Lesbian Strength! A day out in Leeds

Given the hostility, abuse and aggression that some lesbians have been experiencing at Pride events around the country and abroad, it’s hardly surprising that they should feel excluded and unsafe and want an event of their own.

A few weeks ago, a group called Lesbian Strength took out a free advert in Leeds Council’s ‘what’s on’ guide, promoting a lesbian-only march to take place on 7 September. As the word ‘lesbian’ means ‘female homosexual’, there was no need to specify that only women would be welcome on it, right?

Wrong. When Leeds Council discovered that the march was intended to be for real lesbians only, they banned the advert, even though the organisers had already checked and been advised that, under the Equality Act 2010, they would be able to have a lesbian-only march followed by a rally that only lesbians and female supporters would be invited to.

Lesbians are being increasingly marginalised but Leeds Council failed to support them in wanting to stand up for what they are – female homosexuals who should have the right to their own spaces away from men. It seems nothing has improved since a year ago when the same Council acted abominably over a WPUK meeting.

The purpose of this march was made clear on the group’s successful fundraising page:

All women loving women are welcome. We want to celebrate all lesbians past and present from all walks of life. Our sincere desire is for all lesbians to be able to embrace themselves, to be comfortable with their sexuality and for them to know that they are loved and appreciated just as they are. We acknowledge and condemn the lesbophobia and misogyny still very much present in our communities today all over the world and the resulting prejudice, persecution and violence our lesbian sisters face every day. We wish to honour them and we stand with them in our struggle to be free. We would like to draw strength and inspiration from our rich lesbian and feminist history to recreate and reaffirm lesbian culture and lesbian-only spaces. 

Of course, as soon as news of the event was circulated on social media, the insufferably ignorant and narrow-minded opposition started to appear and it was obvious that the women who simply wanted to march peacefully as proud lesbians would be subjected to protests by the kind of nasty little tyrants who feel entitled to try to police what women are, think, say and do.

I’m not a lesbian, so my intention in going to Leeds was not to join the march but to attend the rally at the end, once I’d found out where it was.

When I arrived in the heart of the city, I spotted the feminists in City Square and the bigots on the other side of the road, right in front of a church were some poor blighters were getting married. I was disgusted to see so many men there, giving up their afternoon on a beautiful September day to protest against women’s rights. Check the tweet on the right. You can see the whole exchange on Twitter.

Anyway, amongst the feminists, I spotted a couple of women I knew to be straight. They were in yellow vests and I realised their way of supporting had been to volunteer to steward the march, something it hadn’t occurred to me to do. So I decided instead that I would – by self-appointment – be one of the official photographers of the event. The only problem was that I don’t have a camera since some nasty bugger of a trans activist smashed it. (By the way, it’ll be two years on Friday since that event – watch this space.)

I was in disguise when I first arrived as I still suffer from quite a bit of anxiety when I know that feminist events are going to be protested by bigoted trans activists. My camera smasher and his thuggish mate have been spotted in Manchester and – no offence, Northerners – but Manchester and Leeds seem pretty much next door to each other to me as a Londoner and I know the Yorkshire Ripper crossed the Pennines a couple of times.

As it turned out, I didn’t see my assailants amongst this particular group of bigots but I did respond to a woman who struck up a conversation with me as I walked between the two groups filming. She asked me if I was a supporter or just an observer and I told her I had come to support my lesbian sisters and what about her? She introduced herself as a lesbian from a group called ‘Angels of Freedom’ and declared that she was “for everyone”. In the ensuing conversation, I pointed out that the marchers were understandably angry about heterosexual men claiming to be women and expecting to be accepted into lesbian spaces and even relationships.

“But that’s not what they are saying,” she responded, gesturing in the direction of the bigots.

Huh?

“It is what they are saying,” I countered. “Do you not see what is happening on social media?”

In hindsight, I wish I’d thought to ask her why on earth she thought the march was for women only and why the protesters disagreed. I recall saying more than once that the words ‘woman’ and ‘lesbian’ were being redefined by transgender ideology, which is misogynistic and homophobic and that, thankfully, not all transsexuals supported it and at least some were standing with women against it.

Her manner was pleasant and polite throughout but, by the end of our exchange, she was looking at me as if she wasn’t sure whether I was an insane fantasist or whether she realised I was revealing a shocking truth she’d been previously unaware of. Just in time, I remembered to give her my card with a link to this site. If she does make it here and reads this post, I’d like to thank her for talking to me and reminding me that there still plenty of well-intentioned people – even lesbians it seems – who really don’t know what’s going on.

I walked the route of the march on the pavement, mostly slightly ahead of the marchers who, of course, were in the road. I had to keep looking over my shoulder because I genuinely didn’t have a clue where we were or where we were going.

Later that evening I would read the report of the march carried by LeedsLive and look up Lower Briggate on the map because, according to their report.

When they reached Lower Briggate – home to many of Leeds’ gay bars and the centre of the recent Leeds Pride celebrations – Lesbian Strength were booed by crowds of people lining the streets, some of whom had brought banners supporting trans rights.

Let me show what these “crowds of people” booing looked like.

OK, she wasn’t even on Lower Briggate but a few minutes away on the Headrow, but she was the ONLY person I saw or heard objecting. That part of the Leeds Live report appears to be a fabrication. That’s why there isn’t a single photo let alone any video of these alleged ‘booing crowds’ in the report.

