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Jewesses with Attitude

Gloria Steinem: An unheralded GLBT advocate

As I watched HBO’s incisive documentary Gloria: In Her Own Words, one irony became clear instantly: Gloria Steinem is an icon who is utterly uncomfortable with the whole idea of being an icon.

I witnessed this first hand-several years ago, when Gloria was the keynote speaker at the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association’s annual conference. Just minutes into her prepared remarks, she looked at her notes, paused and said, “You know, I’m tired of hearing myself talk. I want to hear what you’re up to. I want to hear what you’re doing for the movement.” Without even saying it, Gloria made it clear that “the movement” was as much about gay rights as it was about women’s rights.

Hard as it may be to believe now, relations between feminists and gays haven’t always been smooth. In the early years of the feminist movement, gay-lesbian inclusion was a touchy, controversial issue. But Gloria was a vocal proponent of inclusion. As she told us at the conference: “It just makes sense that feminists and gays should be supportive of one another. After all, we’re fighting the same enemies. The people who don’t want women’s rights are pretty much the same people who don’t want gay rights.”

When she said that, in her common-sense Midwestern tone, we clapped our hands raw. At the reception following Gloria’s presentation, I struck up a conversation with a veteran lesbian journalist who told me about being labeled a “lavender menace” in the women’s movement. “It was women like Gloria who helped change all that and made me feel like I belonged there,” she said.

When that same journalist went up to Gloria to thank her, Gloria immediately deflected the praise. I don’t remember exactly what Gloria said, but I do remember that she made this former “menace” smile—and well up with tears.

This is but one example of Gloria Steinem’s gift for empowering people. As befitting of a woman who wrote a book called Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, she believes with every fiber of her being that it’s the things we all do that keep “the movement” going—for women, gays and everyone still fighting for equality.

She may be famously mild-mannered and self effacing, but Gloria Steinem (featured in JWA's online exhibit Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution) always has been—and still is—a major "Jewess With Attitude."

Alan Kravitz is the Jewish Women’s Archive’s Communications Manager.

Gloria Steinem
Full image

Gloria Steinem at news conference, Women's Action Alliance, 1972.

How to cite this page

Kravitz, Alan. "Gloria Steinem: An unheralded GLBT advocate." 23 August 2011. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 2, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog/gloria-steinem-unheralded-glbt-advocate>.

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