Seattle voters reject Initiative 13 and uphold gay and lesbian rights on November 7, 1978.

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 6/22/1999
  • Essay 1403
On November 7, 1978, Seattle voters reject Initiative 13 decisively, by nearly two to one. Initiative 13 would have repealed city ordinances protecting employment and housing rights for gays and lesbians. Also, it would have dissolved the City of Seattle's Office of Women's Rights.

The initiative was sponsored by Save Our Moral Ethics (SOME) and by Seattle Police Officers Dennis Falk and David Estes. Opposition was led by the Citizens to Retain Fair Employment (CRFE) chaired by Charles Brydon and directed by Jill Shropp. Other groups opposed the measure as well.

Tolerance and Intolerance

Seattle was one of the first large American cities to enact specific civil rights protections prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Employment rights of sexual minorities were affirmed in 1973, and the City broadened its housing laws in 1975. Seattle City Council Member Jeanette Williams (1914-2008) was the chief advocate of both reforms, which generated little controversy at the time of their adoption.

Legal tolerance of sexual minorities came under increasing criticism from local conservative and fundamentalist leaders as, in 1977 and 1978, former pop singer and orange juice spokesperson Anita Bryant (b. 1940) championed repeal of similar protections in Dade County, Florida; St. Paul-Minneapolis; and elsewhere. Local Initiative 13 sponsors and supporters included avowed Christian fundamentalists and leaders of the right-wing John Birch Society.

Working to Retain

Citizens to Retain Fair Employment was organized as a broad coalition of civil rights groups, religious moderates, and political liberals. Initiative 13 was also vocally opposed by more radical gay and lesbian groups, but CRFE raised the largest war chest and was able to broadcast radio and television messages. Its campaign focused on the theme "Your Privacy is at Stake," arguing that Initiative 13 exposed all citizens, straight and otherwise, to intrusive background checks by employers and landlords.

Early, unofficial vote counts showed Initiative 13 defeated, with a vote of 59,797 (37 percent) in favor to 101,809 (63 percent) opposed. Also on November 7, 1978, California voters rejected the "Briggs Initiative," which sought to curtail the civil rights of gays and lesbians in that state. These reversals effectively ended Bryant's movement, but the conservative resurgence of the 1980s also prevented any significant expansion of gay and lesbian civil rights.

Sources: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 5, 8, and 9, 1978; Walt Crowley, personal archives.

Related Topics:   Gays & Lesbians | Government & Politics | Law | Women's History

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