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Janice Van Cleve

The Emerald City, Seattle Commission for Lesbians and Gays, Legal Marriage Alliance

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For more than thirty years, Janice Van Cleve has been an activist and leader of the fight for LGBTQ rights. Here is a short biography in her own words:

I came out publically in 1983 when I showed up at the Friday Night support group at Seattle Counseling Service.  I was delighted to find others like myself, questioning and exploring gender and sexual orientation issues.  Two months later I joined two others in founding The Emerald City, a social organization for gender exploration and public outreach.  We booked monthly dinners and social events at various Seattle venues and connected with similar organizations in Portland and Vancouver, BC.  In 1990 we created an annual transvestite convention in Port Angeles that continues to this day. 

In 1985 I filed a complaint with the Seattle non-discrimination office against a motel which refused The Emerald City group.  We won the case and in the process an attorney, Barbara Heavey, generated Legal Opinion Nr. 10.  This Legal Opinion became the basis for the description of “sexual orientation” passed by the Seattle City Council in the Open Housing Ordinance in summer of 1985.  The description included gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transvestites and transsexuals.  That description found its way into the Fair Employment and Public Accommodations Ordinances passed the following year and later adopted by St. Louis and Pittsburg.

 This success demonstrated to me that the system actually works and I began volunteering for political campaigns.  I volunteered for Randy Revelle, Norm Rice, and Sherry Harris.  I joined No On 35, Bigot Busters, and Queer Nation.  I worked against Lon Mabon’s anti-gay efforts in Oregon’s Measure 2 and campaigned in California for a gay congressman.  I served on the Seattle Commission for Lesbians and Gays 1993-1997, on SEAMEC’s steering committee 1989-1995 becoming co-chair later in that term, and as editor of Dignity Seattle’s newsletter 1989-1993.  I was one of the founders of the Legal Marriage Alliance in 1995 and I spoke all over Washington State for same-sex marriage until 1998.

 I was selected for the Leadership Tomorrow class of 1996 and ran for Seattle School Board in 1997, winning 43% of the city-wide vote.  I was named Precinct Committee Officer of the year by both the 43rd and the 37th District Democrats and I was a convener for the 2004 and 2008 presidential caucuses.  I earned the Community Leadership Award from GSBA in 2003.  I served on the Shareholder Activism committee at Pride Foundation and helped win the non-discrimination policy at Emerson Electric. 

I retired from Microsoft in 1998 and began a career of world travel and writing.  A visit to Maya cities in 2000 launched me into the field of archeology.  From my research, I published a series of papers and four books, including THE KINGS OF COPAN IN THEIR OWN WORDS.  I was elected president of the Seattle Wine Society 2000-2002 and served on the boards of the Seattle Baroque Orchestra and the Early Music Guild.  I volunteer for Washington Trails Association and continue active engagement in politics.   

Janice Van Cleve shared her thoughts and memories of three decades of activism with Kevin McKenna. To the right are video excerpts from the interview. The full interview is preserved in Special Collections Library, University of Washington.

Work on this interview was made possible by a grant from 4Culture/King County Lodging Tax.