Lesbians Must Shape the Agenda Before It Gets Away

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(WOMENSENEWS)–It’s been a good week for gay rights, as Washington became the seventh state in the nation to allow gay and lesbian couples to wed, news that arrived as a day-early Valentine on Feb. 13.

That occurred in the bullish context of the 2012 presidential campaign, which started as the most hostile in the nation’s history to the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Intersexed/Questioning community, or LGBTIQ, according to Marriage Equality USA.

But in only six months candidates doubled their pro-equality positions to 48 percent in January 2012, from 24 percent in August 2011.

This momentum is the result of two trends: Pro-equality candidates are increasing their support of more LGBTIQ issues, while anti-equality candidates are ending their campaigns early . . . and this is only the beginning.

Even more change is brewing as battles over marriage and military pay continue in the form of lawsuits, legislation and ballots in 16 states: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Washington and West Virginia.

The push toward equality will benefit all members of the gay community, regardless of which gender is leading the charge.

However, there are certain concerns that specifically and solely affect lesbians that are not rising to the top of the gay rights agenda at this crucial time in history when we are on the cusp of change, and lesbians should be taking a stand.

A Wake-Up Call

Consider for example the recent scare about the initial–and quickly reversed–decision by Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the cancer charity, to end breast-cancer screening funding for Planned Parenthood.

That should be a wake-up call to the lesbian community. While free breast cancer screening is a service beneficial to all women, the female segment of the gay population should particularly protect this right. The National LGBT Cancer Network, based in New York, reports that lesbians have an increased risk of breast cancer due, in part, to the fact that they are less likely to have biological children before age 30, which has shown to be a factor in offering some protection against cancer.

University campuses also need their own special lesbian call to action.

Today, after years of providing just a smattering of gay-related classes, an increasing number of private colleges are offering multidisciplinary minors in LGBT studies. California’s San Diego State University has become the second institution, just behind Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., to offer LGBT studies as a major. This clearly benefits the gay population overall by acknowledging our important social contributions as a group.

But if lesbian contributions are minimized or not adequately represented the negative costs will be significant; the concealing of women’s history all over again, to all our detriment.

There’s a reason for lesbians not to trust that such issues will naturally rise to the top of the gay agenda: male dominance.

It’s something I’ve personally witnessed at numerous gay professional conferences around the country. Time after time, regardless of the industry represented, I found speakers who were primarily male, declaring and affirming their views about equality in the workplace, in marriage and in society as a whole.

Breakaway Subsets

This tendency is so marked that, as in the straight world, it can become necessary for women to form their own breakaway, and somewhat subordinate, subsets. A leading professional gay organization, Out Professionals, has formed an "other" division for women (Out Professionals Lynx).

This trend needs to be addressed quickly and decisively at this crucial time, while gay rights are advancing with support from the highest levels in government.

Who is best suited to lead this charge? I cast one of my votes for U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat. As the first (and thus far only) out lesbian elected to Congress, she has been a champion in the fight for full equality as the founder and co-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. Now that Baldwin is a candidate for U.S. Senate, she could be the first woman to represent Wisconsin in the Senate, and the first openly gay senator in the country.

I also cast a vote for Christine Quinn, speaker of the New York City Council and the first openly gay person to hold that job. As a policy maker and long-time advocate, she is committed to ensuring full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

Both these women stand in a prime position to address the unique challenges gay women face. If trendsetting women like these don’t articulate the agenda, our special issues — from funding support for breast cancer screenings to the shaping of college curricula — can easily get overlooked.

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Lori Sokol, Ph.D., is publisher of Work Life Matters magazine and a regular contributor on women’s issues to the Huffington Post and Slate.com.

5 thoughts on “Lesbians Must Shape the Agenda Before It Gets Away

  1. The article is self-evidently true. It does beg one question though – is it a “Gay” agenda or a “GLBTI” agenda?

    Some Lesbian groups take very strong exception to the existence of Trans* people. Mary Daly called for a “Final Solution” for them, Janice Raymond for “Morally mandating them out of existence”, while Sheila Jeffereys calls for them to be confined and given involuntary reparative psychiatric therapy “for their own good”.

    One only has to look at MichFest for an example.

    Attitudes towards Intersex people who identify as women are just as hostile amongst this vocal and influential Lesbian faction.

    So yes, Lesbians (and Bisexual women) have been frozen out by male dominance, male privilege, at least in part because of relative powerlessness. But should the majority of Lesbians allow the minority to do the same to T and I women in turn?

    Gay Agenda or GLBTI Agenda?

  2. We as lesbians… Must OCCUPY our space!

    The title and even CONCEPT of this article is apparently lost on the previous commenter Zoe Brain… because within the first day, hours of the OP being posted, lesbians are being targeted to REFOCUS…outside of lesbian female priorities.

    Specific concerns and energy that is completely focused on the letter L in this queer alphabet soup that lesbian females are expected and DEMANDED to swim the “back stroke” in. We as lesbian females are having to JUSTIFY our specific priorities AND being manipulated into feeling “responsible” for not making lesbian specific concerns, rights and even our physical BODIES… inclusive “enough”.

