Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 21, September 6, 1976.
When the word "homosexual" is used it is generally automatically assumed that it refers to a male. Lesbians are seen as less discriminated against and, therefore, of less "importance". This is simply not so. It is true that the lesbian is not directly legislated against but she faces more oppression - as a woman and as a homosexual.
This oppression takes many forms. Revelation of one's gayness can lead to loss of employment, housing, children and friends and leaves one vulnerable to expressions of open hostility. In housing, for example, section 146 of the present law, which provides penalties of up to ten years imprisonment for keeping a place of resort for homosexual acts, can be used by landlords to refuse accomodation to known or suspected homosexuals.
In employment, too, lesbians face very real problems. Because we cannot fall back on husbands for financial support, we are very dependent on our jobs. The lesbian in the workforce lives in constant fear of being fired or refused promotion simply because of her lesbianism. Many attempt to live a double life - but the fear of exposure is always present.
This fear is particularly present if the lesbian's work involves contact with children. Most people still think that homosexuals should be kept away from children, despite the fact that criminal statistics clearly show that young girls who are seduced or raped are invariably victimised by men. This fear was clearly illustrated on a Radio Windy talkback show during Wellington's Gay Pride Week. The most hostile callers rang in reply to the information that Gay Liberation members had spoken to several sixth form liberal studies groups.
This leads us to another major area of discrimination - custody of children. Some lesbians would like to have children but are debarred by the adoption laws and the refusal of artificial insemination. Many others marry because of societal pressure and/or fear or because they only discover their lesbianism after marriage. These lesbians automatically lose custody of their children if their gayness is revealed in the divorce court. The assumption is that if a woman is a lesbian, she is automatically a bad mother who will have a corrupting influence on her children. Some lesbians voluntarily give up their children because they themselves have been brainwashed by this myth.
Lesbian couples are also deprived of the benefits (tax concessions, mortgage finance etc) available to heterosexual couples. They are only treated differently when it is to their disadvantage, however. This year the National Government deprived many solo mothers of the Domestic Purposes Benefit because they were living in de facto relationships. For this purpose alone, lesbian couples are treated on an "equal" basis with heterosexual couples and many lesbian mothers have been deprived of their source of income.
Lesbians are constantly exposed to the pressures of society. If we keep our gayness hidden we are oppressed by the psychic damage caused by our fear and guilt and our lives become controlled by the fear that others will find out. If we decide to be openly gay we are labelled as sick and run very real risks of losing our jobs, accommodation, friends etc. We also face the danger of physical attack from men who cannot accept the idea that a group of women are not dependent on them.
Much of the prejudice against us is based on ignorance and fear, and is a rational response to a fundamental attack on the patriarchal power structure. We are the ultimate insult to the sexist male world - women without men. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that lesbianism and feminism are interdependent and must be recognized as such by both sides.
Lesbianism and Feminism
Too often in the past, feminists have gone to great lengths to avoid discussion and confrontation with the issue of lesbianism. In America, for example, the National Organisation of Women purged itself of what Betty Friedan described as "the lavender menace" in the winter of 1970-71.
The accusation of lesbianism has been used to keep women "in their place" and isolated from each other. Straight feminists have generally reacted very defensively to being called lesbians because of their political activities. This has been used by the men to counter all accusations of injustice towards women. But by allowing the label "dyke" to frighten them into taking a less militant stand and to isolating themselves from their sisters, feminists are allowing themselves to be controlled by the male culture.
Lesbians have a great deal to offer the feminist movement. Ti-Grace Atkinson, for example, considers lesbians the "frontline troops" of the women's movement the women most harassed because they are by definition a threat to a system that subjugates women. Lesbians were the first to question the basic heterosexual structure that binds women in a one-toone relationship with our own oppressors. Furthermore, lesbianism is the one issue that deals with women reacting positively to other women rather than with men and the society they have built to contain us.
For lesbians too, women's liberation is a personal imperative - living without the approval and support of men, we are in desperate need of women's rights. Hopefully, this reciprocal relationship will lead to the destruction of the oppression of all women.