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The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

36 Years since the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights

March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights

LGBTHistoryblog

The National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights took place on October 14, 1979. It was the first march of its kind, and the preparation for it was rocky. The first item on the agenda of the planning conference, held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the previous February, asked delegates to decide whether to hold a march at all. Many were opposed. A “hinterlands caucus” argued that calling attention to the presence of LGBT people outside of cities like New York and San Francisco would jeopardize their safety in the small towns where they lived. Lesbians and people of color were skeptical about whether the march would represent their interests.

In the end, though, the conference endorsed a march, to be organized on a grassroots level, led by a steering committee comprised of 50 percent of women and 25 percent people of color. The national organizations of the time, which were much smaller, poorer, and less influential than the ones we have now, were reluctant to join in, fearing that no one would attend, and that a failed march would be worse than none at all. The National Gay Task Force (now the National LGBTQ Task Force), for example, endorsed the gathering only a month before it was to take place, when it had become clear that people from around the country were going to stream into Washington in large numbers.

The experience was like nothing I’d ever done before. With friends from the weekly Gay Community News, where I was the features editor, I drove in a van to the march. GCN had printed up thousands of special issues that we were planning to distribute to the marchers. Cars passed us, beeping in support and holding signs out the windows. Every highway rest stop was crowded with people like us. The New Yorkers even chartered a special train. In Washington, the metro was crowded with obvious queers from all over the country. And on the day of the march, a huge crowd of us surrounded the Washington monument. The organizers estimated that there were at least 100,000 at the rally; the media, including the Boston Globe, reported far fewer—but it was a victory that they reported on us at all. Our movement had finally grown too big to ignore. (And in an activist response to the Globe’s underestimate, Lesbian and Gay Media Advocates [LAGMA] formed, to push for accurate, unbiased coverage.)

The march had five main demands:

• Pass a comprehensive lesbian/gay rights bill in Congress.
• Issue a presidential executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in the federal government, the military, and federally contracted private employment.
• Repeal all anti-lesbian/gay laws.
• End discrimination in lesbian-mother and gay-father custody cases.
• Protect lesbian and gay youth from any laws which are used to discriminate, oppress, and/or harass them in their homes, schools, jobs, and social environments.

HPGalleryBlogHoffman10.15Thirty-six years later, the social status of LGBT people has changed enormously. Few LGBT people in Montana, say, would worry that a march in Washington, DC, would cause them to be set upon by an angry mob. In liberal Massachusetts, my employer, my neighbors, and my doctor all know I’m a lesbian. I’ve been married to my partner of 27 years since 2003—and my entire family came to our wedding. Since the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision in June, my marriage is recognized by the federal government as well as that of my state. I can watch many television shows and movies in which LGBT characters make it through the entire plot without killing themselves. I can kiss my wife goodbye on the front steps when I leave for work in the morning without worrying (too much) that we’ll be beaten or shot.

Vice President Joe Biden pointed out during the celebrations of Obergefell, “Although the freedom to marry—and for that marriage to be recognized in all 50 states—is now the law of the land, there are still 32 states where marriage can be recognized in the morning and you can be fired in the afternoon.” We have no federal protection from employment discrimination—nor from discrimination in housing, education, public accommodations, credit, federal funding, and jury service. For that kind of protection, we would need the federal Equality Act: the Comprehensive LGBT Nondiscrimination Bill. It has more than 200 sponsors—but it’s a little hard to imagine it getting anywhere, given everything else that is jammed up in Congress. Last year, after the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, LGBT groups gave up even on the more limited Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) after pushing for it for twenty years, since the court decision would have opened the door to endless religious exemptions. (Maybe none of this is surprising, given that the US has not yet been able to pass a women’s Equal Rights Amendment.)

blogpullquoteGayRightsStill, as you may remember how the ban on discrimination in the military worked out. We had Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which was considered a step forward when it was enacted in 1993, because it prevented service members who were LGBT, or thought to be, from being automatically discharged. It was finally repealed in 2011, and the military is now forbidden to discriminate—although the situation of LGBT people who were kicked out with less-than-honorable discharges still remains to be resolved.

We did get that executive order we wanted—just last year. And we got rid of anti-lesbian and gay sodomy laws—but only after a long slog that required not only overturning antiquated state laws but also the Supreme Court’s 1986 Hardwick decision upholding Georgia’s sodomy law. The court overturned Hardwick in the Lawrence v Texas decision—in 2003.

