What Was Happening Before ‘Just be nice feminism’? Part VII: Pride Parade 1973

As far back as Pride Parade 1973, women were protesting the inclusion of males who appropriate women’s oppression and facing aggressive responses.

Previous parts available here: 1234 and 5.

Similar to the protests by lesbians at Pride marches globally over the past couple of years, lesbians protested the San Francisco Pride Parade and told the crowd of their objections at the New York Pride Parade of 1973 over the inclusion of males who claimed to be lesbians or mocked women’s oppression.

At the 1973 New York parade two lesbians – Karla Jay and her lover June -had been assaulted and had penis exposed to them because they applauded another woman criticising males pretending to be females. In Lesbian Tide 1973, Jay related how the drag queen ‘Sylvia got to speak and he (I can’t call “she” anyone who can wipe off “her” oppression with coldcream)… Because he spoke, Jean O’Leary from the Lesbian Feminists Liberation was allowed to speak’.1 Women critical of transvestites/transsexuals were only allowed to speak if a man dressed as a woman spoke before them. Jay reported that ‘In a mild statement, she [Jean O’Leary] attacked transvestites who imitate women for entertainment or profit. June, my lover, had the “audacity” to applaud, and a drag queen behind us took off his wig and hit her across the head with it. He called us dirty dykes and said he was a better woman than we’.2

Jay stated how ‘Then he pulled down his panty hose and whipped out his cock (Translation: I’m still a man; I can rape you; I’ve got balls; dig my ultimate weapon). Obviously, he was playing both ends at once, and the sick creature was threatening us with pure womanhood and pure manhood rolled into one’.3

Jay described how ‘I walked away — away from a rally in which we had been attacked by one of the men, in which a woman speaker had been booed, in which the men around us had complained loudly that too many “girls” (as opposed to transvestites) were performing, in which there were many transvestite performers and straight women performers who worked mostly in gay bars, in which politics had become a dirty word’.4 Jay could be describing Pride today. Indeed, forty-five years later in the U.K. Jane Sprocket related of Manchester Pride 2018 that ‘I saw very few women on the stage but many drag acts (this was Sackville Gardens, Manchester, on Sunday evening if anyone is interested or would like to add to my account)’.5 In 1973, although a large number of women had stayed away from Pride and attended Lesbian Pride Week instead, some women had marched at the back of the Gay Pride March to symbolise the way they felt they were treated by the male gay community.6 Jay explained how ‘the night before the fourth annual Gay Pride March, I decided that I could not march in the parade. I had marched in all the previous parades’.7 She argued that ‘even marching in a lesbian contingent is ineffective because that year the men and especially the tranvestites raced up to pose for the cameras — trampling women in their wake’.8

The Gay Liberator reported of the 1973 parade that ‘the emphasis this year was clearly on entertainment, bars and baths. Over half the length of the parade was made up of groups representing various bars…This emphasis was clearly evident in the tone of the parade, and a lot of people didn’t like it’.9 It estimated that ‘no more than 20% of the marchers were women and a separate Lesbian Pride Week offered films, workshops and social events for women who preferred not to join in Gay Pride activities’.10 The Gay Liberator supports Karla Jay’s account. It recorded that ‘after a commercial drag act by two female impersonators, Lesbian Feminist Jean O’Leary read an angry statement. Bitterly crediting her place on the speakers’ platform to “one person, a man, [apparently Rivera]who made a ruckus,” she criticized men who “impersonate women for reasons of entertainment and profit. “Let men tell each other what they think of women,” she said. “Let us tell you who we really are”.11 The newspaper reported how ‘O’Leary was followed by Lee Brewster of Queens Liberation Front [a drag queen and transvestite, transsexual group]who reminded the crowd that gay liberation “began as the result of a riot of drag queens at the Stonewall Bar. Brewster then referred to O’Leary and lesbians like her as “bitches” and ended with “Screw you, gay liberation]”.12 Sexualised insults at lesbians who protested male inclusion in their definition and sexuality began over four decades ago.

