Barbara Grier, lesbian publisher, activist and archivist, died Thursday of heart disease. She was 79.
When I first met Barbara Grier, I was 19 and knew even then that she was one of the most important lesbian figures I would ever meet. More than 30 years later, after I’ve interviewed countless other lesbians over the years, Grier still ranks as a mover and shaker of iconic proportions.
For a lifelong queer activist, Grier grew up in unlikely circumstances, in the heart of the Midwest — Kansas and Missouri, where she lived for decades — the daughter of a feminist mother before the word feminist was even known. In the many interviews I did with her over the years, Grier was always succinct about her origins: The pioneer spirit of the Plains states had infused her. She was born to be a pioneer, she believed, and she was one.
Irascible and cantankerous, with a dry and acid wit, she could make a sailor blush and have you laughing till you cried. She worked hard and expected everyone else to work equally hard, because to her, there was always something else to be done.
Grier was a librarian and archivist by trade and an activist by avocation. The two great loves of her life, her first partner, Helen, and then the woman she spent over 40 years with, Donna McBride, were also librarians. McBride survives her.
Grier told me many stories over the years of how she came to lesbian activism — through meeting the town butch dyke as a child, through wooing Helen at the library, through meeting McBride and, as she said about their relationship, “falling as deeply in love as anyone ever could.”
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