Craig Peterson – Sociability

“A few stories that showed my naivete.”

[In the mid-1980s and early-1990s] things were still so underground. People knew their immediate circles. They might know of other groups, but there was no larger [LGBT] network that really functioned. It was just beginning to start to change with Stonewall News. It was beginning to get some of that going, but it was still pretty early.

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Stonewall News had just started [in 1992] and I knew that Larry Stone, the publisher, had a good social circle. In fact, they had an annual Privacy Fund fundraiser at their house. That was probably one of the first events I went to. About the only other [social opportunity] I knew of was the SAN [Spokane AIDS Network] group, the people who had rallied around the AIDS Network. Other than the bars, that’s about all I knew [about for social life]. Oh! PFLAG would be the other piece I knew about when I first came out.

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You know, I was so overwhelmed [at the march for gay rights in Washington, D. C. in 1993]. I mean, to have only been out a couple months. [Laughs.] I can tell you a few stories that showed my naivete.

This is still maybe the small town guy in me. I do much better with the politics and the advocacy piece than I do with the social and cultural pieces. I am still kind of a wallflower. I remember RuPaul, who was just barely breaking in the scene. He was headlining an event that I went online before I went to the march and bought tickets for, but then I was too shy to go alone. So I stayed in the motel. That was very indicative of how I was at that point.

I remember telling the group after one of the days—I think it might’ve even been the evening of the march—that I wanted to go out. What was the word I used? Not “seedy,” but just have some fun and see what’s out there. And, oh, my gosh! I don’t drink, so I wasn’t really around the bars. Dempsey’s [in Spokane] was my whole experience—very limited. They took me to a bar where there were completely nude male dancers, where people were putting money in socks and stuff. I was just so beyond blown away.

It was just very uncomfortable [for me], because I’d never been in a public environment like that where . . . It was like right there. [My friends] told me that I basically kind of freaked out and left early. They were like, “Oh, we were going to take you to a place with much worse.” That’s when I learned I had to be careful with my language, because I had one set of cultural experiences. This was night and day different.

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I was tremendously naive [in the mid-1990s]. I thought when I went into these small localities [in rural Eastern Washington] and brought GLBT programs that they would be just starved for it and run [with it]. And what I found is most of the folks who live out in the rural areas, they know where to go when they want community. They know to come to Spokane for Dempsey’s [bar], or the [LGBT] community center, or take a three-day weekend to Seattle. Most of them were either not supportive or . . . almost aggressive about drawing boundaries. [They’d say,] “We really have no desire [for LGBT activities locally], and if you bring the visibility of the gay community up too high there could be a backlash.”

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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.