Interviews

See also Pride, Feminism, Squatting, Housing pages

One –  Pride in History – a film by Zach Cole  https://youtu.be/4-muuse85A0

Two – A questionnaire sent to me by Ruby, a student, 2017:

I have recently seen your involvement in the campaign against “pinkwashing” in Israel, were you aware of a similar solidarity campaign from 60s-80s which fused the Palestinian and Gay Liberation Movements in a similar way?

Only in retrospect have I found there were gay people involved in the solidarity movement in the 60s. In London e.g. the late Louis Eakes was in GLF (you’ll find info on him online) and there were significant women e.g. June Jordan who were aware of the truth about Palestine – and linking forms of oppression.

Thinking back to that time, I see I was like many other people at that time unaware of that, unfortunately. Our ignorance was not accidental or born from indifference but due to lack of information and deliberate disinformation, so dominant has been Zionist propaganda and western media complicity with it. I knew about the occupation of ‘67, but not about the catastrophe, the Nakba; I only learnt the full extent of that horror later, starting to wake up during the first intifada. There had been a heated debate within the WLM regarding Palestine/Israel around the time of the Sabra and Shatila massacre, and I began to be educated by anti-colonialist feminist activists e.g. through the antiracist publication Outwrite and a controversy involving the magazine Spare Ribover anti-zionism.  (There isn’t space to go into this in detail here, but more info is online.) 

In the 1960s, I was involved in protests against the US war on Vietnam and apartheid South Africa, though failed to link that to awareness of Palestine until later. I witnessed the effects of colonialism on the Maori of Aotearoa (New Zealand) as my parents had emigrated when I was a child, and understood the link with the struggle of other indigenous peoples in Africa, America, Australia etc. through that experience, so had a framework within which to place an understanding of Palestine. 

Hijacking and misrepresenting radicalism happens in many contexts; those in power always seek to defuse and dilute radicalism and coopt it for their own ends. When I discovered the Israeli PR propaganda machine using pinkwashing it incensed me – a cynical co-option of our struggle, misusing our radical movements to bolster a racist state brutally oppressing the indigenous people of Palestine; it is intolerable. I was pleased to take some action e.g. http://mondoweiss.net/2012/07/palestine-takes-center-stage-at-world-pride.html

What did you think the solution was for the Palestinian struggle during this era? 

I only had nascent ideas back then: that they had the right to self-determination and resistance to Israeli colonisation, military occupation and what is now known as ethnic ‘cleansing’ (horrible phrase!). I believed as I do now that it wasn’t up to outsiders to decide what might be a solution for oppressed peoples; PSC was clear in that its position is solidarity for self-determination, justice and freedom rather than supporting either a one- or two-state ‘solution’. Back then I may have had naïve ideas about peaceful coexistence; I quickly realised how this rests on the false narrative positing two sides of equal value and validity, obscuring the reality of invasion, occupation, forced exile and unequal power.

How did you (within the movements of GLM and WLM) show solidarity for national liberation movements that you weren’t directly affected by? 

Perhaps the foremost while in GLF (and I wasn’t in the group for long so am no expert) was about British occupation in Northern Ireland – many members were involved in the Troops Out movement and GLF had contingents on marches against internment without trial and Bloody Sunday (1972), where I recall that we were smashed against the wall in Whitehall by mounted police. My memory is of GLF solidarity action being national (e.g against the Industrial Relations Bill, and supporting the Miners’ Strike – 1972 not the 84/5 one.) 

Anti-apartheid campaigning and action against the Vietnam war, movements for justice in Latin and Central America, Africa, the Caribbean – there were a lot of focal areas for activism. Within in the WLM international connections between women were crucial – I find it difficult to summarise as it was so varied. I think the best way to gather some information about this may be to use the online Spare Rib archive at the British Library https://www.bl.uk/spare-rib– there are reports on many actions and campaigns here and globally. Another source of material that might be useful is at the Bishopsgate Institute http://www.bishopsgate.org.uk/Library/Special-Collections-and-Archives/Feminist-and-Womens-History

Angry at UKIP plans to march in Pride I wrote this in protest:

Comment: Letting UKIP march at Pride would be an affront to our history

What were your motives for supporting these movements?

