A Woman to Know: Ernestine Eckstein

I think we have to decide how far we can go for caring about what heterosexuals think. — Ernestine Eckstein

(image via The New York Public Library)


That's Ernestine, on the left in the white sunglasses, picketing outside the White House in 1965. As you can tell from the photo, she was often one of the only people of color — and sometimes even one of the only women — present at these "Annual Reminder" marches in the early 1960s. Protesters organized the demonstrations to act as, well, annual reminders for politicians and decision makers: reminders that LGBTQ Americans existed, that they lived and worked, and that they wanted their rights.

Throughout the 1960s, Ernestine led the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, a lesbian rights organization. In her leadership she prioritized involvement in protests and demonstrations, urging members to become involved in the growing black feminist movement. She wanted to unite these organizations across all fronts — as she told the lesbian review, "The Ladder," in 1966: "Movements should be intended, I feel, to erase labels, whether 'black' or 'white' or 'heterosexual' or 'homosexual.'"

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