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.

BY Advocate.com Editors

August 27 2013 6:00 AM ET

David Geffen, 70, Film Executive
A Brooklyn native and the son of Jewish immigrants, Geffen moved to Los Angeles as a teenager to pursue a career in entertainment. Although he did not have a college degree, a young Geffen won promotion from the mailroom of the William Morris Agency by pretending to be a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, a lie that allowed him to become a talent agent and, as of today, one of the most powerful gay men in entertainment.

As the founder of Asylum Records in 1970, Geffen has helped launch the careers of Jackson Browne, the Eagles, and many more music luminaries. A decade later, Geffen translated his success to motion pictures by founding his own production company, the Geffen Film Company — later changed to Geffen Pictures — which created Risky Business (1983), Little Shop of Horrors (1986), Beetlejuice (1988), and Interview With the Vampire (1994). With Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, Geffen founded of DreamWorks Studios, which released award-winning films such as Amistad (1997), Saving Private Ryan (1998), American Beauty (1999), and Shrek (2001).

Geffen’s net worth is presently estimated at $6 billion, according to Forbes, and he was featured in Out magazine’s Power List 2013. As a result of his substantial fortune and influence, Geffen has devoted considerable resources to philanthropy — particularly to medical research organizations that focus on HIV and AIDS. Since 2002 he has donated a total of $300 million to the School of Medicine at UCLA, which has changed its name to become the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. In this twist of fate, Geffen has became the largest individual donor to the California university, a school whose name first opened the door to his path to power.

In July, Geffen told The Hollywood Reporter that he intended to give “every nickel” of his money to charity, and he plans to make his donations very public. "I don’t agree that the best giving is anonymous,” said Geffen, 70. “We should be examples to our friends and communities. I should be an example to young, gay kids.”

Although notoriously press-shy, Geffen agreed to participate in a PBS documentary, Inventing David Geffen, which aired last November and can be viewed at PBS.org.

 

Jan Griesinger, 71 and Alix Dobkin, 73, Activists and Codirectors, Old Lesbians Organizing for Change
Old Lesbians Organizing for Change is a national network of lesbians 60 and older, who are leading the fight against ageism in a community that seems ever-fixated on youth and stereotypical beauty. The group believes its members have “a great deal of wisdom, experience, and strength to share with our communities as well as among ourselves,” as stated on its website. And as for that name? Members proudly claim the “old” moniker and reject the assumption that it’s a derogative word.

“We refute the lie that it is shameful to be an ‘old’ woman,” proclaims Old Lesbians on its site. “We name ourselves ‘old lesbians’ because we will no longer accommodate ourselves to language that implies in any way that ‘old’ means inferior. We call ourselves OLD with pride. In doing so, we challenge the stereotypes directly. Thus, we empower and change ourselves, each other, and the world.”

Today, activist Jan Griesinger (age 71) and singer-songwriter Alix Dobkin (age 73) lead the Ohio-based organization as codirectors, overseeing 17 independent chapters nationwide. In addition to publishing a quarterly newsletter and hosting twice-yearly steering committee meetings, Old Lesbians also has a semi-annual national conference to connect its members and brainstorm new, innovative ways to confront ageism. The next conference will take place in Oakland, Calif., July 23-27, 2014, under the title “Lesbian Activism Changing the World: OLOC Celebrates 25 Years.”

Griesinger first discovered Old Lesbians at a national gathering with an older partner in 1996, then formally joined the organization as an intern at age 58 in 2000. In the past 13 years she’s served as a member of its steering committee, and she still travels the country speaking at universities and community centers about the scourge of ageism. In February, Griesinger and an Old Lesbians colleague hosted a luncheon at Ohio University’s Women’s Center.

“We think the damage to old people is that you started feeling like ‘maybe I’m not worth anything, maybe my opinions are not worth anything,’” Griesinger told student newspaper The Post about how ageism affects the community. “‘Maybe I shouldn’t advocate for myself because maybe I’m not remembering what happened’. It can be very damaging for old people.”

Codirector Dobkin has been an out, proud, and loud lesbian since she first created Lavender Jane Loves Women in 1973, which she lauds as the first album by, for, and about lesbians in the history of the world. Since then she’s produced six records, three CDs, and a songbook. Continuing her lifelong legacy as an outspoken advocate for lesbian rights, Dobkin published a retrospective in 2009 called My Red Blood: A Memoir of Growing Up Communist, Coming Onto the Greenwich Village Folk Scene, and Coming Out In the Feminist Movement. Dobkin has sometimes attracted criticism for her staunch defense of women-only spaces, to the exclusion of transgender women, as well as her critiques of postmodernism and sadomasochism. Dobkin published a regular political column in Chicago’s Windy City Times called Minstrel Blood until 2000, which is coincidentally when she joined Old Lesbians. She signed on as a codirector in 2011.

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