Dean Lynch – Activism

“Being an activist is a part of one’s personality.”

The problem with being referred to as a gay activist is that it diminishes who you are to one level. To one aspect. To one objective. Yes, I’m an advocate, an activist for equality. That’s a big thing for me. If someone says, “You’re an equality activist.” I would say, “Yeah. I think that’s true. I advocate for the poor. I advocate for people of color. I advocate for people who are down on their luck. I advocate for people who don’t have health care. Yes, I think that I am an activist for equality, for all people.” But to say I’m an advocate or an activist for the poor? [Shakes head:] No. Or an activist for the gay community? No. I’m more than just that. That’s just a segment of who I am. I have a whole lot more to offer.

Right now [2013] I’m an advocate for Rockwood neighborhood. We’ve lived here three and a half years and I’ve been chair, for over a year already, of the neighborhood [association]. So, yeah, I’m a Rockwood neighborhood activist. No, I don’t want to wear that title any more than any other title, but I do advocate for people, things, places I’m passionate about.


When we started [with LGBT activism] it was primarily the gay men who were involved politically. The men were the movers; the men were the ones that got it started. Then it went to a point in time when the women were doing most of the political work. I think it is more an issue of personalities—who came out in what community, in what city and what time. It just so happened, in the mid-‘80s there was a large coming out process of young men—pretty self-assured, self-actuated, confident men—who took on a big role.

I think what we saw [in the mid-1980s] was a coalescence of like-minded men, who became in touch with each other: some who moved to Spokane, some who were from here. Most of them did not have children. So, you were dealing with a group of people who were young, mobile, recently coming out, being very aware of HIV and dealing with that. There was the social aspect, the financial aspect, and, I think, it was the comfort level [that was important]. I know of both men and women who came out of very nasty marriages. There [were] those issues associated with it. There was just a group of men who came together motivated for change. And there were women in that group. I mean, it wasn’t all men, but it was probably an 8:2 ratio at that point in time.

AIDS was a big issue [in that process of gay men becoming politically active]. We were learning to deal as that was happening. And Stonewall, in ’79, was trickling down to Spokane.[1] I can’t point to any one thing and say, “That’s it. That’s why we all came out when we did.” It was just a convergence of factors. And [LGBT activists in Spokane] weren’t all exactly the same age. I am four years older than my partner. The majority of them were within an eight-year age frame. Post-college. Most of us had college degrees. Many of us had never been married. Some had kids, some were divorced.


[In the 1990s] there was an organization called the Privacy Fund. The Privacy Fund was statewide political lobbying group. I use the term “statewide” loosely. There have been several attempts at statewide organizations. None of them have been really very statewide or very long-term. It’s real difficult because our interests [in Spokane] are different than Seattle’s interests. We have a different perspective, and we are at a different point in our life. [Spokane resident Larry Stone was on the board of the Privacy Fund at the state level.] Larry could go to Seattle and go to those meetings because he had the means with which to do that.

For seven years in a row we had fundraisers [for the Privacy Fund]. We socialized a lot around that. We would have a pizza party to collect names. We’d all get together, bring our Rolodexes, eat pizza, and add names to the [mailing] list. And then we’d get together and eat, send out the letters, and stuff envelopes. There was very much a social element around doing political action.

The highest we raised [at the Privacy Fund’s annual fundraiser], I think, was about $20,000. It had become one of “the” political events to go to in Spokane. [The Privacy Fund was lobbying for LGBT] civil rights issues and HIV issues. Issues of adoption and foster care were big too, because there were times when certain legislators would try to say that you couldn’t be a foster parent if you were gay. [The Privacy Fund] was fairly short[-lived]. Part of the problem—I only know it from Spokane’s perspective—but it was considered an exclusive gay men’s organization—for rich, white men.