    Our female bodies, our female childhoods, our female experiences, our female sexuality as lesbians… has NOTHING to apologize for.

    We have every RIGHT to be proud of who we are! We have every RIGHT to focus on who we are. We have every RIGHT to organize/purchase and invite who we want to OUR space. We have every RIGHT to inform/speak and CLARIFY, that our female sex will NOT be stereotyped, pimped out, marketed/packaged ANY LONGER.

    I will not apologize or be manipulated because MY FOCUS for lesbian females is not “inclusive” enough. I as a female, I as a lesbian, I as a WOC, I as a mother and I as a American Vet… am fighting for MY RIGHTS, my visibility, my equality, my sexuality, my culture, my children and the benefits that I have PAID in every aspect of my BODY… and do not have.

    I apologize for nothing and my priorities are for ME to make.

    • Thank you, L.R. Hudson! It is time that all of us, as Lesbian females–and yes, it’s even necessary to state that Lesbians are female in this alphabet soup–stopped taking care of everyone else’s needs before our own. No other faction of the movement has the least bit of interest in taking care of OUR needs. Rather, they seem intent on making sure that there is no place for us left in this movement. Z.Brain’s constant battering of our revered philosophers, our few womyn-only spaces, and anything that does not include everyone else is a fine example of this. THANK YOU, L.R. for stating that we, female Lesbians, must focus on our issues or they will be ignored completely. I ask that if others expect our support, they at least have the decency to stay out of those few areas where they are not needed, and indeed, not welcome. Then the LGBTxyz “movement” might begin to resemble the cohesive coalition that it represents itself to be.

  3. In re the opinion column by Sokol and the comment by Zoe Brain: Sokol is spot-on, but here’s where Womens eNews contributed to the very same problem of invisibility that she warns lesbians about: her piece is listed under a “Lesbian and Transgender” category. “Lesbian” and “Transgender” are not one and the same, they are opposite of each other, they are different worlds of existence. I came out of the closet 33 years ago and not once have I ever felt that I was navigating through my private life with the wrong anatomy. I was born the female sex and have never doubted the specialness — in fact, the superiority — of what I am. That many societies and cultures have always posed an obstacle (even a hatred) towards those of us born female is a burden we learn to cope with and push through. Males are born with the automatic privilege of their sex and grow up within societies that rejoice their potential and the asset they represent. Males, even when they may struggle with the identity of their sex, can never fully comprehend and touch the essence of what it means to be female — they must be female born, female lived, female struggled, and female explained to be a fundamentally female person. MFs can masquerade the surface, can cut and slice it, but they will never, ever be able to fathom the central nature of what it is to be a female human being. However, with the male brain and the experience of male privilege that continues to exist regardless of what they do to their flesh, they use their sense of entitlement to demand access not just to women’s space, but to lesbian space, too. And what is a lesbian woman if she is not also a homosexual female that prefers the private company of other females and a sexual subsistence with them? But just as females throughout the history of civilization and even to this day in many societies are not allowed to say “No” to males, far too many MFs and their enablers do not respect the right of a lesbian to say “No” to them — “No” to their inhabitancy of what little lesbian space there may exist, “No” to their presence in what relatively few lesbian gatherings there may be held, “No” to their inclusion in what little remains of once-prolific annual festivals that were specifically created by and for lesbian females as a brief respite from a world dominated by males, and to be exposed to the presence of heretofore unfamiliar lesbians from all walks of life and those who considered themselves female-identified bisexual females. Just as Ecclesiastes 3:1 counsels that “To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven,” so must MFs respect that lesbians, too, are granted a season and purpose to be who they are and what they choose to persevere for their very existence.

  4. I think the fact that the comment thread has slipped into a transphobic debate about safe spaces requires the Trans 101 card to be played.

    1. Sex is between the legs, gender is between the ears. Sex is male, female, and intersex, and has to do with your chromosomes, genitalia, hormones, etc. Gender is man, woman, boy, girl, androgynous (gender-neutral), etc., etc., and has to do with your internal sense of self and how you express yourself.

    2. There are currently five medically recognised (by the American Medical Association, at least) sexes – male, female, and three kinds of intersex. Gender is an infinite spectrum, and there are more ways to express one’s gender than anyone supposes.

    3. When you have met one Trans person, you have met one Trans person. We are not cookie-cutter. We are, by and large, just like anyone else (as much as anyone is like anyone else, because of course we’re all different). You’ve probably passed Trans people on the street without realising it. Trans people, just like anyone else, prefer to be treated as people first. We are brains and hearts and souls who happen to have certain genitalia attached, not the other way around.

    4. Transgender is an adjective. It is not a noun (i.e., ‘He is a Transgender’). It is not a verb (i.e., ‘My cousin is transgendering’). It is an adjective (i.e., ‘I know a Transgender person’, ‘He is Transgender’). Please respect that. You will look very ignorant and rather foolish if you don’t.

    More honest, unbiased info about transgender issues on this wiki http://www.t-vox.org/index.php?title=Trans_101