There was a feeling of linkage between various struggles, a sense that worldwide political/social/economic change was possible. GLF and WLM came about in the context of widespread radical action, revolutionary, optimistic times. Civil Rights movement, Black Panthers, anti-colonial national liberation etc. Many people had a sense of interconnectedness of the work going on worldwide to challenge all forms of the oppression and exploitation of women. We wanted to see the overthrow of patriarchy, male and white supremacy and capitalism; understanding how they interlinked was necessary. 

Were you involved in Marxist movements that also showed solidarity to national liberation movements?

No, I wasn’t directly involved in Marxism, apart from finding some basic tenets (‘All history is the history of class struggle,’ ‘nothing to lose …,’ dialectical materialism, alienation, surplus value, etc) as useful in helping me to understand my own position in work situations and the way the world is structured.  Theorising how bosses seek the maximisation of profit was significant but I wasn’t part of any organisation. Most seemed to focus solely on class with insufficient concern for gender or racialization and were male-dominated. Left-wing groups I came in to contact with in the 60s and early 1970s opposed autonomous feminist organising in the WLM and even attacked us physically; G&L were similarly seen as a diversion from the class struggle.  We used to call them ‘the straight left.’ 

Why do you think it was (and still is) so effective to align one movement with another? Do you think that by aligning liberation movements they ever lost an element of individuality?

Interesting questions. Yes I think that it can be effective and strengthening. Unity or coalition can be effective in some instances, in others not. It seems inaccurate e.g. to lump together LGBTI etc  – many of us left the mixed GLF organisation as we had come to view lesbian oppression as part of women’s oppression generally – (i.e., denial of reproductive/sexual rights and self-determination, compulsory heterosexuality and the rigid gender roles that underpin that ideology, misogynist work and domestic practices and violence against women.) 

Generally I think different forms of oppression are dealt with effectively through autonomous organising – Black groups, women’s groups, etc – but the risk there can be of the cul-de-sacs of identity politics. But in specific campaigns alliances can be productive; again it’s complex, identifying common struggles and clashing ones and dealing with contradictions along lines of class, ‘race’, gender.

I’m aware at the current moment of solidarity connections between Palestinians, Native Americans and Canadians, Black Lives Matter activists, Hawaiian, Maori and Aboriginal people … which is inspiring … Like the pan-Arab or pan-African movements of the past these threaten established power. 

There is interesting work done on coalition-working by supporters of Palestine e.g. Judith Butler, Sarah Shulman, Pauline Park

https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_rX-EfqptTru_jWh0ty6uOg

How did you find out about the plight of the Palestinians (initially and as their struggle continued)? 

I was lucky in meeting people who were aware of the truth. I gradually found out more, but the first lightbulb moment came when attending a workshop at the PSC AGM in 2001. Dr Salman Abu-Sitta, who has done a huge amount work on compiling historical documentation of the Nakba, displayed some of the maps he has developed showing the expulsion of Palestinians from ‘48 Palestine, the directions of the forced movement, the placement of refugees and refusal of their Right of Return to their ancestral homeland. The visual impact was huge, illustrating that Israel came into existence by destroying Palestine, is built on the rubble and corpses of the society it supplanted, that its presence rests on an absence. I understood that the massive injustice of the Nakba continues to be ongoing. I met people who had stayed on a kibbutz and asked what the ruins in a field were to be told it was ‘just an old Arab village’ – the horror of it slowly dawned. 

How do you think your identity as a gay woman affected the way in which you supported other movements?

Personally, I always felt an outsider, because not only of being lesbian but at odds with the way the world is structured politically, economically, socially … a feeling of alienation from the ways in which the earth was treated as a mere resource under capitalism, rather than a living ecosystem of which we are all part, divided up into individual sections of private ownership, stolen from indigenous peoples, the unjust way men treated women and white people treated Black ones, the unequal distribution of wealth … so, like many other people I felt impelled to get involved in activism and was lucky to alive in a time when, through the consciousness raising and action of the WLM, we found ways of understanding the world. That is still where I am at. As a young person I didn’t have the language to analyse that; it was just a feeling which caused depression then led to trying to do useful activism. 