Even child custody, which you might think had been resolved by equal marriage, continues to complicate the lives of LGBT parents and their children. Recently, “officials in Iowa refused to list the biological mother’s wife on the birth certificate of the child they had conceived through donor insemination. Iowa officials argued that the law recognizes the biological and ‘gendered’ roles of ‘mother’ and ‘father,’ grounded in the biological fact that a child has one biological mother and one biological father.” Back in 1993, the feminist science studies scholar Anne Fausto-Sterling wrote that “sex and gender are best conceptualized as points in a multidimensional space”—but Iowa hasn’t yet gotten the message. Wait until it has to tangle with the multidimensional space of gender nonconforming parents and children.

The protection of LGBT young people that we demanded in 1979 is in some ways the most depressing item on the list to contemplate. Of course, in some communities, LGBT youth can find gay-straight alliances, supportive peers and adults, and even church groups, none of which existed for the friends I marched with in 1979, some of whom had been beaten, institutionalized, or simply abandoned by their hideous, homophobic families. But LGBT youth are still disproportionately likely to become homeless because they’ve been rejected and kicked out by family, abused, or neglected. This of course leaves them vulnerable to lifelong poverty and trouble, because they lack education, access to resources, friendship, and support.

I recently asked the activist and writer Urvashi Vaid about why we haven’t progressed farther—at a moment when, as she put it, “some people are acting though the movement is over, and we won.” Equal marriage, she said, “is only a partial victory… The lesson from every civil rights movement is that formal legal equality doesn’t completely address people’s problems. Our community is incredibly diverse, in terms of age, race, nationality, geography, immigration status, gender identification, all kinds of parameters. We have to look at people’s lives through many lenses.” She is currently leading an effort to address income inequality in the LGBT community—because despite the stereotype of the rich, white, gentrifying gay man, many LGBT people are far less economically secure than their straight counterparts, and their children are more likely to live in poverty. LGBT people continue to experience discrimination, legal run-ins, violence, homelessness—basically, all the issues we were fighting to change back in 1979.

As the late Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Amy Hoffman, M.F.A., is editor-in-chief of Women’s Review of Books published by Wellesley Centers for Women and Old City Publishing. A writer, editor, and community activist, she is the author of three memoirs including, An Army of Ex-Lovers: My Life at the Gay Community News, about Boston’s lesbian and gay movement during the late 1970s, which was published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2007.

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2014 Round-up

2014RoundupA 2014 Round-up

Below are links to two articles from good friends of the Wellesley Centers for Women—Susan McGee Bailey and Alex Sanger. Susan is the former, long-time executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW); Alex is chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and member of the WCW Council of Advisors. In their respective blog articles, they share their perspectives on the year 2014.

In her latest piece on Girl w/ Pen, Susan writes, "Hanukkah, then Christmas next week, followed by the start of a new year—a time of hope and beginnings. Why doesn’t it feel that way? For the past several days I’ve been searching for the bright spots. The ones that can provide the energy we need in the midst of so much darkness. Not an easy task. Each day new horrors erupt: the second anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre and still no reasonable national gun control legislation; free passes for racial biases and deadly police brutality; the sickening slaughter of school children in Pakistan; ongoing revelations of rape in the US military and on university campuses. Negative news can so easily obliterate positive signs in the struggles for equal rights. But all around us there is tangible evidence of the many ways feminist work contributes to positive progress for everyone... You can read the full article online.

In his latest piece on Huffington Post, Alex writes, "Once again, we've had a year of ups and downs, a year of strong stands for women's rights and crushing defeats. Here's a quick run-down of some of the most memorable moments of 2014. Last month, the Chamber of Deputies in the Dominican Republic put forward a measure to reinforce—and strengthen—the country's existing ban on abortions in all circumstances. Thankfully, Dominican President Danilo Medina vetoed the measure, urging legislators in a letter to decriminalize abortions in cases where the woman's life is at risk or in cases of rape, incest, or fetus malformation. " You can read the full article online.

What do you think have been notable events or moments of the past year? Share with us!

The mission of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College is to advance gender equality, social justice, and human wellbeing through high quality research, theory, and action programs. Since 1974, work has generated changes in attitudes, practices, and public policy.

