NATIONAL GATHERING IN DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA
Leave No Old Lesbian Behind!
August 17 to 20, 2006
Sheraton Imperial Hotel
Durham, North Carolina
The following women were speakers at the conference:
Suzanne Pharr founded the Women’s Project in Arkansas in 1981, was a co-founder of Southerners on New Ground in 1984, and was the director of the Highlander Center from 1999 to 2004. She is an organizer and political strategist who has spent her adult life working to build a broad-based social and economic justice movement. She works currently with Southerners On New Ground (SONG). Suzanne is the author of Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism (1988) and In the Time of the Right: Reflections on Liberation, (1996), both published by Chardon Press. Her books explore the links between all forms of oppression – race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and age.
Mandy Carter, who was recently a keynote speaker at the national NOW conference in Nashville, Tennessee, is one of the nation’s leading African-American activists. She has organized the grassroots in almost every major region of this country over the past 30 years. A noted speaker on LGBT rights and winner of the Stonewall Award, Mandy has served as a consultant for the National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum. Mandy recently concluded three years of work as the Executive Director of SONG (Southerners On New Ground) which was founded in the vision of black and white southern Lesbians to build movements across the South that connect race, class, culture, gender and sexual identity.
Our entertainer for the gala Banquet and Dance (which is open to all women) was OLOC’s own old dyke, Alix Dobkin, who is back by popular demand.
Report on OLOC Gathering 2006:
Leave No Old Lesbian Behind
by Jan Griesinger, 63
OLOC held its first National Gathering in the Southern United States, August 17–20, in Durham, North Carolina. Southern women responded in large numbers: 54 of a total of 125 Old Lesbians attended the event from 26 states and one woman from Norway. Women came from Hawaii, Maine, Washington, Florida, New York, and many states in between. An additional 30 women came to the banquet, the concert by Alix Dobkin, and the dance. Scholarship funds to help women attend the Gathering came from 28 individual donors as well as the Gill Foundation, Silver Threads, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice.
These generous donations made it possible for 21 Old Lesbians to attend the Gathering who could not otherwise have afforded doing so. For the first time, OLOC held an intergenerational dialogue for local Lesbians the night before the Gathering began. The meeting room was packed to overflowing with 62 women from their 20s to their 70s. Ageism was the topic and discussion was lively. Energy was high throughout the Gathering. Comments included: “We’ve never had anything like this before around here.” “This is the most organized conference I’ve ever attended.” “You were leaders without being authoritative.” “This conference is really exciting.” All are testimonies to the power of Old Lesbians joining together to sing, laugh, share stories, protest injustice, strategize for change, and enjoy eating and dancing.
Evaluations highlighted those areas in which things were not done as well as they should have been and note improvements needed the next time around. Women in the session for the differently abled had many suggestions for making the Gathering even more accessible in the future. Suzanne Pharr and Mandy Carter engaged in a stimulating face-to-face dialogue on “Race and Class: Bringing Us Together or Keeping Us Apart.” This was followed by smaller discussion groups of Women of Color and white women meeting in different locations. OLOC acknowledges that it has a long way to go to be sure that Women of Color and poor women are truly welcome.
Workshops and discussions covered many topics of interest, including:
- Lesbian Lives Aloud: Encouraging women to write their own experiences, and these were crafted into a presentation.
- How to be Your Own Medical Advocate
- Housing for Old Lesbians
- Dare I Fall in Love Again and Do I Want To?
- Loss and Grief
- Differently Abled in Organizational Settings
- Activism and You
- Energy, Healing, and You
- Building OLOC Community
- Lesbians Empowered to Resist Race and Class
- Lesbian Land Communities
- The Well-being of You
- Mobilizing People of Faith as Allies to Our Movement
- Timelines: Memoir Writing
An exciting panel presentation on “Ageism and Lesbophobia” included Shaba Barnes, Alix Dobkin, Mina Meyer, and Sharon Raphael.
