Remembering the Lesbians in Lesbian/Gay Liberation

Remembering the Lesbians in Lesbian/Gay Liberation
By Ann Menasche 

Under patriarchy, lesbians are not supposed to exist. Women – “normal” women at least – are supposed to need men to be complete, for love, for sex, for economic survival, for family, for legitimacy. In such a world, there is no place for lesbians; if a few manage to exist, they are seen as freaks or pariahs. Not surprising that we rarely appear in history or when we are named at all, we are portrayed as lonely spinsters pining after some man. (Remember the lies told about 19th century poet Emily Dickenson, who had a lifelong passionate relationship with her sister-in-law.)

In the mid-to-late 20th century, ideas of traditional womanhood began to be challenged as women as a sex gained increased independence. By the height of the Second Wave of feminism in the late 60s and 70s, lesbians had begun to emerge from the shadows and establish themselves among the leadership of the newly emerged Feminist and Lesbian and Gay Liberation Movements. And as the synergy of Lesbian/Gay Liberation and Radical Feminism freed more women to be able to pursue a lesbian life, a vibrant culture of Lesbian Feminism emerged.  That culture produced socially conscious music, poetry, books, publishing houses, newspapers, feminist theatre, coffee houses, and festivals run by and for women that inspired and sustained us and helped fuel the political activism of the time. And in this environment we began to rediscover the lesbians that came before us. We no longer felt so alone.

But times have changed again and lesbians are being rendered invisible once more. Even the contributions lesbians made to the Movement for Lesbian and Gay Liberation are being forgotten. Many factors have contributed to this disappearing of lesbians from history, from our public consciousness, and often from ourselves and each other. While lesbians have won some mainstream acceptance through marriage equality, the accumulated losses have begun to be greater than the gains. Hard economic times, a conservative political climate, the growth and increased power of the Christian fundamentalist Right and a growing backlash against feminism have conspired to make lesbian existence harder once more. Independent lesbian culture has been destroyed. Even the lesbian bars that, despite their flaws, provided a place to meet and find community with other lesbians are now gone. In their place is a sense of utter isolation and despair among many lesbians. And there is often no place to turn for support except perhaps online forums.

Moreover, though the illusion that we’ve already won our rights is widespread, the reality is quite different. Lesbians in the United States can still lose their jobs, be disowned by their parents, lose custody of their children, and be raped or murdered for loving other women. Anti-lesbian prejudice is everywhere.

One of the most destructive influences on lesbians, which is erasing us from history and undermining the possibility of lesbian existence in the present, is gender identity ideology. As this ideology has become increasingly predominant, overwhelming our lesbian/gay communities and incorporating itself into law and culture, lesbians have felt ourselves surrounded on all sides. We are being pressured and guilt-tripped on the one hand to accept men calling themselves women into our communities and our bedrooms. At the same time, rebellious young girls with same-sex feelings, and lesbian adults are being convinced in growing numbers they are really “men” and are being coerced or swayed into “transitioning.”  As women’s liberation no longer appears to be a realistic goal, some of this vulnerability to the forces of transgenderism and extreme body modification may be summed up by the phrase “if you can’t beat them, join them.”  How else escape the violent heavy hand of misogyny on our bodies and lives but to pass as male?

Without question, Lesbians have become extremely marginalized within the modern LGBTQ+ “alphabet soup” – the corporatized stepchild of the Lesbian and Gay Liberation Movement. LGBT centers in the name of trans-inclusion, refuse to provide space for lesbians to even meet together outside of the presence of males. We are not welcome at Pride and even the Dyke March has been taken from us by “lesbians” with male genitalia and their supporters. And as lesbians have been virtually disappeared, so has the role we played in the struggles that came before us been disappeared as well.

Our lesbian foremothers are once again gone from the history books, or are posthumously “transitioned,” described as “queer,” or treated merely as a footnote. But lesbians fueled the Lesbian and Gay Liberation Movement from its start.  It would not have happened without us. And it is time to give credit where credit is due.