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Seeking LGBT Parents in History

ssparentsSeeking LGBT Parents in History

Opponents of LGBT equality often try to make LGBT parents seem like a new and untested phenomenon, and therefore something to be avoided. The history of LGBT parents and our children, however, goes back further than one might think.

The Greek poet Sappho, whose island home of Lesbos gave us the term “lesbian,” may have had a daughter named “Cleis.” That would mean that the history of LGBT parents goes back to around 600 BCE.

The existence of her daughter is only attested through a few fragments, though, making it far from certain. It’s also anachronistic to apply modern identity terms to historical figures, even such a lesbian icon as Sappho. The possibility of her existence, however, should encourage us to reflect that the history of parents who fall under a broad LGBT umbrella (not tied to modern conceptions of the terms) likely goes back as far as the history of LGBT people as a whole. They may not have been “out and proud” like many modern LGBT parents, but we can still see them as their forebears.

Sticking with better documented cases, Oscar Wilde was the father of two boys with his wife Constance Lloyd, and apparently a loving one. His son Vyvyan, in his book Son of Oscar Wilde, wrote about Wilde’s relationship with him and his brother, “He was a hero to us both. . . . a real companion to us. . . . He would go down on all fours on the nursery floor, being in turn a lion, a wolf, a horse, caring nothing for his usually immaculate appearance.” Alas, when the boys were eight and nine, their mother took them to Switzerland after Wilde’s trial for “gross indecency” (having same-sex relations) and they never saw him again.

blogpullquoteLGBTParentsVita Sackville-West had relationships with several women, including fellow writers Virginia Woolf and Violet Trefusis, and had two children with her husband, Harold George Nicolson (who also had same-sex relationships). Her son Nigel Nicolson later used her account of the affair with Trefusis as the heart of a book about his parents, Portrait of a Marriage. There, he called his mother’s description of the affair “one of the most moving pieces that she ever wrote.” While he acknowledged both parents’ same-sex relationships, he also said their marriage “became stronger and finer as a result.” Their love affairs were mere “ports of call,” but it was “to the harbour that each returned.” Nevertheless, it is easy to see Nicolson as the product of parents who fall under the broad LGBT umbrella, and to place another brushstroke in our picture of LGBT family history.

Looking only at parents who had a more modern sense of their LGBT identities, out LGBT parents go back to the very start of the LGBT civil rights movement. Most still had their children within the context of different-sex marriages, but were more likely than in earlier times to leave those marriages, even though this often meant losing custody of their children. Del Martin, one of the founders in 1955 of Daughters of Bilitis, the first national lesbian rights organization in the U.S., was one such parent. Not surprisingly, her organization held some of the first known discussion groups on lesbian motherhood—way back in 1956. (See Daniel Winunwe Rivers’ Radical Relations, which I reviewed in the Women’s Review of Books earlier this year.)

Even the term “gayby boom”—referring to same-sex couples starting their families together—is already over two decades old, dating to at least March 1990, when Newsweek reported, “a new generation of gay parents has produced the first-ever ‘gayby boom.’” That means that many of the children from that boom are themselves now adults—while many of the first generation of out parents are becoming grandparents.

Think of it this way: the fictional Heather who had two mommies was in preschool in Lesléa Newman’s classic 1989 children’s book. If she were real, she’d now be in her late 20s.

Those who continue to insist that LGBT parents are not good for children have failed to realize that if that were true (even leaving aside the extensive social science research to the contrary), there would be many more maladjusted adults running around. Analyses from UCLA’s Williams Institute have found that currently, between 2.3 and 4 million adults have an LGBT parent. If they suffered harm because of that, someone surely would have noticed the connection by now.

As a lesbian mom, I believe that learning the history of LGBT parents and their children can also help us feel less alone, less like we are the first to face each challenge. Having confidence that others have succeeded before us can translate into confidence in our parenting skills, which in turn can positively impact our children.

Knowing the struggles—and triumphs—of LGBT parents in the past can also give us hope and strength in overcoming the challenges—legal, political, social, and emotional—that we still face.

And seeing how the early organizations for LGBT parents helped shape the overall LGBT rights movement of today (a story told in Rivers’ book and in the 2006 documentary Mom’s Apple Pie: The Heart of the Lesbian Mothers’ Custody Movement) can inspire us to keep contributing to that broader effort, even as we balance the demands of work and family.

