I wrote an honors thesis on Los Angeles feminists. Lots of those peeps have gone on to write their own books or to be subjects of other people’s books. Mostly recently, Jeanne Cordova, lebsian feminist extraordinaire has published her memoirs, When We Were Outlaws.
Publishing is nothing new to Cordova. She worked as a journalist for years
and published a book about leaving the convent
When I interviewed her way back in the late 80s, the publication for which she is best known the Lesbian Tide had ceased, but she was busily producing “Yellow Pages” for various communities in L.A. The interview was one of the most chaotic I’d conducted at that point. It took place in her bustling office. Cordova had that no bullshit aura that I still associate with seventies feminists. Back in the day not to many people were interested in the history of women’s libbers so she patiently answered all my neophyte questions. My favorite quotes come from her discussion of the at the time very controversial West Coast Lesbian Conference.
Here is an except from my 1988 thesis
In April of 1973 the Westcoast Lesbian conference, the largest lesbian conference in the United States to that date occurred in Los Angeles. Conceived at the Sacramento Southwestern Regional Conference of Gay Organizers in September of 1972, the purpose was “a balanced conference – politics AND culture, with workshops for both activist and non-activists” for all lesbians. Co-sponsored by UCLA and held on the campus, the event drew women from all over the nation. 1,500 women attended to hear keynote speakers Robin Morgan and Kate Millet. Workshops in areas as diverse as Fine Arts to Radical Therapy to the Lesbian and Religion were offered. As was to be expected at any gathering this large, there were many different factions attending. Problems stemming from political differences and lesbian straight relations disrupted the conferences from the beginning. Conflict arose when some Socialist Worker’s Party (SWP) material was included in the registration packet.
Jeanne Cordova, one of the organizers explained “I didn’t know I had fallen under the influence of Trotskyism as much as I had, so we put all this Trotskyist material in the registration packet and when our guests came and looked at it they knew it was SWP propaganda and they thought we did it on purpose and they hated it because they thought the SWP had been selling out feminism.”
In addition, many of the more radical women reacted negatively to the idea of keynote speakers Kate Millet and Robin Morgan for two reasons. They disliked the use of the “star” system which placed more value on certain women’s ideas than others. Both Morgan and Millet had very successful books at the time and the press labelled them “leaders” of the feminist movement. In addition, they felt that since both Morgan and Millet were married, although both claimed to be lesbians, that they should not be addressing a conference of lesbians.
This conflict between political lesbians and “sexual” lesbians continued throughout the feminist movement and will be discussed more thoroughly in Chapter 5. Conflict over definitions of sexuality resulted in a schism, as well. When a transsexual, who had caused a major rift in the San Francisco Chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis got on stage to perform a song the conference went wild. Half the women said she should be able to perform and the other half said because he was pre-operative and had enjoyed male privilege his entire life he should be kicked out. The many differences in political and sexual views caused tension and splits at an event designed to unify lesbian women.
Although the position papers and goals which the organizers had hoped to produce from this conference never materialized, the conference successfully raised key issues and stimulated discussion of them. In addition to the discussion of various ideologies, a more concrete accomplishment came of the Conference. An international lesbian communications network called “the Grapevine” was established immediately following the Conference. The first activity was the compiling of resources for lesbians in specific areas including organizations, groups, collectives, centers and contact individuals. In addition, a list of photographers, film-makers and other media-related individuals was organized. A list of lesbian publications in existence was another project, as well as a combination of the three lists in the Wholesbian Catalog. Jeanne Cordova, publisher of The Lesbian Tide produced a monthly bulletin for all members of “the Grapevine.” The most important achievement however, was the realization that sexual preference was no more a unifying power than was gender. Lesbian women faced the same difficulties that all feminists did in organizing.