Ivy Bottini didn’t really mean to suggest taking over the Statue of Liberty—-not seriously.
It was just that two other women were considering doing something she thought was really stupid, and the statue idea seemed to derail that plan. They were all in a bar drinking beer—she didn’t really think they’d remember in the morning. But they did.
Bottini will share the details of that story, and many more stories from her long career as an activist, on stage tonight and tomorrow night in her one-woman show ‘Ivy Bottini: A Life of Love & Laughter’ at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Tonight’s opening show also marks the 88th birthday of the longtime feminist, LGBT activist and West Hollywood resident.
“I don’t know how much time I have left, and I have so many experiences that I really want to share with the community,” she said. The show, she promises, will include “some funny stuff and some very personal stuff and then some stories.”
Bottini’s love for performing stretches back to a connection with the National Organization for Women (NOW). In fact, it was a 1974 call from a representative of New York’s NOW chapter (of which Bottini was a co-founder) that got her started on stage.
“They heard I had an act, which I didn’t,” Bottini admits. But she was taking improv classes, and she accepted the invitation to perform at a NOW event thinking, “What the hell am I going to do?”
She developed a show about a woman with a story that followed her from birth through death. It highlighted how girls were permitted to do only so much “and then the men took over,” Bottini said. After the show, people from various NOW chapters shook Bottini’s hand, complimented her performance–and invited her to take her show on the road. The night ended with seven invitations, and Bottini undertook a tour.
“I figure if a door opens, I’m going through,” Bottini said.
NOW was Bottini’s springboard, but it also sprung her loose. It was the second year of Bottini’s two-year term as president, and the chapter had grown tremendously during her tenure. But, she said, she did a couple of things that upset NOW founding president Betty Friedan.
“I brought up the lesbian issue,” Bottini said. During a protest march, Bottini helped other members distribute purple armbands to show support for lesbians. She saw Friedan in front of her and passed her an armband, saying, “Here you go, Betty.” Friedan threw it to the ground and used her foot to grind it.
Whether Friedan was anti-lesbian or whether her objections were purely strategic and political, Bottini says she doesn’t know. Regardless, Bottini’s ouster was imminent. When the 1970 chapter elections were held, a crowd of some 300 people turned out, and Bottini said she didn’t recognize the vast majority of them.
Bottini said, “I trust the membership.” Then she lost the presidency, by some seven votes, to a woman she’d never seen before.
“The Women’s Movement’s loss was the LGBT movement’s gain!” said Jeanne Cordova, author, activist and longtime friend of Bottini’s.
Before Bottini came out, she was married to a man and had two daughters. Her marriage ended in 1968, and a couple of years later she came out publicly.
“But I had spent my whole life in love with one woman or another,” she said. “I just love women so much … and God forbid we have sex because I’m getting a U-Haul! I’m not doing that anymore.”
When she moved to California in 1971, she made the move with her then-partner. The two women headed right for a NOW convention.
“Everybody was on their feet because they heard what happened,” Bottini said. That weekend, NOW passed its first pro-lesbian resolution.
Bottini’s passion for feminist issues continued. She used to lead “feminist consciousness-raising” sessions in which women could talk about different topics. Each session included no more than 20 women, and they each shared their opinions on the topic at hand with no cross-talking or arguing.
“It was that woman’s opinion, and that was good enough,” Bottini said. “It was very, very affirming for women.”
It’s a common format now, but at that time it was unusual to have a safe space to talk about feeling unfulfilled in a marriage, struggling as a parent or contemplating a professional career.
For a short time in the mid-70s, Bottini was the director of women’s programs at the organization now called the Los Angeles LGBT Center. She left to fight the Briggs Initiative, a California ballot measure that would have banned gay and lesbian people from working in public schools.
Even before it was a formal ballot measure, Bottini said, she sensed that the Anita Bryant brand of anti-gay hysteria would come to California. She spent two years, she said, spreading the word in Southern California.
“People responded beautifully,” she said. “All these organizations popped up.”
Cordova, who started the Gay and Lesbian Yellow Pages, credits friend Bottini for a politically insightful mind.
