By Shaun Knittel
SOSea Founder, Executive Director
It wasn’t an easy win, either. There’s no doubt about it. Approving R-74 was something that needed all hands on deck and a ton of money. By campaign’s end, Referendum 74 cost supporters nearly $13.6 million.
A CALL TO ACTION
In February, Gov. Gregoire signed the Washington State same-sex marriage bill (SB 6239, HB 2516 was its counterpart in the state House) into law knowing that the opposition would launch a campaign to place the issue on the ballot for the public to vote on. Washington United for Marriage had already been established a few months earlier, in anticipation of this. But when Protect Marriage Washington declared they would get the signatures needed to qualify Referendum 74 for the ballot, little was being said or done about it from our side of the issue.
On June 12, the secretary of state’s office announced that Referendum 74 had qualified for the November ballot. Protect Marriage Washington turned in 247,331 signatures, far more than the minimum of 120,577 valid voter signatures required. A 3 percent random sample was done and of the 7,561 signatures that were sampled during the check, 6,877 were accepted and the rest were rejected.
Washington United for Marriage got to work and I began to write about the issue, almost daily, for various local and national newspapers/news websites. I didn’t like what I saw. I felt that there was not enough energy around the issue – especially in King County (where a bulk of the state’s registered voters live). I thought, “How in the world are we going to get this thing approved when we can’t even get excited about it ourselves?”
In July I took a walk around Capitol Hill, Seattle’s LGBTQ cultural center. I looked for signs of life and found none. There was not one sign in the window of a business asking voters to Approve Referendum 74, the central campaign had yet to move to the Hill, and whenever I brought up the referendum to already established community members it was met with a shrug and usually followed by a comment as complacent as, “Someone will do something soon.”
I am someone. It was at that moment that Social Outreach Seattle was conceptualized. I’ve never been the type of leader who says, “There’s a fire over there. Someone should put that out.” I am more the, “There’s a fire over there. Let’s put it out” type.
Washington State has some brilliant LGBTQ leaders that have been elected to public office. Some of the best in the country if you ask me. But what we lack are social leaders. Before Harvey Milk was Supervisor Milk, he was a local activist in the Castro. And we do have leaders. The problem is they lead organizations that, LGBTQ or not, have a very specific focus. Take for instance Louise Chernin at the Greater Seattle Business Association, Kris Hermanns at Pride Foundation, and Ann McGettigan at Seattle Counseling Service. All three dynamic and respected leaders. All three, however, in charge of LGBTQ-specific nonprofits that deal with business, philanthropy and counseling, respectively. They lead these organizations well. But, they also stay in their lane.
I set out to create an organization of dynamic community members, made up of artists, journalists, entertainers and activists living and working Capitol Hill who aren’t worried about staying in our lane and want to inspire change, defeat social inequality, and build a bridge between the LBTQ and Allied (LGBTQ) communities. So I called on friends and associates I had met through my nearly four years of work as an out gay journalist in Seattle. It only took one meeting for us to know that yes, there was a need for action, and yes, there too, was a need for SOSea.
I will forever be indebted to Ryan Crawford, Sarah Toce, Yee-Shin Huang, Ben Haong, Dru Dinero, Daniel Hanks, Aleksa Manila, Jack Mozie, Heather Carter, Gaysha Starr, Mike Andrew, Alexander Mentele, Robbie Turner, Stephanie Brusig, Chase Silva, Ceasar and Kelsey Hart who, on Thursday, September 6, stood shoulder to shoulder with me to make our intention to operate in the community public knowledge (SOSea would later add Christopher Beisenherz).
We hit the ground running. On October 1, we held our official launch party at the Grill on Broadway, threw a Rock the Vote 18+ voter awareness party to Approve Referendum 74 at Neighbours Seattle on October 3, and a March for Marriage march and rally for the freedom to marry on October 6. Although SOSea is not a one-issue nonprofit, we knew that all of our energy needed to be put towards the Approve R-74 campaign.
