Death of the Southern Lady: Lesbian and Feminist Activism in the Conservative South, 1972–86

Friday, January 4, 2013: 10:50 AM
Bayside Ballroom A (Sheraton New Orleans)
Rebecca Smith, University of Houston
During women’s political activism and identity formation in Houston in the 1970s and 1980s, African American, Chicana, and Caucasian lesbians and feminists navigated hostile, and at times dangerous, environments. The overt sexism and discrimination in city politics, a lack of community-based support programs for women, and the citywide blatant disregard for women’s rights spurred feminist and lesbian activism. Through collective political campaigns and social movements, their identities formed in opposition to, in conjunction with, or along parallel paths.

This paper positions liberal women at the center of the narrative in order to scrutinize the southern society in which they flourished. It examines their successful campaigns to implement an Office of Women’s Advocate in city government, found the first women’s shelter (Houston Area Women’s Center), and to elect Houston’s first female mayor, and eventually its first lesbian mayor. Thus, communities of women working across racial and sexual lines constitute the focus.