San Francisco Pride Parade 1973

The mood amongst some women was similar in San Francisco. In March 1973 the Berkeley Barb reported how ‘Gay Women May Not Join in Gay Parade’.13 It was advertised that ‘San Francisco will once again host a Gay Parade’ to ‘be held on the fourth anniversary of the Stonewall riots on Christopher Street in New York’ but ‘None of the Gay women have indicated any interest thus far’.14 This was because ‘Controversy surrounded the gay women last year, as the women did not want drag-queen, transvestites or transsexuals in the parade’.15 As women and lesbians have experienced in recent years, their concerns and needs were dismissed and male sexual fetishes prioritised. ‘Many Gay women have indicated that if drag queens are allowed again this year that they will boycott the parade once more. Several members of Gay militant men’s groups denounced the women’s stand as discriminatory and just as bad as the straight community attitude towards drag queens’.16 With males controlling the shots, the women were to be forced out through self-exclusion and ‘The vote was unanimous to allow all people and non-exclusionary policy was adopted with the statement that those who are excluded have voluntarily chosen to do so by refusing to accept all peoples for what their trip is and not your own’.17 Non-exclusionary always seems to exclude some women, usually lesbians.

History Repeats.

Certainly, it is remarkably similar to what happened at Prides in 2018. Lesbians, complaining of sexual harassment, coercion, redefinition and threats protested Prides to be told that they were to be excluded in the name of inclusion. War is Peace springs to mind. The statement from Pride London may well have been written in 1973. Pride London decried the lesbians who insisted that lesbians are same sex attracted and insisted that ‘They do not share our values, which are about inclusion and respect and support for the most marginalised parts of our community’.18 The most marginalised being often middle aged, white, heterosexual men who demand lesbians have sex with them. Pride London bemoaned the fact that they could not physically exclude the lesbians, their statement read, ‘Sadly, we could not forcibly remove the group as their protest was not a criminal offence. They demanded to march behind the rainbow flag… We did not allow that as we did not want to legitimise them or their message’.19 The inclusion of women drips off the page doesn’t it? Pride London described the lesbian protest as ‘shocking and disgusting’ and stated that ‘we condemn it completely’.20 Pride London declared that lesbians arguing that lesbianism is same-sex attraction ‘showed a level of bigotry, ignorance and hate that is unacceptable’.21 It appears they have forgotten the origins of the Pride marches, the riot ignited at Stonewall by the lesbian Stormé DeLarverie.

This collective amnesia surrounding Stormé DeLarverie and the protest aspect of Pride was present at Lancaster Pride 2019 which was another case study in hostility towards lesbians. Greater Manchester ReSisters, a group of lesbian women (and a couple of allies), from Lancashire attended Lancaster Pride on June 22nd to ‘demonstrate support for lesbian visibility and protest the pressure on lesbians to accept people with penises as dating partners’.22 This sounds within the original and proposed spirit and purpose of Pride. However, they ‘faced a barrage of hostility, which, shockingly, was supported by Pride organisers, and members of the LGBT establishment’.23 The lesbian exclusion in order to centre male sexual fetishes has continued unabated since the 1970s. It is the same argument, that males are female on their say so and drag, with its celebration of stereotypes and mocking of women’s oppression, is not detrimental to women. The women reported that,

shockingly, Robert Mee, CEO of Lancaster Pride encouraged the situation. At one point he shouted at us, ‘fuck off you fucking dogs, you’re ruining it’ and can [be]seen holding a corner of one of the counterprotester’s flags and smiling in the protest footage. He later went to tell the crowd of people watching main stage, ‘we made them go away, politely’. In fact we left when the situation had escalated to the point we felt unsafe to continue.24

What had these women done to so offend Mr Mee and his jeering, threatening crowd? They ‘came with banners bearing the simple messages: “Lesbians are female homosexuals,” and “Lesbians don’t have penises,” and stood on the steps of the Town Hall. We were not in the way of anyone, but wanted our message to be heard’.25 For this, ‘“Miss Ivy Rose” a drag queen who was part of the official entertainment’ lead ‘the young people in the chant ‘Transwomen matter!’ to drown them out and ‘other protesters grabbed at our banners. We were spat at by an adult woman and her Trans partner and some protestors screamed confrontationally in our faces. One male individual attempted to wrestle our megaphone away’.26 This was all endorsed by the male establishment. ‘Local aspiring Labour politician Dominic Casoria boasted on twitter that he led the group to “stand in front of the transphobes” and “drown them out”.27 The silencing of women and coercing them to acquiesce to men’s demands, the view of women as existing for male sexual pleasure has always been popular.

