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This article addresses the history of lesbianism in the United States. Unless otherwise noted, the members of same-sex female couples discussed here are not known to be lesbian rather than, for example, bisexual , but they are mentioned as part of discussing the practice of lesbianism—that is, same-sex female sexual and romantic behavior.

Laws against lesbian sexual activity were suggested but usually not created or enforced in early American history. In , John Cotton proposed a law for Massachusetts Bay making sex between two women or two men a capital offense, but the law was not enacted. If a woman, by cutting thro' the cartilage of her nose a hole of one half inch diameter at the least, [6] [7] [8] " but this also did not become law. However, in in Plymouth Colony , Sarah White Norman and Mary Vincent Hammon were prosecuted for "lewd behavior with each other upon a bed"; their trial documents are the only known record of sex between female English colonists in North America during the 17th century.

In the 19th century, lesbians were only accepted if they hid their sexual orientation and were pd to be merely friends with their partners. For example, the term " Boston marriage " was used to describe a committed relationship between two unmarried women who were usually financially independent and often shared a house; [12] these relationships were pd to be asexual, and hence the women were respected as "spinsters" by their communities. Some American lesbians in the arts moved in the 19th century from the United States to Rome, including the actress Charlotte Cushman , [16] and sculptors Emma Stubbins [17] and Harriet Hosmer.

Around , former acting First Lady Rose Cleveland started a lesbian relationship with Evangeline Marrs Simpson , with explicitly erotic correspondence; [18] this cooled when Evangeline married Henry Benjamin Whipple , but after his death in the two rekindled their relationship and in moved to Italy together. The earliest published studies of lesbian activity were written in the early 20th century, and many were based on observations of, and data gathered from, incarcerated women. Margaret Otis published "A Perversion Not Commonly Noted" in the Journal of Psychology , coupling a decidedly Puritanical moral foundation with an almost revolutionary sympathy for lesbian relationships; her focus revolved more around her revulsion for sexual contact between those of different ethnic backgrounds, yet offered an almost radical tolerance of the lesbian relations themselves, as Otis noted, "Sometimes the love of one young woman for another is very real and seems almost ennobling".

Kate Richards O'Hare , imprisoned in for five years under the Espionage Act of , published a firsthand of incarcerated women In Prison [22] complete with frightening s of lesbian sexual abuse among inmates. So wrote O'Hare: " A thorough education in sex perversions is part of the educational system of most prisons, and for the most part the underkeepers [sic] and the stool pigeons are very efficient teachers Early academic study of lesbian community include lesbian Mildred Berryman's 's groundbreaking [23] : — [24] The Psychological Phenomena of the Homosexual [25] : , on 23 lesbian women, whom she met through the Salt Lake City Bohemian Club.

Lesbians also became somewhat more prominent in literature at this time. In the early 20th century, Paris became a haven for many lesbian writers who set up salons there and were able to live their lives in relative openness. Toklas , who lived together there as a couple for many years. Toklas, a modernist memoir of her Paris years written in the voice of Toklas, which became a literary bestseller.

Yet, openly lesbian literature was still subject to censorship. After the book was banned in England, Hall lost her first American publisher. But Friede and his publishing partner Pascal Covici had already moved the printing plates out of New York in order to continue publishing the book. By the time the case came to trial, it had already been reprinted six times.

In the United States, as in the United Kingdom, the Hicklin test of obscenity applied, [43] but New York case law had established that books should be judged by their effects on adults rather than on children and that literary merit was relevant. Scott Fitzgerald , Edna St. New York. Mademoiselle de Maupin described a lesbian relationship in more explicit terms than The Well did. According to Ernst, The Well had greater social value because it was more serious in tone and made a case against misunderstanding and intolerance.

On 19 April, that court issued a three-paragraph decision stating that The Well' s theme — a "delicate social problem" — did not violate the law unless written in such a way as to make it obscene. After "a careful reading of the entire book", they cleared it of all charges.

Most literature of the s, '40s, and early '50s presented lesbian life as tragedy, ending with either the suicide of the lesbian character or her conversion to heterosexuality. Yet as early as , Frances V. Rummell , an educator and a teacher of French at Stephens College, published the first explicitly lesbian autobiography in which two women end up happily together, titled Diana: A Strange Autobiography.

It was written by a lesbian secretary named Edith Eyde , writing under the pen name Lisa Ben, an anagram for lesbian. Furthermore, the Hays Code , which was in operation from until , prohibited the depiction of homosexuality in all Hollywood films. Many lesbians found solace in the all-female environment of the United States Women's Army Corps WAC , but this demanded secrecy, as lesbians were not allowed to serve openly in the U. But you must know, sir, that they are the most decorated group — there have been no illegal pregnancies, no AWOLs, no charges of misconduct.