LGBT History Month for this year may be drawing to a close, but the work of exploring our history must continue.

Dana Rudolph is the online content manager for the National SEED Project at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She is also the founder and publisher of Mombian, a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and associated newspaper column for lesbian moms and other LGBT parents. She has a BA summa cum laude from Wellesley College and an M.Phil in Modern History from Oxford University.

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Facebook: Friend or Foe

fbthumbsFacebook: Friend or Foe

This blog post is reproduced with permission from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, NJ. It was first published on the Human Capital Blog.

If you were stressed out and wanted to vent to your friends about it, how would you let them know? Would you pick up the phone and talk, or text? Would you set up time to grab coffee or go for a brisk walk? Or would you post to Facebook why your day just couldn’t get any worse?

As I logged into the recent RWJF/NPR/Harvard School of Public Health-sponsored Stress in America discussion, I identified with the panelists who were dispelling stereotypes about “highly stressed” individuals being high-level executives or those at the top of the ladder. Instead of finding work-related stress as a top concern, as is often played out in the media and popular culture, the researchers were finding that individuals with health concerns, people with disabilities, and low-income individuals were experiencing the highest levels of stress. The panelists talked about the importance of qualities like resiliency and the ability to turn multiple, competing stressors into productive challenges to overcome, and the integral role of communities in shaping, buffering, and/or exacerbating stress.

We often consider our communities as living, working, playing in close physical proximity. But what about the online spaces? What about our opt-in networked friendship circles ... our cyber-audience who sign up to read our posts with mundane observations, proud revelations, and the occasional embarrassing photos?

blogpullquoteFacebookMedia coverage about social media has not been kind—often linking its use with cyberbullying, sexual predators, and depression or loneliness. But recent scholarship on new media demonstrates that interpersonal communication, online and offline, plays a vital role in integrating people into their communities by helping them build support, maintain ties, and promote trust. Social media is often used to escape from the pressures of life and alter moods, to secure an audience for self-disclosures, and to widen social networks and increase social capital. The Pew Research Internet Project found that adult Facebook users are more trusting than others, have more close, core ties with their social networks, and receive more social support than non-users.

So what if we asked adolescents the same question: “If you were having a bad day and wanted to let your friends know about it, how would you let them know?”

In our current research on media and identity, we purposively sampled more than 2,300 individuals aged 12 to 25 from 47 states and 26 countries. They took an online survey that investigated how vulnerable populations (such as racial/ethnic minorities, women, adolescents, people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, those with low social status) have used the Internet and social media in healthy and unhealthy ways, particularly during times of stress. We wanted to determine how and why supportive communities could exist in personal online networks that could increase one’s resiliency in the face of challenges.

We found that when young people want to talk about a bad day, they mainly preferred in-person (69%), texting (69%), or phone call (51%) methods to reach out for help. Social media was not utilized as often to talk about stressful times—with Facebook (29%) being more popular than Twitter (7%) overall.

The Stress in America poll results found that 19 percent of adults use social media more than usual during stressful times. In our study, adolescents were significantly more likely to post to Facebook networks about their bad days than emerging adults aged 18 to 25, which can indicate that there are generational differences in how new media can be supportive.

African American participants (19%) chose Twitter to report to their networks about a bad day more often, whereas Asian Americans (40%) used Facebook more often than people of any other race/ethnicity during times of stress.

A surprisingly large number of young people (under age 25) reported that they write blogs, from a low of 37 percent of Hispanic respondents to a high of 60 percent of Asian Americans respondents. Incidentally, individuals who have ever written a blog are more likely to report being unhappy or sad than non-bloggers. Perhaps being more public online about private matters helps adolescents to know that they are not alone in their battles with stress.

Further examination of the use of new media may help us develop prevention and intervention programs and tools to guide adolescents, their parents, educators, and health care workers, and to remind ourselves how the adolescent and emerging adult years can be stressful. Perhaps logging onto one’s Facebook community and jotting down one’s thoughts could be just the right kind of coping mechanism whenever the need arises.

Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D. is a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College and a former National Institute of Child Health and Human Development postdoctoral scholar. She is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Connections grantee, examining the potential of social media networks to promote resiliency in vulnerable populations.

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