Labor of Love was featured in StartSomeGood’s “Let’s Start Some Good: What’s Next in 2013” yearbook. Read about my goals for Labor of Love in 2013 and my predictive trends for 2013 below and click on the image to view the entire yearbook.
Why is that we choose to privilege certain aspects of LGBT history and hide others? What symbols and landmarks in our history teach new generations about LGBT identity and history? The District of Columbia (D.C.) is one of the most politically and ethnically diverse regions in the United States. The multicultural environment provides female identified lesbian and queer community with unique opportunities to create diverse communities. However, D.C.’s high profile community and the gentrified urban layout often segregates, rather than bring people together. In addition, the lack of money and transience within the lesbian and female queer community also forces organizations to come and go. There are missing sites; lesbian organizations that do not come to people’s mind when people think about lesbian experience in D.C. The Gay Women’s Alternative (GWA), 1980 -1993, is one of D.C.’s missing sites. This non-profit organization was created in 1980 to provide the D.C.’s Lesbian community with an alternative and safe space to socialize and discuss feminist and educational topics concerning the lesbian and gay women population. But due to a lack of money and other unknown reasons, the GWA closed down in 1993.
My documentary thesis project, tentatively titled Labor of Love, explores why a popular civic lesbian organization, the Gay Women’s Alternative (GWA 1980-1993), closed down in 1993. Through personal interviews with past GWA board members, present-day community leaders, and oral narratives, the film discusses past and present challenges of sustaining female space in D.C’s transient and high profile community. The film’s key questions are: Why are the same challenges that affected lesbian organization communities 40 years ago, such as segregation, lack of diversity, and lack of space, still happening today? How can cultural knowledge be passed down from one generation to the next? By having leaders and members of the DC LGBT community, from both past and present, reflect and (re)tell their stories about creating a support group, social function, or business, they will not only better understand the importance of their place, both physically and culturally in the community, but the challenges and successes they have faced in the process.
The film will not only feature contemporary female LGBT leaders, such as Ebone Bell, founder of Tagg Magazine, Where The Girls Go, a local queer blog, The CooLots, a queer band, but women from the past, such as Elizabeth Birch, HRC executive director 1994-2004, Susan Hester, founder of the Mautner Project, and Leigh Gieger, founder of the Gay Women’s Alternative (GWA).
Here are some photos from last week’s shoot with Leigh Gieger (Special thanks to Christopher Siler, Lisa Tuvalo, and Rachel Marquart for volunteering their time to help with the shoot!).
The Gay Women’s Alternative: An Alternative to the Bar, An Alternative to the Closet :
Jeanette Paroly discusses a need for a new Gay Women’s Alternative (GWA)
Interview by Kelsey Brannan
Since the early 2000s lesbian D.C. leaders have created both online and offline community spaces for LGBT people to gather and socialize in the city, such as PhatGirlChic.com, WhereTheGirlsGo.com, LezGetTogether.com. The creators of these sites sought to conquer existing disparities between various female identified lesbian and queer groups to create a “common ground” for socialization. Despite the efforts, many new city transplants still find it hard to connect with others in the LGBT community. The Gay Women’s Alternative (GWA), a defunct non-profit lesbian community organization that existed in DC between 1980 – 1993, was able to create this common ground. The GWA was designed to bring women of all ages and backgrounds together in a safe space to educate and enrich the cultural, intellectual, and social lives of lesbians of the Washington D.C. Metro area. The GWA met every Wednesday night at the Washington Ethical Society near Silver Spring, MD. Some of the weekly programs included talks such a, “Lesbian Couples: How different are” and “Organization Your Finances for success.” Speakers included the famous black poet, Audre Lorde, artist Joan E. Biren, and the famous television journalist, Maureen Bunyan. In this discussion, Jeanette Paroly, (60), past board member of the GWA, Mautner Project, and Task Force, discusses the need for a strong local lesbian and bisexual organization to take the lead and teach future generations how to create successful communities, in addition to finding a way to include all women of color, age and socioeconomic groups.
KB: When did you first hear about the GWA, how did you get involved?
JP: Well, the GWA started in 1980, I just heard about it and I went to the first meeting. It was a nice mixture of age, although I don’t think we were successful in really reaching women of color. We got incredible people to speak, we really did and I think that is what really drew people in. We met at the Washington Ethical Society on 16th Street, so it wasn’t downtown; it was easy to get to no matter where you lived. When you first came it was about an hour of presentation and then about an hour of socializing, so it gave people something to talk about. When you have something to talk about it allows for interacting. So it was a really nice way for women, of every variation and theme to get together. It was a Wednesday evening, no big deal, we had nothing to do anyway.
