The Gay Rights Movement and the City of Seattle during the 1970s

During the decade of the 1970s, gay rights issues repeatedly found their way onto the municipal agenda. At the decade's start, members of the city's gay constituency began developing a public profile after decades of life hidden from public view. The social tumults of the late 1960s in general - and the battle cry of homosexual rights sounded in the Stonewall (New York City) riots of 1969 particularly - inspired a confident sense of activism among many Seattleites. Interest groups like the Dorian Society, Seattle Gay Alliance, and the Lesbian Resource Center mobilized this exuberance, and turned it towards gaining new legal recognitions of their rights as municipal citizens.

Concentrated on the area surrounding the modern Capitol Hill neighborhood, these groups formed a core around which a constellation of gay-centered businesses and establishments grew, initiating the area's long-standing reputation as the center of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) life in Seattle. The Dorians, for example, founded the Seattle Counseling Service for Sexual Minorities in a residential area near 15th Ave E., one of the first support centers of its kind in the country. Even the 'drag' community of cross-dressers and female impersonators, once fiercely underground for its own safety, began to occupy public spaces in clubs and bars, and after 1971 elected an annual "Imperial Sovereign Court of Seattle" to act as its symbolic leadership.

In addition to a place to live, work, and play, this mobilization enabled gay and lesbian activists to gain a new prominence in City politics. Spurred on by widespread police harassment, gay rights proponents continually agitated for increased protection against discrimination to be incorporated into municipal law. The first opportunity came in 1973, when City Councilmember Jeanette Williams introduced a proposed revision of the city's Fair Employment Practices Ordinance that would prohibit job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Williams, a gay rights advocate and early sponsor of the Seattle Women's Commission, gradually garnered sufficient support for the revision from fellow council-members and Mayor Wes Uhlman. On September 10, the new ordinance was passed 8 to 1. This episode was momentous not only for the protections gained against job discrimination, but for the historic introduction of sexual orientation into Seattle's legal record. Organized gays and lesbians became legitimized actors within the City's political constellation.

By 1975, activist groups were continuing to press for legal protections similar to those in the Fair Employment Practices Ordinance. The Dorian Group, a loose organization of prominent gay businessmen and activists led by Charlie Brydon, proposed a revision of the city's Open Housing Ordinance that would make it illegal for landlords and home sellers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, much as it already was on the grounds of race. Sponsored by frequent Dorian Group ally Councilmember, the revised ordinance was introduced to heated debate that lasted for over a month, with strong opposition by the Seattle Apartment Operator's Association clashing against proponents like the Seattle Gay Alliance's Tim Mayhew.

After Mayor Uhlman's announcement that he would sign the law if it reached his desk, the ordinance was eventually passed on August 4, though by a tenuous 5 to 4 vote. The responsibility for monitoring and enforcing compliance with both the Open Housing and Fair Employment ordinances rested with the Office for Women's Rights, which would fill the role of organizational advocate for LGBT rights within City government through the 1970s.

Continuing legal victories in the City Council paralleled Seattle's jubilant new celebration of an annual Gay Pride Week. Started in the summer of 1973, the events surrounding Pride Week were growing larger and better attended, culminating in the first Gay Pride March that was scheduled for 1977. Mayor Uhlman, encouraged by a close political relationship with Charlie Brydon, chose to commemorate the parade with a historic first, officially declaring June 25 to July 1 to be Gay Pride Week in the City of Seattle. Local opponents of gay rights were incensed by this, which appeared to them to be clear evidence of the Mayor's endorsement of what they viewed as the 'amoral' homosexual lifestyle. Reactions ranged from letter-writing campaigns to published threats of recall to picketing outside City Hall. Uhlman's ceremonial acceptance of the LGBT community, nevertheless, resulted in an outpouring of support for the embattled Mayor, and gave added significance to the Pride proceedings of that year.

This run of prominent successes was certainly noticed by conservative-minded elements in Seattle, who banded together to aggressively challenge LGBT legal protections during 1978. The organization Save Our Moral Ethics (SOME), founded by Seattle Police officers David Estes and Dennis Falk, spearheaded a successful signature drive to place an initiative on the November ballot giving voters the choice to remove 'sexual orientation' from the text of the Fair Employment and Open Housing ordinances.

