Fifty years ago, Jack Anderson was a welcoming ear for gay men to talk to, at a time when that was extremely difficult to find.
Anderson, one of the first psychologists who specifically worked with Seattle’s LGBTQ community in the 1970s, died Sept. 28 of congestive heart failure. He was 84. Anderson was at the forefront of major events in Washington state’s gay history, leading efforts to repeal the state’s homophobic anti-sodomy laws and working with King County to respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the mid-1980s.
Michael Ingersoll, a retired reverend with the interfaith Center for Spiritual Living, met Anderson in 1970, when Anderson was a partner in a practice that worked with the LGBTQ community. Ingersoll took part in a therapy group run by Anderson.
“This was a brand new thing. Gay men didn’t have a place to discuss gay matters. Other therapists just didn’t have a clue how to handle the realization that ‘I was a gay man,’” Ingersoll said.
They’d become life-long friends.
In the mid-1980s, as the extent of HIV/AIDS epidemic was becoming known, Anderson worked on contract for what was then called the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health while maintaining his practice.
“He was just an incredibly ethical man,” said Patricia McInturff, former director of regional services for the agency. “We had a lot of staff who were gay men, and this was when after diagnosis in the early days, the lifespan was 12 to 18 months. It was a stressful job. My staff could go to him when feeling overwhelmed.”
In a 2017 oral history, Anderson described working with nurse practitioners to tell patients they were infected.
“I provided support for all staff members who worked with the most problematic patients who became homicidal or suicidal,” he remembered. “I had my life threatened by straight guys who were infected.”
A decade and a half before Dan Savage began his sex advice column, Anderson was writing a syndicated one for the Seattle Gay News. He remembered reading letters from readers in the South and thinking, “You need to get out of there.”
Anderson knew about growing up gay in that region.
Born on March 5, 1936, he remembered kids at school in Irving, Texas, taunting him, “Jack is a sissy.”
Anderson said he had a girlfriend in high school “because that’s what you do … but I knew I was different. But you just couldn’t be gay in Texas at the time.”
It wasn’t until age 33, he said, that “it dawned on me I was gay.”
One of his two sisters, Jill Stephenson, 81, of Katy, Texas, said her brother was a child prodigy who began playing piano at age 5. All he needed to do was hear a musical piece and he could immediately play it.
Anderson’s father, Lester, owned a butane gas company and had a wheat-threshing business. The son helped his dad, and by age 12, Anderson was driving a delivery truck and working as a wheat scooper. That work ethic always stayed with him, he said.
In turn, the dad helped his musical son. Walking into a piano store in his blue-collar work clothes — not what you wore then into a piano store, says Stephenson — Anderson’s father had him pick a piano he liked. His father paid cash for a baby grand.
At age 14, says Stephenson, her brother drove himself to a Dallas radio station and asked to meet the station manager. At that time, stations would have someone playing music as stories were read, or perhaps at roller rinks.
“Here he was, a little scrawny kid with glasses. The station manager was amused,” she says. But the manager heard Anderson play and hired him.
His musical career would take him to the famed Dallas Petroleum Club that catered to the industry’s elite, then to a Dallas TV show with magician Mark Wilson that then became syndicated, then to Hollywood and jazz clubs, as well as directing music for TV shows, says Stephenson.
But, she says, her brother quit the L. A. scene. “He didn’t enjoy that kind of atmosphere.”
Earning a master’s in clinical psychology at Pepperdine University in Malibu, he began working doing evaluation in cases before the Orange County courts. He remembered his second case was an axe murderer.
Anderson arrived in Seattle in the early 1970s to work for the state’s National Council on Crime and Delinquency and became a partner in a counseling practice.
Working to decriminalize the state sodomy law, which made a private act between consenting adults a crime, Anderson lobbied legislators. He also counseled activists not to be confrontational.
Anderson remembered how college students planned a march in Olympia concerning the law.
“I said, ‘If you march on Olympia, it will set us back a decade. If you need to do it, do it, but it will set us back. If we work quietly, under the radar, we can do something,'” Anderson said.
The march was called off.
In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that anti-sodomy laws were unconstitutional. Some dozen states still have such unenforceable laws.
In his oral history, Anderson said that by the late 1980s he was burned out and left to spend a year at a small place he had in the woods.
“People were dying. My partner had died of AIDS. I just hit a wall. I guided every client to someone else,” he said.
Over the years, Anderson had invested in real estate. So he did that in the Seattle area, buying and selling properties. “Thanks to the ‘gay mafia,’ I have had good luck in jobs, investing, etc.” he said.
In 2013, he retired to the Horizon House center on First Hill. In August, he was moved to hospice care there, where a group of his friends calling themselves the “Twilight Team” made sure to visit.
Besides Jill Stephenson, Anderson is survived by another sister, Jann Colls, of Kerrville, Texas.
No memorial services have been announced.
In his oral history, Anderson named one song with lyrics that “suit my life perfectly!” It’d have been in 1969 that he first heard the tune about living life on your own terms.
It was Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”