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First United States Gay Ambassador James C. Hormel dies at 88

“Jim Hormel was a barrier-breaking public servant, champion for LGBTQ equality, and cherished friend who will be dearly missed.”

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Former U.S. Ambassador James Hormel embracing U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Kaushik Roy, & Calif. State Senator Mark Leno (2015 photograph courtesy of Speaker Pelosi Flickr)

SAN FRANCISCO – The first openly gay diplomat appointed as the United States Ambassador to Luxembourg in 1999 by President Bill Clinton, has died at 88. James C. Hormel, heir to the Hormel meatpacking fortune, was a longtime philanthropist who parlayed his financial interests and contributions as a longtime Democratic Party activist and donor, into actively pursuing LGBTQ+ equality and civil rights.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Ambassador Jim Hormel. Jim devoted his life to advancing the rights and dignity of all people, and in his trailblazing service in the diplomatic corps, he represented the United States with honor and brought us closer to living out the meaning of a more perfect union,” former President Bill Clinton and his wife, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a joint statement. “We will always be grateful for his courageous and principled example, as well as the kindness and support he gave us over so many years. Our thoughts are with his family and all who loved him.”

Hormel’s work as an openly gay supporter for equality led to his being one of the founders of the Human Rights Campaign Fund along with fellow native Minnesotan Steve Endean. In 1995 the organization was renamed the Human Rights Campaign.

A long time San Franciscan, Hormel served as a member of the board of directors of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the American Foundation for AIDS Research. He also founded and funded the James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center located at the San Francisco Public Library.

Two notable national Democratic Party political figures and fellow San Franciscans, U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reflected on Hormel’s long service.

Sen. Feinstein’s statement read in part, “San Francisco lost a great friend today. A philanthropist, civil rights pioneer and loving spouse and father, James Hormel lived an extraordinary life and will be deeply missed by many, Feinstein said. I had the pleasure of working closely with him on several issues, most notably on the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. Tapped to be the ambassador to Luxembourg by President Clinton in 1997, he was the first openly gay person to serve as an ambassador. While his nomination was controversial at the time, his service was distinguished and helped advance LGBTQ rights both at home and abroad.”

House Speaker Pelosi released a statement praising Ambassador Hormel’s commitment to advancing LGBTQ+ Equality rights.

“Jim Hormel was a barrier-breaking public servant, champion for LGBTQ equality, and cherished friend who will be dearly missed in San Francisco, in our nation and around the world. Jim Hormel made history as the first openly gay U.S. ambassador, showing the world how the voices of LGBTQ Americans are integral to foreign policy, and paving the way for a new generation of leaders,” said Pelosi. “With his gentle yet powerful voice and undaunted determination, Jim made it his mission to fight for dignity and equality for all. Paul and I are heartbroken at this tremendous loss, and hope it is a comfort to his husband, Michael, and his children Alison, Anne, Elizabeth, James Jr. and Sarah, that Jim’s extraordinary life continues to serve as a beacon of hope and promise for LGBTQ children across our country and around the world.”

Born at the height of the Great Depression in January of 1933, Hormel, the grandson of Hormel Foods founder George A. Hormel, earned his bachelor of Arts Degree from Swarthmore College in suburban Philadelphia and later a law degree from University of Chicago Law School. He later served as the school’s Dean of Students and Director of Admissions.

Hormel’s Democratic Party activism coupled with his dedicated efforts to advance the cause of LGBTQ equality led to a chance dinner conversation in 1992 with then candidate Bill Clinton’s campaign treasurer, Bob Farmer.

Cynthia Laird, the editor of The Bay Area Reporter, San Francisco’s LGBTQ newspaper noted Hormel’s recounting that conversation which was originally published in B.A.R. in 2016;

Over dinner, Farmer suggested to Mr. Hormel that he seek a presidential appointment as an ambassador.

“I was quite surprised when he brought up the idea,” said Mr. Hormel, noting that over 60% of such positions are held by career employees who have come up through the ranks in the Foreign Service.

The appointment did not happen easily, Mr. Hormel recalled.

In fact, it wasn’t until five years after that dinner that Clinton nominated Mr. Hormel for the job. During that period, recalled Mr. Hormel, he made “dozens of visits and hundreds of phone calls” to keep his name in consideration.

Mr. Hormel said he was persistent because, if appointed, “I would break a ceiling and make it easier for gay people to serve at the highest levels of government.”

Initially, Hormel was considered for an ambassadorship to Fiji by the Clinton White House, but according to published accounts in the Washington Blade, D.C.’s LGBTQ newspaper and the Washington Post in December of 1994, his name was withdrawn from consideration in part due to objections from conservatives in both parties on Capitol Hill and the government of Fiji itself.

The Washington Blade’s Lou Chibbaro reported; “The action on Hormel also comes after members of the moderate and conservative wings of the Democratic Party have said the stunning defeat last month of Democratic members of Congress was due, in part, to Clinton’s support for Gay civil rights in general and Gays in the military in particular.

Fijian officials had protested in part because same-sex intimate sexual relations were a crime punishable by long prison sentences and Hormel’s status as an openly gay man ran counter to the principles of “Fijian Culture” they claimed.

“Hormel’s nomination as ambassador to Fiji would be “dead in the water,” said one source familiar with the controversy, who spoke on condition of anonymity,” the Blade reported. “The source said Helms made it clear through intermediaries that he would bottle up Hormel’s nomination in committee.

The Blade also reported that; “The only reason Jim Hormel did not get the job was because he is Gay,” said one Gay activist leader, who spoke on condition that he not be identified.”

The Clinton Administration according to the Washington Post then explored another appointment for Hormel that would not require Senate confirmation. One option under consideration, the Post reported, was a position in a delegation to an international conference on social justice issues in Copenhagen. Another possibility, the Post said, was participation by Hormel in the United Nations commission on human rights in Geneva.

President Clinton ultimately named Hormel as a member of the United States delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 1995, and in 1996 Hormel was named an alternate U.S. representative at the United Nations General Assembly.

The following October of 1997, the president nominated Hormel as his choice to be the U.S. Ambassador to the principality of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. While the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved his nomination with the exceptions of Republican conservative Senators Jesse Helms and John Ashcroft opposed, the battle in the Senate which got progressively uglier as contentious portions of Hormel’s philanthropic and activist work were derided by more conservative Republicans and the powerful political foes of LGBTQ+ equality rights.

Those groups included the Southern Poverty Law Center’s designated extremist anti-LGBTQ hate groups, the Washington D.C. based Family Research Council and the Orange County, California based Traditional Values Coalition Christian organization founded by Rev. Louis P. Sheldon to oppose LGBTQ+ rights. 

In a Wikimedia entry on Hormel it notes that FRC and TVC both:

  • Labelled Hormel as being pro-pornography, asserting that Hormel would be rejected in the largely Roman Catholic Luxembourg. It was later observed that much of the same material could also be found in the Library of Congress.
  • The FRC distributed video tapes of a television interview with Hormel at the 1996 San Francisco Pride parade in which Hormel laughed at a joke about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a group of men who dress in drag as nuns to mock religious conventions, as they passed by. The Catholic League took this as an indication of approval of what they characterized as an anti-Catholic group. In a meeting with Tim Hutchinson, Hormel declined to repudiate the Sisters. In an interview years later, Hormel objected to the idea that the video clip showed that he approved of the group and that he was anti-Catholic.
  • It was revealed that Hormel had contributed $12,000 to fund the production of the It’s Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School, a video aimed at teaching tolerance of homosexuality to grade-school students. This especially inflamed Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire, who was portrayed unflatteringly in the film. Smith contended that he opposed Hormel not because he was gay but because of his “advocacy of the gay lifestyle”.

Ultimately after Republicans were successful in stalling Hormel’s nomination, preventing a vote which was orchestrated by then Senate Majority Leader, Mississippi Republican U.S. Senator Trent Lott, President Clinton in May of 1999 in a recess appointment made Hormel the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg.

The Washington Post reported, “Bypassing Senate confirmation, President Clinton moved yesterday to directly install gay San Francisco businessman James C. Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg.

The president invoked a provision of the Constitution allowing him to make such appointments during a congressional recess. Hormel, who will become the first openly gay U.S. ambassador, can serve in the post through the end of 2000.

The “recess appointment” drew criticism from a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and conservative groups but was praised by gay rights activists.

“The denial of a confirmation vote by the Senate leadership, a vote he would have easily won, was nothing more than anti-gay discrimination,” said Elizabeth Birch of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay and lesbian political group to the Washington Post.

The Post also reported that Clinton’s recess appointment of Hormel was criticized by Lott spokesman John Czwartacki who said it was “a slap in the face,” particularly to Catholics.

Czwartacki cited what he said were Hormel’s links with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — drag queens who dress as nuns.

White House spokesman Barry Toiv said Hormel does not support “any such group. The idea . . . is outrageous and is false.”

The Family Research Council claimed that Hormel’s appointment was strictly to “advance the gay agenda.” on what the anti-LGBTQ+ hate group deemed a “a government-sanctioned platform.”

Hormel went on to serve as ambassador until the inaugural of President George W. Bush on January 20, 2001.

After his service as ambassador Hormel returned to his philanthropic work moving back to the City by the Bay where he was honored in 2010, with a lifetime achievement grand marshal for the San Francisco Pride parade.

Hormel also continued his lifelong advocacy work and as an elder statesmen in the Democratic Party. When then President-elect Joe Biden announced his choice of nominating openly out Pete Buttigieg as U. S. Secretary of Transportation, the Washington Blade’s White House reporter Chris Johnson reported, “Buttigieg, who made history as a gay Democratic candidate in the 2020 primary said at the time his career aspiration was to become an airline pilot and “was a long way from coming out, even to myself,” but gained knowledge from Hormel’s story.”

The Blade also reported; “I learned about some of the limits that exist in this country when it comes to who is allowed to belong, and just as important, I saw how those limits could be challenged,” Buttigieg said. “So, two decades later, I can’t help but think of a 17-year-old who might be watching right now, someone who wonders whether and where they belong in the world, or even in their own family, and I’m thinking about the message today’s announcement is sending to them.”

