterwards for the speakers and all. I was impressed that mayors and others were speaking much earlier than I would’ve expected in that process, because it was still a huge political risk to do that.
In ’94, I came on the Human Rights Commission for the City of Spokane. [Spokane Mayor] Sheri Barnard had created it about 18 months before. Mona Mendoza had been, I think, the first GBLT person to serve, when it was created. But Keith Wolter and I became the first gay [men] to be appointed, so that was an awesome thing. I was on from ’94 to ’97.
This was really a turning point for me, and especially around youth issues. In ’95, since I was on the Human Rights Commission, there was the case of harassment against a gay student in the Deer Park School District—and my father was serving in the school board at the time. It was an interesting situation. What happened is that someone had broken into the locker of this student and wrote “Death to Fags” on the locker. The principal, basically, all he did at the time was give the student a new locker. Supposedly the district offered support, services, or follow-up if the student wanted it, but they said [the student] never chose that.
Well, I told the district that that was unacceptable. I wrote her, the superintendent at that time, and said, “It’s time for this district to enter the twentieth century and do something.” She made some broad promises. I waited about four months and she didn’t do anything. So, I wrote a second letter that was much more aggressive, basically saying that, “If you chose to not respond, then I’ll use my position as a commissioner, and we’ll get this out to state and national groups to let them know what’s not happening here.”
She tried to call my bluff, so to speak, by saying “Well, why don’t you come to a school board meeting and talk about this situation, and what you feel might be that appropriate response?” So, you can imagine it was really dicey. Number one, saying the word “gay” in the school board meeting in Deer Park, Washington . . . I don’t know if that had ever been done. And number two, you know, the interesting family dynamic, with my dad sitting on the board.
It was a great meeting that night. Because, I mean, here [I] was the former ASB president, football player, wrestler—you know, the all-American kid, youth group president—coming out and basically saying, “The time is now to do something.” It wasn’t new news [for them that I was gay]. I’d started my [LGBT] activism in ’93; I didn’t give the testimony [to the school board] until like ’95 or so. I had been a public enough figure. I was on the evening news occasionally and wrote a whole lot of letters to the editor. [The important thing was] I actually had the power to say the words aloud: that broke through the unspoken social rules.
For me, there were a lot of repercussions for that. It didn’t get any newspaper coverage for the next day or two. But about three days later, they [the Spokesman Review] have that insert called The North Side Voice and the writer of the article, Jonathan Martin, who’s moved to Seattle, I think, they did a large story on it. They did a basically human interest piece saying basically that an all-American alum comes out and names homophobia in the school district.
There were a lot of repercussions, because I was still going to my home church, Deer Park United Methodist Church, at the time. Things really blew up there. They felt that I had somehow, by making this public—the article mentioned the church I attended—[gave the impression that] they were condoning the lifestyle and all of that. For my family, it was a very difficult three or four years or more, dealing with some of the fallout of that article. Ultimately, that’s what took me out of the United Methodist Church. That was in ’95.
You know, I’m not too sure, [what the school district did after that meeting]. I never really followed through [on my offer to do free LGBT sensitivity training for them]. Things just took up their own tempo and speed from that point forward. I became more involved in Spokane, than in the [Deer Park School] District per se. I relied on my pastor, whose daughter’s friend was the one originally harassed, to let me know if there needed to be further follow-up. I didn’t ever hear. So, I assumed that some progress, incremental, had occurred.
In ’95 I was hired by the [Spokane County] Health Department to be an outreach worker for a program called “Friend to Friend.” It was a peer education program that was designed specifically for men who have sex with men. It was never characterized as a peer education program for gay, bisexual, transgender men. It was always talked about targeting the “men who have sex with men” population. Not coming from a health background, I didn’t understand the significance [at first]. The significance is, if you use words like “gay” or “bisexual,” a lot of the people who are having same-gender sexual behaviors would never self identify, so you’d completely miss them. By broadening it, it extended services. I caught a lot of heat in the gay community for wanting to include the closeted men as a part of the community.[Friend to Friend] was a program that had been developed in urban centers. It had never been taken out into the rural areas before. Basically, my job was to locate community opinion leaders, to train them in safe sex information and then encourage them to go out and talk with their friends about being safe.
I was a one-person team, covering 11 counties that was geographically the size of the state of West Virginia—all of Eastern Washington. From Omak, Okanogan, down to Walla Walla, to Pullman, Dayton, Ritzville. Most of the counties that I was working in had never had gay or bisexual HIV education programs in existence and this was, at the time, 14 years into the epidemic.
