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San Francisco’s Rainbow Honor Walk Commemorates Marie Equi

January 2, 2018

OSU Press author Michael Helquist had the opportunity to present at the unveiling of the mock-up of Marie Equi’s plaque for San Francisco’s Rainbow Honor Walk. Michael’s biography, Marie Equi: Radical Politics and Outlaw Passions, explores the fiercely independent life of an extraordinary woman who used her professional status as a physician to fight for woman suffrage, labor rights, and reproductive freedom and was the first well-known lesbian in Oregon. Marie Equi’s inclusion in San Francisco’s Rainbow Honor Walk is a well-deserved honor commemorating her unparalleled life journey.

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Michael Helquist, Marie Equi biographer, at unveiling of mock-up.The official mock-up of Marie Equi’s plaque for San Francisco’s Rainbow Honor Walk was unveiled last month during a presentation by author Michael Helquist (Marie Equi: Radical Politics and Outlaw Passions). The rendering reveals Equi’s likeness, her signature, and a description of her efforts to achieve a more just society. In spring 2018 the 3’ by 3’ bronze plaque will be installed in the sidewalk along Market Street, San Francisco’s primary thoroughfare, as part of a tribute to deceased LGBTQ individuals worldwide who made significant contributions to their fields.

Equi will join a stellar group of nearly three dozen individuals who have already been recognized with plaques, ranging from activists Bayard Rustin, Harry Hay, and Jane Addams; artists Frida Kahlo and Keith Haring, authors Virginia Woolf, Yukio Mishima, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Tennessee Williams, and Federico Garcia Lorca; scientist Alan Turing, singer Sylvester James, and Jose Sarria, founder of the Imperial Court System.

The Rainbow Honor Walk is an all-volunteer project based in San Francisco’s LGBTQ community. Begun in 2011, the organization funds production and placement of the bronze plaques through community outreach and private donations. (Each plaque costs about $5,000.) The City and County of San Francisco collaborates with planning and installation and the city’s art commission approves the design. Artist Carlos Casuso of Madrid, Spain was selected to design the plaques following an international design competition. The first 24 plaques were installed mostly along Castro Street in the city’s LGBTQ neighborhood, and then organizers extended the route on either side of Market Street with the next batch of twenty-four plaques.

Mock-up of Marie Equi bronze plaque to be installed in Rainbow Honor Walk.In November 2017 Helquist and historian Paula Lichtenberg presented a talk at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco that illustrated the shift in the general public’s attitudes toward same-sex intimate relationships from the late 1890s to the 1920s. Helquist referred to the Oregon public’s general acceptance of Marie Equi’s relationship with her companion Bessie Holcomb in the mid-1890s contrasted with the harsh disapproval she encountered during a public inheritance dispute involving her intimate companion in Portland in 1906.

Although Marie Equi’s reputation extends beyond the Pacific Northwest, she was not particularly well known in San Francisco’s activist, women’s, and LGBTQ communities. Her recent biography significantly changed that.

For more information on Marie Equi see michaelhelquist.com and for the Rainbow Honor Walk see rainbowhonorwalk.org.

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