Hormel, in an email to the Blade the day after Buttigieg praised him, was able to return the favor by offering support.

“I enthusiastically support the nomination of Pete Buttigieg as secretary of transportation and will acknowledge him as the first openly LGBTQ member of the presidential Cabinet,” Hormel said.

“Today we mourn the loss of a true titan in our LGBTQ+ movement — a trailblazer, a mentor and a friend to all those who sought his counsel during his decades of leadership and advocacy. Ambassador James Hormel defined our community’s resilience — representing our nation with honor and distinction in the face of vile hate and discrimination,” Executive Director of Equality California’s Rick Chavez Zbur said in a statement.  “In the years since his diplomatic service, Jim has been unyieldingly generous with his time and his resources, working tirelessly to create a world that is healthy, just and fully equal for all LGBTQ+ people.

“It is true that we stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us. I am forever grateful for the wisdom and guidance that Jim shared with me and Equality California over the past 25 years, and I am confident that generations of LGBTQ+ diplomats, advocates and community leaders will benefit from his life’s work. I know that we will continue to see the immeasurable impact of his contributions on the faces of children who dream of walking the world’s greatest halls of power without worry that who they are or whom they love could ever limit their potential.”

The White House Friday afternoon released a statement by Vice President Kamala Harris on the death of Ambassador Hormel;

“During his remarkable life, Ambassador James Hormel made history – and he made the world a better place. Jim’s kindness and commitment to human rights, including his efforts to help found the Human Rights Campaign and advocate for those living with HIV/AIDS, changed lives and inspired generations of leaders. As our country’s first openly gay ambassador, Jim’s distinguished service represented the very best of America and paved the way for others. I will always be grateful for Jim’s friendship and counsel over many years. He will be missed. Doug and I send our condolences to Jim’s husband Michael, children Alison, Anne, Elizabeth, Jimmy, and Sarah, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

President Biden, reflecting the recent passing of James Hormel, the first openly gay person to serve as U.S. ambassador gay person to the United States, said his “bravery paved the way” for LGBTQ appointees now working for the U.S. government.

“I am proud that my Administration is staffed by incredible LGBTQ+ public servants at all levels, including in my Cabinet and nominees for Ambassador-level appointments,” Biden said. “Ambassador Hormel’s bravery paved the way for all of them to serve, just as he hoped it would.”

President Joe Biden (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)

Biden made the remarks in a statement late Friday following the death of Hormel, whom former President Clinton appointed as U.S ambassador to Luxembourg by recess appointment in 1999.

Statement by President Joe Biden on the Passing of Ambassador James Hormel

Ambassador Hormel was a man of incredible dignity and backbone, a national leader in the fight for LGBTQ+ equality, an early advocate for those suffering from HIV/AIDS, and a ground breaking diplomat who helped America to lead by the power of our example.

Ambassador Hormel put himself on the line to become our nation’s first out gay Ambassador in the face of unwarranted and hurtful opposition. I remember well the historic fight for his appointment, and I was proud to support his confirmation. He helped shine a national spotlight on the truth that no LGBTQ+ individual should be denied their basic human rights, and that the United States should be the global leader in that fight.

Today, I am proud that my Administration is staffed by incredible LGBTQ+ public servants at all levels, including in my Cabinet and nominees for Ambassador-level appointments. Ambassador Hormel’s bravery paved the way for all of them to serve, just as he hoped it would. Jill and I send our deepest condolences to Ambassador Hormel’s husband, Michael, his children and grandchildren, and all those mourning his loss.

Hormel is survived by his husband Michael and his children Alison, Anne, Elizabeth, James Jr. and Sarah.

Additional reporting from Lou Chibbaro, Chris Johnson, The Bay Area Reporter, and The Washington Post.

Obituary

Out American composer & lyricist Stephen Sondheim dies at 91

Sondheim did not come Out until age 40 & didn’t live with a partner until he was 61 when he was in a relationship with dramatist Peter Jones

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Sondheim was a guest on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in September 2021 (Screenshot via CBS)

ROXBURY, Ct. – The man who was heralded as Broadway and theater’s most revered and influential composer-lyricist of the last half of the 20th century with eight Tony awards alone, Stephen Joshua Sondheim, known for landmark musicals such as “Company,” “West Side Story” and “Sweeney Todd, has died at 91.

Sondheim’s death was announced by his attorney, Rick Pappas. who said that the composer died Friday at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut. The day before Sondheim had celebrated Thanksgiving with a dinner with friends in Roxbury, Pappas added.

An online listing of Sondheim’s accolades include nine Tony Awards (including a Lifetime Achievement Tony in 2008), an Academy Award, eight Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, a Laurence Olivier Award, and in 2015, the Presidential Medal of Freedom bestowed on him by former President Barack Obama.

He has a theatre named for him on both Broadway and the West End in London.

Sondheim has written film music, contributing “Goodbye for Now” for Warren Beatty’s 1981 Reds. He wrote five songs for 1990’s Dick Tracy, including “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)”, sung in the film by Madonna, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Film adaptations of Sondheim’s work include West Side Story (1961), Gypsy (1962), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), A Little Night Music (1977), Gypsy (1993), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), Into the Woods (2014), West Side Story (2021), and Merrily We Roll Along (TBA).

Sondheim did not come Out until he was 40 and did not live with a partner until he was 61 when he was in a relationship with dramatist Peter Jones. His current partner, actor-producer Jeff Romley, whom he married in 2017 and he had been living together for over 6 years at the time of the composer’s death.

David LaFontaine, a professor at Massasoit Community College, wrote about Sondheim’s early years and the critical friendship that would end up impacting his life, career, and American Theatre;

“Stephen Joshua Sondheim was born in New York City on March 22, 1930, the only child of affluent parents who divorced when he was ten. He believes he might have succumbed to depression had it not been for a friendship that began in the summer of 1941 with the Hammerstein family, who lived near Sondheim on the bucolic Highland Farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

“Dorothy and Oscar Hammerstein became my surrogate parents during my teen years,” says Sondheim, “and that’s essentially how I became a songwriter, because I wanted to do what Oscar did.” During his four years as a student at the George School, Stevie, as he was then called, often spent entire summers at the Hammerstein farm.”

Oscar Hammerstein II was an American lyricist, theatrical producer, and director in the musical theater for almost 40 years. He won eight Tony Awards and two Academy Awards for Best Original Song. Hammerstein along with his partner composer Richard Rodgers created some of the notable musicals in Broadway history including Oklahoma! (1943),  South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951), and The Sound of Music (1959).

This past September Sondheim was a guest on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, for a conversation that covers a lot of ground, from “Company” to “West Side Story,” to a new show titled, “Square One.”

Stephen Sondheim Is Still Writing New Works, As “Company” Returns To Broadway

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First trans mayor, Stu Rasmussen, dies at 73

Rasmussen, who used both he/him and she/her pronouns, became the first trans mayor in the nation’s history

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Stu Rasmussen (Photo Credit: Kyle Palmer, Silverton, Oregon Mayor)

SILVERTON, Or. — Stewart “Stu” Rasmussen, the first trans mayor in the United States, died on November 17 after several weeks under home hospice care battling metastatic prostate cancer. He was 73. 

Rasmussen, who used both he/him and she/her pronouns, became the first trans mayor in the nation’s history when he was elected to lead the town of Silverton, Oregon, in 2008, serving until 2014. Before coming out as trans, he served as mayor of the western Oregon town for two terms starting in 1988. 

The current mayor of Silverton, Kyle Palmer, took to Facebook to announce the news and offer his condolences. 

“Throughout his career as an elected official, Stu advocated for many things on behalf of those who shared his vision for Silverton,” Palmer wrote. “Although citizens can debate their support or lack of support for some of those visions, the time for those conversations has long passed. His volume of service to city government, his role as a longtime downtown business owner, and his impact on the LGBTQ population in Silverton and beyond leaves a huge legacy behind.”

Rasmussen, a self-described “gender anarchist,” leaves behind his partner Victoria Sage, who he began dating in 1974 and married in 2014. 

According to Palmer’s Facebook post, Sage noted that “he went bravely into the unknown on his own terms.”

In an email to the Statesman Journal, Sage said that she received many “beautiful and heartwarming” letters from people who said Rasmussen touched their lives.

Born and raised in Silverton, Rasmussen inspired many with his historic 2008 election. His historic 2008 election was covered nationally by People Magazine and Good Morning America. His story was the subject of a stage production in Seattle titled “Stu for Silverton.”

“He set an example for members of our community who needed to see that it was safe to live their lives openly in our community,” said Palmer. 

According to Palmer, Westboro Baptist Church, known for anti-LGBTQ+ picketing, protested Rasmussen’s election in 2008. But they were met with a large crowd of Silverton residents — many of them wearing dresses — who supported the mayor, demanding congregation members leave town. 

Along with public service, Rasmussen also ran a theater in Silverton for most of his life, “managing to preserve the magic of a small town theater even while showcasing the blockbusters that arrived in the late 70’s and navigating the frustrations of studio restrictions that made it harder and harder to turn a profit,” Palmer noted. 

“I’m comforted in the knowledge that he is no longer in pain,” said Palmer.

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Veteran AIDS activist & TV-film-stage producer Scott Robbe dies at 66

“He was a fearless activist, always on the front lines, whether he was protesting pharmaceutical company greed or homophobia at the Oscars”

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Scott Robbe (Photo courtesy of Scott Robbe Estate)

By Jay Blotcher | NEW YORK – Veteran progressive activist and TV-film-stage producer Scott Robbe died on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, according to a statement by Paul Algiers, a longtime friend and the executor of Scott Robbe’s estate. Robbe was in hospice care at the home of his sister, Angela, in Hartford, Wis. He was 66.

Robbe died of complications from Myelodysplastic Anemia, a blood cancer he had battled for more than a year. He had undergone stem-cell treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston in April of this year.