As part of a nationwide conservative reaction to gay activism's political triumphs, SOME operated among a wave of anti-gay initiative campaigns, supported politically and financially by conservative activist Anita Bryant's Save Our Children group. By late 1978, the first of these efforts proved successful, limiting protections in Miami, Wichita, and St. Paul-Minneapolis. Anxious to prevent a similar defeat, gay and lesbian activists quickly rallied in opposition to the upcoming Initiative 13, as it was known. The most prominent of the anti-Initiative associations was Charlie Brydon's Citizens to Retain Fair Employment, which organized an array of fund-raising and promotional activities aimed at educating the public on the perils of rolling back discrimination protections.

Following months of demonstrations, debates, and heated rhetoric from both sides, the Initiative 13 proposal was put to a vote on November 7. To the surprise of many, it was defeated by 63 per cent to 37. Coming a day before the defeat of the similarly-themed 'Briggs Initiative' in California, the vote was hailed by many activists as a heartening rejection of the resurgent anti-gay sentiment represented by groups like SOME and Save Our Children. Not all the news was positive that month, however, as Harvey Milk, San Francisco City Supervisor and the nation's first openly gay elected official, was slain by disgruntled ex-Supervisor Dan White only a few weeks following the victory.

After Initiative 13, the LGBT community ceased to pose any issues of citywide importance for several years. By 1983, however, the growing public awareness of AIDS' devastating impact upon Seattle's gays prompted a program of surveillance and education by the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health, as well as further debate on what else should be done. This crisis ultimately overshadowed the great strides previously made in political representation, though the community mobilization of that decade would prove valuable in the fight against the epidemic. By the close of the 1970s, the LGBT community could no longer be ignored within the centers of municipal power. Seattle's sexual minorities had taken their place as vibrant members of Seattle's civil society.

Documents

Life in Seattle's Gay and Lesbian Community

  • City Council meeting, April 27, 1972
    Testimony of Tim Mayhew, representitive of the Seattle Gay Alliance (mp3, 2707k)
    Recording of full meeting (mp3, 141,949k)
    Minutes of the Meeting.
    Audio Citation: Event 11603. Seattle City Council Audio Recordings, 4601-03. Seattle Municipal Archives.
  • 1971 Annual Report for the Seattle Counseling Service for Homosexuals and other Sexual Minorities (1971)
  • Letter sent to the Mayor's Office detailing alleged police harassment of a gay couple
  • Excerpts from an issue of the Seattle Gay News (December, 1976)
  • Memorandum detailing the first meeting of a Police/Gay community task force on crime prevention (October 20, 1980)

1973: Revision of the Fair Employment Practices Ordinance

1975: Revision of the Open Housing Ordinance

  • Meeting of the City Council's Human Resources & Judiciary Committee, October 16, 1972
    Testimony of Tim Mayhew, representitive of the Seattle Gay Alliance (mp3, 2250k) Recording of full meeting (mp3, 82,632k)
    Minutes of the Meeting.
    Audio Citation: Event 1433. Seattle City Council Audio Recordings, 4601-03. Seattle Municipal Archives.
  • Meeting of the City Council's Human Resources & Judiciary Committee, July 22, 1975
    Testimony of Edwards G. Morges, attorney for the Seattle Apartment Operators Association (mp3, 2250k)
    Recording of full meeting (mp3, 33,919k)
    Minutes of the Meeting.
    Audio Citation: Event 3015. Seattle City Council Audio Recordings, 4601-03. Seattle Municipal Archives.
  • Letter written to City Council by Edwards G. Morges, attorney for the Seattle Apartment Operators Association,arguing against the addition of sexual orientation to the Open Housing Ordinance (1975)
  • Letter written by Councilwoman Jeanette Williams describing the potential revision of the Open Housing Ordinance (May 22, 1975)
  • Briefing on the content of the Open Housing Ordinance revision (April 14, 1975)
  • Letter from Councilwoman Jeanette Williams soliciting the appropriate definition of sexual orientation for City Ordinances, with response by City Attorney Doug Jewett (June 20 & August 25, 1978)

