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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 18, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 47
ACLU honors Marsha Botzer with lifetime achievement award
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ACLU honors Marsha Botzer with lifetime achievement award

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The ACLU has honored veteran Transgender activist Marsha Botzer with its William O. Douglas Award for lifetime achievement.

Named for the late Supreme Court Justice and famous civil libertarian, the award was presented at the ACLU's November 12 Bill of Rights Dinner.

'For 35 years Marsha Botzer has been a leading pioneer in working for the civil rights of transgender people. And her wide-ranging work as an activist, psychotherapist, and educator has contributed significantly to the advancement of equal rights for LGBT people in Washington,' the ACLU said on its website.

Botzer founded the Ingersoll Gender Center, named for 19th century freethinker Robert Ingersoll, in 1977, at a time of great stress for Seattle's LGBT community.

Seattle had passed a fair housing ordinance protecting the city's growing LGBT community in 1975 - one of the first such laws in the country - but it was under attack by reactionary forces led by Seattle police officers David Estes and Dennis Falk. They led an initiative campaign to repeal the pro-LGBT law, but Seattle voters rejected them in 1978.

In 1993, Botzer was a founding member of Hands Off Washington, a forerunner of Equal Rights Washington (ERW). Hands Off was formed to help defeat a proposal by an Oregon-based group to require Washington state officials to 'discourage homosexuality' and other supposedly 'immoral behaviors.'

In 1997, Botzer joined Hands Off and other activists to propose a statewide ballot initiative guaranteeing the rights of LGBT Washingtonians.

It was during that campaign, Botzer told SGN, that she experienced the defining moment of her long career in activism.

'For me, there was one moment that defined my experience,' she said. 'It was the 1990s at a Saturday meeting of Hands Off Washington. The board voted to include transgender in the statewide initiative even though they were told that including the trans piece would cause the initiative to lose.

'For me that was the moment I really felt that the L, G, B, and T were joined in one movement.'

The statewide initiative was, in fact, voted down, with LGBT rights not protected at the statewide level until 2006, but Botzer did not waste time mourning the loss. In 1999, she was the principal author of a measure that added gender identity to Seattle's nondiscrimination ordinances.

While working on legislation and policy issues, Botzer also found the time to serve on the Seattle LGBT Commission, on the board of the Seattle LGBT Community Center, and for two terms as co-chair of NGLTF.

In 2004 she joined with the ACLU and other activists to found Equal Rights Washington. The group was a key player in lobbying for the 2006 LGBT civil rights bill, later domestic partnership legislation, and ultimately marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Again this year, Botzer, ERW, and the ACLU joined to fight I-1515, which would have denied Trans people access to gender-appropriate restrooms.

Botzer told SGN she understands the challenges still ahead for Trans people, but she still appreciates how quickly many people's attitudes have changed.

'Around gender and identity, our core human identity - that it's diversity, not pathology - a great many people have come to understand that deeply in a short time,' she said.

'Conversely, by not understanding that, it's possible to demonize trans people like gay and lesbian people used to be demonized.'

Botzer said the awards dinner itself was an uplifting experience.

'There were a lot of people who are not usually around in our activist circles, but they were with us,' she smiled. 'The loudest cheer of the evening was for trans inclusion. When I called for unity they stood up, cheered, raised their fists...

'And four and even five cheers to the ACLU for demonstrating support for trans issues.'

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