Robbe was a prominent member in the founding of two direct-action groups in New York City: ACT UP and Queer Nation. Robbe was a member of an ACT UP undercover team, led by activist Peter Staley, that secretly gained access to the New York Stock Exchange in September 1989. Their goal was to protest and publicize the record high price of AZT, then the sole approved treatment for HIV/AIDS. Burroughs Wellcome eventually bowed to this nationally publicized activist pressure and lowered its drug price — then the highest in medical history — by 20 percent.

“Scott was a fearless activist, always on the front lines, whether he was protesting pharmaceutical company greed or homophobia at the Oscars,” said ACT UP New York veteran Ann Northrop. “And he was a total sweetheart.”

“Scott was one of those activists who didn’t flinch when our lawyers would warn us of all the possible charges and maximum sentences we’d face for infiltrating a powerful institution,” said Peter Staley, who chronicled his ACT UP days in the new memoir, “Never Silent”. “When it came to fighting for his dying gay brothers, he’d always reply, ‘I’m in.’”

In 1991, Robbe relocated to the West Coast and co-founded Out in Film, a Los Angeles-based group to battle homophobia in Hollywood filmmaking. At the time, several high-grossing films offered stereotypic and unflattering depictions of gay characters, including Jonathan Demme’s “Silence of the Lambs”, Oliver Stone’s “JFK” and Paul Verhoeven’s “Basic Instinct”.

Out in Film demanded equity for LGBTQ people on both sides of the camera. Robbe and Lesbian Avengers member Judy Sisneros created a pioneering protest at the Oscar Awards in March 1991, during which demonstrators outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion called for increased queer visibility and fairness in career opportunities.

The Oscars protest was one highlight of a life devoted to progressive activism. It began in his teen years, when Robbe took part in 1960s marches for the environment, for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. Over the four decades that followed, Robbe’s career encompassed both community organizing and producing dozens of works in theatre, film and television. 

Scott Douglas Robbe was born on Feb. 16, 1955, in Decorah, Iowa, to Helen, a homemaker, and James Robbe, a construction supervisor. The family relocated to Hartford, Wis., the following year. Robbe was a graduate of Hartford Union High School in Hartford, and entered the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1974, where he majored in theater arts. Located in the state capital, the college was known for its progressive student population, and Robbe took part in numerous protests.

After he graduated in 1978, Robbe moved to New York City, where he met his first boyfriend, a Bennington College student. They lived together in the East Village from 1978 to 1984. At the time, Robbe was helping to renovate the Orpheum Theatre on Second Avenue in the East Village. At the same time he produced at the neighboring Entermedia Theatre his first theatrical production, “False Promises” by the San Francisco Mime Troupe. At the famed La MaMa ETC, Robbe workshopped Harvey Fierstein’s “Fugue in a Nursery,” which forms the middle segment of “Torch Song Trilogy.” That production won wide acclaim both there and after it moved to the Orpheum Theater. Robbe also produced several plays off-Broadway, followed by the Harvey Fierstein play “Safe Sex” on Broadway.

Robbe joined ACT UP New York after seeing the group protest at the White House in October 1987 during the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. He joined the group’s Media Committee and took part in numerous protests. He also joined the newly-formed Queer Nation in March of 1990, helping to mount demonstrations across New York City aimed at queer visibility. Robbe was diagnosed as HIV-positive in the early 1990s.

In late 1990, Robbe relocated to Los Angeles to produce TV commercials for Japanese television. His first film job was an associate producer role for 1982’s “In the King of Prussia”, depicting the Berrigan Brothers’ pioneering anti-war efforts and starring Martin Sheen.

Robbe’s extensive television credits include the first-ever LGBTQ comedy special for Comedy Central in 1993, called “Out There,” and hosted by Lea DeLaria. Robbe was on the creative team for the groundbreaking 2003 series “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” He also produced shows for Lifetime, Comedy Central, VH1, Children’s Television Workshop and American Playhouse.

In 2005, Robbe was named executive director and film commissioner for Film Wisconsin, Inc. During his tenure, Robbe brought 28 TV and film projects to the state, including the 2009 film “Public Enemies” by Michael Mann, starring Johnny Depp and Channing Tatum. Most recently, Robbe worked with activists in Cuba to bring pressure on the American government to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine in the country. Robbe was also involved in grassroots activism in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where he had a second home.

Scott Robbe is survived by his mother, Helen, and his siblings and their spouses, Royce (Donna), John (Ken Hall), Jay (Francine), and Angela. Also surviving him are his uncle Peter Coffeen (Steve Getz), as well as several nieces, nephews and cousins.

There will be no funeral. Arrangements were handled by Milwaukee Cremation Society. A celebration of Robbe’s life will be broadcast online early in 2022. Donations in Scott’s memory may be made to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and ACT UP New York.

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Jay Blotcher is an American activist, journalist, and editor. He was active in the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power in its early years, serving as chair of the media committee, and was a founding member of Queer Nation.

Photo via ‘I’m From Driftwood’ LGBTQ+ stories video archive.

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Former PFLAG president Paulette Goodman dies at 88

Beloved LGBTQ community ally grew up in Nazi occupied Paris

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Paulette Goodman, a nationally recognized advocate for LGBTQ people and their families died Aug. 15 of natural causes. (Blade file photo by Doug Hinckle)

WASHINGTON – Paulette Goodman, a nationally recognized advocate for LGBTQ people and their families in her role as president of the national group Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) from 1988 to 1992 and her earlier role as the lead founder of PFLAG’s Metro DC chapter in 1983, died Aug. 15 of natural causes at her residence at the Riderwood retirement community in Silver Spring, Md. She was 88.

In an Aug. 16 statement, the national PFLAG group said Goodman was born into a Jewish family and grew up in Nazi occupied Paris until the family moved to the United States in 1949. People who knew Goodman have said her experience growing up in an atmosphere of potential danger to her and her family helped shape her response when her daughter came out to her as a lesbian in 1981.

Goodman first became involved with PFLAG in 1981 and helped to found the PFLAG Metro D.C. chapter in 1983, serving as its first president.

During her tenure with the local PFLAG group Goodman counseled families of LGBT people, answered calls on the PFLAG helpline, and led a campaign to display PFLAG ads on D.C. area Metro buses, according to the National PFLAG group.

She later appeared on radio and TV news programs and was the subject of stories in local newspapers, including the Washington Blade, which reported on her efforts to lobby the Maryland General Assembly and the U.S. Congress in support of LGBTQ equality. She also helped to start other PFLAG chapters in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.

In its statement on Goodman’s passing, the national PFLAG group points to a 2019 interview that Goodman gave to The Atlantic magazine in which she told how her own upbringing in Nazi occupied France shaped her response to her daughter, Cynthia Goodman’s, coming out.

“When I found out about my gay child, I realized it was the same situation,” The Atlantic quoted her as saying. “You’re guarded about who you are, because you don’t know who’s going to be supportive…I didn’t want my child to go through what I went through – being in the closet is stifling.”

The PFLAG statement says, “It was her understanding, passion, and success with PFLAG Metro D.C…that led PFLAGers to vote her in as president of the national organization.”

The statement notes that in her role as national PFLAG president, Goodman drew national attention to the issues facing LGBTQ people and their families when she wrote to then first lady Barbara Bush to tell of her experience as a parent to a gay child during the peak of the AIDS epidemic. In her letter, she asked Bush to “speak kind words to some 24 million gay Americans and their families, to help heal the wounds and to keep these families in loving relationships.”

In a development that created a stir in Republican political circles and the White House, Bush responded with her own letter, which stated, “I firmly believe that we cannot tolerate discrimination against any individuals or groups in our country. Such treatment brings with it pain and perpetuates intolerance.”

According to the PFLAG statement, Bush’s letter, which was inadvertently given to the Associated Press, caused a “political maelstrom” but was possibly the first gay-positive comment to come from the White House during the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

In her later years, the PFLAG statement says, Paulette Goodman retired but continued her advocacy work by, among other things, starting the first-ever chapter of PFLAG at her retirement home at Riderwood in Silver Spring along with a fellow PFLAG member.

In 2013, Goodman received recognition of her work with PFLAG from officials in Montgomery County, Md., where she lived, and from then Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. She received numerous other honors of recognition from organizations that include the Human Rights Campaign, the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists, the Greater New York Bar Association for Human Rights, and the LGBTQ Catholic group Dignity Washington.

“Paulette Goodman showed the world what it means to be a loving PFLAG parent and ally,” said PFLAG National Executive Director Brian K. Bond. “PFLAGers everywhere can look to her as a role model, for once she went through her experience with her own child and got the support she needed, she used that experience to educate others and then advocate for the wellbeing and equality of all LGBTQ+ people,” Bond said.

“She was the embodiment of what we tell PFLAG members,” said Bond. “Once you no longer need PFLAG, PFLAG needs you,” he said. “PFLAG needed – and was so lucky to have – Paulette Goodman. Our hearts are with her family and all who knew and loved her.”

Goodman was predeceased by her husband, Leo Goodman. She is survived by her daughter Cynthia Goodman and son Claude Goodman and his wife Toni Goodman; her grandson Max Goodhart and his wife Laurel Goodhart; her granddaughter Hannah Goodman; her niece Sue Einhorn; and her longtime friends Millie Spector, Tom Bull, David Feltman, and Peter Froehlich.

No immediate plans were announced for a memorial tribute or funeral arrangements.

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Obituary

Kay Lahusen, LGBTQ equality rights pioneer has died at 91

Kay was the first out LGBTQ photo journalist, an author and partner of her beloved Barbara Gittings. They were pioneers in LGBTQ activism

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Kay and Barbara at 25th anniversary of Stonewall (Photograph by Karen Ocamb)

By Mark Segal | PHILADELPHIA, PA – Kay Lahusen, 91, died in gentle hospice care at Chester County Hospital on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, after a brief illness.  She was born in Cincinnati in January 1930 and as an infant was adopted and raised by her grandparents.  After graduating from Ohio State University, she moved to Boston, where she met her lifelong partner Barbara Gittings at a Daughters of Bilitis picnic in 1961.  