In terms of Palestine, it was more to do with being a feminist than a lesbian, though I understand those solidarity campaigners who say their experience of oppression because of sexual orientation gives them a empathy for other oppressed people or groups. (Today, e.g. ‘Emma Gonzalez, the bisexual Cuban-American woman spearheading the March For Our Lives movement, has talked about the way her LGBTQ activism and her work against gun violence are related: it seems clear that her outsiderness is key to her stance.’ https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/02/lgbt-people-protest-120-beats-per-minute

It became obvious to me during the 2000s that Israel’s sociocide, its determined attempts to destroy the material base of Palestinian civil society (military raiding offices of NGOs, smashing up equipment, demolishing buildings, preventing political meetings and cultural events etc) deliberately made it harder for Palestinian women to organise and work for their rights and freedom, undertake work to challenge patriarchy and determine their own development. Palestinian feminists dealing with Israeli persecution, occupation and apartheid, patriarchy and religious conservatism and their supporters taught me a lot; if we claim an internationalist perspective it is essential to support their activism. 

In particular it has been instructive to meet women from Aswat http://www.aswatgroup.org/en/article/us-embassy-tel-aviv-continues-be-complicit-pinkwashing

https://www.dvv-international.de/adult-education-and-development/editions/aed-842017-inclusion-and-diversity/section-1-identity/inclusion-diversity-and-exclusion-thoughts-from-within-aswat-palestinian-gay-women/

and alQaws for Sexual and Gender Diversity http://www.alqaws.org/about-us

and to learn of Palestinian Queers for BDS https://pqbds.wordpress.comand

https://queersagainstapartheid.org

Palestinian flag with women's liberation symbol on it.

When and why did you join PSC?

2001. I spent a few years helping to organise meetings, demonstrations, pickets, lobbies etc as PSC build up nationally. Once I learned what was going on I felt a sense of urgency; it distressed me – still does – that many people, including those generally considered politically aware, including feminists, were still ignorant of the reality of both the historical and present reality: the dispossession and persecution, sheer sadistic cruelty meted out daily, horrific slaughter, imprisonment, torture, merciless beatings and arrests, raids, assaults, destruction of houses, deaths of women forced to give birth at checkpoints, denial of medical treatment, merciless testing of weaponry using the captive civilian population under siege in Gaza as target practice … utterly callous, brutal theft of land and property, ignoring of international law and human rights. 

Learning from others and reading enabled me to see through the lie that Israel acts in good faith; its expansionist project reveals itself quickly once you examine the situation.

We coined a phrase, in the face of indifference/collusion/facilitation from ‘the international community’ (and why would states intervene, having caused the situation and subsequently continuing to benefit from their vested interests in it?) – that ‘if governments won’t act, the people will’ – civil society will rise in solidarity, support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign and all other actions towards the liberation of Palestine.  

So several strands of issues I felt passionate about – women’s liberation, colonialism/militarism, racism, the importance of international law, came together.  And though I am not really very active now in the same way, it’s inspiring how the solidarity movement and the BDS campaign continue to grow and carry the seeds of hope for the future, inspired particularly by the tenacity and courage of Palestinian women.

An early poster from International Women's Day: solidarity with women's struggles all over the world. Photos f women marching; clenched fist in women's symbol.

Three – Excerpts from an interview for the oral history project ‘From a Whisper to a Roar’ for Opening Doors London, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, conducted by Evelyn Pittman on 26 March 2019.

… EP: So, feminism is a very broad church, if you like, and there were many strands within it, which tend to confuse me, so I don’t know what your personal take is on some of the different strands within feminism.

FG: Well, that’s a very interesting topic … my own personal experience, when I got involved in the Women’s Liberation Movement, the strand of feminism that I was most drawn to was called radical feminism, and to me this meant being able to develop our understanding of and our opposition to patriarchy and misogyny, and to understand how it intersected with other forms of oppression do to with racism and classism and disability issues, other forms of oppression, basically. That’s how I understood radical feminism, that it was taking the term radical literally, meaning [going to] the root of women’s oppression, and so it was kind of a contrast with socialism as I had known it in various groups, which focused more on economic oppression and women’s oppression in terms of class and employment.

