Happy birthday to Rita Mae Brown! The iconic lesbian writer, feminist activist, and leader of the Lavender Menace was born on this day in 1944.
Rita Mae Brown photographed sitting at her typewriter (x).
Rita Mae Brown was born on November 28, 1944 in Hanover, Pennsylvania. She faced stigma right from the start, being the daughter of two unwed teenagers. Her mother originally left her at a local orphanage, but her mother’s cousin and her husband, Julia and Ralph Brown, eventually retrieved the infant Rita and raised her as their own. The fafmily originally lived in the town of York, Pennsylvania, but then later moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. After graduating high school, Rita started out attending the University of Florida at Gainesville but was expelled by the segregated university for her participation in the Civil Rights Movement. She then moved on to Broward Community College, but only stayed briefly. Her life changed radically when she decided to hitchhike all the way from Florida to New York in 1964.
Once making it to New York, Rita began attending NYU but was often homeless and struggled to make a living. Although she was previously involved in the anti-war movement and the Civil Rights Movement, it was in the city of New York where her legacy as an LGBT activist was made. She started out by joining Columbia University’s Student Homophile League, but eventually left because of the group’s exclusion of lesbian voices. She would go on to revolutionize both the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and the National Organization of Women (NOW) by demanding that the organizations include lesbian specific issues and perspectives. She was a crucial leader of the formation of the Lavender Menace, the Radicalesbians, and the Furies Collective.
Rita stands defiant in her Lavender Menace shirt amongst a group of NOW members during the “zap” of the 1970 Second Congress to Unite Women (x). You can read more about the Lavender Menace’s protests here!
Rita eventually moved to California and found success as a writer. To date, she has written over 50 works of poetry, prose, nonfiction, and screenplays but her most resounding success is undeniably the novel Rubyfruit Jungle. The semi-autobiographical novel was published in 1973 and tells the story of a young lesbian who grows up in an unloving family in Florida only to leave for New York City to study film making and to achieve what she believes to be her full potential – to find the “rubyfruit jungle.” It is now considered a classic piece of lesbian literature and Rita has since been awarded the Lee Lynch Classic Book Award from the Golden Crown Literary Society for the novel. Rita has also made news for dating fellow lesbian celebrities such as Fannie Flagg and Martina Navratilova. Today, she lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia.