Citizens for Fairness Hands Off Washington
Washington Citizens for Fairness | Hands off Washington (H.O.W.) was created in 1993 to defeat Washington State ballot initiatives 608 and 610, which threatened the civil rights of state and local public employees based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation.
In 1993, The Oregon Citizens Alliance attempted to influence Washington politics by gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that would have restricted the civil rights of GLBT citizens in Washington State. The Citizens for Fairness/Hands Off Washington campaign was a grassroots gay rights effort that repelled this attempt, casting the OCA as an Oregonian organization trying to manipulate Washington State politics. During its brief history, the HOW campaign repelled a number of OCA attempts. In 1997, Washington's existing discrimination laws protected against many different classes, but not sexual orientation, perceived or actual; the HOW campaign attempted to add both categories to the existing anti-discrimination laws via a ballot measure (Initiative 677), which failed to pass despite high profile support from Governor Gary Locke.
However, this pro-LGBT rights initiative I-677 was the first-ever attempt to win statewide legal rights at the ballot box, a controversial strategy never before attempted. Until this ballot measure, conventional LGBT rights strategies focused on court precedents and legislative sponsored bills. In spite of this loss, HOW was significant in its track record of defeating every anti-LGBT measure brought forward and expanding strategies for LGBT rights.
Hands Off Washington lost momentum after this setback, and faded gradually over the following years.
Hands Off Washington was founded as the first-ever statewide LGBT rights organization, with active chapters in 22 counties, including many in conservative Eastern Washington. This unprecedented strategy allowed HOW to tap local community activists in every corner of the State, in rural and suburban areas as well as urban ones. Until HOW, LGBT rights were headquartered and active only in large liberal cities, often overlooking small towns and rural LGBT people.
HOW was the forerunner of many Washingtonian LGBT civil rights organizations, including Equal Rights Washington, and Washington Families Standing Together. It was formed as an ad hoc grassroots effort consisting almost entirely of volunteers operating on a minimal budget, and achieved remarkable success given its lack of formal structure or funds. While other GLBT service groups predate the Washington Citizens for Fairness/Hands Off Washington campaign, they were mostly non-political in nature, and therefore the HOW can be seen as one of the first significant, statewide efforts at political involvement by GLBT people in Washington State. A documentary, We're Here to Stay: a Documentary About Hands Off Washington and the Politics of Washington State, was released in 1998 to chronicle the organization's rapid rise and equally rapid decline.
While the group has largely been forgotten, it appears quite frequently in news articles published during the period in which it was active, from about 1993 to the end of 1997.
HOW established the potential for LGBT political organizations to garner support far from the heavily urbanized parts of Western Washington, where prior misconceptions alleged the only real support base could exist. This laid the groundwork for the organizations that followed it, and many of the leaders of those organizations got their start in the HOW campaign.
- "The Son Of 608? Please Spare US". Seattle Times. 1994-07-14. Retrieved 2009-09-06.
- "WE'RE HERE TO STAY". Lizard Productions. 1998. Retrieved 2009-09-06.
- Turnbull, Lornet (2006-02-27). "Some question use of ballot box to settle issues like gay rights". Seattle Times. Retrieved 2009-09-06.
- "Pro/Con -- Initiative 677: Gay Rights". Seattle Times. 1997-10-30. Retrieved 2009-09-06.
- "Society of American Archivists' Lesbian and Gay Archives Roundtable". Society of American Archivists. 2009-09-06. Archived from the original on 2007-11-19. Retrieved 2007-03-03.
- "Equal Rights Washington appoints new executive director". Seattle Gay News. 2009-09-06. Archived from the original on 2006-06-25. Retrieved 2005-02-15.