So, I was excited by this because it seemed like you could develop understanding, but I wouldn’t say it meant rejecting socialism. To me, it was expanding it and moving on with it, really, evolving theories and action. But at the time, there was a tension between socialist feminism and radical feminism, and I think now the way I look at it, looking back, is that it might have made more sense for us to see what we had in common, because presumably, we all wanted transformational change and revolutionary change, not just an equality within the existing system of capitalism.

  … What I feel now is what has happened is that feminism has become so co-opted and so liberalized and watered down that virtually anybody can call themselves a feminist. In this kind of pro-equality liberal form of politics, it’s depoliticizing, de-radicalizing to the extent where you have the idea that there should be 50/50 representation, which doesn’t pay any attention to the actual politics of the women involved. It’s not feminism just because it’s about women. If those women are right wing or racist, then personally, I feel no affinity with them whatsoever.

… So, I’d like to reclaim maybe the term radical feminism, actually, because lately it seems to have become assumed that it’s synonymous with being against transgender rights, which I don’t believe it necessarily is … Someone said to me, “We don’t feel like using the term feminist anymore. Maybe we’ll go back to calling ourselves women’s liberationists, because what we want is liberation from all oppressive structures.”

… When I was involved in feminism in the ’70s, I was involved with radical feminist groups, and we were developing ideas about compulsory heterosexuality, for example, how that intersected with all kinds of other issues, like women’s employment. There is a fascinating piece of writing by Adrienne Rich called Compulsory Heterosexuality, which … sets off lots of discussions. In the mid ’80s, there was a development called revolutionary feminism, but I wasn’t really drawn to that at all. I found some of it quite dogmatic and quite simplistic, and sometimes kind of setting up heterosexual women almost as like sleeping with the enemy kind of thing, and I felt that that was not the kind of analysis I was interested in …

EP: So, over quite a long perspective now, how have you felt that attitudes have changed over time, or do you feel the attitudes towards-

FG: Towards lesbians, or …? 

EP: Particularly towards lesbians, I think, have changed over time. If you think back to your 20s and now, do you feel there’s been a sea change?

 FG: … There’s been a profound change because of the political organizing we did, GLF and the women’s movement, and various groups and organizations. We did see a cultural shift, and we’ve benefited from that tremendously through the work of a lot of people … Because there were great sort of surges of resistance from time to time, I think that GLF enabled us to develop a basis on which to fight Clause 28 in the mid 1980s, which was this draconian piece of Thatcher’s legislation, which was part of a backlash against our rights and our struggle.

 EG: Which impacted largely on schools and –

FG: Well, it was primarily about stopping any kind of pro-equality moves within education, but it was also about suppressing the development of lesbian mothers who had asserted the right to have children without men. I think it was basically the anti-patriarchal aspect of it that they couldn’t stand. The Tories, right wingers in general, and fundamentalist Christians sort of came together with this bill, but although we didn’t win against it at the time, it was eventually repealed, but much later. We mounted a fantastic campaign and set of actions, and I think that had a huge effect also, kind of as a next wave, as it were, upon the attitudes that we have now.

 … I think through, yeah as I say, the hard work of lots of people, we do have a different situation in which I can live openly with my partner, and lesbians can be out in various places and professions, and we don’t have to fear losing our children or our homes or our jobs like we used to. I have mixed feelings about marriage equality, because marriage wasn’t really on the list of demands back then, but I actually think that all the legal rights we can get hold of we need to do so, and to fight for them, and I think it could make a change in social attitudes. I’m very aware while I’m saying all this, for a lot of women, it’s still not possible to be out and to live a lesbian life, and to live with other women, and that’s within various places in this country, but also around the world, situations are absolutely horrific, and there is still the death penalty for male and female homosexuals … So, it’s kind of a mixed bag, isn’t it? I mean, it’s such a kind of patchy picture if you look at it globally, and I do believe very strongly in internationalism and international solidarity, so I can’t think to myself, ‘well, everything’s sorted now, and I’m really happy.’ If I wanted to, I could marry my same sex partner, and at the same time know that there are asylum-seeking lesbians from other countries who come here and are imprisoned in Yarl’s Wood and/or deported back to those situations where their lives are in danger.

