Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The 70s: Feminists and Lesbians Unite

Feminists and Lesbians Unite
Despite the growing number of organizations such as GAA and GLF, lesbians were severely underrepresented in homophile groups. Many lesbians had focused their efforts on the women's rights movement, rather than that of the gay rights movement. Some straight women in the women's rights movement feared the growing number of their members who were lesbian. Author of The Feminist Mystique and founder of the National Organization of Women (NOW), Betty Friedan, described lesbians as a "lavender menace" that she believed was threatening the movement.

In 1970 a group of lesbians sought to fight against this discrimination within their own gender. In may of that year at the Congress to Unite Women, seventeen women took control of the stage (and therefore the conference) wearing T-shirts declaring themselves the "Lavender Menace." The stunt proved successful and women's rights groups quickly passed resolution in support of lesbians. However, some feminists remained suspicious of lesbian support.

Following the Congress to Unite Women, the Lavender Menaces formed Radicalesbians. Radical lesbians were 'women-identified-women' who put women first in everything. Unfortunately this caused many radical feminists to declare themselves "political lesbians" but not women who pursue homosexual relationships. This sought to undermine homosexuality by deeming it a choice. 

The new lesbian-feminist rejected both the upper/middle-class lesbian identity of a sensible, skirt-wearing woman as well as the butch/femme roles of the working-class bars. Instead lesbian-feminists soon developed for themselves an androgynous, slightly butch appearance. Some lesbian-feminists tried to create communities solely for women-- a community in which male social standards were completely removed. Music also became incredibly important within the radical lesbian-feminist community. Women's music became known for its political, angry, and affirmative lyrics about women's/lesbians' value. 

By the end of the 1970s most lesbian-feminist groups had died out due to interpersonal conflicts and the difficulty in being politically correct in everything. However, the short-lived lesbian-feminist movement set an example for all lesbians to feel pride and demand more from a nation which had historically ignored their rights. Also, because lesbian separatist groups were so extreme, mainstream society was much more willing to consider appeals of less radical LGBTQ groups.
Talks of Marriage
In January of 1971 homosexual couple Jack Baker and J. Michael McConnell were featured as part of Look magazine's "The American Family" issue. The couple were presented as a traditional alternative to the assumed stereotype of gay men as sex-crazed and pathological. In May of 1970 the couple had applied for a marriage license, however it was denied and the ensuing media coverage caused McConnell to lose his job offer at a university.

Soon the couple was battling the city and the university for discrimination. Baker was president of the campus gay group FREE (Fight Repression of Erotic Expression) and he used the media coverage from this event to run for student body president. His campaign featured campy posters that won him the election in April 1971. Unfortunately, the couple lost both of their legal cases under appeal. 


  1. I really appreciated how much information you had, but not only that; the post was filled with a quantity of quality information. I also appreciated your other post on the 70's, about "curing" and other such bizarre ideas. Within this post, I actually wasn't aware that lesbians were under-represented, and the relationship you (and the information you utilize) illustrates between them and the feminist movement is quite interesting.

  2. Before this I was also unaware that lesbians had been so underrepresented in LGBT history. Its definitely interesting only fourty years ago LGBT individuals were classified as having a mental illness