Lorri L. Jean was born on March 7th, 1957 in Boise, Idaho. She was the eldest child on the family farm, and she was handed both independence and immense responsibility from a young age. Lorri balanced the two with an unfailing work ethic and a complete disregard for gender roles or stereotypes. She attributes much of her personal and professional success to this upbringing, as well as to the unwavering support she received from her father and her “exceptional human being” of a mother.
While enduring struggles such as the loss of the family farm and a period of homelessness, her parents stayed positive and never strayed from their personal values. Listening to Lorri’s retelling of her life story is like reading down a checklist of these values, punctuated by sentences that somehow ring both axiomatic and deeply authentic to Lorri’s own experience. She speaks about honesty (“That’s why I didn’t stay in the closet very long—because I felt like I was lying to people”), confidence (“I could be whoever I wanted to be”), and, perhaps most importantly, optimism (“I just felt like everything was gonna work out”). It is clear that her parents’ lessons stuck around.
Throughout her impressively winding educational journey and career path, one thread is clear: Lorri’s passion for activism. While attending law school at Georgetown University in 1979, Lorri was the lead plaintiff in a landmark lawsuit against the university that successfully fought for the rights of gay and lesbian groups on campus. Later, as a lawyer and deputy regional director for FEMA, Lorri played a major role in ending sexual orientation-based discrimination in government security clearance practices.
When AIDS began to proliferate across the nation, Lorri witnessed and experienced countless losses. In her roles as president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance and as a lawyer, she shouldered huge responsibility through tragedy. When she speaks of the crisis now, her trademark optimism again shines through. She talks of silver linings, open-mindedness, and moments of connection and humanity.
Eventually, Lorri’s passion for activism, advocacy, and service led her to the role of CEO of the Los Angeles LGBT Center. In her first tenure, Lorri quadrupled the size of the organization’s budget and tripled the number of staff. In 1999, after six years at the center, Lorri and her “right-hand” Darrel Cummings stepped down from their positions and left for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. After a four and a half year absence, they returned. Throughout her two tenures, Lorri has worked on projects such as the creation of the AIDS Life/Cycle and the building of the center’s new Anita May Rosenstein Campus. Lorri describes the latter as the embodiment of “the dream of an intergenerational campus where seniors and youth could help each other and live and learn.”
After more than 25 years at the LALGBTC, Lorri retired in July of 2022. In her interview with OUTWORDS, Lorri refers to this change as a “relief.” Though Lorri may have her fears about the future of the movement, it is clear that her hesitations will never overshadow her hopes. As she passes, or perhaps shares, the baton with young people who have as much passion as she, she wants us all to keep our eyes open to what is possible. As Lorri says, “once you begin to envision things, you can begin to create them.”