LGBT Issues in the 1980s: Building Coalitions and Consensus in Seattle

The 1980s was a time of both great momentum and tremendous pain for LGBTQ communities in Seattle. As thousands were lost to the AIDS epidemic in King County, the City of Seattle struggled to provide relief without federal help. Relationships between the City, the County, and community organizations were vital in working toward sufficient support and services, as well as improved civil rights protections. Through these partnerships, LGBTQ Seattleites advocated for funding for AIDS research and social services, the establishment of a Mayor's Lesbian/Gay Task Force, health care benefits for domestic partners of City employees, and the criminalization of harassment due to sexual orientation.

The AIDS Epidemic

The AIDS epidemic started in Seattle with the first diagnosed case in 1982. By 1989, King County had recorded 1,017 cases of AIDS and 549 AIDS-related deaths (54% of total cases). The Seattle-King County Department of Public Health found that of the AIDS diagnoses given, 94% went to gay or bisexual men. Nationwide, homophobia and lack of support from Ronald Reagan's administration resulted in almost nonexistent AIIDS relief at the federal level. The administration's silence about the epidemic during the first years of his presidency cost the country many lives and thousands of dollars in federally funded research. Pat Buchanan, his communications director, described AIDS as "nature's revenge on gay men." By 1987, nearly 21,000 Americans had died from AIDS.

The City of Seattle and King County were some of the earliest jurisdictions in the nation to set aside funding for AIDS treatment and research; only San Francisco moved sooner to do so. As the impact of AIDS grew, the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health saw the need for a program to provide education, referral, and counseling services, and to contribute to AIDS research. Community activists from organizations such as the Dorian Group, the Greater Seattle Business Association, and the Seattle Gay Clinic rallied for such a program before the Seattle City Council. Together with the Seattle Gay Clinic, the Health Department developed and proposed a program that included an informational hotline and one nurse practitioner. Ordinance 111216, passed on July 11, 1983, declared a state of emergency and appropriated emergency funding for the program's establishment.

Ordinances in 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1988 increased funding to establish a virus antibody test (112260), provide interim housing and hygiene services (112673, 113363, 113884), and implement a Pediatric AIDS Project (114308). The Centers for Disease Control, impressed with the teamwork between City, County, and community organizations in Seattle, awarded the Department of Public Health with one of the first federal grants for AIDS prevention projects. This grant helped to fund prevention and control measures, provide support for community organizations, and bolster epidemiological research. Thanks to this extra funding in 1989, the Department opened the AIDS Prevention Project, an independent unit within the agency equipped with expanded staff and services.

Many community organizations provided essential assistance to the work the City of Seattle did in providing funding and support for AIDS services, prevention, education, and research. The Northwest AIDS Foundation (NWAF) and the Chicken Soup Brigade, now known jointly as Lifelong, helped provide people living with AIDS with meals and shelter. A Seattle chapter of ACT-UP advocated for AIDS legislation and funding. And later, in 1992, the Bailey-Boushay House was founded to provide housing and care to people living with AIDS and other life-threatening conditions.

The first nonprofit in Washington State that focused specifically on people of color living with AIDS was the People of Color Against AIDS Network (POCAAN), which started in 1987 as a project of the American Friends Service Committee, with additional help from the Mayor's Lesbian/Gay Task Force. POCAAN reached out to high risk communities, hosted house parties for gay and bisexual men of color, sponsored a regional conference on AIDS in Minority Populations, and distributed brochures, educational comic books for teens, bleach, and condoms. The group also implemented an ad campaign titled "Famous Last Words," funded by the Department of Public Health's AIDS Prevention Project. Later, in 1992, members of POCAAN helped to found Entre Hermanos, a group focused on the needs of LGBTQ Latinas and Latinos. (For more information about POCAAN and their programs, see page V-2 of "Seattle-King County AIDS prevention and services five year plan," accessible below.)

The Mayor's Lesbian/Gay Task Force and the Seattle Commission for Lesbians and Gays

Although overwhelmed by the AIDS epidemic, the LGBTQ community continued to work for increased civil rights protections. One important step forward was the establishment of the Mayor's Lesbian/Gay Task Force in 1985. Mayor Royer called for the Task Force's creation in order to better inform the Mayor's Office about issues important to gay and lesbian residents, and work to ensure that these issues were adequately addressed. In its first four years, some of the Task Force's accomplishments included the creation of an AIDS Funding Coalition, assistance in the establishment of POCAAN, development of an advocacy program to assist those who experienced discrimination, establishment of a nonprofit organization serving elderly lesbians and gay men called the Lavender Panthers, development of a training model for City departments and community organizations, and leadership in the development and passage of the Family Leave Ordinance.