The Stonewall Rebellion on June 28, 1969 was not led by individuals identifying as transgender. Transgenderism barely existed at that time even as a concept. What existed was large numbers of lesbians and gay men, some of whom cross dressed or dressed in drag, but did not thereby deny either their sex or their homosexuality. Drag queens and butch lesbians were among those who found community at the Stonewall Inn in New York, a bar owned and operated by the mafia but one of the few places that same sex couples could dance together. Police raids were commonplace but that historic night as police dragged patrons out of the bar and beat them, one butch lesbian, Storme DeLaverie, decided she had had enough. When a police officer shoved her and called her a “faggot”, she punched him in the face. Four officers assaulted her and one hit her on the head with a billy club.  Bleeding from the head, and dragged toward the police van, she yelled “Why don’t you guys do something?”  The rebellion was on and lasted six nights. Lesbian and Gay Liberation was born.

Martha Shelley, a lesbian with strong left-wing politics, had passed by the Stonewall on the fateful night but thought she was seeing an anti-war protest. She had no idea that the people throwing rocks at the cops were gay. When she realized what she had missed, she contacted the Daughters of Bilitis and the Mattichine Society and made a proposal for them to jointly sponsor a protest march. On July 27, 1969, 200 lesbians and gays marched in Greenwich Village, in what was to become the world’s first Gay Pride Parade.  The organizing committee formed itself into the Gay Liberation Front, a revolutionary group that demanded not assimilation but a complete overhaul of the patriarchal, racist, imperialist system. A new movement was launched, initiated by a lesbian.

Almost a decade later in 1978 in San Francisco another lesbian was the central leader in the successful movement to defend Lesbian and Gay Rights then under attack. This was the struggle against the attempt by Christian fundamentalists to pass the Briggs Initiative, a proposition that would have banned gay teachers and all supporters of Lesbian/Gay Rights in the schools. Though everyone knows about Harvey Milk, many giving him credit for the defeat of the Briggs Initiative, it was actually Nancy Elnor, a lesbian-feminist and socialist, someone virtually no one has heard of, who was far more responsible for that victory. I knew Nancy personally and worked together with her in the Bay Area Coalition against the Briggs Initiative.  We were on and off again lovers, our personal interaction often stormy, but my admiration for her never waned.

Nancy worked long hours, doing amazing grassroots organizing work always accompanied by her German Shepherd “Bianca” and put together a mass movement that brought out tens of thousands into the streets against Briggs. She brought in organized labor and every progressive organization in San Francisco to join the cause, and chaired packed meetings of activists.  The Coalition under her leadership, organized a televised debate between Milk and Sally Gearhart on the one side and Briggs and one of his cohorts on the other.  A thousand people watched the debate on a big screen in a local high school auditorium. Nancy’s in-the-streets movement building done through distributing thousands of flyers, making hundreds of phone calls, and attending dozens of meetings (there was no Internet) set an example for the whole state, helped change the political climate, and put us on the path to victory. Nancy died young but I’ll never forget her.

As many lesbians celebrate Pride with varying degrees of ambivalence or else consciously ignore the festivities as no longer speaking to us, it is important to remember and celebrate the heroic leadership of our lesbian foremothers who changed history. If we did it once, we can do it again.

