Lesbian erasure

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Lesbian erasure is the tendency to ignore, remove, falsify, or reexplain evidence of lesbianism in history, academia, the news media, and other primary sources. Lesbians may also be ignored within the LGBT community and their identity may not be acknowledged.

In history[edit]

Award-winning journalist and author Victoria A. Brownworth wrote that the erasure of lesbian sexuality from historical records "is similar to the erasure of all autonomous female sexuality: women's sexual desire has always been viewed, discussed and portrayed within the construct and purview of the male gaze".[1] Oftentimes, erasure of lesbians is enabled when LGBT organizations fail to recognize the contributions of lesbians; such as when, in 2018, a statement by the National Center for Lesbian Rights about the Stonewall riots did not acknowledge Stormé DeLarverie's involvement in the uprising.[2]

In language[edit]

Author and women's history scholar Bonnie J. Morris, as well as many other lesbian activists, such as same-sex marriage groundbreaker Robin Tyler, and Ashley Obinwanne, screenwriter and co-founder of platform Lesbians Over Everything,[3][4][5] see the increased use of the amorphous term "queer" to describe lesbians as a "disidentification" term that contributes to lesbian invisibility.[6][7][8][9][10][11][12]

In an interview about her 2016 novel Beyond the Screen Door,[13] author Julia Diana Robertson discovered that her self-identification as a lesbian and her description of the novel's genre was changed to "queer" and "queerness" in the published quotes.[14][15]

In scholarship[edit]

Political theory researcher Anna Marie Smith stated that lesbianism has been erased from the "official discourse" in Britain because lesbians are viewed as "responsible homosexuals" in a dichotomy between "responsible homosexuals" and "dangerous gayness." As a result, lesbian sexual practices were not criminalized in Britain in ways similar to the criminalization of gay male sexual activities. Smith also points to the exclusion of women from AIDS research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smith believes that these erasures result from sexism and suggests that these issues should be addressed directly by lesbian activism.[16]

In advertising[edit]

Marcie Bianco, of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, observed that lesbian erasure occurs in advertising: advertisers do not target lesbians when they are publicizing products to LGBT audiences.[17] As an example, she points to the collapse of AfterEllen,[a] which she says resulted from a lack of advertisers.[17] The former Editor in Chief of AfterEllen, Karman Kregloe, stated that advertisers do not think of lesbians as women, and Trish Bendix observed that lesbians are assumed to like anything gay, even if it is male-focused.[17]

In the LGBT community[edit]

Several feminist lesbian activists have lamented the rapidly increasing disappearance of many physical spaces, such as lesbian bars, women's bookstores, and music festivals that were alternative lesbian spaces in which the lesbian subculture thrived.[6][21][22][23]

In relation to transgender women[edit]

The term "lesbian erasure" has been used by some trans exclusionary radical feminists, such as members of the United Kingdom organization Get the L Out (GTLO).[24][25] Among its grievances, the group argues that lesbians are "constantly vilified and excluded from the GBT community for stating their exclusive sexual preference",[25] that the expansion of transgender rights erases lesbians, that transgender activism encourages lesbians to transition to straight men, and that the GBT community is becoming increasingly anti-lesbian and misogynistic.[26][27] The group staged its first protest at the 2018 London Pride Parade and was condemned as transphobic or "anti-trans" by the organizers of Pride in London, and criticized in op-eds published in some media outlets.[28]

Some LGBT activists have opposed the term "lesbian erasure" as being anti-transgender.[26][27] In a letter opposing the term, twelve editors and publishers of eight lesbian publications stated, "We do not think supporting trans women erases our lesbian identities".[26] Feminist theorist Claire Heuchan[29] said, "even acknowledging lesbian visibility is described as 'dogwhistle transphobia'. Something within the LGBT community has gone seriously wrong when being for lesbians is interpreted as being against people identifying as transgender...lesbophobia isn't coming from social conservatism as it has in the past, but within the LGBT+ community."[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ TotallyHer Media, a subsidiary of Evolve Media and owner of AfterEllen, denied the hearsay about the website shutting down and fired Trish Bendix ahead of her scheduled departure from the publication.[18][19][20]


