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Lesbian Author-Scholar Julia Penelope Dead at 71

By Trudy Ring

Lesbian feminist writer, philosopher, linguist, and political activist Julia Penelope has died at age 71.

Penelope, a Florida native, died Saturday in Texas, Windy City Times reports. She produced numerous books as either author or editor, including Lesbians Only: A Separatist Anthology; The Original Coming Out Stories; Finding the Lesbians; International Feminist Fiction; Sexual Practice/Textual Theory: Lesbian Cultural Criticism; Lesbian Culture: An Anthology; Out of the Class Closet: Lesbian Speak; Call Me Lesbian: Lesbian Lives, Lesbian Theory; and Crossword Puzzles for Women.

She taught at several universities, including the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, but she “was reportedly passed over for promotions because of her focus on lesbian issues,” Windy City Times notes. She was one of the first professors to teach courses in women’s studies. She also encountered difficulties with academic authorities in her student years, having been asked to leave Florida State University in 1959 because she was a lesbian. She went on to receive degrees from the City University of New York and University of Texas at Austin.

Penelope was a controversial writer and scholar, according to a biographical entry in the Encyclopedia of Lesbian and Gay Histories and Cultures, in part because she was a separatist and because she criticized some sexual practices, such as sadomasochism, among lesbians. “Disheartened by lesbian infighting, she eventually withdrew from lesbian writing, devoting her energies instead to editing copy for major commercial presses,” the book relates.

She eventually settled in Lubbock, Texas, where she pursued her freelance editing career and helped found the Lubbock County Green Party, according to the website OurCampaigns.com. She ran for Congress as a Green candidate in a 2003 special election; her platform emphasized environmental protection and opposition to war with Iraq as well as support for human rights.

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