Jeanne Córdova’s journey as a champion for lesbian rights

American activist pushes for social change – Jeanne Córdova’s journey to represent the voices of lesbian women.

Jeanne Córdova was born on July 18, 1948, in Bremerhaven, Germany, to a Mexican father and an Irish-American mother. She grew up as the eldest of 12 children. After graduating from high school in Puente, California, in 1966, she entered the Monastery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. However, she soon began to question her sexuality and her faith. In 1968, she left the convent and received her master’s degree in social work from the University of California.

Career in the world of lesbian and gay rights began as president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis. She said: “I always knew I was a lesbian and decided to make a career around that.” To help other lesbians express themselves, she launched “The Lesbian Tide,” which grew into a national news magazine and the voice of an entire generation of lesbians. In 1971, she opened the first lesbian center in Los Angeles.

In subsequent years, Córdova also served as a board member of the Los Angeles Gay Community Services Center and contributed articles and editorials to the “Los Angeles Free Press”. Her writings were collected and published in her book “Sexism – It’s a Nasty Affair” in 1974. As the gay and lesbian movement gained political traction, she took over the chairmanship of the Stonewall Democratic Club and led a national campaign in California for the election of openly gay delegates to the Democratic National Congress in 1980.

She also founded the “Community Yellow Pages,” which brought together hundreds of gay and lesbian businesses in Southern California by creating “The Gay Business Directory.” This directory offered consumers a wide range of services without confronting them with homosexuality. Córdova once said, “I feel more comfortable with a gay plumber than with a heterosexual one. I don’t have to hide my lesbian nature from them.”

In 1999, she sold her business directory, moved to Mexico for a while and, with her wife Lynn Harris Ballen, founded the “Palapa Society of Todos Santos”, a non-profit economic justice organization. She later wrote her award-winning memoir “When we were Outlaws; A Memoir of Love & Revolution.” As an activist and entrepreneur, she continued to write columns, blog posts and journalistic articles.

Córdova and her wife Ballen exchanged vows of partnership in 1995 at a private ceremony attended by family and friends. They legally married in 2013 after same-sex marriage was legalized in California.

Despite being staunch Catholics, Córdova’s parents found it difficult to come out. Her sister Lu revealed that she had been far away from the family for a while. Eventually a reconciliation took place, but they could not convert her back to the faith.

In a public announcement on her website in September 2015, Córdova admitted that she had battled colon cancer since 2008. Initially, she managed to control the disease, but it progressed. In 2013, it spread to her lungs and then to her brain. She underwent multiple surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy before passing away at her home in Los Feliz on January 10, 2016. At the time of her death she was 67 years old.

Sources:; “Los Angeles Times”; ONE Archives at the USC Libraries

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