Charlie Brydon, an early LGBTQ rights leader, died February 9, 2021 at age 81 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.
From the mid-1970s through the 1990s, Brydon tirelessly networked with political and community leaders in Seattle to establish the LGBTQ community as an important constituency group in the public fabric of the city. At key points, Brydon took leadership roles in efforts to obtain anti-discrimination protections in Seattle and to defend against ballot initiatives that sought to repeal those protections.
Brydon also played a key role in organizing broad-based groups to further LGBTQ equality, resulting in organizations such as Seattle Metropolitan Elections Committee (SEAMEC), the Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA), Northwest AIDS Foundation (later renamed Lifelong AIDS Alliance), and the Pride Foundation, as well as taking on major roles in national organizations such as the National LGBTQ Task Force.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Brydon’s education included military prep school and college at the Citadel Military College, after which Brydon enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served in Vietnam, where he was awarded two Bronze Stars as an intelligence security officer.
Upon moving to Seattle in 1974, he was determined to avoid the ideological battles he had seen elsewhere, preferring to build broad-based coalitions to accomplish specific goals for the LGBTQ community at large. Brydon was a master at networking and was soon taking officials on tours of gay bars and holding luncheons where city officials got to know LGBTQ folks.
Mayor Wes Uhlman was a guest at one of the luncheons. When Uhlman faced a recall effort in 1975, Brydon organized a fundraiser in the LGBTQ community for his campaign. Soon the luncheons were being held monthly, and Brydon and Pam Weeks of the Lesbian Resource Center incorporated The Dorian Group to focus on obtaining and defending LGBTQ civil rights. With Mayor Uhlman’s support, the City Council banned housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in 1975.
In 1977, Brydon was instrumental in getting Mayor Uhlman to proclaim Gay Pride Week. In another first, in March of 1977, Brydon was one of 14 gay and lesbian leaders invited to the White House to meet with President Carter’s staff regarding LGBTQ issues. At that meeting Brydon, a decorated veteran, advocated for the Pentagon to end discrimination against gays and lesbians. Also in 1977, Brydon was a driving force behind organizing SEAMEC to interview and rate candidates based on their stands on LGBTQ issues, and to register voters in the LGBTQ community; SEAMEC is as active today as it was then.
Anti-LGBTQ groups twice attempted to roll back advances in LGBTQ equality, and each time Brydon played a major role in their defeat. As part of a nationwide wave of ballot measures between 1977 and 1978, inspired by Anita Bryant, Initiative 13 was put on the fall 1978 ballot to repeal Seattle ordinances prohibiting anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Brydon quickly put together Citizens to Retain Fair Employment (CRFE), a broad-based organization of political and community leaders from within and from without the LGBTQ community.
CRFE was responsible for the bulk of the fundraising and polling as well as media messaging for the campaign. Initiative 13 was soundly defeated, winning in all of the quadrants of the city.
The defeat of the anti-LGBTQ measure in Seattle had national significance, because in all of the other cities the anti-LGBTQ measures had passed by wide margins. The Seattle victory started to turn the tide on the wave of anti-LGBTQ ballot issues across the country, and provided a model of how to launch a broad-based community effort to turn back the forces of bigotry.
Despite their resounding defeat in 1978, in 1993 the forces against LGBTQ equality made another attempt, this time with a statewide initiative. An Oregon group led by Lon Mabon attempted a statewide initiative in Washington to roll back and restrict LGBTQ rights. In response, Braydon put together Hands Off Washington, a statewide organization to fight the initiative.
With 22 chapters in cities all across Washington, Hands Off Washington was the first truly statewide LGBTQ rights organization, raising over $1 million to convince Washington voters not to sign the anti-LGBTQ initiative petitions. When the anti-LGBTQ forces failed to get the necessary signatures, anti-LGBTQ ballot measures in Washington ended.
As the owner of a small business in 1981, Brydon saw a need for an organization for LGBTQ business owners and professionals, and so he helped found GSBA. In a letter to the GSBA membership on Brydon’s passing, Louise Chernin, the recently retired long-time CEO of the GSBA, said:
A founder of most of our early LGBTQ organizations and leader in the fight for LGBTQ equality. Charlie Brydon is considered to be the 'father of the LGBTQ Civil Rights Movement' in Washington State… Charlie Brydon spent most of his adult life fighting for LGBTQ equality.
In 1997 Governor Gary Locke appointed Brydon to the Washington State Liquor Control Board, and in 2000 appointed him to the Washington Board of Tax Appeals. After retirement, Brydon served on the King County Board of Appeals and Equalization.
In 2018, when Brydon’s health started to decline, he moved to Oakland, CA to live with his niece and her wife, and their children. Brydon will be inurned at Lakeview Cemetery beside his longtime spouse, David White, who died of AIDS in 2003.
Randy Beitel is a longtime friend, colleague, and confidante of Charlie Brydon.
Lonnie Lusardo is the principal consultant and owner The Diversity Collaborative, and the author of The Anatomy of Organized Hate: Stories of Former White Supremacists - and America's Struggle to Understand the Hate Movement.