Did you know International Lesbian Day is a thing? Because I didn’t know it’s a thing! It’s a day of inconclusive origin that doesn’t seem to be acknowledged much outside of New Zealand and Australia. Certainly not in my home state of Arkansas. Is this lack of celebration necessarily a terrible thing? Or do we need this day to reflect on the ways that, like other members of the LGBTQ community, lesbians experience a particular form of discrimination and have particular characteristics to celebrate?
At times it can feel like gay men are the center of the LGBT universe, especially in entertainment. If it isn’t a specifically lesbian show or film, the token LGBT character is likely going to be a gay male (and probably white, but that’s a different topic!).
Further, lesbians are often still stereotyped to be man-haters or otherwise undesirable (to the straight male gaze). In the queer community, lesbians are often expected to be masculine, contributing to the problem of femme invisibility inside the LGBT community as well as outside the community. When femme lesbians are portrayed in media, they are primarily used as sexual objects, while rmasculine-of-center females are rarely presented as desirable. Why must we always be the joke?
Thankfully, in the last few years there have been some complex lesbian characters in film and television, and I hope to see more! By no means do I want to turn this day into a day of gripes. I would like to see International Lesbian Day become a day of remembrance and celebration of the women who inspire us, influence us, and touch our hearts and lives in some way.
To that end, here are the lesbians I honor today:
Pam and Rita Jernigan
Pam and Rita aren’t famous, but they are influencing the world. Pam and Rita are plaintiffs in the federal case seeking to bring marriage equality to Arkansas. But before I knew they were involved in the battle, they were just my friends and who became my role models. I first met them during the “hugs and handshakes” portion of a church service not long after I had mustered the courage to leave the fundamentalist denomination of my childhood and begat sitting on the back row of an affirming church. I got to know them better as I ventured out into the LGBT community of Little Rock, and they were two of the nicest, most welcoming people I had ever met. They never fail to encourage and support, and they always have a smile for everyone. To me, they embody Christ’s love.
I know, I know, Ellen is an obvious choice. There have been lots of lesbians in the public eye since Ellen. But this is my first ILD, and I want to honor the queen! She was the first in the entertainment industry to make that sacrifice. And it WAS a sacrifice. She lost her TV show. She became the butt of jokes. But she didn’t let it harden her. She is kind. She inspires others to kindness. And I believe the joy she brings to the world is worthy of recognition.
As a teenager in the late 90s and early 2000s, I was a huge fan of Jennifer Knapp’s music. Because of my Assembly of God upbringing, I was disappointed when I heard the rumors that she was a lesbian. That meant I couldn’t listen to her music anymore! When I finally started coming out myself and was searching for answers about what that would mean for my faith, I rediscovered Jennifer and her new albums that helped put words to those feelings. I will be forever grateful to her for putting herself out there so that people like me can feel like someone understands.
Let’s take theopportunity on International Lesbian Day to honor the women who have helped bring us this close to acceptance. We owe them that much.