News Seattle

The Passing of Charlie Brydon, Pioneering LGBTQIA+ Rights Activist

Feb 12, 2021 | Seattle Pride

*This entry was written by Louise Chernin, past-CEO of GSBA.

This week we lost a great leader, mentor and friend. 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. Others called him the “un-elected or self-appointed tribal leader of the gay community”. Charlie worked to bring gay rights to the forefront of Seattle and Washington politics. Charlie Brydon was instrumental in founding Seattle’s first gay organization, the Dorian Society, a loose organization of prominent gay businessman and activists, formed in 1967 to serve the gay (as it was referred to at that time) community and educate mainstream Seattleites about the community. Always at the forefront for LGBTQ rights, Charlie led the community in gaining a major legal victory with the passage of city ordinances banning employment and housing discrimination against sexual minorities in 1973 and 1975. However, in 1978, those rights were challenged by Initiative 13, but with Charlie at the forefront and other activists including Anne Levinson, Tom Rasmussen, Don Moreland, Jim Reid, Cal Anderson, Mary Kay Wright, Jan Bianci, Laurie Jinkins, Tim Bradbury, Lonnie Lusardo and others, the initiative was soundly defeated by Seattle voters.

By 1975, activist groups were continuing to press for legal protections similar to those in the Fair Employment Practices Ordinance. It was The Dorian Group, under Charlie’s leadership that proposed a revision of the city's Open Housing Ordinance that would make it illegal for landlords and home sellers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. In 1977, Brydon persuaded then Mayor Wes Uhlman to commemorate Seattle’s first Gay Pride Week and in 1978 Brydon rallied activists to join Citizens to Retain Fair Employment, which organized fundraising and educational activities to push back at national efforts to roll-back employment protections. Understanding the importance of an national gay liberation movement, in 1979 Charlie joined the Board of Directors of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. But what most defines Charlie was his work with Hands Off Washington and the Privacy Fund, organizations created in his living room to fight against statewide anti-gay legislation, successfully stop discriminatory state ballot initiatives, establish chapters across the state, and laying the very foundation of many of today’s LGBTQ political organizations, initiatives, campaigns and public officials.

In addition to being an activist, Charlie was a highly successful business person. As an out and proud business owner of Brydon Insurance, Charlie joined GSBA in 1982. Many may still remember the announcements that Brydon Insurance took out on KUOW, in which it proclaimed that Brydon Insurance was a gay-owned business. Charlie took out an ad in each GSBA Guide & Directory and was the go-to gay insurance agent in our community. After selling Brydon Insurance, Charlie was appointed by the Governor to the Liquor Control Board and after that the Board of Tax Appeal. Charlie remained active in GSBA throughout the years, attending our events, donating to the Scholarship Fund, and often dropping in at the GSBA office. He especially loved the GSBA Scholarship Fund and a number of years ago, went up to Vancouver British Columbia to help their LGBTQ Chamber create their own LGBTQ Scholarship Fund.

We finally got to honor Charlie in 2005, when he was presented with a Special Recognition award, the Voice for Social Justice at GSBA’s Annual Business & Humanitarian Awards dinner. GSBA brought Charlie to the dinner under the ruse that he was going to present an award to our LGBTQ Legislative Caucus for their huge victory of finally, after 29 years, passing a bill to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the Washington Law Against Discrimination. He was thrilled to present that award, not knowing that the award was actually being presented to him by Anne Levinson and the LGBTQ Legislative Caucus for his decades of work in advancing LGBTQ equality. Charlie was speechless and deeply moved, not only by the award but by seeing his beloved niece who had flown up to share this night with him. It was an evening we will all remember and Charlie is someone we should never forget.

Whether you knew him or not, your life has forever been changed because Charlie Brydon spent most of his adult life fighting for LGBTQ equality. Thank you, dear leader and friend.