Abortion is a Woman’s Fundamental Right

Our world is crying out as abortion bans are sweeping through conservative parts of the country, particularly the southeastern United States, the historical site of much slavery and the largest African American communities, as well as a stronghold of white Christian patriarchy. While some women in the liberal northeast and west coast may never experience these bans, Black and U.S. Native American women (groups who researchers say have the highest risk of dying in childbirth) as well as poor, young, and rural women (who cannot as easily access affordable health care) will be primarily impacted by these bans. In addition, the Journal of Perinatal Education states that unintended pregnancies — which abortion allows us to stop — are associated with increased likelihood of risk factors causing death in childbirth, which also happens to vary by state. Women will always attempt to obtain abortions, whether or not the abortions are legal. Women die from both unintended pregnancies and attempted unsafe abortions all over the world, and lack of access to safe abortions (caused by outlawing abortion) puts them at risk. Therefore, the bans on abortion amount to the state-sanctioned murder of women, especially those of less social privilege. All of the country is ablaze with fury and apprehension, and we are seeing even women who were previously apolitical now come forward to speak with their families and communities on the right of a woman to abortion.
The male supremacist right wing sees women as vessels to produce the working class, soldiers to uphold their various patriarchal nationalisms — and not as full human beings unto ourselves! As radical feminists, we vehemently reject this ethos. These are the hateful convulsions of an anti-abortion movement that knows many of these bans are nearly impossible to enforce. This round of bans are purposely unconstitutional, designed to force a Supreme Court case that (they hope) would overturn Roe v. Wade. But we women won’t let them. We have a vast number of sympathetic medical personnel nationwide and can end unwanted pregnancies privately during the first 9 weeks with the medications misoprostol and mifepristone.
Abortion rights have been whittled away, step by step for decades, starting with the Hyde Amendment. Because legislators couldn’t take abortion away from us immediately, they have been doing it slowly. Parental Consent & Notification laws, TRAP laws, mandated sonograms/guilt trips/”waiting periods” — an astonishing array of laws designed to deprive us of our bodily autonomy. When Donald Trump took office, his Supreme Court picks were specifically for overturning Roe v. Wade, and one of his first executive orders was an attack on abortion. As Planned Parenthood Action Fund states: “The global gag rule was first introduced by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. On January 23, 2017, in one of his first acts as president, President Donald Trump reinstated and expanded the global gag rule. … The global gag rule prevents foreign organizations receiving U.S. global health assistance from providing information, referrals, or services for legal abortion or advocating for access to abortion services in their country — even with their own money.”

Trump’s executive order, which was essentially an imposed sanction on women’s bodies around the world, severely hampers women’s ability to obtain abortions and other sexual health care, regardless of the legality of abortion in their own countries. It even prohibits health care providers’ ability to treat AIDS, a crisis which Trump boasted about attempting to fix. The terrible impact is felt “especially in places where maternal deaths, HIV rates and unmet need for contraception are unacceptably high. Communities have lost access to essential life-saving services such as HIV testing, antiretroviral medications, nutritional support, birth control and pregnancy care,” says Dr. Leana Wen, President of Planned Parenthood.

It’s a United States tradition for the ruling elite to practice human rights abuses overseas before bringing them home. This year, we are seeing a wave of abortion bans. The New York Times (pdf) has the rundown. As of May 2019, Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, and Mississippi severely limited abortion rights to the first trimester. Alabama eliminated abortion rights entirely, even in cases of rape and incest. Utah, Arkansas, and Missouri all reduced abortion rights farther back into the 2nd trimester, away from the framework established in Roe v. Wade.

The bans are being met with fierce resistance. Kansas just added abortion protection to its constitution. New York enacted a law that will preserve access to abortions, protect medical professionals who perform abortions from being criminalized, allow medical professionals who are not doctors to perform abortions, and allow abortions to be performed after 24 weeks if the fetus is not viable or to protect the life of the woman. Vermont is about to pass a bill allowing abortions with “zero” limits, as a “fundamental right”, and prohibits government entities from interfering with or restricting access to abortion, “ensuring that any pregnancy may be terminated for any reason at any time.” Some Democrats have claimed that the Vermont bill goes”too far“! And this isn’t the first time Democrats started sounding like Republicans: in New Mexico, eight Democrats crossed party lines to defeat a pro-choice bill. Nor is it simply a matter of going “too far”. A milder law comparable to New York’s was proposed in Virginia by Kathy Tran, who immediately faced death threats, and the Republicans spread fake news that the bill was about legalizing “infanticide”. The Virginia bill removed some restrictions on abortion in the third trimester of pregnancy, allowed abortions during the second trimester to take place outside of hospitals, and made it so only one doctor would be needed to determine that pregnancy threatens the woman’s life or health.

We’ve never had full abortion rights. All the ways that the patriarchy nitpicks a woman’s right to abortion into “trimesters”, “medical” necessity, conditions of rape, harsher restrictions in some regions, etc, only serve to divide women and distract us from the fundamental right that women have to abortions on demand without apology, without approval, and without being treated as criminals.

Feminists in Struggle, like the early Second Wave Feminists, insists on FREE ABORTION ON DEMAND with zero questions asked. The only condition should be the consent of the woman who is pregnant. We also demand an end to the petty restrictions and code regulations (TRAP laws) that specifically discriminate against pregnant women and abortion clinics. We won’t stop there. We demand safe abortion access for women both in the United States, where we are based, and everywhere else. But because patriarchy divides women, the women’s liberation movement is divided into various camps. The Democratic party soaks up most of women’s political energy, preventing us from experiencing our full potential as a movement.