Part of my outreach strategy was that I knew anything that would be too explicit in its “gay” presence would not be well received by the community. It would be downright dangerous. Part of my strategy was to try to plant PFLAG [Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays] chapters. We had one up and running in Colville for a little while. Tried to tie the Walla Walla and Pullman [areas together]—just so that people could come and, if they weren’t yet comfortable identifying as a gay or lesbian person, [they] could at least be an ally [in PFLAG]. I was really proud of that work. We did some social events. Picnics. We did a Halloween dance in Pullman that really tried to bring folks together from neighboring counties to build authentic communities. It was one of the first times that there was a formal effort to try and bring a gay and lesbian sense of community to Eastern Washington as a whole.
I was only there a year and a half; it wasn’t probably long enough to really create [a] long-term, lasting presence [in rural Eastern Washington]. I think the best thing that I did, that lasted long term, was to just break through those barriers and to trail blaze. I would meet at kind of behind-closed-door meetings with the person who had responsibility for HIV programs. Most of them were very good people. They knew what needed to happen from a medical point of view. But most of them were incredibly defeatist about what was really going to be able to be achieved. I felt like, at the end of my efforts, I had broken through some of that and had helped plant some seeds that, yeah, in Dayton, Washington or in Omak or wherever, maybe we can pull some of this off.
The reason I ended up quitting the program was in order to run for state office. They have what’s called the Hatch Act, which prohibits public employees from being involved in campaigns and benefitting from public dollars at the time. I probably would’ve stayed longer, but I chose to run for office instead, so I had to quit. Chris Zilar was the individual that followed me [at Friend to Friend]. He’s still with the Health District. I think he does HIV/AIDS partner notification now. He’s a straight man who’s done just good things for about a decade now in Spokane with HIV/AIDS.
I ran for the [Washington] State House Representatives against Duane Sommers in ’98, the 6th District. I raised a lot of eyebrows, because they hadn’t elected a Democrat in over 60 years and so for me to throw my hat in the ring as a young man—I had just turned 30—and [as] an openly-gay man . . . People were like [laughs]: “You have a snowball’s chance in hell.”[When I was running for office, there wasn’t] really necessarily [an] aggressive, threatening sort of backlash. When I first announced, even within a part of myself, the campaign was more of a statement. It wasn’t necessarily about winning. A lot of the folks—like when I met with Linda Metcalf, who was the chair of the house caucus that managed the committees—they just didn’t really take me seriously. In fact, she said, “Boy, you’re a great potential candidate, and if you lived in any other district, particularly in Seattle, we’d be on board and support you. But we really can’t see throwing any assistance your way.” Throughout the campaign, it was more like that.
Early on I had friends, both in the Democratic party and the larger community, talk about the possibility of violence or death, in terms of being out there doorbelling and other things. So I had to come to terms with those risks as well. Mostly the hardest part was just the lack of support early. But I was pretty tenacious. Before long, we actually became one of the most credible campaigns that election cycle on a hostile territory. [We accomplished that through] back-breaking work.
I started [my campaign] in April and doorbelled for seven months almost. I did 10,000 doors, which at that time was pretty close to a record, because I knew that that was my chance to introduce myself and break through any perceptions that people might have with me. That was back in the late ‘90s where people were beginning to say, “Oh doorbelling is old-fashioned. You need a good website and some of the media features.” But I knew in my heart—not just on the gay and lesbian front, but as a young candidate, because I was 30 at the time—that in Spokane, people have to meet you face-to-face and decide whether you seem like a good guy. It’s not even about the issues. That drives the process. That I really attribute more than anything else to my good showing.
Never once was sexuality an issue on a door for me. Not once. Not in any of the community forums. This is, again, perfect Spokane culture, at least at that time. With the Tea Party and other things these days, people are much more combative. Heckling and implanted people in audiences [have] become more a part of the experience. Back then it was typical Spokane. I just marvel: you wouldn’t break the social norm and be inappropriate by asking. I think [the Republicans] were hoping and praying that I would raise the issue, and I didn’t. My three primary issues were childcare, transportation, and campaign reform.[Journalist] John Deen and I had a conversation. I declared—I think it was at the Ridpath [Hotel]—and he had covered it for Spokesman. I made reference to “human rights for all” and things like that in broad ways. But I never stood up and said, “As a gay man, I’m here.” He was a little miffed by that. In fact, John and I talked later. It was always funny because . . . He didn’t say that he wanted to take me down . . . Not just in terms of the campaign, but in terms of this persona, he said, “Here’s this guy, I just heard all these great things about. I thought, as a newspaperman, that couldn’t be true. There had to be this other side.” This [conversation] was after I’d left Spokane and come back for a visit. He said, “but I could never find that on you.” So, I could understand why John, for instance, would’ve wanted me—and others in the gay community—to run more as an out gay man. But it was one of those things where I played perfectly by the rules. It was no secret. There was enough of a paper trail that, if folks had asked, I would have easily said, “Yes.”
