Housing Discrimination: Gay Rights in the 1970s
In 1972, gay rights leader Tim Mayhew spoke up at several public hearings relating to discrimination. At this meeting, Mayhew urges Council to include sexual orientation and marital status in the proposed legislation relating to housing discrimination. City Council passed the legislation with the suggested wording in August, 1975.
Excerpt from Committee of the Whole Meeting, October 16, 1972
Councilmember Williams: Ah, Tim Mayhew.
Tim Mayhew: I'm Tim Mayhew representing the Seattle Gay Alliance and the community it stands for. Before I testify, I would like to ask a question. Do you have the text in front of you?
Councilmember Williams: Yes.
Tim Mayhew: Could you read me that section which lists the grounds on which discrimination may not be practiced?...
Councilmember Williams:...Because of race, color, religion, ancestry, or national origin. Is that what you're referring to?
Tim Mayhew: Yes.... First of all I'd like to say that gay people being engaged in a fight against sexism are well aware that the notion that you have to act a certain way because you happen to be male or female is absurd. And we sympathize, gay males sympathize, with the plight of women and we urge the amendment you have suggested, that sex should be included in this list. There are other forms of sexism however, as I just mentioned, and the notion that some people do not consider that masculinity or femininity require an affiliation with a person of the opposite sex is often used by landlords as grounds for exclusion as well. Because of this problem, the committee that transmitted this proposed code to you agreed to include the words "or sexual orientation or marital state" because it is quite common to refuse housing to people because they are homosexual or because they are single or because they are married. And in some cases because they are heterosexual. Now this is not fair....
I know of a case where a man who had been accepted as a good tenant by his landlady for years was suddenly evicted on three days notice when she found out that he was homosexual. She found this out through some hearsay, not because he had done anything to offend anyone. She went to him, she asked him, he said "Yes, I'm gay." And she said, "Be out by the day after tomorrow," which is even less than legal notice. And rather than fight it he moved out, but he told me about it. This happens.
I used to live in a building where the landlord told me once that he had decided he would no longer rent to two men. He would rent to one man but not to two. He would rent to two women, however. Now that's sex discrimination, and it's also anti-gay discrimination.
There's a case in West Seattle where a group of young women was renting a house on the beach. I believe they took good care of it. But because of their frolicking on the beach, which I don't think was by any stretch of the imagination indecent, the neighbors got the impression that they might be lesbians and they began to gossip and they began to talk to the woman who owned the house. And they said, "We think those young women are lesbians, get them out of there." And so the woman gave them an eviction notice - "I'll give you one months notice, get out."
This shows the need for legislation also to protect landlords from trying to coerce their tenants into living a lifestyle that agrees with their own. So long as the property is maintained and public propriety is observed, it's none of the landlord's business. So we would urge you to include not only sex but also sexual orientation and marital state as grounds on which a landlord cannot discriminate.
Councilmember Williams: Thank you.
The entire event can be heard here.
Citation: Committee of the Whole Meeting. Event ID 1433, Seattle City Council Legislative Department Audio Recordings (Record Series 4601-03).