Restoring the L-word

The word “lesbian” used to be considered ooky because lesbians were considered ooky. Then there was Stonewall, and activism, and increased visibility, and Alison Bechdel, and Ellen, and Maddow. And then the word somehow became ooky again, apparently because it was somehow not “inclusive” enough. So when York Civic Trust put up a plaque to honor Ann Lister it carefully avoided That Word. It said “Gender-nonconforming entrepreneur. Celebrated marital commitment, without legal recognition, to Ann Walker in this church. Easter, 1834.”

And there was a stink, and a petition, and it worked.

A draft of the new wording will be proposed and opened for public comment in the coming weeks.

An online petition calling on York Civic Trust to change the wording attracted more than 2,500 signatures. The petition said: “Anne Lister was, most definitely, gender non-conforming all her life. She was also, however, a lesbian. Don’t let them erase this iconic woman from our history.”

“Gender non-conforming” is fine in its way, but it’s far from identical to “lesbian.” To spell it out there are lesbians who are not particularly gender-nonconforming (except for the not hooking up with men part), and gender non-conforming women who are not lesbians.

Julie Furlong, who started the petition, told the BBC she was pleased the wording was to change: “I am very happy that they have realised that lesbian erasure is not acceptable, but I will wait to hear on the final wording before expressing opinion as to that.”

The trust said following a meeting with the Churches Conservation Trust, York LGBT Forum and York LGBT History Month, a joint decision was made to change the wording on the plaque. It added: “The plaque is intended to be a positive celebration of the union of Anne Lister and Ann Walker, and this remains the case. The last thing we wanted to do was to cause offence or upset to any community.”

Oh? But that’s a hopeless way to look at it. They’re going to cause offence and upset to the “community” of people who hate the whole idea of same-sex love and attraction, just for one thing. So in trying to avoid annoying any “community” they managed to erase the very “community” the plaque is about. Ironic, isn’t it.

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