If some people’s personalities resemble those of their pets, then Charlie Brydon, a pioneering LGBTQ+ activist and successful entrepreneur in Seattle, had a lot in common with his beloved bulldog, Toto.
“Charlie was a little bit of a bulldog,” says Pam Weeks, a longtime activist from Seattle’s Lesbian Resource Center. “He was not deterred if you disagreed with him about civil rights for gays and lesbians. If you were a skeptic, he’d tell you, ‘Oh, you need more information.’ ”
Charlie Brydon died, age 81, on Feb. 9. The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, according to his family.
Weeks was an early ally of Brydon when the latter, a master networker, established the game-changing Dorian Group in Seattle in the mid-1970s. The organization brought together gay professionals in public luncheons. The idea for participants was to share experiences and ideas about how to make Seattle a more friendly place for those who are LGBTQ+. (LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning, with the + denoting everything along the gender and sexuality spectrum.) At the time, inviting LGBTQ+ Seattleites out of the closet was a novel step toward equality.
Brydon and the Dorian Group built bridges at those gatherings with such local leaders as Mayor Wes Uhlman, police Chief Robert Hanson, Seattle City Council members and Catholic Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen.
“A lot of people in the group were desperately afraid of being found out to be gay,” says Randy Beitel, a Seattle lawyer and close friend of Brydon. “Being in the Dorian Group, visible among other gays and lesbians and working for change, reduced that stress.”
Brydon arrived in Seattle in 1974, focused on advancing specific goals toward LGBTQ+ rights by building coalitions with politicians, the business community and civic activists. He and his associates eventually built million-dollar operations with broad-based support to defeat efforts to roll back hard-won protections against housing and employment discrimination aimed at gays and lesbians.
The first of these was Initiative 13, a measure on the fall 1978 ballot in Seattle, aimed at repealing ordinances prohibiting discrimination. Brydon fought back with Citizens to Retain Fair Employment, which handled fundraising, polling and media messaging. I-13 was soundly defeated.
In 1993, a statewide campaign to restrict LGBTQ+ rights met resistance from Hands Off Washington, which Brydon co-founded, and which encouraged state residents not to sign petitions to put the proposed measure on the ballot. The tactic worked.
Charles Frederick Brydon was born on June 21, 1939, in Summit, New Jersey, to Robert and Anna Brydon. His sister, Barbara, was the other member of their blue-collar family. When he reached the 11th grade, Brydon was sent to a prep school in Georgia.
After graduating, he spent a year at the University of Miami before transferring to The Citadel, a military academy in South Carolina. Three years later, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, earning two Bronze Star medals for his service in Vietnam.
Brydon arrived in Seattle in time to help Uhlman defeat a recall vote in 1975. Brydon raised funds and organized a rally on a Washington state ferry. His alliance with the mayor, a supporter of gay rights, paid dividends in his mission to improve Seattle for LGBTQ+ people.
“Charlie was key in changing the climate for gay and lesbian people here,” says Beitel, “earlier than most places.”
An essential element in Brydon’s community engagement was his success in the insurance industry.
“Charlie was very courageous in coming out while a businessman at that time,” says former Washington Gov. Gary Locke, who first met Brydon in 1983 and later appointed him to the State Liquor Board. “I’m sure that it affected his insurance business. But people liked him so much I hope it had a minimal impact.”
Brydon “believed in working within the system,” says his niece Megan Tracey. “He believed it was important to have more in-your-face activists, too. But he was not going to be the Act Up guy. He was a strong supporter of local candidates in Seattle, and nationally. A true-blue Democrat.”
Brydon also played a major role in creating the Seattle Metropolitan Elections Committee, which educates political candidates on LGBTQ+ issues; the Pride Foundation; and the National LGBTQ Task Force.
Brydon moved to Oakland, California, three years ago to be with Tracey and her family while Alzheimer’s disease progressed.
“He was such a kindhearted man,” Tracey says. “He was passionate about people being treated fairly for who they are. He spent his life trying to make that happen.”
In addition to Tracey and her wife, Lili Cook, he is survived by two other nieces, Anna Hartman (husband Scott Hartman) and Kathleen Bulger (husband Michael Bulger); and several great-nieces and great-nephews.
Donations can be made in Brydon’s name to the scholarship program at the Greater Seattle Business Association, a group Brydon co-founded. A memorial is in the planning stage.
Brydon will be buried at Lake View Cemetery on Capitol Hill, beside his longtime partner, David White, who died of AIDS in 2003.