BCRW, Barnard Center for Research on Women From the Collection
Exhibits from the ephemeral archives at the Barnard Center for Research on Women

About the Exhibits


· Gender and Sexuality in Higher Education
· Lesbian Activism
· Women in the Workforce
· Women and Militarism
· Women and Religion
· Feminism and Sexual Health
· Women's Prison Activism

Lesbian Activism
from 1970s to the Present

Exhibit Article 1 Exhibit Article 4 Exhibit Article 5
Exhibit Article 6 Exhibit Article 7 Exhibit Article 18
Exhibit Article 8 Exhibit Article 9 Exhibit Article 17
Exhibit Article 10 Exhibit Article 11 Exhibit Article 12
Exhibit Article 13 Exhibit Article 14 Exhibit Article 15
Exhibit Article 16

Scroll down for information about each item in the exhibit.

Exhibit curated by Chanel Ward '08 and Anna Steffens '10
Published Spring 2009

In the early 1970s, lesbian activism became a powerful social force as women drew strength from both the gay rights and feminist movements. Throughout the next four decades, lesbian and queer activists tackled a broad range of issues: sexual identity and sex itself, pop culture, race, class, violence, and many others. From early activists who advocated complete lesbian separatism to modern queer organizers who work in partnership with multiple identity groups, the "lesbian activist" movement has generated a huge variety of social formations and political ideologies. This exhibit, drawing from BCRW's extensive collection of LGBT-related materials, showcases just a few documents from this long history of struggle and social change. The following articles, photographs, zines, and pamphlets shed light on the many transformations and incarnations of lesbian activism over the past 40 years.

Motive - Lesbian/Feminist Issue

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Motive "Lesbian/Feminist Issue"
Vol. 32, No. 1 (1972)
Published by MOTIVE, Inc.

Originally started by the United Methodist Church in 1941, monthly magazine Motive began its transformation with the publication of a special women's issue in 1969. Church leaders became increasingly more critical of Motive as its content became progressively more radical. This "Lesbian-Feminist" edition represents the magazine's final break with the church, when a collective of lesbians called "The Furies" took over publication for one last controversial issue. The editors, including Rita Mae Brown and Charlotte Bunch, "were determined that from start to finish lesbians would do it all" to complete the remarkable essays, art, and poetry that make up the magazine. As defined in this issue, lesbian feminism was a movement "out of passivity, out of the closets . . . toward control of our own [lesbian] lives and the overthrow of male supremacy." Given the radical nature of its origins, this document serves as a fascinating example of lesbian separatist publishing in the early 1970s.

Margins - Lesbian Feminist Writing and Publishing

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Margins: A Review of Little Mags and Small Press Books "Special Focus: Lesbian Feminist Writing and Publishing"
No. 23 (August 1975)
Published by Tom Montag

This issue of Margins—a publication designed to make "small and unknown publications easily accessible to the larger audience"—is devoted to "lesbian feminist writing and publishing." As editor Beth Hodges notes, this issue broke ground in literary criticism, as it was one of the first publications to print a full issue of criticism of lesbian literature. Hodges fiercely asserted her belief that lesbianism, as claimed by "woman-identified women," is a political identity, and she used this issue to rebel against the invisibility forced upon lesbian writers by the male literary establishment. The reviewed literature ranges from magazines to photographic essays to novels, and authors reviewed include Alice Walker, Monique Wittig, and Susan Griffin. The issue also features several contributors, including Julia P. Stanley, Gene Damon, and Karla Jay (Barnard '68), whose writing was instrumental in organizing and recording early lesbian activism.

Growing Up Gay

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Growing Up Gay: A Youth Liberation Pamphlet
Published by Youth Liberation Press, Inc.

Growing Up Gay: A Youth Liberation Pamphlet combines deeply personal coming-out stories with empowering calls to action directed at young readers. Bringing together the personal and the political, the Youth Liberation activists tell their own stories and demand that their parents, peers, and schools give them the respect they deserve. One story, "Struggling With Myself in a Repressive Society," expresses a journey to "strength and openness" and explains that being out is a challenge not only to oneself, but also to one's repressive society. The second section, "Start a Gay Group," stresses the social and political importance of gay organizations, and the third section discusses the difficulties of coming out to one's family. Concluding with an extensive list of resources, the pamphlet urges young gay and lesbian activists to fight multiple forms of oppression, including those based on age and sexuality.