In 1989, Mayor Royer expanded the Mayor's Lesbian/Gay Task Force into a full 15-person commission, the Seattle Commission for Lesbians and Gays. The commission was established to provide advice and policy recommendations to the Mayor and City Council "to insure that members of the lesbian and gay community participate fully and freely in our community," in Royer's words. Now the Seattle LGBTQ Commission, it is part of the Office for Civil Rights and continues to address issues important to Seattle's LGBTQ communities.

Domestic Partnership

One of the biggest battles of the decade was for health care benefits, including sick leave, and funeral leave for City employees with domestic partners. The Mayor's Lesbian/Gay Task Force wrote an extensive report (accessible below) on existing discrimination under the Seattle fair employment practices ordinance, prepared recommendations for immediate action, and consistently advocated to Mayor Charles Royer on behalf of this issue.

Sponsored by Councilmember Virginia Galle, Ordinance 107342 passed in August of 1989, allowing City employees to take sick leave and funeral leave for a domestic partner or a dependent child of that partnership. In 1990 and 1991, ordinances sponsored by Dolores Sibonga and Tom Weeks, respectively, allocated funding to extend health care benefits to domestic partners of City employees (Ordinance 107864) and expanded the City's definition of "immediate family" in the Code of Ethics to include a domestic partner (Ordinance 108439). The City of Seattle was one of the first municipalities to adopt domestic partnership policies, along with Boston, Berkeley, West Hollywood, Los Angeles, and Santa Cruz.

Other City Action

Ordinance 111714, which added a section to the Municipal Code defining a new criminal offense. Passed unanimously on on June 11, 1984, the legislation stated that injury or threat of harm to another person based on sexual orientation, gender, marital status, political ideology, age, or parental status is the criminal offense of malicious harassment. Sponsored by Councilmember Sam Smith and recommended by the Housing and Human Services Committee, the ordinance was also supported by the National Gay Task Force, the First Presbyterian Church, the Dorian Group, and the City of Seattle Office for Women's Rights.

In April 1988, the Seattle Commission on Children and Youth held three public hearings to identify the special needs of LGBTQ youth in Seattle. The goal of these hearings was to provide a space for young gay people to express their needs, and to address these needs by making appropriate recommendations to City government. More than three hundred people participated, and their testimonies demonstrated that growing up can be a painful, isolating experience for LGBTQ people. Some of the issues addressed included the absence of curriculum on sexual orientation in Seattle Public Schools, fear of rejection from family and friends, lack of positive adult role models with whom to identify, lack of social services to meet their needs, and issues such as homelessness, sexual exploitation, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, and suicide. (For more information and testimonies from the public hearings, see "Report on gay and lesbian youth in Seattle," accessible below.)

The 1980s also saw political representation improve for LGBTQ Seattleites, including the appointment of Washington State's first openly gay legislator. Before he was appointed to the House of Representatives, Calvin "Cal" Anderson worked for the City of Seattle, first as an administrative assistant to City Councilmember George Benson, and later as appointments secretary for Mayor Charles Royer. In 1987, the King County Council appointed him to a state house vacancy, and he served the 43rd legislative district, focused on downtown Seattle. Anderson was a constant advocate for LGBTQ rights; every year that he was in office, he attempted to extend the state's civil rights law to cover gays and lesbians -- and every year, it was defeated. In 1994, he ran for the state senate and defeated his opponent with 81% of the vote. Shortly after starting his new position, on August 4, 1995, Anderson passed away of AIDS-related complications at the age of 47. Cal Anderson Park in Capitol Hill was named in his honor in 2003.


The City of Seattle's actions during the 1980s reflect not only strong partnerships between the City, King County, and community organizations, but also the strength and resolve shown by the LGBTQ communities in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. These combined efforts resulted in legislative changes that continue to have lasting effects today.

Despite lack of federal support, Seattle was among the first to allocate City funding for AIDS support, services, and research. The Mayor's Lesbian/Gay Task Force, now the Seattle LGBTQ Commission, continues to collaborate with the community and work with the City to advocate for LGBTQ constituents. Changes in City domestic partnership policies allowed the inclusion of alternative family structures in health benefits, sick leave, and funeral leave. Harassment on the basis of sexual orientation was defined as a criminal offense. Public hearings provided a space for young gay people to express their needs, and Washington State appointed its first openly gay legislator. These examples illustrate the community mobilization that encouraged the City to address the support, services, and protections needed for LGBTQ people in the 1980s.