[The Privacy Fund was] working within the system. In fact, I think it would be better to say there was an underlining theme that we wanted to “mainstream”—if I can use that term—gays and lesbians. That we were, we are, your neighbors. You hear that theme now: “We’re your neighbors, your bosses, your coworkers,” and all that. I think [it] was very clear we wanted to represent the gay community as normal, and move away from the focus [being] on the extremes.

I liken it to the period of women’s liberation, of bra burning. You know, those who went out and did bra burning would be considered on the fringe. They were a very valid part of the movement. We have to go back to the history of Stonewall [uprising], and remember that the transvestites, the transsexuals, the men who were dressed up, were very much involved with Stonewall. They were a major part of the movement. And not discounting that, but there was a point when the community felt, if we were going to get acceptance, we needed people [to] know that it’s not just fringe—that we are everywhere. We may be your ministers. We may be your kids’ teachers, your baker, your florist, whatever. We’re there.


In ’89 the Department of Social and Health Services began to put a big emphasis on diversity. They had diversity initiatives. The first initiative was on ethnic diversity. Then, the second initiative was on women. Then along came sexual orientation. I was on that task force representing Eastern Washington from DSHS. Maria Peck from EWU and I were both from Spokane. There was someone else[, a lesbian,] up from the Colville area. I don’t remember the name.

We wrote a manual, we did study groups . . . We had a study group in Spokane. The idea was to create a healthier environment for GLBT employees of DSHS and make sure that access to services was available to all clients, regardless of ethnicity, gender identity, and those kinds of things.

With our GLBT advisory committee, we had to be careful in what we advocated for, because we were really DSHS. When [the issue of benefits for same-sex partners of state employees] came up, we certainly put our stamp of approval on it and our recommendation. [However,] we were doing more about issues of workplace environment. [Pointing:] This poster was developed by our organization. We had four different posters, but [the others] didn’t have people on them. They were [images of] colored balloons and rainbow candles. But this was the next generation of the posters. We were trying to make it more about people. The symbols were safe. They were nice posters, but this is the next generation [of posters]. So, those were the kinds of things we certainly were doing, advocating for, and training people about.

We wanted GLBT training, sexual-orientation training, to be included in all of the diversity trainings that the state was doing. [There was resistance to the training when it began.] People filed complaints and grievances. The Secretary [of DSHS] at that time established a policy that people could opt out of that part of the training. [They could say], “It’s offensive to me and I’m not going to be here.” The religious extremists, or that portion of it, were very strong in the state of Washington. Remember, Washington State went for Pat Robertson [in the 1988 Republican Party primary]; that part [of the party] took over the Republican Party in Washington.


[Lobbying for Spokane’s LGBT civil rights ordinance] began under the Human Rights Commission of the city. They had been working on it for probably two years before it was passed [in 1999]—designing it, developing it, putting it all together, and having public meetings. Someone that deserves a lot of credit—that I don’t think gets a lot of credit—is John Deen, the second publisher of Stonewall News Northwest. He actually did a piece in the Stonewall and sent it the city council. That’s what got it started.

There was a group called the “Stonewall Patriots.” [In 1997] we went down and spoke to the city council from [our] personal perspectives, about what was going on for us [as LGBT people] in Spokane. It was John Deen’s idea. I facilitated bringing the group together. We got as diverse a group as we could possibly do. That’s what we were looking for. It was the first time that some of the members of the city council had heard about gay and lesbian issues from a gay and lesbian perspective. And transgendered. We had transgender, as well as religious, representatives. It was the first time that they had heard their stories, and it moved them to being open.

When [Council Member] Roberta Greene was running for office, I asked her what her opinion was of this non-discrimination ordinance. Roberta said, “Look at me. I’m a black woman who grew up in Carolina. How do you think I’m going to be?” But she never said, “I support it,” or, “I don’t support.” What that told me was that she had some problems with it. She is trying to sound like, “Oh yeah, I have to be supportive, because I am aware of discrimination,” but she’s not there.

We later learned that her minister was lobbying her against it. Her church is very, very important to her. What convinced her was the testimony in opposition. They were so ugly, so mean, and so vitriolic that she later said, “That put me right back growing up in the South. I am going to vote for this.”

