Lesbians Against the Right

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Lesbians Against the Right was one of many autonomous lesbian political organizations that grew in cities across North America in the 1970s. Vibrant, brave, complex social/sexual webs, with diverse political perspectives and much less diversity in its membership that was largely white and middle class in background despite our sometimes precarious and low-paying work as young women.

LAR’s goal was to organize lesbians autonomously from other movements and to bring our lesbian feminist politic to the gay, feminist, union, anti-imperialist and other movements for social change. Within the feminist movement we demanded that an analysis of heterosexism be integrated and acted upon. We wanted the feminist movement to integrate sexual freedom as part of its core demands. Within the gay liberation movement we demanded the integration of a feminist analysis that went beyond a limited civil rights strategy to fundamentally critique the organization of gender and sexuality, the family and the state. We wanted the specificity of lesbian issues/oppression integrated into what we saw as a movement dominated by the concerns of gay men.

LAR formed after a May 1981 Lesbians Fighting the Right forum at the 519 Community Centre. The forum heard from a panel of activists about their work as lesbians within different social movements: the trade union, gay liberation, violence against women, anti-imperialist, anti-nuclear movements. There was a resounding agreement about the need for a politically-focused lesbian organization in Toronto, in light of the closing of Lesbian Organization of Toronto and the ongoing police violence, new homophobic groups and the growing right-wing climate in the city and country.

Just after its formation, LAR joined Gay and Lesbians Against the Right Everywhere (GLARE) on the organizing committee of the 1981 Lesbian and Gay Pride march in Toronto. Starting with a rally in Grange Park, this was the first Pride to coincide with the Stonewall riots in late June 1969. The rally and march were focused on celebrating our lives and resisting a rising tide of right-wing morality, ongoing police harassment and violence, lesbian mothers losing custody of their children, firings of lesbian and gay workers, censorship in the mainstream media and defending our freedom of the press. The march built on the mass resistance to the gay bathhouse raids that took place earlier that year.

The next big project was to organize Toronto’s first lesbian march called Dykes in the Streets. October 17, 1981, Three hundred lesbians marched down Yonge Street yelling “Look over here, look over there, Lesbians are everywhere!” and “We are the D-Y-K-E-S” over and over. We stopped at a series of lesbian landmarks in downtown Toronto to acknowledge our history in bar culture, our precarious housing, our harassment at the hands of the police and the so-called justice system. We also stopped at the Fly By Night, Toronto’s only woman-only space that had recently been closed by the owner because Pat Murphy, the woman who ran it, refused to lower wages of her employees.

Written by Amy Gottlieb

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