 I feel very, very angry about that, and I feel that therefore there is so much to be done to combat that whole hostile environment that’s been created towards those women and to asylum seekers in general. So, it’s very upsetting, and I think those of us that have ever experienced a hostile environment of some sort should have fellow feeling in solidarity, and women are doing fantastic jobs. There are great lesbian organizations who are working to protect and support lesbian refugees, for example. So, that’s an ongoing struggle, isn’t it?

EP: Attitudes seem to have moved substantially.

FG: They seemed to have moved, but … we have to be vigilant, and we have to always be prepared to fight all over again because there are always those patriarchal forces, religious forces that want to keep women in their place, which is always heterosexual and subordinate to men, and therefore, we have to be ready to mount campaigns and show solidarity, and at the point of time that we’re doing this interview, there’s a situation where pro-equality education in schools is being threatened by the action of some fundamentalist parents who are opposing the idea of equality, which is very angering and very worrying because you can’t trust this Tory government to oppose that and to stand up for LGBT rights- [this refers to the reaction to the No Outsiders school programme – see https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/mar/04/birmingham-school-stops-lgbt-lessons-after-parent-protests]

EP: Because in many ways-

FG: … and it’s also very worrying for the children who may be LGB or T within those communities who are being told yet again, as we were, “You have no right to exist. These feelings are not valid. You will get married. You will do this and that, as we say,” totally authoritarian patriarchal values, heterosexism all over again.

EP: Because we’re mirroring Section 28 with this.

FG: It feels like that is a resurgence of the Section 28 mentality.

EP: We need to invest in future members as a community so that they don’t grow up with the shame.

FG: Yes. Yes, and to educate other people so they don’t grow up to be bigots and sexists and perpetuate violent structures against women and gay people. I’m saying gay people. It’s interesting because the terminology is really interesting, isn’t it, because … I don’t know who dreams up the acronyms, LGBT, for example. I’ve heard some people say, “Well, why is that being used?” We weren’t consulted, and a lot of people aren’t comfortable with being lumped together like that. I used to feel, for example, when the lesbian and gay groups were set up during the 1980s, that it was a bit of a step backwards. I felt disappointed in that because, as I say, when the women left the Gay Liberation Front, it was about setting up autonomous lesbian organizations and working with other women, and we felt our place was with other women.

So, that seemed to me like a backwards step in a way, but that is me personally. If it suits other people, I don’t want to sound like a liberal, but I’m far more tolerant now … if other people want to operate under those kind of umbrella terms and do coalition work, then that can be obviously really, really valuable, and it was very valuable in Clause 28 because women, lesbians, did loads of autonomous actions, brilliant things, but also, there were mixed events and heterosexual allies, of course. So, I’ve got kind of mixed feelings about all that now, and in fact, it’s taken me a long time to feel okay about having mixed feelings about things because I used to feel GLF was such a long time ago, and it wasn’t really for me, or mixed gay things were not for me, and LGBT was never an umbrella term that I felt that I’m a part of, really.

But I kind of feel, also, as I’ve got older that I’m more inclined to feel like integrating, and feeling okay about, all the different parts of my own personal life and history, and seeing how important they were. I mean, GLF was not just a stepping stone, really. It was a fantastically life-changing movement, and I’m really grateful to the people who set it up. They were very brave. A lot of them were men who had been persecuted or imprisoned. There were women who had always struggled, people who were older than myself, so had struggled even more. So, I’m rambling now …

EP: I think what you’re saying to me is recognizing that diversity within our community, a community which has always been there, and there have been tensions between lesbians and gay men, and there are currently tensions around transgender rights. There’s always been tension surrounding bisexuals, and yet we are a group of non-straight people.

FG: That’s an interesting way of putting it.

EP: We have many things in common.

FG: It’s a bit of negative definition, non-straight, but some people prefer queer, I know.

EP: Some people, yeah. I’m happy with queer, but as you say, language is really important, and has always been really important in the movement, and-

FG: Yes, but it fascinates me.

EP: Yeah. People feel very differently about how they are described.

