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About Just out. (Portland, OR) 1983-2013 | View Entire Issue (Dec. 1, 1995)
10 ▼ d m m b t r 1. 1 0 0 5 ▼ Jus« out
Changing of the guard
Seattle bids adieu to one lesbian council member while welcoming another
l)i lni»a Sorensen
Role model to ring in New Year on new path
hange, some advertisers will tell you, is
good. There are times, however, when
change simply is not a matter of choice.
“The first thing we’re going to do is
pack up the grandkids and head to
Disney World for a week. After that, who knows?”
says 39-ycar-old Sherry Harris, with a shrug in her
voice. Next month she steps down from her posi
tion on the Seattle City Council, a job she has held
the past four years.
Gay men and lesbians throughout the nation
herald Harris as a leader and role model. After all,
she is the country’s first openly lesbian African
American publicly elected official. That promi
nence, however, was not enough to place her back
on the council for a second term. In last month’s
election she lost her re-election bid by 3 percent.
“I have to admit that I was shocked. You don’t
run for public office thinking you’re going to lose.
It took me a full three days to comprehend that this
had really happened,” says Harris, adding can
didly, “It hurt.”
Like so many of this region’s dwellers, Harris
was lured to the Pacific Northwest by its sheer
beauty and promise of opportunity.
“ I remember looking at a brochure which fea
tured the most spectacular picture of Mount Rainier
and thinking to myself, that’s for me,” recounts
Harris, who was born and raised in a single-parent
home in Newark, N.J., a tattered and tough urban
enclave that held limited prospects for those who
“ I thought this was the most beautiful place, and
Seattle the most wonderful city,” says Harris, who
embarked on a 3,(KX)-mile, cast-to-west trek to take
an engineering job with Boeing.
That was back in 1978. Jimmy Carter was
president. Steinem-esque feminism was in vogue.
Harris, in fact, came out thanks to one of those
tried-and-true consciousness-raising groups (re
member those?), a chatty catalyst for many an
emerging lesbian. It was a pre-Starbucks era (re
member that?), a time when most people in the
United States probably couldn’t find Seattle on the
When Harris arrived, opportunity abounded.
“I got my first real
job, my first real pay-
check,” she says.
And she fell in love.
“1 went to a poetry
reading where I listened
to this woman who was
so good. 1 went up to
her afterward and told
her how much I enjoyed
the reading. About a
month later I got a call
from her asking me out
for c o ffe e,” Harris
That was that. Fif
teen years and four
Harris and her partner,
Judith Scalise, a poet/
retail outlet manager,
are still together. In ad
dition to the grandchil Sherry Harris
dren, all of whom live
in Seattle (theirages range from 1 to 13), Harris last
year brought her 64-year-old mother out from the
Northeast to live in the Emerald City.
The duo share time with the grandchildren, and
attend services together at the New Hope Baptist
“When I first came here my mother thought it
was just a place with lumbcijacks and log trucks,”
says Harris. “When she first visited she was kind of
surprised to see that there was actually a big city
here.... She likes Seattle, but she’s still working on
meeting people. It’s hard when you leave your
What was hard for Harris was losing her re-
election bid to Seattle Police Sgt. John Manning. It
was also painful, she
admits, being tagged as
an ineffective city
councilor by a survey
of political insiders and
“When I look back,
I think I would have
done things differently.
I didn ’ t conduct a nega-
tive campaign. I didn’t
want to, but I probably
should have focused
ground,” Harris says,
adding that she be
lieves she had the full
support of Seattle ’ s gay
and lesbian commu
nity. “They were great.
It would have been ter
rible to be in [failed
San Francisco mayoral
candidate] Roberta Achtenberg’s shoes. I believe
that much of the gay community in San Francisco
did not support her.”
While being an out lesbian may have been an
asset in some ways, Harris wonders whether it
made the difference in the race.
“We did a poll asking people if they knew that
a candidate was gay whether they would be less
likely to vote for them,” she says. “About 30
percent said they would indeed by less likely.”
Despite her loss, Harris says she is proud of her
list of accomplishments, including securing city
funds for Lambert House, which caters to sexual
minority youth, pushing for city domestic partner
ship registration, and amending workplace harass
ment policies to include sexual orientation, among
During her tenure, she traveled to 40 cities
talking about gay and lesbian rights issues and
speaking out against anti-gay initiatives, particu
larly in neighboring Oregon. She says she was the
first candidate endorsed by the Gay and Lesbian
Victory Fund back in 1991, and she pushed for the
formation of a National League of Cities gay and
“The organization already had an African
American caucus, a Hispanic caucus, a women’s
caucus. I felt it was important there be a gay caucus,
a move which was met with some resistance,” says
Harris. “I just kept pushing until I got it.”
