Lesley Gore: Lesbian, Jewish, Feminist

This June Keshet is so very excited to be partnering with the Jewish Women’s Archive to celebrate Pride. Each week we will bring you a profile of a different individual who has helped break down barriers and fight for her community as an LGBTQ (or ally) Jewish woman. To discover even more amazing, groundbreaking, Jewish women visit JWA.

One of my favorite parts of the movie The First Wives Club was when the first round of wives got their mojo on and started singing Lesley Gore’s feminist anthem,  “You Don’t Own Me.”

At the time, I did not know that the songstress was a Jewish woman, born Leslie Sue Goldstein in 1946.  Nor did I know that she was the same woman who sung “It’s My Party” when she was 16 years old.

In 1963, “You Don’t Own Me,” which became a second-wave feminist theme song, rose to number two in the Billboard charts, right behind the Beatles’ “It’s a Hard Day’s Night.”

The words “And don’t tell me what to do/And don’t tell me what to say/
And please, when I go out with you/Don’t put me on display” still resonate today.

Gore came out as a lesbian in 2005 when she hosted a PBS LBGTQ series Into the Light.  In an interview with AfterEllen, she said that coming out while hosting “was just kind of my way of saying, here I am and this is what I feel I should be doing now, and it was sort of a natural evolution for me as opposed to, you know, this great gong in the head.”

In the patriarchal music business, Gore did not have a woman mentor until she became friendly with Bella Abzug.

She [Bella Abzug] kind of mentored me as to what’s important for women and where to put my energies in terms of gay women, and what I could best do to help women in our community and children. And that’s pretty much what I live by now, pretty much where I like to concentrate my efforts. You can only bite off so much, so you gotta know what you want to do.”

 In 2012 a public service announcement which encouraging women to vote to support the issues of pay equality, reproductive choice and health, and marriage equality had Gore’s anthem as a soundtrack.

Gore, who was born in Brooklyn and raised in Tenafly, NJ, died in 2015.

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