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    Priscilla Alexander (1939–2023), Co-Founding Editor of the San Francisco Bay Times

    Priscilla Alexander, who worked as an editor for the San Francisco Bay Times during its first years of publication in the late 1970s and later became an influential activist in the sex workers’ rights movement, passed on November 18, 2023. She had been in ill health for many years and was in hospice care in New York due to kidney failure. She was missed at a reunion of founding Bay Times members that was held on September 28, 2018, at the GLBT Historical Society Museum in San Francisco.


    Illustrating her leadership in the LGBTQ movement in the 1970s, she was invited to march with Gilbert Baker and Cleve Jones in the 1978 Pride Parade, held on June 25 that year, to reveal the new rainbow flag that Baker envisioned and helped create. Both Jones and Alexander dressed in bright white, calling to mind the clothing of suffragettes decades earlier. Another community legend, Sylvester, performed “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” live at that memorable, historic event.

    Also in 1978, issues of the Bay Times included a “Women’s Page” that Alexander largely developed. This was during a time when LGBTQ+ women were not often in publishing leadership roles and coverage of women’s issues in the queer community was uncommon. Filling that void was part of the mission of the founding Bay Times team.


    Award-winning author and journalist Randy Alfred, the founding News Editor for the San Francisco Bay Times, said, “Priscilla was key in the founding of the Bay Times and was a devoted, energetic worker to her numerous campaigns for the rights of LGBTQ+ people, women, sex workers, people with AIDS, and other issues of social justice for all people. Her devotion to principles sometimes made for contentious work relations, but it was worth the effort to learn from Priscilla and accomplish things with her.”

    Alexander was born in New York City on January 27, 1939. She attended the city’s High School of Music & Art, where she majored in the visual arts. She dreamed of being a painter like her mother, who died when she was nine. Her father was also an artist and worked as an interior designer.

    She attended Bennington College in Vermont and graduated with a major in set design. Upon graduating she focused on drawing and painting first in New York and later in San Francisco, where she also worked as a school teacher. In 1975 in San Francisco, she met Margaret Jean “Margo” St. James (1937–2021), a sex worker who founded the organization COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics) to advocate for financial security, healthcare, and legal rights for sex workers. Alexander joined the office of COYOTE in 1977 and succeeded in getting the National Organization for Women to form a committee on Prostitutes’ Rights in 1982 and to get most women’s conferences around the country to concretely address related issues.

    At around this time, Alexander began to meet with Cleve Jones, Del Martin (1921–2008), Phyllis Lyon (1924–2020), and other now legendary activists who worked to launch the San Francisco Bay Times, which was then led by Roland Schembari and Bill Hartman. During her time as an editor for the paper, she supported many LGBTQ nonprofits and other groups, particularly those focused on helping women and, after the HIV/AIDS epidemic started, those who were most impacted by the virus.

    She remained passionate about COYOTE’s efforts and often declared, “My most defining work and greatest joy have been in the sex workers’ rights movement.” With activist Gloria Lockett, a Black former sex worker, she co-founded the California Prostitutes Education Project (Cal-PEP) in 1984. She and colleagues also helped form the National Task Force on Prostitution concentrating on AIDS prevention and education, and on human rights for prostitutes.

    Alexander with Frédérique Delacoste co-edited the book Sex Work: Writings by Women in the Sex Industry, a landmark collection of writings published in 1987 that changed the way others think about sex for hire. When the book was first published, it helped popularize the term “sex work,” and in doing so changed the way others talk about sex for money. Amy Schneider of Jeopardy! fame is among those who continue to speak on behalf of sex workers’ rights and to continue the legacy of Alexander and St. James.

    In 1989, Alexander moved to Geneva, Switzerland, to work for the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Program on AIDS. She made a number of trips to Africa representing WHO and worked with African women on AIDS prevention.

    She then moved back to her hometown of New York City, where she worked with the HIV/AIDS Prevention Project that served women who worked in some of the poorest sections of the city. She also studied for a master’s degree in Public Health at Columbia University.

    Earlier this year the Bay Times reported the passing of the paper’s founding production manager Susan Calico, another colleague of Alexander’s. She, along with Randy Alfred and founding arts and entertainment editor M.J. Lallo, were among those who attended the reunion event in 2018.

    After St. James passed two years ago, Alexander created a video about her that was presented at a virtual international tribute event. The video can be viewed at

    In Memoriam
    Published on December 21, 2023