[By that time,] we had made some concessions in terms of the number of employees [the ordinance] would cover. We did it gradually. [We drafted it] at 200; then, the next year it moved down to [something like] 100 [employees]. I don’t remember exactly the number. It moved down until finally it moved down to the number of eight. It gave them a few years to apply it. And we had taken out the “transgendered.” It was [originally] included. At first, [the draft ordinance] had also included domestic partner benefits for heterosexual unmarried couples, but that went out very quickly.

The issue of removing [protection for individuals who were] transgender [from the ordinance] was a very traumatic experience for me. It was done strictly out of pragmatism—the belief that we couldn’t win with transgender being included. It was a very painful recommendation. In hindsight, I think we were right only in that we may not have been able to preserve it at the polls, had transgender been there. That doesn’t make it any easier to accept the decision. Many [people] in the transgender community had worked on the ordinance. They were disappointed, but they also understood. I wish that a few years after it was fully implemented, we had gone back and amended it.

One makes those [difficult] decisions. There is no crystal ball saying, “This is what you have to do because . . .” You are only using the information that you have available to you. How you interpret that information is based upon who you are, so that is what we did.


[In March 2001, I was appointed as the representative for District 2 on the Spokane City Council]. I was working for the State of Washington in children’s services; I was training foster parents. I knew most of the city council members personally. I’d been in front of them before on other business.

I live[d] in Browne’s Addition and I’ve been very involved in my neighborhood. I was chair of the neighborhood [association] for several years. I’m [also] a graduate of Leadership Spokane, in 1996. That’s a training where the Chamber of Commerce brings people together and teaches them to be community leaders. It’s a very good program.

The appointment [to the city council] was through the existing members of the city council. But why did they select me over someone else? I think there were two major factors. One is I had been involved in the Browne’s Addition neighborhood activities for a long time. I had spoken before the city council. I’d lobbied them about Browne’s Addition. I knew all the members of the city council, because of my involvement in the community, at Browne’s Addition, and in other things. I also had been co-chair of the “No on Discrimination” campaign in 2000[, to preserve Spokane’s LGB non-discrimination ordinance at the polls]. So, I was before the city council with that issue. They knew me.

It’s not like I had been to dinner at their homes. [Laughs.] It wasn’t that kind of a relationship, but they had seen me professionally. They knew who I was, how I presented myself, my character. They also knew that I didn’t have any secrets. [Laughs.] Well, I have some secrets, but I was not a closeted gay, okay? I had already outed myself—and they knew that. They saw how I had worked with them in terms of the [LGB] human rights ordinance and getting it passed. And I worked with them in [presenting] the ordinance to the city at the election in November.

[This] leads to the second component of how I got [appointed]. At the time, [Council Member] Steve Eugster had written legislation—it was an ordinance, and it was passed by [voters of] the city—it changed the form of government. We went from a weak mayor [and] council manager [system] to a strong mayor [form of government]. In that process, at the election, Rob Higgins, who was a council member, was elected to be council president. His position became open. And that same legislation, which changed the form of government, also started with the representatives being elected by district. Since I lived in the South Hill—and [that was] the way the districts were all being developed—I was appointed into that position. I filled the remainder of Rob’s term, which was through the election of 2001.

The other part of that, which I think is significant in why did they select me . . . They also knew other candidates. It wasn’t like I was the only one who had spoken before them, or they had worked with. But one of the big issues on the city council was River Park Square garage. I had not taken a stand on the garage. Many of the other candidates were either strong pro-garage or strong anti-garage. No one from either one of those camps were likely to get [the votes needed to be appointed], because the council was split 3-3 [on the garage issue]. By virtue of not having gotten sucked into that . . . [Laughs.] I think they saw me as a person who had a lot of integrity, was smart enough to learn the issues, would be independent, and hopefully they could persuade me. [Laughs.] So, both sides saw me as someone that they could talk to, reasonable, and maybe they could persuade me to their issues—because obviously their position was right. I think that was another major issue.