Kay and Barbara lived variously in New York, Philadelphia and Wilmington DE. They were gay activists from the early days of the Gay Rights movement in the US, marching openly in picket lines in Washington DC and Philadelphia in the early 1960s.  Kay became known as the first openly gay photojournalist. Her photos documenting these and many later activities were printed in various gay publications including Gay (a national weekly) and The Ladder.  Her photos are archived in the New York Public Library, which drew upon them for the 2019 book, Love and Resistance; out of the closet into the Stonewall era.

Kay researched and wrote the book Gay Crusaders (1972), which was published under her pseudonym Kay Tobin and with the addition of a male “co-author” (her friend, Randy Wicker) to help with its public acceptance.  The original research materials for that book are also archived at the New York Public Library.

Kay and Barbara remained activists throughout their lives.  Shortly before Barbara’s death in 2007, they moved to Kendal at Longwood, Kennett Square PA.  After Barbara’s death Kay continued to contribute to Gay history, giving many interviews, especially about their work with the American Psychiatric Association and the American Library Association.  She collaborated in 2015 with Tracy Baim to produce Barbara Gittings, gay pioneer, a biography of Barbara which used many of Kay’s photos.  She decorated her room at Kendal with dozens of photographs, and she would talk about her experiences as a gay activist at the drop of a hat, even regaling the nurses at Chester County Hospital with her story days before her death.

Kay is survived by Trusted Friends: Judith Armstrong of Hockessin DE, John Cunningham of Philadelphia, Ada Bello of Philadelphia, and James Oakes of Secane PA, and by the many, many friends, acquaintances, and admirers — too numerous to name here — who made up her chosen family.

Kay’s remains will rest in the Congressional Cemetery, Washington DC, along with her partner’s in a bench designed to express their love for each other and their dedication to showing that Gay is Good.  Due to COVID-19, a public memorial will be postponed.  In lieu of flowers, Kay would welcome your contributions to William Way LGBT Community Center,  1315 Spruce St, Philadelphia PA 19107  or to Kennett Area Community Service, P.O.Box 1025, Kennett Square PA 19348 for their local food cupboard.

Condolences may be left at foundsfuneralhome.com.

In December of 2019, the Philadelphia Gay News ran a profile on the 90th birthday celebration of Lahusen. She was asked, So visibility is one of the hallmarks of your life? 

In answer she noted; “Oh, absolutely. I enjoyed working on “The Ladder.” I tried to put wonderful women on the covers. That was very important, because before then we only had drawings on covers. We went against the American Psychiatric Association and succeeded in removing homosexuality from the mental illness allegation. I wasn’t at Stonewall, but I certainly admired it. I had a lot to say about it and write about it. I’ve had a terrific life. I think gay couples, getting back to that question, should get involved, and give it all they’ve got. It’s so much fun. Don’t you agree?”

You can read the entire interview here: https://epgn.com/2019/12/27/activist-kay-lahusen-celebrates-90th-birthday/

Mark Allan Segal is an American journalist. He participated in the Stonewall riots and was one of the original founders of the Gay Liberation Front where he created its Gay Youth program. He was the founder and former president of the National Gay Newspaper Guild and the founder and publisher of Philadelphia Gay News.

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AIDS and HIV

Patrick O’Connell, acclaimed AIDS activist, dies at 67

Played key role in creating red ribbon for awareness

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Patrick O'Connell, gay news, Washington Blade
Activist Patrick O’Connell was instrumental in creating the red ribbon to promote AIDS awareness. (Photo courtesy of Allen Frame; courtesy Visual AIDS)

NEW YORK – Patrick O’Connell, a founding director of the New York City-based AIDS advocacy group Visual AIDS who played a lead role in developing the internationally recognized display of an inverted, V-shaped red ribbon as a symbol of AIDS advocacy, died on March 23 at a Manhattan hospital from AIDS-related causes, according to the New York Times. He was 67.

Visual AIDS said in a statement that O’Connell held the title of founding director of the organization from 1980 to 1995.

During those years, according to the statement and others who knew him, O’Connell was involved in the group’s widely recognized and supported efforts to use art and artist’s works to advocate in support of people with HIV/AIDS and efforts to curtail the epidemic that had a devastating impact on the art world.

Thanks to a grant from the Art Matters foundation, Visual AIDS was able to retain O’Connell as its first paid staff member in 1990, the group said in its statement.

“Armed with a fax machine and an early Macintosh computer, Patrick helped Visual AIDS grow from a volunteer group to a sustainable non-profit organization,” the statement says. “A passionate spokesperson for the organization, he helped projects like Day Without Art, Night Without Light, and the Red Ribbon reach thousands of people and organizations across the world,” the group says in its statement.

“We were living in a war zone,” the statement quoted O’Connell as saying in a 2011 interview with the Long Island newspaper Newsday. “But it was like a war that was some kind of deep secret only we knew about,” O’Connell said in the interview. “Thousands were dying of AIDS. We felt we had to respond with a visible expression,” he told the newspaper.

With O’Connell’s help, Visual AIDS in 1989 organized the first annual Day Without Art in which dozens of galleries and museums in New York and other cities covered art works with black cloths to symbolize the mourning of those who died of AIDS. Among those participating were the Brooklyn Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which replaced a Picasso painting with a “somber informational placard,” according to the New York Times.

In 1990 O’Connell helped Visual AIDS organize the first Night Without Light, which was held at the time of World AIDS Day. New York City’s skyscraper buildings, bridges, monuments, and Broadway theaters turned off their lights for 15 minutes to commemorate people who lost their lives to AIDS, the New York Times reported.

In the kickoff of its Red Ribbon Project in 1991, McConnell helped organize volunteers to join “ribbon bees” in which thousands of the ribbons were cut and folded for distribution around the city, the Times reports. Those who knew McConnell said he also arranged for his team of volunteers to call Broadway theaters and producers of the upcoming Tony Awards television broadcast to have participants and theater goers display the red ribbons on their clothes.

Among those displaying a red ribbon on his label at the Tony Wards broadcast was actor Jeremy Irons, who was one of the hosts. In later years, large numbers of celebrities followed the practice of wearing the red ribbon, and in 1993 the U.S. Postal Service issued a red ribbon stamp.

The Times reports that O’Connell was born and raised in Manhattan, where he attended Fordham Preparatory School and later graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in history. According to Visual AIDS, O’Connell served as director of the Hallwalls arts center in Buffalo, N.Y. from 1977 to 1978 before returning to New York City to work for a gallery called Artists Space.

The Times reports that O’Connell learned in the middle 1980s that he had contracted AIDS and began a regimen of early AIDS treatment with a cocktail of over 30 pills a day. His involvement with Visual AIDS, which began in 1989, ended on an active basis in 1995 when his health worsened, the Times reports.

As one of the last remaining survivors of his New York contemporaries who had HIV beginning in the 1980s, O’Connell continued in his strong support for AIDS-related causes through 2000s and beyond, people who knew him said.

Visual AIDS says it is gathering remembrances and photos for a tribute post for O’Connell on its website. It has invited people to share their memories of him by sending written contributions and images via email to: [email protected].

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History

Anti-LGBTQ activist Judith Reisman dies at age 86

There was the time she appeared on the Liberty Counsel’s radio show to declare that all gays are inherent pedophiles

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Screenshot via JoeMyGod

Editor’s note: Judith Ann Reisman was a vocal opponent of women’s reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights and known for her criticism and condemnation of the work in sexual studies of Dr. Alfred Kinsey. Reisman, a prominent conservative, has been referred to as the “founder of the modern anti-Kinsey movement.”  New York-based LGBTQ journalist, activist and blogger Joe Jervis covered her for over a decade on his widely popular blogsite Joe.My.God.

By Joe Jervis | Longtime JMG readers will recall Reisman’s anti-LGBT claims as a regular feature here going back a decade or so. There was the time she appeared on the Liberty Counsel’s radio show to declare that all gays are inherent pedophiles:

We know that pedophilia, which was the original Greek they say it’s ‘love of’ but of course it isn’t, it’s ‘lust for’ boys. And there’s a strong, clear, cross-cultural, historical reality, people don’t want to do deal with, but the propaganda has been loud and strong to deny the fact, the aim of homosexual males and now increasingly females is not to have sex with other old guys and get married but to obtain sex with as many boys as possible. That’s the reality.

There was the time she called for a class action suit against groups that advocate for safer sex:

The reality is that condoms are manufactured and approved every day for natural, vaginal sex, not anal “sex.” They are not effectively designed to protect from disease those people who engage in sodomy. Such a lawsuit should target the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Planned Parenthood and a myriad of teachers and school systems, too many to count, that have taught that anal “sex” (traditionally termed “sodomy” or “buggery” under British-based legal codes) as not so different than natural coitus. Due to the lies that have told, people who practiced sodomy are under the tragically mistaken notion that a condom is effective protection from disease.

There was the time she went to Jamaica to advocate for keeping homosexuality criminalized:

American Religious Right leaders Mat Staver and Judith Reisman are scheduled to be featured speakers at a conference in Jamaica this weekend hosted by a group that has been working to preserve the country’s criminal ban on consensual gay sex. The annual conference, hosted by the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society, will focus on how “[c]ontemporary society has become increasingly hostile to the traditional definitions of marriage and family” and Staver.

There was the time she blamed the demise of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on a rise in reported sexual assaults in the military:

Why is the best-kept military secret that most soldierly sexual assaults are now definitively homo, not heterosexual, male-on-male sexual exploitation? While men are statistically more loathe to report their sexual victimization than are women, 10,700 male soldiers, sailors and airmen in 2010 actually reported their sexual assaults. What this means is not totally clear, since men are cannot technically be raped, despite the term being regularly used in the recent hearings on the matter.

There was the time she compared activists against school bullying to Hitler Youth:

Both the GLSEN youth and the Hitler Youth were trained to be revolutionary leaders of the brave new world order. GLSEN school clubs and their teacher sponsor/trainers are now funded by major corporations and by some state funds. GLESN’s Day of Silence and “GAY ALLY!” pledge cards for kindergartners and other children (left) are direct assaults on traditional parental, American values. German children’s literature historians document Hitler’s pioneering ban of both the Ten Commandments and biblical stories from Nazi school texts in favor of coarse and violent tales that ridiculed religious believers and their values.

