Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Activist Jeanne Córdova dies


Jeanne Córdova
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Lesbian pioneer Jeanne Córdova, who published an early lesbian-feminist newsmagazine, died at her Los Angeles home January 10. She was 67.

The cause was cancer, which had metastasized to her brain, Ms. Córdova said in an open letter last fall that was circulated widely online.

Her life's cause, she wrote, was freedom and dignity for lesbians and she helped achieve that through her activism and writing. Her 2011 memoir, When We Were Outlaws, was called "an important contribution to the burgeoning collection of memoirs by lesbian-feminists" by a reviewer at Lambda Literary.

Ms. Córdova published the Lesbian Tide , an influential lesbian-feminist publication, and later, the Gay and Lesbian Community Yellow Pages.

"This Los Angeles 400-page guide that helped us still-half-hidden people to connect, politically I thought initially, with businesses and professionals that spoke to us within our own identities," Ms. Córdova wrote about the directory in her open letter. She sold it in 1999.

She was also an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Free Press.

Ms. Córdova also organized marches, and later did online organizing to, as she said in her open letter, "include all of me and my Latina identity."

Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel and law and policy project director for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, was close friends with Ms. Córdova.

"Jeanne was a brilliant, charismatic mix of feminist re-visioning and storytelling, of intense, rigorous curiosity, of teasing humor, of self-creation and presentation, and of endless positive possibilities," Pizer said in an email to the Bay Area Reporter. "Again and again, she saw unmet needs – for political or artistic collaboration, or business innovation – and convened a group to address those needs with something new."

Pizer noted that it was a different era when Ms. Córdova published Lesbian Tide.

"When she founded and published the Lesbian Tide , our community didn't have websites and gay-straight alliance school clubs and other ways to find each other," Pizer said. "And our lives and needs were of no interest at all to mainstream media. So the Tide was a hugely important part of how we could see and come to understand ourselves, and build our community, through its coverage of art, politics and everything else that was unfolding at the time."

Pizer said that Ms. Córdova's legacy would be a lasting one.

"Jeanne was a leader by natural gift of personality, and also from growing up as one of the older children with 11 siblings and both parents filled with entrepreneurial spirit," Pizer said. "She pushed herself through to her very last days to make a difference – by telling her truth in dramatic form and by giving her financial resources with thoughtful plans. Her clear-eyed, radically affirming vision and generosity will be inspiring and nourishing positive change for lesbians and gender nonconforming people for a very long time."

According to an obituary in Frontiers , Ms. Córdova bequeathed $2 million to the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice. In a news release, the foundation said that the Jeanne Córdova Fund will offer financial support to national and international organizations focusing on movement building and human rights; journalism; and promoting lesbian culture.

Ms. Córdova is survived by her spouse, Lynn Ballen, and many family members and friends.

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