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PASSAGES Feminist writer, activist Jeanne Cordova dies
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond
2016-01-11

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Pioneer feminist, activist, journalist, publisher and LGBT media figure Jeanne Cordova passed away Jan. 10 at the age of 67.

According to Frontiers Media, Cordova died peacefully at her Los Angeles home in the early hours of the morning. Her spouse Lynn Ballen and friends were at her side.

"I have always been fascinated by how a noisy swelling called a social movement arrives on the doorstep of an individual's life and how she responds to it," Cordova began in her 2011 memoir of love and revolution When We Were Outlaws. "Most ignore the calling of the unfathomable energies of our times. For the rest of us—how does one recognize a social movement when it comes calling at your door? And what greatness or despair might follow should you open the door and invite it into your life?"

Cordova's life served as the quintessential answer to that question—one seeded from the moment she joined the Immaculate Heart of Mary order of nuns immediately out of high school and was inspired by the social justice work of the Sisters to become a community organizer and activist for the lesbian and gay communities.

As others were protesting the war in Vietnam, Cordova was already thinking ahead to the next great civil rights frontier.

"I realized that one day, the lesbian and gay struggle, as we called it then, had to grow into a mass movement," Cordova told journalist contributor Sarah Toce in Gay Press, Gay Power. "I wondered if we ever would or could become as big as this anti-war movement."

It could well be argued that Cordova's founding of the national newsmagazine The Lesbian Tide was fundamental to the realization of that prediction. According to her biography it gave "voice to the new generation of lesbian feminists."

One of those voices belonged to current distinguished visiting writer at Mills College Achy Obejas, who met Cordova in Southern California in 1981.

"I was familiar with The Lesbian Tide and I called them up and volunteered to work for them," Obejas told Windy City Times. "I showed up one weekend afternoon and helped layout the paper. They made a part of the staff and then I wrote for them for years. Jeanne was an extraordinary person. She was very smart about people, organizing and about lesbians. She really got how to move people and how to move things along. She was always more fired up than anybody else in the room and had more endurance for the work that needed to be done."

That work involved becoming the human rights editor of The Los Angeles Free Press, the presidency of the Stonewall Democratic Club, the "accidental" but galvanizing invention of Southern California's Gay and Lesbian Community Yellow Pages and a statewide campaign Destination New York—as Cordova put it "part of a national gay and lesbian effort to seat a record number of queers as official delegates in the 1980 Democratic National Kennedy Carter Convention in New York."

Cordova's published works include The New Age Telephone Book, Square Peg Magazine and books Sexism; It's a Nasty Affair and Kicking the Habit.

"Hidden in the 'ism' of each generation is the seed of the next revolt," Cordova wrote. "So activists beware—understanding what happened yesterday will show you what you can make happen tomorrow."

"One of the really great things about Jeanne was that she did not consider herself indispensable," Obejas said. "I think that's a real mark of visionary maturity. One of the things she was always doing was bringing people up. In the process of bringing into activism and into community and the institutions that she founded she was inevitably displaced by younger people—ironically almost by design. It's part of her generosity that she knew when to move on to the next thing that she did. She knew when to go to the next place. A lot of people have founders syndrome—you found something then you can't let go of it but she was very good about giving people opportunities, training them, giving them the skills and helping them shape a vision and a mindset."

On Sept. 30, 2015, Cordova published a column in Windy City Times in which she confirmed rumors that she had brain cancer.

Yet she was still teaching the generations who would inevitably follow her work.

"You gave me a life's cause," she wrote." It is wonderful to have had a life's cause: freedom and dignity for lesbians. I believe that's what lesbian feminism is really about, sharing. We built a movement by telling each other our lives and thoughts about the way life should be. We cut against the grain and re-thought almost everything. With just enough left undone for our daughters to re-invent themselves. Death should be a part of life. Not hidden, not a secret, something we never said out loud."

In that column, Cordova pledged to "fulfill an early personal vow to give back half of my estate to our movement. I do this with Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice ( out of New York City ) and other organizations. I believe it so critical to our transforming movements to leave our estates to our LBGTQ charities, not some errant heterosexual relation we hardly know!"

"Even in death, she is going to continue to bring people up and help people find their way in the world of activism and organizing—all the things she did, cared about so deeply and into which she recruited so many people," Obejas said. "She had such faith in the essential goodness of the lesbian nation ( to use one of her phrases ). She believed in her blood that all kinds of love was the pinnacle of existence. She was faithful to the idea that lesbians are a very special tribe."

"A constant beacon in my life has been the reimaging of myself, or an entire generation of teens, growing up in a queer affirming world," Cordova wrote in When We Were Outlaws.

Her life gave stride to the LGBT community in the creation of that world. It will echo into each of the countless numbers to come who, like Cordova, will change history for the better.

For more information about the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, visit AstraeaFoundation.org .


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