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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.

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3 Comments

I think it's important to note that Gloria Steinem did have some really troubling things to say about trans people. She definitely did (and does!) speak out loudly for the rights of gay people, but said many things to actively hurt trans people within the feminist movement, a movement which still has problems with trans people.

Shoshie, thank you for your comment, and unfortunately, Gloria has been attributed with troubling remarks about trans people. The conference I was writing about took place years ago, when the gay community was lucky to be referred to as "gay-lesbian." B and T was not yet part of the national dialogue. As I'm sure you are aware, trans acceptance is still unfortunately controversial, even within the gay community. This goes to show that even progressives like Gloria still have some learning to do.

Gloria has never been in any way a bigot about *any* group of people and she has always been against any type of discrimination of any group of people.

She wasn't against or blaming transsexuals,she was very rightfully blaming the very sexist,very gender stereotyped male dominated society we live in that is obssessed with making the sexes into artificial ''opposite'' ''feminine'' and ''masculine'' categories and how transsexuals are victims as we all are of this and this is what we need to change in society!

Gloria Steinem, 1972
Full image
Gloria Steinem at news conference, Women's Action Alliance, January 12, 1972.
Courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress.
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How to cite this page

Kravitz, Alan. "Gloria Steinem: An unheralded GLBT advocate." 23 August 2011. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 26, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/gloria-steinem-unheralded-glbt-advocate>.

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