KB: How was privacy handled? Was everyone out of the closet?
JP: In terms of the board, the women that got involved were pretty comfortable with their sexuality, and were pretty much out or they wouldn’t have gotten involved. When I was president of the Board I decided that we were going to be a little more radical there. A little more uncomfortable, so I proposed to have a night of lesbian porn. Well, everyone was saying are you out of your mind! People are going to go nuts! I felt like it was an issue, as if women do not respond to porn, hello! Now, these were not films that were made for straight men. So I told the board, ‘I’ll tell you what, we are going to have to pre-screen the films before we show them, so we will have to have two Sundays where we watch the films. Now are you interested?” And then all of the sudden everyone was saying ‘That’s a great idea!’ So it forced the issue of lesbian sexuality, and what does that mean? I really think that GWA really was a place, where everybody could come and feel safe arguing their position because everyone was welcome.
KB: Did the GWA have any fun games?
JP: We had the dating game, the lesbian dating game. An individual who volunteered and was single would sit with three women hidden behind a screen and ask each of them three questions and see how they answered. She then got to choose one of the three women with whom to go out on a date for which we paid. So we did fun things too!
KB: How did the GWA get funding?
JP: Our pockets. But it wasn’t that expensive because there was a kitchen downstairs in the Ethical society and whoever was in charge that night dragged in the soda, and if we were not chopping up vegetables for the meeting in our home we were doing it in that kitchen. Later what happened, I believe, is that the board members didn’t want to do that kind of work, so they would get platters and it got expensive. There was also a suggested donation, which basically covered the food, but we also had to pay increasing rent to the Ethical Society so it was becoming more expensive to run.
KB: Do you miss the GWA?
JP: It was the only place, at the time, where you could go, listen to something that was either fun or intelligent, something of interest and then just hang out and socialize, starting at 7:30 – 8pm, and by 10ish we were cleaning up. I think it was necessary because there was no middle ground, and it involved older and younger women. If there were a place like that now, that would be great. But there isn’t any place like that presently; it seems like more and more lesbians and bisexuals are moving further and further out into the suburbs. I think that women felt it was necessary because it was the only place they could go where there was a viable way to be social, could talk to each other, and it was a really nice comfortable way to meet others.
KB: What political events occur in the 1980s, how did it affect the GWA?
JP: Being in DC, one of the biggest employers is the government. Depending on security clearance, as long as you are/ were out and honest it was/is okay. But knowing people that went through clearances they had to prove they were out to everybody, and if they couldn’t prove this they didn’t get clearance. So that was an important political and personal issue. If someone asked me whether they should come out, I might say, no, depending on the circumstances. I might ask them, why are you coming out? Are doing it for you? Wait until you know, what the possibilities are. So my answer would not always be yes. If you are a civilian working for the Pentagon, do you want to come out there? Well, things have recently changed, but back then, perhaps no. Nobody at that time, at GWA, made any judgment about anyone, and I think it was the only place really, that everybody was welcome. We really tried to provide presentations that opened up doors to allow for discussions and for questions to be asked.
KB: Yes, it seemed like most of the presentations related to real life lesbian experiences.
JP: Well, the board members were real live lesbians and we also had connections through all these different people we each knew, and I think what happened over time, is that the people on the board didn’t have the same connections, so it was harder to get people on the calendar as speakers.
KB: How do you get a lesbian organization to remain inclusive, yet also specific?
JP: Urvashi Vaid, wrote a book about a need for crossing bridges called Virtual Equality. Crossing bridges and creating new ones was how I saw it, I just felt then and I’ve tried to continue to do so in my way of being involved in different communities over the years. However, when I look back, that was the one organization that I wish still existed because you don’t know where to go out, and you don’t know what your friends are doing. If you really want the younger ones to learn, with the wonder of the world they have now, even though it’s still limited, how do you teach, how do you pass on, and have people embrace it? To know the past, to know the present and to not repeat the past but create a healthy present and future, that’s the lesson, right? When I think about it, a place like the GWA would be a place to do that. Where you have topics bring people in to include all ages, women of color and cultures, lesbian and bisexuals and you would have different topics and presenters that would add to the group diversity.
