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15 Lesbians You Should Know About
A Crash Course in Lesbian History
As a pioneering lesbian mom in the '90s, Robin Lowey was thrown for a major loop when she turned 50, her kids grew up, and her long-term relationship ended. She began volunteering for her local LGBT Center, visiting classrooms to dispel myths about LGBTQ people.
After California passed the FAIR Act in 2012, a law requiring the inclusion of LGBT history and social studies in the public school curriculum, she wrote Game Changers: Lesbians You Should Know featuring pioneers over 50 who came out early in their lives.
Her goal? Providing a book to every public high school in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Here are some of our favorite women in the book, complete with illustrations done by Lowey herself.
Being born and raised in San Francisco's Chinatown helped Crystal develop a strong sense of her Chinese identity and cultural pride, which has led her to create safe spaces for past generations to be celebrated for their contributions and for present generations to celebrate their authentic selves as Asian and queer. Ever the community bridge builder, she co-founded API organizations such as OASIS, APIQWTC and the Red Envelope Giving Circle, recognizing and addressing the diverse needs of the Asian Pacific Islander Queer Community. In collaboration with API-Equality-NC, Horizons, APII, GAPA, CPA and the Dragon Fruit Project, she has helped to build an inter-generational movement of "Game Changers" for the future. Crystal is co-founder of the 'Red Envelope Giving Circle,' inviting community members to help create positive social change by financially supporting projects to improve the lives of Asian and Pacific Islander LGBTQ people.
In 1977, Donna Hitchens founded the Lesbian Rights Project, now The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). For 12 years, she litigated civil rights cases and advocated on behalf of lesbians in custody, employment, public accommodations, insurance, and domestic partner cases. As part of the Lesbian Rights Project, in 1982 she wrote and published the Lesbian Mother Litigation Manual. It was distributed nationwide to attorneys defending lesbian mothers in child custody cases. She and her wife Nancy adopted two baby girls during the 1980s. In 1990, the San Francisco Superior Court had no LGBTQ judges, and while there were some gay and lesbian judges who had been appointed to the bench in other parts of the U.S., Donna was the first in the country to gain her position in a countywide, contested election, becoming the first openly lesbian elected judge to the San Francisco Superior Court, where she served for 20 years.
Frances “Franco” Stevens
Frances "Franco" Stevens is the founder the nation's best-selling lesbian magazine, Curve. Now in its 26th year, the magazine reaches almost a quarter-million readers each issue. In addition to being one of the leading pioneers in LGBT media, Stevens has served on the board of directors for a variety of nonprofit organizations, including GLAAD, an organization that works through entertainment, news and digital media to share stories from the LGBTQ community that accelerate acceptance. Franco was a founding board member of the San Francisco LGBT Center and has worked extensively to educate media professionals on the lesbian market. Franco founded and ran Curve (originally called Deneuve) for over 20 years.
She is currently the subject of Ahead of the Curve, a new feature documentary about how she started Curve magazine, and in doing so accelerated the political and social evolution of the nation.
A longtime champion of LGBT cinema, Jenni Olson has been a consultant on dozens of feature films and documentaries. As a well-known filmmaker herself, Jenni's 16mm urban landscape films have been shown around the world, earning acclaim for their unique storytelling style. Her most recent feature-length essay film, The Royal Road, premiered at Sundance in 2015 and is now widely available on DVD and digital. A queer media historian, activist and online pioneer, Jenni was one of the co-founders of PlanetOut and is one of the world's leading experts on LGBT film history.
Raised in Boston, Jewelle Gomez is of Cape Verdean/Ioway/Wampanoag descent and a direct beneficiary of all the progressive political movements. She worked on Say Brother (WGBH-TV), one of the first weekly black television shows in the country. She served on the board of Astraea, the first lesbian foundation, and has been the grant maker for Horizons, the oldest LGBT foundation in the U.S., and is the author of seven books and three plays. Audre Lorde once suggested that Jewelle turn her vampire short stories into a novel. In March 2016, the groundbreaking, sexy vampire novel reached an incredible milestone, with the release of the 25th Anniversary edition of the Gilda Stories.
Born in San Francisco to a Catholic Sicilian dad and an LDS French-Irish mom meant Joan grew up religion-free. Being indecisive about one profession has led Joan to many careers -- her favorites: cooking, sound engineering, back-up singing, voiceover, and she has also produced several concerts. Joan has been out of the closet most of her life. Joan has had the privilege of being in amazing places at extraordinary times: in the recording studio for Cris Williamson's The Changer and the Changed, she worked with Teresa Trull, Linda Tillery, Vicki Randle, Holly Near, June Millington, and others. She co-owned the most amazing cafe the world has ever known -- the Brick Hut in Berkeley, Calif., from 1976-1990, a safe place where the LGBT community gathered to practice activism and create LGBT culture.
Judy founded Olivia Records in 1973, which grew to become one of the industry's leading independent small record labels. Judy produced 40 albums and sold more than one million records by artists such as Cris Williamson, Meg Christian, Teresa Trull, and Linda Tillery. She oversaw the production of hundreds of concerts across the United States, including four sold-out shows at Carnegie Hall. In 1990, she founded Olivia Travel, which has today become the premier travel company for the lesbian community. Olivia has taken over 200,000 women on cruise, resort, riverboat and adventure vacations all over the world.
