1970s Overview: Lesbian Community Emerges

In the seventies a Lesbian (with an intentional capital “L”) community consciously emerged in Northampton out of the local Women’s Liberation Movement with an infusion from the Gay and perhaps other radical movements in the area. Largely invisible to the general public, the focus of activity was on creating what Lesbians needed specifically for themselves. Places and ways to be together were a first priority.

By 1976, five Lesbian spaces existed in town, each groundbreaking in its own way: a rooming house on Green Street, the Lesbian Gardens and Common Womon Club spaces that functioned as community centers, the Egg business cooperative, and the Nutcracker Suite karate dojo. Within these spaces, new activities, expanded communication, and cultural expression began. Many firsts included a restaurant, weekly coffeehouse night, newsletter, library, bookstore, publisher, and distribution of local lesbian music, writing, and art, as well as a variety of interest and support groups.

Each of these spaces will have their story included in future posts, as well as much more, and I welcome information and guest posts. The rough draft timeline below is just sort of a visual teaser, as well as a way for me to begin to organize the writing topically as well as sequentially.

1970s working timeline02132015
an early draft timeline trying to see some order in the decade.                      yes its incomplete . do you have info to add?

Efforts also took place this decade to expand the more traditional gay bar culture to town. Three all-women (lesbian) rock bands playing in the area helped spark a dancing boom. Lesbian space was temporarily obtained at two town bars, the Gala and Zelda’s, and larger spaces were occasionally rented for the new phenomena: wimmin’s (only) dances. Northampton lesbians also helped form what would become a countywide Wimmin’s Softball League. The odd spellings are a story in themselves of the radical reclamation of language.

Many of the initial community organizers were radicals, but there were differences among them in theory and practice. Though there were growing numbers of newly identified lesbians (politicized or not) at both of the spaces that served as community centers, some were excluded for political reasons or became alienated during clashes that came to be called the Separatist Wars. The new elements of a bar culture in town were to a degree more inclusive, with fewer issues to debate.

Though many Lesbians continued to be active in the feminist movement, little energy during this decade was devoted to external political change specifically for lesbians. Creating Lesbian or Wimmin’s space with its attendant culture, though largely hidden from public view, was in itself a form of political opposition to the mainstream norm. This coming out and unintentional visibility did not, however, go unnoticed. A fight for child custody, harassment and violence on the street, the FBI’s incursion into the community, and an eviction were all early warning signs of how society would resist change.

Coming Next: How it began.


A Faux Girl Scout…

Susan Stinson had asked the source of the button I used to illustrate the last post. I explained that I had brought it back from the second (1971) Stonewall March in NYC and, for the blog, scanned it  in button gay revolution 197103202015situ_pinned to my faux Girl Scout badge sash. The dark green cloth is visible background. In response to her curiosity about the sash I brought it to show  at our most recent meeting. My wonderful writing coach asked to see it worn and appreciatively snapped the photo below.

The faux sash was custom sewn for me by Marguerite “Peggy” Cookson. We were both living at Green St. in the mid-late 70s and I had begun to organize my overflow of papers into scrapbooks. There were a significant number of objects that rubber cement wouldn’t work on. Having once been a Girl Scout I re-imagined the traditional badge sash as a larger life reflection .

As Susan said in her original post of it on facebook, “Kaymarion Raymond wearing the most amazing Girl Scout sash ever, covered with tokens and buttons from her adventurous life, including all sorts of old political buttons, feminist and presidential, both; her dog tags; keys from the old boarding house on Green Street and many other very cool items. We were meeting to go over work on her history of queers in the Valley. She’s got great stuff coming up.”

girlscout sash by susan

Thank you Susan. I note that mysteriously, to me, her computer camera takes reversed pix. And speaking of stuff, coming soon will be an overview of the 1970s in Lesbian and Gay Northampton with a hot pink timeline that also caught her eye. Smile.