Lesbians and Feminism in Chicago in the 1970s and '80s was the focus of a panel discussion Feb. 12 at Gerber/Hart Library and Archives (Gerber/Hart).
The event took place in conjunction with Gerber/Hart's current exhibit, "Lavender Women and Killer Dykes: Lesbians, Feminism and Community," running through March 25.
Chicago Reader Publisher, Windy City Times co-founder, journalist and author Tracy Baim was the event moderator. Panelists included Women & Children First co-founder and former co-owner Linda Bubon; Executive Sweet co-founder and social-justice activist Pat McCombs; Mountain Moving Coffeehouse Collective (Mountain Moving) co-producer and collective member Kathy Munzer; and Amigas Latinas co-founder and soon-to-be retired Chicago Commission on Human Relations Chair and Commissioner Mona Noriega.
Addressing a packed house, Gerber/Hart Communications and Programming Coordinator and "Lavender Women" exhibit co-creator Jen Dentel spoke about how the exhibit came to fruition including the categories they focused onlesbian community centers, political action groups, bookstores, publishing, bars and restaurants and women's music in Chicago as well as the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.
Chicago Women's History Center (CWHC) Board President Mary Ann Johnson said it was "a great adventure" for CWHC to work with Gerber/Hart on the exhibit and this discussion as a co-sponsor.
Baim asked each panelist to share more of their backstories and the roles they played.
McCombs spoke about the successful pickets she organized after being denied entry into the most popular lesbian bar at the time, the now-defunct Augie and CK's Bar, because they were discriminating against women of color. She said that discrimination and her desire to create parties across Chicago in safe spaces led to the formation of Executive Sweet.
Munzer said she joined Mountain Moving almost immediately after coming out, and later became a co-producer during 1981-2005. She added that she has been a member of the Institute for Lesbian Studies discussion group for the past 28 years.
Noriega spoke about coming out in the late 1970s and, at the time, not knowing what feminism. She added that she did not she see anyone like herselfa Latina lesbian momso she decided to normalize it. She added that identifying herself an activist and feminist was a gradual process and one of the ways this manifested itself was when she co-created the now-defunct Latina Lesbians en Nuestro Ambiente (LLENA) and Amigas Latinas.
Bubon said the origins of Women & Children First can be traced to when her and Ann Christophersen decided not to pursue their Ph.D.'s and instead opened the bookstore because both of them knew about literature. She added that they were both new feminist activists and that became the bookstore's mission, to feature feminist writers and children's books.
Baim spoke about coming out in college while living in Des Moines, Iowa, and upon returning to Chicago in 1984 she found "this incredible community that felt like it had been there for 100 years."
McCombs, Munzer and Noriega regaled the crowd with stories about what their organizations looked like, including their promotional strategies, during that time while Bubon spoke about the difficulties of finding enough women authors and specifically lesbian-themed books to line the shelves when the bookstore first opened.
Baim asked everyone when they felt the most inspired by what was happening in the LGBT community during that time.
Bubon pointed out the 75 volunteers who came together to help them move the bookstore to Andersonville over the course of one weekend.
Noriega responded it was working for Lambda Legal, which showed her the power of court cases changing things for the better for everyone in the LGBT community and that continues today despite the person who occupies the White House.
Munzer spoke about the big anniversary years at Michigan Womyn's Music Festival because it was all about community.
McCombs said that if she had not done the Executive Sweet parties groups like Affinity would not have gotten started because that is how queer women of color met each other.
Baim added that she is lucky to have always been an out journalist and publisher throughout her career.
During the Q&A session, panelists were asked about the state of feminism today and Bubon said identifying as a feminist became more popular when Hillary Clinton decided to run for president.
One attendee asked if the word lesbian is being lost these days. Baim countered that there are more out famous lesbians than ever now and if younger people use other words to identify themselves that is okay. Baim said it is more important to tell them stories of yesteryear so they know the history.
A 22-year-old attendee who came out as a lesbian 10 years ago asked what she should be doing or seeking out to enrich her life.
Munzer said go to festivals and check out Windy City Times for other events and meetings around the city.
Noriega said learning from work and social experiences would be beneficial, while Bubon spoke about defining her purpose.
"I indulged myself in the community by going to different events," said McCombs.
Baim said there so many places to find community now and that can be a small or large group of people. She added that it was mostly a few people in specific areas that made the LGBT community what it is today and that includes all the panelists.
"It does only take one lesbian to change a light bulb and the world," said Baim.
Guests were invited to check out the exhibit following the event.