Coming Out - Being Gay in the Haverford/Bryn Mawr Community

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Coming Out: Being Gay in the Haverford-Bryn Mawr College Community
(Spring 1976)
Published by the Haverford College and Bryn Mawr College Gay People's Alliance

Continuing the focus on youth activism, this pamphlet was written and published by Haverford College and Bryn Mawr College's Gay People's Alliance. Even as early as the late 1960s, groups like this one were beginning to form at colleges and universities around the nation, fighting for greater visibility and acceptance of gay and lesbian identity. This Alliance, which had about 30 members at the time of this publication, hoped to educate the campus community about homosexuality with this collection of coming out stories. The students encouraged a model of coming out that has become increasingly mainstream today; the Gay People's Alliance aimed to demonstrate that "gay people live ordinary human lives, good and bad, just like anyone else." The pamphlet also includes advice on coming out to friends, parents, and even complete strangers.

Power of Women Magazine

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Power of Women: Magazine of the International Wages for Housework Campaign
"International Lesbian Conference"
No. 5 (1976)
Published by London Wages for Housework Committee

Power of Women: Magazine of the International Wages for Housework Campaign was a publication devoted to demanding economic rights for women, especially within the domestic sphere. This article describes a conference called "Toward a Strategy for the Lesbian Movement" organized by Wages Due Lesbians in Toronto in July of 1976. The conference brought together an international group of women to organize for lesbian autonomy and address how economic pressures affected lesbian sexual expression and motherhood. Many activists, particularly those of color, argued that economic liberation was needed in order to escape dependence on men and heterosexual relationships. Connecting systems of class, race, gender, and sexuality, this conference and other such radical coalitions paved the way for gay and lesbian activism organized around multiple, intersecting identities, not just gay identity alone.


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Out! The Gay Newspaper
Issue 1 (July 29, 1977)
Published by Out!

This issue of Out! The Gay Newspaper features "Gay Pride '77: America hears the 'mouse' roar," a composite of articles on Gay Pride Day 1977. Addressing the high level of gay pride activity in the nation and around the world, the articles attribute the increase in marches and celebrations to recent hate crimes and the hate campaign of Anita Bryant, an American singer notorious for her strong views against homosexuality and her campaign against gay equality in the 1970s. Featuring color photographs and opinions from diverse participants, the articles highlight the surge in gay activism prompted by threats from politicians and other powerful conservatives. Additionally, ads for bathhouses and an article about gay and transsexual prostitutes hint at the ubiquitous presence of gay male sexuality in discourses of gay life and activism prior to the beginning of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.

The Lesbian Tide

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The Lesbian Tide
(July/August 1979)
Published by Tide Publications

This issue of The Lesbian Tide, a radical feminist news magazine, presents a complex picture of the politics at stake in radical lesbian and more mainstream gay activism. The cover story, provocatively entitled "Are Roles Really Dead?", explores lesbian feminist backlash against traditional butch/femme gender roles. For some women, coming out as a lesbian allowed one the freedom to escape strict ideas about femininity, but for others, claiming a radical feminist identity meant that one should avoid the sort of masculine privilege that "butchness" might signify. The article delves into the power dynamics of lesbian relationships and intergenerational conflicts—the discussion of the words "butch," "femme," and "dyke" on page 6 offers fascinating insight into the shifting ideals of lesbian feminist activists. Other articles in this issue focus on Gay Pride Day (described as "an annual headache") and on Lucia Valeska, the new Co-Executive Director of the National Gay Task Force, who "validates the separatist experience," but also believed that coalitions with gay men and others were necessary in the gay rights movement. Published on the cusp of a new decade, this magazine reveals intricate ideological struggles at the core of lesbian feminist movements.

