Torie Osborn was born in 1950 in Copenhagen, Denmark, and moved with her family to Madrid, Spain at the age of five. In Madrid, Torie witnessed a food riot. Mothers and hungry kids clashed with armed soldiers. Gunshots rang out. Torie ran home with her mom, horrified and angry. Her mother later said this was the day her daughter became an activist.
Torie’s family made their way back to the US. She attended Barnard and Middlebury College, where she founded the Middlebury College Women’s Union to reform women’s health services on campus. At 22, Torie came out to her parents—only to have her father upstage her with his own coming out story. He had been openly gay before marrying Torie’s mother. Torie later found out that the family’s move back to the US from Madrid was the result of her father being outed and fired from the State Department. Her father’s unwillingness to talk openly about these events shadowed Torie’s relationship with him until the day he died.
Along with being an activist in college, Torie also discovered the power of women’s music. After college, she moved to California where she ran Holly Near’s record company, organized Holly’s 30-city tour with then-lover Meg Christian, and later co-produced the West Coast Women’s Music Festival, some 5,000 women congregating in the woods near Yosemite National Park. “We created this alternative world that was safe from the real world, separate from the real world, and incredibly empowering and joyful.”
In the late 1970s, Torie landed in San Francisco. The gay and lesbian worlds were very separate; the men owned the Castro, the women the Mission. This changed with Anita Bryant’s odious attacks on homosexuals, the game-changing battle against the 1978 Briggs Initiative, the assassination of Harvey Milk, and most prominently, the advent of AIDS. “I called up all of my lesbian friends, and I said, Quit your jobs. We’re going to work for San Francisco General because our brothers are dying and we have to help them.”
In 1988, Torie became the first woman executive director of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center (today the LA LGBT Center). She subsequently served as executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington DC, America’s oldest gay and lesbian civil rights organization. From 1997 through 2005, Osborn was the executive director of the Liberty Hill Foundation, a Los Angeles-based non-profit dedicated to environmental, economic, and social justice. She served as a senior policy advisor to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on homelessness, poverty and economic development, and as senior strategist for California Calls, a network of 27 California organizations committed to common-sense government, tax, and budget reform.
At 70, Torie describes herself as “obsessed” with the next generation. She wants young queer and straight activists to understand how they got here—how the LGBTQ community “moved the needle 15 points” in less than a generation. She calls it a story of hope in the face of death, oppression, and violence. “It’s about human survival,” she says, “and learning how to do it better.”
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