August 2, 2021 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

Pioneer: Diane Abbitt

Diane Abbitt (l) is a founder of Equality California and most famously and her wife Bernadette Abbruzze (r) was the first lesbian couple ever to dance together in the White House. Photo by Karen Ocamb
Diane Abbitt (l) is a founder of Equality California and most famously and her wife Bernadette Abbruzze (r) was the first lesbian couple ever to dance together in the White House. Photo by Karen Ocamb

BY KAREN OCAMB  |  Growing up, Diane Abbitt never expected “lesbian activist” to be on her resume. But in college she met Roberta Bennett, the two married fraternity brothers, had kids and fell in love. Abbitt’s life forever changed when she sought a divorce and her husband demanded their two small sons. The lesbian couple went to law school at night to learn how to fight for custody of their children.

Personifying the feminist saying “the personal is political,” the two founded NOW’s Lesbian Rights Task Force. Abbitt, who officially coming out in 1973, soon became enmeshed in politics in 1976 after her friend Peter Scott asked her to join the board of the all-male political action committee, MECLA, the Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles. David Mixner, who had just successfully managed Mayor Tom Bradley’s reelection campaign, also signed up — and came out. MECLA’s political power scored in the 1977 city elections and exploded in 1978 when MECLA helped organize the grassroots No on 64 campaign to defeat the Anita Bryant-inspired anti-gay Briggs Initiative. 

Abbitt recalled those days when introducing Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton on May 11, 1992 at an ANGLE community fundraiser at the Palace Theatre in Hollywood, calling it “the biggest presidential rally ever held by the gay and lesbian community.” When MECLA started, Abbitt said, “we couldn’t raise money out of our own community. We were too scared. And when we did raise money, the politicians wouldn’t accept it.” But, she said, with Dr. Scott Hitt on one side, and Clinton on the other, “times have changed.”

Indeed, they had. AIDS hit the gay community like an unstoppable blinding hurricane, leaving devastation and death in its long wake. Abbitt had joined Dr. Joel Weisman, co-author with Dr. Michael Gottlieb of the first CDC article about HIV/AIDS, in becoming the first board co-chairs of AIDS Project Los Angeles. Abbitt would lose scores of close friends, including Peter Scott, whose very name still brings tears to her eyes.

Abbitt’s fight has included serving on the boards of the Human Rights Campaign, Equality California, Freedom to Marry and the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, advocating for change. And at holiday gatherings hosted with her beloved life and business partner Bernadette Abbruzze, Abbitt is still a leader, making sure her extended family and close friends— including her former law clerk John Duran and his longtime partner, Mark Morris—have everything they need.

Abbitt is widely respected as a “checkbook activist,” an “A-gay”—but she has never forgotten her roots. At a 2012 rally in West Hollywood celebrating the 9th Circuit ruling on Prop 8, Abbitt told the gathering that after domestic partnerships passed in 2003, “we thought we had the world. And then came marriage. And people in our own community said, ‘Don’t rock the boat.’ But look what happens when you rock the boat! And the only reason that worked was because of you….So yes, thank you to all of our leaders….But most of all – thank you to every single person who decided it was time to come out, to be seen and to be heard. And together, we will win, forever.”

Related Posts

WeHo Asking For Community Input On Naming Request to Rename the West Hollywood Library

July 26, 2021

July 26, 2021

The City of West Hollywood is conducting a community survey to solicit public input about a naming request to rename...

Gaywatch: Back To The Beach

July 14, 2021

July 14, 2021

On Saturday July 10th Venice Pride hosted Gaywatch: Back To The Beach, a queer dance party at the only gay-owned...

“Gayest Episode Ever” An LGBTQ+ Podcast

June 29, 2021

June 29, 2021

Gayest Episode Ever is an LGBTQ+ podcast hosted by journalist Drew Mackie and screenwriter Glen Lakin. The podcast looks at...

WeHo Poet Laureate Reviews LGBTQ Documentray “Senior Prom”

June 24, 2021

June 24, 2021

West Hollywood poet Laureate, RENT Poet founder and author of “The Poetry of Strangers: What I Learned Traveling America with...

Dogdrop’s List Of LGBTQ+ Pet Accessories

June 20, 2021

June 20, 2021

Dogdrop, a queer owned dog daycare in Los Angeles, is highlighting a list of LGBTQ+ pet accessories for Pride month. ...

Backstreet Boys & *NSYNC Partner Up For “Bingo Under The Stars” Pride Event At The Grove

June 19, 2021

June 19, 2021

On June 18th The Grove hosted “Bingo Under The Stars” as a charitable Pride event at The Grove’s Level 8....

Drag Filled Cocktail Event At the Beverly Center

June 19, 2021

June 19, 2021

On June 17th Beverly Center and The Webster hosted a private cocktail event with some of the city’s brightest LGBTQ+ stars. ...

Beverly Center Pride Celebrations For Pride Month

June 19, 2021

June 19, 2021

Throughout Pride month from June1st – June 30th the Beverly Center will honor the LGBTQ+ community with its long-standing PRIDE...

WeHo One City One Pride Kick-Off

June 11, 2021

June 11, 2021

On Saturday, May 22, 2021 the City of West Hollywood kicked-off its One City One Pride LGBTQ Arts Festival.  A...

Pride Poets Poetry Hotline This Weekend

June 11, 2021

June 11, 2021

West Hollywood’s poet laureate Brian Sonia-Wallace and the Pride Poets team will be writing free custom poems this weekend in...

LA Pride Announces “Thrive With Pride” Theme – E.P.I.C Pride Show, June 9th, 2021

June 9, 2021

June 9, 2021

E.P.I.C Pride, Highlighting the latest LGBTQ news in Entertainment, Politics, International affairs, and Culture. – LA Pride Announces “Thrive With...

Pride Poets’ Corner: Featuring Nate’Eya Kahsai

June 6, 2021

June 6, 2021

Pride Poets’ Corner, curated by WeHo’s Poet Laureate Brian Sonia-Wallace, would like to spread the word about their upcoming poetry...

Pride Poets’ Corner: Featuring Works By D.R. Baker

June 6, 2021

June 6, 2021

Pride Poets’ Corner, curated by WeHo’s Poet Laureate Brian Sonia-Wallace, would like to spread the word about their upcoming poetry...

LA Based Gay Comedian Nicky Paris Is Breaking Barriers

May 28, 2021

May 28, 2021

Nicky Paris is an LA Based gay comedian on the rise.  Making waves performing throughout the country, Paris has been...

The Abbey Food & Bar Celebrates 30 Years

May 23, 2021

May 23, 2021

On May 23rd The Abbey Food & Bar celebrated 30 years since its founding in May 1991. The Abbey has...