Claiming Something for Ourselves: Lesbian Links

Just like the women’s movement, wanting to have a place that was a little bit more formalised around what it is to be a lesbian rather than umm, women’s health or Maori sovereignty or you know like claiming something for ourselves

 MAUREEN

 

One of the organisations to form in the wake of New Zealand’s 1986 Homosexual Law Reform Act was Lesbian Links, a Hamilton group providing a social service for women who needed to make connections with other lesbians.

Lesbian Links provided a drop-in centre, a phone service and support groups, while facilitating access to counselling services with lesbian counsellors. The group was founded by Hazel Mae and Katrina Ings in late 1987. Many fund-raising events and coming-out groups later, Lesbian Links disbanded in 1992. The original group of founding friends continued to support Hamilton’s lesbian community by running a Lesbian Dinner Group, while the phone line for lesbians looking for support was passed to the Waikato Women’s Health Action Centre for co-ordinating.

A support group for newly out lesbians, the oral histories I conducted with a number of women involved in this group, showed that the organisation was also part of a network supporting other women’s organisations and causes in Hamilton. Lesbian Links members also took a lead in debates around ethical conduct in counselling relationships, and lesbian ethics more broadly. What became clear in the interviews I conducted was that women were part of the Lesbian Links collective to help other isolated women, but also to claim something for themselves as lesbians. This type of altruism was part of their political and social identities.

The image accompanying this post is the Lesbian Links logo, as designed by Sam Lewry.

Advertisements

The Lesbian Police

 

There were things about ‘what is she doing here’. I don’t know if that was said directly to the person umm but orh, ‘who does she think she is, what’s she doing here she’s not even a lesbian’. Says who, you know.

TANIA

 

One of the things that became apparent through the original series of oral histories I recorded was that women’s memories of the 1980s were shaped by a sense of being policed by other members of the lesbian or gay community.

This was unexpected. I did not ask interviewees to tell me about their experiences of being ostracised, judged, or otherwise marginalised by the gay, lesbian, bisexual or queer community in Hamilton, New Zealand. However, as they responded to other questions about their social lives and political activities, the women interviewed quickly found ways to tell me about their experiences of being policed by their peers.

In 2018 I spoke about the policing of gender and sexuality from within lesbian social networks during the 1980s at the New Zealand Women’s Studies Association Conference, held in Wellington, New Zealand, and at the 125 Diverse Genders and Sexualities Symposium, held at the University of Waikato, New Zealand.

While almost all of the women I interviewed remembered the 1980s as one of the best decades of their lives, this was juxtaposed against strong memories of the ‘lesbian police’, women who were remembered as patrolling the metaphorical edges of the lesbian community.