There was the time she was condemned by the Anti-Defamation League:

Holocaust analogies generate headlines and get attention, they do little in the service of truth, history or memory. When [Peter] LaBarbera and Reisman suggest that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are “demonizing [Christians] like the Nazis used to do to the Jews,” they undermine the historical truth of the Holocaust as a singular event in human history that led to the murder of six million Jews and millions of others. Holocaust comparisons are deeply offensive and trivialize and distort the history and meaning of the Holocaust.

And let’s close with this notation from Rational Wiki:

Reisman is a supporter of Scott Lively and his completely insane screed, The Pink Swastika. She has claimed that she believes that a homosexual movement in Germany gave rise to the Nazi Party and the Holocaust. She enthusiastically and unconditionally endorses criminalization of homosexuality, despite the fact that homosexuals were were one of the Nazis’ target groups for annihilation. Reisman has claimed that the homosexuals employ recruitment techniques that rival those of the United States Marine Corps to transform innocent children into raving homosexuals.

Reisman, passed away on Friday, April 9, 2021, two days before her 86th birthday. From the magazine of the far-right John Birch Society:

Like Judith the Biblical heroine, Dr. Reisman was fearless and stood against the great powers of the world in our time. When her countrymen were ready to surrender to the mighty Assyrian army, the Biblical Judith, trusting in God, walked into the enemy camp — and walked out with the head of Holofernes, the Assyrian general, thus saving her people. Likewise, Judith Reisman repeatedly, over the past several decades, strode into many hostile enemy camps around the world — colleges, universities, legislative bodies, media outlets — to speak truth to power and to expose vile works of darkness.

Joseph “Joe” Jervis  is an American blogger and writer based out of New York City. He is the author of Joe.My.God., a personal blog which, since he first posted on April 27, 2004, has primarily covered LGBT news and opinion.

The preceding article was originally published at Joe.My.God and republished by permission.

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History

S.F. Jewish and LGBTQ icon Al Baum dies at 90 after ‘full, rich life’

You have to be willing to do it yourself or you’re just being hypocritical

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Al Baum, seen here at Miller’s Deli in San Francisco, died March 28 at the age of 90.
(Photo/Rajat Dutta)

By Maya Mirsky | SAN FRANCISCO – Alvin H. Baum Jr., a philanthropist and activist known as Al to his friends and admirers, died March 28 at home in San Francisco. He was 90.

“Al lived a full, rich life,” his husband, Robert Holgate, told J. “Through his example of giving, he taught many how to live, love and give back,”

As a philanthropist, Baum was a generous donor to Jewish and LGBTQ causes, the arts, civil liberties, and a host of other causes and interests. In 2019, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation awarded Baum its Robert Sinton Award for Distinguished Leadership, and a J. profile at the time painted a full picture of his background and his longtime activism on multiple fronts.

Born into an affluent Jewish family at the height of the Great Depression, Baum grew up mostly in Highland Park, which in the 1930s was emerging as one of Chicago’s most prosperous Jewish-identified suburbs. He went to Harvard University as an undergrad and again for law school, then spent two years in the Army, in Berlin, during the Korean War.

Al Baum (right) with husband Robert Holgate in 2014.

Upon his return, he visited San Francisco to see how he liked it; at the time, he was living his life as a closeted gay man. He came out publicly in 1975, when he was in his 40s and living in San Francisco. It was a momentous step and not really planned.

“You know they say, ‘When you’re drowning, your whole life passes before your eyes?’” he said in an interview with OUTWORDS, an LGBTQ history archive, in 2017. “Well, it was like that. But I had been telling people, friends, that they should come out. And I wasn’t. I said to myself, ‘You have to be willing to do it yourself or you’re just being hypocritical.’”

From there he became an activist, working with the ACLU and Lambda Legal and many other organizations. Also, he worked as a city planner and attorney for many years and then, late in life, began a third career as a therapist, getting a degree from UC Berkeley in social work. In later years, with his husband, whom he married in 2014, he devoted himself to philanthropy.

Baum served on the boards of many organizations, including S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the ACLU of Northern California, and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. He also founded the Federation’s gay and lesbian task affinity group. He was a founding member of the New Israel Fund, and has been an active supporter of LGBTQ senior organization Openhouse. In 2014, he served as grand marshal of the San Francisco Pride Parade, accompanied by Holgate.

Baum was a longtime member of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco. Holgate said details of a celebration of Baum’s life and a shiva would be forthcoming.

Al Baum as S.F. Pride Parade grand marshal in 2013. (Photo/Lisa Finkelstein)

Maya Mirsky is a staff writer for J. The Jewish News of Northern California and is based in Oakland.

The preceding article was published by J. The Jewish News of Northern California and was republished by permission.

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History

Tribute to ‘give ‘em hell’ lesbian feminist pioneer Ivy Bottini

If Ivy Bottini was pissed off at an injustice, you heard about it.

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Ivy Bottini with a bullhorn (Photo by Yvette Sotelo)

WEST HOLLYWOOD – Kick ass. If Ivy Bottini was pissed off at an injustice, you heard about it. The whole room heard about it. And by the end of her righteous rant, whether at a Stonewall Democratic Club meeting or before the West Hollywood City Council, even nonchalant shruggers applauded her passion. Time finally did what Bottini’s critics could not: her voice was silenced on Thursday, Feb. 25 at her daughter Lisa’s home in Florida. Ivy Bottini was 94. 

Unlike other lesbian feminists of her generation, Bottini did not strike withering fear in the pants of men in power. Perhaps it was because she exuded a subliminal sense of caring and flashes of humor during even the fiercest of diatribes. She hated the old tropes that lesbians hated men and had no sense of humor — traits that made her accessible to those in need from 1950s and 1960s housewives newly aware of the traditional shackles of sexism to the desperate dying gay men deemed untouchable by government, society and often even family in the early days of AIDS.

Ivy Bottini comforting HIV+ author/photographer Mark Thompson at the memorial for Thompson’s beloved husband, Rev. Malcolm Boyd. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Bottini’s power emanated from her authenticity. Discrimination burned Bottini to the core. She felt the pain. But she didn’t just jawbone about it; she translated the searing anger and pain from her own awakening into activism to alleviate the pain of others, becoming a freedom crusader for women, for LGBTQ people — for anyone suffering from oppression and internalized oppression sickness.   

“Thousands of deaths and no one cares! No one cares – except us,” an emotional Bottini told Andy Sacher of the Lavender Effect about the early days of AIDS.  “That was inhuman what was really happening to gay men. It was inhuman how they were demonized.” 

Throughout her life, each heightened moment fraught with systemic classism, sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia exploded into a personal epiphany, emerging in her artist’s conscious as empathy for others, especially in recent years, over the profound and ubiquitous discrimination experienced by transgender youth

In a 2017 interview, Los Angles Blade publisher Troy Masters asked Bottini: “If your life were a book, what would the title be?”

Ivy Bottini with Judith V. Branzburg before interview and book signing in West Hollywood. (Photo by Jon Viscott)

“Give ‘em Hell,” Bottini replied. In fact, the book about her life, as told to Judith V. Branzburg, Ph.D., has a more expansive title: “The Liberation of Ivy Bottini: A Memoir of Love and Activism.”  It opens with a March 17, 2016 gathering at the West Hollywood Public Library where Bottini was being honored by Hollywood NOW and California NOW under the theme “The Unsinkable Feminist Spirit of Ivy Bottini” during a week of being honored for her life’s work. “I guess that since I was eighty-nine years old, people figured if they were inclined to honor me at all, they had better do it before I croaked,” she wrote. 

Bottini’s history with the National Organization for Women was itself historic, helping found and led the first chapter of NOW in New York in 1968. The following year, she designed the national NOW logo at the request of then-NOW President Aileen Hernandez. 

“We were challenging things that women had lived with for years, centuries, and never questioned. And here we were questioning some of the most basic beliefs about women,” Bottini said in a 2015 interview broadcast by MSNBC.  “One of the things I thought about when I joined NOW was ‘maybe I’ll meet a real lesbian’ because I had no clue who was a lesbian. I thought I was the only one. And I thought the Women’s Movement can’t be for just straight women. It’s got to include lesbians. They’re women! Women are women — it doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation is.” 

It was a long hard road to that revelation. Bottini was born on August 15,1926 to Long Island cab driver and former boxer Archie Gaffney and his “unhappy” housewife, Ivy. An only child, Bottini was an athletic tomboy with a penchant for art. Life was good until her father died in a car crash in 1944. Bottini was 18 and suddenly money was short. In an extremely lucky stroke for young women at the time, she got a full scholarship to the Pratt Institute of Art and Design to study advertising, graphic design and illustration.

After graduation, she worked in New York City art and advertising agencies, and following the inevitable plan for all women of the era, in 1952, she married the young man across the street, Eddie Bottini, had two daughters, Laura and Lisa, and silently struggled with her attraction to women. 

“After falling in love with all my gym teachers—that was a clue—and with all other teachers in grammar school and then junior high and high [school], I really was struggling growing up with how I felt about girls and women,” Bottini told the Los Angeles Blade in 2019.  “I was still falling in love with women quietly, silently.”

{Photo of young Ivy Bottini via Elaine Estelle Suranie.)

In 1955, Bottini got a job as an art director and illustrator at the Long Island newspaper Newsday. Eleven years later, in 1966, Newsday reporter Dolores Alexander told Bottini about her an interview with Betty Friedan, whose book “The Feminine Mystique” was all the rage.” Dolores took Bottini to a women’s meeting in New York City “and soon I was helping to found the first chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW)” with Dolores. Bottini also joined national NOW where she served on the board for three years.

Meanwhile, Bottini finally mustered up enough courage to call an old closeted lesbian school friend to take her to a gay bar. Eventually, she asked a woman to dance. “That changed my life that evening. I just felt when I walked in there by myself, I felt like I had walked into my home, where I was supposed to be. So, over the next handful of years, I struggled,” she told the LA Blade.

