#QueerHeroes Day 7 – Ernestine Eckstein

#QueerHeroes Day 7
Ernestine Eckstein

Eckstein moved to New York in the 60s after graduating from Indiana University, where she was a star student, with a degree in magazine journalism, government, and Russian.

She learned from a friend in Greenwich Village what the word “gay” meant. That’s when she came into her lesbian identity.

One of the most progressive activists of her time, Eckstein joined the early lesbian rights organization Daughters of Bilitis. Her experience with the civil rights movement made her an asset and she became Vice President of the NYC chapter. Nearly all gay and lesbian organizations at the time were founded by and catered to white people. She understood the importance of intersectionality before it was widely used in the social justice lexicon. In leading her majority-white chapter, she encouraged them to examine the intricacies of simultaneous identities.

The majority of gay and lesbian activists at the time focused on educating healthcare professionals, and would only occasionally picket or publicly proclaim their sexuality. Eckstein thought picketing was an education in itself. Three years before Stonewall, she called for bolder and more effective demonstrations:

“Picketing I regard as almost a conservative act now. The homosexual has to call attention to the fact that he’s been unjustly acted upon. This is what the Negro did.”

Eventually fed up with infighting in Daughters of Bilitis, Eckstein moved to the west coast where she joined the activist group Black Women Organized for Action.

Nothing conclusive is known of her life after her work with BWOA. Death records indicate that she died in 1992.

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