  1. K. Jay, ‘The Decline and Fall of an Idealist OR Why Ain’t I Marching Anymore’, The Lesbian Tide, Volume 3, issue 1, August, 1973, p.25.
  2. K. Jay, ‘The Decline and Fall of an Idealist OR Why Ain’t I Marching Anymore’, The Lesbian Tide, Volume 3, issue 1, August, 1973, p.25.
  3. K. Jay, ‘The Decline and Fall of an Idealist OR Why Ain’t I Marching Anymore’, The Lesbian Tide, Volume 3, issue 1, August, 1973, p.25.
  4. K. Jay, ‘The Decline and Fall of an Idealist OR Why Ain’t I Marching Anymore’, The Lesbian Tide, Volume 3, issue 1, August, 1973, p.25.
  5. J. Sprocket, ‘On Misogyny, on drag, or how it became ok to say “drag them off by their saggy tits.”, Medium (28 August 2018), https://medium.com/@janesprocket/on-misogyny-on-drag-or-how-it-became-ok-to-say-drag-them-off-by-their-saggy-tits-2765873c1dfc
  6. K. Jay, ‘The Decline and Fall of an Idealist OR Why Ain’t I Marching Anymore’, The Lesbian Tide, Volume 3, issue 1, August, 1973, p.25.
  7. K. Jay, ‘The Decline and Fall of an Idealist OR Why Ain’t I Marching Anymore’, The Lesbian Tide, Volume 3, issue 1, August, 1973, p.25.
  8. K. Jay, ‘The Decline and Fall of an Idealist OR Why Ain’t I Marching Anymore’, The Lesbian Tide, Volume 3, issue 1, August, 1973, p. 24.
  9. ‘NYC Gay Pride’, The Gay Liberator, issue 29, August 1, 1973, p.4
  10. ‘NYC Gay Pride’, The Gay Liberator, issue 29, August 1, 1973, p.4
  11. ‘NYC Gay Pride’, The Gay Liberator, issue 29, August 1, 1973, p.4
  12. ‘NYC Gay Pride’, The Gay Liberator, issue 29, August 1, 1973, p.4
  13. ‘GAY WOMEN MAY NOT JOIN IN GAY PARADE’, Berkeley Barb, Volume 17, issue 10(395), March 9-15, 1973, p.13
  14. ‘GAY WOMEN MAY NOT JOIN IN GAY PARADE’, Berkeley Barb, Volume 17, issue 10(395), March 9-15, 1973, p.13
  15. ‘GAY WOMEN MAY NOT JOIN IN GAY PARADE’, Berkeley Barb, Volume 17, issue 10(395), March 9-15, 1973, p.13
  16. ‘GAY WOMEN MAY NOT JOIN IN GAY PARADE’, Berkeley Barb, Volume 17, issue 10(395), March 9-15, 1973, p.13
  17. ‘GAY WOMEN MAY NOT JOIN IN GAY PARADE’, Berkeley Barb, Volume 17, issue 10(395), March 9-15, 1973, p.13
  18. https://prideinlondon.org/news-and-views/statement-from-pride-in-london-regarding-the-2018-protest-group/
  19. https://prideinlondon.org/news-and-views/statement-from-pride-in-london-regarding-the-2018-protest-group/
  20. https://prideinlondon.org/news-and-views/statement-from-pride-in-london-regarding-the-2018-protest-group/
  21. https://prideinlondon.org/news-and-views/statement-from-pride-in-london-regarding-the-2018-protest-group/
  22. Greater Manchester ReSisters, ‘Are Lesbians Welcome at Pride? The answer at Lancaster Pride is no’, Fairplay For Women (1 July 2019),https://fairplayforwomen.com/pride/
  23. Greater Manchester ReSisters, ‘Are Lesbians Welcome at Pride? The answer at Lancaster Pride is no’, Fairplay For Women (1 July 2019), https://fairplayforwomen.com/pride/
  24. Greater Manchester ReSisters, ‘Are Lesbians Welcome at Pride? The answer at Lancaster Pride is no’, Fairplay For Women (1 July 2019)
  25. ]Greater Manchester ReSisters, ‘Are Lesbians Welcome at Pride? The answer at Lancaster Pride is no’, Fairplay For Women (1 July 2019)
  26. Greater Manchester ReSisters, ‘Are Lesbians Welcome at Pride? The answer at Lancaster Pride is no’, Fairplay For Women (1 July 2019)
  27. Greater Manchester ReSisters, ‘Are Lesbians Welcome at Pride? The answer at Lancaster Pride is no’, Fairplay For Women (1 July 2019)

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