Linking Arms and Movements

By Vaid, Urvashi | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), June 8, 1999 | Go to article overview

Linking Arms and Movements


Vaid, Urvashi, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


More than 800 lesbians, bisexual women, transendered women, queer women, and supportive straight women (and a handful of men) gathered at the Lesbian Rights Summit of the National Organization for Women April 23-25 in Washington, D.C. The same weekend a contingent of more than 300 progressive queers of all colors marched on Philadelphia as part of the rally demanding freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal, the black radical writer and activist many of us believe is falsely accused of murdering a police officer.

A tale of two lesbian movements could be written in the parallel trajectories of these two events. It would be easy, for example, to characterize the NOW meeting as the gathering of the white lesbian-feminist movement--but that would negate the participation and leadership of strong women of color. And it would be equally easy to dismiss the Mumia mobilization as the Left's issue du jour--but such a characterization would continue the false negation of the critical leadership role that lesbians of color and radical gay men have long played in the Left. It is the links between feminism and queerness that interest me in both of these gatherings.

Lesbian-feminist politics are across the board more multi-issue and progressive than mainstream gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender organizing. Dykes and queer girls see the connections and try to organize from the intersection of politics rather than from a single identity. Lesbian-feminist political theory owes much to lesbians of color and to radical women of all colors. The women at the NOW gathering are in many ways the offspring of this progressive tradition among lesbians. There were students, labor activists, mainstream political campaign workers, veteran dykes, and cultural lesbian feminists.

Many of the organizers and supporters of the queer contingent at the Mumia rally represent a who's who of a radical lesbian-feminist movement. Veteran activist and writer Barbara Smith gave a keynote speech noting that queer progressives had always been present inside people-of-color movements.

Lesbian feminism and queer progressive organizing share several points of connection. …

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