There were bumps along the way. We were viewed as a radical group of rogue queers by some, and not suit-and-tie enough by others. This, however, was all trivial to us. SOSea soldiered on, and in doing so began to build a coalition of equality-minded businesses, media, organizations and individuals; produced 25 Approve R-74 ads, and much more in the first 30 days of existence. And we did it all for free.
There was also praise along the way. People reached out to us from around the state with messages of encouragement and volunteers began to spring up from around every corner. SOSea is an organization that anyone who believes in love and equality can get behind. We are a “come as you are” coalition, meaning you do not have to look like anyone else or be something or someone else other than who you truly are, to be involved. We are inclusive. And the general public knows this. Representative Jamie Pedersen and Sen. Ed Murray (who worked with us on the “Straight Allies” video ad) knows this. Trans leader Marsha Botzer and Allyship member Lincoln Rose (who also worked with us on projects) knows this. And best of all – we are not going anywhere. SOSea is here to stay.
In order to do our part to Approve R-74, SOSea knew we had to make an impact that would be felt from within our very own community. We also had to engage our straight allies. Through our video ad campaign, we did just that. The sex positive and kink communities are represented as well as the transgender and burlesque communities. Drag queens vote, too. So we filmed them. And we were not, nor will we ever be, interested in a parade of white faces with white ideas. From our “International Language of Love” ad (featuring languages other than English) to our organization members, SOSea successfully displayed that the LGBTQ community is ethnically and racially diverse – just like the voters of Washington State. It was our goal to speak to all parts of our community and beyond.
The October SOSea march and rally was a high point. There is no doubt about it. High profile speakers from the LGBTQ and Allied communties (faith-based, organized Labor, etc.) were featured at both rallies (Cal Anderson Park/Westlake) and hundreds of sign carrying, “APPROVE 74!” chanting, supporters took to the streets demanding equality.
We partnered with other organizations calling for the Approval of R-74 and sponsored events doing the same. We tried our damnedest to turn Facebook into a SOSea feed; with information flowing almost hourly. We registered voters on their iPhones and smartphones. We spoke on panels at community colleges and educated students on their right to vote.
What I am most proud of is the fact that we encouraged so many people to vote for the first time. I can’t tell you how many people have come forward to tell us that it was because of SOSea that they registered and voted. We did this by reaching people where they are at, not harassing them for not coming to us.
Any way you cut it, the reality is our straight allies are the heroes in the quest to Approve R-74. And we were with them every step of the way. It is important to note that the members of our video production team, Visual Affairs, and the star of our most watched video ad (nearly 30,000 views) are all straight allies. Soon, SOSea will announce our straight ally program Straight Allies For Equality (SAFE), detailing the amazing changes the program is set to accomplish.
WHAT NOW, THEN
Social Outreach Seattle will proceed with the understanding that we are going to grow in 2013. Although marriage equality has been secured there is still a lot of work left to be done in areas that we feel need our attention.
The three major goals for SOSea in 2013 are:
SOSea’s approach is simple: What needs to get done cannot get done without real communication so we will approach each and every project, cause and issue with the mindset that working together there is nothing that we can’t achieve. In a city as vibrant as ours, surely there exists enough resources to change what needs to be changed, and fix what needs to be repaired. And while it will take a great deal of money for some of our efforts, a majority of the work SOSea will do is going to be done for free or at a discounted rate from the provider. Greed is not in our mission statement.
SOSea is not a social club or popularity contest. You will not see this organization cozy up to persons or groups that are. We will not support or abide the tearing down of LGBTQ and Allied businesses, groups and individuals. Instead, we will seek to hold accountable those who do. Like greed, snark and cruel intentions are not in our mission statement.
What SOSea is, however, is something that Seattle and the LGBTQ and Allied communities will be proud of. And we want you to get involved. Here’s how:
SOSea will hold at least one event each month in 2013. You are going to be seeing a lot of us in the coming year. We have every intention of making 2013 count. Make it count with us, won’t you?
SOSea: We are one community, working together.