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Lesbian organising [AI Text]

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Hi. I'm Doctor Alison Laurie. I was the General Women's Studies programme director at Victoria University of Wellington here in New Zealand for many years. I'm a writer, an oral historian and a lesbian and gay activist. Today I'm going to be looking at lesbian organising in New Zealand as distinct from gay organising. And this is a particularly interesting topic because the situation of women in New Zealand obviously is different from the situation of men and especially as we go back, [00:00:30] uh, into the earlier years looking through at the development of sex roles in the 19th century and so on, then how lesbians have organised is a topic of particular interest When we go back to looking at the gender relations between men and women, uh, pre contact and we look at the writings of somebody like whose, uh, writing has been brought to us by who [00:01:00] looked at, uh, that work in quite early on, Uh uh tells us that gender relations between men and women and Maori societies were fairly equal. Uh, obviously, these are class stratified societies, but women could own property. Uh, women had on every level, more or less the same rights as men did. Uh, and but then, with the introduction of European [00:01:30] law, then women become chattels. Uh, as according to the, uh, British law of the time on marriage, a woman and a man become one. And that one is the person that the husband and any earnings she has become his any, uh, property. She has become his and so on and that that's the case. Until about 18. 85 when you get the Married Women's Property Act and a reform [00:02:00] of that, however, some of those attitudes continue. And in fact, uh, we coming right through into the 19 seventies, we find that it was difficult for women to get access to credit without the signature of their husband or of of or of a man. It was difficult for women to open an account, even at a department store without, uh, a man being a signatory to that. So there were still these kinds of attitudes, uh, on and in fact, the campaign about rape and marriage. [00:02:30] Uh, rape and marriage was first made a crime in 1985. Uh, so that still harks back to the idea that a woman is, in fact, the property of the man. So the situation wasn't equal. Having said that, uh, New Zealand is the first country with, uh, where women vote. Uh, we successfully get that through in 18 93. We're the first entire country to have, uh, women voting in in Parliament. Uh, we're the first country where women could take degrees at [00:03:00] a university. That's from 18 77 at Auckland University College. Uh, Kate. Edgar. Uh, so all of these things are, uh, put us ahead in terms of gender relations, so it isn't that bad, but it isn't that good either. Uh, and there are a number of quite anomalous, uh, things that need to be considered. So the situation then for lesbians, uh, starts to become interesting. Apart from our early communities where women [00:03:30] are, particularly in the post war period, there are places to meet, uh, private parties. There are some hotel bars where women can meet. There are coffee bars where women can meet. So there are networks and there are other kinds of clubs or organisations. Um, church groups, sporting groups, where women can meet together. But we first start getting a period of organisation when with the arrival here of women's liberation, which starts from [00:04:00] the late uh, 19 sixties. And this is a worldwide explosion of political consciousness what is now regarded as second wave feminism, Though Dale Spender points out that in fact, there's always been a women's movement throughout the 20th century that we should. When we think of waves like first wave feminism and second wave feminism, we shouldn't assume that there's nothing in between, but just that it isn't peaking at quite that those same levels of energy certainly, [00:04:30] between first wave feminism, which roughly begins to dwindle in the 19 beginning of the 19 thirties. Probably, but certainly between then and the end of the 19 sixties early 19 seventies. We have a lot of very important things, like the campaign for Equal Pay, the marriage Guidance, uh, movement, family planning and things of this sort, which are all seeking to improve the position of women. Difference with women's separation is that it is the baby boom generation coming [00:05:00] of age in that period after World War Two, fueled with a great deal of energy who start to put all of this in motion, and there's a lot of writing communication becomes better, there's a lot of books start to come out and within a short space of time. Uh, the the we have women's separation branches, uh, throughout New Zealand, largely at first being centred on universities and very soon, uh, community groups and so on throughout the country [00:05:30] as well and high levels of energy. It's from that movement that we begin to see, uh, the emergence of lesbian groups, uh, and and eventually the emergence of lesbian feminism. The lesbian feminist groups, uh, move from, uh, lesbians who've been working, calling themselves Gay women working in Gay liberation together with men, uh, lesbians from the earlier network sporting networks and things of that kind. [00:06:00] And then lesbians in the women's abortion movement who begin to feel that their own interests aren't really being attended to, and that there is some lesbi among the heterosexual women. So these 33 groups come together, and we see the emergence of the first kinds of lesbian organising here in particular, uh, the Sisters for Homophobe Equality, which begins in Christchurch and with a branch in Wellington with the formation of uh, the gay feminist [00:06:30] Group in Auckland and with the emergence of various, UH, lesbian clubs like Club 41 in Wellington and the KG Club in Auckland and other kinds of groups. The thing about the early 19 seventies is that through both women's liberation gay liberation lesbian feminism, what we have is a period of extreme energy. When people talk about the 19 sixties, they're really talking about actually, [00:07:00] uh, the energy of the 19 seventies, because that's the period which, when everything comes really to a kind of peak, and it's difficult to explain to people who weren't involved at that time just how high energy this was, it was a belief that we could change the world, that it was possible to change society, that it could all happen. It would happen in our lifetimes that if people would easily see how important it was to remove the obstacles to equality, [00:07:30] to completely change the fundamentals of society. And