February 26, 2020

Leslie Gordon, activist for the disabled, 55


Leslie Gordon. Photo courtesy of Denah Bookstein

Widely known Bay Area activist Leslie Gordon died March 11 at age 55.
A native of Southern California, Gordon was born with cerebral palsy. From a young age, she broke barriers for people who have disabilities. 

A lifelong wheelchair user, with speech and consequential motor challenges, she was a poet, actor and activist for the many causes she believed in, most recently participating in the Women’s March in Oakland on Jan. 21.

A decadeslong resident of Berkeley, Gordon spent her early childhood in Sherman Oaks, where her parents moved when they learned she would have the best educational opportunities there. She spent many summer vacations on Catalina Island, where her grandparents had a home. Later, she moved to a specialized residential facility, Angel View, in Desert Springs, where her leadership qualities were fostered. Recognizing her extraordinary talents, many teachers befriended and mentored Gordon into her high school years at Palm Springs High School, where she was the first mainstreamed wheelchair student.

Gordon earned a bachelor’s degree from UC Riverside, a degree in counseling from San Francisco State and a master’s degree in Religious Studies from the Graduate Theological Union.

Gordon worked as a rehabilitation counselor for people with disabilities and as an interim director for Easy Does It, an emergency attendant care agency in Berkeley. Gordon traveled as much as she was able, including a two-week trip to Israel.

In the mid-1980s, Gordon participated in a demonstration at the Concord Naval Base protesting a shipment of arms to Central America. A row of protesters in wheelchairs successfully faced down squad cars when police came to make arrests.

Gordon also was a frontline activist in the fight for the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act (signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, providing full access to public transportation for those with disabilities.

After moving to the East Bay, she was the first woman bat mitzvah at Kehillah Synagogue. The daughter of Robert and the late Joanne Gordon, Leslie also is survived by her brothers, Bruce (Tami) and Michael (Lauri), and her sister, Julie (Juan) Yanez of Long Beach.

The Peer Program at CIL (Center for Independent Living) in Berkeley was close to Gordon’s heart. The family requests donations to this program or the charity of your choice.

Denah S. Bookstein is a friend of the deceased who was a fellow congregant at Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, and who was editing her autobiography with her. The independent news website Berkeleyside contributed to this report.