Page One

All Women are Lesbians

The Radicalesbians contingent at the first Christopher Street Liberation Day March. June 28, 1970. Copyright Ellen Shumsky. Courtesy of the photographer.

This section will focus on Radicalesbians (RL), a group formed in the spring of 1970 by lesbians who had been involved in the Gay Liberation Front and the women’s liberation movement. Radicalesbians was the first lesbian feminist group to emerge after Stonewall.

Origins of Radicalesbians: Sexism in GLF and the First All Women’s Dance

From the beginning, the Gay Liberation Front dedicated itself to combating sexism. Many GLFers believed that sex roles were at the root of their oppression, and a number of men worked hard to develop nonsexist ways of thinking and acting. (Some, such as The Effeminists, eventually dedicated themselves wholly to breaking down “the patriarchy.”) But others continued to act in ways that diminished women’s standing in the group—calling them “girls,” expecting them to make coffee, dominating conversations, and demeaning those who disagreed with them—or questioned how much time and resources should be devoted to so-called “women’s issues.”[1]

Ellen Shumsky, a member of the Gay Liberation Front and Radicalesbians, talks about conflicts between men and women in GLF:

Tensions between men and women came to a head in the spring of 1970, when women proposed hosting their own dances. GLF dances were “overwhelmingly attended by males,” and women had grown weary of “the ‘pack-’em-in’ attitude” of the dance organizers. They longed to create [2]

Women's Dance

A flyer for the first women's dance. Courtesy of the Lesbian Herstory Archives.

While some men supported the women’s efforts to host their own dances, a number of others were opposed to the idea. The group had worked hard to come together across gender lines, and a separate dance seemed not only “‘divisive’ and ‘insulting,’” but also like “‘a step backward.’”[3] What’s more, they argued, women should not be able to use money from the GLF treasury to organize events that barred men.[4]

Despite this resistance, the women prevailed. Their first separate dance--held on April 3, 1970--was “a huge success,” drawing hundreds of women to the space they’d secured at Alternate University. One woman remembered: “We danced fast, we danced slow, we danced Greek-style, we danced in circles and pairs, we rapped, we were stoned on joy. We were all women, all in love with each other, and we had a tremendous sense of power in our self-sufficiency.”[5] The women began preparations for more dances immediately.

The dances not only allowed GLF women to forge a sense of community with other lesbians, but also gave them the opportunity to meet and work separately from men—an experience they found exhilarating.[6]

GLFer and Radicalesbian Karla Jay talks about the obstacles GLF women faced when they threw their first dance:

Later, women in the Aquarius Cell took money from GLF's community center fund to finance independent dances.[7] Their move infuriated many men in GLF, including Jerry Hoose and Michael Lavery, who left the group as a result of their action

The Woman Identified Woman

An excerpt from Radicalesbians' seminal document, "The Woman Identified Woman." Courtesy of the Lesbian Herstory Archives.

Other Origins: Homophobia in the Women’s Liberation Movement

As GLF women struggled against sexism in the group, lesbians in the women’s liberation movement were battling the anti-gay attitudes of many of their straight sisters. Feminist activism had been empowering for many lesbians, but they also felt alienated by a movement that frequently ignored them or diminished their concerns.

Mainstream groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW)“were openly hostile to lesbians.” NOW president Betty Friedan, for example, was so concerned that lesbians would tarnish the reputation of the women’s movement that she labeled them a “lavender menace.”[8]

Radical women’s liberation groups were more welcoming—and some, such as The Feminists, praised lesbians for their women-centered lives. But too often these groups also wrote off lesbians’ concerns as unimportant or argued that they were dividing the movement.[9]

By early 1970, lesbians from women’s liberation were just as tired as GLF women of “feeling ignored” by the movement they had worked so hard for—and both groups of women welcomed the opportunity to join together in separate Consciousness-Raising groups in the spring.[10]

Karla Jay talks about her experiences with homophobia in the radical women’s liberation group Redstockings]