The Lavender Menace Action
Shortly after they began meeting in C-R groups, lesbian feminists found their opportunity to challenge homophobia in the women's movement. The NOW-sponsored Second Congress to Unite Women had blatantly ignored lesbianism: “not a single speaker, workshop, or plenary involved an open lesbian.” The newly-united lesbian feminists formed a group to plan an action that would challenge women's liberationists to recognize and embrace their lesbian sisters. They called themselves the Lavender Menace in reference to Freidan’s disparaging comment.
In preparation for the conference, the group wrote the first lesbian feminist manifesto, “The Woman-Identified Woman.” Beginning with the famous assertion that "a lesbian is the rage of all women condensed to the point of explosion,” the document argued that lesbians defied the “limitations and oppression laid on”them by “the female role.” The manifesto challenged women’s liberationists to deal with “this issue,” not only because the movement was inhibited by its anxiety about lesbianism, but also because lesbians’ total commitment to other women put them at the vanguard of the movement.
On May 1, 1970, about 40 Lavender Menaces infiltrated the Second Congress to Unite Women. At the beginning of a panel discussion that had drawn hundreds of women to the auditorium, the group turned the lights off. When the lights came back on, women wearing Lavender Menace t-shirts had taken over the stage and posters with slogans like TAKE A LESBIAN TO LUNCH, SUPERDYKE LOVES YOU, and THE WOMEN'S LIBERATION MOVEMENT IS A LESBIAN PLOT dotted the walls.
One Menace explained to the audience: “We have come to tell you that we lesbians are being oppressed outside the movement and inside the movement by a sexist attitude. We want to discuss the lesbian issue with you.”
After passing out copies of “The Woman-Identified Woman,” the Menaces began talking about their experiences as lesbians; some of the women in attendance joined them on the stage to do the same. Although a few women walked out, most were receptive to the action.
By the end of the conference, the congress voted to adopt the resolutions laid out by the Lavender Menaces:
- Be it resolved that Women’s Liberation is a lesbian plot.
- Resolved that whenever the label lesbian is used against the movement collectively or against women individually, it is to be affirmed, not denied.
- In all discussions of birth control, homosexuality must be included as a legitimate method of contraception.
- All sex education curricula must include lesbianism as a valid, legitimate form of sexual expression and love.
In the weeks that followed, the Lavender Menaces organized new Consciousness-Raising groups with women from the congress. Soon enough, they decided it was time to form an autonomous organization—and Radicalesbians was born.