Saturday 25 April 2020

80 More Gays Around the World: Part 10) Turning the Page

Last time on “80 More Gays”: 24) John Menlove Edwards (1910-1958) was a pioneering climber, as is 25) Alex Johnson (b.1989) who trained for the Olympics, which had first awarded gold medals in climbing (in the form of mountaineering) in 1924 to 26) George Mallory (1886-1924) and his team for attempting to climb Everest, still a popular challenge, achieved by 27) Silvia Vasquez-Lavado (b.1974), the first openly lesbian climber to complete the Seven Summits, which she did as a healing process for the sexual abuse she received as a child, as did author 28) Dorothy Allison (b.1949).

28) Dorothy Allison addressed her experiences of child abuse from her stepfather in much of her writing. Other social issues often associated with such abuse – poverty, working class background and unemployment – are also addressed. Her first full-length novel, “Bastard Out of Carolina”, published in 1992, is seen as being semi-autobiographical.

Dorothy’s rise from childhood poverty and abuse has been an inspiration to some women. She was the first member of her family to graduate from high school. She then went on to graduate from The New School in New York City with an MA in urban anthropology.

It was her involvement with a group of militant feminists while at college in the 1970s that Dorothy was encouraged to write. She had always made up stories as a form of escape but now her feminism began to influence what she wrote. On the activist side Dorothy was involved in the Barnard Conference on Sexuality, an event about which I wrote briefly in this article in relation to Gayle Rubin’s contribution to what became known as the Feminist Sex Wars (Gayle Rubin was number 14 in my previous 80 Gays series).

Dorothy Allison’s first published work, “The Women Who Hate Me: Poems by Dorothy Allison”, appeared in 1982. This was followed in 1988 with “Trash: Short Stories”. This was to be the first of Dorothy’s works to win a Lambda Literary Award. In fact, it won two – one for Best Lesbian Fiction, and one for Best Lesbian Small Press Book.

These were two of categories of the very first Lambda Literary Awards held in 1989 for new lgbt literature. The awards were born out of the growing amount of lgbt literature that had been published in the USA since the 1970s. This went in hand with the growth in the number of lgbt bookshops. One of these gave its name to the awards, the Lambda Rising bookstore in Washington DC, founded by 29) L. Page “Deacon” Maccubbin in 1974.

An activist since the early 1970s Deacon Maccubbin became a successful businessman with a small chain of his Lambda Rising bookstores in various cities. The name was influenced by the popularity of the Greek letter lambda as a symbol of gay activism at the time (before the pink triangle became widely used). By 1987 there was enough lgbt literature being published that Deacon used his knowledge of the industry to publish “Lambda Book Report”, a bi-monthly review. This led to him creating the Lambda Literary Awards in 1989.

In 2003 Deacon helped to save the first lgbt bookstore in the USA from closure. This was the Oscar Wilde Bookshop in New York. It had acquired something of a legendary status in the city’s gay community from the moment it opened. When Deacon purchased the bookshop it had already been passed from one owner to another for several years and was in danger of closing down for good. Deacon sold the bookshop in 2006 at a time when there was a downturn in lgbt bookshops nationwide, hampered by the growth of online selling and lgbt books being stocked in mainstream stores. The Oscar Wilde Bookshop finally closed in 2009.

The Oscar Wilde Bookshop was opened on 24th November 1967 as the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop. It was the brainchild of Craig Rodwell (1940-1993). In 1992 Craig was awarded a Lambda Literary Award for his services to the lgbt publishing. In 1973 the bookshop moved from its original location to Christopher Street, where Craig had an apartment and where the Stonewall Inn is located.

Craig Rodwell was one of the leading protestors at the Stonewall Riots of 1969 and he later persuaded a cross-nation organisation of gay rights groups to hold the first modern Pride march, the Christopher Street Liberation (or Gay Freedom) Day march, to mark the riots first anniversary. I haven’t included Craig Rodwell in the numbered sequence of “80 More Gays” because I want to include another activist from that time, and I intend to write more about him and the creation of Pride in June.

Other organisers of the first Christopher Street Liberation Day march, who met in Craig Rodwell apartment on Christopher Street itself, was 30) Ellen Broidy (b.1946). She worked in the Oscar Wilde Bookshop in its original location while she was studying at New York University a short distance away. Ellen was also an activist. She set up a Student Homophile League at college, and was a member of the Gay Liberation Front and the Lavender Menace.

Many lesbians joined gay rights and feminist groups in the 1960s and 1970s. Soon many of them realised that lesbian issues were either being ignored or opposed by those groups. One group in particular, the National Organisation for Women (NOW), was critical of any attempt to include lesbian issues. The NOW president went so far as to label lesbians as a “lavender menace”. This was to spark the creation of a new activist group which took its name from that insult. Ellen Broidy was one of the women of Lavender Menace who announced themselves in spectacular fashion at NOW’s second Congress to Unite Women on 1st May 1970.

Just as the first session of the congress was about to begin the lights in the auditorium went out. Thirty seconds later they came back on again, and standing across the front of the stage and in the aisles were 19 women wearing t-shirts which bore the words “Lavender Menace”. Ellen Broidy was one of them. So, too was Rita Mae Brown, who was featured in my original 80 Gays series (as number 57). Rather than being removed by security guards the women managed to turn the session into a discussion on lesbianism and heterosexism. They were helped in that the chair of that session was in on the act, as was the woman operating the lights.

One of the few remaining original t-shirts worn by members of the Lavender Menace when they protested at the Congress to Unite Women. This one belonged to Martha Shelley and was donated to the Lesbian Herstory Archives in 2014.
Not long after this Lavender Menace changed it’s named to Radicalesbians. The group fell victim to a common problem among many of the early lgbt activist groups – some members want to be more radical and political and others don’t. Splinter groups were often formed and eventually they all lost their support. The Radicalesbians disbanded in 1971.

NOW, however, has continued. Even in the 1970s lesbians who belonged to Lavender Menace and the Gay Liberation Front also belonged to NOW and were active in promoting lesbian involvement. One of the leading members of NOW who left the Radicalesbians to form other groups was 31) Barbara Love (b.1937).

Next time on “80 More Gays”: Things go swimmingly, particularly in Helsinki and Melbourne but not in Vietnam, as we go from lgbt activism to anti-war protest.

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