Revisiting the Lavender Menace: Why LGBT women should care about abortion rights

Back in the 1960s, queer women wanted to be a part of organized feminism, but some straight-identified feminists weren’t having it. Specifically, the National Organization of Women’s President, Betty Friedan, tried to keep what she referred to as “the lavender menace” out of her campaign for women’s rights, prompting a group of lesbian activists to take the name for their own action group and protest their exclusion. That group (also called Radicalesbians) included Karla Jay, Rita Mae Brown and Barbara Love, and together they wrote a 10-paragraph manifesto in 1970 called “The Woman-Identified Woman,” which described the kinds of issues lesbians face in the same world that non-LGBT women live in. From that manifesto:

“While all women are dehumanized as sex objects, as the objects of men, they are given certain compensations: identification with his power, his ego, his status, his protection (from other males), feeling like “a real woman,” finding social acceptance by adhering to her role, etc. Should a woman confront herself by confronting another woman, there are fewer rationalizations, fewer buffers by which to avoid the stark horror of her dehumanized condition. Herein we find the the overriding fear of many women toward being used as a sexual object by a woman, which will not only bring her no male-connected compensations, but also will reveal the void which is woman’s real situation. This dehumanization is expressed when a straight woman learns that her sister is a lesbian; she begins to relate to her lesbian sister as her potential sex object, laying a surrogate male role on the lesbian. This reveals her heterosexual conditioning to make herself into an object when sex is potentially involved in a relationship, and it denies the lesbian her full humanity.”

Through this kind of manifesto and the discussions that came up around second wave feminism, LGBT women were finally able to get through to those who previously considered lesbians a threat to equality, and in 1971, NOW delegates decided that lesbian rights were “a legitimate concern for feminism.”
Lesbian Rights Rally
Forty-three years later, LGBT and women’s equality are still struggling for some highly necessary wins in the United States and elsewhere. The good news is that feminists are much more inclusive of lesbians and bisexuals, and there have been some breakthroughs in the transgender movement as of late, too. Despite the huge strides we’ve made in both areas, the kinds of setbacks we’ve faced from the same kinds of enemies unite us—which is why this upcoming election season in November is so important for women of all identities.

It might be easy for those of us who identify as lesbians to feel like abortion rights aren’t our issue; that access to birth control or morning-after pills are someone else’s fight. The truth is that even we, as women who might specifically have sex with other women and cannot get pregnant in the same way that our bisexual or straight sisters might, are not only affected but so important to the fight for the control over our bodies. For the same reasons the Lavender Menace listed in their 1970 manifesto, we aren’t to look at those who we aren’t in sexual relationships with (i.e. straight women) as sexual objects who breed and pop out babies and it’s their problem if they get knocked up and don’t want to deal with it. They have fought for us and our rights to love and marry and get jobs and homes without being discriminated against, and more than ever are we needed to show up for them and ourselves as women.

Like the Lavender Menace wrote in their manifesto over 40 years ago, we have been raised to self-hate in our “male-given identity.” We’re products of the same patriarchy and this very message still rings true, although now I ask you to think about it in terms of us, as LGBT women, giving back to those who showed up for us, or even those who didn’t.

“We must be available and supportive to one another, give our commitment and our love, give the emotional support necessary to sustain this movement. Our energy must flow toward our sisters, not backward toward our oppressors.”

Quite literally, I’ve supported my straight-identified sister through things I’ll likely never deal with but that are facets of being a woman, and she has done the same for me. Sometimes we might forget that despite our own hardships as queer women, we have the ability to be allies, too. But in reality, we’re all women demanding the ability to live our lives how we want to, and that’s something worth fighting for, no matter what the specifics are.

“Only women can give to each other a new sense of self.”