It is with much sadness and much love that I ask all my lesbian sisters to hold light for our revolutionary pioneering sister Sally Miller Gearhart who passed away today. May her dear soul rest in peace and her memory be a blessing. As a lesbian, activist and friend I am forever grateful for our crossing paths.
Sally will be so sorely missed. In 2016 San Francisco Pride awarded Sally, a lesbian icon, with the Heritage of Pride, Pride Freedom Award, as chosen by the SF Pride Board of Directors, for outstanding contributions to advancing civil rights and freedom for LGBTQ people.
“I am honored to receive the Heritage of Pride – Pride Freedom Award since I am familiar with the good works of San Francisco Pride. As an old timer who was present at our very first gay march, I am especially astounded by how far we’ve come — and by what we have gone through to get here,” noted Sally on hearing about her award.
Gearhart was a nationally renowned lesbian rights activist, author and teacher, who grew up in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia. She became the first open lesbian in the country to obtain a tenure-track faculty position at San Francisco State University in 1973.
While at SF State, she helped establish one of the first women and gender studies programs in the U.S., and continued teaching until her retirement in 1992.
Gearhart fought alongside Harvey Milk in the epic 1978 battle that defeated California Proposition 6, known as the Briggs Initiative. As Milk’s debate partner, Gearhart famously debated John Briggs, attacking the initiative to ban homosexuals and lesbians from teaching positions.
Both the legacies of Sally Gearhart and Harvey Milk suffered an injustice when this important fact was excluded from the widely acclaimed 2008 feature film MILK, that received a screenplay Oscar. SEE WHEN HARVEY MET SALLY: https://www.lgbtqnation.com/2013/02/when-harvey-met-sally/
Sally was however appropriately featured in the Oscar-winning documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), some years before.
Gearhart authored or co-authored numerous works including “Loving women/loving men; Gay liberation and the church,” “Feminist Tarot,” and “The Wanderground.” Her personal and academic papers are housed at the University of Oregon, where the Sally Gearhart Fund for Lesbian Studies has been established in her name. Gearhart is also an acclaimed author of feminist science fiction.
A current documentary is in production by producer Deborah Craig – will update those details. There is so much more to the Sally story – as a lesbian and friend I am forever grateful for our crossing paths. Sally will be so sorely missed.
By Melanie Nathan
African Human Rights Coalition
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