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Remembering Bonnie Tinker

May 26, 1948 – July 2, 2009

Bonnie Jeanne Tinker, lifelong equal rights activist, was killed on her bike on July 2, 2009 in Blacksburg, Virginia when a truck turned right and hit her. She was attending Friends General Conference where she had been presenting her Opening Hearts and Minds workshop devoted to non-violent speech for social change.
Bonnie was born May 26, 1948 in Boone, Iowa to Leonard Edward Jr. and Lorena Jeanne McGregor Tinker. Bonnie was the second of seven children and the oldest daughter. Leonard “Edward” III is her older brother. John, Mary Beth, Hope and Paul all joined the family by 1957. A sister Darlene died in infancy.
The Tinker family was active in the Civil Rights Movement and Peace Movement. Leonard was a Methodist minister who went to work for the American Friends Service Committee following a calling to put his beliefs into action. Lorena Jeanne set about early on to right the wrongs in this world and got her PhD in psychology along the way. The family secured a place in American history by winning the Vietnam era landmark Black Arm Band Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines School Board reaffirming students’ rights of free speech. Bonnie learned early about social responsibility, embracing the role of care giver, dedicated daughter, sister and engaged citizen of the world.
Along with Camp Fire Girls and drama classes, Bonnie’s youth included meetings, picket lines and demonstrations, the joy of camaraderie, the agony of others’ suffering and the anger at injustice. At age 15 she won an NAACP contest with her essay What the Emancipation Proclamation Means to Me. She attended the 1963 March on Washington and heard Martin Luther King give his I Have a Dream speech.
Bonnie graduated from Roosevelt High with honors and attended Grinnell College majoring in Theater. As a senior she protested the college’s academic policy of comprehensive exams by refusing to take them. A classmate gave her his diploma. She published an article on the experience in the academic journal, Educational Theory. She enjoyed time with friends at her 40th class reunion this summer.
Bonnie attended classes at CEDOC in Cuernavaca, Mexico in the late 60’s and early 70’s studying educational philosophy, economic development and Spanish with Ivan Illich and Paulo Freire. She was introduced there to liberation theology.
After college Bonnie moved to Portland with a group of women from Grinnell and the Red Emma collective was born. Back then was a time of coming out as a lesbian, going to the bars, learning about the incredible violence suffered by women on the streets from alcohol, drugs, exclusion from family and society due to their sexual orientation, losing their kids, the criminal justice system and domestic violence.
Bonnie and friends along with help from Quakers opened Prescott House, a shelter and half way house for women. It was about this time in 1972 that Bonnie and her girlfriend, Sharon Keeler, met 15 months old Connie and knew that they had to become her family, that she was their daughter.
They moved to WHO Farm in Estacada with the Moore sisters and together created the open women’s land that many women were fortunate to experience. They had 52 acres, dogs, cats, Bessie the cow, Connie’s beautiful black horse Kelly, the goat whose “male energy” disturbed some of the women, and a barn, built by Bonnie, Sharon and all, full of rabbits who unfortunately met Bonnie before she became a vegetarian. Bonnie acted with the Estacada Community Theater and danced with the local square dance club.
Between 1975 and 1979 Bonnie was the founding director of the Bradley-Angle House, one of the first shelters for battered women in the country. She was the first chairperson of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
On a lucky day not long after Bonnie and Sharon broke up, Bonnie met Sara Graham who came to work with her at Bradley-Angle House. In 1977, Bonnie and Connie, then five years old and Sara and Josh, then ten years old, joined their families together and became one family, completed in 1983 when, with help from Michelle Alexander and Leif Running, Alex was born.
Bonnie, a devoted Quaker, worked with the American Friends Service Committee on several committees and on the National Board over the years. From 1979 – 1982, Bonnie worked as the Portland staff person for McKenzie River Gathering. She worked as the Development Director of Volunteers of America from 1985 – 1987.
Bonnie studied photography and journalism at Portland Community College from 1987 to 1989. She worked as a free lance photographer from 1987 through 1992. In 1988, Bonnie attended the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights as a photographer for Lavender Network, Ron Zahn’s Oregon Lesbian and Gay Newsmagazine. A commemorative calendar of the march was published featuring her photographs. She took photos of every event she attended throughout her life.
