I’d Like You to Know
Identity and Awareness
Mentoring and Support
Spirituality and Religion
Spokane in Perspective
There was one of our teachers at high school that was rumored to be gay. But he was pretty ostracized, [due to] to his uniqueness as a whole. It wouldn’t be limited just to [the perception that he might be gay]. I think he had come from Canada—I want to say Toronto or something. He was kind of a fish out of water, going from a cosmopolitan area to a small, relatively rural Eastern Washington town. So, I really had no role models at all.
***[When Holly, my best friend from high school.] came out—she went to Evergreen State College—it was a pretty smooth and seamless transition. [People in Deer Park] just knew pretty much [about her]. It was just one of those situations where, in small towns people knew, but they “didn’t know.” As long as labels weren’t attached, you could just say, “Well, they’re ‘different,’” or “They’re ‘eccentric,’” or whatever. It was a lot of coded language as I look back now.
Holly was just Holly. She didn’t play by any of the gender stereotypes or rules, was herself, was part of an established family, and so she was integrated into the town. That was helpful for me to see, because, at that time, I think the perception is that gay and lesbian folks were complete outcasts and cut off—like the one teacher that folks thought was [gay]; he was just very isolated and isolating. Holly’s family situation showed me [that] you could have good mom and dad, and brother and sisters you were close to. She was a success on the softball team and other things. She showed me that things could be okay on some level. And I helped her world be okay as well, because I was very supportive.[When she came out, it] was also a way for me to indirectly test my parents and other people’s comfort level with homosexuality.
I worked at the Juvenile Detention Center from ‘89 to ’95. That was my first job out of college; I was a teacher on staff at the onsite school downstairs. As I was becoming more and more involved [in the LGBT community] it was becoming trickier [laughs] because I was working for ESD 101. [Sighs.] I felt that they definitely liked me and appreciated the work.
I was [also] getting a little burned out. Dawn [Spellman] was the one who got me into the [job at the] Friend to Friend project, letting me know about the opportunity. So, I really thank and bless her for that, because it really put me at a different level of my activism and experience.
In some ways I was really, really blessed, because I felt that I knew [LGBT] elders. People like Barb Lampert, people like Dean Lynch and Michael [Flannery], Gene Otto and Ted Clark. I was just so blessed to have those people in my life early on. Another man which, I haven’t had contact with him for years, but I so respected was Bill Nourse. He was a guy that was coming out, in his own process, in his 70s.
What I feel blessed about from my history was that, number one, history wasn’t something distant; it was very, very personal for me. Number two, that I was blessed with multi-generational role models. So I saw someone like Bill in his 70s, and I knew Charles and Ann Wood, advocates or allies in their 70s, and Katie Urbanek, and people from a whole variety of life circumstances. [Katie Urbanek was] just wonderful; she’s got the mother’s heart.” I saw couples like Dean and Michael, and Gene and Ted, and so I knew, on some level at least, that things like relationships and success were possible. For me, when I think of gay history in Spokane, I think of it very, very personally.
One person I really want to credit, which I think is an important part of the [gay] history piece is Barb Lampert. I had been active politically since ’91, just as a volunteer and supporter, but I never really thought that gay or lesbian people would stand a snowball’s chance in hell in Eastern Washington. Barb ran for the first time, I think, in ’96 election cycle and she put up surprising numbers. In fact, she cleared the primary that no one expected her to do. That was the very first time it ever occurred to me that maybe a gay or lesbian person could achieve success there. I really want to give credit to Barb as a pioneer in that regard.
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.