Brighton Pride and the Start of a New Chapter of Queer Feminist Activism
BY LUCIA CARDELLI
IMAGE BY KALEIDO SHOOTS
Fractures in activist groups do not always mean a loss of power, especially when these bring unprecedented visibility to legitimate issues of individuals within a bigger movement. In the lesbian and queer feminist communities, fragmentation is a phenomenon that has historically brought exposure to causes ignored by the mainstream. In 1969, during a meeting of the American feminist group National Organization for Women, its leader Betty Friedan described lesbian women as “lavender menace”. With the colour being traditionally representative of the LGBTQ+ movement, gay women were defined as a threatening presence for heterosexual feminists because of the supposed distraction they caused from the organisation’s goals. In long-established queer fashion, the phrase was reclaimed, becoming the name of one of the most influential lesbian activist groups of that decade.
As one of the most powerful platforms for British LGBTQ+ activism, Brighton Pride was not impartial to London’s disruptive TERF protest. Through the same unifying power as that of Lavender Menace, the TERF phrase “Get the L Out” was turned into “Keep the L with the T”, separating trans-inclusive lesbian feminism from transphobic groups. With LGBTQ+ organisations MindOut and the Rainbow Fund expressing their support, an overwhelming number of cis and trans lesbian activists manifested a newly reinforced bond. Following a parade that brimmed with the effortless diversified harmony that distinguishes our town, the most outspoken members of LGBTQ+ groups could be found at the Community Village during Brighton Pride Festival.
Lesbian activists, both cis and trans, all shared a disapproval of trans-exclusionism and a willingness to separate their activism from that of TERFs, in a needed fracture of the movement paralleling that of Lavender Menace from mainstream feminism. Some of them, like the trans lesbian activist Christina Deaslove, witnessed the disruption in the London Pride parade first-hand. Being “ten groups from the front”, Deaslove highlighted that her LGBTQ+ group My Umbrella received a standing ovation by the public as they marched, contrarily to the trans-exclusionist protest: “[TERFS] are there, but they are not getting the coverage that they want”.
Despite many overwhelming words of hope, cis lesbian allies showed concern regarding the recent turmoil in the community. Jessica Borham, a volunteer for Stonewall identifying as a cis queer woman, stated that “[queer women], trans or not, have a responsibility to stand with [all of the] community”. Stephanie Lloyd, a lesbian activist speaking for LGBT Labour, voiced her awareness that “[the fragmentation] feels very similar to some of the tensions between lesbians and broad-stream feminism in the 70s-80s”, with noticeable similarities in the discrimination of lesbians during the years of Lavender Menace and the discrimination of trans women in some of today’s queer feminist movements.
Angela Green, one of the trustees for Trans Pride Brighton and a volunteer at the Trans Tent during Brighton Pride Festival perceived this newly found awareness as something carrying positive change in the treatment of trans people within LGBTQ+ movements. “No one outside the trans community has been speaking about the attacks to it over the years, so I think that [the anti-trans disruption] has worked in our benefit.” When asked about allies, Green held back tears of gratitude. She specifically thanked cis lesbian allies: “without [them] we’d be losing this battle. I think this is the first time that the LGB have come together [in our support]”.
Another prominent queer activist at the Trans Tent was Sarah Savage, a Brighton-based writer and outspoken trans rights advocate. Savage shared her frustration with the media’s treatment of trans women during the past year, allowing a dangerous transphobic rhetoric to spread. While thanking “cis lesbians and queer allies for the outpouring of support over the last few months”, she invited the community to “stand up to transphobia and bigotry to create a visible presence against [trans-exclusionists]”. Her optimism was centred around unity: “trans women in particular feel like they’re in the eye of the storm at the moment, but I think that over the next year [our] communities will grow together and become a real force to be reckoned with”.
All the solidarity of the local intersectional queer community in response to London’s transphobic incident was palpable, reinforcing the tenacity of the unity of the trans and lesbian communities. ‘LwiththeT’ and ‘Sisters not Cisters’ slogans were resonating throughout Brighton with street art, signs, chants, and a general sentiment of indivisible coexistence. With their activism constantly expanding its borders between online and physical expressions, Brighton’s queer women reinforced their separation from trans-exclusive groups, echoing Lavender Menace and historical gay activism by consolidating an essential fragmentation for the safety of trans lesbians.