May 29, 1997 in City
Gay Rights Initiative A ‘Wake-Up Call’
Getting an initiative to ban job discrimination against homosexuals on the state ballot is a risk worth taking, said a former military officer who was discharged for being a lesbian.
“Whether you win or lose at the ballot box, this is a wake-up call for the state,” Margarethe Cammermeyer said Wednesday. “We’re giving the voice of reason a chance of saying, ‘Let’s show what the state of Washington is made of.”’
Cammermeyer told a breakfast crowd of some 300 people that proposed Initiative 677 is a chance to be “pro-active” in the discussion over civil rights for homosexuals.
In the past, gay-rights activists have concentrated on fighting initiatives that would have banned specific rights for homosexuals.
None of those initiatives passed. But Cammermeyer, a decorated Army nurse from the Vietnam War, likened those fights to the American actions in Southeast Asia.
“We went and fought for a piece of property. And when night came, we withdrew, only to have to fight for it again,” she said.
In a later interview, she said she didn’t think a loss at the ballot box would open the doors for more discrimination. The campaign, she said, “gives both sides a chance to talk about reality.”
Initiative 677 would forbid discrimination against homosexuals by most employers or labor organizations, although it would not require that preferential treatment or benefits be extended to same-sex partners.
“It’s not another group of people asking for special rights. It’s just the same rights,” she said.
Cammermeyer was a member of the Washington National Guard when she was discharged because she was a lesbian. After a legal battle, she was reinstated with full benefits and retired.
The initiative wouldn’t help people in similar situations in the Guard, because the military is exempt, she said. It also does not apply to nonprofit religious organizations or companies with fewer than eight employees.
Hands Off Washington, the campaign organization, has until July 3 to collect 181,000 valid signatures from registered voters to place the initiative on the Nov. 4 ballot. They hope to collect 225,000 signatures by that time, to allow for duplicates and other invalid signatures.
Campaign officials refuse to disclose how many signatures they have collected, saying only that they are “on target” for their goal.