Kevan Gardner – Activism

“Bring your fire.”

[I worked with] what is now called “OutSpokane.” It started as Spokane Pride Committee. The first pride parade—using the term “parade” extremely loosely—was in 1992. I’d been back in Spokane for eight months or so. I heard about it, so I went to it. It really was not organized by a group. It was just organized by some PFLAG moms. Marion Dumoulin-Hammer and Helen Bonser were the two that probably did the most. Marion Dumoulin is a really good friend of mine. I still see her a lot. They had people tell them “No, you can’t do this. It’s way too scary in Spokane. People will come out and kill us.” You know, just off-the-wall paranoia. But it had never been done here. Then, other people were just like, “They’ll never show up. They will not show up and be public in Spokane.”

They did it that first year and they said, “We are not doing it again.” I mean, they literally said, “We are done. We’ll hand over the materials to a group, if a group forms.” So this group formed, called Spokane Pride. That would have been early 1993; then we changed the name to Inland Northwest Pride, probably in 1995. I was chair of that both in 1995 and 1998. I served on the board until 1999.

I also was on the founding committee for [the Spokane chapter of] Hands Off Washington in 1993, which was our then state-wide queer political organization—which had been, still to this day, probably the most successful statewide political group in Washington state. It’s now defunct. [It was formed to work against anti-gay initiatives supported by] Citizens Alliance of Washington. It was basically an off-shoot of Lon Mabon’s group, the OCA, the Oregon Citizen’s Alliance.

One year, the board of the steering committee for Hands Off Washington and the board for Inland Northwest Pride were almost identical. We met on the same day but we met in different places. It was actually about 80 percent the same. We had a few more people that were only involved with Hands Off and a few that were only involved with Inland Northwest Pride. But we literally would have the meeting for Hands Off and then 80 percent of us would get in our car and we’d go to another place. We’d be the same people except for a couple. It would be hysterical.

I worked as a volunteer coordinator at Odyssey [Youth Center] for a number of years in the ‘90s and then was [on] the Founding Advisory Board. We started a Founding Advisory Board to help work on the separation [of Odyssey] from the Health District. The Founding Advisory Board was just the one year. Some people, when [Odyssey] became a 501(c)(3), basically ran for election on the board. I didn’t though. By then I was already in this job [with the Pride Foundation] and I travel a lot.

[The Pride Foundation’s mission]—I’ll just quote it to you: “To connect, inspire and strengthen the LGBT community of the Pacific Northwest.” We do that primarily through three methods: grants to organizations, like the grants we’ve given to Odyssey; scholarships to students; and leadership development, which is actually the newest piece of our mission. We’ve been doing it informally from the beginning, but we actually started to formalize that program more. [We’re] looking at some of the other organizations we are supporting in communities, looking at where they have staff or board that could use some leadership development, and then basically paying  for it. My title is Regional Program Director. We have a very decentralized model of the way we do things, run our programs, and do our governance. Our program is really dependent on these steering committees [in] a five-state region. I oversee the programs that really work to build and maintain relationships with all of our stakeholders outside of the Seattle area—particularly volunteers, because our regional work is so volunteer driven, but also with grantee organizations.

[The Pride Foundation has given money in Spokane]. Spokane is the center for us, our Inland Northwest hub, which covers all of eastern Washington and Idaho. Where we’ve really given the most, where we’ve had the most activity has been in Spokane County, but also Kootenai County, Whitman and Latah counties, in the Moscow and Pullman area, and a little bit with Bonner County where Sandpoint is. We’ve kind of carved up our five-state area into little hubs and there is a center for each hub. When we get stronger there, then we just keep going into the smaller communities.

I got my first real job, right after I graduated, at Interplayers Theater—partly through my connections and my theater degree. I used to work in the box office. At the same time, I was getting involved in all these leadership volunteer positions. You know, chairing things, being on steering committees. It just kind of happened that I started doing both those things. I go, “Gosh, I’m kind of good at this and I really enjoy it.”  In 1996, the Public Affairs Director position at Planned Parenthood here came available. I applied for that. And I got that job. It’s legislative work. It’s influencing the political process, both electoral and legislative. A lot of it is very grass roots at Planned Parenthood. A lot of it was maintaining and building a network of activists that you could email, or call, and say, “This is an important thing happening. Email or call your representative or your senator.” We worked on federal as well as state legislation.

The job was a lot of managing a big group of volunteers. I did that at the theater. Then, combined with the fact that I’d been doing this queer political work . . . My volunteerism and my job at the theater gave me all the qualifications for the job. It was great. I wouldn’t have had it without all my volunteer work. I would have had only part of it. I don’t think I would have gotten the job without having worked with Hands Off Washington and Inland Northwest Pride, because I had some really good grass-roots organizing skills from being a key volunteer.

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I remember my favorite year of the Pride celebration . . . Oh, my gosh! The Lesbian Avengers. I think this was my first year I was chair, so it would have been about 1995. We were inviting groups to march in the parade. The Lesbian Avengers in Moscow replied back and said, “Yeah, we want to come up and do that.” I was like, “Cool.” I was always one of the few men on their side. It would make me laugh when the women were all nervous about them. I was like, “Yeah. Get them up here. Woo! Bring your fire!”[1] There was all this drama about they would bare their breasts, and [the Pride celebration] was still so new in Spokane.

So, I actually went back to them, because I was the chair. I said, “I will talk to them and just let them know that ‘We want you to be here. That’s really great but . . .’” We actually passed a little thing on the board that everyone had to keep their shirts on—men as well—so nobody could say it was sexist. We said, “We think it is stupid that women have to keep their tops on. But, since they do, what we are asking is that everybody keep their shirts on and not expose anything. In solidarity.” You know, nobody gave me any flack. I didn’t see any men [with] bare chests that year.

I went back to the Lesbian Avengers. I just told them, “There is some concern. Now don’t get us wrong. We think it’s fabulous and we really want to see you there, blah, blah, blah, blah.” They were totally cool, especially when I said, “We are saying this to all the groups, asking them to keep their shirts on. Male or female, it doesn’t matter.” And they said, “Oh, that is cool.” They came with their X’s over their nipples—because then it’s actually legal. They never did expose themselves until afterwards, when we went out to bars. So I got to see lots of boobies. It was fun. It was really fun. I went out and partied afterwards, after everything was over. I was like one of the few men. [Laughs.] We took over one of the bars. It was all the Lesbian Avengers. It was cute.

 

[1]The Lesbian Avengers use fire and fire-eating to draw visual attention to their cause.

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Source: Interview with Maureen Nickerson on 20 November 2006.