Lori E. Seid… And How Was Your Day?

Jean Harris-forceful gay rights activist dies 1944-2011

Posted in Legendary, Life, queer, USofA by Lori E. Seid on 3 July 2011

Jean Harris, a feisty advocate for gay and lesbian rights and longtime Democratic party activist who helped elect openly gay candidates in California, has died.

Her legislative advocacy, grass-roots organizing and coalition building became the bedrock for the modern LGBT justice movement in California.

Once described as “the lesbian Al Sharpton” for her colorful personality and confrontational style, Harris was unabashed about her sexuality and political goals.

“She could be a pain,” said John Burton, the former state legislator who chairs the California Democratic Party. “She’d push and sometimes people got upset with her, but she cared enough to not be nice in order to achieve the community’s goals.”

She worked her way through college climbing telephone poles for GTE Corp., eventually rising into the management ranks. In 1971 she entered politics as a field organizer for Sen. George McGovern’s presidential campaign. In later years she served as chair of the California Democratic Party’s Lesbian/Gay Caucus and president of San Francisco’s Harvey Milk Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club.

photo credit: Denise Penn (Jean Harris’ partner for 10 years)

Harris favored men’s clothing, she wore ties “because I want every man who sees me to know … I’m after their power. … They know right up front, I’m a dyke, I’m tough, I’m here, I want to know exactly what’s going on, and if you’ve got the power, I’m gonna try and take it from you.”

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