As for whether she feels her time away from
Seattle promoting gay rights in other parts of the
nation hurt her re-election bid, Harris says: “I
don’t think so. This is an issue that affects all of us.
And I did a lot of things locally.”
Harris says she’s not ruling out another run for
public office. Or maybe she’ll publish a book.
“I think I have a story to tell,” she says.
Until then, Harris will spend time with her
“That’s how I relax. There’s something in
credible about watching the children grow,” she
says. “First you roll the ball to them, then you’re
playing catch. The next thing you know, they’re
out there playing baseball. To see them grow is a
Even rich dykes need a little support
e have this group called Babes
she now needs.
with Bucks. It’s a bunch of
“My partner’s expecting a baby tomorrow,”
women who get together for
she told us in a matter-of-fact tone.
politicks. It gives us an oppor
That’s right, a baby. And it’s not coming via
tunity to speak freely about
Federal Express, either. It
money—about the stigma attached
We also share ideas about philanthropic possibili
to donor insemination) by
ties," says Tina Podlodowski, who will begin serv
her partner of four years,
ing her first term on the Seattle City Council as
Chelle Mileur, who also
Harris steps down.
comes out of the high-tech
Ten years ago, when she was just 25,
Podltxlowski headed west from her native Con
“We know it’s a girl,
necticut to begin her career in computer engineer
but we don’t know what
ing. Call it awesome instincts, good luck or sheer
we’re going to name her
brains, this daughter of blue-collar Polish immi
yet,” says Podlodowski.
grants took a cut in pay to join 6(X) other employees
"We were attempting to
working for a little-known company called
get some consensus among
our families about what
“ I liked what I saw, so I took a $ 10.000 pay cut
relative to name her after,
to take that job. In return I was given this thing
but I think we’re going to
called stock options,” laughs Podlodowski. “At the
forgo that and not name
time, I didn’t know whether I’d ever make up for
her after anyone.”
that pay cut."
If becoming a new par
Today she is a millionaire.
ent isn’t enough change, next month Podlodowski
“So it means we’ll buy a new car every six years
will officially begin her job as a member of the
instead of every eight years,” says Podlodowski.
Seattle City Council, where she expects to put in
who most recently purchased a Volvo 850, which
“60. 70, 80 hours a week.”
she describes as “the ultimate baby car.” a vehicle
“My partner and I are used to seven-day work
weeks,” she says, adding that Mileur will be a full
time, stay-at-home mom. “But we’ll make sure we
have plenty of quality family time.”
Kids have always been important to this couple.
They met while volunteer
ing for a program that as
sists children directly af
fected by HIV and AIDS.
The two also provide sub
stantial financial support
to the Seattle Children’s
Museum, as well as a host
of other causes, most no
tably the Pride Founda
tion. The two dedicate 20
percent of their annual in
com es to charitable
"We felt it was impor
tant that there be a very
visible lesbian couple—
with a baby—who were
involved in the museum.
People need to see gay and lesbian parents. It goes
a long way in breaking down those negative stereo
As a city councilor, Podlodowski will have a
rich opportunity to do just that. (She got off to a
healthy beginning by defeating her opponent with
64 percent of the vote.)
“Why did I run? Because I feel that I have
something to contribute, and it’s really vital that
good people run for public o ffice,” says
Her immigrant parents instilled in her a work
horse attitude toward school, job and community
service, she says. Both are in their 70s and live on
the East Coast.
“My mom’s kind of a tough cookie, but I know
that they’re both proud of me.”
Podlodowski says the campaign held few sur
prises for her, thanks in part to a Gay and Lesbian
Victory Fund training that provided helpful hints.
During the months heading up to the election, she
attended 90 house parties and says, “People didn’t
care about my sexual orientation. They had ques
tions about potholes, the city budget and how to
And that’s what voters expect her to do during
the next four years—get results.
To relax, Podlodowski says she reads (most
recent books: China Wakes and The Alienist), goes
to movies (she gives Home fo r the Holidays a big
thumbs down) and cooks. Her prize dish? A mush
room, scallop and shrimp risotto.
Move over, Martha Stewart.