David Cornelius – Activism

“You just stood out so much.”

An activist [takes] a leadership role to make sure that things are done. I haven’t done that as far as the political aspects of gay liberation. I just haven’t. Now, I’ve studied it: I did my dissertation on the rules of engagement and gay males and lesbians. I get involved with social groups, like the [Men’s] Chorus, and so forth. I supported with money. But I don’t take a leadership role.

[To be an activist] you have to be a reliable, dependable individual who’s involved in all of these things. And I’m not. I mean, it’s sort of like on the Referendum 74 . . . I was immediately called, “What can you all do?” I at first said, “Oh, yeah, I’ll get involved—which would mean going around giving speeches and showing that we’re a couple. I mentioned it to [my partner] Rick, and he said, “No way.” [Laughs.] I went, “Oh, okay.” Then, I never did anything.

I met with our friends who said, “Oh, we just spent the whole day calling everybody,” because they spent a whole weekend just doing nothing but calling people. Well, we didn’t do that. An activist is involved in those activities, and we don’t do it. Rick’s not real comfortable with it. He doesn’t like to be the center of attention. I probably could’ve gotten more involved, but I don’t like to put him in an awkward situation. It’s a lot easier [if] I don’t get that involved either.

Activists just have this desire, this need, to keep active, and this energy, and this focus that I don’t have. That’s why I don’t see myself as an activist. I would never define myself as an activist. Now, I’m involved enough so I know what’s going on, but that doesn’t make you an activist. Not in my mind.

I don’t hide my identity. That does help. But that’s not being an activist.

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I’m pretty sure I went to the first [Pride march in Spokane in 1992. I read about it] in the paper. Nobody called me or contacted me. It was just in the paper and so I said, “Well, we’re going to go.” You had to meet, I think at the time, right in front of the Civic Theater. And Rick said, “Alright, I’ll go.” We went, but it was always very simple. We would just do the little march, about 150 people marched around the block. Then we’d go home.

I think the third time we did it—oh, it was either KHQ or KXLY, I can’t remember—anyway, one of the television stations came over and interviewed me. So I appeared on television saying, “As a gay man . . .” [Then I thought,] “Well, gee. I guess if they didn’t know at [work], they would know now.” But everybody knew at Eastern [Washington University] anyway, who knew me. There was no shock, I guess. I never heard anybody even say that, “I saw you on television, and I was just shocked.” It never happened. But Rick kind of stood off to the side [during the interview], because he doesn’t like that kind of public attention.

We just kept going [to Pride] every year. One year I took my brother; he came in to visit me. I said, “We’re going to go. We go every year.” He said, “Alright, I will go, but I will just wait for you, in the park, and let you and Rick march around.” I said, “Okay.” So he waited for us in the park. We marched around and crossed the little bridge and so forth, and he said, “It just seemed like you . . . You just stood out so much.” I said, “No we don’t. It’s just because you know us.” No one even remembers that we were at the parade, because we never stayed. We never would go through all the celebrations. We’d just march around.

We kept doing that until finally Rick said, “I’m not doing it anymore.” [Laughs.] I said, “Okay.” [Laughs.] He said, “That’s enough, I’ve done it.”

I said, “I’ll keep going.” I [kept] going because I had agreed to serve on the board of the HIV/AIDS Speakers’ Bureau. I agreed to do that: they held a booth at the little fair every year, you know, for the march. I was always there working the booth. I just kept going every year, but Rick’s made it very clear he doesn’t want to do that anymore.

I guess I’ve seen every one of them except for one that I was out-of-town. This last two years, I didn’t even march. I was just at the booth.

I thought it was very important to participate [in the first Pride march in 1992], because I still thought, “There’s just really not much for gay life in Spokane.” I thought, “Well, this would be nice.” I was actually kind of floored on how well it continued and grew. It’s actually fairly good.

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[In the 1980-90s, marriage equality] really wasn’t the primary goal for most of us. It was, “Oh, that’d be nice.” It wasn’t what we thought of as the most important. As it evolved, it became the primary goal. In other words, it became the lynch pin. It sort of held everything together and kept everything moving—which we hadn’t realized before. We just said, “Well, yeah. That’s a dream. That’d be nice if that comes about, but what’s more important is to make sure that we eliminate discrimination as far as employment, housing, and everything else. The marriage is such a tricky issue. Why attempt that when the others are doable?” Then, lo and behold, it became clear that the marriage equality was doable. Then, once you started working on it, it made everything else work for some reason. It carried with it all the other issues that we were concerned with. So, then, after a while, I just realized that was the most important issue, whereas before it wasn’t, for me.

It just seemed like the momentum was completely going the other way, when all those states were passing constitutional amendments maintaining traditional marriage. Then, there started to be little successes [with marriage equality]. Then they started grouping together and growing, and growing. Obviously, we’re still only, what, 15 states that have it and the majority still don’t. But that’s pretty big. That was something. I would have never predicted [it]. And I never would’ve predicted I would live in a state in which the people actually voted for it. That was one of the most surprising things. No, it was just the momentum that started out slowly, and things started falling into place for the states in the northeast, the northwest, and west.

The nice thing is, the focus on marriage makes all the other things just seem obvious. You have [to end] discrimination. You know, if you have to even allow marriage, of course you’ve got to have [other things]. So now, even issues like transgendered people are starting to move in easily. The city council added transgender people to the anti-discrimination [ordinance] in Spokane!

All the related and associated issues, because the marriage thing is so big and so important, it just brings them all along. Well, I didn’t know that was going to happen! [Laughs.] It never occurred to me. But now it makes perfect sense. That really should’ve been the major goal. We just didn’t think it was possible, to be honest with you.

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Sources: Interviews with Laura S. Hodgman on 15 November 2012 and 6 May 2014; transcribed by J. Zander; edited by Laura S. Hodgman.