HERstory: Lesbian feminists stand their ground
Lesbian feminists stand their ground
By Dennis Yeo, Niagara community member
Ya gotta admire actress Michelle Williams who, in her acceptance speech at Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards, implored women to wield their power as a voting bloc in the next presidential election. She urged women to vote in their own self-interest as men always have in order to change the country and the world, which looks as it does because of men. Women of the 2SLGBTQ+ community in the ‘70s didn’t need that push when they realized that the “G” (aka cisgender, gay, white men) agenda did not sufficiently include them.
Lesbian activism expanded in the early ‘70s, despite early opposition from feminist writer Betty Friedan and expulsion from the National Organization for Women. In that incident, Ivy Bottini who presided over the N.Y. chapter, addressed the Congress to Unite Women (1970) while her 20 supporters wore “Lavender Menace” T-shirts. Gradually, NOW embraced lesbian issues as feminist issues and offered legal and moral support in matters of divorce and child custody. By 1977, Friedan relented and supported a lesbian rights resolution, despite her discomfort to enable the organization to move on.
The border couldn’t contain lesbian activism and in the mid-‘70s Canadian lesbians flexed their muscle and advocated in earnest for their particular issues as women.
Forty-six years ago this week, specifically Jan. 5, 1974, four women stood up for amateur night at the Brunswick Tavern in Toronto to sing “I Enjoy Being a Dyke.” When Adrienne Potts, Pat Murphy, Sue Wells and Heather Beyer refused the owners’ request to leave, police took them to the station where they were verbally harassed. Because they were not given their right to an attorney, they refused to leave the station when told. Police forcibly ejected them from the station, injuring one of the four. The women returned to the tavern to collect information from witnesses, and police were called once again. This time, The Four were charged with causing a disturbance. Former cabinet minister Judy LaMarsh took on their case and represented them pro bono. Susan Wells was not charged, Pat Murphy and Heather Beyer were acquitted, and Adrienne Potts served three months of probation.
The Four attempted to bring their cases of police abuse to court but were largely ignored. Because the police switched badge numbers and hats, the women couldn’t accurately identify them. They refused to participate further in the sham trial and were charged with criminal contempt. Potts and Beyer later apologized to the court, but Murphy refused and served 30 days in jail. The police were acquitted. Although the women never received justice in the courts, Ontario’s police watchdog apologized to them in the early 2000s; the women declined.
Pat Murphy said, “I have heard that I was courageous. In retrospect, and in the present, it has always been an issue of basic survival – physical, emotional and spiritual. (Of) maintaining one’s own integrity and a desire to positively influence the present societal circumstances in which I find myself and others.”
The lesbian community had their own heroes, stood their ground, advanced their cause and earned respect. To discover more about the role of lesbians in the Gay Liberation movement in Canada… stay tuned!
His views do not necessarily represent those of OUTniagara.