Bonnie Jeanne Tinker, long-time activist in feminist, lesbian and Religious Society of Friends circles, was born in 1948 in Boone, Iowa, the daughter of a Methodist minister and official of the American Friends Service Committee who was active in the civil rights and anti-war movements. Her mother, Lorena Jeanne Tinker, held a Ph.D. in psychology. Tinker became an activist at an early age, winning an NAACP essay contest with her entry "What the Emancipation Proclamation means to me." After Bonnie graduated high school, her two younger siblings were suspended for wearing black armbands to school in protest of the Vietnam War. She was active in the lawsuit against the school district, which became Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, a 1969 Supreme Court decision establishing that high school students retain the right to free speech when in school.
Tinker attended university at Grinnell College, graduating in 1969. While there she studied at the Centro Intercultural de Documentación in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where she was influenced by liberation theology. In 1971, she and four other Grinnell women moved to Portland, Oregon, where they formed the Red Emma Collective. Bonnie came out as a lesbian during this time.
After looking around the community for ways to support women, they opened Prescott House, a halfway house for battered women and a Women's Health Clinic that was a presence in Portland for more than 20 years. Under Bonnie’s leadership Prescott House evolved into the Bradley-Angle House, a shelter and support for adults and youth suffering from domestic violence. She served as founding director (1975-79) of Bradley-Angle House which continues in service today. Tinker was the first chair of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
During this time, Bonnie met Sara Graham, who would become her life-long partner and wife. They were married in 2004 when same-sex marriage became briefly legal in Oregon. Together they raised Connie whom Bonnie had adopted with a previous partner, along with Sara's son Josh, and in 1983 Bonnie gave birth to their son Alex.
In the early 1980s Bonnie worked with the American Friends Service Committee, served as the Portland staff person for the McKenzie River Gathering, and was the Development Director for Volunteers of America (1985-1987). After studying photography and journalism at Portland Community College she worked as a free-lance photographer from 1987 to 1992.
In 1992, Tinker produced a documentary slide show on same-sex marriage in the Religious Society of Friends, entitled “Love Makes A Family.” The following year she founded an organization by that name, headquartered in Portland, to provide support for LGBTQ families. Love Makes a Family became actively involved in political action, including the campaigns against anti-gay measures promoted by the Oregon Citizens Alliance. An Oregon school district that displayed a Love Make a Family photo exhibit was attacked by the infamous Kansas pastor Fred Phelps and his religious hate. Tinker and her organization supported the school district in its decision to continue the display.
Tinker hosted a radio talk show called "Love Makes a Family" on the Vancouver, Washington Christian radio station KKEY. She attended the International Women's Conference in Beijing, China, in 1995.
Tinker and her family were featured on a 20/20 episode on ABC in 2001 that was focused on the children of gay and lesbian parents. Tinker was outraged when ABC edited footage of her family so that it appeared that Josh and Connie, who are African American, were not the siblings of Alex, who is white. She declared in an open letter to all Friends, "Love Makes a Family is not a white organization. In this community, we are all members of a transracial family. Don’t ever let anybody forget it." In later broadcasts of the episode, ABC added a segment to explain that Alex, Josh, and Connie were part of the same family.
A strong pacifist, Tinker protested military recruiters in high schools. In the mid-2000s she and friends formed Seriously Pissed-Off Grannies to protest the protracted Iraq War. She and Sara were charged with disorderly conduct and interfering with police after they held up anti-war signs in front of a World War II-era tank in the middle of the 2007 Grand Floral Parade during the Portland Rose Festival. Bonnie was arrested but acquitted another time when she and four Seriously P.O.’d Grannies were charged with misdemeanor criminal mischief for using red paint to write the number of U.S. service members killed in Iraq on the windows of a military recruitment center.
Although Bonnie’s work was often bold and aggressive, her spirituality also led her to deeply believe in the value of nonviolent dialogue. She was committed to honest and gentle conversation to resolve conflict. Friends General Conference’s general secretary, Bruce Birchard, told The Collegiate Times the story of how Bonnie would debate opponents of gay marriage, saying, "She went on a radio talk show with a person who was virulently opposed to such unions and she was able to engage him. Not by fighting with him, but by opening up and listening to his personal truths." Bonnie developed a workshop "Opening Hearts and Minds: Speak Peace," which she led in Oregon and around the U.S. She described it as: "Through opening our own hearts and minds we create the possibility that others will open to us, revealing the common ground we share. This unilateral verbal disarmament technique is useful in contentious political dialogues and also in personal relationships."
Tinker was scheduled to lead this workshop at the Friends General Conference Gathering in Blacksburg, Virginia on July 2, 2009. An avid cyclist, Tinker was riding her bicycle on the Virginia Tech campus to go to this workshop when a truck turned in front of her. She hit the truck and was then run over by it. She died at the scene.
A Grinnell colleague reported that: "The diversity at Bonnie's memorial service was high by any measure — age, race, sexual orientation, and shirt and tie/no shirt. Those who spoke, sang, played musical instruments, and performed demonstrated how many different communities and individual lives Bonnie touched. A young man who grew up next door to Bonnie and Sara performed an original rap song that described how Bonnie lived, how she impacted his life, and how he will live now because of her example. Many spoke of her empathy, and through their stories of Bonnie demonstrated how much she helped to expand and foster the common good."
(This biographical statement written by Mark Bowman from the sources below..)
Biography Date: March 2021
This obituary appeared in The Oregonian on July 2, 2009:
"Remembering Bonnie Tinker" by Constance Grady was published in the Friends Journal on November 1, 2009: https://www.friendsjournal.org/2009127/
Two Tributes to Bonnie Tinker '69 appeared in The Grinnell Magazine Spring 2009:
The finding aid to the Bonnie Tinker Collection at the Archives of the West includes an Historical Note::http://archiveswest.orbiscascade.org/ark:/80444/xv85766
Friends/Quakers | Feminism | Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns | Portland | Oregon | Marriage Equality | Tinker, Bonnie
“Bonnie Tinker | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed October 18, 2021, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/bonnie-tinker.
“I met Bonnie Tinker many years ago at Friends General Conference Gathering (Quakers). Subsequently, Bonnie started a group in Oregon called "Love Makes a Family." Here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Bonnie led a well-attended workshop with that title, during our state campaign NOT to change the definition of marriage. Unfortunately our state constitution did change to say that marriage was only between a man and a woman. Bonnie was an inspiration to all of us. I still have two t-shirts with the "Love Makes a Family" logo. ”
– as remembered by Janet Hilliker on April 27, 2021
Know Bonnie Tinker? Tell us your experience.
(All entries are reviewed by the LGBT-RAN office before posting.)