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Roger Winters

ACLU-W, The Dorian Group, SEAMEC, Legal Marriage Alliance

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Roger Winters was born to a conservative Christian parents in Indiana in 1945. They were from rural families from either side of the Wabash River. Roger spent a good deal of time on farms as a youth. He grew up in Indianapolis and attended Indiana University, where he first came out of the closet and had gay friends. Graduating with Honors in Government, he went to Harvard University on a fellowship. Focusing in Political Philosophy, he did not finish his PhD, but got his MA in political science. He gained exposure to and identity with the gay community in Boston and Cambridge. In 1972, he became Assistant Professor of Political Science at Central Washington State College, now Central Washington University, in Ellensburg.  

His status and presumed expertise as a social scientist gave Winters a chance to advocate for gay rights in Washington State from conservative Ellensburg. He met activists in Seattle when coming to the city monthly representing Kittitas County to the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington board. He promoted committee work on sexual minority rights while with the ACLU-W. 

He testified as an individual for a state gay rights bill, a major project by The Dorian Group, a statewide gay rights organization for whom he worked as its office manager starting in 1977. He witnessed its final passage by the State Senate in 2006, 29 years after its first introduction.

In 1977, Winters served as the evaluation committee co-chair of SEAMEC, the Seattle Municipal (now Metropolitan) Elections Committee for gays and lesbians, a group providing information about candidates for public office based on concerns of the LGBTQ community. In 1978, Initiative 13, an effort to eliminate protections from discrimination in employment and housing for sexual minorities in Seattle, mobilized the community. Winters worked with Citizens to Retain Fair Employment against the measure. That November, Seattle voted to keep anti-discrimination protections with a 63.5% “No” vote.

In the early 1980s, Winters was part of the “Police/Gays Task Force,” working to reduce violence against gays in Seattle and to improve relationships between Police and the Gay community. Around 1985, Winters joined the Board of the Pride Foundation, helping build a foundation that today grants funds to organizations, awards scholarships for LGBTQ people, and leads projects benefitting the LGBTQ community in the Pacific Northwest (Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Idaho).

In 1995, Winters turned his attention to the movement in favor of gay marriage. A co-founder and leader in the Legal Marriage Alliance of Washington, over the next 17 years he helped educate and build support, in part through a listserv developed from e-mail addresses obtained through a petition he wrote, producing a strong cadre of dedicated advocates for marriage equality.

Roger Winters shared his thoughts and memories of the Gay Rights Movement with Kevin McKenna on June 26, 2014. 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.