Lesbian pioneer Jeanne Cordova dies at 67
Jeanne Cordova, a lesbian pioneer and force of nature for LGBT civil rights, has died at the age of 67.
Suffering from brain cancer, Jeanne died peacefully at her home in Los Angeles last Sunday morning. She was with her spouse and partner for 25 years, Lynn Ballen, as well as her friends.
On her passing, close friend Ivy Bottini wrote on her Facebook page: “Our community has lost a guard at the gate of hatred and I have lost my Best Butch Bud of over 40 years. There will never be another lesbian activist like Jeanne. She was one of a kind. A true innovator. And a hell of a business woman.”
“But right now I am grieving her lost presence, her laughter, her grit, and the love we both had for each other. Here’s to you, Jeanne, you will always live in my heart,” Bottini wrote.
Jeanne Cordova: a life worth fighting for
Born in Germany in 1948 to an Irish mother and a Mexican father, Jeanne grew up in California to lead a varied, rich life.
From the nunnery at the Immaculate Heart of Mary to becoming a community organizer and activist, Jeanne became the president of the LA chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis.
From there, she gave a voice to a new generation of lesbian feminists through the publication The Lesbian Tide, which became a national news magazine. She was also the Human Rights Editor of the LA Free Press.
During the ‘70s, she helped organize a number of lesbian conferences, including the first National Lesbian Conference in LA. She also helped fight the anti-gay Proposition 6 Briggs Initiative.
She later became the president of the Stonewall Democratic Club to help in the state-wide campaign to elect 88 openly-gay delegates to the 1980 Democratic National Convention.
From politics to business, she founded the Community Yellow Pages, which featured hundreds of Southern California’s gay and lesbian businesses in the ‘gay yellow pages.’
She then retired in 1999 and lived to Mexico for eight years. After, she came back to Los Angeles where she lived with her partner, Lynn Ballen.
Before she died, she had three books published: Sexism: It’s a Nasty Affair (1974), Kicking the Habit: A Lesbian Nun Story (1990), and her memoir When We Were Outlaws: a Memoir of Love and Revolution (2011).
Jeanne Cordova’s final words
Before she died, Jeanne sent an open letter to the community informing them about her illness.
In the letter entitled “A Letter About Dying, to My LGBT Communities” dated last September 2015, she wrote: “A guru once told me: ‘We die in increments, one piece at a time.’ She meant one part of our body suddenly ceases to work, an elbow or a tongue. Seemingly for no reason, like a worn out knee. This came as a surprise. I thought we get old or die… suddenly, and all at once. Not so!”
“I write publicly to the women who have defined my life because I want to share this last journey, as I have shared so much of my activist life with you. You gave me a life’s cause. 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,” she wrote.
She added, “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.”
“Lesbians do have a special love for one another. I have felt it many times when women are with each other. I am happy and content to have participated in it for most of my very full and happy life. Least you be too sad, know that I have this kind of love not only with my family of choice, but with a straight arrow spouse with whom I have journeyed these last 26 years,” she concluded.
Before her death, Jeanne bequeathed $2 million to the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice.
This fund– the Jeanne R. Córdova Fund of the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice– will offer financial support to national and international organizations focusing on movement building and human rights. It will specifically go to Latina lesbians from South/Latin America and South African women, as well as lesbians, feminists, lesbian feminists, butch, and masculine gender nonconforming communities.