“If you want to see me make fun of myself at the same time as the Christian right, then hopefully this show will do that.”
Today, Dominic Holden is 36 years old. He’s associate editor of The Stranger, he’s outspoken, and he’s the star of an upcoming two-night, one-man show at Washington Ensemble Theater. Drawing from stories on his upbringing in the Catholic Church, a lifetime of being gay, and making cold calls to Christians in an attempt to understand the animosity between the two groups, Holden will attempt to shed light on what has been going on behind the scenes in the decades-long battle between religious conservatives and the gay rights movement.
Holden was a child of the 1980s. He grew up on 35th Avenue and Columbia Street, the divide between the wealthy white residents of Madrona and the African American community that made up the Central District, and was one of two white students to attend Saint Therese School, a Catholic academy.
“It was all about race and social justice. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks were like prophets in our classrooms growing up,” Holden told The Capitol Hill Times.
It was also a time when polemic against drug use – particularly crack cocaine and marijuana – made its way into politics. A federal program led by current interim Seattle Police Chief Harry Bailey was activated in Seattle to offensively expunge these delinquencies in the city. “But in the 80s that amounted to shaking down the black man on the corner for whatever contraband was on their person, and arresting them for pot,” Holden said.
At 16 years, Holden dropped out of school. He joined the grassroots environmental lobby WashPIRG, and went door to door asking for donations of $35 or $50. In exchange, his group promised to advocate for the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.
But that gig didn’t entertain him for long. Holden then waited tables and started a small theater company with a friend before becoming a marijuana activist and the director of Hempfest.
Holdon ran an initiative to deprioritize the offense of marijuana use or possession in the City of Seattle, which passed in 2003. As a result, arrests related to marijuana declined.
“We used that as a model in other cities and functioned as a stepping stone to legalization in Washington and in Colorado where they had similar initiatives,” Holden said.
Convinced that if marijuana were to be legalized then people needed to believe that it was a possible battle to win, throughout Holden’s activism he tried to take the issue to the media’s attention.
“I worked at the American Civil Liberties Union, but I was pitching ideas a lot to The Stranger,” Holden said. “Eventually Dan Savage said, ‘Instead of you constantly suggesting story ideas for us,’ which they were running with and writing about, he said, ‘why don’t you just start writing for us.’”
Starting as an experiment, Holden began writing on the side as a freelancer for Slog, The Stranger’s online blog. When a full-time position opened up in news section, he got it, and one year later was promoted to news editor. On a weekly basis he covered topics like urban development, gay rights, drugs, and social justice. Then, a month and a half ago Holden was promoted to associate editor, allowing him to research and cover in-depth stories like the one that hit the newsstands last week, “Reform in Reverse: How Mayor Ed Murray Unraveled Two Years of Police Reform in Only Two Months.”
But I digress.
In 2009, Conservative Christians ran a referendum on a bill in the legislature that would legalize certain additional rights of domestic partnerships, like healthcare coverage between same-sex couples who were registered as domestic partners. Holden couldn’t figure out why. So he asked.
“Because all of their names were a matter of public record, I started calling the donors who campaigned to put gay rights up to a vote and asked them what their beef was with gay people, why they were donating their money to essentially repeal gay rights. I would ask them, ‘Why do you hate me?’” Holden said.
After the domestic partnership law upheld in the ballot, in 2012 there was a bill regarding gay marriage. Again, the Christian right ran a referendum and put it on the ballot.
“So I called them and asked them the same questions,” Holden said. “And there answers were not what you’d expect.”
That’s where Holden’s upcoming show comes in. He talks about each side’s take on the ongoing clash, and how each side thinks that it’s operating from the higher moral platform.
“On the one hand, you have the gay rights movement talking about their families and their abilities to raise kids, these wholesome and virtuous interests, and then you have the Christian right making the same claims about how its about religion and family virtue,” Holden said. “Trying to find the root of their claims, I started looking at my own behavior as a gay man, and really trying to figure out if I was as virtuous as I say I am. It turns out that not everyone is as virtuous as they claim to be, and so I end up ‘talking shit.’”
Talking Shit shows at Washington Ensemble Theater on April 26 and 27 at 7:30 p.m. Admission costs $15 and can be purchased at strangertickets.com.