From until , lesbians were allowed to serve in the military, but only if they kept their sexuality secret under what was known as the " Don't Ask Don't Tell " policy. It was not until the mids that obscenity regulations began to relax and happy endings to lesbian romances became possible.

Spring Fire , the first lesbian paperback novel, and considered the beginning of the lesbian pulp fiction genre, was published in and sold 1. On April 27, , President Eisenhower issued Executive Order , which banned gay men and lesbians from working for any agency of the federal government.

In the s the lesbian rights movement began in America. The first public protests for equal rights for gay and lesbian people were staged at governmental offices and historic landmarks in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D. Civil Service Commission.

Political lesbianism , which embraces the theory that sexual orientation is a political and feminist choice, and advocates lesbianism as a positive alternative to heterosexuality for women as part of the struggle against sexism, originated in the late s among second wave radical feminists. Ti-Grace Atkinson , a lesbian and radical feminist who helped to found the group The Feminists , is attributed with the phrase that embodies the movement: "Feminism is the theory; lesbianism is the practice.

They at first advocated that women practice celibacy, and later came to advocate political lesbianism. A scuffle broke out when a woman in handcuffs was escorted from the door of the bar to the waiting police wagon several times. She escaped repeatedly and fought with four of the police, swearing and shouting, for about ten minutes. Described as "a typical New York butch" and "a dyke—stone butch", she had been hit on the head by an officer with a baton for, as one witness claimed, complaining that her handcuffs were too tight.

Lesbians were also active in the feminist movement. In she referred to growing lesbian visibility as a "lavender menace" and fired openly lesbian newsletter editor Rita Mae Brown , and in she engineered the expulsion of lesbians, including Bottini, from the New York chapter. At the Congress to Unite Women, on the first evening when all feminists were assembled in the auditorium, twenty women wearing t-shirts that read "Lavender Menace" came to the front of the room and faced the audience. At first, Friedan ignored lesbians in NOW and objected to what she saw as demands for equal time.

Yes, I suppose you have to say that freedom of sexual choice is part of that, but it shouldn't be the main issue At the National Women's Conference , Friedan seconded the lesbian rights resolution "which everyone thought I would oppose" in order to "preempt any debate" and move on to other issues she believed were more important and less divisive in the effort to add the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution.

State legislatures should reform their penal codes or repeal State laws that restrict private sexual behavior between consenting adults. State legislatures should enact legislation that would prohibit consideration of sexual or affectional orientation as a factor in any judicial determination of child custody or visitation rights. Rather, child custody cases should be evaluated solely on the merits of which party is the better parent, without regard to that person's sexual and affectional orientation.

Lesbian feminism is a cultural movement and critical perspective, most influential in the s and early s primarily in North America and Western Europe , that encourages women to direct their energies toward other women rather than men, and often advocates lesbianism as the logical result of feminism. Lesbian separatism , a subset of lesbian feminism, became popular in the s as some lesbians doubted whether mainstream society or even the LGBT movement had anything to offer them.

In , seven women including Del Martin confronted the North Conference of Homophile [meaning homosexual] Organizations about the relevance of the gay rights movement to the women within it. The delegates passed a resolution in favor of women's liberation, but Del Martin felt they had not done enough, and wrote "If That's All There Is", an influential essay in which she decried gay rights organizations as sexist. Olivia Records was a collective founded in to record and market women's music. Olivia Records, named after the heroine of a pulp novel by Dorothy Bussy who fell in love with her headmistress at French boarding school the heroine and the novel both being named Olivia , was the brainchild of ten lesbian feminists the Furies and Radicalesbians living in Washington, D.

The Lesbian Herstory Archives , a New York City-based archive, community center, and museum dedicated to preserving lesbian history, located in Park Slope, Brooklyn , was founded in In that decade, Gittings was most involved in the American Library Association , especially its gay caucus, the first such in a professional organization, in order to promote positive literature about homosexuality in libraries. She was also involved in getting homosexuality accepted by psychiatry, and was a discussion leader for the American Psychiatric Association panel on "Life Styles of Non-Patient Homosexuals," which included Del Martin as one of six panelists.

Anonymous," a gay psychiatrist who appeared wearing a mask to conceal his identity and ed a panel that she and others participated in titled "Psychiatry: Friend or Foe to Homosexuals? A Dialogue". Lesbian separatist ideology led to the establishment of sex segregated womyn's land communities, [] and creation of the women-only Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. In the s open lesbians also began their first forays into American politics. In , Nancy Wechsler became the first openly gay or lesbian person in political office in America; she was elected to the Ann Arbor City Council in as a member of the Human Rights Party and came out as a lesbian during her first and only term there.

