Cal Anderson, Washington, 1988


The Cherry tree in this photograph was planted in front of the State Capitol in memory of Cal Anderson. Shortly before his death in 1995, a 24-unit apartment building was named in his honor in Seattle for people with AIDS to live independently.

Cal Anderson (D)

Born May 2, 1948

Died August 4, 1995

State Senate, District 43

Seattle, Washington

67,000 constituents

Career Overview

Appointed to the House of Representatives 1987

Elected November 1988

Re-elected 1990

Elected to the State Senate November 1994


News article about Cal Anderson

Five Years Later, Cal Anderson’s Legacy Lives On

by Matthew Mcquilkin

Seattle Gay News, June 16, 2000 (excerpt)

Senator Cal Anderson died of AIDS on August 4, 1995. He was only 47, and already he had accomplished more than many other elected officials could expect to in twice as many years.

He became the state’s first openly Gay legislator in 1988, after being appointed to the House in 1987. He went on to win two more House elections and one Senate election; sponsored legislation to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation; and helped defeat two anti-Gay initiative drives in 1994 which would have mandated such discrimination.

The collective memory of those who knew him and appreciated how much he paved the way for openly Gay elected officials still lives and thrives today. He was clearly a man who made a difference in the lives of those even remotely associated with him, and those lives are better now because of him.

“A lot of us who have worked with him went on to work in public policy or be in elected office, and that is pat of his legacy,” said Rep. Ed Murray (D-43), who was appointed to Anderson’s seat in the Washington State House of Representatives two months after Anderson’s death. “He was a trailblazer… By blazing that trail, he made it a hell of a lot easier for anyone else who came after him.”

Anderson served in Vietnam before his political career, and he won two Bronze Stars and four Army Commendation Medals. “Although he wasn’t totally out, there were people who knew he was Gay,” said Eric Ishino, who was Anderson’s partner. “It wasn’t so much of a problem during the Vietnam years.”

Ishino noted that, by 1987, Anderson “probably was only the third or fourth openly Gay legislator in the U.S. It was still a relatively new thing back then.” Ishino also referred to “a lot of the walls that he broke down, putting a face to being a Gay person, serving with legislators who may supposedly have never met a Gay person before.”

Most people who knew Anderson stressed that he was a legislator first, and his status as a Gay man was secondary. “He would say, ‘I’m an elected officials who happens to be Gay, not a Gay politician,’” said John Erlick, who had been a very close friend of Anderson’s. “That was how Cal characterized himself.”

In addition to Gay rights issues, Anderson labored for campaign finance reform; regulatory reform; motor-voter registration; military issues; environmental protections; and open access to government documents, in addition to the many AIDS-related bills he introduced. Aside from his pioneer status as a Gay legislator, though, what people tend to regard as his most significant work was his sponsorship of the civil rights bill.

“I think his persistence in introducing the civil rights legislation on behalf of gays and Lesbians was an important contribution,” said Andrea Brenneke, who was campaign manager for Anderson’s first election. “Even though it wasn’t successful, he had the credibility and persistence to do it well,” she said.

When he sponsored the bill in 1994, one year before his death, it passed through the House and was defeated in the Senate by just one vote.

In addition to how hard he worked at his duties as a representative, Anderson left a lasting impression on people just by being a kind and considerate man. Ishino recalled one occurrence at Anderson’s funeral, when a man approached Anderson’s mother, Alice Coleman. “He came up to her and said who much Cal meant to him,” Ishino said. “He had been out of a job and was out on the street. He told Cal his story, and Cal helped him find a job.” Ishino noted that, prior to the funeral, he had known nothing about this. Ishino expressed a lot of respect for things Anderson did “without a lot of fanfare.’

Erlick said Anderson would be at street fairs signing people up to vote or become active in some way. “He was a passionate supporter of broadening the availability of the political process by getting people involved,” he said. “If he could do something for a constituent it was never a burden. It was always a challenge and a pleasure for him to do something.”