The first National Women’s Conference on Homosexuality was organised by Glenys Parry and Liz Stanley, CHE Executive Committee members at the end of January in Manchester University. Two hundred women of all sexes came from as far afield as Scotland to Southampton, Wales to Whitby and points in between.
The morning was spent in area reports, all of which repeated the depressing lack of women in CHE, GLF and women’s groups. The causes were brooded upon; possible hostility from men … fear of meetings … lack of personal welcome-warmth … fear of being recognised as gay in a small community … partner hunting which, when successful, deprived the group of the pair who settled into a replica of straight marriage.
In the afternoon, we broke up into small groups and tangled with five broad areas:
(1) Problems of married gay and bisexual women; the children of gay parents.
(2) Coming to terms with one’s own homosexuality; relating to each other and gay men; relationships to heterosexuals.
(3) Where gay women can go for help; specific problems relating to the caring professions.
(4) Women’s Lib, Radical Feminism and their relationship to the gay women’s struggle.
(5) The problems of isolated gay women in provincial towns.
Group 1 said: that gay/bisexual wives were stuck with their husbands for financial reasons. The social security alternative was a hand to mouth existence. Bisexuality isn’t the good thing people think it is. One looks into the future … one asks what is going to happen … Am I going one way or the other? Gays should investigate alternative life-styles, such as communes and pool resources of cash and childcare, but lesbians weren’t enough together as a gay movement to make this effective.
Group 2 said: there wasn’t a precise age at which one came to terms with homosexuality. Some never did. The young, particularly, have suicidal tendencies. Some believed that they were physically or mentally maladjusted. All feared mixing with men, whether gay or straight. Mixing in CHE groups would do plenty to resolve this.
Group 3 said: those in the group who had sought help from doctors/priests/psychiatrists had been lucky. All were sympathetic. The group was aware this wasn’t typical. Citizens Advice Bureaux, Samaritans and social services must be informed about local CHE/GLF groups and Friend.
Group 4 said: gay women live in a counter society … live against the grain of society … outside the nuclear family … so are radical. Essential to educate Women’s Lib out of fear of the stereotype aggressive lesbian. Priority action should be taken from the outside on behalf of gay women teachers who had an appalling oppression of job risk, not from pupils, but from their colleagues and superiors. Demand compulsory homosex-education in schools.
Group 5 said: National CHE should put their publicity weight behind local groups to use local radio, TV, papers and posters. Provincial groups had difficulty in keeping together because of wide spread areas. Convenors must be vigilant about continual contact. Pre-meetings contact with a new member should be in pairs. A one-to-one scene caused a shy lesbian to suspect a pick-up.
Whither women and CHE rounded off the session. Those there, were pro-bono CHE, but acknowledged its male image put lesbians off. Until there was an equal number of women to men in CHE, it would be ineffective in representing homosexuals.
Judging by the state of rapport at the end of the session and during the disco, the more National Women’s Conferences the better. This ’ere cockney was much enriched by exposure to out-of-London lesbians. CHE took on a larger dimension of honest-to-guts discussion about the realities to be faced and the resolve to overcome them brought refreshing radicalism to the usual staid stag socialising that bedevils London CHE groups.