Lesbian-Queer Organizations: Feminist, Women-Oriented, &/or Placed

This is the third in a series of posts on data visualizations I have created based on the complete records of all available lesbian-queer organizations in New York City at the Lesbian Herstory Archives (LHA). In my reading of LHA lesbians’ and queer women’s organizations’ purpose statements, I noticed a striking pattern of decreasing mentions of feminism in the organizational purpose statements over time coupled with a greater of cross-gender organizations. Furthermore, there was a considerable increase in the number of groups with access to permanent space to perform their work and organizing. While both changes speak to the radical cultural and economic shifts within lgbtq communities throughout this period, they are intriguing to place side-by-side to see our history anew. My statistical analyses of these numbers are forthcoming but the visualization of this data already afford significant insights into the shifts in everyday lesbian-queer life from 1983 to 2008, especially when this data is contextualized in the imbrication of global and local events at the time.

So what are we seeing here? And why does it matter?

As I wrote about in my previous post, “Lesbian-Queer Organizations: A History in Openings & Closings,” the trends in the total number of organizations speaks to a number of generational social and political shifts. Yet when compared to this other information, this total number is even more revealing: most of the lesbian-queer groups since the early 1980s have focused on issues not specific to the gender. You may say as I did: eh?!?! But, ’tis true. The limited number of feminist-focused groups shows the general downturn in a forefronted feminist focus among these organizations since the 1970s highpoint for lesbian feminism, and shifting waves of feminism. At the same time, we see a spike in those groups who focused on the needs of women and women’s issues in the 1990s, only after the collapse of the main organizing group of the NYC ACT-UP group and the simultaneous development of Queer Nation and Lesbian Avengers. By the mid-1990s, those numbers decrease again and even dip down in the late 2000s with the backlash trend against feminism and feminist-thinking.

What happens when we look even closer to the trends happening in placed organizations, organizations that on women’s issues, and organizations that identify as feminist?

The trend to find a permanent space is always a central one for organizations so that their mission can take root and grow, especially for groups who deal with marginalized lgbtq people who often lack social and even home spaces of their own. Yet when we turn to the number of organizations with permanent physical places, we can see that this is only about half of the total number of lesbian-queer groups at any given time in their history. Beyond the ways in which women are the focus of these organizations—feminist or otherwise—the physical geographies of these spaces tells a corresponding tale to the social: most women’s groups lack long-term places to call their own. Such a claiming of place also evoke questions of who has the right and financial ability to claim space, let alone occupy space through property ownership or permanent rental, as well as whose agenda becomes less pronounced for the sake of settling (all meanings intended) on this land.

Further analyses of these data should prove even more revealing. In the meantime, next I’ll be looking at the ways groups grew and declined at different geographic scales and what that says to the shifting landscape of lgbtq politics from 1983 to 2008.