I met Ivy Bottini on the last big grassroots campaign that she organized, the campaign to End Statutes of Limitations on Rape in the state of California.
I was floored by her, this woman who at the time was pushing 90 years old, who had done so much and still was fighting to make things better for people historically marginalized.
Ivy was always willing to jump into a fight to defend the underdog, whether it was for women’s rights in the 1960s in New York City, where the newspapers still advertised jobs under the headings Men Wanted and Women Wanted.
She was willing to jump into the fight for gay and lesbian school teachers in California who were threatened in the 1970s with the Briggs Initiative.
She fought for people infected with HIV in the 1980s, who were threatened with legislation proposed by Lyndon LaRouche’s followers that would have further stigmatized them by labeling HIV as a “communicable disease” and possibly paving the road to forced quarantine.
In the 1990s, she fought for aging members of the LGBTQ+ community by advocating for the right to safe and non-discriminatory senior housing opportunities, which led to the creation of Triangle Square, the nation’s first and largest affordable housing complex for low-income lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors.
Not too long ago, she would attend meetings of Christopher Street West to demand that our local Pride celebration appropriately include events for lesbians and in particular members of the transgender community, whose needs and point of view she felt were being dismissed by the event organizers.
It was just natural that her passion for activism and advocacy work would lead her to serve on the City of West Hollywood’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board, and that she would become a trusted friend and advisor to many elected officials and policy makers from West Hollywood to Sacramento.
When Ivy died in late February, Lorri Jean of the LA LGBT Center said:
“Once Ivy overcame years of struggle to accept her lesbianism, she never hesitated to express her opinion and never ceased her efforts to make the world a better place for LGBT people.”
I love this idea, because it suggests that Ivy became bolder and more effective once she embraced her identity. To those of us lucky enough to have known her, she will always be an inspiration.
She will always be a voice inside us, pushing us to take on causes that benefit and protect people who are being dismissed, neglected, abused and violated.
She will be the voice that sometimes pokes fun at us – because Ivy had a great sense of humor. And she will always be the voice urging us to take the risk, and be prepared to make a sacrifice.
Because Ivy well knew the sacrifice involved in a life dedicated to activism and public service. She often made difficult decisions to put the work before personal relationships and personal obligations. She knew that her priorities sometimes led to the most important people in her life feeling hurt and even broken-hearted. And the causes that consumed a lot of her life sometimes left her feeling lonely.
But she was built for the work of activism, she was great at it, and she loved it. She loved to see her work result in the adoption of new laws that protected people and gave them freedoms they didn’t have before, and she enjoyed even more defeating bad ideas designed to keep women as second-class citizens and members of the LGBTQ+ community on the fringes of society. She loved crushing the bad guy.
And so Ivy Bottini Day is for all of us who love to bring in new ways to support and promote human rights. It’s for all of us who love to crush those who would advance discrimination, marginalization and bigotry.
Ivy Bottini Day is for all of us who sometimes make the decision to prioritize the big picture over personal relationships.
It’s a day for all of us who are engaged civically, politically or on a grassroots level. For all of us who are doing human rights work with a non-profit organization or governmental agency.
It’s a day for all of us who love women, who respect and accept all identities in the LGBTQ+ spectrum, and who appreciate that freedom has to be fought for.
And Ivy was a visual artist – paint and canvas were her medium, and she had the paint-splattered shoes to prove it – so Ivy Bottini Day is for all of us with a creative soul, who love to write, paint, perform, sculpt, sing, dance and express ourselves artistically.
Ivy Bottini Day is for all of us, and I want to give a big thanks to the West Hollywood City Council for making it so. I hope the City continues to provide opportunities to reflect on Ivy’s legacy, and will keep finding ways to raise awareness about her life in the years to come.
Happy Ivy Bottini Day. Now let’s do as Ivy would have done, and dream big, act boldly and speak loud!
Karen currently serves on the City’s Rent Stabilization Commission and is President of the Hollywood Chapter of the National Organization for Women.