Celebrating Ernestine Eckstein – an LGBTQ Trailblazer

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4 mins read

In recognition of #Pride  month, I want to share & celebrate the story of the trailblazing Black woman in these photos: Ernestine Eckstein. These photos of her picketing w/a sign reading “Denial of Equality of Opportunity is Immoral” were taken in Oct of 1965 in front of the WH.

The picket lines were organized by Frank Kameny to protest the ban on #LGBTQ people from serving in the federal govt. These were early gay rights demonstrations — at a time when being gay was still considered a “mental illness.” They were risking their jobs. They were BRAVE.

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Ernestine Eckstein was just 24 at the time — serving as VP of the NY chapter of the Daughter of Billitis, a lesbian rights organization. In 1966, Ernestine posed for the cover of the DOB magazine, The Ladder. She posed in profile, so as to make identifying her more difficult.

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The podcast @makinggayhistory shared the interview w/Ernestein. It reveals an activist in the vanguard of the movement for #LGBTQ rights—w/prescient views—who understood the power of protest & visibility: “Picketing I regard almost a conservative activity—”https://makinggayhistory.com/podcast/ernestine-eckstein/

“All of this is the educational process of calling attention to the unjustness of the situation. I think we have to become visible & assert ourselves politically in every way that any other group does. I think once we do this—society will begin to give…”

On the movement & the need for courage: “We want acceptance & our rights as citizens—I think it takes a lot of courage, & I think a lot of people who do it will suffer b/c of it—you have to come out & be strong enough to accept whatever consequences come.”

Black lesbian Ernestine Eckstein was protesting when most gays though…Closeted gays and even many early gay organizations criticized her for being visible and active… https://www.lgbtqnation.com/2019/10/black-lesbian-ernestine-eckstein-protesting-gays-thought-protests-crazy/

On whether she considered herself a “radical”— “Well. That’s really a very hard question to answer. I personally consider myself, um, very average and normal in every sense the word. Not radical, but just simply… This to me is the way to be.”

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The podcast @throughlineNPR also covered her in “Before Stonewall.” Ernestine Eckstein eventually moved to the Bay Area, where she worked w/Black Women Organized for Action (BWOA). The East Bay remained her home until she passed away in San Pablo in 1992.

Fifty years ago, a gay bar in New York City called The Stonewall Inn was raided by police, and what followed were days of rebellion where protesters and police clashed. Today, that event is seen as the start of the gay civil rights movement, but gay activists and organizations were standing up to harassment and discrimination years before. https://www.npr.org/2019/06/26/736268853/before-stonewall

Ernestine’s sign in 1965 read “Denial of Equality of Opportunity is Immoral.” Last week the Supreme Court finally agreed:”We do not hesitate to recognize today.. An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.” Ernestine was right. #Pride

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Before being elected to the California State Assembly in 2018, Buffy worked as a community organizer, an advocate for kids, and a grassroots activist with experience at the local, state and federal level. She was born in a small town in rural California and grew up in a trailer, raised by working class parents who pushed her to work hard and think big.

Buffy is proud to have been an architect of President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns. She is credited with innovating Obama’s grassroots organizing model – from right here in Oakland. In addition to playing a critical role in his momentous electoral victories, Buffy served alongside him in the White House. In her leadership role at the Office of Public Engagement, Buffy brought stakeholders and advocates from across the country together to support and eventually pass the Affordable Care Act, which has provided more than 20 million Americans with health care, including 5 million here in California.

Since arriving in Sacramento, Buffy has been a tireless advocate for working families across California, using her experience as an organizer and leader on policy to fight for and pass bills defending the rights and strengthen the livelihood of all her constituents.

Buffy lives in Oakland with her husband Peter and her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Josephine, also known as JoJo.

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