KB: Do you have any advice for women today that are trying to run successful organizations?
JP: If you want people to come, and be involved, use the local papers, they are all over the place, and the ones out in VA and MD, DC and The Washington Post, and the Blade, so these different communities can see it. You have to have a reason for people to come. If you are getting presenters that support and represent a wide variety of audiences you are going to get a variety of people to attend. I would also go back to the understanding that you are not going to be making any money, okay? It will probably cost you money, especially at the beginning. That the sole purpose is to make it a safe place that is purely non-judgmental about who you are, where you come from, what you are about. Also, have a topic that brings them in, and then allows discussion among all, crossing boundaries, and in order to do that, you need presenters that are young and politically active, and you need older women who have other things to talk about. I would also state as the mission statement: ‘to bring lesbians, bisexuals, and/or women identified women in a space that is safe as a diverse group, a place to become educated and to share and to be social. I would keep it as simple as possible and I really think, I would pick a name that doesn’t create exclusion.
KB: Any final thoughts?
JP: I just recently went to the Mautner project Gala [Paroly was on the first Board of Mautner Project] and I was really glad I went, there were more than 1000 women in the room, all ages, all dressed, and I looked around and I felt proud. With GWA, I am really proud to have been a part of it, it somehow grew, it was a place for women to grow.
Jeanette Paroly, Ph.D. has been a licensed professional counselor in the DC area for over thirty years, with one specialty including understanding and working with the special needs of the Lesbian/bisexual population, as individuals and couples, in addition to ongoing involvement and support of this community.
More information about the GWA is available through the Rainbow History Project: http://www.rainbowhistory.org/html/gwa1.htm .If you were apart of the GWA and have more thoughts please contact Kelsey Brannan at kels [dot] bran [at] gmail [dot] com to share your story.
Are you an LGBTQ member and new to the DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia)? Or are you simply looking for a more comfortable and LGBT friendly community? We all know how exhausting it is to sift through thousands of craigslist postings to find an ideal LGBT friendly space. But luckily, our friend Imani Mapp has made this process a whole lot easier! She created a Queer Housing-DC Google Group resource for queer and queer-friendly individuals in the Washington, D.C. area to connect with other individuals either seeking or offering housing. Now, you can post your own ads or share queer friendly spaces you find!
The group is brand new, so there is no content yet, but that can be changed by you! So be queer and move in! If you have any questions about this online community you can contact Imani at imanimapp [a] gmail [dot] com
Kat Skiles, creator of Lezgettogether.com, recently started a program called BLT, Best Lesbian Thing of the week for her online social network for lesbians and queer identified lovers of women. In the program she features ‘awesome’ projects that women have created, ranging from cultural to political, through a Q & A that evokes the creator’s personality. Last week, Over & Out, the film I wrote, was featured! See content below:
THE BEST LESBIAN THING OF THE WEEK
Name: Kelsey M. Brannan
Current Location: Washington, D.C.
Title: As a graduate student, I have many titles – creative thinker, writer, ethnographer, fillmmaker, and media designer.
So, you’re a world famous filmmaker. Tell me more.
World famous is saying a little too much, ha ha. My passion has always been telling stories and/or finding information that is hidden and making them visible. In a way, Over & Out, is a queer romantic comedy about lesbians and technology that I felt had not been seen by the UCSB community (I wrote the film as an undergrad in 2010 at UCSB). I felt as though the quality of films being made in my undergraduate film program did not meet the high level of film theory and history we learned in the classroom. I kept seeing the same heteronormative story being told — about male heros winning the girl or a the classic story of a poor student struggling to make it by. How come students were not writing stories that sought to challenge perspectives? I felt that it was time that a lesbian romance made its way to the screen. So in a sense, I made Over & Out as an artistic mode of activism, and as a part of what I do now as a graduate student researching lesbian community development practices – which is – making the invisible, yet important queer support systems and practices, visible and noteworthy.
Has your movie making rendered any bling (trophies, awards, etc.)?
It’s come a long way! It got best picture and best cinematography at the GU Film Festival. But it’s also gone International at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival in Australia and I have since received requests from the Mazipatra Queer Film Festival in Prague, the Side by Side LGBT Film Festival in Russia, and the Queer Lisbon Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in Portugal! In the US, it has proudly been a part of the Outrageous: Santa Barbara Queer Film Festival, Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and the Theorizing the Web Conference at the University of Maryland.
