February 26, 2020

Leslie Gordon, disability rights activist, dies at 55

Widely known and beloved Bay Area activist Leslie Gordon died March 11th at the age of 55.

A native of Los Angeles, Gordon was born with cerebral palsy. She broke barriers for people with disabilities from a young age, with the constant support of a large and loving family.

A lifelong wheelchair-user, with speech and consequential motor challenges, Gordon’s search for knowledge, and what defined a life of meaning, was a constant in her life.

Gordon earned her BA from UCRiverside, a degree in counseling from SFSU, and an MA in Religious

Studies from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

Leslie Gordon was a poet, an actor, and an activist for the many causes she believed in, most recently the Women’s March in Oakland on January 21st.

She worked as a rehabilitation counselor for people with disabilities and as an interim director for EZDoesIt – an emergency attendant care agency in Berkeley.

A decades-long resident of Berkeley, who moved across the Bay from San Francisco in 1982, Gordon spent her early childhood in Sherman Oaks where her parents moved their family when they learned Leslie would have the best educational opportunities there. She spent many joyful summer vacations with family on Catalina Island where her grandparents had a home. Later she moved to a specialized residential school, Angel View, in Desert Hot Springs CA. While the facility was austere in many respects, Leslie was encouraged to live as independently as possible and her leadership skills were fostered.

Recognizing her extraordinary drive and talents, several teachers befriended and mentored Leslie into her years at Palm Springs High School where she was the first mainstreamed

student using a wheelchair.

Leslie also traveled as much as she was able, the most adventurous a two week trip to Israel.

In the mid 1980’s, Gordon participated in a demonstration at the Concord Naval Base, protesting the shipment of arms to Central America. A row of wheelchair users successfully faced down the police cars when the police came to make arrests. Gordon was also a frontline activist in the fight for the passage of the ADA and the California law (504) providing full access to public transportation for those with disabilities. This included the installation of let-downs  on public buses. Leslie was very proud of the work she – working with and as a part of the disabled community – accomplished.

Leslie valued her Jewish heritage and the study of Torah from her days at Angel View where she insisted on attending Sunday School.  After moving to the East Bay, many years later , she was the first woman Bay Mitzvah at Kehillah Synagogue. She later joined Congregation Netivot Shalom, participating in every aspect of synagogue services and programs.

The daughter of Robert and the late Joanne Gordon, Leslie z”l is also survived by her brothers Bruce (Tami),

Michael (Lauri), and nieces and nephews, all of Los Angeles, her sister Julie (Juan), of Long Beach CA, her cherished cat Goofy, and her valued and devoted care attendants Ingrid, Joy, Tonita, Sarah, Roxanne, Joylene, Mekayla, and Gabrielle, and many friends.

The Peer Program at CIL – Center for Independent Living in Berkeley was close to Leslie’s heart. Donations to this Program or the charity of your choice will be deeply appreciated.