First National Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference Convenes Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The first national conference of third world lesbians and gays was held concurrently with the first March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The conference, which brought together for the first time lesbian and gay people of color at the national level, also marked a significant historical moment: coalition building among various ethnic minorities.

Summary of Event

The first National Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference took place from October 12 to 15, 1979, at Harambee House, a then-new black-owned hotel next to Howard University in Washington, D.C. Organized by the National Coalition of Black Gays National Coalition of Black Gays Black Gays, National Coalition of (NCBG), the conference drew more than five hundred registered participants and one hundred observers from across the nation and abroad, demonstrating for the first time in U.S. history the wide diversity of races, ethnicities, and nationalities that comprise the gay and lesbian population. Women made up 55 percent of the participants, and an estimated 20 percent were white. The conference, titled, “When Will the Ignorance End: The Coming Together of Asians, American Indians, Latins and Blacks,” although focused especially on the concerns of people of color, made it clear in early publicity for the event that no one would be excluded from the gathering. [kw]First National Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference Convenes (Oct. 12-15, 1979) [kw]National Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference Convenes, First (Oct. 12-15, 1979) [kw]Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference Convenes, First National (Oct. 12-15, 1979) [kw]Lesbian and Gay Conference Convenes, First National Third World (Oct. 12-15, 1979) [kw]Gay Conference Convenes, First National Third World Lesbian and (Oct. 12-15, 1979) [kw]Conference Convenes, First National Third World Lesbian and Gay (Oct. 12-15, 1979) Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference Political activism;marches [c]Race and ethnicity;Oct. 12-15, 1979: First National Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference Convenes[1330] [c]Organizations and institutions;Oct. 12-15, 1979: First National Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference Convenes[1330] [c]Civil rights;Oct. 12-15, 1979: First National Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference Convenes[1330] [c]Feminism;Oct. 12-15, 1979: First National Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference Convenes[1330] [c]Marches, protests, and riots;Oct. 12-15, 1979: First National Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference Convenes[1330] Lorde, Audre Beteta, Aura L. Loy, Tana Fukaya, Michiyo

Black lesbian-feminist poet Audre Lorde gave the keynote speech, addressing the conference theme. She applauded the audience for its “power of vision” and for coming together, declaring also that ignorance about lesbian and gay people would end “when each one of us begins to seek out and trust the knowledge deep inside us.” She celebrated the “wonderful diversity of groups within this conference, and a wonderful diversity between us within those groups.” She said, “That diversity can be a generative source, a source of energy fueling our visions of action for the future.”

Lorde attacked the homophobia within ethnic communities, suggesting that “historically, all oppressed peoples have been taught to fear and despise any difference among ourselves, since difference had been used against us so cruelly.” She suggested, however, that among the lessons the audience can learn is that “we cannot separate our oppressions, nor yet are they the same. That not one of us is free until we are all free…difference must not be used to separate us, but to generate energy for social change at the same time as we preserve our individuality.” She added, “What we dare to dream today we can work to make real tomorrow. Visions point the way to make the possible real.” She concluded, “What we are doing here this weekend can help shape our tomorrows and a world. We are going to turn that beat totally around.”

Political awareness and an air of militancy marked the conference as well, with workshops discussing racism and sexism. Participants also heard solidarity statements from socialist supporters in Mexico, as well as a statement from Aura L. Beteta, the general consul of the Nicaraguan consulate in San Francisco, who sent “revolutionary Sandinista greetings.” Beteta said, “May from your conference be born a movement that identifies, that unites and struggles with liberation movements of all oppressed people.”

Tana Loy, a Chinese American lesbian representing the new Lesbian and Gay Asian Collective, Lesbian and Gay Asian Collective Asian Collective, Lesbian and Gay which had formed that weekend at the conference, said in her plenary presentation, “Who’s the Barbarian?,” that Asian lesbians and gays should not avert each other’s eyes, but instead, having met at the conference, “run toward each other.” The conference culminated in a dance at the hotel ballroom, where many white supporters joined in, including gay poet Allen Ginsberg.