Our Lives - Lesbian Mothers

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Our Lives: Lesbian Mothers Talk to Lesbian Mothers
(c. 1983)
Published by Amazon Press and the Gay Centre

Our Lives was produced by a small group of lesbian mothers in England concerned about prejudice against lesbian mothers in child custody cases. The publication did not strictly provide legal advice for lesbian mothers; rather, it amplified the voices of lesbian mothers who spoke out against the social and legal hostility they face. The publication also addresses other problems affecting these women, including domestic violence, bad housing, poverty, lack of reproductive freedom, and personal isolation. For these mothers, sexual identity was wrapped up with class and gender in the difficult court battles they fought to keep their children. This publication demonstrates not only the need for legal reform in these cases, but also the necessity for women to find community among others who shared the joys and difficulties of divorce and lesbian motherhood.

Gay Community News

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Gay Community News: The Weekly for Lesbians and Gay Males
"Lesbian Battering":
"A Personal Account" and "The Search for Shelter"
(January 14, 1984)

Gay Community News was published weekly from 1973 to 1992. The periodical shared the voices of significant LGBT activists and writers, gaining a national and international readership and reputation for being one of the most influential LGBT newspapers.

The July 14, 1984 issue of Gay Community News focuses on "Lesbian Battering." With a personal essay and a news feature, this issue reveals the dynamics of lesbian battering and challenges the misperception that battering only occurs within heterosexual relationships. The articles address homophobia within the domestic violence movement (especially among shelter networks) as a main obstacle for lesbian women seeking help and support. Additionally, this issue features a front-page article describing the defeat of an anti-pornography law developed in Minneapolis by feminist activists Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin. The early 1980s saw repeated battles among feminists over pornography and anti-porn laws, with some arguing against porn's often misogynistic content and others fighting for greater freedom of sexual expression and subversive identities. From features on fighting lesbian battering to a piece on pornography and censorship, this issue of Gay Community News provides an intriguing juxtaposition of material on violence and lesbian activism during this time period.

Women's Network Issue 15

Women's Network Issue 16

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Women's Network: National Newsletter for Women
Issue #15 (Summer/Fall 1983)
and Issue #16 (1983/4)
Published by Dorothy Feola

These two issues of Women's Network: National Newsletter for Women include poetry, book reviews, and contemporary news of importance to the lesbian community. Each issue also includes letters to the editor, which seem to be of particular importance as they display a diverse readership writing in from various parts of the United States. The diversity of the readership speaks to the mission of the newsletter which, as indicated in the title, was to facilitate connections among women—particularly lesbian women. Several satirical pieces, including a mock interview between two famous closeted lesbian tennis players and a fake news article about a world without men, function to entertain as well as enlighten a lesbian public scattered across the nation. Though this publication was overseen by just one woman working largely alone in the Bronx, it still managed to serve as a powerful source of connection and information for isolated lesbians seeking radical feminist literature and news.

Black Out Magazine

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Black/Out: The Magazine of the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays
Volume 1, Number 1 (Summer 1986)
Published by the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays

Black/Out, a quarterly magazine of the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays, helped lay the foundation for the black gay rights movement, and this first issue demonstrates the necessity for such a source of communication and empowerment. Editor Joseph Beam explains that the purpose of this particular movement was to bring to the forefront the "lives, visions, and contributions" of black lesbians and gays who were ignored or "blacked out" by the gay rights movement. Black/Out sought to end this "blackout" by sharing the voices of black lesbians and gay men and creating a "place for dialogue, a place to connect, and a place to be all of what we are." In keeping with current events of that time, this first issue includes the latest statistics on the AIDS epidemic (especially as it disproportionately affected the black community), safer sex tips, and reviews of the recently released film The Color Purple. For black lesbian readers, activist Barbara Smith offers her perspective on being "always conscious of how significant race was in shaping my experience as a Black Lesbian." Smith's words, along with other moving poems and articles in the magazine, demonstrate the urgent need for this magazine (and additional activism as well) at that particular juncture in the feminist and gay rights movements.