[Again, I was appointed in March 2001. Then, that fall, I lost my bid for election as the incumbent in that position. My sexual orientation played a role in the subsequent election for that position]. I know it did. To what degree, I don’t know. I assume that there are people who voted for me just because of that issue; and there are going to be some people who vote against me because of that issue. The one best anecdote that I have about the effect is that there were people making phone calls. I don’t know how extensive it was, but there were phone calls that were made saying, “Hi, I am So-and-So. On behalf of the Republican Party, I encourage you to do the moral thing and vote for Hession.” It was very clear, when you do that, say do “the moral thing,” it’s very clear what the message was. I know that was out there. How big of an issue it played, I don’t know. When the vote difference is 49 votes, it doesn’t take much to change it, you know.


[My community service is] a reflection of just who I am. As a child growing up, I was always in leadership roles, in 4-H and FFA. I was elected to be room monitor when they first had it in fourth grade. I’ve been doing those things since I was little. I think that I was always expected to be in leadership roles. [Laughs.]

Being an activist is a part of one’s personality. I believe that part of my mission in life is to serve. Being an activist is how I can serve. Some people have gone into the ministry; that’s a way of serving. Some do it in the political arena. You can do it through education. Anyway, I believe that contributing and serving my community is very important. I probably always would be an activist because of my DNA. [Laughs.] But I don’t see myself as that exceptional.


My partner [Michael Flannery] and I have a lot of organizations where we’ve had a supportive [or leadership] role. The Museum of Arts and Culture: he was on the board of that [and] Planned Parenthood. [He is currently on the board of] the [Spokane] Symphony] and [Washington Trust for] Historic Preservation. There’s a lot of those kinds of [organizations]: arts [organizations]. As Regional Licensor for DCFS [Department of Children and Family Services] I was a licensor for Crosswalk, a program of Volunteers of America. Michael and I also contributed financially to VOA [Volunteers of America] programs. I was not the licensor for The Arc, but the developers of the program, Paul and Janet Mann, are friends of ours. We lived in Browne’s Addition at the time, so had some secondary involvement, nothing very significant. I wasn’t an active volunteer with The Arc or VOA. I considered them both—along with the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery—as “safe” organizations: they enjoyed broad community support. I always felt the need to spend more personal energy on fringe programs, serving the underserved.[2] I was involved with a lot of social service activities: hospice, SCAN [Spokane Child Abuse Network] and the Rape Crisis Center. There were lots of activities or organizations that I participated with—not [always] in a leadership role, but a supportive role.


[The goal of marriage equality is] something that I think was really thrust upon us, probably before we were ready for it. What happened was several couples sued the State of Hawaii for marriage rights, and they won! That all of a sudden started awakening everybody, opposition as well, and it gathered more attention. That really is what got it going. Hawaii [was] followed very closely by Alaska. It has just continued to spiral from there, and took over as the “flashy” issue. It wasn’t the most important issue . . .

Well . . . If you have marriage equality, then everything else sort of falls in place. But [in the 1990s] I think most of us were looking at issues of workplace fairness as being a high priority; [and] comprehensive, scientific, factual sex education training in schools; [and] access to health care. You know, there were many other issues that were of higher importance. Partly, I would have considered them “higher” because they were more achievable. We felt they were more obtainable. Marriage: who would have even thought it? It couldn’t be on the radar. It was so far away!!!




[1]The Stonewall uprising was in 1969.

[2]Dean Lynch provided the italicized section in writing, for greater clarity.


Sources: Two interviews with Maureen Nickerson [c. 2007]; transcribed by K. M. and Laura S. Hodgman; edited by Maureen Nickerson and Laura S. Hodgman; held in the Northwest Museum for Arts and Culture. Interviews with Laura S. Hodgman on 25 July 2013 and 12 September 2013.