In 1992, Bonnie put together a documentary called “Love Makes a Family” about lesbian and gay marriage in the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). Soon a non-profit was created and an office opened in the train station in 1993. Over the years the work of Love Makes a Family changed as the needs of lesbian, gay, bi, transgendered and queer families changed. Support group meetings for parents, teens and children were conducted for many years. Public education has always been a need, and Bonnie has given many interviews and speeches, sat on panels, and even debated the leaders of the OCA who initiated some of the most vitriolic ballot measures. Love Makes a Family also created a schools committee, to speak to students and teachers in the schools and published a regular newsletter.
During the early years Bonnie had a talk radio show on a right-wing Christian radio station, KKEY, Love Makes a Family, a wonder of dialog with people of all persuasions, where she made innumerable friends among the opposition.
Bonnie attended the 1995 International Women’s Conference in Beijing with her niece Jessie Clay where she was instrumental in organizing protests bringing notice to lesbian issues.
In recent years Bonnie has focused on speaking and teaching her non-violent speech workshop training, Opening Hearts and Minds. She also organized public outreach events including marriage equality and peace booths at the State Fair since 2004 where volunteers talk to fair-goers of all persuasions. Bonnie submitted feature articles, photographs and reviews and wrote a monthly column for The Portland Alliance from 2005 through the present.
The work of Love Makes a Family began as family support; Bonnie recognized the suffering that her children had suffered as a result their parents’ exclusion from marriage, and the resulting lack of social acceptance of their family. Before long her efforts were directed at the ballot measures and talking to people about marriage equality, not in sound bites, but by telling her story.
Sara and Bonnie got their marriage license in Multnomah County and were legally married in a Quaker ceremony in 2004 during the brief window of opportunity before the marriages were rescinded. They both testified from a neutral position at the domestic partnership hearings at the legislature, speaking of the essential and continuing need for marriage equality.
Bonnie was arrested several times in recent years, once with her son Alex at a peace march, a couple of times with the Surge Protection Brigade’s Seriously Pissed Off Grannies at the military recruiting center and then with Sara at the Rose Festival Parade after they ran out in front of a tank with peace signs. She also protested with Individuals for Justice trying to convince Rep. Blumenauer to support impeachment.
Bonnie was honored to be invited to join the Portland African-American Chapter of PFLAG which she attended with her daughter, Connie.
Last summer Bonnie traveled with Cierra to visit again with Rosibel and Manuel Perez, adopted family of Lorena Jeanne’s in Esteli, Nicaragua. Rosibel is one of the founders of the Mothers of Murdered Children and Heroes organization started so as not to forget the horrors of war.
Bonnie danced with The Rosetown Ramblers. She practiced yoga every weekday morning and rode her bike from NE Portland to her office in the train station and back.
Bonnie is survived by Sara Graham, her wife of 32 years, her children Josh Graham, Connie Tinker and Alex Tinker and by the lights of her life, her granddaughters, Cierra Graham, Maya Graham and Adah Crandall. Also by her sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews: Leonard Edward Tinker III, Ashton, Keagan, Trieghton and Sullivan; John Tinker and Patricia Fisher, Kaiya and Fisher; Mary Beth Tinker and Kesh Ladduwahetty, Lenny; Hope Tinker and David Fortel, Lily, Emma and Eli, Ben, Jenny, Owen and Gabriel; Paul Binning and Claire Tinkerhess, Miller, Martin and Eric. Also by Aunts Wanda Reanne Griffith and Sue McGregor Rapp and cousins, including Eddie Dale, Susan, Bobby, Barbara, Cindy, Karen, Shawn and Glen.
She is also survived by the Alexander/Running family, the Nealis/Crandall family, the Elisa Clay family and Billie Jean, the Red Emma Collective, the old BA House family, her Quaker communities – Multnomah Monthly Meeting, FGC, GLGC, and NPYM, the Perez family and Sara’s family. Also by her dear friends from Grinnell, from Who Farm days, from yoga, and all her compatriots from all of her struggles for equality, justice and peace.
She also leaves three sad dogs, Star, Angel and Cole, three cats, seven chickens, two rabbits and a turtle, and two gardens full of iris.



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Last Updated: August 20, 2009