Ivy Bottini, the 83-year-old gay-rights activist who's been fighting social injustice for five decades, has lately found herself in a "floral phase." Dressed in blue jeans, sneakers and a white "I [heart] WeHo Dykes" T-shirt, she sits next to an easel in her sunlit studio jammed with finished and unfinished paintings, and contemplates why she has veered away from the political themes of her past work. At her studio tucked inside her condo, she now likes to paint blue and purple flowers, using oranges and reds for highlights.
"They're peaceful," Bottini says on a recent afternoon. "They just are. Flowers don't lie. They're not mysterious. They're just beautiful. And I've been involved in so many years of ugliness. In people hating each other. In people dying. I guess I just wanted some beauty in my life."
That ugliness dates back to 1966, when Bottini was a founder of the first chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and fought for women's rights in New York City. After than, among many other posts and battles, she was deputy director of the campaign that defeated 1978's Briggs Initiative, which would have banned gays and lesbians from teaching in California's public schools; co-founded AIDS Project L.A. in 1983; fought to get funding and services for the sick and dying; and organized numerous gay-rights marches and a few "die-ins" in the 1980s. She also became co-chairwoman of the Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board in West Hollywood in 1999. Through it all, Bottini hit the streets and organized.
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"I'm a firm believer that you cannot advance a movement as quickly and effectively if you don't have a grassroots movement," she says. "I'm convinced that's why we lost Prop. 8. We had no gay people out there in the campaign. We were in the closet. And I'm concerned because I see more gay institutions running the movement as if it's a corporation."
Bottini's eyesight is now impaired, and she doesn't get out as often as she would like, but she still co-chairs the Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board and works on different projects, such as an AIDS memorial in West Hollywood.
And Bottini paints, perhaps more now than ever. She'll turn on her karaoke machine, which stands in for a stereo, play something from Reba McEntire or the Supremes, and sometimes paint long into the night.
"For me, it's a very long period of meditation. I just let my mind stop. Sometimes I get up and dance for five or 10 minutes. The same energy you use for painting, you also use to form a picket line."