When I was asked by a friend to go with her to the National Action Committee conference in Ottawa, I really didn’t know what to expect.  I was a little shocked to find abortion-on-demand and lesbian rights so openly on the programme.

One of the workshops was called “To involve all women in the fight for lesbian rights.”  Since I didn’t know lesbians needed any more rights than I have, I decided to attend the workshop more out of curiosity than anything else.

It wasn’t what I expected.  When we got in the room, all the chairs were in a circle.  Some people tried to sit outside the circle but they were told they had to be in the circle.  Everybody had to participate.

Altogether there were 41 women at the workshop.  Later it became clear that 38 of them were lesbians.  There weren’t very many older women there, maybe one or two. Some of the very young women were trying hard to look like men and wore men’s clothes, but there were only three or four of them.  They fit into what was later described as a “masculine stereotype.”

At the beginning, we were told that we had to create an atmosphere of safety in the room.  Everybody had to be able to say what they really felt without being afraid.  The reporter in the room wasn’t allowed to use her tape recorder.  We were all sitting in a big circle and the first thing we had to do was tell everybody who we were and say what it was we loved about women.  Some people said the quality they love about women was their strength, and others said it was their ability to care.

Then the moderator gave a talk.  She said that we had to fight against lesbian oppression and that heterosexual women had to be allies in this fight.  She talked about something called “homophobia,” which she said was ‘a fear of closeness with a member of the same sex’ although she never explained what she meant by ‘closeness.’  She told us that the best way to fight for lesbian rights was to make people realize that choosing a partner of the same sex or the opposite sex was a matter of choice.  Everyone should have a right to make choices.  She didn’t really explain what rights lesbians wanted or how they were oppressed, except to say that they should be able to adopt children or be artificially inseminated.  She mentioned custody rights for lesbian mothers too.  She said all women’s groups should incorporate lesbian rights in their platforms and have separate lesbian caucuses.

After her talk was finished she asked us to find a partner and talk about our lives for five minutes.  We weren’t supposed to have a conversation, we were supposed to ‘share.’  Then we had to change partners and talk about things that keep us from getting close to other women.

When this was finished, we changed partners again and the question was, “how would you be acting different if this conference was safe?” I didn’t understand the question.  My partner for this discussion explained it to me. She said that she was at the conference with her partner, but they had stayed away from each other and not acted like a couple.  They had to meet secretly and go for walks.  She said they felt that NAC had not accepted them as lesbians and people would frown if they held hands and showed how they felt about each other.  If they felt the conference was a safe place and they were accepted they would show that they were a couple, she said.

We changed partners again and had to tell the other person something they might not know about us.  Then we went back into the circle again.  We all held hands and one-by-one around the circle told the person on our left and right how we felt about them, out loud so everyone could hear.  This took a long time.  There were lots of jokes about sweaty palms. Some people got very emotional with their partners or people they knew really well, but some of us didn’t know the people beside us so we had to think really hard.

When I left I was very confused.  I felt very sorry for most of the women there.  It seemed to me that they were craving love and a feeling of security.  Nobody talked about sex, they all talked about caring and sharing and understanding.  But I think there is more to it than that.  I guess I’m still confused.