In 1988 I came out as a Lesbian at a time when Clause 28 had just been brought in. The amendment was enacted on 24 May 1988, and stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.
It was a scary time. No-one felt safe to talk about being a Lesbian. It was isolating. So I set up support groups and together we held events in a climate of denial and hostility.
One social group we tried to set up at the Open Hearth pub was barred in 1996. They refused to serve a grandmother who had hugged another woman the week before as we were leaving and said “Lesbians rule” feeling chuffed that we had managed to find a place to socially gather together. The next week she went to the bar for a drink and was refused because she was a Lesbian. We asked all the people drinking in the pub if they objected to Lesbians drinking there. The Landlord was mortified. He chucked us out nonetheless.
I lost a job when someone outed me.
I supported Women survivors of domestic violence who lost their children to the violent ex-husband if they left him for a woman. Courts deeming a violent man a better parent than a Lesbian.
I had abuse shouted at me in the street. One night leaving the Arches on Canada Square – late on-having just completed the Lottery bid to get £250,000 for the Women’s Centre – some young men shouted at me “Lesbiaaaaaan!”. That night I was ready – and quipped “if you are the alternative who can blame me!”
In 1999 we set up Visibility 2000 – a group to campaign for our right to step into the millennium holding the hand of the one we loved without fear of rejection or abuse. During that campaign we wrote to every agency to make sure that they had sexual orientation down in their equality policies. Most didn’t. Our Council didn’t.
We all used to write letters using a pseudonym to protect us. We applied to our borough Council for a small grant to help us set up the group. £500. They refused us on the grounds that they would not be allowed to support us as it would be illegal under Clause 28.
Now that law was never tested in court – guess who was gonna be the test case??? Yep – us. You see we were not going into schools advocating or promoting “pretended family relationships” which is what Maggie Thatcher objected to…
But nonetheless the fear of being in breach of this prohibitive legislation was enough to stop support. They backed down when Stonewall – an organisation which used to represent the interests of Lesbians – offered us their lawyers to fight it. I’ll never forget the meeting where I turned up and they were expecting the pseudonym…..things were never the same after that. The officers concerned were unable to grasp the necessity of using a pseudonym – used to me under my real name in other meetings.
We were following Police advice as this was around the time of the Gay pub bombing. I could go on – suffice it to say it was not easy living as a Lesbian.
But I have known love and friendship and warmth from wonderful Women. We had our own vibrant culture, and music and as a Political activist I saw many of my Lesbian sisters – like me fighting for a better world. Fighting to save the planet. Fighting for Women and girls and against Male Violence. I was happy.
In 2003 clause 28 was repealed.
Between 2008 and 2012 I got funding from Govt to write a play exploring life for young Bisexual people as the Dept of Health had no information on which to base its provision. That first play became a touring play and then a film – Look Both Ways and a whole group of young straight people started speaking up for their Lesbian, Gay and Bi friends – it was heartwarming.
In 2014 the first same sex marriages happened in the UK.
That’s it then is it? Apparently. We have equality under the law – and it is not OK to discriminate against us anymore or say hurtful things – or attack us cos we are Lesbians. If people still feel hostile or do not accept Lesbianism they have learned to keep their mouth shut.
Do I feel safer? Not at all. I would far rather know what I am dealing with. Like my new Polish friend who said the other week “It is not natural – but as long as you don’t force it on me we should be OK “. That is at least honest. Honest lesbophobia. Preferable by far than “My neighbours are gay or my best friend is a Lesbian – I am cool with all this – no need to mention it!”
Well here’s the point – we stopped mentioning it. Assimilation it is called. And suddenly I wake up to discover that the word Lesbian has largely disappeared. It has been replaced by Gay woman or queer. No-one says it anymore. It is – of course – still there in the distorted disgusting fanciful imaginations of the porn industry.
But LESBIAN – as I know it???? Gone. Stonewall does not mention the word on its main site page – we are subsumed again under Gay, and Homophobia is acknowledged – but not Lesbophobia. There are virtually no Lesbian support groups and services left.
Meanwhile I meet Lesbian asylum seekers fleeing jail sentences, corrective rape, death threats, enforced sex changes – who are sent back for not looking like Lesbians.
With the disappearance of the word comes the disappearance of support groups for girls who are attracted to other girls – and they have no role models – they are told they are probably a boy then – and I have met those who have detransitioned who are angry that we were not here to let them know that it is OK to be a woman loving woman.
So it is necessary to take to the barricades again. 30 years on from coming out as a LESBIAN. The word has been redefined without my permission. So I am taking it back.
I am A Lesbian. I know what that is. What it means. To centre on Women – and with that – I invite all my Sapphic sisters and our allies to join me in reclaiming our Herstory, reawakening our resistance and rebuilding OUR CULTURE.
Paula Boulton, 2021