  1. ^ Brownworth, Victoria A. (October 19, 2018). "Lesbian Erasure". Echo Magazine. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  2. ^ Heuchan, Claire (July 9, 2018). "We Need to Talk About Misogyny and the LGBT Community's Erasure of Black Lesbian History". AfterEllen. Archived from the original on July 9, 2018. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  3. ^ "Individual Scholar Page: Bonnie Morris". Women Also Know History. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  4. ^ Faderman, Lillian (June 8, 2016). "Pioneer: Robin Tyler". The Pride LA. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  5. ^ Faraone, Juliette (April 4, 2016). "Talk to the Internet: Ashley Obinwanne (Lavender Collective/Lesbians Over Everything)". Screen Queens. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  6. ^ a b Morris, Bonnie J. (December 22, 2016). "Dyke Culture and the Disappearing L". Outward. Slate. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  7. ^ Tyler, Robin (June 5, 2018). "Don't call me 'queer'". Los Angeles Blade. Archived from the original on June 9, 2016. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  8. ^ Obinwanne, Ashley (October 3, 2017). "Why I'm a Lesbian (Not Queer)". AfterEllen. Archived from the original on October 3, 2017. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  9. ^ Epstein, Grace (May 23, 2016). "Dear LGBT Community: Stop Calling Me Queer". Odyssey. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  10. ^ Macdonald, Jocelyn (June 27, 2017). "When Queerness Is Cultural Capital, Lesbians Go Broke". AfterEllen. Archived from the original on September 1, 2017. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  11. ^ Megarry, Jessica; Tyler, Meagan (November 2018). "Queer Inclusion or Lesbian Exclusion". Academia.edu. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  12. ^ Alejandroon, Gabrielle (October 1, 2019). "Lesbian: It's a Beautiful Word". AfterEllen. Archived from the original on October 2, 2019. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  13. ^ Robertson, Julia Diana (2016). Beyond the Screen Door. Maryville, Tennessee: Mystic Books. ISBN 978-1619292888.
  14. ^ Robertson, Julia Diana (October 17, 2017). "Why didn't you say something sooner?—You're Asking The Wrong Question". HuffPost. Retrieved 8 October 2019.
  15. ^ Julia Diana Ghassan Robertson جوليا ديانا [@JuliaDRobertson] (23 September 2017). "I always appreciate interviews, but it was unethical to change what was said w/out my approval or knowledge. Glad they have a new editor" (Tweet). Retrieved 8 October 2019 – via Twitter.
  16. ^ Plummer, Ken, ed. (1992). "Resisting the Erasure of Lesbian Sexuality: A challenge for queer activism, by Anna Marie Smith". Modern Homosexualities: Fragments of Lesbian and Gay Experiences. London: Routledge. pp. 200–215. ISBN 978-0415064200.
  17. ^ a b c Bianco, Marcie (October 6, 2016). "Lesbian culture is being erased because investors think only gay men (and straight people) have money". Quartz. Archived from the original on 22 June 2019. Retrieved 16 June 2019.
  18. ^ Kovacogluon, Emrah (September 21, 2016). "False Rumor: We Are Not Shutting Down!". AfterEllen. Archived from the original on 22 June 2019. Retrieved 22 June 2019.
  19. ^ Edwards, Stassa (September 21, 2016). "AfterEllen EIC Says Site Will Shut Down on Friday While Corporate Owner Calls It a 'False Rumor'". Jezebel. Archived from the original on 11 April 2017. Retrieved 22 June 2019.
  20. ^ Horgan, Richard (September 23, 2016). "A Messy Exit for the EIC of AfterEllen". Adweek. Archived from the original on December 10, 2018. Retrieved 22 June 2019.
  21. ^ Clements, Alexis (June 8, 2014). "The Vanishing". Curve. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  22. ^ Smith, Harrison (June 26, 2015). "What Happened to DC's Lesbian Spaces?". Washingtonian. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  23. ^ Rosenthal, Ellena (November 30, 2016). "Who Crushed the Lesbian Bars? A New Minefield of Identity Politics". Willamette Week. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  24. ^ "About us". Get The L Out. 2018. Archived from the original on 4 June 2019. Retrieved 22 June 2019.
  25. ^ a b Wild, Angela (12 April 2019). "OPINION: Lesbians need to get the L out of the LGBT+ community". Thomson Reuters News. Archived from the original on 30 May 2019. Retrieved 22 June 2019.
  26. ^ a b c Compton, Julie (January 14, 2019). "'Pro-lesbian' or 'trans-exclusionary'? Old animosities boil into public view". NBCNews.com. Archived from the original on 19 June 2019. Retrieved 19 June 2019.
  27. ^ a b Greenhalgh, Hugo (March 15, 2019). "Trans debate rages around the world, pitting LGBT+ community against itself". Reuters. Archived from the original on 16 March 2019. Retrieved 19 June 2019.
  28. ^ London Pride Parade:
  29. ^ "Claire L. Heuchan". Goodreads. 2019. Archived from the original on 17 July 2019. Retrieved 17 July 2019.
  30. ^ Davidson, Gina (14 July 2019). "Insight: How splits are emerging in LGBT movement over gender issues". The Scotsman. Archived from the original on 16 July 2019. Retrieved 17 July 2019.

Further reading[edit]

Books and journals