On August 10, 1995 a funeral and memorial service is held for State Senator Calvin "Cal" Anderson (1948-1995). Anderson, Washington's first openly gay state legislator, died on August 4 from an AIDS-related cancer. The funeral is well-attended, and is televised throughout the state. It draws fire in some circles because it is held in St. James Catholic Cathedral and overseen by a Catholic priest.St. James Cathedral
While Anderson had known for nearly a decade that he was HIV-positive, he had only announced publicly that he had the disease in February 1995. After fighting non-Hodgkins lymphoma for the next five months, he died in August. Anderson, a legislator known for his wicked sense of humor, was a popular politician in the 43rd District, which covered a large expanse of Seattle centered on Capitol and First hills. It was obvious that a big space was needed for a funeral, and Anderson's first choice was St. James -- the large Catholic cathedral on First Hill.
Anderson was not a Catholic, although his mother, Alice Coleman, had converted to the religion. And while the idea of a proud, public gay man being remembered at St. James was controversial, there was precedent -- only a year earlier, drag performer Kris Anderson (Crystal Lane) had died of AIDS, and the funeral was held at St. James. Not that everyone thought it was a great idea. Close friend and fellow legislator Ed Murray (b. 1955) recalled telling Anderson that it was possible St. James would hold the funeral -- while he was really thinking, "My God, I'm setting this guy up to be hurt. This is the Catholic cathedral" (Atkins).
But Murray put in a call, and not only did the cathedral's presiding priest, Father Michael G. Ryan, agree to hold the funeral, he decided to lead the service himself. "He took a lot of guff from other priests for doing that," according to Alice Coleman, who recalls that Father Ryan said at the funeral, "This is what Cal wanted. This is what his mother wanted. This is what I wanted" (Kershner interview). An estimated 2,000 people attended, filling the pews to capacity, standing in aisles, and spilling out the door. The event was also televised statewide on TVW (the state's public affairs network).Lightning Rod and Turning Point
The funeral was quite the event. In addition to Father Ryan presiding, the service also included four members of the Makah Tribe from Neah Bay chanting a hymn. Governor Mike Lowry and legislative leaders and colleagues attended, as did William Sullivan, the Jesuit president of Seattle University, and various clergy. But when the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence -- a drag collective, outfitted in full nun habits -- made their entrance, the affair started to take on the sly humor that Anderson always embraced.
While the funeral itself was protest-free, some members of the Catholic Church were not pleased to see the cathedral holding a service for an openly gay man. Seven years later in 2002, the Seattle Catholic published a piece decrying not only Father Ryan and his Archbishop for allowing the service, but Anderson himself. Calling the funeral "another exercise in desecration," author Peter W. Miller described Anderson as "an embodiment of everything that is wrong with the homosexual political movement," while also citing outrage at the event in the Seattle Catholic community.
But if Anderson's funeral was a lightning rod, it was also a turning point. "Cal Anderson’s funeral was the first time I thought there might be room for me, a lesbian and feminist, in the Church," offered one church member in 2012, in a journal sponsored and published by the cathedral itself.