Dr. Sally Miller Gearhart worked in the ivy halls of academia for forty years as a teacher of Theatre, Communication, Rhetoric, English, and Women Studies. She was probably the first open lesbian in higher education to be given a tenure-track position (1974).
Gearhart rowdily marched the streets of the San Francisco Bay Area for twenty years in support of progressive political causes, most especially for lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender rights. She was interviewed in a number of documentaries, among them Word Is Out (1977) and The Life and Times of Harvey Milk (the 1984 Academy Award winning documentary).
In 1972, Sally presented to a gathering of ministers at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley "The Lesbian and God-The-Father Or, All The Church Needs is A Good Lay --- On Its Side," one of the earliest of lesbian challenges to established religion. This paper (posted in the Archives Exhibit on this web site) was published in the 1974 book Loving Women/Loving Men: Gay Liberation and the Church that she co-edited with William R. Johnson. Gearhart also channelled a tarot book (1975) that, with the help of Susan Rennie, is still in print and wrote the feminist utopian novel, The Wanderground: Stories of Hill Women (1978), recently republished. She's now the proud author of the two fantasy-fiction Earthkeep Books: The Kanshou and (newly published) The Magister.
In 1964 Del Martin (seated at left) and Phyllis Lyon (center) were told by California legislators that the sanctions against homosexuality would never be raised unless churches and religious organizations supported such a change in public policy. Within weeks Del and Phyllis were working with Reverend Ted McIlvenny of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church and other activists to found The Council On Religion And The Homosexual, an organization which throughout the late 'sixties and the 'seventies offered symposiums, a speaker's bureau, and literature designed to educate followers of the Judeo-Christian tradition (and ultimately, legislators) about the lifestyle(s) of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Sally Miller Gearhart (seated at right) was co-chair (with Gary Titus) of CRH during the mid-seventies. This picture (courtesy of Jean C. Love) was taken at the Awards Dinner of the National Center For Lesbian Rights in June of 2001.
Sally lives north of Willits, California, on a mountain of contradictions with many animal companions and labels herself "a recovering political activist."
(This biographical statement provided by Sally Gearhart.)
Sally Miller Gearhart died on July 14, 2021.
Biography Date: July, 2003
Gearhart is remembered in this article in the New York Times magazine:
Lyon, Phyllis | Martin, Del | Council on Religion and the Homosexual | Graduate Theological Union (Berkeley, CA) | Author/editor | Feminism | Gay Liberation Movement | Women and Religion | Gearhardt, Sally Miller | EXHIBIT Council on Religion and the Homosexual | EXHIBIT A Sampler of Early Documents
“Dr. Sally Miller Gearhart | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed September 22, 2023, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/sally-miller-gearhart.
In 1973, Glide Publications in San Francisco asked Sally Gearhart and me to co-edit/author a book. I was Executive Director of the Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH) at the time, and Sally chaired our CRH Board of Directors. We formed what Sally called a “careful coalition” built on mutual respect. At that time, Sally’s feminism preceded her by about a quarter of a mile and lesbian/separatism was emerging, but I trusted her heart. Fifteen years my senior, she was patient with my emerging feminist consciousness. We shared many stories of our lives and experiences as early LGBTQI+ activists. We critiqued and explored one another’s ideas and we both engaged in serious introspection. Writing sessions often ended with “let’s think on these things” and a hug. Our shared candor laid a foundation for a lifelong friendship and enriched our book, Loving Women/Loving Men: Gay Liberation and the Church. I profoundly loved and respected Sally Gearhart as visionary, activist, teacher, woman. May her spirit live serenely among us, with power.. ”
– as remembered by Rev. Bill Johnson on July 18, 2021
“Sally might remember me as Donnie Tilley from band at Pearisburg High School. Sally was a senior trombone player and I was an 8th grade cornet player. We had a great band and a lot of fun band trips. Last time I saw Sally was on Jane Painter's front porch in Pearisburg, maybe summer 1957? Last I heard she was in Willits, CA.........Glad Sally is having a good life. ”
– as remembered by Don Overstreet on September 3, 2014
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