Judy Abdo (née Ulrich) was born on October 23, 1943. She describes her early childhood in Inglewood, California as “idyllic” — she hosted classmates to play in her backyard, watched her mother participate in PTA meetings, and had caring teachers who inspired her to go into teaching. Judy’s family moved from an all-white, predominantly Christian neighborhood to West Hollywood when she was 11 for her father to open a plumbing shop; there, she was exposed to an ethnically diverse and queer-accepting community. Her mother set a strong example of community involvement as she worked with the League of Women Voters to encourage women to participate in politics, while also leading the local Girl Scouts troops. Through her childhood and adulthood, Judy went on to follow her mother’s footsteps in dedicating herself to community involvement.
Judy met and began dating her future husband, Joseph Abdo, in junior high. She pursued her teaching degree at UCSB, and continued to build a life with Joseph. During this time, she also started interacting with the lesbian community — she had two lesbian professors, and she met several openly lesbian colleagues in her first teaching placement in Burbank. As her husband moved around for his Air Force job, she followed him and taught across the country, until finally they got divorced after 14 years together because he wanted to date other women. After the divorce, Judy initially continued to date men, while also getting involved in organizing among lesbian and feminist communities through the 1970s.
She started by getting involved in the progressive church in Ocean Park, where she helped organize a domestic violence shelter and run an existing alcohol dependency center through the Ocean Park Community Center. Judy eventually left teaching to work full-time in church administration to serve the Ocean Park community. She was surrounded by lesbian community leaders running collectives centered on learning the politics of the women’s, feminist, and lesbian movements. She soon fell in love with another woman and then began identifying as lesbian.
In 1981, Judy stepped into government politics for the first time by working with Jim Cohn—the minister at her church and then-Mayor of Santa Monica—to pass rent control. In 1988, Judy stood for the Santa Monica City Council to ensure Ocean Park would have a voice in Santa Monica’s government. She ran as an out lesbian, and was surprised to find that this wasn’t an issue for Santa Monica residents, who elected her to consecutive terms. Along with fellow progressive Council members, she fostered initiatives for environmental sustainability, rent control, early childhood education, and to prohibit discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS.
In 1990, Judy Abdo became the first out lesbian woman to serve as Mayor of Santa Monica (in 1990-1991 and 1992-1994), and one of the first out LGBTQ+ mayors nationwide. She spent the end of her term helping the city recover from the 1994 earthquake by advocating for resources from the federal government. In addition to her civic work, Judy was a cofounder of Santa Monica’s Sojourn Shelter and the Santa Monica AIDS Project, a steering committee member of Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR), and an early member of the LGBTQ+ advocacy group We Advocate Visibility, Equality, and Strength (WAVES). Having received official commendations from the cities of Santa Monica and Los Angeles for her activism across the decades, Judy continues to be a leading voice today in local politics and community organizing.