Profiles of LGBT people, from the past and today – and celebrating their birthdays! All Birthdays →

Elsa Gidlow

Born in Yorkshire, England and raised in Quebec, Canada, Elsa Gidlow migrated to the U.S. as a young adult and settled in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1920s, where she remained for the rest of her life. Wanting to be a creative writer and determined to preserve her independence, she supported herself as a free-lance journalist while writing and publishing collections of her poetry. In 1923, she published On a Grey Thread, the first known volume of openly lesbian poetry in the U.S. In the 1950s, Gidlow established a rural retreat for artists and writers in northern California. Throughout these decades she maintained close ties with the local bohemian community, and she knew many of the famous writers who were based in San Francisco. Gidlow was one of the subjects interviewed for Peter and Nancy Adair’s 1977 documentary film, Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives; she made a powerful impression as an older woman who was out of the closet long before it became common to do so. As she wrote in one of her poems, “In a land of oranges, I am faithful to apples.” Gidlow published an autobiography titled Elsa, I Come with My Songs, shortly before she died in 1986.