By Miriam Saphira
The lesbian community is part of the bigger LGBTI community. In the past the LGBTI community has come together in times of strife, such as advocating for law reform to improve human rights equality. Today many of these things have been achieved while a few activists continue to pursue public education of the public to eliminate homophobia. For the Lesbian Community which focuses on women’s issues, this can be a tall order when we still have arranged marriages in New Zealand and other pressures on girls to be straight or to hide their orientation. Some people come to the Charlotte Museum to gain support and are surprised that we have quite a herstory.
In times of personal difficulties some lesbians bewail their lack of community. They nostalgically recall the 80’s when there seemed to be much more visible support than now. This is the 21st century and many of us feel quite safe, not needing the support of a “Lesbian Community” as such.
I was rereading “The Day We Were Mostly Butterflies” by Louise King published in 1963. The relationships are gay but not so clearly stated as they would be today but the lesbian role of a ‘femme’ Miss Moppet and her truck driver girlfriend, Lillian are as real as many of the couples I met at the Beach Road KG Club in the early seventies. There was however a sense of community with the story. Not a community at the barricades shouting for reform but a quiet network of people who supported each other through homophobic and sometimes tragic times. This is again what we have today – a network of friends to socialize with and lean on in times of angst.
The cover of the book shows two butterflies on a pansy with a wasp in the corner. The author’s photo of the back shows a pensive young woman with sad eyes. With lesbianism seen as a mental illness in the sixties until 1973 the book is not so open about the lesbians or the gay man in the story. In the 1960’s that is how it was.
Today Charlotte Museum Trust, thanks to a grant from Lotteries Environment and Heritage Research, is trying to capture women who loved women’s stories to gain a sense of the networks and supports lesbians used to get by in their day-to-day lives. For this reason the Charlotte Museum records lives gone by providing displays and events related to women from earlier times so women today can become aware of the rich culture lesbian have left behind and learn about the networks that supported them in earlier times .