International Lesbian Day is a day for celebration in the lesbian community, but what exactly is International Lesbian Day? And what is its history?
What lead to the beginning of International Lesbian Day is difficult to pinpoint. There are many different stories of how this celebration came to be and its actual conception is unclear. While there is no one concise agreed upon theory regarding how International Lesbian Day began, it seems many agree that it started right here in New Zealand. The Queer History Project of New Zealand’s account of how this day came to be is possibly the most accepted theory. They believe that International Lesbian Day began on March 8th 1980 when a group of 40 or so lesbians marched straight through Wellington’s Central Park. While this account places the first event on March 8th, it was later moved to October 8th instead, presumably this is due to March 8th being International Women’s Day. International Women’s Day has a long history and had already begun to be a recognised worldwide stand for women’s rights. Although it was previously celebrated beforehand, it was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations in 1975. Presumably what became the first International Lesbian Day began with a march by lesbians who were celebrating International Women’s Day and then continued to flourish from there. LGBTIQ+ Health Australia states that the first Australian International Lesbian Day was held in Melbourne on October 13, 1990, meaning that New Zealand was starting to celebrate what would become International Lesbian day a full ten years before it was adopted by other countries.
International Lesbian Day is a worldwide celebration of the lesbian community. It is a day to celebrate lesbian diversity, culture, and history. It is also an important celebration for lesbian rights and is part of the unfortunately long and difficult task of tackling the homophobia that surrounds both the lesbian community and other LGBTIQ+ communities. International Lesbian day represents being proud of your identity despite the ongoing prejudice that the community continues to face. It is also important to remember that up until fairly recently lesbian women or women who did not participate in socially accepted sexual behaviour could be committed to psychiatric hospitals for treatment. Up until 1973 psychiatrists considered homosexuality to be a personality disorder. Being gay or lesbian was shamed and associated with criminal activity simply for not fitting in to patriarchal and heterosexual normality. One of the many reasons why International Lesbian Day is so important is because it began so soon after this mistreatment of the community was considered normal. The way the lesbian community is treated today is still far from perfect but International Lesbian Day should be a reminder of how strong the community is, how far it has come, and should continue to make sure lesbian voices do not go unheard.
Some may ask if between all the other celebrations for LGBTQ+ communities, is there really a need for more celebrations specifically just for the lesbian community? As well as International Lesbian Day there is also an International Lesbian Visibility Day, Pride, and other yearly events where lesbians are included. Dr Julie Scanlon in a blog post for NHS Confederation argues that yes, we actually do need these celebrations. She states that “Lesbians exist at an intersection that can sometimes fall between the gaps”. Meaning that with LGBTQ+ celebrations in general often lesbians don’t feel like they belong. Dr Scanlon also states that several studies suggest some women do not feel comfortable celebrating and participating in events held for LGBTQ+ communities. An example of this given by Dr Scanlon is a 2018 survey conducted by a social networking and dating app for LGBTQ+ women called HER, through this survey HER discovered that a surprisingly high 31 percent of women surveyed felt uncomfortable and unwelcome at Pride. While Pride is also an important celebration for many and should most definitely not be discounted, it is equally important for the lesbian community to feel comfortable and part of their own celebrations of identity. While many lesbians still participate in and enjoy Pride, the lesbian community is a rich and diverse one and should be properly celebrated for its own merits as well. The lesbian community has so much to offer and requires events to not only bring the community together but also celebrate its culture.
International Lesbian day isn’t just another date in the calendar or a gimmicky celebration, it is an important day for both lesbian history and voices. Dates like this one are an important part of celebrating and accepting the lesbian community and everything it has to offer. International Lesbian day should be celebrated by both the lesbian community and allies of lesbian rights, it should be a recognition of the amazing contributions made by the lesbian community and a way to celebrate its strength, culture, and perseverance.
The blog post written by Dr Julie Scanlon discusses International Lesbian Visibility Day, but her argument is also applicable when discussing other celebrations for the lesbian community. It was written in April of 2021 and can be read here: https://www.nhsconfed.org/articles/have-you-heard-international-lesbian-visibility-day
Although, of course, International Lesbian Day will not be properly celebrated in New Zealand this year due to lockdown restrictions, why not celebrate in your own way, and if you’re able to maybe donate to one of the many amazing LGBTQ+ charities that also support the lesbian community and its wellbeing.
Or if you are feeling so inclined please donate to the Charlotte Museum Trust who are working hard to keep New Zealand’s lesbian history accessible for both the community and the general public.
Elizabeth Simpson is a student at the University of Auckland and is currently working at the Charlotte Museum as part of our internship programme through the Museum and Cultural Heritage course.