James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center

Monday, February 29, 2016

Patti Roberts, An Advocate for Change

Patti Roberts
(GLC 111. Box 6)
Patricia (Patti) Rose Roberts was a longtime San Francisco Bay Area resident, an out lesbian, and a civil rights and labor attorney.

Patti was born in Far Rockaway, Queens, New York, on November 13, 1946. She graduated from Brooklyn College in 1967 and went on to Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. She graduated from Boalt in 1970 with a J.D. degree and a desire to use her legal skills to help those traditionally without representation. That same year, she formed a collective Oakland household where she and others, including Stephen Bingham, lived. Roberts lived in the home for the next 41 years.

Poster: San Francisco Neighborhood Legal Assistance Foundation
(GLC 111. Map Folder 2)

Roberts began her career with the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) working on behalf of prisoners. She remained active with NLG, serving as president of the Bay Area chapter and on the local board. While continuing to do political work with the guild, Roberts began work as the head of the Women's Litigation Unit at San Francisco Neighborhood Legal Aid, representing poor women on a wide range of legal issues. Following her time at Legal Aid, Roberts founded and co-directed the Comparable Worth Project in Oakland, which pioneered much of the earliest legal work on the issue of pay inequity rooted in gender and race bias.

Roberts' Reader and Resource Materials list (p.1)
for Gay and Lesbian Issues in the Workplace course
(GLC 111. Box 3)
In 1977, Patti became a founding board member of the Lesbian Rights Project, re-named the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and she later served as NCLR interim executive director. NCLR is a nonprofit organization that was created to promote LGBT rights through litigation, public policy advocacy and public education.

Roberts began private practice as an employment discrimination attorney in 1990 and also taught LGBT, legal, and labor studies at City College of San Francisco and San Francisco State University Extension. As a lawyer, her practice gravitated toward the defense of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights as well as women's and minority rights in the Bay Area. During her entire career, Roberts remained an outspoken advocate for feminist and LGBT rights. Patti Roberts died unexpectedly on January 7, 2011.

Gay Rights Skills Seminar, 1979
National Lawyers Guild (GLC 111. Box 7)
The Patti Roberts Papers (GLC 111) document her interest in prison reform, comparable worth and pay equity for women, gay and lesbian issues in the workplace, and employment discrimination. The collection contains subject files, photographs; books and magazines; and posters and ephemera.

There are notes and speeches for Roberts' speaking engagements, and course readers and syllabi for the classes she taught on the law and labor, employment, and gay and lesbian issues. Roberts collected newspaper clippings and some legal documents on Stephen Bingham, George Jackson, and San Quentin Prison. There are also some materials on the East Bay Lesbian / Gay Democratic Club and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Assessment of the Lesbian and Gay Labor Movement,
draft December 1991, p.1 (GLC 111. Box 3)
In addition, there are many pamphlets and books, including several publications by the National Lawyers Guild on gay rights and women's rights, some Soledad materials, and a few Weather Underground publications.

The Patti Roberts Papers (GLC 111) are available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library. Photographs are available during Photo Desk hours.