THE GAY LIBERATION FRONT
Karla Jay was an early member of the pioneering gay liberation group, the Gay Liberation Front. One of the few women members, her determination allowed the Gay Liberation Front to create an impact for a separate marginalized group, lesbians. She was crucial to the Lavender Menace, an informal group of radical lesbians who fought for the inclusion of lesbians in feminism. Their zap at the Second Congress to Unite Women in New York City in 1970 is considered a turning point in the history of second-wave feminism. Karla’s activism wasn’t limited to the East Coast, she also was active with the Gay Liberation Front in Los Angeles and manned their gay crisis hotline, the first in the nation to be listed in the phone book. Now, Karla Jay is an academic, and some of her most enduring contributions are the anthologies she published which preserve lesbian history.
“I never fought for assimilation. When I became involved in gay liberation, I was radical. We didn't want to assimilate. The assimilation movement was earlier people in the 1950s like the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis. We thought, we're here, we're queer, get used to it. We said things like, ‘We'll never go straight until you go gay.’ We did not want to assimilate. Homosexuals have a tremendous amount to give to society, and there is a certain magic part of us that is lost to assimilation. We really have a major impact on art, design and literature, and the more we assimilate, the less we can contribute to anything and the less that other people can give us. It’s our differences that make us stronger.
There are a lot of assumptions about lesbians. People assume things about lesbians because we tend to fly under the radar. People don't know we're there. With gay men and straight couples, especially when it’s right in front of them, people sense the relationship and then take a stand. However, with lesbians, even if your partner is a different race, people often say, is that your sister? It’s like, what are you thinking? Earlier on in the movement, we really had to announce our sexual orientation because there was nothing on a form, there was nothing for us. We were assumed to be heterosexual women. This has also always been true for women at gynecologists. When lesbians go in, they give us a lecture on birth control because any woman who goes in is assumed to be heterosexual and, therefore, is lectured on pregnancy. It is often difficult, when you're between the ages of 18 and, these days, 50, to tell gynecologists no, I cannot get pregnant because I am a lesbian.
My partner who was an emergency room physician, frequently, had heterosexual women come in, and she would see it from the other side where women would have stories of intense denial about being pregnant. I can appreciate the doctors’ point of view a little better because she told me women would say to her, in the face of their test results, that they couldn’t be pregnant because they only had sex once last month. Lesbians are seen by many segments of society, specific individuals and in general, as not existing. They are forced to be in denial. I can also appreciate this differently now that I am older. When you’re older a lot of sexuality gets erased. I think people have to tread carefully though because even some LGBT people in my age group, and I'm in the 70-plus category, want to talk about their past and present sex in such detail that it does seem like too much information.”