Bo Brown, a self-proclaimed “anti-authoritarian lesbian feminist anarcho-communist urban guerrilla” died in October, 10 days after her 74th birthday. She died at home from complications of dementia.
Born in Klamath Falls OR, Bo left for the freedom of Seattle after graduating from high school. She did various odd jobs to support herself, spent a year in prison in 1971 and became a prison activist for the rest of her life. After she got out of prison, Bo attended Community College in Seattle and joined her first (of many) prison activist groups, Women Out Now. Her dedication to activism on behalf of prisoners led to her involvement in the George Jackson Brigade (GJB). The GJB carried out many militant actions in the early 1970s as part of their opposition to capitalism, racism and imperialism. In 1977 Bo was arrested in Seattle for robbing a bank, the money to be used for the continued actions of the GJB. Realizing she was being followed, Bo purposely led the police away from the safe house where other members of the GJB were staying.
Convicted in federal court in Portland and sentenced to 20 years, Bo was sent to Davis Hall, the Maximum Security Unit (MSU) at Alderson prison in WV. Davis was the first high security special control and isolation unit for political women. While there, Bo met “dangerous” women like Black revolutionary Assata Shakur and Lolita LeBron and other Puerto Rican Independistas. Together they tried to publicize the unfair conditions of the MSU and finally with pressure from community groups, lawyers and other inmate activists, the MSU was closed, though Alderson continued to be a high security prison for women. Bo spent the next 7 years being shuttled to different prisons and jails including in Chicago (where she taught weight lifting), Reno NV and ultimately Pleasanton CA.
Because of the support of the Lesbian community in the Bay Area, including advocacy with prison authorities, Bo was guaranteed a job at the Women’s Press and a place to live. She was paroled to San Francisco in 1985. Once out of prison, Bo’s activism exploded (so to speak).
It’s hard to write a person’s obituary, especially when you’ve known someone for a long time. Most of us in LAGAI knew Bo well, and like most relationships they were complicated. Some of us knew her in Seattle before and during the years she was in the GJB. Some of us were in a lesbian collective that luckily didn’t end up being one of the lesbian houses raided by police in trying to chase down the GJB. Some of us went to her trial in Portland and several of us visited her in various prisons like Reno and California. And some of us only met Bo after she was out of prison. Some of us got their first motorcycle rides from her. Many of us were in groups with her – Revolting Lesbians and Out of Control: Lesbian Committee to Support Women Political Prisoners, or participated in specific campaigns such as to free the Native American prisoners Norma Jean Croy and Eddie Hatcher. Bo was a strong advocate for dealing with class in the lesbian community and movement – and was largely responsible for Revolting Lesbians’ “Let Them Eat Pussy” manifesto.
Bo’s steadfast butch presence, fierce political analysis, her open heart and her great laugh lit up many lesbian events for decades. She spoke loudly, clearly and honestly in public and private. If she liked you, you knew it, and if she was pissed off at you, you definitely knew that too. But she never closed the doors on a friendship. She stayed tight with her exes, and always had a hug for people she’d met once or hadn’t seen in a decade. She became an icon, mentor and friend to many younger dykes and queer people, introducing them to a version of feminism and queer liberation they didn’t know existed.
The 2017 documentary film “the Gentleman Bank Robber: The Story of Butch Lesbian Freedom Fighter rita bo brown” tells her story in her own words. Its available online a worth a watch: https://vimeo.com/229406880.
Bo is survived by her partner, Etang, who supported Bo through her prolonged final illness. She is also survived by fellow Brigade veterans Janine Bertram, Mark Cook, and Ed Mead, and many, many friends and collaborators.
We love you and we miss you Bo – Blue, Chaya, Deeg, Deni, Julie, Kate, Lisa, Tory