Mary Elizabeth Clark

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Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark
Michael Clark

(1938-06-16) June 16, 1938 (age 80)
Other namesJoanna Michelle Clark
Known forTrans activist, AIDS educator and archivist
Notable work
AIDS Education and Global Information System database

Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark (born 1938, in Pontiac, Michigan) is the main mover of the AIDS Education and Global Information System database, previously a pre-World Wide Web bulletin board system.[1]


Clark was born in June 1938 in Pontiac, Michigan,[2] assigned male and named Michael.

In 1957, she enlisted in the United States Navy and rose to the rank of chief petty officer (E-7), serving as an instructor in anti-submarine warfare. Clark had an 11-year marriage which produced a son, but ended acrimoniously.[3][4]

She married again, and later revealed her gender dysphoria to her second wife, who helped her through self-identifying as female.[3] Upon learning of her psychological evaluations, the Navy discharged her honorably.[3] In 1975 she underwent a sex reassignment surgery and took the name Joanna Michelle Clark.[3]

A U.S. Army Reserves recruiter who was aware that she was transgender enlisted her as a woman in the Army in 1976.[5] A year and a half later, she was nominated for promotion to warrant officer. Her enlistment was voided when her transgender status became known to higher-ups. She brought suit against the Army and won a settlement of $25,000 and an honorable discharge.[6][7][8]

During the 1970s, she was an activist for the rights of transsexual people and was instrumental in winning the right of Californians to have their gender changed on their birth certificates and driver licenses. In 1980, she founded and led the ACLU Transsexual Rights Committee.

She had been raised Southern Baptist, but left the church due to disillusionment with racism in its congregations.[4] In the 1980s, she felt a religious calling and worked to become an Episcopal sister. Conflict with the Episcopal diocese over the validity of the order she sought to found led to her leaving the denomination shortly after she took her vows in 1988,[8] and she later became a sister of the American Catholic Church, a small independent Christian denomination following Catholic rites.

Also in the 1980s she continued the work of the Erickson Educational Foundation, aiding transgender people.[9][10]

In 1990, inspired by meeting an isolated young man with AIDS in rural Missouri, she returned to her family home in San Juan Capistrano, California, taking on the bulletin board system AEGIS begun by Jamie Jemison and eventually building it into the "most definitive – and perhaps the most accessible – source of information on" AIDS.[4]

Awards and recognition[edit]

She is the recipient of the Award of Courage from the American Foundation for AIDS Research,[11] the Jonathan Mann Award for Health and Human Rights from the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care,[12] the Crystal Heart award from the San Diego GLBT Center[citation needed] and the Joan of Arc award from the Orange County Community Foundation.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "About: AEGiS History". AIDS Education Global information System. Archived from the original on October 22, 2007. Retrieved 2017-01-28.
  2. ^ says, SharonAnne McC (2017-02-16). "Michael / Joanna / Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark; An American Hero". Xandra. Retrieved 2018-12-14.
  3. ^ a b c d Terence (2010-08-17). "Queers in History: Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark. transsexual nun". Queers in History. Retrieved 2018-12-14.
  4. ^ a b c Gottlieb, Jeff (2002-12-29). "She Shares Her AIDS Archive With the World". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2018-12-14.
  5. ^ The Crystal Chronicle, November 1998. Retrieved on 2015-06-02.
  6. ^ Pasco, Jean O. (December 1, 1997). "A Life of Service: Sister Mary, whose past has seen many painful twists and turns, now brings comfort to others with the world's most comprehensive Web site on AIDS and HIV". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on February 23, 2013. Retrieved 2013-05-09.
  7. ^ Article from transsexual community publication Update profiling Sr. Mary Elizabeth
  8. ^ a b SMITH, LYNN (1988-01-08). "Transsexual Nun's Order Repudiated". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2018-12-14.
  9. ^ Green, Richard; Money, John (1969). Transsexualism and Sex Reassignment. The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0801810381.
  10. ^ Denny, Dallas (August 22, 2013). "The Impact of Emerging Technologies on One Transgender Organization". Dallas Denny: Body of Work. Dallas Denny. Retrieved August 20, 2016.
  11. ^ "amfAR :: 2003 Honoring with Pride Sister Mary Elisabeth, OSM :: The Foundation for AIDS Research :: HIV / AIDS Research". Retrieved 2018-12-14.
  12. ^ Elton John honoured by IAPAC. GayLifeUK (2003-05-20). Retrieved on 2015-06-02.