Tales of the Closet

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Tales of the Closet
Volume 1, Number 1 (Summer/Fall 1987)
Published by the Institute for the Protection of Lesbian and Gay Youth

Tales of the Closet is a comic book that explores the dynamics of several fictional teenagers struggling with their homosexuality. These characters deal with fear, harassment, isolation, and the pressures from friends and family that so often prevent youth from willingly revealing their sexual desires or identities. This story suggests that young people can more freely experience sexuality once people become supportive of difference and once all gay men and lesbians can become truthful to themselves, their peers, and their loved ones. One important step toward greater freedom for lesbian and gay youth is accessible information about gay identity, and the Institute for the Protection of Lesbian and Gay Youth accomplished this goal by disseminating information in a more youth-friendly comic book format. Founded by Emery Hetrick and A. Damien Martin in 1980, the Institute strove to keep gay and lesbian youth safe at home, at school, in foster care, and in other youth service settings. IPLGY was later renamed the Hetrick-Martin Institute after its founders, and HMI continues to provide services and information for gay and lesbian youth in New York City. Especially for youth of color, transgender and gender non-conforming youth, and homeless young people, coming out remains frightening and often dangerous in the context of oppressive home, school, and street environments.

The Lesbian Outlook

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The Lesbian Outlook
#7 (Feb/March 1993)
Published by the Lesbians for Lesbians Collective

This issue of The Lesbian Outlook, a zine written by lesbians on lesbian separatism, is devoted to ". . . life-loving revolutionary dykes who are Looking Out from the putrid patriarchal planetary necropolis to See/experience/create a Wild, Earthy, Lesbian-identified Present and Future." The aim of the issue is to inspire lesbian separatists to make connections between "loving lesbians" and "loving all truly-Wild-be-ings." Editor Melissa Hall proposes that the erasure of lesbian identity is a part of the same patriarchal plot to erase the identities of animals, and that women and animals alike are victimized and "dismembered" by white, male patriarchy. This issue recalls early lesbian separatist movements in that its contributors fought to remain separate from any mainstream gay or women's movement. One piece, "8 Reasons Why I Hate Sadomasochism," takes a very personal stance supportive of the anti-porn movement of the early 1980s. Though many of The Lesbian Outlook's contributions seem to be harking back to an earlier time that shared perhaps overly idealistic views regarding lesbian separatism, they do demonstrate the increasing importance of the environmental justice and animal rights movements to lesbian activists of the early 1990s.

Lesbian Avengers Dyke Manifesto

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The Lesbian Avengers Dyke Manifesto
"Calling All Lesbians! Wake Up!"
(c. 1993)
Published by the Lesbian Avengers

Dyke Manifesto, a flyer distributed by The Lesbian Avengers, was intended to recruit lesbians for direct, radical action. As described on the reverse side of the flyer, the Avengers were founded in New York City in June 1992 to empower lesbians to become fearless organizers ready to claim their rights to live freely and safe from harm. The Avengers' bold aesthetic and political approach was characteristic of many activist movements of the 1990s, especially in the face of the AIDS crisis and the increasing dominance of neoliberal power structures. Unlike the lesbian separatists of The Lesbian Outlook, the Lesbian Avengers gladly took support from queer male and straight allies and supported sex positive politics, often in opposition to the anti-pornography movement. Claiming that "lesbians have been in the forefront of every movement for social change," the Avengers proudly took on causes related to class, race, gender, politics, visibility, and hate crimes, and they did it with distinctive style that is still recognizable today.

Alyson Women's Book Catalog

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Alyson: Women's Book Catalogue
(January-March 1994)
Published by Alyson Publications

As a successful publisher of gay and lesbian-themed books, Alyson Publications used its semiannual catalog to entertain its faithful customers as well as to advertise its publications. From "word gaymes" to photos from the 1993 March on Washington to a dictionary of lesbian slang, the catalog provides a snapshot of gay and lesbian culture and politics in the mid-1990s. In an excerpt from Testimonies, an Alyson anthology of lesbian coming out stories, Lynn Kanter describes her initial revelation of being gay: "Thank God I'm not normal. . . . Thank God I finally know where I belong, and it's in a woman's arms." This celebration of non-normativity echoes throughout the history of lesbian activism, and many queer activists today proudly carry on this tradition of challenging norms of gender and sexuality.

Over the past few decades, lesbian life in America has grown and transformed into a rich subculture complete with its own literature, language, and celebrities. Fortunately, as the wide variety of documents in this exhibit demonstrates, lesbian (and queer) activism and culture includes a huge range of diverse opinions, ideologies, and identifications. As the Alyson Publications catalog shows, political activism played as much of a part as sexual expression, art, and pop culture did in shaping what we know as "lesbian culture" today.

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