The issue of lesbian rights is the focus of this essay. By looking at the evolution of the lesbian rights movement from a historical perspective and by concentrating on the activists and their tactics, it is hoped that a thorough understanding of the subject would be attained. The essay attempts to deal with the history of lesbian rights movement in the United States of America and its implication for the rest of the world.
The beginnings of the fight for recognition of gays and lesbians as legitimate relationships began in the early decades of the twentieth century, led by organizations such as the Mattachine Society, the Daughters of Bilitis, One, etc. Some of the founding members of these activist organizations were also regular contributors to The Journal of Homosexuality, founded by John P. DeCecco. The journal’s launch was a symbolic as well as a scientific step forward for the lesbian community and would prove to be powerful medium of voicing dissent (Boles, 2007). Moreover, by demystifying the distortions surrounding homosexuality through the written word, the journal gave the movement a quality of immortality and permanence. The tactic of publishing dissenting opinions and facts were also adopted in parallel by gay men of the day. Jack Nichols, who was a leading light for gays founded the first weekly newspaper for this segment of the demography called GAY in 1969. This just goes to show the effectiveness of printed publications in moving forward the movement’s agenda.
It was at this crucial moment in the movement’s history that such women leaders as Phyllis Lyons and Del Martin started to make significant impact on public perceptions of lesbians. Their mode of protest was the most natural of the several tactics that we would see in the course of this essay. Lyons and Martin was a lesbian couple themselves. By openly flaunting their relationship for 52 years that they were together, they made a resounding statement on behalf of the gay and lesbian community.
Their example made such an impact that in February of 2004, “when the mayor of San Francisco allowed same-sex couples to obtain a marriage license, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin were the first to be licensed and married and appeared on the front page of many newspapers throughout the U.S. and abroad” (Boles, 2007). As the lesbian rights movement gathered momentum, its activists organized more elaborate and bold exhibition of their cause. To take a recent example, the National Organization for Women (NOW), a preeminent women’s rights advocacy group in the United States, conducted a Lesbian Rights Summit right next to the Capitol Hill at the Hyatt hotel. The pomp and ceremony manifest in the event is a sign of the progress made by the lesbian rights movement over the last century. The key participants in the Summit and their presentations to the audience underline the seriousness of the event. Important political leaders, including Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin state Democrat, addressed the gathering with a passionate and memorable speech. Such public talks are one of the oldest and time-tested tactics employed by lesbian activists and its effectiveness has not waned in the first decade of the twenty first century dominated by digital technology. There were other factors surrounding this speech, which made it such as success. Rep. Tammy Baldwin is also the first lesbian woman to be elected to the House of Representatives (Boles, 2007).
The organizers of the summit displayed a keen advertorial imagination when they arranged for a “fire-eating ceremony” by the Lesbian Avengers and music by “The Butchies”; both of them attracting mainstream media attention. The other tactic employed by NOW to give the event an air of official ceremony is awarding of “Women of Courage” badges and citations to veteran activists. The other events in the summit took the form of “roundtables and workshops on topics such as campus organizing, lesbians in the media and lesbian adoption and foster care…One of the busier exhibits showcases sex aids, including the newly FDA-approved “Glyde Dams” products, an oral sex prophylactic” (Agonito, 1977).