Craig Peterson – Silence/Passing

“Rewarded for being closeted.”

I wasn’t [out when I lived in Deer Park]. My experience wasn’t, in some ways, the typical thing. I played football, wrestled, I was ASB [Associated Student Body] president. I did all that stuff and just excelled at a lot of different areas. I think had I come out [while living in Deer Park] . . . It would’ve been the late 70’s-early 80’s . . . The experience would have been different.


Jim [West] and I had really this interesting sort of conversations or dialogues. At one point in the election [for State Representative], I remember him telling me, “Well, Peterson. You seem to, unlike most Democrats, kind of have a clue. Either you’re lying through your teeth in order to get elected when you’re addressing these issues,”—not gay issues, but the issues of the district—“or, you kind of have your act together. Why don’t you move your membership to the 3rd Legislative District and run as a Republican? I think we could get you elected there.”

So when [the outing of Jim West] all blew up , I had such strong feelings about it.[1] In fact, I wrote a “Letter to the Editor” [of the Spokesman Review] last May [2005]. They [also] called and they did an editorial piece that focused on Ryan [Oelrich] and myself. Ryan—as someone who had stayed in the community and was working through the Human Rights Commission for change—and me—as someone who left it.

I basically, in that “Letter to the Editor,” said, “You know, while Jim West may or not have done inappropriate things, I hold the whole community of Spokane responsible, because when I ran and was honest and open [about my sexuality], I got penalized and held back. Jim was rewarded by the establishment for being closeted. And some of the people who are criticizing him now knew years ago. So,” I said, basically: “Get your act together.” For me, that whole West thing—because of politics and the way that sexuality issues were handled—were painful.[2]

In Olympia, [in] all the political circles, people knew [that Jim West had sex with men]. If you went to a cocktail party, or if you went to a fundraiser, whatever, people knew. They just chose to publicly pretend they didn’t.


[My 10-year high school reunion] was kind of uncomfortable. I’d only been out about a year-and-a-half or two. It was, from what I hear from friends—a typical 10-year reunion, where people are still trying to impress each other with career, accomplishments, and beginnings of family and all that. The only one specific memory I have around sexuality is one of my classmates, who I have since become very close with, approached me. She had been a cheerleader in high school. She said, “So, do you live in Seattle or what?” And I said, “No.” She said, “Well, I’ve been hearing some stuff about you but, if you don’t live in Seattle, I guess it’s not true.” That sort of thing, which is again this code that gay people or lesbians live in Seattle. That was my only explicit uncomfortable experience [at the reunion].

But ironically—because I’d been in the newspaper and on TV a lot—no one ever talked about my sexuality. That is so typical of that time. This would’ve been ’95. In a way, I think the assumption was that not saying anything was support, because it was still assumed that anyone who would know would of course say negative things. So, if you were at least silent, then that should be enough, and “Let’s talk about pleasant things.”

[Yes, I was quiet at the reunion too.] It was part of that internal struggle. That’s why I only went to one event that weekend. They usually have a dinner the night before, a parade portion, then a dinner that’s the heart of the event, and then a family event the next day. I skipped probably 80 percent of it. I just went to the dinner, which was held at the civic center in town. That was me still wrestling with, “I’m an activist. I’m out. I should be able to say things, but I’m not going to fight this alone.” Because no one at the reunion—and it was a fairly large one; we graduated with 117; there was probably 50 or so there—no one else was out or near it.

Then, I went to the 25-[year reunion], with my partner of another race, after having lived in Denver and L. A. That was really a comfortable experience. It wasn’t that we made a political statement in any way, but I just broke all the social conventions, because I came and I was obviously in a same-gender partner relationship. I engaged people, so it was more like, “Oh, my gosh! I can’t believe this is happening.” Now people were broadly supportive. No one shunned [my partner] and I. We didn’t sit alone at a table. Far from it. I even chose that year to participate in the dinner the night before, in the parade, and at the Saturday dinner event. I did really everything that was offered, which was a difference.

[I was able to do that then] because I had been away. If I had stayed here . . . Who knows? I wouldn’t be unfair enough, to myself or the circumstance, to say [that], had I stayed in Spokane my whole life, I would’ve never been able to do these things, because who knows? But, having been away, having lived in a world where I wasn’t marginalized, there weren’t these messages about “be invisible,” . . .

One of my classmates pulled me aside at the Saturday event and made it clear that she loved me, and she loved [my partner], but she still had “issues.” She wasn’t sure what to do with all of that. But it didn’t feel like negatively preachy. It just seemed real that someone was saying, “I don’t know what to make of all this, but I still love you.” That part, I gave her a lot of credit for, because in some ways she broke the Spokane-Deer Park thing of not addressing it.

[1]In 2005 Mayor West was publicly outed in the Spokesman Review.

[2]Here Peterson refers to an editorial by Doug Floyd, “Spokane Can’t Afford to Chase Off Gays,” published in the Spokesman Review, 14 May 2004, B4.


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.