1977: Gay Pride Week is Officially Proclaimed

1978: The Struggle over Initiative 13


The 1980s: The Post-13 Era

  • Memorandum summarizing meeting between city officials and gay community leaders (February 14, 1983)
  • Seattle-King County Department of Public Health memorandum detailing response to AIDS epidemic (April 29, 1983)
  • Transcript of testimony to the City Council advocating a resolution in support of action against the AIDS epidemic (June 21, 1983)
  • Cover of the quarterly AIDS surveillance report issued by the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health & Department of Social and Health Services (1987)

Images

 Councilmember Jeanette Williams (1974)  Mayor Wesley Uhlman speaking at the Bumbershoot Festival '74 (1974)  Flyer for the 'Halloween against 13' fundraiser, held by the Seattle Committee Against Thirteen (1978)
Councilmember Jeanette Williams (1974)
Citation: Councilmember Jeanette Williams [on occasion of swearing in of Mayor Wes Uhlman], Jan. 14 1974. Item No. 51273, Seattle Municipal Archives.
Mayor Wesley Uhlman speaking at the Bumbershoot Festival '74 (1974)
Citation: Mayor Uhlman at podium with Bumbershoot Festival '74 Welcomes You sign, 1974. Item No. 77578, Seattle Municipal Archives.
Flyer for the 'Halloween against 13' fundraiser, held by the Seattle Committee Against Thirteen (1978)
Citation: Flyer for fundraising event held by anti-Initiative group Seattle Committee Against Thirteen, 1978. Folder 3, Box 6, Charles T. Royer Legal Subject Files, 5274-03. Seattle Municipal Archives.
 The head of the first Gay Pride Week march in Seattle (1977)  Photo of the first Gay Pride Week march through Seattle, with counter-protest (1977)  Crowd of anti-Inititiative 13 protesters at rally in Westlake Park(1978)
The head of the first Gay Pride Week march in Seattle (1977)
Citation: Negative Number 2002.46.2379.5, Robert H Miller Collection, Museum of History & Industry.
Photo of the first Gay Pride Week march through Seattle, with counter-protest (1977)

Citation: Negative Number 2002.46.2379.3, Robert H Miller Collection, Museum of History & Industry.
Crowd of anti-Inititiative 13 protesters at rally in Westlake Park(1978)

Citation: Negative Number 2002.46.2379.4, Robert H Miller Collection, Museum of History & Industry.

Bibliography

Textual Records

Wesley C. Uhlman, Subject Files (Record Series 5287-02)
Records from Mayor Uhlman's office (1969-1977) concerning political issues involving the city and the gay community, such as alleged police harassment of gay couples and gay-owned establishments. There is an especially substantial amount about his proclamation of Gay Pride Week in 1977, and the subsequent public response.

  • Box 61, Folders 6-7: Gay Community, 1975-1976
  • Box 61, Folders 8-10: Gay Pride Week Proclamation- Correspondence Supporting (July), 1977
  • Box 62, Folders 1-2: Gay Pride Week Proclamation - Correspondence Supporting, 1977
  • Box 62, Folders 3-6: Gay Pride Week Proclamation- Opposition, 1977
  • Box 63, Folders 1-5: Gay Pride Week Proclamation- Opposition, 1977
  • Box 64, Folders 2-5: Gay Rights, 1977
  • Box 99, Folder 10: Letters to mayors of other cities, 1977
  • Box 149, Folder 10: Seattle Counseling Service for Homosexuals, 1971-1972


Wesley C. Uhlman, Mayoral Proclamations (Record Series 5287-05)
The official record of Mayor Uhlman's proclamation of Gay Pride Week in 1977.

  • Box 1, Folder 33: July, 1977


Jeanette Williams, Subject Files (Record Series 4693-02)
Memorandums, briefings, and meeting minutes from Councilmember Williams' tenure as member of several City Council committees, especially the Human Resources and Judiciary Committee. Special emphasis is given to the development of the Fair Employment Practices and Open Housing Ordinances.

  • Box 55, Folders 2-4: Social Services and Human Rights: Open Housing Ordinance, 1974-1979
  • Box 55, Folder 5: Social Services and Human Rights: Open Housing Amendments - Human Rights Rules, 1975-1977
  • Box 55, Folder 7: Social Services and Human Rights: Fair Employment and Open Housing - Sexual Minorities, 1977


Office of the City Clerk, Initiatives (Record Series 1802-B8)
Records of the Office of the City Clerk, which handles official filing of citizen initiatives.