You must be wondering: what can radical feminists do? What can WE all do about this? Especially while we are still living out the war on feminism by dominant forces in the transgender movement, positioning radical feminists as underdogs in any discussion on feminism? Ridiculous rhetoric we’ve been peddled about “pregnant people” instead of “pregnant women” is now   becoming “abortions for people” instead of “abortions for women”. We consider abortion a right of the female sex, but for us to say that in progressive circles will bring controversy and distractions that women can’t afford.

As radical feminists, we can utilize our position as the radicals and underdogs to push harder and farther than anyone else will. Our hearts are with everyday women and our right to control our bodies and lives. We will do what the long arm of the Democratic party would never do. We will demand ABORTIONS ON DEMAND WITHOUT CONDITIONS. Not to mention, free health care that includes birth control and abortions.  No forced sterilizations.  And… END THE GLOBAL GAG ORDER!  100% of unwanted pregnancies are caused by MEN, yet no one holds the men responsible for the life-threatening condition of pregnancy!

If thousands of women join Feminists in Struggle and turn it into a powerful radical feminist movement, we would be able to organize and lead marches for abortion rights and pressure legislators to secure abortion as women’s fundamental right  We would be able to all strategize together in a bottom up democratic movement. However, because our organization is young and still small what we want and what is feasible are two different things.  We will often have to join in actions called and organized by liberal feminists and other more conservative sections of the movement. But still our voices as radical feminists can be heard.

We call for united mass action in the streets. We call for civil disobedience. We call for all women to speak up about abortion. We call for you and us to join the larger marches under the FIST banner and apply pressure there for people to take up more radical positions in support of the complete liberation of our sex.

We call for teaching women en masse how to use and smuggle the abortion pill, and perform menstrual extractions. We call for you, if you live in a state that protects abortion, to consider taking direct action to provide safe harbor for women seeking out of state abortions. Bring back the Jane Collective that performed thousands of safe abortions on women in Chicago before Roe v. Wade. We want to educate women about women’s self help groups who work to keep women’s health in women’s hands. Educate yourself and others on the use of plan B, a medication you can buy at the pharmacy that is effective in preventing pregnancy if taken within 48 to 72 hours following unprotected sex. Educate yourself and others on misoprostol and mifepristone, which can end unwanted pregnancies privately during the first 9 weeks. Educate women on preventing pregnancy and obtaining safe abortions. Spread the word to women affected by these bans not to sign any waivers when they get an abortion. You can also agitate and get previously apolitical women involved in the broader struggle. And of course… Join FIST and get actively involved by becoming a member of FIST’s Feminist Assembly!

Women are half the population. Women have the numbers. We will prevail!

We have a few suggested chants and slogans:

“Our bodies, our spaces, our sex based rights.”

“My body, MY CHOICE!”

“Keep your rosaries off my ovaries!

“Women’s bodies are not incubators!”

“It’s not a womb, it’s a WOMAN”

“Abortion on demand, NO APOLOGY!”

“Birth must be voluntary. Abortion is health care. Health care is a human right.”

“Free Abortion on Demand!”

Don’t Disappear the “L” Campaign

Feminists in Struggle is launching a national, “Don’t Disappear the L” campaign just in time for Pride.  Please join us! Our plan is to sticker the streets and public areas before the Pride parades, Women’s Marches, and/or other related events, in as many cities as we can.  The Pride parades take place annually in June. Will you help? Here’s how to participate!

Click on the links below to download your stickers:

Avery5783_FIST_dont_disappear_the_L

Avery5164_FIST_dont_disappear_the_L

Avery5784_brown_ten_up_woman_adult_human_female-1

For more information re printing the stickers, go to:

Sticker Printing Instructions

The Equality Act

A committee of FIST lawyers has agreed to analyze H.R. 5, “The Equality Act”, and consider proposing feminist amendments.  In case you haven’t been following this, H. R. 5 calls each of the following a form of sex discrimination:  discrimination on the basis of the “sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition of an individual, as well as because of sex-based stereotypes.” The Act goes on to define ‘gender identity’ to mean “the gender-related identity, appearance, mannerisms, or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, regardless of the individual’s designated sex at birth.”

