Paul Tiesse – Spokane in Perspective

“We were pretty progressive.”

I don’t respect [Terry Miller] at all, because he complains about Spokane, but then he left Spokane.[1] I think, if you leave, you have no right to complain. I mean, it’s like, how many years ago did that [harassment] happen? You know, get over it. Move on with your life. Spokane, really, the city is really pretty moderate. [It] is pretty accepting and moderate. Even though I say “moderate,” it’s still considered “conservative.” It’s when you go outside the city where [I think] it becomes kind of scary. Now, there’s other people like [Terry Miller]: they’ve left Spokane because it was a horrible place or whatever, blah, blah, blah. Well, “Why didn’t you stay to help make it better?” You know, [I think,] “You took the easy way out. We stayed to make it better. You left, so you have no right to criticize.”

It’s hard to compare Spokane to other cities, because we’re only 200,000-and-some people, even though we have a larger metro area. And we’re the only real city between Minneapolis and Seattle. It’s really hard to compare. Usually, when you travel, you travel to major cities. You don’t travel to another city of 200,000 people. If you go to New York, you can’t really compare New York to Spokane. If you go to Miami, you can’t. People in Seattle talk [negatively] about Spokane, but at least we haven’t had known [gays] or publicly-acknowledged people getting almost killed outside gay bars—getting shot, or stabbed, or whatever, like you’ve heard about in Seattle in the last year. Or them getting beat up to a pulp. I think no matter who you are, if you’re gay or straight, you need to watch out when you’re downtown at night, just because you’re downtown at night. Just because you’re gay, to me, isn’t—unless you’re in drag or something—the reason you get beat up. That’s another issue.

I think in terms of what we were doing [in Spokane], the gay community, we were pretty progressive. We had a youth center here before Seattle did. Our LGBT center is still open while the other cities, they’ve closed. I think we’re actually really doing pretty good compared to a lot of cities. We don’t have a [gay] district, but I don’t think you need a gay district. There are pockets of where people live in the city. We don’t all have to live in one area like they do in other cities—although that’s really changing in a lot of the bigger cities too now. Castro’s probably more straight than gay in San Francisco. Everybody seems to make that a big issue: “We don’t have a gay district.” It’s like, “Well, we’re only 200,000 people. You really don’t need one.”

I think what’s better is that we’re all interspersed throughout the city. On the South Hill, I can go up the whole South Hill and go, “Well, there’s a gay family here, here, over here, here,” and work my way up the hill, instead of all living in one little street. Although on our street, there is about four gay families, which is unusual I think. The lower South Hill really has a lot of gay families. Even as you go up the hill, the wealthier gays have nicer houses up on the hill. I think [that] is true on the north side. A lot of the poorer gays, they’re West Central and Hillyard, and then they’re interspersed throughout the Shadle or Northwest area. So we’re all spread out.

You have to realize one thing in Spokane: it’s hard to find anybody from Spokane. Well, I shouldn’t say it’s hard, but we’re the big city. Everybody coming here is from the small town. They’re from a small town in Montana, or Idaho, or Eastern Washington. Odds are a lot of them were married when they were 20, because that’s what you did in a small town. A lot of [LGBT people who] move here have kids. I’m talking from my perspective now. All their kids now are in their 20s or 30s. The kids are fine and they’ve accepted their life . . . But it’s like they followed that procedure of getting married, having kids, and then maybe 10 years into the marriage decided, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m gay.” Then they leave the town and come here. So, you do have that small-town mentality in a lot of things. I mean, everybody in Spokane, it seems like, has a Montana connection. Of course, Idaho is just at the border over there. We are surrounded by conservative Spokane Valley and Mead. As you go further out, [it’s] even more conservative.

In Spokane, on Saturday night, you’d get cars honking, and screaming [near the gay bar]. They’re all little small-town kids that come into town. It doesn’t bother me. They can honk all they want, because most of them aren’t from here. This is the big city. Give them a show. [Laughs.]


[1]Terry Miller was harassed when he attended Shadle Park High School in the 1980s. He and his partner, sex columnist Dan Savage, began the “It Gets Better Project.”


Source: Interview with Laura S. Hodgman on 15 November 2013.