Actually, this has influenced me years after I’ve left Spokane: it’s very rare for me to initiate. Spokane taught me that, if people can get to know you first and foremost, there will be a context for their response. That’s the way I pretty much have always led my life. It hasn’t changed that radically since I left. Spokane taught me that lesson very well. I’m actually very grateful to Spokane for that lesson, because in the rest of the world I found, that’s true. If they perceive you as a one-dimensional candidate, person, or in my case now, pastor, they will have a completely different response than if they meet you and say, “Well, he’s not,” or “she’s not, that radically different. We have some things in common.”
That summer that I was on the doors, probably the bigger challenge was—it was during Clinton’s impeachment stuff—so I took more on that. In fact, I doorbelled the night when some of the proceedings were televised. It was interesting. They had not elected a democrat in 67 years at that time in the 6th District, so way more controversial than being gay was, “Are you a Democrat?”
To make a long story short, on general election night, when the first returns rolled in, it was 52-48 split, so it was within 4 percentage points. When the absentees [absentee ballots] rolled in, it widened it to about a 9 percent difference. My numbers were the best for a non-incumbent Democrat in that part of the state. It was an amazing experience.
When I had run [for office] in ’98, my campaign manager at the time told me about the rumors about Jim West [being gay]. I had a pretty good sense that the political establishment, especially the Republicans, were very nervous of the sexuality issues. In my campaign in ’98, most people thought that they were going to go after me hard on the being gay piece. They never said “boo” about the being gay, because Jim West was running that year for reelection to the [State] Senate, against Judy Personnet.
I’m convinced that [Republicans] knew if they brought it up with me, that they were terrified that it could backlash, or boomerang, on them. The only time it became an issue was literally the last night of the general election. There was a call to a talk radio show. They called and had someone say, “Did you know Craig Petersen is gay? And blah, blah, blah.” They waited so long, I’m convinced, so that there wouldn’t be time enough for it to come back and hit Jim West. [The radio show] had called [me] and left a message asking for comment, and [asking] if I wanted to come on air. I was actually out doorbelling, signing, and stuff. I didn’t get it until later. That was the only time in the whole campaign.
Someone had said that there were rumors within the GLBT community that I didn’t support gay marriage, which was bizarre, because I had participated in the group and provided leadership to bring Evan Wolfson with the National Right to Marry Coalition to Gonzaga. I’m like, “Where would they get that?” I think part of it was them saying, “Well, if he’s going to be this mainstream, integrated candidate, he probably wouldn’t support [gay marriage].”
When I talk about the activism, there is one other piece which I’m really proud of. After I lost the campaign . . . It was about this time [in 1999] that the Spokane City Council passed the Human Rights Ordinance for the City of Spokane. Right after the election season, another two or three weeks, the Christian right in Spokane made public their intentions to try to repeal [the ordinance]. Mary Ellen Myrene and I came together in a Saturday. Our first meeting was at Frank’s Diner, and [we] began to lay the groundwork, and we actually named the campaign “No on Discrimination,” which ended up protecting the ordinance.
That campaign . . . Where it gets really tricky [laughs] . . . This deals with some of my . . . recovery issues, or some of my wounds, from Spokane, as some regard it—and some of it is my own fault. What I did as a part of that campaign is, when I finished my run for office I had about $2,500 left in our campaign account. There were very specific stipulations about what you can do with remaining campaign dollars. When we started the No on Discrimination campaign, we said, “This would be great to bring in The National Gay [and] Lesbian Task Force and do a training in Spokane, so that there’s not just two three or four of us with political background and training who could work on the campaign, but that we could really broaden it.”
When I had run for office myself, I had attended a National Gay [and] Lesbian Task Force training and I thought it was very helpful. So, basically the bulk of the money for that training came from my campaign.
We brought two consultants to Spokane for a training and that was [laughs] the worst experience of my life. They came into Spokane and basically wanted Spokane to run the cookie cutter campaign that they had run in other localities to try to protect the [ordinance]. They had no desire to understand Spokane or to adapt the campaign to the specifics. Their attitude was that we need to make the referendum on homosexuality. And so, “every volunteer needs to come out on the doorsteps when you knock on doors,” and all that.
Well, I had just been out on the doorsteps for 18 months. I had done Spokane, because I had been working by this time eight years in the political circles. I told them: “That campaign will fail and fail miserably. Spokane isn’t ready for that. If we make a referendum on discrimination, like the name of the campaign, we might stand a chance.”