  • Email to Mayor Royer written by Marlaina Kiner, Director of the Human Rights Department, and Linda Taylor, Director of the Office for Women's Rights, on the City's Policy on Unfair Practices Due to AIDS
  • Email from Mayor Royer to City employees regarding the City Employee AIDS Policy
  • Chicken Soup Brigade July 1991 newsletter
  • Draft of the Mayor's talking points for the Chicken Soup Brigade Gala Benefit Dinner on August 18, 1991

Domestic partnerships

  • "A Family Affair," the newsletter of the Domestic Partnership Committee of the Mayor's Lesbian/Gay Task Force:
  • Letter from Shelly Cohen, Co-Chair of the Mayors Lesbian/Gay Task Force, detailing the proposal for recognition of domestic partners for sick and bereavement leave
  • 14 Most Asked Questions about Domestic Partner Registration Brochure

Mayor's Lesbian/Gay Task Force

Seattle Commission for Lesbians and Gays

  • Seattle Commission for Lesbians and Gays brochure
  • Seattle Commission for Lesbians and Gays brochure



Mayor Norm Rice at the Northwest AIDS Walk, 1991
Mayor Norm Rice at the Northwest AIDS Walk, 1991
Item 77387, Seattle Municipal Archives
Seattle Office for Women's Rights with Mayor Rice, 1991
Seattle Office for Women's Rights with Mayor Rice, 1991
Item 186934, Seattle Municipal Archives

City of Seattle Publications


  • Ordinance 111216: relating to the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health authorizing the establishment of a surveillance and education program for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS); establishing new positions; increasing an expenditure allowance in the 1983 Budget of the Department, making an appropriation from the Emergency Fund; and declaring the emergency therefor. Passed July 11, 1983 with a vote of 7-0. 
  • Ordinance 111714: relating to the control of harassment based on a person’s sexual orientation; adding a new section to define a new criminal offense. Passed June 11, 1984 with a vote of 8-0.
  • Ordinance 112260: relating to the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health; authorizing the establishment of a virus antibody test project for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Aids); increasing an expenditure allowance in the 1985 Budget of the Department, making an appropriation from the Emergency Fund, and declaring the emergency therefor. Passed April 29, 1985 with a vote of 8-0. 
  • Ordinance 112673: authorizing an agreement with the Seattle Housing Authority to provide for interim housing for people with AIDS or disabled with AIDS related conditions and making an appropriation from the H.H. Dearborn Trust Fund therefor. Passed January 27, 1986 (vote count not noted). 
  • Ordinance 113091: relating to the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health; increasing an expenditure allowance in the 1986 Budget of the Department for the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) Project; making an appropriation from the Emergency Fund; and declaring an emergency therefor. Passed September 29, 1986 with a vote of 8-0. 
  • Ordinance 113363: relating to the Department of Human Resources, making an appropriation from the H.H. Dearborn Trust Fund to the Department of Human Resources Operating Fund and authorizing agreements with the Northwest AIDS Foundation and the Lutheran Compass Center for the provision of housing and hygiene services. Passed March 23, 1987 (vote count not noted). 
  • Ordinance 113884: related to the Department of Human Resources, authorizing an agreement with the Northwest Aids Foundation for emergency and transitional housing for people with Aids or Aids-Related Conditions and making an appropriation from the H.H. Dearborn Trust Fund therefor. Passed March 21, 1988 with a vote of 6-0. 
  • Ordinance 114308: relating to the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health; (incl) accepting financial assistance from the United States Health Resources and Services Administration for the implementation of a Pediatric Aids Project. Passed December 27, 1988 with a vote of 6-0. 
  • Ordinance 114872: establishing a Seattle Commission for Lesbians and Gays. Passed December 11, 1989 with a vote of 8-0.
  • Ordinance 114534: suspending application of marital status antidiscrimination provisions of Seattle Municipal Code chapters 14.04 and 14.08 to employee health insurance issues until March 1, 1990. Passed May 22, 1989 with a vote of 9-0.
  • Resolution 27211: stating goals of the 1985 State Legislative Request Program of the City of Seattle. Adopted November 26, 1984.
  • Comptroller File 293414: relating to Ordinance No. 111714, relating to the control of harassment based on a person's sexual orientation. Filed July 26, 1984.
  • Clerk File 306169: Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation designation of the name "Cal Anderson Park" as the official name for a park facility located at 11th Avenue East and East Pine Street. Filed April 17, 2003.

