Ivy Bottini was born on Aug. 15, 1926, and at a very early age it was clear she was going places.
She has spent a lifetime captivated by imagery — Charles Lindberg’s flight was an an absolute obsession for her. “I was transported by the idea of movement and meaning; what does it mean to have a destination, a purpose. We have to fight for that,” she told me on her 90th birthday in 2016.
She has devoted her life to the intersections of art, feminist theory and activism. She was THE first lesbian activist to demand inclusion in the powerful 1960s women’s movement and her work with Lavender Menace was groundbreaking.
Ivy is the original template from which much LGBT activism was born.
In 1966, she embraced her lesbian identity and quickly became a leading feminist voice, establishing and serving as president of the New York Chapter of the National Organization for Women.
Her insistence on lesbian inclusion did not sit well with NOW co-founder Betty Friedan. Bottini was famously rejected her because of her lesbian activism.
But her visual thinking was so powerful and attention grabbing, even Betty came around.
Her use of strong visuals with powerful messaging heralded a new brand of “in-your-face activism” that preceded the Lesbian Avengers, ACT UP and Queer Nation.
Pink Hats have nothing on her work, though she is certainly satisfied that the women’s movement, after 40 years in the wilderness, is back.
She is disturbed by “assimilation” and sees cracks in our movement that are being exploited by the growing forces against us.
We are well advised to remember her most famous acts:
An action she created at the Statue of Liberty, draping a 40’ banner over the world famous icon that read “Women of the World Unite,” received worldwide attention. Using her graphic design skills she published The NOW York Times, a parody of the powerful New York Times in an effort to combat the paper’s sexism. She collaborated with many other groups to draw tens of thousands of protesters, overtaking Fifth Avenue in 1970 for the Women’s Equality march, months after Troy Perry, Morris Kight and Bob Humphries had taken Hollywood Boulevard for the first gay Pride parade in Los Angeles. She toured the U.S. performing her one-woman show “The Many Faces of Woman.”
Ivy was involved very early on in the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center and helped beat back The Briggs Amendment, legislation that would have prohibited gay men and lesbians from teaching in public schools. The “No on 6” campaign employed strategies activists would later copy to defeat Prop 8.
In the early 1980s, Ivy turned her attention to the AIDS crisis, founding Los Angeles’ first AIDS service organization, AIDS Network LA, a news and information service that provided an invaluable model that was copied nationwide. She became a prevention advocate and helped establish APLA. She also helped defeat a move to quarantine people with AIDS.
Ivy shows no signs of slowing down and she’s as feisty as ever. She recently ended 17 years of service on West Hollywood’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board. She helped shed light on the crystal meth crisis, domestic abuse and senior issues. She established the nation’s first LGBT senior housing complex and is now hoping to create a roommate registry for West Hollywood’s senior LGBT folk.
She’s really a national treasure but she’s ours.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I have been out out since 1968. The hardest person to tell was my husband.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
Jeanne Cordova, she was an amazing woman. I miss her.
What is Los Angeles’ best nightspot, past or present?
Little Frida’s was a small cafe on West Knoll, very simple food, a hang out for lesbians from all over. They wanted to expand but the city made that too hard so they closed. Lesbians are still angry about that.
Describe your dream wedding.
Not in a white gown or a Tuxedo. I’m not fond of weddings… The word and the institution comes with too much baggage that oppresses women.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
Over-development in West Hollywood is driving us out, all the gay elders who created it.
What historical outcome would you change?
The Great Depression changed my mom. We lost our house and my mom lost her power and herself.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
I’ve lived through every assassination since 1926; the sacrifices for equality live on forever because of them.
On what do you insist?
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
The tech world is an impediment to staying connected as human beings. None.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“Give ‘em Hell”? I’m looking for a publisher.
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Everyone could be sexually fluid. People could swing either way and no one would yell at ‘em.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
Two things: there is either a god or the universe is in charge. Or maybe we just call the universe god; something is in control. My life has been a series of things I never decided on. It just happened. I planned to be a comedian.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Never forget what we’ve been through and always be ready to fight.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
My two daughters and my grandson. And the guy at the coffee shop.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
That lesbians hate men.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
I love Julia Roberts. “Pretty Woman.” I hope some day I’ll meet her…or Jennifer Aniston wouldn’t be so bad either!
What’s the most overrated social custom?
That’s a hard one, too many!
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
The letter of apology I received from NOW California and NOW Hollywood for treating me so badly in the ‘70s regarding my lesbian activism.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That I was a lesbian.
Why Los Angeles?
I didn’t choose to live here but I chose to stay here because things needed to be done. It’s not the place but the issues that matter.