Ivy Bottini (Photo Credit: One Institute) 

By September 1968, “I just had had it,” living a secret double life. Ivy Bottini had a breakdown — that led to a breakthrough. “I was on the Long Island Railroad in a snowstorm coming back from a New York NOW meeting and when we got to Garden City, I just got off the train,” Bottini said. It was cold. Struggling, she found a payphone, called her psychiatrist, and through tears, explained her circumstances. “I can’t go home anymore. And he said, ‘sorry,’ and hung up. And so I yelled out—it was late at night—I yelled out ‘fuck you!’ I was so angry at him.” She called a friend in Levittown who took her in. She told her husband she couldn’t come home as long as he was there.

Eventually he left but they didn’t actually divorce until 1972. Bottini secured a condo on the Upper Westside. Her daughter Laura moved in with her while Lisa moved in with her dad. “My life became totally different in one fell swoop.” Bottini came out inadvertently in 1968. She was answering a question at a NOW/NY press conference when, without realizing it, she referred to herself as a lesbian. “I accepted that I was a lesbian and as I accepted this, my life changed considerably.” 

That awareness led to action and intense interest from other NOW chapters in her consciousness raising groups. In 1969, Bottini put together a panel called “Is Lesbianism a Feminist Issue?” The place was packed. “Oh my god. I think I’ve hit sort of a nerve,” she said later.

NOW Takeover of Statue Of Liberty, Aug. 10, 1970
(Photo Credit: The Library of Congress)

Bottini organized the infamous Aug. 10, 1970 NOW/NY three-hour takeover of the Statue of Liberty, unfurling a banner “Women of the World Unite!” from the base. She also organized the Aug. 26, 1970 Women’s Strike for Peace and Equality commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. 

That spectacular women’s march down Fifth Avenue drew an estimated 50,000 people. But it also signaled ugly trouble ahead. When Bottini handed out lavender armbands to show solidarity with the oppression of lesbians, feminist leaders such as Gloria Steinem accepted them but Betty Friedan, the “mother” of the feminist movement, threw the armband on the ground and twisted it with her heel.

“My point was, ‘How can you have a women’s movement and leave a huge amount of women out?’” Bottini later told the Los Angeles Times. “But Friedan just never got that. She doesn’t understand that lesbianism is the bottom line of the women’s movement. If you can’t get past the fear of being thought of as a lesbian, whether you are or not, then you never are really free….Sexual politics is civil rights.” 

Friedan called Bottini a “lavender menace” and plotted a “purge” of lesbians, maneuvering to get Bottini voted out of NOW leadership. The LA Times notes that in a subsequent 1973 Friedan essay in New York Times Magazine “smacked of downright paranoia; Friedan even claimed a woman was sent to seduce her and then blackmail her into silence while unnamed lesbians took over NOW.” Bottini left NOW and left New York for Los Angeles in 1971.

She shifted her focus to the growing Gay Liberation movement and turned her pain into insightful comedy and acting, studying at the famous Lee Strasberg Institute in Hollywood (before moving to West Hollywood in 1978). That yielded a lesbian feminist one-woman show called “The Many Faces of Woman” which she took on tour around the country for several years – two decades before Eve Ensler’s groundbreaking play The Vagina Monologues in 1994.

“It showed the craziness that women face and society puts on them,” Bottini says in the MSNBC video. “I talked about things that many women are not supposed to talk about like menstruation and birth control and contraception, and the gynecologist visit and lesbian dates. I was breaking ground that no other comedian in this country was doing. I swear to you it’s true: nobody was doing what I was doing. And it was consciousness raising.”

While the 1970s generally associated with disco and sexual freedom, the era was also a hothouse for politics with civil rights turning into liberation movements, including Women’s Liberation and Gay Liberation after the Stonewall Rebellion. And Bottini was in the thick of it.

In 1976, America’s Bicentennial, she was hired as the Women’s Program Director at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center, which led to her long association with Center co-founder Morris Kight.  In 1975, Kight co-founded the Stonewall Democratic Club, with Bottini joining shortly thereafter. Politicos were eying a significant change in the cultural landscape as evangelical Christian conservatives started speaking out against gay rights.

Then, in 1977, came the 10.0 earthquake. A new religious group called the Moral Majority, led by a publicity seeking Rev. Jerry Falwell and orange juice shill Anita Bryant, used their “Save the Children” crusade to overturn a gay rights ordinance in Dade County, Florida. The Christian Right, which had come to the fore through efforts to Stop the ERA [the Equal Rights Amendment] and overturn Roe v Wade which gave reproductive rights to women, was reborn as a loud and crass anti-LGBTQ grassroots political movement. 

MECLA (Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles) was founded in 1977 as the nation’s first gay political action committee to press legislators on gay and lesbian rights, just as the “Save the Children” crusade was exported to California.  Bottini and Kight organized the Coalition for Human Rights to fight the ugly anti-gay ballot initiative, championed by State Senator John Briggs whose anti-gay attempts had failed in the legislature. Proposition 6 proposed banning gays, lesbians and their supporters from employment in public schools.

The No on Proposition 6 campaign was formed, chaired by MECLA co-chair Diane Abbitt in the South and San Francisco Supervisor candidate Harvey Milk in the North. They hired the consulting firm of David Mixner and Peter Scott as campaign managers — and the managers hired Bottini to serve as the Southern California Deputy Director. Jeanne Córdova a second-wave feminist who also came out in 1968, was media director.  Prop 6/Briggs Initiative was overwhelmingly defeated in November 1978, with help from Republican Gov. Ronald Reagan, who had been convinced to oppose the measure.

After the Briggs Initiative victory, newly re-elected Gov. Jerry Brown made a number of historic gay appointments: Stephen Lachs to the LA Superior Court in 1979; Rand Schrader to the LA Municipal Court in 1980; and in 1981, Mary Morgan to the San Francisco Municipal Court and Ivy Bottini, 55, to the California Commission on Aging, the first “out” lesbian or gay person to be appointed to a California board or commission.

Bottini met successful real estate broker and 12 Step fixture Gail Wilson during the fight against the Briggs Initiative. Wilson and her gay partner held a conference during which they told the audience not to come out, just do your jobs. “I thought I was going to go through the roof because that’s exactly why we were being attacked — because they never thought we’d fight back,” Bottini told the LA Blade. “So, I was at odds with Gail. I got up and spoke and I didn’t mince any words. And I thought, ‘well, she’s gonna hate me for the rest of her life.’” 

Instead, Wilson changed Bottini’s life. “She was a wonderful, magnanimous human being. And she said to me a month or so later, ‘what are you gonna do [with your life]’? I said, ‘well I don’t know. I guess I’ll go back to the Center.’ She said, ‘No, no, don’t do that. Go get your real estate license and come work with me in my real estate office. I said, ‘okay.’ I mean, you show me a door that’s open and I’m gonna walk through it, ya know?” Bottini became one of Wilson’s top sales brokers. 

Meanwhile, the Moral Majority spawned other rightwing conservatives, who elected Reagan president in 1980. As a reward, Reagan gave the anti-gay haters administration posts and when a mysterious disease started killing gay men, they did nothing. 

In 1982, Ken Schnorr, an old friend from Long Island, collapsed and died a week later. His mother called Bottini, freaked out about all the black and blue marks on his body, thinking the hospital hurt him. 

“After Ken died, something said to me there is more to this than we see,” Bottini said. “So, for some reason, I just picked up the phone and called the CDC. I had never done that before. ‘Look, this just happened to my friend. Do you have any answers? The hesitancy at the other end of the line, the hemming and the hawing before they would say anything — I just knew it was bad.” 

The CDC official explained the bruises as Kaposi sarcoma, usually found in elderly Jewish men. “And that was the explanation,” she said. “I got off and thought, ‘no, this doesn’t make sense because Ken was one of three first guys diagnosed with Kaposi in town, in West Hollywood, in L.A., and that started me on working to find out what the hell was going on. It was just horrible.” 

Shortly after Schnorr’s death, Rep. Henry Waxman, aided by his gay deputy Tim Westmoreland, held the first congressional hearing on what was then called GRID — Gay Related Immune Deficiency – at the Gay Community Services Center on Highland Ave.  “We all met in the lobby and under the stairs on the first floor,” Bottini said. “Waxman’s basic message was spread the word: nobody really knows how it’s passed.”   

After a couple weeks with no action, Bottini decided to hold a town hall. She called Dr. Joel Weisman, Schnorr’s doctor, to help inform the community. “Nobody really had a clue. But I felt very early on that it was bodily fluids. That’s the only thing that made sense to me. Because if it was airborne women would be getting it, everybody would be getting it and that wasn’t happening,” Bottini said. 

Fiesta Hall in Plummer Park was jam-packed. “It was all guys — and Dottie Wine (Bottini’s girlfriend) and I. And Joel talked about transmission and he believed it was bodily fluids, too. And I thought, ‘I’m not crazy.’”

The next year, in 1983, Bottini founded AIDS Network LA, the first AIDS organization in Los Angeles. It served as a clearing house for collecting and disseminating information. In 1984, Bottini helped co-found  AIDS Project Los Angeles, now APLA Health.  

Though the love remained, a three-year feud blew up between Bottini and Kight, who did not believe HIV/AIDS disease was transmitted by bodily fluids. Kight changed his mind just in time to reconcile and fight the 1986 Lyndon LaRouche Prop 64 AIDS quarantine initiative that would “put gay men behind chain linked fences.” Bottini was Southern co-chair for the statewide No on Prop 64 campaign; Córdova helmed media relations. The initiative went down to a stunning defeat and Bottini spent much of the rest of the 80s organizing marches, “die-ins” and protests to get funding and services for those impacted by the AIDS epidemic.

Ivy Bottini with Ruth Tittle and members of the West Hollywood Lesbian Gay Advisory Board (Photo courtesy Ruth Tittle)

The work continued into the 1990s, interspersed with painting and Bottini receiving the Drama-Logue Award for “Best Performance” in her play, “Against the Rising Sea.” She also joined the City of West Hollywood’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board in 1999, serving as board co-chair for ten years. Her work there included bringing attention to domestic violence abuse in the LGBTQ community, helping focus attention on the crystal meth crisis, and supporting the annual Dyke March.

