Quebec advocates say Lesbian Day of Visibility still needed 40 years later
Members of the Quebec Lesbian Network at the Montreal Pride parade in 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Courtesy the QLN
Celebrated for the very first time in Montreal in 1982, Lesbian Day of Visibility (LDV) aims to highlight the issues experienced by lesbian women and sexual diversity.
Forty years later, advocates say the event is still relevant.
Historically, these women have been discriminated against and "systematically invisibilized," said Quebec Lesbian Network (QLN) director Tara Chanady.
"The history we are taught has been written mostly by white Western men," she said. "As these are facts that have been chosen, we must recognize that this version of history is not objective."
In so doing, she added that women have been relegated to the background of history; those who were homosexual, bisexual or trans occupy an almost non-existent place in it, with the consequence of inequalities that are sometimes more or less visible, which are added to the other disadvantages they suffer simply by being women.
"There is still a great lack of awareness of the realities of lesbian, bi and queer women; they are still invisible, and there is a discomfort in talking about them," said Chanady. "It is important to promote a space to celebrate the achievements of these women."
Chanady also spoke about a rise in right-wing ideology to reiterate the importance of the LDV.
Women are also under-represented and ostracised within the LGBTQ2+ community itself, advocates say.
"It's always important to make ourselves visible, to fight to be accepted at our true value because we are not yet fully accepted," said Geneviève Labelle, co-spokesperson of the LDV with her spouse and business partner Mélodie Noël Rousseau. "With our feminist queer theatre company 'Pleurer dans douche," we did a show called Ciseaux, and we asked ourselves if it was still necessary to have these places for sexual diversity or if society has become more tolerant. Unfortunately, there are still great inequalities."
Labelle and Rousseau know what they are talking about; as drag artists, they do not enjoy the same influence as their male counterparts, who occupy a more interesting part of the public space, thanks in part to the media coverage of the art form, sometimes in controversy.
NAMING TO NORMALIZE
The Naming to Exist campaign, launched by the QLN on March 8 on International Women's Rights Day, aims to allow those who have been silenced to speak out again and to reclaim who they are in the eyes of the world.
"There is often a pejorative connotation to the word 'lesbian,' which is not attractive to many people," said Chanady. "But for us, it's important to be able to name. It helps to counteract shame, to feel that we exist, to see ourselves appear and to validate who we are."
The director is pleased to see more and more women coming out in the public arena, pointing to actress Debbie Lynch-White, politician Manon Massé and singer-songwriter Ariane Moffatt as examples to other women that success is possible for these members of sexual diversity.
At the same time, other lesbian female role models are taking up more and more media space but are "formatted to appeal to the male gaze and the general public" without regard to their actual representativeness, Chanady said.
"It's a kind of paradox to see a lesbian with a purchase value, who is represented in the series often in the same way: a tall, beautiful, young, thin woman," she said. "This is not representative of all lesbians."
The day's co-spokespersons agree.
"The butch, the more masculine lesbian, is less accepted,' said Rousseau. "In fact, masculine femininity is less accepted in the media and, therefore, less shown."
A DAY OF CELEBRATIONS
Although the LVD is held annually on April 26, the QLN is organizing a party this Saturday at the Bain Mathieu creative space in Montreal to celebrate sexual diversity among women. Panels on different issues experienced by these women and an award ceremony for activists who have contributed to the cause are planned.
"It's important to celebrate, recognize and meet each other. It's an event that is meant to bring people together and be festive because it's important to have queer joy," said Rousseau, who will be hosting the evening with her partner in the guise of their drag king alter egos.
The organization will take the opportunity to launch its book Lesbian Archives, which tells the story of "women who love women and who have shaped Quebec society in the shadows."
"The history of women has been written mostly by men, invisibilizing many stories and perspectives," said Chanady. "It was time for us to write our own, that of the pioneering women of sexual diversity who often remain in the shadows, despite superhuman efforts and luminous initiatives."
The non-exhaustive anthology aims to revisit the history of those who have left their mark through our lesbian archives from yesterday to today.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on April 22, 2023.