Marie Equi
by Michael Helquist

This is the first of a two-part series in which Bob Lederer will bring us a discussion if the remarkable life of Dr. Marie Equi, who lived from 1872 to 1952. Equi was a lesbian physician and political activist, primarily based in Portland, Oregon, who was devoted to providing care to working-class and poor patients, providing reproductive health care information to women, and fighting initially for civic and economic reforms, women’s right to vote and an eight-hour workday, and later for a socialist society as part of the anarchist Industrial Workers of the World or IWW. Due to her strident public opposition to World War I, which she denounced as an imperialist venture, she served 10 months in federal prison on charges of violating the Sedition Act passed at the behest of President Woodrow Wilson. Equi was also remarkably open about her intimate relationships with women in an era when doing so was extremely rare and stigma and persecution against lesbians and gay men was extreme.

Yet despite Equi’s groundbreaking achievements, she remains almost totally unknown, both to the LGBTQ community and the Left.

In 2015, the first full-length biography of Equi was published. Titled Marie Equi: Radical Politics and Outlaw Passions, it was written by Michael Helquist and published by Oregon State University Press. Michael is a writer and historian who has worked in the anti-war, HIV/AIDS, and LGBTQ movements since the 1970s. He has published widely in LGBTQ and mainstream publications. His biography of Equi was named a 2016 Stonewall Honor Book. We’re speaking with him from San Francisco, where he lives with his husband.