Prime Timers: A New Age for Activism

From authors and actors to artists and activists, these 25 LGBT prime timers are still on the front lines in the battle for equality and show no signs of slowing down anytime soon.



Don Bachardy, 79, Artist
The younger half of his 33-year-long coupling with author and diarist Christopher Isherwood, Bachardy has been a working artist for five decades. After the start of their controversial relationship (Isherwood was 48 to Bachardy’s 18) Don Bachardy, through force of will, found his own hard-won identity and became the portraitist of note in Southern California. His book Stars in My Eyes (2000) was a collection of his celebrity portraits, often searing and unapologetic. His haunting and unflinching "Last Drawings of Christopher Isherwood," assembled in 1990 is an elegy to his long-term partner, made up of drawings and paintings he created in a frenzy of activity as Isherwood lay dying. And as if attending a cotillion or a debutante ball, many young, handsome men have come to the studio in the house that Isherwood and Bachardy shared in Santa Monica to have their portraits painted — sometimes nude, sometimes not.

Bachardy is a link to two previous generations (at least — he was friends with E.M. Forster) of gay men and women. He knew, drew, and befriended many of the stars of Hollywood’s golden age. He continues to be prominent in the art world. His 1984 portrait of California governor Jerry Brown, commemorating Brown's first tenure in office, still hangs in the state capitol. And he is remarkably prolific and active at 79 — he had a one-man exhibition at Cheim & Read in New York City earlier this year.

He has appeared in a number of documentaries about himself and Isherwood, including the acclaimed Chris & Don: A Love Story, released in 2008. And he had a cameo role in A Single Man, the film by Tom Ford based on Isherwood’s novel about what his life might have been like without Don.


Lee Lynch, 67, Author
It's a testament to the enduring importance and terrific impact of lesbian writer Lee Lynch that she was inducted into the Saints and Sinner Literary Festival's Hall of Fame in 2006, awarded the Golden Crown Literary Society Trail Blazer award for lifetime achievement in 2009, and then the following year given the James Duggins Mid-Career Outstanding Novelist Prize, after more than 45 years of published writing. 

Lynch garnered her first attention as a lesbian writer as a frequent contributor to The Ladder, the earliest national lesbian magazine, in the 1960s; she worked with lesbian icons like Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. Her weekly column, The Amazon Trail, has been syndicated in LGBT and feminist publications since 1986. 

It's ironic that Lynch, who was born in Manhattan in 1945, would rise to fame by authoring a series of novels, short stories, and essays about rural lesbian life, many set on the West Coast (Lynch made rural Oregon her home for many years).

Her very public partnership in the 1980s with artist and photographer Tee Corinne (famed for her labia portraits and The Cunt Coloring Book) made for the original lesbian power couple long before we knew Ellen and Portia. Nearly every lesbian literary figure came through their home, and Lynch recalled, while eulogizing Corinne, that "Ours was a furiously creative household. " Lynch wrote a number of novels and story collections that are still popular today, including That Old Studebaker, Old Dyke Tales, Morton River Valley, and Sweet Creek. Earlier this decade, she released (along with two friends) The Butch Cookbook, featuring well-known butch lesbians offering their best recipes, often with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Several authors, male and female, have been inspired by her work, especially her Bold Strokes Books labelmates, whom she's served as a mentor to in recent years. 

"When I was first discovering my sexual identity, Lee’s novels helped me navigate a mysterious new world of women loving women," recalls Cate Culpepper, the author of eight novels released by Bold Strokes Books. "Her characters were the kind of people I hoped to attract to my life, and her books set a high standard to strive for in my own writing. Among the many vests Lee wears in our community — writer, social activist, archivist, butch cook — she is foremost a natural mentor, inspiring other writers and other gay women to take charge of their craft and their lives."

For many years her primary following was lesbians, but gay men and others have been discovering her work in the past decade.

"Lee Lynch was one of the first lesbian writers I read, and her insightful writing made me rethink a lot of what I knew and believed about feminism, the rights of women, and the overall systemic sexism in our culture and society," says Greg Herren, the award-winning  gay author of Lake Thirteen."She is a national treasure." 

To date, Lynch has written 14 books and coedited two more. She's fast at work on her next novel, the first of a "quartet of novels that start in old Florida and should follow a couple into old age. I hope to know something about the subject by then," she says, laughing. Her most recent novel, The Raid (Bold Strokes), told the stories of a group of gay bar friends and a police raid's impact on them. 

Though many assume Old Dyke Tales, a now-renowned collection of short stories often taught in women's studies courses today, was her first book, her debut was actually the novel Toothpick House, "which I wrote because Barbara Grier felt I needed to have a novel out before she could do a collection," Lynch says. She's one of a handful of authors still alive today who wrote for the legendarily demanding and exacting Naiad publisher.

Lynch and her wife, Elaine, live in Florida these days and are enjoying a world where marriage equality is becoming more commonplace. "Elaine and I both feel financially and socially more secure since the Supremes acknowledged the legitimacy of our relationship," Lynch says. "We were married in Massachusetts a few years ago. The ceremony, attended by both relatives and friends, has, I believe, strengthened our commitment to each other and enabled our families and friends to respect our tie in ways they — and other gay people — might not have in the past. It's difficult for me to adjust to both this new freedom and this new gravity and dignity that comes with marriage. I am glad of the difference."

But marriage doesn't mean that equality is a given, says a woman who was an out lesbian before even the Stonewall Riots happened. "The world has changed for many privileged lesbians in terms of being able to be out in every part of their lives, including work, enlightened families, spiritual practices, motherhood, health care, and on and on," she admits. "For others in, for example blue-collar jobs or poverty, or who follow conservative religions, or who come from repressive cultures and for many others, nothing has changed."

One thing that's changed for her, though, is that at 67, time is marching on, despite how young she feels. "It surprises me that I am seen as old. It's a new suit that doesn't fit quite yet. I enjoy the respect it brings, deserved or not. It makes me sad that so many LGBT folk have not lived long enough to enjoy the fruits of aging."

And her advice to those who are young today? "Don't give up — queer is magical! Celebrate your specialness. Be kind and love one another."