Lesbian trailblazer Pat Norman dies

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Monday August 8, 2022
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Pat Norman was lifetime achievement grand marshal in the 2007 San Francisco Pride parade. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Pat Norman was lifetime achievement grand marshal in the 2007 San Francisco Pride parade. Photo: Rick Gerharter

Pat Norman, a trailblazing lesbian in San Francisco who became a "first" in some important city appointments, died August 5 at an assisted living facility in Las Vegas. She was 82.

Karen Langsley, Ms. Norman's former partner, said in a phone interview that Ms. Norman had suffered from dementia for many years and had other health problems. Ms. Norman's longtime friend and the godfather to one of her children, Rupert Kinnard, said that she died in her sleep.

Ms. Norman was the second African American lesbian to serve on the San Francisco Police Commission, to which she was appointed by former mayor Willie Brown. She also served on the fire and human rights commissions. She ran for supervisor three times, and is believed to be the first African American lesbian to do so, but she came up short in her bids for public office.

Ms. Norman spent much of her career working at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, where she was the first out gay or lesbian employee, and later was the longtime executive director at the Institute for Community Health Outreach, which trains outreach workers in the Bay Area and elsewhere.

"She was working at DPH in the Office of Special Problems," recalled Roma Guy, her longtime friend, in a phone interview. She was always welcoming to differences, even if the differences were not named." In other words, Guy said, Ms. Norman was well aware there were community members who identified as something other than gay or lesbian.

"She knew how to listen to those different voices," Guy recalled.

During the AIDS epidemic, Langsley said that Ms. Norman was the coordinator for lesbian and gay health services at DPH.

As a mother who endured a custody fight for four of her children, Ms. Norman was well-known for co-founding the Lesbian Mothers Union with late lesbian pioneer Del Martin. The group raised funds for legal defense for lesbians enduring custody fights. It was a time when judges routinely denied lesbians and gay men parental rights after they left their heterosexual marriages. Langsley said that "absolutely," Ms. Norman helped queer families.

"When she was running [for supervisor] she went to all these meetings and these people would see different representation" — an out Black lesbian mom, she said.

Langsley said she and Ms. Norman were together for 14 years, from 1983 to 1997, and raised six children, including two that Langsley and Ms. Norman had. Famously, in 1992, the couple posed for billboards sponsored by GLAAD under the tagline, "Another Traditional Family." Langsley, who is white and used Norman's last name then, was pregnant with their son Zach at the time. As KQED reported in a 2020 article, the billboard made a political statement.

Ms. Norman spent much of her adult life fighting for social justice. During the 1980s, she co-chaired broad civil rights marches for peace, jobs, and justice, as the B.A.R. reported in a 2007 article about Ms. Norman being that year's San Francisco Pride parade lifetime achievement grand marshal. She was a delegate for presidential candidate Jesse Jackson in 1988 at the Democratic National Convention, and she served on the state Democratic Party Central Committee.

At the local level, Ms. Norman was involved in fighting racism, including problems in the Castro years ago. The late Ken Jones, a gay Black man, was a close friend of hers, Guy and Langsley both said.

"It's strange," Ms. Norman told the B.A.R. in 2007, of changes she'd seen in the last three decades. "We go on, and certainly, there is some progress. On the other hand, there are issues in 1971 that are still the same issues we're dealing with now.

"A while ago there was almost no consciousness around racism, sexism, classism," Ms. Norman said at the time. "Also, we have a need to continue to focus — we're part of the human movement, not just sexual orientation. We need to expand our vision and horizons and include not just orientation, but as people who work everyday, who go to the same churches."

Tom Ammiano, a gay man and former San Francisco supervisor and state assemblymember, told the B.A.R. that the community "owes her a lot."

"Historically, Black queer women have been ostracized by many," he wrote in a text message. "Pat just approached this in her measured and warm way."

It was in 2007 that Ms. Norman moved to Kauai, Hawaii, where she lived with one of her sons. Earlier this year she moved to Las Vegas where one of her daughters lives, and was in assisted living care, Langsley said.

Pat Norman - Photo by Rick Gerharter  

Early life
Ms. Norman was born October 21, 1939, in Brooklyn, New York. In the 2007 article, she said she was raised by parents who were "very conscious about what was happening in the world." She went into the Navy, "but got out." She spent time in Dallas, and came to San Francisco in 1971.

Born Patricia Elise Richardson, Ms. Norman was the youngest of four children, and the daughter of James A. Richardson (owner Richardson Trucking Company) and Maude B. Richardson (community activist and leader), according to an obituary prepared by her family. Ms. Norman was inspired by both of her parents, especially her mother who was a community activist and leader of the civil rights movements in the 1940s. Ms. Norman was encouraged by her parents to get involved with various African American civic groups and in high school she was a member the Brooklyn chapter of the NAACP. She went on in her education as far as a master's degree in clinical psychology.

An obituary prepared by her family stated that Ms. Norman provided years of leadership on nonprofit boards such as president of Black Coalition on AIDS, president of SAGE (Standing Against Global Exploitation), and president of Larkin Street Youth Center.

She was a member of the California State Democratic Party Central Committee, AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), Women's AIDS Network, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (now the National LGBTQ Task Force), Lesbian Rights Project, Human Rights Campaign, and Community United Against Violence.

Langsley said that Ms. Norman co-chaired the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987 and National March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation in 1993. She was co-chair of Stonewall 25 in 1994, in New York City, where demonstrators unfurled a one-mile long, 30 foot Rainbow-colored flag symbolizing lesbian and gay rights. Roughly one million participants from around the world converged on the Avenue of Americas, an obituary prepared by her family noted.

At the 1987 march in Washington, D.C., she spoke in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building, Langsley said. The year prior the justices had ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick that there was no constitutional protection for gay adults to engage in consensual sodomy. The case was overturned in 2003 with the court's Lawrence v. Texas decision, which invalidated sodomy laws across the country.

Kinnard, who was art director at the old San Francisco Sentinel gay newspaper, recalled visiting Ms. Norman's San Francisco home years ago, where he saw "an extraordinary display of awards and recognitions." Her office had just as many, he noted.

"Each stood for the work she had done," Kinnard said.

Ms. Norman's son, Zach Norman, told the B.A.R. in a phone call August 8 that his mom ran in circles with important people.

"Every single time, she would say, 'she's a righteous woman,' or 'he's a righteous man,'" Zach Norman said. "My biggest descriptor is she was a righteous woman."

Ms. Norman was predeceased by her son, Paul. In addition to Zach Norman, Ms. Norman is survived by her children Elise, Angela, James, and Kim; grandchildren; and great-grandchildren.

"Pat was very happy to spend her last months surrounded by her family, whom she loved very much," her family stated. "She will truly be missed by us all — 22."

Updated, 8/9/22: This article has been corrected to stated that Ms. Norman was the second Black lesbian to serve on the SF Police Commission.

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