National Gathering Old Lesbian Pride: Sharpening the Radical Edge
What We Did and Who We Met at the 2010 Gathering of OLOC
By Jennice Thomas, 1940
If you’ve been wondering where all the Radical Lesbian Feminists of the 70’s have gone, they went to the OLOC Gathering in Cleveland this summer where Sharpening the Radical Edge was more than a slogan. This was my first but definitely not my last OLOC Gathering. We had five days of adventure. There were over 140 of us from 23 states and Washington DC and from as far away as Australia and Hawaii.
On Wednesday evening we were lavishly welcomed by Cleveland Lesbians who entertained us with songs and humor in a Cabaret performance emceed by Karen Williams, who helped us laugh at ourselves, while we munched on delicacies from a complimentary buffet.
Our keynote speakers highlighted a wide variety of issues: Margaret Cruikshank reminded us that aging is not a disease but ageism can be deadly. She warned us of the dangers of over medicating. Marilyn (Jezz) Jesmain told us about the roles of women in Native American tribes. Often female leaders were ignored by European explorers who would speak only to a male. In many tribes, Lesbians and homosexuals were not only accepted but were respected and afforded a high status. Shelia Ortiz Taylor explained how she uses her fiction as vengeance to expose sexist, ageist, and homophobic attitudes in the legal system, academia, and retirement communities. When our fourth speaker, Vera Martin, had to cancel because of health, the Three Wizards of OZ (Australians: Suzanne Bellamy, Lavender, and Jean Taylor) stepped up to make us laugh and to make us think as they reminded us of the international scope of our movement. They assured us that the Big Wave of OLOC energy is just getting started.
I regret that I could only attend one workshop at a time because all the topics sounded so interesting, and I learned so much from the four that I did attend. I learned about how crucial a role women have played in human evolution from Jezz Jesmain. I discovered how important planning ahead to deal with end of life issues can be from Linda Belzer. Cathy Cade and other Lesbians active in the 60s civil rights movement led us to exploring the legacy of the issues we fought for then. Sonia Johnson asked us to speak up about the things we do to make us proud of our Lesbian activism. A panel on Racism and another on Ageism also provided us with multiple perspectives on these areas of attacks on our sense of self-esteem.
But even with this wealth of planned activities, there was space for lots of informal conversations at breakfast or in the hospitality lounge where snacks were plentiful and friendships sprouted easily. A high point for me was meeting Sonia Johnson. My special interest is feminist utopia, and, while I was buying a denim shirt with the OLOC logo in the Marketplace, I started talking with Sonia, and when I looked into her eyes, I was startled to find not only a kindred spirit but one whose vision was deeper and sharper than my own, and, best of all, was her assurance that the change we so fervently seek is immanent. Her new book, The Sisterwitch Conspiracy, details the world we hope for.
I haven’t even mentioned the talent we discovered when participants at the Gathering entertained us with songs, poetry, and even belly dancing. When an impromptu press conference failed to attract the big media boys, volunteers from the audience challenged the panel to sharpen their responses while providing us with some very funny questions. We also saw two great films: No Secret Anymore: The Life and Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, and Hannah Free. The dinner and dance on Saturday night featured the winners of the Del Martin Lesbian Pride Award, songs and stories by Alix Dobkin, and a delicious meal and music to make you dance. I couldn’t have asked for more—except let’s do it again!*
Margaret (Peg) Cruikshank, 1940
has worked for decades in Women’s and Gay & Lesbian Studies and wroteLearning to be Old, Gender Culture andAging and Fierce with Reality: An Anthology of Literature on Aging.
The Three Wizards of Oz,
Suzanne Bellamy 1948 , Jean Taylor 1944 and Lavender 1945
They spoke about their own Lesbian organizing in Australia and what they see as a bright future for OLOC.