We are supportive of extending anti-discrimination protections to lesbians and gays, and are heartened to see the intent to strengthen protections against pregnancy discrimination.  However, we are concerned that defining gender identity as a form of sex discrimination will have the effect of actually compromising some of women’s hard-won rights and harming some programs like Title IX of the Education Act which was intended to redress past discrimination.

The Congressional testimony of Julia Beck of WoLF and Doriane Lambelet Coleman, two feminists pointing out the dangers to the rights of women and girls inherent in elevating gender identity to a discriminated status can be heard beginning at about 24:00 minutes of WLRN podcast #36 “The Left, The Right, and Feminist Strategy  https://soundcloud.com/wlrn-media/edition-36-the-left-the-right-and-feminist-strategy

 

FIST on WBAI Update

To listen to a podcast of the Joy of Resistance show on WBAI, please go to Joy of Resistance on WBAI, which will take you to the archive page, then click on the down arrow, select “Joy of Resistance.”  There are many great podcasts from which to choose. From there you can either listen to the podcast or download the MP3 file.

For the interview of Ann Menasche of FIST, go to the April 25, 2019 broadcast and click on the link.  Or you can go directly to the specific link FIST on WBAI to just listen.  The interview with Ann starts at 38:13 minutes into the show.

FIST on WBAI Radio!

Ann Menasche of Feminists in Struggle (FIST) will be interviewed by Fran Luck on the Joy of Resistance show on WBAI Radio Thursday, April 25, 2019 at 7-8 pm EDT (4-5 pm PDT).

Ann is a Civil Rights lawyer and has been a radical feminist and a socialist activist for her entire adult life. She organized a lesbian feminist group and mass marches in defense of abortion rights in the 1980’s in San Francisco and led a coalition for marriage equality. Recently she became a founding member of a new national radical feminist organization: Feminists in Struggle–or FIST–which was launched on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2019.  The interview will explore why a number of women across the country saw the need for a new feminist organization–including the fact that FIST, unlike other feminist organizations that are gender critical, does not believe in making alliances with the right wing and and sees its positions as belonging in a revitalized Left. Its issues also include reproductive freedom, passing the ERA, and an end to men’s violence against women–as well as the abolition of gender.

You can tune in at: Joy of Resistance at WBAI. The show will also feature Taina Bian Aime of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women–CATW) on the fight against legalization of commercial surrogacy in New York State.  There may be an opportunity to call in during the show.

For more information, go to:Joy of Resistance Info

WLRN Debate Between WoLF and FIST

Ann Menasche of Feminists in Struggle (FIST) and Kara Dansky of WoLF (Women’s Liberation Front) debate strategy regarding relationship with rightwing media and organizations on Women’s Liberation Radio News.  Click here to listen: Debate between FIST and Wolf on WLRN The discussion between Ann and Kara starts at 37:06 and goes to 1:22:36 of the full podcast.

Also featured on this podcast at 24:00 minutes is Julia Beck of WoLF testifying before Congress regarding the Equality Act and how it will eliminate sex-based rights and enable the continuation of discrimination based on biology, and Doriane Lambelet Coleman who spoke mainly to the chilling effects the Equality Act would have on women’s sports if passed.  Included in the podcast is some feminist music and news as well.

FIST Adopts Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights

Feminists in Struggle is proud to adopt the Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights  in its entirety.  We are in full support of the Declaration, released earlier this month, which reaffirms the rights enumerated in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which the UN adopted in 1979, and which the United States has yet to ratify, though 189 countries have done so. We wish to encourage all feminists and feminist organizations to press for the ratification of CEDAW, which has been referred to as an international bill of rights for women and to support the Declaration by going to the website and signing on.  No time like the present during March, Women’s History Month!

Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights

The preamble to the Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights reads as follows:

“On the re-affirmation of women’s sex-based rights, including women’s rights to physical and reproductive integrity, and the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls that result from the replacement of the category of sex with that of ‘gender identity’, and from ‘surrogate’ motherhood and related practices.”

FIST very much supports this declaration and would urge individuals and organizations to sign it at:

https://www.womensdeclaration.com/