Not long ago, I celebrated the oldest gay male icons and what they have brought (and still bring) to the culture. Well, naturally, I’m doing the same for the ladies. Here are the 24 oldest lesbian and bisexual female notables, in descending order of age. A toast to their longevity.
Jane Wagner, 85
Lily Tomlin’s wife and collaborator in all things, Jane wrote Lily’s Broadway triumph The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe and also films like The Incredible Shrinking Woman. Her role in Lily’s life has never shrunk.
Lily Tomlin, 80
Jane Wagner’s wife, Lily has had a long, genius career trajectory from the TV sketch comedy show Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In to the classic film Nashville to her current Netflix series Grace and Frankie.
Joan Baez, 79
The extraordinary singer-activist has had romances with men, including Bob Dylan and Steve Jobs, but has also talked about the affair she had with a woman.
Margarethe “Grethe” Cammermeyer, 78
A colonel in the Washington National Guard, Cammermeyer had previously been married to man, but when she disclosed that she was a lesbian, she was honorably discharged. She sued and not only got back in, she became an icon, with a 1995 TV movie called Serving in Silence, starring Glenn Close as her. Cammermeyer is married to artist Diane Divelbess.
Robin Tyler, 78
The groundbreaking comic had a feminist act with her soulmate, the late Patty Harrison, with whom she played clubs, TV shows, and demonstrations. Just as significantly, with Tyler vs. the State of California, Tyler and her late wife Diane Olson were the first lesbian plaintiffs to file the suit that ended up getting same-sex marriage in California. Tyler’s gone back to her one-woman show Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Groom, reminding me that the 1979 album of the same name made history as the first out gay or lesbian comedy album. Tyler is the subject of a documentary being made.
Holland Taylor, 77
One of the most revered actors in the biz, Taylor is known for TV (The Practice, Two and a Half Men), movies, and theater. She is in a relationship with another biggie, Sarah Paulson.
Billie Jean King, 76
The tennis superstar was married to a man when she started dating a woman, who forced Billie Jean to come out when she filed a 1981 palimony suit. King—the subject of the 2017 film Battle of the Sexes, about her tiffs with misogynistic rival Bobby Riggs—is partnered in life with another ex-tennis star, Ilana Kloss.
Angela Davis, 76
A fiery activist, writer, and USC professor, Davis is the subject of a biopic being made by Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust).
Alice Walker, 76
Walker has said she’s not a lesbian, bisexual, or straight, “I’m just curious.” The Georgia-born Pulitzer winner wrote the legendary 1982 novel The Color Purple, about the emancipation of the downtrodden Miss Celie with the help of bisexual party gal Shug Avery.
Nona Hendryx, 75
Nona was one of the 1960s and ’70s girl group trio Labelle, the original “Lady Marmalade” ladies, who were managed by a lesbian genius named Vicki Wickham, 81. Nona has always been a fearless singer-songwriter-producer.
Rita Mae Brown, 75
Brown is the feminist author whose 1973 novel Rubyfruit Jungle was a lesbian coming-of-age tale that broke new ground. She doesn’t believe in gay or straight labels, but lesbians do worship her stuff.
Meredith Baxter, 72
The “family queen”—known from TV series like Family and Family Ties—Baxter was married to three men, including actor David Birney, before she announced that she’s a lesbian. Baxter began a relationship with general contractor Nancy Locke in 2005, and they married in 2013, officializing their family ties.
Kate Clinton, 72
The hilarious comedian swings at targets both personal and political, and more seriously, she’s married to longtime activist Urvashi Vaid, 61.
Jewelle Gomez, 71
An important author, critic, playwright, essayist, and activist, Gomez and her partner, Dr. Diane Sabin, were among the litigants for same-sex marriage in California.
Annie Leibovitz, 70
Conde Nast’s favorite portrait photographer, Annie has long been the go-to person to capture celebrities in both elegance and realness. She was partnered with the late writer Susan Sontag. [Also: Caitlyn Jenner, 70 (71 in November) has raised visibility for trans women who love other women, though not everyone is a fan.]
Born Ramona Lofton, the bisexual author made big waves with her very first novel, Push—a harrowing tale of incest and abuse, which was made into the award-winning film Precious.
Fran Lebowitz, 69
The NYC essayist became an icon with her collections Metropolitan Life and Social Studies, which established her as the new, lesbian Dorothy Parker.
Janis Ian, 69
In 1975, the singer-songwriter’s “At Seventeen” became an anthem for anyone who felt like an outcast in their awkward years. She came out as a lesbian in 1993 with the release of her Breaking Silence album and married lawyer Patricia Snyder in 2003.
Suze Orman, 68
The financial advisor may have made her best deal of all when she wed her business partner, Kathy Travis. Also: Actor Melanie Mayron (Girlfriends), 67.
Marsha Warfield, 66
So salty and funny on Night Court, the actor-comic was in the glass closet for many years, but she officially came out in 2017, saying, “Nobody should have to hide their sexuality.”
Monika Treut, 66
The German filmmaker specializes in sexually daring works like Seduction: The Cruel Woman and Virgin Machine. In her hands, a title like My Father’s Coming (her 1991 romp) obviously has more than one meaning.
Sandra Bernhard, 64
The longtime comic provocateur—who’s partnered with writer-producer Sara Switzer—has always been there first, no matter what. Madonna’s gal pal became the world’s.
A comic-performance artist who’s acted in films like Quiz Show and Kinsey, Reno is also known for her 2001 Bravo reality show, Citizen Reno, produced by Jane Wagner and Lily Tomlin.
Martina Navratilova, 63
The Czech-born tennis great came out as bisexual in 1981 but later defined herself as a lesbian. In 2014, she married businesswoman and former Miss USSR Julia Lemigova, with whom she redefines the tennis term, “love.”
See also: Actor Cherry Jones, 63; Producer-writer Ilene Chaiken, 62; Mamma Mia! film director Phyllida Lloyd; actor Kelly McGillis, 62; TV host Ellen DeGeneres, 62; bisexual author-performer Susie Bright, 62; comic Lea DeLaria, 61; director Amanda Bearse, 61; Megan Mullally, 61, who says everyone is innately born bisexual; comic actor Jane Lynch, 59; comic strip and graphic memoir author Alison Bechdel, 59; and GMA anchor Robin Roberts, 59.
Main image: Fran Lebowitz.