“I worked closely with Ivy on both California ballot Prop 6 in 1978 and Prop 64 in 1986. I was most impressed with her political strategic prowess,” Cordova said. “She always seemed to know what issues the right wing was going to throw at us next. And she knew how to respond to them tactically. She had a political mind that helped build and shape our state’s winning profile for the rest of the country … She’s been my closest political buddy for 30 years. Her loyalty and friendship has always been my political crutch.”
Prop 6 was the Briggs Initiative. Prop 64, the other measure Cordova referred to, was the La Rouche ballot measure that would have designated AIDS as a “communicable disease.” Opponents viewed Prop 64 as potentially threatening a quarantine for men with HIV/AIDS.
AIDS activism has long been important to Bottini. When a good friend of hers grew ill in 1982 and suffered from Kaposi’s sarcoma, she had the sense something terrible was coming. One day the friend was driving home when he pulled over and passed out. Bottini called the Centers for Disease Control—“my gut just said you’ve got to call them”—but they weren’t responsive. Her ailing friend died that week.
Bottini “switched over” and worked full-time on HIV/AIDS issues. She was an organizer of the Los Angeles AIDS Network, which shared information about the disease, and she was a founding board member of AIDS Project Los Angeles.
Bottini moved from Silver Lake to West Hollywood in 1997. The impetus was practical.
“I was spending a fortune on gas coming over here two or three times a day,” Bottini said. “It was a good decision. It was perfect.”
The move made sense for Bottini, who has long been active in local politics and has served for years on the city’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board. And, an opponent of “assimilation,” Bottini loves that LGBT enclaves serve as a home base for community organizing.
And yet, WeHo might not fit quite as well as it once did. For one thing, lesbian-oriented businesses have closed their doors. Older lesbians, Bottini feels, “don’t feel welcome—there’s nothing here for lesbians … there’s really nothing here for women who are more than young women.”
That’s one of the reasons Bottini spent a few years lobbying the City Council for lesbian space. The City Council voted for vacant office space in the Werle Building at 626 Robertson Blvd. to be used as a gathering space for lesbian-oriented events. Two fledgling lesbian organizations plan to use the space; one is The Lesbian Center (TLC), which both Bottini and Cordova are involved in.
As for younger LGBT people, Bottini worries they’re too focused on dancing and partying, and not enough on community, culture and history.
“What I’m worried about is that our culture is going to disappear,” Bottini said. She’s worried about enclaves disintegrating and leaving LGBT people without a community home and a place to rally the troops. She’s worried about apathy, about LGBT people who believe that the fight is over.
“Assimilation is so destructive and dangerous. It puts us in all kinds of danger. Assimilation is horrible,” Bottini said.
And she’s still not a fan of marriage.
“I have never been for marriage; I probably never will be for marriage,” she said. “Maybe if it was a different word … It doesn’t breed independence for women.”
It’s an unpopular stance, but Bottini—who has railed against perceived sexism in WeHo elections, for instance—is used to taking those. From the time she grew up in a neighborhood full of boys, Bottini was willing to assert herself. And she doesn’t mind bantering and debating with friends who disagree with her strong opinions. A small woman with short, wavy white hair, Bottini will laugh and joke—in a voice that still betrays her Long Island roots—as she forcefully stands her ground.
Throughout her decades as an activist, Bottini kept her sense of humor as well as her love of art. Her many awards, which once hung on her walls, are boxed up and destined for the ONE Archives. But today her condo is full of art she created.
Later this month, Bottini will exhibit her artwork at the LGBT Center’s art gallery, where work by her daughter Lisa Santasiero will also be displayed. Bottini’s show is called Disrupt; Santasiero’s is Doorways. The dual exhibit will open on Aug. 28 and run through Sept. 20.
“Ivy Bottini has been a pioneer in the women’s movement and the LGBT movement. We are honored to have her on our stage,” said Jon Imparato, the Center’s director of Cultural Arts. “Having [the] Mother/Daughter art exhibit is a first for us and an added bonus to the [show].”
In the spirit of full disclosure, WEHOville contributing editor Stevie St. John previously worked in the marketing and communications department at the Los Angeles LGBT Center (then the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center).