By the way, I noticed that same woman taking several similar-sized handmade notices out of her bag before selecting the one she wanted to use. One of the others said something about Tommy Robinson on it. There’d been a march in Leeds by Robinson’s supporters in the morning. She’d obviously decided to make a day of it. The irony that she was using a famous line from the comedy, Father Ted, whose writer, Graham Linehan, is very much on our side, probably escaped her.

Edited to add: I’ve just come across this video with a recording of chanting male protesters, which may be what the Leeds Live reporter was referring to. They were too far from any of us to notice them or hear that man shouting, “Get out of town!”

The one thing I did hear over and over again was the reading out loud – and in a quizzical tone – of the words on one of the placards.

“Lesbian not queer?”

It was clear they didn’t have a clue what that meant or what the march was about and I wished I’d had some leaflets to hand out explaining – especially to the man I overheard saying, “They’ve got all the rights they want – what more do they need?”

The rally afterwards in Millenium Square was fabulous and, for obvious reason, was dedicated to Magdalen Berns, who was very much in our minds and hearts. Alas, I had virtually no battery left by this time (yeah, I know – some “official photographer”!) but there were a couple of women filming with real cameras and hopefully, the wonderful talks, music and comedy will be put online sometime and I can link to them. In case that doesn’t happen, here is a transcript of MC Paula Boulton’s speech and the lyrics to the various songs, a transcript of the speech given by Lauren Hamstead can be read here, the one by Charlie Evans can be read here and the one by Louise Moody  here. This blog by Shereen Benjamin contains a transcript of the speech given by Nicole Jones, which was a tribute to Magdalen. Edited to add: Some videos can now be seen here.

It was such a great day out I almost wished I were a lesbian – a proper one I mean. Not one like the organiser of the counter-protest quoted in the Yorkshire Post, who said.

“We believe that everyone has a part in this lesbian community – it doesn’t matter what genitals they have!”

Sigh.

Here’s some of my footage from the day. I probably shouldn’t have let my pet monkey take it.

 

 

Click here to see some lovely pics of the day from ClaireOT.

And many more from Mike Bettney.

Edit: I’ve just been made aware of an atrocious piece full of falsehoods appearing in the abominable Diva magazine, which I have no intention of linking to but here’s a sample:

As the march made its way through the city centre, hundreds of people lined the streets and chanted in support of trans inclusion in Leeds. In fact, in response to the event, local LGBTQI communities came together at short notice to create a programme of inclusive events across the city.

Paula Boulton provided me with a copy of her reply:

As the MC of the Lesbian Strength March I am appalled at this inaccurate reportage. We held a LESBIAN STRENGTH MARCH and Rally. This tradition has a herstory which many of the 150 Lesbians ( I counted them) attending can remember. The signs and banners were about Lesbians. The march was heavily policed in response to threats we had received and after thorough Police liaison it was agreed that the Dyke Pride for Lesbians of all genders would march behind ours at a suitable distance. The police maintained a gap between the two.

On the route there were the usual responses from the crowd – including pervy men urging us to keep making their porn, and your headline is absolutely not recognisable. I saw 4 individuals on the corner of one intersection with signs about including everyone. We were cheered as we marched past the anti- brexit demo as the speaker invited her crowd to give a cheer to support the march. We responded with a similar cheer.

On arrival at the Civic Hall chairs had been provided for the older women and those with disabilities and limited mobility. We had a BSL signer as several women were hearing impaired. The group sang Lesbian Singalong to open the rally – a song which lists all the jobs Lesbians do and things of note Lesbians have achieved and states “everyone benefits from a Lesbian in their world”. The speeches were chosen to represent the age spread from 20 to 70 and covered 1. a tribute to Magdalen Berns, a young Lesbian activist currently in palliative care to whom we dedicated the march 2. A young lesbian about her experience of coming out 3. A young woman who has detransitioned in the past few months. 4. An academic sharing issues Lesbians face in a University setting 5. An older Lesbian sharing how life was for Lesbians in the 70s and 80s, 6. Linda Bellos .

We musicians performed the popular Gentleman Jack and a song about climate change. A young Scottish Lesbian performed 3 of her comic songs referencing mental health and capitalism. An older black Lesbian read her poetry. We mentioned Lesbian Asylum seekers – one of whom- an Iranian Lesbian – was present having recently been successful in her claim. The whole event focused on Lesbians and our lives – which is what Diva is meant to do. There is actual footage of this good natured march which you should be celebrating. Why have you chosen to misrepresent the event?

If I was the nation’s only Lesbian magazine I would have managed to acknowledge both groups in a Lesbian positive way As a protected characteristic we are allowed by law to have Lesbian only events. How different would it have been to see something like this instead – you know – honest journalism? “Leeds was awash with Lesbians on Saturday as a group of Lesbians resurrected Lesbian Strength and another group protested at their definition of Lesbian.”

Paula Boulton

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Published 09.09.19

Updated 19.09.19

3 Responses to Lesbian Strength! A day out in Leeds

  • This video highlights the absurdity of it all. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more polite and unthreatening protest. Yet we’re led to believe these women are dangerous transphobes. Thank you for documenting this, it confirms what I heard from people present, to the contrary of what was reported in Leeds Live

  • Thank you Maria for another well written and lucid article. Shame on Leeds Live.

  • Great stuff, Maria, thanks!!!

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