Judy participates in LGBT causes and organizations across the country including the Human Rights Campaign, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal Defense and others.
Kate Kendell has been the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights for over 20 years. Kendell grew up as a Latter-Day Saint in Utah. After practicing corporate law, she pursued civil rights advocacy and became the first staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. NCLR is a national legal organization that fights for the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families. History was made when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality nationwide after hearing NCLR's Tennessee marriage case and cases from three other states.
Kathy Belge is a professional writer and advice columnist specializing in LGBT issues. She's the co-author of Lipstick & Dipstick's Essential Guide to Lesbian Relationships (Alyson, 2007) and Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens (Zest, 2010). Queer was the first book that celebrated being a queer teen without focusing on the hardships such as STDs and suicide.
She delivered lesbian advice to the readers of Curve magazine for 11 years and About.com for 13 years. She has more than 10 years experience counseling and advocating for LGBT youth and their families.
Kathy founded of Wolfe Video in 1985, the largest exclusive distributor of LGBTQ films. Wolfe supplies movies to all major outlets: Amazon, Netflix, iTunes, Hulu and Showtime, among others. Kathy has been honored by the National Organization for Women with the Excellence in Media Award, by Forbes magazine as an "Up and Comer," by The Advocate as a "Hollywood Star Player" and The San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival's Frameline Award. Additional honors include: The Philadelphia Cinema Alliance's Barbara Gittings Award, the National Center for Lesbian Rights Community Partner Award, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors' Certificate of Honor and the Sarah Dwyer WIA Board of Director's Award.
Marga Gomez is a GLAAD Media Award winner and was named "Agent of Change" by HuffPo in 2015. Robin Williams called her "Amazing...a lesbian Lenny Bruce," and The New York Times described her as "deliciously cheeky and incendiary." Gomez's comedy has been featured on HBO, LOGO, Showtime, Comedy Central, and PBS and she is the author/performer of 12 solo plays that have been presented off-Broadway, nationally, and internationally. Gomez can be seen in season two of the Netflix series Sense8. Marga's one-woman show, Latin Standards, received critical acclaim in The New York Times in 2017.
Mariah Hanson is the founder and producer of the biggest lesbian event on the planet, Club Skirts Dinah Shore Weekend in Palm Springs, an annual, monumental, five-day weekend packed with non-stop activities, spectacular comedy shows, live concerts, activism, massive pool parties, and premier talent in music, film and television. Hanson also continuously utilizes The Dinah as a platform to mobilize the LGBT community around humanitarian projects and social issues. She has partnered with a variety of activist associations such as GLAAD, NOH8, The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, HRC, and Equality California. Now in its 27th year, The Dinah is a trendsetting event that has featured the likes of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Colbie Caillat, India Arie, Iggy Azalea, Mary Lambert, Tegan & Sarah and Elle King -- just to name a few. Mariah owns six horses and is certified in equine assisted learning, the practice of using horses to help heal people.
Monica Palacios is the creator of solo shows, plays, screenplays, short stories, stand-up comedy, poems, and essays featuring the Latinx LGBTQ experience. National and international scholars have critically engaged her work in academic journals, books, dissertations and conference panels. Palacios has received numerous awards for her positive contributions to the Latinx LGBTQ population. October 12, 2012 was declared "Monica Palacios Day" in Los Angeles by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Council members, hororing Monica for her 30-year career as a pioneering Chicana lesbian writer/performer.
For over 35 years, San Francisco Bay Area native Page Hodel has enjoyed success as a radio/nightclub DJ, club promoter, and event producer, establishing her as a world-renowned institution in the music industry. Page's nightclubs, the BOX and Club Q are known as the longest running dance clubs in San Francisco history. Page's weekly art installations project, Monday Hearts for Madalene (an ongoing tribute to her beloved Madalene Louise Rodriguez, who we lost to cancer in 2006), was published into a beautiful book and cardset. In 2015, she was selected as one of 'The One Hundred," an awareness and fundraising initiative created and supported by the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center that celebrates hope in the cancer community.
Terry Wolverton has authored 10 books of fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry, including Embers and Insurgent Muse: Life and Art at the Woman's Building. In 1977, she co-founded the Lesbian Art Project at the Woman's Building. From 1988-1996 she ran the Perspectives Writing Program at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. She continues to teach creative writing at Writers At Work, which she founded in 1997, and in the MFA Writing Program at Antioch University. She's received awards for her writing from the California Arts Council, the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, and the Publishing Triangle
Get game changers for yourself or school!
"Most historians still fail to inscribe the accomplishments of lesbian pioneers in our national textbooks. It's imperative that we find ways for the vanishing late 20th-century lesbian culture to be valued, preserved, and known by future generations." -Game Changer Bonnie J. Morris, in The Disappearing L
Purchase Lowey's fun, large-format book with colorful portraits, a-ha moments, illustrated timelines, and pull-out game cards here.