Queer Women History Forgot: Barbara Jordan

The legendary civil rights activist and US Congressional Representative from Texas was well-loved and respected during her time in office and beyond.

For Women’s History Month, GO is celebrating LGBTQ women we wish we could have learned about in high school history class. 

Civil rights activist and US Congressional Representative Barbara Jordan made a name for herself as the first Black congresswoman to represent Texas in the House. In her time as a congresswoman, Jordan sponsored or co-sponsored more 70 bills, most of which were in support of services for minorities and the underprivileged.

Jordan worked hard to reach her goals. She grew up in a poor rural neighborhood outside of Houston, Texas, where she found her love for language and politics in high school, becoming an award-winning debater. She started her career campaigning for John F. Kennedy’s presidential ticket and later launched her first bid for public office in Texas. It took her two tries to make it.

One of her most publicly recognized moments as congresswoman was her 15-minute televised speech which was presented at the opening hearings for President Richard Nixon‘s impeachment process.

Though Jordan wasn’t out as a lesbian, she made no secret of her life companion Nancy Earl, an educational psychologist. The couple met in the most lesbian of ways: on a camping trip in the late 60s. According to the Jordan Rustin Coalition, “Jordan never publicly acknowledged her sexual orientation, but in her obituary, the Houston Chronicle mentioned her longtime relationship with Earl. After Jordan’s initial unsuccessful statewide races, advisers warned her to become more discreet and not bring any female companions on the campaign trail.” As Jordan’s health depreciated from multiple sclerosis and leukemia, later on, Earl was her main caregiver.

Jordan, partner Nancy Earl and unknown student, at Jordan’s Onion Creek home in Austin, CA, 1982.  Jordan and Earl often threw end-of-semester parties for Jordan’s students. Photo courtesy Barbara Jordan Archives

Jordan is fondly remembered for the work she did. At her funeral in 1996, President Clinton remarked, “Whenever she stood to speak, she jolted the nation’s attention with her artful and articulate defense of the Constitution, the American Dream, and the common heritage and destiny we share, whether we like it or not. ”

Jordan’s legacy remembers her as a political activist, outspoke woman and fighter for marginalized communities. Her work is continued through Jordan Rustin Coalition, a non-profit that works to “empower Black same-gender loving, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and families in Greater Los Angeles, to promote equal marriage rights and to advocate for fair treatment of everyone without regard to race, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”

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