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Jeanne Córdova: From nun to LGBTQ+ pioneer

Jeanne Córdova: From nun to LGBTQ+ pioneer

Growing up in a strict Catholic home, Jeanne Córdova joined an order as a young woman and became a nun. But the American soon began to question both her faith and her sexuality – and decided to pursue a career as a lesbian activist.

Jeanne Córdova was born on July 18, 1948 in Bremerhaven. She was the eldest of twelve children of a Mexican father and an Irish-American mother. After graduating from high school in Puente, California, she entered the Convent of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1966. But she soon began to question her sexuality and her faith. She left the convent in 1968 and earned her master’s degree in social work at the University of California at the age of 22.

But she began her real career in the field of lesbian and gay rights as president of the Los Angeles chapter of the “Daughters of Bilitis”. “From the beginning, I decided to be a professional lesbian,” she once said of herself. To give other lesbians a voice, she founded “The Lesbian Tide,” which became a national news magazine and the voice of a whole generation of lesbians. In 1971, she also opened the first lesbian center in Los Angeles.

Soon after, Córdova also served on the board of the Los Angeles Gay Community Services Center and wrote and edited for the Los Angeles Free Press. A collection of her columns was published in her 1974 book Sexism — It’s a Nasty Affair. As the gay and lesbian movement became more politically mainstream, she took over as chairman of the Stonewall Democratic Club and led the statewide campaign in California to elect openly gay delegates to the 1980 Democratic National Convention.

Jeanne Córdova founded “homosexual directory”

She founded the “Community Yellow Pages,” which compiled hundreds of gay and lesbian businesses in Southern California into a “gay business directory” and printed 100,000 copies each year. It was designed to offer a choice to consumers looking for companies that would accommodate them without prejudice. “I feel much more comfortable with a gay plumber than with a straight one,” Córdova is said to have told the New York Times in 1989. “I don’t have to walk around the house hiding telltale signs that I’m a lesbian.”

In 1999, she sold her directory and moved to Mexico for a few years, where she and her wife Lynn Harris Ballen founded the Palapa Society of Todos Santos, a non-profit organization for economic justice. She later published her award-winning memoirs When We Were Outlaws; A Memoir of Love & Revolution. As an activist and businesswoman, Jeanne continued to write essays, columns and journalistic articles, and published texts on her personal blog.

Córdova made cancer public in 2015

Córdova and her wife Ballen were married in a civil partnership ceremony in 1995 in front of family and friends before officially marrying in 2013, after same-sex marriage became legal in California.

Córdova’s devout Catholic parents struggled with their daughter’s coming out. As her sister Lu later recounted, she had been estranged from the family for several years. It was only later that she reconciled with her parents, who, however, tried unsuccessfully to win her back to the faith.

In an open letter that she published on her website in September 2015, Córdova explained: “I have had cancer since 2008. Colon cancer.” For the first four years, she dismissed it, “as I often did with physical illnesses or difficulties.” In 2013, the disease returned and first metastasized in the lungs and later in the cerebellum. She had to undergo several operations, radiation and chemotherapy before she died on January 10, 2016 in her home in Los Feliz. She was 67 years old.

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Source: Stern

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