A new ruling in Tasmania decrees that lesbians will be breaking the law if they host single-sex spaces. Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Sarah Bolt banned LGB Alliance Australia from hosting lesbian events that exclude transwomen, on the grounds that such gatherings carry a “significant risk” of breaching existing equalities legislation.
This ruling has far-reaching implications that extend beyond Tasmania, as it sets a legal precedent with the power to shape the outcomes of future cases. As Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Bolt advises the Minister of Justice on matters relating to discrimination and prohibited conduct. She also promotes the recognition and approval of acceptable attitudes, acts and practices. As her ruling indicates, Bolt does not believe that lesbians creating spaces by and for ourselves is an acceptable act or practice.
What Bolt fails to recognize is that lesbians are oppressed at least twice over, on the basis of our sex and sexuality. We are females who love desire and build our lives around other females – which has been treated as suspicious for the duration of patriarchy. Around the world, lesbians continue to be at risk of discrimination and violence – from losing custody of our children to suffering ‘corrective’ rape.
Spinifex was founded in March of 1991 by Susan Hawthorne and Renate Klein. The press began as a pushback to the cuts that threatened feminist and literary publishing during Australia’s recession. Susan and Renate started out with four titles. Since then, Spinifex has gone from strength to strength. They publish everything from fiction to poetry to political tracts.
Almost 30 years on, Spinifex Press has now published over 200 books. They’ve shared writing by some of the most relevant and necessary voices in the modern feminist movement. Among their authors are Robin Morgan, editor of the iconic Sisterhood is Powerful anthology, and Rachel Moran, an abolitionist campaigner. Other notable writers include Julie Bindel, Unity Dow, and Sheila Jeffreys.
There aren’t enough spaces where violence against lesbians can be openly discussed. But FiLiA – Britain’s biggest feminist conference – is one of them. The Violence Against Lesbians panel took place in the Bradford Hotel on Saturday 19th October. Over a hundred women attended the session. Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes, Susan Hawthorne, Hilary McCollum, and Angela Wild made up the panel, chaired ably by Sally Jackson.
The purpose of FiLiA, as Sally opens by reminding us, is to amplify women’s voices. In particular, to amplify the voices of women who are seldom heard and often silenced. Lesbians’ voices aren’t always listened to – in mainstream society, feminist spaces, or even the LGBT community. And so, if the numbers are anything to go by, a lot of women feel a sense of relief that lesbians are a priority at FiLiA.
Older lesbians have given so much to feminist and gay organizing that their erasure as the pioneers of both communities feels nothing short of criminal. And yet, much like mainstream society, so much of queer culture centers youth and masculinity that it is fundamentally unequipped to acknowledge the significance of older lesbians within the community.
“Finding the stories of our Black lesbian foremothers isn’t always easy. That’s not because there were none. Despite what the history books say, Black lesbian women have been around for hundreds of years, living lives filled with the extraordinary and the everyday. Women like Stormé DeLarverie have led revolutions. And yet Black lesbian stories are hard to find.
Those who have traditionally held the power to decide whose stories get to be recorded as history have been white, male, and invested in the social order of women living lives centered around men: the system of heteropatriarchy. For the most part, those historians considered the experiences and inner-lives of Black women beneath their notice. Close reflections on the average Black woman’s life at any point in the last few hundred years would also have held the risk of making it that much harder to sustain the myth that Black people weren’t really human, bringing home the ugly truths of white supremacy.
In addition, the stories of lesbian women have been deliberately erased from history across continents and culture. As a result, Black lesbian lives are that much more obscure. Men have hoped that in denying women the blueprint to a lesbian life, they could keep us all in the confines of heterosexuality – a never-ending source of sexual, reproductive, domestic, and emotional labor. But lesbian women throughout time have always found one another, even with the odds stacked against them – although many letters, diaries, and pictures that made up the proof have been consigned to the ash heap of history.”