Why is Stonewall Further Dividing the LGBT Movement by Calling Police on Lesbians?

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Stonewall is Britain’s biggest and best-funded LGBT organization. Named after one of the most significant political uprisings of the 20th century, you would be forgiven for thinking they’d be down with a bit of lesbian protest. Instead, Stonewall tried to silence and remove the grassroots women’s groups who had set up a demonstration outside of their event in London.

According to multiple protesters, Stonewall then called the police. Two officers spoke to the women in question, judged that – contrary to what Stonewall said – they were doing no harm, and left the protesters to it.

Elaine Hutton, of Lesbian Rights Alliance, described the demonstration as “a joyous day, with different lesbian groups and individuals coming together to protest – we sang songs, shouted slogans and gave out leaflets, with some lesbians coming out of the conference to find out more.”

Lesbian Rights Alliance, Sapphic Warriors, Stormé, and Lesbian Resisters had gathered to protest Stonewall’s erasure of lesbians. They carried banners that proclaimed ‘Lesbian Visibility’ and celebrated Stormé DeLarverie – a butch lesbian – as the spark that lit the Stonewall rebellion. While Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera are rightly recognized for their LGBT activism, a mixture of misogyny and lesbophobia have kept Stormé from holding the same sway over popular imagination. It is these acts of erasure, writing lesbians out of history and community, that these grassroots groups aim to challenge.

Stonewall’s glossary describes homosexuality as “romantic and/or sexual orientation towards someone of the same gender.” Their language has shifted from recognizing same-sex attraction to positioning gender as the determining factor. Some lesbian feminists find this approach to be problematic on two counts: because it erases lesbian sexuality, and because it rests on the belief that gender is innate.

To argue that gender is inherent is to argue that women are naturally suited to a subordinate role, and men naturally entitled to a position of dominance over us – an idea which feminists have been resisting for centuries. The women protesting Stonewall were not the first to challenge this belief, and they will not be the last.

To argue that gender is inherent is to argue that women are naturally suited to a subordinate role, and men naturally entitled to a position of dominance over us – an idea which feminists have been resisting for centuries. The women protesting Stonewall were not the first to challenge this belief, and they will not be the last.

According to a leaflet distributed, the women were protesting Stonewall based on these three issues:

• Stonewall opposes the definition of a lesbian as a female homosexual /woman who loves other women

• Stonewall denounces lesbians who stand by the meaning of the word [lesbian] as ‘transphobic hate groups’, as happened after London Pride 2018

• Stonewall champions the offensive falsehood that there is such a thing as a ‘lesbian with a penis’

To some, these statements might be controversial. They run in direct opposition to queer teachings about gender and sexuality. It’s no secret that there is tension between lesbian feminists and LGBT advocates – much of it rooted in disagreement over the nature of the relationship between sex and gender. Some lesbians are of the belief that LGBT organizing is incapable of meeting the needs of women, and so believe that lesbian separatism is our best option.

Ever since its inception, lesbian separatism has been positioned as hostile, man-hating, and even insane – these harsh criticisms tend to come from a place of fear, because patriarchy would crumble if big groups of women refused to share their lives with men. By attaching a stigma to separatism, people attempt to shame women from living what is arguably the most radical set of lesbian feminist politics.

Ever since its inception, lesbian separatism has been positioned as hostile, man-hating, and even insane – these harsh criticisms tend to come from a place of fear, because patriarchy would crumble if big groups of women refused to share their lives with men. By attaching a stigma to separatism, people attempt to shame women from living what is arguably the most radical set of lesbian feminist politics.

The protest at last year’s London Pride is now infamous because Stonewall and male-led LGBT publications branded the lesbian feminists who gathered as transphobic. But lesbian separatism has existed for decades, long before transgenderism became mainstream. In the 1980s, lesbian separatism gained ground because women got tired of gay men’s misogyny. That issue was never resolved and remains ongoing – which means that a lot of the community that has since been established was built with foundations cracked by sexism.

Lesbian separatism is not anti-gay, anti-bi, or anti-trans – but it is unapologetic about being pro-woman. And a lot of people from different political backgrounds are united in their dislike of women prioritizing ourselves and each other.

While there are criticisms to be made of any movement, critiques of lesbian separatist movements all take place in an environment where lesbian separatism is demonized – and those criticisms are hugely informed by this context.

Lesbian separatism is not anti-gay, anti-bi, or anti-trans – but it is unapologetic about being pro-woman.

At London Pride 2018, like now, Stonewall failed to build bridges with the lesbians protesting. And then, like now, Stonewall widened the gap between the women who want to Get the L Out and the wider LGBT movement. Instead of talking to the lesbians and asking why they were protesting, Stonewall condemned them. Rather than trying to find some common ground and build on it, Stonewall refused to have what is becoming an ever more pressing conversation.

Rather than trying to find some common ground and build on it, Stonewall refused to have what is becoming an ever more pressing conversation.

Lesbians have a proud history of protest – even if the wider GBT movement treat our acts of resistance like something shameful. Perhaps it’s because women living lesbian lives don’t always fit into traditional structures or social groups, meaning that we are less invested in upholding them.

That Stonewall can’t cope with dissenting lesbian voices raises serious questions about their ability to speak for us.