Sally Miller Gearhart, Lesbian Writer and Activist, Dies at 90

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She fought anti-gay policies alongside Harvey Milk, wrote influential books, including subject fiction, and founded a women-only refuge successful the woods.

Sally Miller Gearhart astatine  a rally and thoroughfare  enactment      successful  San Francisco successful  1979. Her community, Women’s Land, successful  Northern California, was location  to an eclectic radical  of women, many of them lesbians, who wanted to beryllium  person  to quality  and farther from men.
Credit...Daniel Nicoletta

July 26, 2021, 6:51 p.m. ET

Sally Miller Gearhart, a feminist, lesbian activistic and salient hostile of anti-gay policies whose writings included a classical of lesbian subject fabrication astir a women-only society, overmuch similar the 1 she aboriginal founded successful Northern California, died connected July 14 successful Ukiah, Calif. She was 90.

Deborah Craig, a person and the producer of a forthcoming documentary movie astir Dr. Gearhart, confirmed her death.

Dr. Gearhart roseate to prominence successful the 1970s erstwhile she campaigned with Harvey Milk, a San Francisco metropolis supervisor and the archetypal openly cheery person elected successful California, against Proposition 6, a ballot measurement that would person banned cheery and lesbian teachers from nationalist schools.

In 1978, connected television, Dr. Gearhart and Mr. Milk debated the measure’s main backer, State Senator John Briggs, who said astatine 1 point, “We cannot forestall kid molestation, truthful let’s chopped our likelihood down and instrumentality retired the homosexual radical and support successful the heterosexual group.”

Dr. Gearhart responded: “Why instrumentality retired the homosexual radical erstwhile it is much than overwhelmingly existent that it is the heterosexual men, I mightiness add, that are the kid molesters?”

She refused to backmost down and cited information connected the topic, staring consecutive into the camera arsenic if daring viewers to disagree with her.

In ample portion due to the fact that of Dr. Gearhart and Mr. Milk’s efforts, the proposition did not walk successful the November predetermination that year. Less than 3 weeks later, Mr. Milk and Mayor George Moscone of San Francisco were fatally changeable successful City Hall by a blimpish erstwhile metropolis supervisor.

In 1973 Dr. Gearhart had go 1 of the archetypal openly lesbian tenure-track professors astatine a large American assemblage erstwhile she was hired astatine San Francisco State. She taught classes connected women and sex studies. In 1977, she appeared successful the noted documentary “Word Is Out,” which interviewed cheery and lesbian radical astir their experiences and is considered one of the archetypal diagnostic films astir the L.G.B.T.Q. community.

She wrote widely, some fabrication and nonfiction, focusing connected the environment, religion, feminism and lesbianism. Her writings see scholarly works examining the narration betwixt Christian churches, including Catholicism, and homosexuality; “The Feminist Tarot” (1975), which examined tarot paper practices from a women’s studies angle; and “The Wanderground, Stories of the Hill Women” (1978), a publication of subject fiction.

“The Wanderground” is astir a utopian assemblage of women who pass psychically with 1 another. It explored themes of women’s inherent connections to the Earth and to 1 another. Remaining successful people for implicit 2 decades, the publication was 1 of the archetypal large instances of lesbian practice successful subject fiction, a traditionally antheral genre.

Dr. Gearhart created her ain Wanderground aboriginal successful life: a assemblage she called Women’s Land successful Willits, a metropolis successful redwood wood state astir 140 miles northbound of San Francisco. She considered it the culmination of her lesbian separatist philosophy.

“I support saying that feminism arsenic I recognize it is an ideology of possibility, not probability,” she said successful an interrogation successful 1980. She lived determination with her “land partner,” Jane Gurko, her dog, Bodhi, and an eclectic radical of women, galore of them lesbians, who wanted to acquisition beingness person to quality and, successful galore cases, farther from men.

Members of the community, which fluctuated successful size, lived successful cabins successful the woods, extracurricular of patriarchal confines, successful Dr. Gearhart’s view.

Sally Miller Gearhart was calved April 15, 1931, successful the Appalachian municipality of Pearisburg, Va., and raised successful a blimpish Protestant family. Her father, Kyle Montague Gearhart, was a dentist; her mother, Sarah (Miller) Gearhart, was a secretary.

“Mine was the puerility of the penny postcard and the ten-cent movie,” Dr. Gearhart wrote successful an autobiographical sketch connected her website, adding, “We were salt-of-the-earth people, believing successful the Threefold God and successful the everlasting virtues of hard work, a cleanable house, and beardown drink.”

Her parents divorced erstwhile Sally was young, and she spent overmuch of her puerility with her maternal grandmother, who ran a women’s boardinghouse. It was her archetypal sensation of a female-only assemblage and 1 that stuck with her passim her life.

She attended Sweet Briar College, a women’s assemblage successful Virginia, earning a bachelor’s grade successful play and English successful 1952. She received a master’s grade successful theatre and nationalist code astatine Bowling Green State University successful Ohio successful 1953 and a doctorate successful theatre from the University of Illinois successful 1956.

Dr. Gearhart hid her sexuality passim her clip successful assemblage and postgraduate school. She recalled ripping up books with cheery themes lest anyone observe that she had work them. She did not travel retired until she moved to San Francisco successful 1970.

And she rejected marriage, adjacent erstwhile it was legalized for cheery and lesbian couples, viewing it arsenic a regressive, patriarchal institution. Ms. Gurko died successful 2010. Dr. Gearhart near nary contiguous survivors.

Despite her forceful views, she was a fig of immoderate contradiction — and openness. Ms. Craig, the filmmaker, described Dr. Gearhart this way:

“A lesbian feminist histrion hugger who lived successful a rustic compartment successful the woods but ate lone Pepsi and junk food.

“A disrupter who rejected the religion and the ‘patriarchy,’ but knew the Bible done and through, had galore adjacent men friends and admirers, and enjoyed the institution of conservatives truthful she could research what made them tick.”

Finally, Ms. Craig said, Dr. Gearhart was “a maestro debater who rejected persuasion and rhetoric arsenic unit and sought much equitable and mutually respectful forms of communication.”

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