I’d Like You to Know
Identity and Awareness
Mentoring and Support
Spirituality and Religion
Spokane in Perspective
One thing that I learned very early in terms of issues is around reproductive choice issues. At the end of my stay in Spokane I was named to the Board of Planned Parenthood, but had to leave before the first year was up. There were some gay men who wrote checks to Planned Parenthood and were supportive. [But] I rarely if ever saw a gay man participate in [being an escort to clinic facilities]. You saw a lot of lesbians out, and for me that always made me angry, because I thought, “You know, the lesbians in the early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis, they got that, and they were there for [gay men].” And when it comes time for issues like breast cancer awareness or reproductive rights, the men have a hard time being there for the women. That’s always made me sad.
There was so little if any racial presence [in Spokane. There was ] I think, [a] Native American and there were maybe two or three African-American men in the club scene, and maybe at one or two of [the Privacy Fund] fundraisers. But in the inner circles in the ‘90’s I never saw [many] people of color at all in the male community.
This is really a tough issue across the country, not just Spokane—some of the tensions between communities of color and the GLBTQ community. When I was doing HIV work outreach, for instance, we tried to do education and training for the Black Ministers Alliance and none of them came. There were a lot of reasons for that lack of relationship, and trust issues, and stuff. But, the role of religion is a real tricky one, because a lot of the faith traditions that are affiliated with the communities of color, like the Baptist tradition for the African-American community and the Catholic tradition for many of the Hispanic folks, have not been the most receptive on GLBT issues. There’s a whole lot of reasons that it’s tricky, many of which are sociological, as much as racial.
Spokane didn’t do a good job about incorporating different faces, and different life experiences, [in the 1990s]. The predominant face was the white male, middle-class image at the time. That was probably one reason why I was able to step in so quickly and do some of the stuff that I did. I fit that demographic profile. I hope that Spokane will do a better job of including different faces and visions and voices in the twenty-first century.
The challenge is that the gay community, often times, is portrayed as using the one or two people of color that will come forward as an ally. What it really takes . . . It’s not the established white, upper-middle class GLBTQ leadership that needs to reach out to communities of color. It needs to come from within. I think with Spokane—it’s going to take a little while—but you need to find those contact persons and let them work within their communities.
During the “Hands Off Washington” campaign, of ’93 or so, the opponents—I can’t remember what was on the ballot, that measure—were going to show a documentary by an anti-gay group, like The Gay Agenda, or something. It was going to be at the Spokane Teachers Credit Union. So, there was a lot of controversy in the newspaper about, “How could the credit union allow that?” Their response was basically, “We’re open to the larger community. People who pay the fee and are reasonable people can use the facility.” There was a lot of that going back and forth. I was part of a group, with Hands Off, that was going to do a protest at this site. We had got word from the Aryan Nations that blood would be spilled if there was a protest.
Back in like late 1994, 1995 Dexter Amend was the [Spokane] County Coroner. He was probably at least early 60s, early 70s [in age], and very 1950s in his thinking. So, there was one or two deaths. I think at least one, maybe both, involved a child. When he was doing the autopsies he insisted that they do a rectal examination because he had convinced himself that—since this was abuse of a child and since gays and lesbians were degenerates who were responsible for abusing children—they were probably sexually abused. He did this, [and] even went over the parents’ wishes. They were like “No, we know what happened and we don’t want that done.” Because of his absurd comments and his unprofessionalism, they started this “recall Dexter Amend” thing. I helped organized one of the rallies, but most of that was Barb Lampert. Ultimately, they didn’t recall him but within two about years they changed the [Spokane city] charter to make the coroner more accountable. So there was some good that came of it. That’s a fascinating piece of Spokane history.
To me, that was so Spokane back then. I couldn’t imagine a more inappropriate comment by a public official and yet, he got away with it. I think Spokane didn’t want to be impolite and fire him basically. What they did is waited until his term was up and then they rewrote the bylaws so it wouldn’t happen again. That’s kind of the “nice” Spokane culture, you know. You don’t want to be too radical. Go back and read the newspaper accounts and stuff because it is whacked out. I mean you wouldn’t even expect something like this in a bad HBO or Showtime series . . .
I think there is some hypocrisy within the gay and lesbian community as a whole—and when I say that, I mean nationally. They will talk about “come out and be exactly who you are,” except the subtext is “this is how you should look when you come out.” If you don’t fit that, if you’re too—especially too mainstream—you catch heat. It’s almost like in communities of color. There’s this hierarchy based on color of skin. Folks who have lighter skin are perceived to have more power. Same within the gay and lesbian community. The more “straight” acting you are, there’s distrust.
I understand where some of that comes from, but what communities like Spokane could offer the world is to say, “There isn’t one right way to come out,” and “We can build community that can speak to the broad spectrum.” I think that message won’t come out of New York or Los Angeles, because the existing [LGBT] community is so mobilized and visible, but it’s going to come out of rural areas. You know, the cowboy in Montana saying, “I’m gay, but I own a ranch. I’ve got X number herd of cattle,” and other things. To broaden that perspective. Places like Spokane could offer [that to] the LGBT community.
I think Spokane is still struggling with it because there are pockets of communities that don’t really interact. There’s the moneyed men’s group; there’s the women’s community, through potlucks and other things; then there’s the bar communities. They still, from the outside, [it] doesn’t seem like they’ve figured out how to come together. And an event, for instance, like Pride march, I think some people thought that might be a mechanism; same with the [LGBT] community center. But 20 years later, I think that that’s still perceived of as asking people to be out in a certain way. Neither the march or the center has found a way to appeal to folks who don’t want to be as visible, or who aren’t political, but just want to be.[The Pride march asks people to be out a certain way] by its very nature. To walk down the street behind a banner, by definition. It’s not a fault of Pride marches. That’s what marches are all about. There is a purpose for that. [But] there’s a lot of folks I still talk with, who live here, who will say, “Well, I’d never go to a Pride thing,” or almost looking askance at it saying, “Well, I’m not one of those people that would go to a Pride march.” A Pride march, in some ways, has become a sort of litmus test or a divider, ironically. [There are] a variety of people [who don’t go to Pride]. It could be some of the moneyed folks, who would worry about financial repercussions if they’re seen publicly. They’re couples or single people in the outlying rural areas who couldn’t be seen or associated with it. Those are the folks, for instance, who’d say that.
When you look at the LGBT community as a whole [i.e., not just in Spokane], a lot of the folks from the communities of color have pointed out, number one: the leadership that’s visible is almost exclusively upper-middle class or white folks, and disproportionately male—especially in the ‘90s. And the issues they take on, like the military issues or marriage . . . There isn’t the same degree of investment around issues around immigration of a partner or other issues. That’s a larger issue than just Spokane. I think those dynamics have got played out here, but they’re not unique.[Similarly,] the gender issues are a bigger issue of concern for the mainstream society as a whole. I think a lot of them just get magnified or replicated in the LGBT community. So, I wanted to say, as a way of being fair to the LGBT community, both in Spokane and as a whole, there are just so many levels of gender issues where there’s so much work to be done. I guess I just wanted to contextualize my thoughts in that regard.
CP later clarified that the protest did not take place.
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.