*First published in Lesbiana 128 (December 2003 - January 2004); submitted to NCTS in May 2021.
I never thought I’d live to see the day when a National Lesbian Festival and Conference had to be cancelled by the organisers because they were under threat of litigation by members of the LGTBI community. One of the main reasons I have continued to live in Melbourne all these years is because of the supportive lesbian feminist community. But also partly because of what has now proven to be an erroneous belief that within the broader Queer community there was a tolerance and respect for each others’ differences and appositional viewpoints.
Almost ten years ago, after the arguments over the inclusion of male to female transgenders at the Brisbane LesFest in July 1994 these words, written by Julie Peters, featured in the MSO News Feature, 16 September, 1994: ‘We can show empathy for women and maturity as trannys by respecting and encouraging women-born women’s private space.’ I have often mentioned this article in support of my arguments over the years that the Melbourne community is not like Brisbane or even Sydney where the challenge of the MTF trans* wrecked any chance that the Lesbian Space Project had of being a successful venture.
I was wrong. From the time _________ dobbed the LesFest organisors into the Equal Opportunity Commission for advertising the event for lesbians born female without so much as a warning beforehand, and then wonders why no-one was willing ‘to sit down at the table and communicate’ (Lesbiana October, 2003), the organisors have struggled to continue to organise what was going to be another joyous and celebratory occasion and at the same time do their best to fullfil the mandate from the Perth LesFest that it be for lesbians born female only.
To no avail. While even the patriarchal Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal recognised the needs of the lesbians born female community to have an exemption for the LesFest 2004, it was short-lived. The exemption was revoked, not by the AWN, as has been reported, but by a technicality that had nothing to do with the AWN. Of course the LesFest 2004 was illegal in the EOC sense of the word. Unless a group has a bonafide exemption from the Tribunal any support groups are illegal. No group, under the law as it stands, can refuse to admit anyone. The only way groups such as the Women’s Circus, for example, or the Lesbian Festivals, can function as womyn only / lesbian born female only support groups for their female members is by the goodwill of the broader community not to challenge the very basis of their need to have such a group.
In a world where everyone was treated equally and with respect we wouldn’t need to have groups to cater for the specific needs of lesbians over 40 or for lesbians born female or for lesbians with cancer or for incest survivors.
The LesFest 2004 was part of a tradition here in Victoria that started with the Radicalesbian Conference in Sorrento in 1973, moved into a larger format with the National Lesbian Feminist Conference and Celebration in Adelaide in 1989, the Lesbian Festival and Conference in 1990, the LezFest 1991 and the LezFest 1992 all three here in Melbourne, followed by the LesFest in Sydney in 1991, and the first live-in LesFest in Perth in 1993. After the Brisbane LesFest in 1994 the organisers at subsequent LesFests began to be more specific about the need for lesbians born female to get together for our own benefit. The organisers in Alice Springs (1995) Hobart (1997) Daylesford (1998) Adelaide (1999) Anglesea (2001) and Perth (2002) all continued the tradition of live-in LesFests for lesbians born female only. This is a tradition that has added immeasurably to lesbian born females lives. A tradition that has just been cancelled.
I’m not sure what ________ hoped to gain by dobbing the organisors into the EOC (an irony not lost on us radical feminists who fought in the 1970s to set up such legislation to protect our own best interests). There was no way we lesbian born females were suddenly going to change our minds about holding a gathering for ourselves. In fact, ________’s extremely hostile act has affirmed many of us in our determination that we more than ever need to organise events and places where we’re going to feel safe from those who are going to do us harm. And we will. We haven’t been politically organising all these years for nothing. It’s a sad fact that some lesbians did not attend the recent fundraising Women’s Ball in Daylesford for fear of appearing prejudiced or biassed against MTF trans* by supporting lesbians born female events. (As if supporting both groups is somehow mutually exclusive).
All I can say is that if MTF trans* give you the kind of love and support and political advocacy you have gained and relied and depended on from the radical feminist lesbians born female community over these past 30 years then you’ll be doing alright. Apparently Julie Peters has changed her mind about the need for lesbians born female to gather (MCV, 19 September, 2003) but I cannot do better than finish the article with more of Julie’s words (MSO, 16 September, 1994): ‘I would like to see lesbians, trannys and gays as allies against the patriarchy, helping each other grow by supporting private spaces for anyone who wants them, engaging in supportive debate, listening and not wasting a lot of time and emotional energy in bickering.’
*(Moderator’s note: I have modified the original text to replace the word ‘tranny’ with ‘trans’, except where it is used in a direct quote by a trans person, because arguably this word has become a slur (even though it may not have been in 1994)). I have also omitted the name of the prominent Melbourne transwoman who reported LesFest to the EOC).