I think that there have been periods like this in human history before. Certainly when we read some of the writings around the, uh, the events leading up to and during the French Revolution in the late 18th century, we can see some of that same kind of energy and in the words of people like Wordsworth, Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive? But to be young was very heaven. We can see that these kinds of periods have happened in human [00:08:00] history before with the belief that this is an era of change and it feeds upon itself. Because when you have a a mass movement, a lot of people coming together and with the with this kind of energy, this belief in ourselves and the feeling that it could all happen, then there is a very important movement. So a lot of things happen in the 19 seventies in terms of lesbian organising, and that starts to that continues on through the, uh, 19 eighties as well. Of course, there are a lot of [00:08:30] problems. You get, for example, conflicts between, uh, lesbians and straight feminists in In New in New Zealand, particularly at uh, which was an important meeting taking place there. And at the United Women's conventions taking place in 1977 and 1979. And after each of these even more lesbians began to organise separately, Uh, from 1978 several groups were formed in Wellington including a specific working class group, a Self-help therapy group [00:09:00] and the Lesbian Project, which focused on organising regular social events and raising funds to open a lesbian centre. Breathing space, a discussion and social group for women coming out as lesbians held regular fortnightly meetings during 1979 and 1980. The Wellington Lesbian Network formed following the 1979 United Women's Convention and that met at regular intervals and organised many political and social events and produced a newsletter. In November 1979 the First Lesbian Centre opened a room in [00:09:30] Street, and subsequently there was a second Lesbian Centre opening in, uh, Street. So at one time there were actually two. the Lesbian Liberation Week was held in October 1980 there was a campaign against the Wellington City Council, which had refused to carry advertisements for the Lesbian Centre on its buses. Um, and there were other in other centres. There were also forms of distinctive, uh, lesbian organising in smaller centres, lesbians often worked [00:10:00] in organisations together with feminists or with gay men, for mutual support in both political and social activities. For example, in the man gay Rights Association established in Palmerston North in 1977 which still continues as mal um, the man, uh gay, Lesbian and Gay Rights Association. And there were, uh, smaller organisations in places like Ashburton, Gisborne, Wanganui and the During the 19 eighties, [00:10:30] uh, lesbian groups and organisations grew in numbers and scope. Uh, as lesbian communities became more open and political activities became more organised and publications and services expanded. Lesbian phone lines were started on a regular basis in various cities in the 19 eighties, and these kinds of phone services have always been very important because of as women become aware of their emerging feelings for other women, it's important to have somewhere to phone and get information [00:11:00] and so on. Uh, in 1981 a Christchurch group established the Lesbian Line telephone service and in Dunedin in Timaru in 1984 and by 1990 there were services in Nelson Palmerston North, Timaru in Hamilton, as well as the four main centres. Lesbian radio broadcasting started in Wellington on access radio uh, in 1984 and that was followed by broadcast lesbian broadcasting in Auckland, Christchurch [00:11:30] and Dunedin. The Christchurch uh, programme sound women uh, was broadcast on planes. Radio FM in Dunedin, The student radio station was used, and radio has been an important way to disseminate information and ideas and to promote discussion through many sections of the lesbian communities. Uh, during the 19 eighties, several lesbian newsletters or magazines were produced. Circle continued being produced by which had been originally produced by the Sisters for [00:12:00] Homophobic Equality, which had become defunct by the 19 eighties. But we had behind enemy lines, uh, Dyke News from Auckland, Lesbian Lip and Wellington Glad Rag. And the only magazine continuing now, uh, is the newsletter which continues on into the 21st century from Auckland. The lesbian radio programme continues still, uh, in the second decade of the, uh, 21st century. And there are now a number of really important, uh, [00:12:30] sites on the Internet providing information, uh, Wellington Lesbians. And there is the, uh, Lila the, uh, lesbian library, which, uh, which provides information. And people can borrow DVD, S and magazines a whole lot of things of this kind. So the numbers of institutions and activities, and so on in the second decade of the 21st century are very important and too numerous to talk about. But it's interesting that that period of high energy really discontinues [00:13:00] after the end of homosexual law reform. And I think it's after that that the feeling that the world could be so dramatically changed begins to fade because we move into more difficult economic times when people withdraw their energies from working in these alternative movements, say, And so I don't think it's just a question of the ages of the people concerned. But I think people needed to lesbians needed to, um, be more careful about their economic future. They needed, perhaps to be more conformist [00:13:30] in some of the activities. And some of the more radical movements, uh, begin to decline after that sort of period. Uh, what the future will hold is difficult to know, because we have now large numbers of young women who would prefer not to identify themselves as lesbian. They would rather be identifying themselves as unidentified or use other terminology. Perhaps if the of Maori descent, uh, perhaps refer to themselves as bisexual and many now beginning to [00:14:00] think of themselves as as trans people. So things change and we don't really know what kinds of organising women. However, we understand what women are might be doing in the future. But it's interesting to reflect on our past and to see how much has been achieved when we compare our situation today with what the situation was like at the beginning of this period as we think about how women began to meet together from the 19 sixties and how they began to organise political [00:14:30] activities to make social change from the late 19 sixties and beginning of the 19 seventies.

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AI Text:September 2023