What they did is [laughs]—they basically went after me. The two trainers—one in particular—presented me as this person who had a lot of internalized homophobia, had his issues, was trying to impose those issues on others, and who didn’t know what he was talking about. It got very ugly. And I challenged them in the training. I said, “Okay, let’s look at this cookie cutter approach. You’ve ran it in Little Rock, Arkansas, you’ve run it in Anchorage, Alaska—how many of those campaigns have you won?” I knew that they had never gotten more than 33 percent of the vote. That’s when I really ticked them off [laughs], because I exposed the fact that what they were advocating hadn’t worked.
It got just very ugly and very personal. I knew at that point that I was going to be heading to seminary the next fall and so, instead of trying to fight, or do . . . whatever . . . I just thought, “Okay. The folks who are going to be here need to make the decisions about the campaign.” So, I began to pull out. This was probably in March or so of ’99. I let other folks take over. I was so proud when they were able to defeat it. And really, from what I read from accounts in the newspapers and media, they went back to my point, which was to make this referendum on discrimination.
These [outside consultants] were folks [from New York City,] who had no clue that there was a life outside the big city, and they felt that Spokane should run exactly the same campaign that should be run in Los Angeles or New York. Had they run that campaign, we would have lost.
It was very, very hurtful for me because there were some relationships of mine, as I was getting ready to leave Spokane, that really suffered, because, you know, people who were in the training, they didn’t know all of the behind-the-scenes stuff. I just made the choice that the election was more important than personality issues.
***[The Privacy Fund] was kind of by mouth invitation only, or invitation primarily thing, and so it wasn’t really well advertised. [I] just happened to be connected to folks who were connected to that Privacy Fundraiser event. So I found out about it.
At the time, some people wrestled with the perception that it was exclusive. I could understand how people might feel that way but, at the same time, I know that [the Privacy Fund] worked hard to make the event affordable. [They] didn’t set tickets at like $500. They were either $50 or . . . what you could do. They were fairly reasonable.
This speaks of the tension of the gay community between, the “assimilation” versus “segregationist” tendencies. Some people viewed the event as the gay community trying to put a good face forward and wanting the “right” people there. I saw that tendency early. When I was at the March in Washington in ’93 for instance, I still remember being on the streets in Dupont Circle, and some aspects of the community [were] getting angry when the media would turn the cameras towards the drag queens or others—feeling like they were giving a bad image or reinforcing stereotypes. So, I think, probably always has been, and to some degree always will be, this tension between the philosophical approaches. Do we show all of us? And whatever? Or do we try to work gradually for, [certain] images, impressions . . . There are just a variety of ways of doing it.
I think we need to be gentle with each other and adopt a variety of strategies as opposed to just a single one. I think it would be wrong to exclude certain segments of the community just for political expediency. You just gotta pick and choose those times and places.
The moneyed gay men—who had not participated in things socially—would do a phenomenal job fundraising for ballot initiatives or candidates. They did their part there. They bought into Odyssey [Youth Center] in ways they never did to the [LGBT] Community Center. I think it’s more socially acceptable to be an advocate for youth, than it is just to be an advocate for the [LGBT] community as a whole.
I would say from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, television and movies were probably the most important cultural factor for the gay and lesbian community. It would go neck-and-neck with political advances. I would put [television and movies] ahead of the political advances, because I think they paved the way for middle America to begin to accept some of the political advances, when they began to see gay and lesbian folks.
I’ve come to realize this more, because I didn’t in the early stage. Coming out and Coming Out Day is probably the backbone of who we are. That is going to advance our cause ten times more than Supreme Court decisions, or legislation in Olympia or D. C. It is people knowing people. It was television and media. Now, I really think it’s Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram—everything that shows these people who live in Sprague, Washington, for instance, when they see their friends fully incorporated, happy, and whatever in their lives in Los Angeles, Portland, and . . . It shows them that there is a world where this is possible, and that that’s more of the norm these days than the homophobia. That’s shifted things in ways I can’t even articulate.
The gay rights bill died in 1994 without coming to a formal vote in the Washington State Senate. Moyer was considered a critical swing vote, preventing full consideration of the bill.
Barnard formed the Commission in 1991.
A published version is available as Jonathan Martin, “Gay Alum Cites Homophobia in Deer Part School System,” Spokesman Review, 29 August 1996; http://www.spokesman.com/stories/1996/aug/29/gay-alum-cites-homophobia-in-deer-park-school/.
“Around here” refers to the area near Grand Blvd. and 14th Avenue.
The Privacy Fund raised money and lobbied political candidates to support LGBT issues in the 1990s.
Sources: Interview with Maureen Nickerson, [December 2006?]; transcribed by Maureen Nickerson and Laura S. Hodgman; edited by Laura S. Hodgman; held at the Northwest Museum for Arts and Culture. Interview with Laura S. Hodgman on 21 August 2012; transcribed by J. Zander; edited by Laura S. Hodgman.