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Remembering Sally Miller Gearhart, activist and educator

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Sally Miller Gearheart

Remembering Sally Miller Gearhart, activist and educator

One of the leading lights of the LGBTQ community and renowned lesbian activist and educator, Sally Miller Gearhart has died at 90 years old on July 14.

While Gearhart had lived for years in Willits, California, she had been poor health and had recently moved to a care home in Ukiah.

Losing Sally Miller Gearhart

A good friend, Ruth Mahaney, said: “Losing Sally is like a huge tree falling. She was very tall, and she was so important in the world.”

“She had been saying she wanted out of here, to be ‘up in the sky.’ She was ready to go,” Mahaney said.

Terry Beswick, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society, said in a Facebook post: “Sally’s contributions to LGBTQ history and culture were immeasurable.”

“She was a courageous fighter for equality at a time when it made an indelible difference then and now,” Beswick said.

The long life of Sally Miller Gearhart

Born in Pearisburg, Virginia on April 1931, Gearheart attended the all-women Sweet Briar College near Lynchburg and graduated with a bachelor of arts in drama and English in 1952.

While she was in college, she realized she was a lesbian. She then went on to get a master’s degree in theater and public address from Bowling Green State University in 1953

She then went to get a PhD in theater from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1956.

She began her teaching career at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas before moving on to Texas Lutheran College in Seguin.

However, she did not come out until 1969 when she followed a lover to Kansas. Afterwards, she decided to go to San Francisco to live openly as a lesbian.

Sally Miller Gearhart’s accomplishments

Gearheart was the first out lesbian to receive a tenure-track position at the San Francisco State University in 1973.

She established one of the first women’s and gender studies program in the country while there. Likewise, she was well-known as a leading lesbian activist in the 1970s and 1980s.

Gearheart took part in the campaign against Proposition 6, debating with Harvey Milk, the late gay San Francisco supervisor, against then-state Senator John Briggs, the bill’s author.

She also became co-chair of the Council on Religious and the Homosexual, an organization that offered speaking events and literature in the mid-1970s, especially to legislators.

A Sally Miller Gearhart Fund for Lesbian Studies had been established at the University of Oregon in her name as part of the Women’s and Gender Studies program.


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