Mo Kalman

Mo (Marilyn) Kalman, always a proud fat, Jewish, politically active working class dyke, died on January 23rd, 2018 at John Muir Hospital in Walnut Creek. She was 64.

Mo was born in the Bronx, NY on May 29 and attended college at the State University of New York at New Paltz. She then moved to the Bay Area where she became involved in radical movements. Mo quickly became a tenants’ rights activist, in part because of her own housing problems, and was a founding member of the SF Tenants Union. She helped to establish a number of tenant clinics and was a member of the West Bay Law Collective, which according to the examiner had represented over a thousand tenants by 1983.

Julie — I first met Mo in 1981. A group of us (including Blue W and Deeg) had been laid off/fired when the vending company we worked for was sold to a company that didn’t hire women. After being screwed over by a law firm that was known for sex discrimination law suits (they stalled around until the six-month statute of limitations had passed) she advised us on whether we had any remaining legal rights.  Mo was studying to be a lawyer the old-fashioned way (really old fashioned) by interning with lawyers instead of going to law school.  She passed the Bar in 1986, joined a women’s law collective, Bayside Legal Advocates, and opened her own office in 2002, focusing on tenants’ rights.  Negotiating large monetary settlements for her evicted clients was her specialty, trying always to avoid going to court.

photo of Mo and others
The Original Caption: Renters’ Brain Trust

Mo was a fat activist and participated in the Making Waves swim at the Richmond Plunge pool. In 1983, a group of fat lesbians including Mo, Deni, Chaya, Deeg, Silvia, and Miriam formed Life in the Fat Lane, which organized a fat swim at Coffman Pool, a SF city pool in Visitacion Valley, and organized fat clothing and cake swaps at the women’s building.  Life in the Fat Lane published a packet of articles and held a forum on fat issues at the Women’s Building in 1984.

Mo, who had known some of the revolutionary activists in the Bay Area in the 1970s, was a strong advocate for political prisoners. She joined Out of Control: Lesbian Committee to Support Women Political Prisoners (OOC) a few years after it formed in 1987 and remained a member until it formally disbanded in 2011. (OOC was originally the Committee to Shut Down the Lexington Control Unit, a women’s unit in the federal maximum security prison in Kentucky which specialized in isolation and psychological torture techniques particularly of women political prisoners.) In 1988 Mo went to Washington DC to be one of the lawyers for the six Resistance Conspiracy defendants, and for Laura Whitehorn. They were all charged, in two separate cases, for the 1983 bombing of the u.s. capital building. When Mo got back to sf, she was one of the attorneys who filed briefs on behalf of political prisoners during the 1990 International Tribunal in Oakland.

Blue: The first time I saw Mo she was sitting in the lobby of a movie theater. Julie knew her and said hello. She had on this snap bill flat cap. She was butch, fat and proud of it. Later we got to know each other through support work for political prisoners and driving out to Dublin to visit Marilyn Buck. We learned desktop publishing and put out lots of material on political prisoners including the newsletter Out of Time and a front page parody of the SF Chronicle called the “San Francisco Ironical” with articles and photos of u.s. women political prisoners.

Julie – The Resistance Conspiracy Case and the Tribunal were the big political prisoner support events Mo participated in, but we worked together in OOC for the next 20 years putting out the newsletter Out of Time which was published from 1989 to 2011.  OOT was sent out separately and also as the centerfold in UltraViolet.  OOC and LAGAI put on fundraisers for the two newsletters and for a Commissary Fund for women political prisoners co-founded and supported by both groups.  Mo was usually the MC and organizer of talent for those events.

In 1989, in response to fat-hatred in the Castro, dykes and friends in LAGAI, OOC, Revolting Lesbians and Women Against Imperialism and assorted other dykes organized Let it All Hang Out Day (LIAHO), a celebration of fat dykes in the Castro, and broke into the pride parade with a Fat Dykes from Hell Contingent. We did LIAHO II the following year. These were informal street dances, in which we were joined by the activists we worked with in ACT-UP and Stop AIDS Now or Else. Hundreds of people partied. In 1991, a group of dykes, including Mo, decided to organize a LIAHO float as an official contingent in Pride. Many of us were opposed to LIAHO becoming a part of corporate pride. This caused a split between many of us in the radical fat dyke community.

Mo formed a butch singing and dance group, Faté that performed in female drag. They performed at LAGAI’s last benefit, The War in Central America is a Drag Show. Mo was an organizer of the Dyke March for many years, and after her knee surgeries in the early 2000’s could be found selling t-shirts and holding down the table at the celebration and rally. She continued to be politically active until her death. She is survived by her long-time lover and fat activist, Susan Goldberg.

