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social sciences

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O'Leary, Jean (1948-2005)  
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After the historic White House gathering, Costanza arranged for O'Leary and Voeller to meet with senior officials from federal departments and agencies to continue the discussion. While the meetings did not result in immediate or dramatic progress, they did serve to increase awareness of gay rights issues and establish them as an integral element of public policy.

O'Leary's efforts at the NGTF took many forms. Often together with Voeller, she traveled extensively in support of gay civil rights legislation and the repeal of laws. They put considerable effort into community organizing to build momentum for change. The NGTF was also active in the successful campaign to have the American Psychiatric Association remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

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After five years with the NGTF, O'Leary left to become executive director of the National Gay Rights Advocates (NGRA) in 1981. A nonprofit public-interest group, the NGRA was dedicated to defending the civil liberties of gay men and lesbians. Its particular mission was to take on cases that would set legal precedents to protect gay and lesbian rights and to ensure that AIDS patients were protected from discrimination. O'Leary remained with the NGRA until 1989.

O'Leary joined with Rob Eichberg, the founder of The Experience, a program designed to develop self-esteem in gay men and lesbians, to establish National Coming Out Day. The initial observance was on October 11, 1988, the one-year anniversary of the second march on Washington. The event has developed into the National Coming Out Project of the Human Rights Campaign.

At the same time that O'Leary began working with the NGRA, she also ventured into the private sector, becoming an investment realtor in California.

Throughout her career O'Leary was active in Democratic Party politics. In 1976, she was the only openly lesbian delegate to the national convention. Over the years, she worked consistently to have glbtq issues addressed in the party platform and to increase the number of glbtq delegates.

In 1998 she served as co-chair of the Democratic National Committee's Gay and Lesbian Caucus and a member of the DNC Executive Committee. Together with fellow Gay and Lesbian Caucus member Jeff Soref and California Assemblywoman Carole Migden, O'Leary put forward an amendment to party rules requiring the inclusion of gay men and lesbians in all state delegations. The measure was unanimously adopted by the Rules and Bylaws Committee.

O'Leary resided in Los Angeles with her partner, Lisa Phelps, and their two children.

O'Leary died on June 4, 2005 from complications of lung cancer.

Linda Rapp

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Clendinen, Dudley, and Adam Nagourney. Out for Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Marcus, Eric. "The Ex-Nun--Jean O'Leary." Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights 1945-1990: An Oral History. New York: HarperCollins, 1992. 261-73.

O'Leary, Jean. "God Was an Innocent Bystander." Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence. Rosemary Curb and Nancy Manahan, eds. New York: Warner Books, 1985. 201-10.

Perry, Troy D., and Thomas L.P. Swicegood. "Sister Jean and the Lavender Dinosaur." Profiles in Gay & Lesbian Courage. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991. 97-122.


    Citation Information
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: O'Leary, Jean  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated August 10, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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