What are your films like?
My films are quirky, funny – but I also love to be informative and educational.
Give us the skinny. What’s the very best film you’ve ever created? Which one is your favorite?
That’s easy. Over & Out. It’s the only fiction I’ve written that’s been a success – the others have been fun documentaries – but nothing compares to the personal touch Over & Out has brought to my life and the LGBTQ Community.
What did you do before this grand adventure?
Video Editing, interning in LA, trying to find a community of queer filmmakers to share my passion with.
What’s your dream job? Let’s say you can do anything. Live anywhere.
It would be awesome to be the Media Manager/Designer consultant for all the LGBTQ businesses and non-profit in DC. I graduate next May from my MA program – and I hope to make it reality!
What did you want to be when you were a kid? Did you want to be Steven Speilberg?
Ha ha, no sorry Steven, I didn’t want to be you. I actually wanted to be an architect. I love home design – and today I especially like thinking of the ways we can change the typical home design to be more queer – what other spaces can we create that have never existed? After my calculus class in High school I realized math was not my passion so I went to media instead!
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I’ve been out for a little over 3 years now. I came out when I was 20 to my parents over video chat just after landing in Australia to begin my study abroad experience. I tried to tell them before, but I was afraid. It was hard at first, especially coming from a Christian family that is not necessarily aware of the LGBT community. But every day is easier, and they still have as much love for me, as they did before I came out. They are truly an amazing and supportive family.
Who’s your queer hero? Queero, if you will.
Donna Harraway. She wrote “A Cyborg Manifesto”
What LGBTQ stereotype annoys you most?
I mostly hate the stereotypes that are predictable in Hollywood films like the character Jules, played by Julianne Moore, in The Kids Are Alright. Yes, of course, she is questioning her sexuality to hook up with the sexy “blood” father that walks into their lives. In the film, I felt as though they made the lesbian figures weak and confused which I’m sure happens to some people. But in a film that has massive influence, it makes a bigger impact on the way everyone perceives lesbian relationships. I know so many different lesbians in the community from varied socio-ecomonic statuses (SES) and ethnic backgrounds. How come their stories never make it to the Hollywood screen? Why is it always the middle-aged, high SES white women that do?
What is your favorite queercentric film created by someone else?
We are the Mods. It’s super cute. I saw it in 2010 at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival in Australia. It’s a future length, good-feel drama.
What do you wish you’d known ten years ago?
That DC is the place to be.
What person would you most like to meet?
Rachel Maddow, I’d like to hear her personal story.
What was your first job ever?
Sees Candies. I packaged, decorated, and sold chocolate at the local mall. I wore the granny outfit: white apron, white tights, and black shoes. Hilarious.
What was your favorite childhood cartoon?
I loved Doug and Hey Arnold!
What’s your very favorite part about East Coast living?
My favorite part of East Coast living is being close to everything. NY is only a 3 hour bus ride and Rehoboth Beach is an 1.5 hour drive away . The West coast – where I am from is spread apart. Also, compared to California, the economy, especially in DC has it’s perks.
How can members of LezGetTogether.com help you succeed?
As a part of my current research on female identified lesbian and queer development in DC, I’m currently writing a grant for funding to make a documentary that traces the roots of lesbian community development in DC. With Lez’s help, as well as others, I want to tell the DC lesbian and queer story. This means I need video interviews with leaders and participants in the community. The goal of the documentary is : (i) to understand how social media functions in the DC lesbian community, (ii) what barriers still exist in the community (e.g. segregation) , (iii) to empower and give a voice to the experienced organizers and community members of DC present & past, and (iv) identify future successful strategies for LGBTQ community development practices. Email me email@example.com if you are interested! Call me, maybe…
Information about Over & Out available at www.overandoutfilm.com
The semester here at Georgetown is finally over and I have the time to catch up on my extra-curricular activities! Finally had the chance to put together the paper I presented on April 14, 2012 for the Theorizing The Web Conference. If interested in reading you can view here.
The Prezi that accompanies the talk is below:
Where The Girls Go launched in 2008 by Alexander smith as a social calendar for queer women. Since it’s creation it has turned into one of DC’s hottest queer cultural blogs and guides for queer women. Last month, I had the privilege of being interviewed by Sarah Marloff, the editor-in-chief, about the queer romantic comedy I wrote last year, Over & Out. Check it out!