Pioneering Lesbian Activist Jeanne Córdova (1948-2016)

January 11, 2016

We are deeply saddened by the loss of pioneering journalist, author, lesbian activist, entrepreneur and our dear friend Jeanne Córdova, who passed away on Sunday January 10, 2016. The entire ONE family sends our condolences to Lynn Ballen and Jeanne’s family and friends.

Jeanne Córdova was born on July 18, 1948 in Bremerhaven, Germany. In the 1950s, the family immigrated to New York and eventually relocated to Southern California. As a child, she attended Catholic school in West Covina and, in 1966, entered the Immaculate Heart of Mary convent in Santa Barbara, California. While she was a postulant, she began questioning her sexuality and subsequently became dissatisfied with the Catholic Church. She left the convent a year later, going on to earn Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in social work from the University of California, at Los Angeles (UCLA.)

In 1970, Córdova began her activist career by joining and, soon after, becoming President of the Los Angeles chapter of the lesbian rights organization, Daughters of Bilitis (DOB). In 1971, the DOB newsletter, which Córdova edited, evolved into The Lesbian Tide, the first of five publications she founded. Throughout the 1970s to the 1990s, she was a key organizer or active participant in several events and organizations, including the 1971 West Coast Lesbian Conference; the 1973 National Lesbian Conference at UCLA; the 1977 International Women’s Year Conference in Houston, Texas; the 1978 National Lesbian Feminist Organization Conference; a national gay and lesbian caucus at the 1980 Democratic National Convention, in which she served as a convention delegate; the No on California Proposition 64 (LaRouche) campaign in 1986; Butch Voices; and numerous other gay and lesbian and women’s rights causes. In addition, she founded or served on the board of several organizations, including the Stonewall Democratic Club, Connexxus Women’s Business Alliance, Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Press Association, Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center, ONE Institute and International Gay & Lesbian Archives.

Córdova also had an extensive writing and publishing career. In addition to her work with The Lesbian Tide, she was also Human Rights Editor and columnist for the Los Angeles Free Press (1973 – 1976). She contributed works to numerous periodicals and anthologies, and in 1976, she wrote her first book, Sexism: It’s a Nasty Affair. In 1981, she founded the Community Yellow Pages, which would eventually become the United States’ largest and most comprehensive LGBT directory. In 1990, her second book was published, Kicking the Habit: A Lesbian Nun Story, an autobiography recounting her experience in the convent. In addition to Community Yellow Pages, she founded and published Square Peg Magazine in 1992, a magazine devoted to queer culture and literature.

In August 1995, Córdova married her partner Lynn Harris Ballen in a wedding ceremony in the Hollywood Hills. After selling Community Yellow Pages, Córdova and Ballen lived in Mexico for several years, before returning to Southern California in 2007. In 2008, she founded LEX, The Lesbian Exploratorium, a non-profit organization devoted to culture and history. In 2011, her memoir, When We Were Outlaws, was published by Spinsters Inc.

Córdova was a board member of the archives in the 1990s and a lifelong supporter of the archives’ mission and work. In 2008 Jeanne donated her manuscripts, papers, letters, and publication to ONE. In addition to the donation of her papers, she funded the processing of her collection; she funded an archivist position between grants; she championed the creation of our permanent display of lesbian publications, Lesbian Legacy Wall, that hangs near the entrance of the ONE Archives; and through her and Lynn’s Lesbian Exploratorium Project (LEX), she created the exhibition GenderPlay in Lesbian Culture at the ONE Gallery in 2009. ONE is truly grateful for Córdova’s decades of engagement and generosity with the community she helped create.

A finding aid of Jeanne Córdova’s papers housed at ONE Archives can be found here. Find below a selection of photograph from Córdova’s collection.

Image: Jeanne Córdova with Sacramento Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) organizer, Reverend Frieda Friedman (rear, far right) and Barbara McLean of the Lesbian Activist Women at a planning meeting for the first national Lesbian Conference at UCLA, February 3, 1973. Jeanne Córdova Papers and Photographs. ONE Archives at the USC Libaries