Bottini also conceived and spearheaded the first effort to provide affordable housing for gay and lesbian seniors, culminating in the founding of the nonprofit Gay & Lesbian Elder Housing in 2005. “I’d laid the groundwork by organizing the community  and provided the leadership that resulted in obtaining a grant from the State to move forward with the housing project,” known as Triangle Square in Hollywood, Bottini said.  And she kept at it, telling a rally in 2018 to “get off your asses” and vote! 

Bottini grieved her beloved West Hollywood before health issues forced her to move to Florida. “What I think I am going to miss most is the camaraderie in the city and the access to the city council and that a very palpable vision could be fed into the city council and the city council would start to take it on and then come back to the community to make sure there’d be discussion,” Bottini said. “That doesn’t happen anymore but that’s what I will miss. I will miss walking down the street and knowing most everybody that I pass. Now I know hardly know one person.” 

Asked how she’d like to be remembered, Bottini told the LA Blade: “I’d like to be remembered as someone who had a really good sense of humor and could find something funny or strange or out of the ordinary in just about everything I worked on. The early city was creatives. We’re not creative anymore — we’re not. We’re not creating anything.”

Ivy Bottini, Judith V. Branzburg and Torie Osborn at WeHo book signing (Photo by Jon Viscott) 

Bottini also appreciated being appreciated. At a packed book signing, “people came up to me and say things like ‘I’ve been watching what you do for 30 years.’ Or ‘you don’t remember me but 20 years ago…’ There were a lot of memories that came to me. I’m not saying I remembered everything they were talking about – the politics, the conscious raising, the comedy — but they did.” And always there were gay men who approached her and said, “we never met but you saved my life with that town hall.” 

“I had no clue how I touched the people in the city. I can be kind of hard-nosed sometimes when I speak. Sometimes I’d come home and go, ‘oh, maybe I shouldn’t have said that.’ But none of that hit me” after the book signing. 

“It was like this huge family reunion,” Bottini said. “They were remembering how I had change their life. And that was the reason that I was doing things. I was trying to save their lives. I saw the danger that we were about to get hit with while we were walking through [life]. And it was happening and we didn’t even know it — people’s lives were just being torn apart with deaths and children being taken away from lesbian mothers and…It was too much. I saw a tapestry of hurt and that’s what I was fighting. It all adds up to being able to live a life of safety and not live a life of fear.”

Editor’s Note: Ivy Bottini was a significant woman pioneer in the LGBTQ movement and her story touches upon every aspect of a significant time in the history of the long fight for Equality for LGBTQ people. In part 2 of Karen Ocamb’s tribute, Bottini’s friends remember.

Friends remember

Friends react to Ivy Bottini’s death, on the day the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act

Ivy Bottini, Jeanne Cordova, E. Lynn Harris, Don Kilhefner, Pat Rocco, Rev. Troy Perry at Wells Fargo Bank in West Hollywood unveiling of mural of LGBTQ pioneers (Photo by Karen Ocamb)


“She lived this incredible life. I mean, her history with the women’s movement, as well as the lesbian movement in America and the larger LGBTQ movement was just incredible. As far as I’m concerned, she was a real pioneer in making a difference than all of our lives. Both Ivy and Morri [Kight] were excellent spokespersons for our community. But she had a knack for being able to throw one-liners out, too, so she could quickly stop nonsense by saying something funny. 

People don’t realize — it took me having lesbians like Ivy who made me realize that women even had another layer than I did as a gay man. They could be smart as a whip, for example, and work for a bank but always hit that glass ceiling. The bank would say – and this actually happened with one of my church members — you know, we would love to make you a general manager. I mean, you’re a smart as a whip. You do all this, but you’re not married. She couldn’t say, ‘yes, but I’m a lesbian. I’m not going to leave.’ Because they were trying to say, ‘you’ll get married and you will have children and leave us. And we don’t want to invest in women.’ Or she’d say, ‘well, I’m a lesbian. I’m not going to get married.’ And they’d say,  ‘Oh, we’re going to fire you.’ That was the difference right there. With gay men, we were not questioned much about our sexual health as much as you might think….One of our clergy, Frieda Smith, told me how she worked in a store and she ran their dark room developing photographs and her boss would sexually harass her. She really woke me up to things, too. 

Ivy should be remembered as a strong woman who have made a difference, not only in women and lesbian rights, but for all of us. And with NOW, she also was an incredible example of not giving up the fight, even if there’s an organization that doesn’t want you there.” 

Rev. Troy Perry, Founder of MCC – Metropolitan Community Church (Ivy’s church), co-Founder of Christopher Street West, longtime gay activist.

Rev. Troy Perry, Diane Abbitt, Ivy Bottini, Phillip Ray De Blieck, and Dottie Wine at an event at the One Institute (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Ivy Bottini stepped into my life a few weeks short of 46 years ago, at a NOW Consciousness Raising Conference in San Francisco. Things have not been the same since! She was a multifaceted difference-maker and spoke out when she observed injustices. She was a visionary who could see dangers before evident – think John Briggs and AIDS – and took action, often at great resistance from other community activists. She loved to mentor young people and others new to the addiction of activism and watch them claim their own power to make a difference.

Never seeking accolades and recognition, both flowed her way as others recognized and appreciated her value to the many causes she impacted.

So honored and proud to have experienced so much of life with Ivy.  So much more could be said, but it will have to wait. Except, I love you, Ivy!”

Dottie Wine

Ivy Bottini and Dottie Wine in 1986  (Photo via Elaine Estelle Suranie.)
Ivy Bottini and Dottie Wine with Rep. Adam Schiff and LA County Assessor Jeffrey Prang at Mayor’s LA Pride party (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

“No on 6 was the first time that our community was targeted by a statewide ballot initiative in any state. It was also the first time we came together as a community and organized and fought back. Ivy had a history of fighting back when she was in New York. Then NOW called her a ‘lavender menace’ and threw her out. She was always a grassroots person — she always wanted to fight for full equality for our community. And when you look at her life, that’s exactly what she did. That was who she was.”

Diane Abbitt, MECLA board co-chair, No on Prop 6 campaign co-chair, Equality California board co-chair.

Ivy Bottini, Bernadette Abbruzze, and Diane Abbitt at a WeHo event. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

“I’m devastated by the loss. It feels like the end of an era of a certain kind of activism, that Ivy represents. On a deeply personal level, she was my earliest political mentor. I was still in my 20s when we first met. She took me under her wing and taught me so much. At I time when I was still learning about oppression sickness, Ivy taught me not only about male privilege & white privileged, but about class privilege (in the context of the Gay Academic Union). Her wisdom and maturity saw me through many personal, political, and professional crises. I’ll miss her so much.

We expect to have a ZOOM event soon, to honor Ivy. We’re also hoping to curate an exhibit of her art as soon as we can safely do so.”

Teresa DeCrescenzo, executive director of GLASS.

The “Supreme Court Photo” with Robert Arthur, Ivy Bottini, Quentin Crisp, Morris Kight, and Patricia Nell Warren taken at home of Victor Burner. 1994.
(Photo courtesy ONE Institute)

“I have so many memories with Ivy. We served 12 years together on the WeHo Lesbian Gay Advisory board, ending around 2014/2015. Something that always stood out was Ivy’s drive for activism. She loved seeing the younger generations on the board. She was always telling them ‘we need to get in the streets!’ Since then, I venture to say that many off those younger generations have been “in the streets”.

Above is a picture of Ivy, me, and some of LGAP members in, I believe, 2014.”

Ruth Tittle, business leader, philanthropist, activist.  

“Ivy Bottini was a great lesbian feminist activist. I am sure that at the very minute she passed, her best butch buddy, Jeanne Cordova, reached down to help her up.”

Robin Tyler, business leader, activist, comedienne, marriage equality plaintiff

Ivy Bottini, Robin Tyler, Jeanne Cordova don mustaches Ivy got as a gag gift at a Christmas party at Cordova and Lynn Balin’s house. (Photo via Elaine Estelle Suranie)
Ivy Bottini, Jean O’Leary, Jeanne Cordova, Robin Tyler (Photo courtesy Robin Tyler) 

“Ivy Bottini changed my life in ways too numerous to mention.  It all really started around the year 2000 when she said to me after I ran into her at an event, ‘Kid, you need a mentor!’  I had known Ivy for a few years prior to that as an artist and as my landlord, and we had lost contact for a few years but after 2000 I started to spend more time with her and learned about her life as an activist. Little did I know that when I accepted her gift to be my mentor that I would gain a family member, a colleague, a confidant, a teacher, a trusted advisor and a dear, dear, dear friend. 

I find solace in knowing that the loved ones no longer with us and whom she introduced me to over the years have greeted her on the other side today.  An army of LGBT activists who have waited patiently to be reunited with our wonderful friend.  I feel an obligation to Ivy, to stay involved in the work to make this a better world.” 

Sue Sexton, Director of Development & Marketing at ONEgeneration, West Hollywood Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board member.

Sue Sexton and Ivy Bottini (Photo courtesy Sue Sexton) 

 “I first met Ivy in Justin Smith’s acting class. I was new to the LA lesbian and gay community, but I had heard about Ivy: she was ‘the talk.’ We hit it off immediately. I was drawn to her passion for equality, her passion for true expression of self. In Justin’s class we were able to play all the characters — it didn’t matter the gender. We all got to know each other and ourselves. Ivy directed me in a scene from “Kennedy’s Children.” I played the Marilyn Monroe character. We laughed and reminisced about this experience often.

It was in this class that I understood how much Ivy enjoyed acting, performing on any level — but she loved theatre. I started The Ivy Theatre specifically to give voice to lesbian playwrights so that ‘our’ life experiences could be portrayed on the stage. We could play all roles if we chose to because we could. Ivy embodied ‘female voice’ — one of such strength and direction, one of compassion and passion — a voice that could lift one up and shut one down when necessary. A voice that said it like it was a voice of ‘Truth to Power!’ That’s what I wanted in my theatre company and that’s why The Ivy Theatre was born. 

