Not everyone can point to an event that guided them toward their life’s path. But Anne Levinson can. Levinson, who is currently advising on the campaign to approve Referendum 74, which would legalize same-sex marriage in Washington State, has a long list of civic accomplishments that stem from one incident: The shutting down of her field hockey team.
The Kansas native had returned to her home state from Massachusetts to attend the University of Kansas, where she had been recruited to play field hockey.
“We had quite a bit of success and won a number of tournaments,” Levinson recalls. But then the university announced it was cutting its women’s athletic program to focus on the men. This was back in the mid-’70s, when women’s teams were even more of an afterthought than they are today, and the Title IX Act, enacted in 1972 to guarantee gender equality in education, had yet to be associated with sports.
“In high school I had not been involved in civics, really paying attention to the world and what I should be contributing,” Levinson says. That quickly changed, and her lifelong fight for equality began.
“It was immediate immersion, and I spent the next three years lobbying the student senate for funding, lobbying the state legislature and the governor,” she says.
When a professor following the controversy suggested to Levinson that Title IX could apply to athletics programs, she took the ball and ran.
“It was a very broad claim saying that the university was out of compliance in terms of equity for how it was treating women — female athletes — in all areas, from its facilities to its coaching staff, there was no medical care, no travel budget, no scholarships,” she says.
It took until after Levinson had graduated to be settled, but the fight set her life’s course.
“That actually set me on the path to law school, and started my involvement in larger civic and social justice and equity issues,” she says.
Growing up in a home that stressed the idea of tikkun olam, repairing the world, has guided a career that has included serving as deputy mayor of Seattle under Norm Rice; an appointment by current Mayor Mike McGinn as civilian auditor for the Office of Professional Accountability, the agency that investigates police misconduct; and a judgeship on Seattle’s municipal court, in which she created one of the country’s first mental health courts.
“It was…a nascent movement to try to help get individuals who had mental health issues out of the justice system and into more therapeutic options that would serve them better,” Levinson says.
Decreases in tax revenue have moved that program backward, she laments.
“There are even fewer services and even less housing for folks with mental illness than when I did this in the late ’90s, early 2000s,” she says.
Levinson is probably best known, however, as the woman who brought together the Seattle ownership group to keep the Seattle Storm at Key Arena. Her stint as chair of the state’s utilities commission in the early 2000s gave her the credibility to even begin negotiations with the Oklahoma-based owners of the former Sonics.
“A couple members of the ownership group ran the largest energy companies,” she says, which gave them the ability to look more closely at Levinson and see that she “would behave in a principled and ethical fashion.”
She left the ownership group in 2010.
Levinson’s leadership on Referendum 71 in 2009, which brought domestic partnership rights to same-sex couples, was the first in the nation to be passed by popular vote. Probably more important was her leadership on Ref. 65 three years ago that successfully held back a campaign to repeal gender identity from the state’s non-discrimination laws.
“I think the combination of being LGBT and Jewish just imbues one with a sense of social justice,” she says.
Though not at the helm of the campaign to approve Ref. 74, she is advising Washington United for Marriage, “which has again been a wonderful effort with a huge coalition from communities of faith, both labor and business, small businesses, [and] major corporate support,” she says.
Levinson is cautiously optimistic that voters will approve the referendum to uphold the marriage equality bill signed into law by Gov. Christine Gregoire in February.
“I’m very grateful to live in a state where we have compassionate and thoughtful citizenry who really do look out for each other and where we have a faith community that takes a leadership role in connecting justice with compassion and individual liberties with our shared community,” she says. “It’s just a pretty wonderful place in which we live.”