FG: Yes, and I think that I can understand why a lot of people, especially lesbians and feminists, don’t want to be included under the term queer because we feel that it subsumes lesbian identity in the same way that the term gay did or does, but at the same time, I feel sometimes it can be quite useful to younger people using the term queer because they, like I did when I was young, feel totally alienated from this society and the expectations that are put upon them to conform to. So, I understand that feeling of being queer as well, and I think maybe we just have to use the terms that seem appropriate at the time, really, but I do think it’s very important to insist on the use of the word lesbian because it couldn’t be said, and our existence is still under threat. So, I say that whenever I can …

EP: So, we’ve had a little break and .. I was wondering if there was anything you felt you might want to talk about that we hadn’t touched on.

FG: Well … it’s clarified for me a few things that I felt strongly about, more instinctually, actually, than intellectually, 40, 50 years ago and I now feel still important politically to me. About lesbian activism and feminism and I think I said that the strands of political activism in both gay liberation and women’s liberation that I’m most involved in, [were] of the more radical or revolutionary transformational change movements. The thing about GLF was it was so carnivalesque and threw everything up in the air and it was really about transforming everything and similarly in the women’s movement. So, I still feel that those are the things I am committed to and when I do get involved in any groups or actions, then they’re the more radical kind than … things that I don’t really feel I was working for all those years ago like equality in the military for women or gay people, well, I’m anti-militarism, so I’m not going to support that!

FG: But, I feel quite strongly still, as I’ve mentioned, about international solidarity with other people and I’ve sort of taken a stand occasionally against, for example, there was a stage, I think it was about three years ago with the Pride March in London, having been on the very first Pride March in 1972, and there was a move to have a contingent from UKIP and I was absolutely incensed about this because that’s not what I fought for. That a racist group could be part of this movement. So, I … had a letter in Pink News and … generally protested and tried to get the point across, “This is not acceptable.”

 And the other issue that’s arisen recently that I’ve been involved in is anti-pink washing or No Pride in Israeli Apartheid. Because in some situations, now that gay rights have seen to be a good thing to do, then some oppressive regimes will kind of hijack the rights we have fought for to try to cover themselves with glory and make out that they’re progressive and modern and civilized as opposed to the people that they’re oppressing, in the case of Israelis and Palestinians. So, a whole movement sprang up that you may have hear of amongst queer people in Israel themselves and queer Palestinian people of opposing this use of gay rights to try to camouflage the fact of the oppression they were imposing on dispossessed people and their occupation.

 So, that’s been very exciting because there’s been a lot of support for that from international figures and groups. So that’s something I was more recently involved in, trying to establish that LGTB rights have to be allied with progressive rights of all peoples and not solely just about getting equality for a few of us within a rotten system.

… Cups of tea have arrived … Thank you.

FG: Yeah, so that’s kind of what I’ve been involved in lately.

EP: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Interesting.

FG: I went on the 40th anniversary of the first Pride March in London and there was a big anti-pinkwashing contingent on that, solidarity workers. So that was exciting.

And … you were talking about Gay’s the Word’s lesbian discussion group and they had some representatives from the lesbian group of Palestinian women called Aswat and they came over and talked and that was really, really exciting. To make that kind of connection and to broaden it out into the wider political issues about, really, the international order of things. So it’s been exciting making contacts with women like that.

EP: Absolutely. And that’s sort of, from your very personal side of things, to the broader political stage has obviously been something, a theme throughout your life … So. Looking back, if you think back to young Frankie, maybe in New Zealand or maybe walking around the block three times before you went into a lesbian club [The Gateways] – What would you say to her?

FG: I’m not exactly sure. I’m very lucky. Things have turned out very, very well for me, really, that could’ve gone otherwise, so I guess I would’ve just said, “Don’t despair, just keep going. Be as strong as you can but accept it when you’re not feeling strong, but just have a bit of faith and follow your instinct, your intuition. And follow your heart. Be as true to yourself as possible and don’t be afraid.”

EP: Yes, I think a lot of people would concur with that. So Frankie.

FG: Probably give myself the same advice now.

EP: Yes. There’s still a way to go.

FG: Always.

EP: All right. Frankie, … I’ve learned loads today. It’s been great. Thank you so much. 

FG: It’s been a pleasure to meet you. Thank you very much Evelyn and: anybody listening in the future, I hope all is well with you. 

“There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”   – Audre Lorde