Capital City Pride 2017 will be the first such celebration in decades without local activist Anna Schlecht at the forefront. In honor of her work over the years, here’s a retrospective of Schlecht’s social-justice work, co-presented by ThurstonTalk and OLY ARTS.
by Heidi Smith for ThurstonTalk
Anna Schlecht has been at the heart of the social-justice movement in Thurston County for over three decades. During that time, Schlecht has been a tireless activist, advocate, community organizer and fundraiser on behalf of civil rights, the homeless, LGBTQ rights and seniors. She’s founded multiple organizations and played key roles in creating such community events as Capital City Pride. Now Schlecht has stepped down from one of those roles. After 26 years she will no longer act as chair of Capital City Pride, an event that bears her indelible stamp.
Friends and supporters marked the change in early April with a private celebration. “We had speakers and entertainers and toasts because Anna loves pulling off toasts at events,” says fellow activist Alec Clayton. “It was also a fundraiser for Pride because that’s what she would do.” The event recognized Schlecht’s powerful effect on the community. “She’s always been the one that pulled everything together,” says Clayton. “She’s had a huge impact. For the longest time she insisted on making Pride family-friendly.”
Clayton and his wife Gabi met Schlecht under heartbreaking circumstances. In 1995 the Claytons’ 17-year-old son Bill was attacked in a hate crime after he came out as bisexual. “Anna heard about it, and she called us and said she wanted to organize an anti-hate rally in Sylvester Park,” says Clayton. “We said ‘Yes, by all means,’ and so did our son.” Hundreds of people showed up for the rally, and the Claytons were inspired by the outpouring of goodwill. Unfortunately, Bill committed suicide a few months later.
Schlecht and the Claytons became close in the aftermath. “She has a huge heart and so much passion and energy and compassion,” says Gabi Clayton. “Her love and support after the hate crime and Bill’s suicide really helped us and buoyed us through the initial shock. We are angry, but there’s a way to use the energy from anger for something positive rather than letting it destroy you, too. That’s something I’ve seen her do over and over again: figure out a way to use that energy.”
“Schlecht’s courage has made her a target at times,” says Kathy Baros Freidt, former executive director of the Washington State Human Rights Commission, who has worked with Schlecht on numerous campaigns. “Her tenure, informally tracking hate crime groups and activities for years, means these groups know who she is. With her antennae up she anticipates potential community conflicts, and these situations frequently put Anna at risk herself. She’s cut from the same cloth as early suffragettes and civil rights leaders.”
One of Schlecht’s key accomplishments was to play a major role in the defeat of proposed state ballot initiatives 608 and 610 through the efforts of Hands Off Washington. A conservative organization attempted to restrict the civil rights of state and local public employees based on actual or perceived sexual orientation in Washington state. Hands Off Washington repelled repeated attempts to get discriminatory laws on the ballot, and Schlecht played a central role. “It was statewide,” says Alec Clayton. “They went to all of the little communities in eastern Washington that were not gay-friendly and succeeded in defeating that. Anna was one of the main leaders in Thurston County.”
“Schlecht’s absence will definitely leave a hole,” says Baros Friedt, “but will also allow for change. It’s like turning over the soil in an old field, and it’s consistent for how Anna would step back in order to make space for other voices at the table.”
Celebrate Capital City Pride on June 17, 2017 in downtown Olympia. The original article is courtesy of ThurstonTalk with edits by OLY ARTS staff. Photo by Mare Turtletaub.
What: Capital City Pride
Where: kickoff at Oly Underground,
109 Legion Way SW, Olympia
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 16
How much: free
Learn more: email | Capital City Pride