Gearhart grew up in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia. She was raised by her grandmother and mother after her parents divorced. Her grandmother owned a local theater, which allowed Gearhart to watch many movies. Looking back, she said, "There was another undercurrent going on. That was my lesbianism. From when I was ten years old, I knew that I wasn't going to have children."
Gearhart attended Sweet Briar College. She graduated with a B.A. in Drama and English in 1952. At Bowling Green State University she obtained a master's degree in theater and public address in 1953. She continued on at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, getting her Ph.D. in theater in 1956.
Gearhart began teaching speech and theater at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. The Lutheran climate of the school did not allow Gearhart to embrace her sexuality fully. Her determination to hide her true sexual identity continued through two more teaching positions in the Midwest, and until she moved to San Francisco, California in 1970. By 1973, Gearhart was employed at San Francisco State University, where she went from teaching speech to teaching women's studies. There she was able to develop one of the first women and gender studies programs in the United States.
A fund was established in Gearhart's name in January 2008 at the University of Oregon to fund students in the Women's and Gender Studies program.
After Gearhart received tenure from SFSU she was able to continue her writings focused on lesbianism and related political topics. She also became politically active, in particular, fighting for radical feminist causes.
In 1978, Gearhart fought alongside Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay politicians in the U.S., to defeat California Proposition 6, known as the "Briggs Initiative." Gearhart famously debated John Briggs, attacking the initiative to ban homosexuals from academic positions. A clip of the debate appeared in the documentary film The Times of Harvey Milk, which also included Gearhart talking about working with Milk against Proposition 6, and reactions in San Francisco in the aftermath of Milk's assassination.
While living in San Francisco, Gearhart began writing science fiction novels and short stories that highlighted her utopian ideals for a wider lesbian audience. In 1978 her most famous novel, The Wanderground, was published. She did not limit her writing to the science fiction genre. She also wrote a book entitled Loving Women/Loving Men: Gay Liberation and the Church, which was aimed at the conservative Christian churches and communities that barred homosexuals from fellowship. While never fully embracing the Christian faith, Gearhart did acknowledge the parts of it that were meaningful for her own ideals. She once stated that “love is the universal truth lying at the heart of all creation.” She also co-wrote A Feminist Tarot with Susan Rennie. When it was first published in 1981 by Persephone Press, it was one of several tarot divination books on the market attempting to find alternative meanings within the symbology. Unusual for a work of feminist spirituality at a time of goddess worship, she kept the conventional Rider Waite Smith imagery and wrote a book to accompany it, reinterpreting and subverting the stated meanings.
Gearhart lives north of Willits, California and labels herself "a recovering political activist."
Sally Miller Gearhart, 1996, by Robert Giard (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl_getrec.asp?fld=img&id=1123941)
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digital
More Particular Voices at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Particular Voices
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