There was a legal clinic to offer information on elder law rights. Three new videos shown during free time attracted a standing-room-only crowd. The banquet buffet on Saturday evening in the hotel ballroom began a fine social evening that featured awards to prominent Old Lesbians and organizations: Catherine Nicholson, founder of the Lesbian magazine, Sinister Wisdom; Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon (in absentia), founders of Daughters of Bilitis; Ladyslipper Music; Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice; and the National Action Foundation.
Saturday evening also included a concert by Alix Dobkin who had Old Lesbians standing on their feet with strong energy and admiration. Following the concert, the dance floor was very crowded. Big smiles were on all the faces.
A silent auction to benefit OLOC was held for the first time. Beautifully designed by Shaba Barnes, the auction raised $2,100. Successful bidders went home with fine crafts, gift certificates, a week at a Cape Cod cottage, and many other items. The event concluded with a Memorial honoring our foremothers planned by Shaba Barnes.
A fine visual presentation featured photos of many women whose names appear on our OLOC Memorial Plaque. Participants were invited to name and honor women in their own lives, placing a rose petal in a bowl of water as their names were called out.
My Gathering Experience
by Patricia Voelker
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I googled “Old Lesbians” earlier this summer and stumbled across OLOC’s website, but when I saw the conference would be close enough to drive, I knew I had to go.
This was the first Gathering in which I, at 66, wasn’t the oldest person — Lesbian or not. That, in itself, brought personal challenges and insight. I thought I was the only “late bloomer” there until I brought up that issue in the fishbowl and discovered I was one among many. As more and more told of coming out… or having mothers who came out… in their 60’s, I lost that alone feeling. I met one interesting woman after another. I heard so much laughter and spirited conversation that I had to leave the room occasionally just to rest my ears! The group who kept the hospitality suite stocked was a true blessing.
This was a wonderful, eye-opening experience. I’m so glad OLOC came South just when I was ready to attend. Alix’s concert was great and I’d love to have the words to the “terrorist” song. All the meetings I attended were well worth my time. The memorial spoke to a need deep in the heart of individual and group. Those who hurried to minister with grace and presence to one who was grieving freely for the first time were truly angels.
Lastly, I was surprised at the number of women who spoke of activism but aren’t out. I’m told that’s because it wasn’t safe to come out when younger so they moved away from family to live an activist lifestyle. That’s another part of my learning curve. For all I learned and for all I have yet to learn, I thank the Lesbians of OLOC for your part in my education.
Housing Workshop Report
by Sally Tatnall, 64
In our session, we talked about what we desired and how we might achieve those desires. We want Lesbian/gay-friendly caretakers when needed, diversity, and acceptance. We do not want to be isolated. We want the maintenance of living to be taken care of. We want mobility and the ability to stay in the area in which we currently live. We want to live with Lesbians and not have a corporate set-up. Most important was staying independent as long as possible.
For the most part, everyone in the session liked where she lived and was not willing to compromise very much to achieve all the desires she had. Some women live alone, others with a partner. There was talk of some Lesbians getting together to live and pay for the work they became unable to do as they aged. This raised the issue of private space vs. shared space.
Some women lived on land in the country and had other Lesbians in their community. These women seemed well organized but were still anxious about declining old age. One of the land groups is already experimenting with adult day care. One question was, “How can I stay in the country?” The need for the city when we cannot do what we have to was clear. While most women are able to live their whole lives in the home of their choosing, there is still concern about being placed in a nursing home. The Lesbians in this session expressed an interest in OLOC’s acting as a clearinghouse for information on housing options.
Videos Shown at the Gathering
The following three videos were shown and enthusiastically received at the Gathering:
High Heels on Wheels, by filmmakers Donna Cassyd and Leslie Sloan, about the Lesbians in the Roller Derby in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.
Fairness For All Families, distributed by the South Carolina Equality Coalition to fight against amending the state constitution to ban any form of legal recognition or protection for gays, Lesbians, and their families. The election was that November.
The Dyke March, filmed by Cathy Cade of the march held in San Francisco the night before the giant, annual Gay Pride March. Multicultural and multiracial, it makes you want to attend the next one.