“The LGBTQ+ community is the only minority that encompasses all minorities,” said activist Gabrielle Antolovich, Board President of the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ+ Community Center in San Jose.
“We are African American, Aboriginal, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, immigrants, undocumented,” said Antolovich. “We are from everywhere. We are the uniting community supporting our sibling organizations fighting racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia.”
Antolovich, who identifies as a nonbinary genderqueer person, uses the pronouns they/them. They are well known around Silicon Valley as a vocal LGBTQ+ rights activist who believes that minorities stand stronger when they stand together in fighting discrimination.
Antolovich points out another distinction of the LGBTQ+ community, one personally experienced.
“We are the only minority that often gets rejected by our own family, making a LGBTQ+ community space like the Billy DeFrank Center a crucial place for our people and allies to thrive,” said Antolovich.
Antolovich has a life-long history as an activist. They were born in Australia in 1950, the only child of immigrants recruited to Australia from Yugoslavia. When they were five, they witnessed their parents being attacked by white men for “looking foreign” and not speaking English. Afraid for their parents, they attacked the men and swore at them in Yugoslavian.
“And so, the activist Gabrielle was born,” said Antolovich. “Since then, [I] became an activist about many issues—all of them as an initial strong emotional reaction to the world around me.”
In high school, in their first support of women’s issues, Antolovich protested girls feeling social pressure to exhibit themselves in skimpy bikinis. They organized a sewing bee to make 1920s-style swimsuits that covered one from neck to knee and walked on the beaches with classmates in silent protest.
Protesting Capitalism, Antolovich lived in communes where households shared resources. They protested nuclear energy and stood up for land rights for their aboriginal friends. Meeting a 19-year-old young man crying about being drafted, afraid to shoot anyone, moved them to join the anti-Vietnam War movement.
In 1969, after witnessing gay men being beaten in alleys and helping tend their wounds, they joined the first LGBTQ+ community center in Sydney.
Antolovich, who worked as an alcohol and drug abuse counselor, moved to Los Angeles in 1987 and then to San Jose in 1990. They directed Voices United, a nonprofit to keep teenagers safe from easy access to alcohol, tobacco and substances, before assuming leadership of the Billy DeFrank Center.
Under the leadership of Antolovich and other volunteers, the center is becoming a growing force for equal rights.
“The personal reward [of being an activist] has always been finding my passion, which has always helped me be creative and be a problem solver,” said Antolovich. “It has often cost me my love relationships because activism is very demanding of time and energy.”
Antolovich and other LGBTQ+’s joined thousands at the Bans Off Our Bodies Rally at San Jose City Hall on June 25 in protest of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 overturn of Roe v. Wade.
In a concurring opinion, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the Supreme Court should also reconsider the rulings that protect contraception, same-sex relationships and marriage equality.
“If that happens, these rights—just like abortion— will be up for state legislatures to decide,” said Antolovich. “That makes it even more urgent that we come together now to invest in organizing, messaging, and mobilization work across communities—women, LGBTQ+’s, and every racial and ethnic community.”
Unlike the movies that Antolovich loves watching for relaxation, their journey as an activist is never ending.