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Amber Hollibaugh

A public intellectual and long-time movement activist, Amber Hollibaugh was raised in a poor, working-class family in Bakersfield, California, where she experienced abuse. She left home while still a teenager and supported herself for a time as a sex worker.


Hollibaugh made her way to San Francisco in the mid-1970s, a time when the LGBTQ community was exploding with activism. She became part of the collective that ran Modern Times, an independent left-leaning community bookstore. In 1978, she traveled through the small towns of northern California organizing against Proposition 6 – also known as the Briggs Initiative – a ballot measure that would have banned homosexuals from the public schools statewide, and her work helped contribute to its defeat by a large majority of voters. The following year, in May 1979, she spoke outside San Francisco City Hall to a large crowd of demonstrators protesting against the lenient verdict that Dan White, who had assassinated Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk, received. That same year, Hollibaugh was one of the founders of the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay History Project, a community-based endeavor to uncover, document, and share knowledge of LGBTQ history to the wider community and society. A compelling public speaker, she addressed large community audiences, investing history with meaning for the present.


Hollibaugh moved to New York in 1981 and for the next several decades had a career working on LGBTQ and AIDS issues. Her jobs included education director in the AIDS division of the New York City Commission on Human Rights; creating and directing the first lesbian AIDS project in the United States while working for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York; and strategic planning at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. She was also a founder and long-time director of Queers for Economic Justice, a group that worked to connect issues of class inequality and LGBTQ oppression.


Through all this activist work, Hollibaugh maintained her interest in history and its potential to contribute to a liberatory politics of sexuality. At an international conference on LGBTQ history held in Toronto in 1985, she participated in a panel celebrating butch/femme relationships and identities, which challenged a then-existing orthodoxy within the lesbian feminist movement.  In 2000, Duke University Press published My Dangerous Desires: A Queer Girl Dreaming Her Way Home, a collection of her essays on sexuality, feminism, and a politics of liberation.


Amber Hollibaugh died in October 2023 of complications from diabetes. She is survived by her life partner, Jenifer Levin.