Patricia Lee Jackson called herself a “dyke, eco-feminist, and communist who walked her first picket line in 1964 – a wildcat teacher strike in Louisville, Kentucky.” On that picket line, she also met her first girlfriend. She was the only teacher at her school who was on strike, and she would sneak into the building at night to make lesson plans for the substitute. One day as she was standing outside, all by herself with her sign, the milk truck came by and the driver said, “Oh, I don’t cross any picket lines. No milk here today.” That taught her the power of workingclass unity and kicked off a life of activism challenging racism, patriarchy and class inequality.
In 1964 the civil rights movement came to Louisville, changing her life. At the same time, she was being diagnosed as “paranoid schizophrenic” because of her lesbianism. Fortunately, as she wrote in her memoir, It Takes an Uprising, “The enlightened minister’s wife, whom I had fallen in love with, sat waiting outside for me. The love we shared defied any of the lies this doctor had uttered. She assured me being a lesbian was quite normal.”
Patricia joined the National Teacher Corps, a War on Poverty program, and wound up teaching and going to school in Los Angeles. From there, she “worked her way up” to San Jose, where she came out in 1969 and joined the Gay Liberation Front. “Tired of the sexism,” of the GLF, she said, she went to a feminist conference in Berkeley where poet and activist Judy Grahn was giving a talk. She immediately knew that she had found her people. She went home with Judy and her lover, Wendy, and ended up moving to Berkeley and helping to form Gay Women’s Liberation. At one point Pat and Judy traveled around the country, dropping off literature about the radical women’s movement and the lesbian movement at bookstores and women’s centers.
She lived on women’s land, participated in the early Women’s Music scene, and was active in setting up some of the first rape response networks. As part of “Anti-Rape Squad #38,” she and other members of a lesbian household in Berkeley bought ugly dresses and headed to Stockton to disrupt the wedding of a rapist. You can hear her tell that story at https://www.greenwomanstore.com/product/takes-an-uprising-by-patricia-lee-jackson/.
Growing up in the south in the segregation era, and then attending a desegregated high school after the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 convinced her that “race is central to everything in this country,” she said in an interview with KPFA Women’s Magazine. She was a long-time member of Worker’s World Party, and a fierce critic of the assimilationist queer movement. In later years, while working for New Leaf Counseling Center’s Outreach to Elders, she co-facilitated a series of Intergenerational Storytelling Project workshops with OutLoud Radio and Lavender Youth Recreational & Information Center (LYRIC).
The relationships created between youth and elders in these intergenerational workshops inspired Patricia to write her memoir, because, she said, “the youth were really curious about what it was like being queer back in the day. We would just laugh and say, well, we weren’t.”
Pat’s oldest dream, beginning in childhood when she wrote stories about the characters in the Old Maid card deck, was to be a journalist. In 2017, after retiring to Tucson, Arizona with her partner, Zoe Kastl, she had a year-long fellowship with the Op-Ed Project, which teaches women the writing, publishing and social media skills to get their opinion pieces into major news outlets. Since then, she published articles on housing, gentrification, social security, environmental issues, feminism and opposing militarism. She was still doing research three days before she died. She was also an artist, played guitar and wrote songs.
Pat was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in the summer of 2018. Her insurance refused to cover a stem cell transplant, which is the best treatment, because they said she was too old (she was 78). She joined her naturopathic oncologist and her allopathic oncologist and they worked together to treat her with chemo that was a form of thalidomide but she was not able to tolerate that treatment. In March 2019 she was hospitalized for a suspected mild stroke or heart attack. She decided to forgo exploratory treatment and went into hospice at home. She died in her sleep on the morning of November 27.
Zoe says, “Pat created change no matter what she was doing. She was a life-long lesbian who believed that injustice anywhere was a threat to justice everywhere. We mourn her, we celebrate her, we know that the world is a better place because she lived. Her life is an example for all of us and an inspiration to pick up the torch and continue until all these scourges: racism, anti-gay bigotry, woman hatred, exploitation of any kind are wiped from the earth.”
We in LAGAI worked with Pat and Zoe on many issues and actions over the years, including supporting Central American liberation struggles, working for divestment from Apartheid South Africa, opposing the first U.S. war against Iraq, supporting friends and comrades with HIV, and protesting the San Francisco pride board’s disinvitation of Chelsea Manning as a parade community grand marshal. They both had cameo roles in our sitcom satire, “The Bratty Dyke Show” (1998). We’ll miss Pat’s quick smile, good humor while being all-in in the struggle, and her great photography.
Donations in Pat’s memory can be made to the Southern Arizona Women’s Foundation. A celebration of her life is being planned for some time this spring in San Francisco (watch this space for details).