Audio recordings

  • Human Rights Ordinance Review Panel - Sept. 21, 1984
    Jeanette Williams, City Council; Arval A. Morris, Professor University of Washington; Isabel Safora, La Raza Lawyer's Association; Larry Sarjeant, National Conference of Black Lawyers; Curman Sebree, Northwest Women's Law Center; Anne Ellington, Seattle-King County Bar Association; Dan O'Donnell, Local 17; Randy Gainer, Seattle Human Rights Department; Joe Murphy, Seattle Human Rights Commission; Vanessa Gilder, Ad Hoc Committee; Heidi Durham, Ad Hoc Committee; Val Carlson, Ad Hoc Committee; Oscar Eason, Ad Hoc Committee; Abraham Arditie, Private Attorney; Tom Rasmussen, Jeanette Williams' office; Leslie Owen, Northwest Women's Law Center; Martha Koester, Stonewall Committee; Jim Davis, Ad Hoc Committee; Nancy Walton, Office for Women's Rights Related material in 4693-02 Box 56; 3800-01 Box 1


Archival Records

Virginia Galle, Subject Files (Record Series 4630-02), 1970-1989
Files relate to two Council Bills addressing domestic partner benefits and use of sick leave and funeral leave for domestic partners. Materials include correspondence, news clippings, constituent letters, and background information.

  • Box 1, Folders 1-13

Tom Weeks, Subject Files (Record Series 4691-02), 1989-1996
Contains many materials from the Gay and Lesbian Commission and the Women’s Commission, including meeting agendas, work plans, correspondence, and appointments.

  • Box 2, Folder 8: Gay and Lesbian Commission
  • Box 2, Folder 9 - Box 3, Folder 1: Women's Commission

Office of Women's Rights (Record Series 8401-01), 1971-1996
Correspondence, memoranda, briefings, surveys, reports, research materials and legislation relating to OWR projects a s well as issues of concern to OWR. Topics include non-traditional careers for women (including firefighting and blue-collar trades), women and minority business enterprises (WMBE), affirmative action, sex discrimination and issues involving pregnant employees (limited duty, disability). Other topics include child care, domestic violence, chemical and alcohol dependency, and juvenile prostitution. Also addressed are issues of concern to the lesbian and gay community, particularly domestic partnerships, discrimination and bias/hate crimes. OWR's participation in fairs and celebrations is also documented, including Women in the Trades Fair, Take Our Daughters to Work Day and the 75th anniversary of Women's Suffrage.

  • Box 2, Folders 2-4: AIDS policy
  • Box 2, Folder 6 - Box 2, Folder 7: Anti-harassment policy workgroup
  • Box 2, Folder 8: Anti-homophobia training, materials, and consultants
  • Box 3, Folder 1: Bias crime report media strategy
  • Box 3, Folder 5: Chicken Soup Brigade event
  • Box 3, Folder 13: Coalition against bigotry and bias affirmation action subcommittee
  • Box 5, Folder 4 - Box 6, Folder 5: Domestic partnership
  • Box 8, Folder 2: Gay and Lesbian youth commission
  • Box 10, Folder 3: Lesbian and gay employment project

Office of Women's Rights (Record Series 8401-05), 1980-1999
Newsletters and brochures published by the Office for Women's Rights, the Seattle Women's Commission, and the Seattle Commission for Lesbians and Gays.

  • Box 1, Folder 7: Seattle Commission for Lesbians and Gays newsletters
  • Box 1, Folder 8: Seattle Commission for Lesbians and Gays brochures

Gay and Lesbian Task Force Files (Record Series 8405-02), 1987-1991
Correspondence, reports, surveys, and news clippings related to the activities of the task force. Materials deal primarily with the passage and monitoring of legislation extending benefits to domestic partners of City officials and employees.

Seattle Commission for Lesbians and Gays (Record Series 8405-04), 1984-1996
Correspondence, reports, memoranda, notes, research and news clippings related to the activities of the Commission. Topics include: Health issues (including AIDS), discrimination based on sexual orientation, domestic partnership, homosexuality in the black community, and police issues.

Pro Parks Acquisition Photographs (Record Series 5811-02)

  • Box 49, Folder 6: Photographs of the Cal Anderson Park Dedication ceremony

Seattle Channel Moving Images (Record Series 3902-01)

  • Item 2014: "A Day of Celebration - Naming of Cal Anderson Park," 2003

Seattle Gay News (Record Series 9905-06)
Selected issues of the weekly LGBT+ community dating from 1978 to 2015. This set consists mainly of issues that include stories about City policies, personnel, and elected officials. Complete sets of Seattle Gay News are held by the Seattle Public Library and the University of Washington.

Other resources

This exhibit was researched and written by University of Washington iSchool student Rachel Mahre.

Municipal Archives, City Clerk

Anne Frantilla, City Archivist
Address: 600 Fourth Avenue, Third Floor, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 94728, Seattle, WA, 98124-4728
Phone: (206) 684-8353

The Office of the City Clerk maintains the City's official records, provides support for the City Council, and manages the City's historical records through the Seattle Municipal Archives. The Clerk's Office provides information services to the public and to City staff.