  • Box 4, Folder 9: Changing Fair Employment Practices Ordinance, Initiative 13, 1978


Charles T. Royer, Subject Correspondence (Record Series 5274-02)
Letters, memoranda, and other records from Mayor Royer's office (1978-1989) concerning political issues involving the city and the gay community.

  • Box 8, Folder 45: Gay Rights, 1980


Charles T. Royer, Legal Subject Files (Record Series 5274-03)
Reports, memoranda, and other records from Mayor Royer's office (1978-1989) concerning political issues involving the city and the gay community. This collection focuses on issues with prominent legal implications, such as the Initiative 13 vote.

  • Box 6, Folders 1-10: Gay Community Issues, 1971-1988


Charles T. Royer, Tom Byers Records (Record Series 5274-13)
Correspondence, memoranda, reports, and studies collected by Royer aide (1978-1987) Tom Byers. The documents relate primarily to health and human services issues, such as the AIDS epidemic then emerging among Seattle's gay community.

  • Box 8, Folder 3: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, 1985
  • Box 8, Folder 4: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, 1983


Office for Women's Rights, Subject Files (Record Series 8401-01)
Correspondence, memoranda, briefings, surveys, reports, research materials and legislation relating to the Office of Women's Rights, the city organization tasked with the monitoring and enforcement of ordinances relating to equal employment and housing.

  • Box 8, Folder 14: Initiative 13- Fair Employment and Open Housing Ordinance, 1977-1978


Office of Women's Rights, Departmental Publications (Record Series 8401-05)
Newsletters and brochures published by the Office for Women's Rights. It includes several interesting brochures detailing their powers to enforce the Fair Employment Practices and Open Housing Ordinances, though not necessarily in the context of sexual orientation discrimination.

  • Box, 1 Folder 4: Office for Women's Rights Brochures - bias crime, discrimination, sexual harassment, 1995


Ordinances (Record Series 1801-02)
Permanent laws of the City passed by City Council and signed by the Mayor. Search the ordinance database using terms like "homosexual," "gay rights," and "sexual orientation."

  • At least 10 ordinances related to housing, employment, and discrimination during the 1970s and early 1980s.


Clerk Files (Record Series 1802-01)
Materials placed "on file" with the City Clerk as an official City file. Types of records include affidavits, agreements, audits, applications, appointments, contracts, correspondence, annual reports, Mayor's messages and vetoes, petitions, policies and procedures, City publications, and legislation background materials. These records can be generated by elected officials, City agencies, and the general public. Search the clerk file database using terms like "Initiative 13," "gay rights," and "sexual orientation."

  • At least 20 clerk files related to housing, employment, initiatives, organizational and campaign reports, and discrimination during the 1970s and early 1980s.


Publications
Annual Report 1971 (Document 7347)
Authored by the Seattle Counseling Service for Homosexuals and other Sexual Minorities in 1972. 14 pages.

Q and A about AIDS (Document 8799)
Authored by the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health in 1986. 13 pages.

Quarterly AIDS surveillance report / 1st quarter 1987 (Document 8477)
Authored by Seattle-King County Department of Public Health & Department of Social and Health Services in 1987. 13 pages.


Audio Recordings
Selected audio recordings in the Seattle Municipal Archives available for research use. Most recordings indexed to date are of full City Council meetings, Council committee meetings, and public hearings and date principally from 1963 to 1985. Search the Audio Collection Index for terms like "gay," for possible speakers like Tim Mayhew, and specific dates and committee meetings in which important topics are discussed (see the audio search tips for details).


Other Resources
The Tim Mayhew Collection on Gay Rights (1964-1999), held by the Special Collections division of the University of Washington Libraries, documents a broad range of gay organizations in Seattle from the 1960s through the 1980s. The material includes organizational papers such as by-laws, minutes, and correspondence, as well as fliers, newsletters, brochures, programs, and other ephemera.

Gary Atkins' Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging (2003) is a history of gay life and community in Seattle from the city's founding into the 1990s. Special attention is paid to the community's rise to political prominence during the late 1960s and 1970s, as well as the internal divisions over strategy and goals that plagued the movement at this time.