She addressed the convention in support of the inclusion of a gay rights plank in the Democratic Party platform. In , Elaine Noble became the first openly gay or lesbian candidate ever elected to a state-level office in America when she was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. It drew between 75, and , [] lesbians, bisexual and transgender people, gay men, and straight allies to demand equal civil rights and urge the passage of protective civil rights legislation.

Charlotte Bunch and Audre Lorde were the only out lesbians who spoke at the main rally. The s also saw conflict between the transgender and lesbian communities in America. A dispute began in , when the West Coast Lesbian Conference split over a scheduled performance by the lesbian transgender folk-singer Beth Elliott , who had helped to create the conference and was on its organization committee as well as having been asked to perform as a singer in the conference's entertainment program.

In , lesbian radical feminist activist Janice Raymond released the book The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male , which was a critique of a patriarchal medical and psychiatric establishment, and which maintained that transsexualism is based on the "patriarchal myths" of "male mothering," and "making of woman according to man's image. Transsexuals merely cut off the most obvious means of invading women, so that they seem non-invasive.

However, Stone had informed the collective of her transgender status before ing. Raymond responded to this in the published version of her manuscript:. Masculine behavior is notably obtrusive. Sandy Stone, the transsexual engineer with Olivia Records, an "all-women" recording company, illustrates this well. Stone is not only crucial to the Olivia enterprise but plays a very dominant role there.

As one woman wrote: "I feel raped when Olivia passes off Sandy After all his male privilege, is he going to cash in on lesbian feminist culture too? Members of the collective responded in turn by defending Stone in various publications.

Finally, Stone reed. The lesbian sex wars , also known as the feminist sex wars, or simply the sex wars or porn wars, are debates amongst feminists regarding a of issues broadly relating to sexuality and sexual activity, which polarized into two sides during the late s and early s, and the aftermath of this polarization of feminist views during the sex wars continues to this day. The feminist movement was deeply divided as a result of these debates.

The anthology was first published in by Persephone Press, and the second edition was published in by Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press. The book was out in its third edition, published by Third Woman Press, until , when its contract with Third Woman Press expired and it went out of print. This Bridge centered the experiences of women of color, offering a serious challenge to white feminists who made claims to solidarity based on sisterhood.

Writings in the anthology, along with works by other prominent feminists of color, call for a greater prominence within feminism for race-related subjectivities, and ultimately laid the foundation for third wave feminism.

This Bridge has become one of the most cited books in feminist theorizing. It has been credited as the first conference for African-American lesbian women. Lesbians had some success in being integrated into religious life in the s. In Reconstructionist Judaism became the first Jewish denomination to allow openly lesbian rabbis and cantors. In re Guardianship of Kowalski , N. Because the case was contested by Kowalski's parents and family and initially resulted in the partner Karen Thompson being excluded for several years from visiting Kowalski, the gay community celebrated the final resolution in favor of the partner as a victory for gay rights.

The Lesbian Avengers began in New York City in as "a direct action group focused on issues vital to lesbian survival and visibility. Newsweek reporter Eloise Salholz, covering the LGBT March on Washington, believed the Lesbian Avengers were so popular because they were founded at a moment when lesbians were increasingly tired of working on issues, like AIDS and abortion , while their own problems went unsolved.

In the s lesbians also became more visible in politics. District Court in New York. Entertainment also began to show more lesbian stories and openly lesbian performers. In , the first lesbian kiss on television occurred on L. Law between the fictional characters of C. In , the first lesbian wedding on television was held for fictional characters Carol played by Jane Sibbett and Susan played by Jessica Hecht on Friends.

There were several prominent legal successes for lesbians in the s. Hawaii's denial of marriage s to same-sex couples was first challenged in state court in in Baehr v. Miike originally Baehr v. Lewin and the plaintiffs two same-sex female couples, Ninia Baehr and Genora Dancel, and Antoinette Pregil and Tammy Rodrigues, as well as a same-sex male couple initially met with some success.

But Hawaii voters modified the state constitution in to allow the legislature to restrict marriage to mixed-sex couples. By the time the Supreme Court of Hawaii considered the final appeal in the case in , it upheld the state's ban on same-sex marriage, but same-sex marriage was legalized in Hawaii in In the " Don't Ask Don't Tell " policy was enacted, which mandated that the military could not ask servicemembers about their sexual orientation. In , civil unions were legalized in Vermont the first state to do so and Carolyn Conrad and Kathleen Peterson became the first couple in the United States to be civilly united.

Same-sex marriages also began to be legally recognized in the s. Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon became the first same-sex couple to be legally married in the United States in , [] when San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom allowed city hall to grant marriage s to same-sex couples.

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