(Editors Note: Mary Ann Gilpatrick was a member of the Chicago
Women's Liberation Union. She is now working as a librarian in
Walla Walla, Washington. )
A while back, the Unitarian Church I have gotten involved with went through the process of becoming a Welcoming Congregation. This involves learning to be not just tolerant of alternate sexualities, but to actively listen and understand the issues of gay members (such as demeaning language and other thoughtless exclusions).
This cast my mind back on the bad old days of not that long ago, when I came in to the women's movement via the anti (Vietnam) war movement. Sisters had the "We're Everywhere" buttons under their collars and lapels, back when we wore collars and lapels.
I imagine some thought they were shocking the rube I was, but actually I had several gay friends in college when everyone was stiflingly in the closet. I was very wary of men which is something gay people notice and they checked me out. (Well, I WAS very leery of men but for other reasons, having been inappropriately fondled as a girl and not yet having THAT out of my system.) These were very interesting people and i was happy to have a place to hang in the very backward undergrad school I attended. (I graduated too.) For a long time I thought of myself as bisexual but time has proved that not to be the case. I find maleness attractive; I enjoy intercourse. I can't help it; it just seems to be the way i was born. I am very glad to have had close women friends relatively early on, pre-women's movement, who introduced me to how tough it was to be not straight in a rigidly straight society.
I remember once remarking that CWLU had a lavender streak a mile wide. This was in the context of course offerings for the Women's Liberation School, and I remember comrades on the school work group cracking up at that simple statement of fact.
I remember the NOW "Don't Iron while the Strike is Hot" demonstration in August of 1970.
(I was the CWLU speaker; I'll try to write that up in another essay. I did have notes once upon a time but they are gone.)
After the official speakers were done the planners encouraged people to stay and listen to some semi-official speakers. Shelly got up and said, "I'm going to say a dirty word. 'Lesbian.' " She went to give a very cogent talk about the oppression of sisters who are gay.
It was a good talk and I was aware that from the first, people hostile to "Women's Lib" dismissed us all as "a bunch of lezzies."
This flip dismissal was I think consciously or unconsciously designed to make us defensive and say Oh no, I'm straight, I like men, I have a boyfriend, I'm (happily or unhappily) married, or whatever.
Instead it had the opposite effect. We were learning to not
let people who were not our real friends define us, our movement,
our issues, anything about who we were and why we were doing
what we were doing. There was a lot of nonsense going around
What we did instead was to take a good hard look at the issue of gayness and why gay people had such a tough time of it and mostly lived in the closet. We discovered a lot of common ground. Articles on gay oppression routinely appeared in Women's Movement publications.
We examined the rigid sex roles still expected of all of us back in that late 60's early 70's time and why on earth human beings would be forced into something so unnatural. The gay liberation movement reminded us that sex was for pleasure and not just for babies. We jointly confronted the impossible Puritanism of mainstream American society. (May those days not succeed in making a comeback , Dr. Laura & friends notwithstanding.) We analyzed the oppressive nature of the traditional nuclear family.
It all seemed to came down to the same ol' Divide and Conquer crap. Attack lesbians and separate out the Lesbian Liberation women and the Women's Liberation women, who would then by implication all be straight and not be interested in serious support of gay issues.
I am very proud of CWLU and all of us who made a conscious decision to make the public response which more or less said,
My personal sexuality is not what we are discussing here; your attitude is such that you are never going to know.
We closed ranks. We did not retreat into comfortable public heterosexuality.
I think this was one of our many victories. It is not so strange to see "straight but not narrow" buttons in states where the reactionaries are waging battles against the civil rights of our GLBTT comrades.
It makes me smile to think that now the "none of your business" response to the "bunch of lezzies" charge garbage sounds old fashioned.
We made a difference. The struggles we waged and continue to
wage make a difference.
Mary Ann Gilpatrick