Mo was our friend, and an enormous force for good in this world. We miss her. — LAGAI

Julie: Mo was someone who thrived in many different worlds.  Probably all of us do to some extent but she certainly did way more than me.  I knew her in several of them but definitely not all. Other of her worlds she shared with Susan Goldberg, her lover for over 25 years.  When I started working for Mo in 2001 – first as an assistant in her law office and then as a personal assistant – I got to know her and Susan much better. Eating elaborate meals that Mo, being the cook in the family prepared, I learned more about both of them.  It was clear that meals, both cooking and sharing with people, was an important part of life to Mo. One dish that I remember was an amazing goulash learned from her mother who immigrated to New York City from Hungary as a young person. Since Mo identified strongly with both her Hungarian and New York Jewish heritages, there were many other delicious meals to be shared.

Blue: Mo had a good life and a hard life. She met that hard part with ferocity. She fought hard, worked hard and played hard. Mo was a fabulous organizer, a tireless activist, the perfect host, a loyal dog person and an amazing entertainer. Once we had a fund raiser for Out of Control featuring a local stand-up comic. Mo was the emcee and funnier than the comic. For her 50th birthday party she put together a rock band. Mo was the lead singer and called the band the MoZones. My favorite was when she sang I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends, Joe Cocker style. When you hung out with Mo you were in the MoZone.


In 2001 Julie and I took a year-long road trip in our RV, The Delta Flyer. Mo and a bunch of our friends gave us a going away party at the Women’s Building.  Later that year we met up with Susan and Mo on Cape Cod, where they introduced us to lobster eating at this funky indoor/outdoor restaurant whose name I’ve forgotten.  Fun days.

When Mo was waiting to have her knee replacement replaced in 2006 we switched houses because our apartment was more accessible for her. Mo was real sick with the infection that knee gave her. I know some thought her being fat was unhealthy. Mo was very healthy to have made it through that year and all the problems the infection created. What was unhealthy was the medical industry that refused to deal with fat people. She even had to fight for a wheelchair that was comfortable and a bed that was big enough.

The last time I saw Mo was in May at the Sparks Fly benefit for Bo Brown that Mo helped organize. She was busy but we had a moment to catch up and say she and Susan would do a “drive-by” soon to visit us. Last times are hard to believe in. March 17th is a memorial celebration of her life. I bet Mo is pissed that she can’t be there.  I can just hear her saying, “Let’s par-tay!” She knew how.

Deni: One of the first times I remember seeing Mo was in a dyke bar (remember them?) in the late 70’s I think. Maybe it was Maud’s, so many dyke bars back then. I was struck by Mo’s spirit, her wit, her great voice and magnetism. I remember when Mo became a lawyer without going to law school – I didn’t know that could be done, but clearly if Mo set her mind to it, she could do it.

Chaya: Mo was an excellent cook and I loved her stories of how she learned to cook from her mother. Her mom worked at a switchboard and when Mo came home from school (maybe she was in junior high at this point) she’d call her mother who would say, “preheat the oven to 350 degrees – hang on a minute, I have to handle this call.” Then her mom would come back on and say “take the chicken out of the refrigerator and sprinkle salt and paper (or whatever) on it – hang on a minute.” And so it would go until Mo had done all the steps necessary to get dinner ready. She was close with her parents (Esther and Dave) and when they visited she’d invite friends over for dinner. They were interested in her friends and her life, and were so proud of her.

Deni, Chaya, and Deeg: We worked with Mo for years in Fat Liberation organizing and actions. We were in Life in the Fat Lane together, the Fat Fridays at The Women’s Building, and worked on LIAHO 1 and 2. It’s hard to imagine a world without Mo in it: her humor, her smarts, her vibrancy, her passion for justice.

Daniel: This has me in tears. Didn’t know her a lot. Just enough to be really sorry. Had given her name to a boss who was being harassed by the landlord. Marilyn wrote a letter.

Saw her on BART once. Ran across the platform to say “Marilyn!” She knew who I was.She was the person you wanted to skip a train for. And she didn’t say anything about seeing my “PARTS” when changing clothes during LAGAI’s fundraiser. I was “Dead Di”. She performed. I liked her.

Author: lagai

LAGAI-Queer Insurrection is one of the oldest radical queer liberation groups in the U.S. We publish UltraViolet, a more or less bimonthly newspaper, which is mailed free of charge to over 1500 people, including over 800 prisoners. Our website is

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