LGBTQ+ Pioneer, Social Justice Activist, Metta Fund Board Member, and Community Elder
Roma Pauline Guy is no ordinary woman. Recognized as one of the influential leaders of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement, she has dedicated much of her life to social justice – championing the rights of women, LGBTQ+ persons, immigrants, people with HIV, the BIPOC community, and elders. For decades, Roma has been at the forefront of advancing policy around issues such as homelessness, community health, alternatives to incarceration, and poverty.
Following college and several years of teaching, Roma spent nine years in the Peace Corps in West Africa, where she ultimately met her life partner, Diane Jones. Together, they moved to San Francisco in the 1970s and quickly got involved in the women’s and gay rights movements. Roma worked on women’s healthcare access and Diane became an HIV/AIDS nurse. Through their activism and policy leadership, Roma and Diane helped to press forward important issues concerning healthcare, workers’ rights, and more.“Women’s rights are the core of who I was,” said Roma.
They went on to co-found a number of significant anchor institutions in San Francisco, including The Women’s Building, a women-led community space that advocates for self-determination, gender equality, and social justice. Roma focused on anti-violence and developing public resources for girls’ and women’s liberation such as La Casa de las Madres, San Francisco’s first shelter for battered women, and the Women’s Foundation of California, a statewide foundation dedicated to achieving racial, economic, and gender justice. Roma is a former San Francisco Public Health Commissioner and was appointed as a member of the Mayor’s Homeless Task Force that developed the care plan to address the homeless crisis in the Bay Area. For many years, she also taught at San Francisco State University, Health Education Department, helping to inspire a new generation of social activists as well as directed the 9 Bay Area Homelessness curriculum Program. In 2005, Roma was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize as part of the 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize project.
Roma’s inspirational story of activism was featured in the ABC miniseries When We Rise, directed by Lance Black. The docudrama recounts the history of LGBTQ+ rights advocacy from the 1970s to the 2010s and chronicles the personal and political struggles and triumphs of a diverse group of LGBTQ+ individuals. It tells Roma’s story of coming to terms with her own sexuality as she confronts the struggle of being shunned as a lesbian by the women’s movement in the 1970s, and later as she navigates the AIDS crisis in support of gay men.
Despite being an LGBTQ+ trailblazer and history-maker, Roma Guy remains unassuming, approachable, and humble. Her soft voice, warm smile, and tenacity continue to enchant listeners and help move issues forward. As she reflects on the history of Pride Month and what it means to her today, she says that “Pride is about love and celebration and honoring. In the beginning, lesbians struggled and fought to get Pride to include the word lesbian. Now we have changed the discourse and are carving out a new pathway on the definition of humanity. That was not true about this population then.”
“Pride is about love and celebration and honoring. In the beginning, lesbians struggled and fought to get Pride to include the word lesbian. Now we have changed the discourse and are carving out a new pathway on the definition of humanity. That was not true about this population then.”
Today, Roma remains very active in the social justice community; whether at a local protest, board meeting, or organizing behind the scenes, she continues to fight for what justice means for everyone. Most recently, she has narrowed her efforts on the rights of cis/trans women who have been incarcerated. Looking back on her long career and advocacy, Roma says that there is still much work to be done to tackle “women’s rights, cis/trans rights, health rights for all, and decarceration alternatives of San Francisco jails.”
She passionately maintains that “the work – structural change – has to be intergenerational – if you want to have social change occur, think of the next generation. Different people must be at the table to get consensus. Some people of privilege, some people with experience of having been harmed. And importantly: people of different generations.”
Roma has been on the front lines of each battle our community has had to fight. Her activism and political involvement, in collaboration with her partner Diane and many other advocates, have had a lasting impact on San Francisco and beyond.
This Pride Month – and every month – we reflect on how to take the lessons you have taught us and continue to forge ahead in our commitment to advance justice. Thank you for your tremendous work, Roma. We salute you!