There is currently a play that is being developed by Austin writer Kathy Center based on a short story I wrote where the lead character is based on Ivy. It’s interesting because Kathy didn’t know Ivy and so she read about her and one of Ivy’s quotes that moved Kathy the most was ‘if something needs to be done, you just do it.’ No truer words.”

Marian Jones, founder and artistic director of The Ivy Theatre (1996-2006).

Marian Jones with Ivy Bottini (Photo courtesy Marian Jones)

“What I loved best about Ivy was her unapologetic passion for grassroots activism. Especially feminism and LGBT rights. She hated elitism and loved regular, everyday people. I worked with her over the years – I remember best her passionate speeches for No on 64/No on LaRouche – the heinous ballot measure in 1986 that would have quarantined people living with HIV/AIDS. I worked on the campaign and Ivy was our most effective weapon. We’d send her to speak at a church, a rally, any crowd anywhere – and she’d bellow her fierce opposition, rile up the troops, persuade allies, and raise tons of support and money. 

On a personal note, she was a fierce supporter of my valiant insurgent campaign for CA Assembly in 2012. I’ll never forget Ivy in her mobile chair, festooned in Torie! stickers, wheeling at full speed around the Democratic convention in Feb 2012, buttonholing anyone who would listen about how great I was, how angry she was the gay Speaker supported a straight woman over me…she didn’t give a hoot what anyone thought of her boisterous loud voice. 

Ivy was fierce. And a fixture in WeHo and LA queer and feminist politics for decades. I’ve missed her since she moved to Florida. The world is quieter and less vibrant without her.”

Torie Osborn, longtime progressive activist.

Tories Osborn with Ivy Bottini at the Macha Theater in West Hollywood in 2012
(Photo courtesy The Outlaugh Comedy Festival, via Facebook)

“Ivy and I became friends after we were both invited to speak at APLA on the same panel. I could hear her at the end of the table but couldn’t see her around the people between us, she was so short! I just loved what she was saying, her ideas. Afterwards, I introduced myself and asked if I could take her to lunch sometime. She thought I was hitting on her and said yes.

It was the beginning of a thirty-year friendship based on a shared sense of humor about life, political activism, strong opinions, creativity and her wondering when we would start dating. Our banter was effortless. We have traveled together, spent time with each other’s families and have shut down countless restaurants talking late into the night. She painted my portrait in 2005 — her last portrait just before her eyes took another turn toward darkness.

Ivy was one of the most interesting, funny, and astute people I have ever known.”

Producer Elaine Estelle Suranie.

Elaine Estelle Suranie with Ivy Bottini via Facebook 

“I remember reading about Ivy in the LA Times back in ’75 when I was 10. ‘Bottini comes on like a carload of sinners at a revival meeting. She prances onstage, amid bright lights… No shoes, no props. Just Ivy, her wit, and her microphone…’ I remember thinking, ‘I have to meet that woman someday.’ Who would have known that our paths would cross in so many ways. In the ’80’s, I got my mother to hire her to be our real estate agent…my attempt to expose my mother to lesbians who were successful and not living tortured lives. Years later, through my circle of friends, I was able to enter her circle of friends. Learning about the world through her eyes is a gift that, at the moment, is beyond my ability to describe. Her tenacity, fearlessness, and good humor are lessons for us all to live by.”

Jeannette Bronson, Administrator at LA County Dept of Children and Family Services, Founder of Black Lesbians United.

Ivy Bottini and her large circle of friends (Photo via Elaine Estelle Suranie.)

Ivy was a source of strength for women and others who were trying to break free and define themselves as equal players in our nation. Despite being ousted by NOW for being a lesbian, she never gave up the fight for equality for women. In later years, she partnered with Morris Kight to help move the LGBT community into the awareness of the political class. She was a mencha, a friend and a supreme artistic soul. She was a great mentor to me.”

Eric C. Bauman, past president Stonewall Democratic Club and former Chair California Democratic Party.

Ivy Bottini and friends (Photo by and courtesy Ann Bradley.)

Ivy Bottini was a triumphant force of nature. When I first moved to Los Angeles, she was one of the first people who reached out to me to welcome me with open arms and to give me access to her world. She transformed our nation; she transformed women’s rights; she transformed LGBT rights; and she kept going. She was a force of nature during the AIDS crisis and a transformative figure for West Hollywood and so much more. I will miss her. I will miss her phone calls. I will miss her energy. I will miss her love. Rest in peace, Ivy.”

Troy Masters, publisher of the Los Angeles Blade.

Los Angeles Blade publisher Troy Masters gives Ivy Bottini her Blade award after a farewell event at the ONE Institute in 2019. (Photo courtesy WeHo Times.)

“Ivy wasn’t necessarily a mentor to me.  She was a friend.  But she was a friend who I would go to to get a different perspective on the directions that I already knew I was going to go in.  My friendship with Ivy was dear and it was close, but her frustration with me was also funny and a perfect example of who she is

About 2 months before she passed, our last phone call — we talked about some political something or other that I was involved with. Ivy was always so angry at me for not being more angry, for trying to be diplomatic.  We talked and talked and talked and when it was time to hang up, we said our ‘I love You. I’ll talk with you soon’ and Ivy THOUGHT she hung up……which enabled me to hear her say in that Ivy Long Island accent: ‘WHY does she ask me if She NEVER takes my ADVICE! I can’t remember the exact words but it was definitely her frustration with my lack of BullsHornOut style of confrontation.  I hung up the phone and literally laughed out loud.  I treasure those last words from her. 

Ivy was angry at me for not being angrier and I was often angry with her for not being angry at things that DID get me angry.  And that’s how our friendship grew as we shared our little office at Frontier’s Magazine.”

Marna Deitch, Founder of Motorcycle Contingent for Equality and Ivy’s friend for close to 20 years.

Marna Deitch w Ivy Bottini (photo courtesy Marna Deitch) 

And lest we forget this valuable friendship: 

Karen Ocamb is an award winning veteran journalist, the former news editor of the Los Angeles Blade & a longtime chronicler of LGBTQ+ lives in Southern California.

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West Hollywood to pay tribute to lesbian feminist icon Ivy Bottini Sunday

West Hollywood officials are honoring Ivy on Sunday, Feb. 28 from 3 p.m. – 4 p.m. at Kings Road Park, 1000 N. Kings Road

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Ivy Bottini & West Hollywood Mayor Lindsey Horvath
(Photo Credit: Twitter account of Lindsey Horvath)

Ivy Bottini’s passing on Thursday morning came as no real surprise to her scores of friends who quietly shared that the 94-year old lesbian activist/artist icon had been moved into hospice care at her daughter’s home in Florida.

Nonetheless, the finality of her death seemed sudden, like a surprise punch to the solar plexus. It was as if Ivy’s death marked the end of an era in which the debate over assimilation versus fitting into the mainstream majority culture spilled out into the streets; where the courage to come out, to stand up and identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual came with a huge price tag. In fact, it could cost you your life.   

Today, folks in the transgender community feel that fear and summon that courage everyday they walk out the door and face a dangerous and deadly unknown. Ivy knew that, which is why she stood with the young trans women who complained so loudly about being dissed by Christopher Street West – but whose challenge fell on deaf corporate-bought ears until they got backup and the whole of Pride LA necessitated rethinking. 

I’ve known Ivy Bottini since I started writing for the “gay” press in the late 1980s. Since her death, I’ve been talking to a lot of her friends about her – not only what she did but who she was. I do not want to simply rewrite what I’ve already written for years or pull bullet points from Wikipedia – I need to put Ivy into a proper context for the sake of kickass lesbian visibility in our community history. I hope my essay, which I expect to post Monday morning, will serve as an interesting piece for young LGBTQ folks, in particular. 

Meanwhile, West Hollywood officials are honoring Ivy with an hour-long reading of sections from her biography on Sunday, Feb. 28  from 3 p.m. – 4 p.m. at Kings Road Park, 1000 N. Kings Road, near the apartment where the beloved longtime WeHo resident once lived. The event will be hosted on Facebook by WeHo Councilmembers Sepi Shyne and John Erickson, with WeHo Women’s Advisory Board member Karen Andros Eyres.  

Another memorial is being planned by Ivy’s longtime friend Terry DeCrescenzo and gal-pal Dottie Wine. 

It is understandable that WeHo would want to honor Ivy in their own fashion. Ivy served as both a mentor to councilmembers, staff and volunteers and a chastising curmudgeon at council meetings when she thought they failed to meet the standards of her vision of equality. 

WeHo Mayor Lindsey Horvath tweeted;

Today, we lost a titan in our queer and feminist communities. Ivy Bottini graced us with her infatigable spirit for the past 94 years and made her indomitable presence known wherever she called home…. 

Luckily, Ivy called @WeHoCity home for decades. We are grateful for her imprint on our city & the fight for full equality for women & LGBTQIA community. I’m incredibly lucky to have had a personal relationship w/ an icon who blazed trails for generations to come…. 

Her artwork hangs in my home, her voice shows up in my thoughts, her spirit will always be in my heart. We will lower the flags in West Hollywood in honor of Ivy on Monday, which is (fittingly) also the start of Women’s History Month. May she rest in power. #RIP #IvyBottini 

New Councilmember Sepi Shyne, a married lesbian, emailed me a quote:

“The community lost a legend. I lost a friend and mentor.

I got to know Ivy when I ran my first campaign for City Council in 2019. I met her for the first time in her apartment and we sat down on her kitchen table where she grilled me all about the West Hollywood issues she cared about; over development, the rising cost of living, women’s rights and shrinking green space. A week later she called to let me know she is endorsing me and we talked often in the following months. I haven’t had many Lesbian mentors in my life, but she quickly become mine as well as a dear friend. I will miss her very much.”

Karen Ocamb is an award winning veteran journalist, the former news editor of the Los Angeles Blade & a longtime chronicler of LGBTQ+ lives in Southern California.

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