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Lesbian Visibility Week - Interview with Lizzie

Lesbian Visibility Week aims to show solidarity with every woman within the LGBTQI community, as well as celebrate lesbians. It is essential that Lesbian Visibility Week is a voice for unity and lifts up ALL women, especially those who come from marginalised communities. Recent research (Pride Matters survey, conducted by Pride In London 2018) has shown that gay women are almost twice as unlikely to be out in the workplace as gay male colleagues. There has been a Lesbian Visibility Day since 2008. Lesbian Visibility Week is a DIVA initiative.

Manchester has always been at the forefront of the LGBTQ rights movement. In 1970, the students of the University of Manchester founded one of the first university gay societies: the Homophile Society. In 1978 The Manchester City Council funded the opening of a Gay Centre in, adding funding specifically for lesbian support in 1979. In 1998 one of the biggest LGBTQ+ rallies took place in Manchester city, when over 20,000 people marched in protest against Section 28.

As a community, lesbians have often struggled with visibility. Historically and presently they have had less access to community spaces, less disposable income, and less time to spend on their own pursuits. All of these factors make lesbians harder to track down in the historical record. We have to look elsewhere, and often harder, to find lesbian stories. We were thrilled to speak to Lizzie, 62, for Lesbian Visibility Week to find out more about the history of lesbians in Manchester. Here, she tells us about growing up in the 70s, coming out, LGBTQ+ activism, and finding love.

"It was really difficult just to come out, the whole process of finding out any information or role models or ideas of what it involved. It was the late 70’s, there was no information, no way to access or meet people. I was in Birmingham and lodging with these other teachers. One of the teachers went into my room and found a letter I’d been writing to Gay News. She got her husband to talk to me and asked me to leave. Luckily I found a new house share with other students, who were keen Christians but utterly accepted me. I moved back to Manchester after my course, because I’d already met someone there.

It was hard to come to terms with it coming out - I thought that people had to tell you, you were gay. I went to the Gay Centre and there was a Lesbian Support Group. I was doing a placement at John Rylands, and on my way home one day I popped into the Student’s Union and at the time there was some kind of campaign going round because the union had refused to publish the phone number to the lesbian link - and so they group had gone round and plastered the number everywhere. And so I took it down and called when I got home and they were friendly and welcoming.

I told my mum pretty much straight away, she was relieved I’d decided one way or the other - I had been talking a lot about how I felt with my Mum who was very supportive. My mother’s family were very posh, and there’s a lot of them, and I thought ‘oh god I won't be able to talk to any of these relatives, I didn’t think I could talk to them’ but my mum had already told them and they were all supportive of it. And so I realised that it was more internalised rather than something that I had to deal with.

I’m not sure if I ever ‘saw’ myself represented anywhere while growing up. I read The Well of Loneliness at 17 and didn’t think that was really me. I read a Portrait of A Marriage - and realised ‘Ok this is possible, women can be in a relationship.’ Then there was a play, that was on the telly, where the lesbian character was extremely aggressive and treated women as badly as men do - and that didn’t resonate with me at all.
It was really with the advent of Channel 4 in ‘82 which gave us role models. There was a chat show like programme for lesbians, and they felt more recognisable. And as time has gone on there has been better representation in the cinema - Lianna in the early 80’s that was quite positive.

I met Marion in the summer that I came out - she had been married and had two teenage daughters and she had come out about the same time as me. We were together for 32 years, but she died about 7 years ago. She lived with MS but we had more than thirty years together. We both went to the Gay Centre about the same time. We were set up by a fellow member and ended up spending our first night out together at the Polydisco, and never looked back. Marion and I used to go and stay with my parents and they were always very friendly and accepting.

I remember being part of the Lesbian Working Party. They wanted as much input from the community as possible so I went to quite a few meetings for that which fed into the policy making for those roles. I worked with both Lesbian Officers too! It was such a relief to go to them for details for meetings and access things - it felt like ‘this is what the future will be like’.

Section 28 of the Local Government Act was enacted in 1988. I remember going to the huge demo in Manchester that was against it, and I went down to London for the march against it too. I still have the rail ticket from the day they chartered a whole train to get people down there and on the ticket it says ‘Out and Proud’.

My first Pride was a Lesbian Pride march in London in 1982. I was up for doing anything and everything, it was like having the door to the sweetshop open. It was a march to defend a lesbian, Susan Shell, who had been sacked from her job for being out. It was the first time I’d been on a march for anything, and it felt empowering and a bit scary, to be doing something positive!"

Lesbian Visibility Week is a DIVA initiative. As the leading LBTQ media group in Europe, DIVA Media Group reaches an audience of 250,000 users every month. In its engagement it is increasingly finding LGBTQI women feel that they are misunderstood and under-supported. ​Building on this, DIVA want to create a week that recognises, celebrates and importantly supports lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer women across the UK and beyond to be their true selves at work, at home and socially.

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