On Sunday, two hundred conferees marched down Georgia Avenue, in the heart of a black neighborhood of D.C. About one dozen Asian American lesbians and gays marched through Chinatown behind a sign declaring “We’re Asians, Gay & Proud,” while chanting the same slogan. They joined the main march on Washington, parading behind the Native American contingent and their sign, “First Gay Americans.” Chants included, “Third World: We Must Be Heard!” “Third World: Liberation!” “Third World: We Will Be Heard!” A conferee chosen by the Lesbian and Gay Asian Collective, Michiyo Fukaya, a lesbian poet from Vermont who is of mixed European and Japanese origin, addressed some 100,000 celebrants gathered at the Washington Monument that day, speaking on “Living in Asian America.”

Significance

The conference pierced the myth that there are no lesbians and gays who are also people of color. In one weekend, hundreds of lesbian and gay people of color gathered and marched visibly and proudly to affirm their sexual identities as well as their races and ethnicities. The gathering also marked a significant historical moment: coalition building among various ethnic minorities, presaging the later efforts at coalition work during the HIV-AIDS crisis and the havoc and devastation it wreaked on the same communities.

The conference and march empowered the lesbian and gay people of color who attended, and the impact was immediate. Soon after, the NCBG organized a meeting for lesbian and gay people of color with officials at the White House. The NCBG had been disregarded by the National Gay Task Force after that group failed to invite the NCBG to earlier White House meetings; NCBG, however, vowed to never repeat the mistake, and it did not.

In addition, caucuses that formed at the conference were soon established nationally. These new groups included the Latin American Lesbian and Gay Men’s Coalition, Lesbian and Gay Asian Collective, Gay Asians Toronto, the Committee of Gay Black Men in Atlanta, as well as additional chapters of NCBG in Philadelphia and New York City. Student groups were formed on two black campuses—Howard University and Norfolk State University—and a stronger Gay American Indians developed.

The conference had been ignored by mainstream media but had received coverage by the alternative press. Audre Lorde’s keynote address was reprinted in Off Our Backs (a feminist publication) and in Gay Insurgent: A Gay Left Journal, which also published Michiyo Fukaya’s address and the plenary speech by Tana Loy. Gay Insurgent also printed conference resolutions from the Third World Women’s Caucus, Freedom Socialist Party, Radical Women, and the Immigration Workshop. It also published photographs of participants from Mexico, the Latin American Lesbian and Gay Men’s Caucus, the Jewish Caucus, and the NCBG. Blacklight, NCBG’s publication, also covered the conference in two subsequent issues, including one devoted to photographs from the gathering. Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference Political activism;marches

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Constantine-Simms, Delroy, ed. The Greatest Taboo: Homosexuality in Black Communities. Los Angeles: Alyson, 2001.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fukaya, Michiyo. “Living in Asian America: An Asian American Lesbian’s Address Before the Washington Monument.” Gay Insurgent: A Gay Left Journal no. 6 (Summer, 1980): 16.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lorde, Audre. “I Am Your Sister: Black Women Organizing Across Sexualities.” Freedom Organizing Pamphlet Series 3. Latham, N.Y.: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 1985.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Loy, Tana. “Who’s the Barbarian? An Asian American Lesbian Speaks Before the Third World Conference.” Gay Insurgent: A Gay Left Journal no. 6 (Summer, 1980): 15.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Moraga, Cherríe L., and Gloria E. Anzaldúa, eds. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. 3d ed. Berkeley, Calif.: Third Woman Press, 2001.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ratti, Rakesh, ed. A Lotus of Another Color: An Unfolding of the South Asian Gay and Lesbian Experience. Boston: Alyson, 1993.

May 27-30, 1960: First National Lesbian Conference Convenes

1969: Nuestro Mundo Forms as First Queer Organization in Argentina

1975: Gay American Indians Is Founded

April, 1977: Combahee River Collective Issues “A Black Feminist Statement”

October 12-15, 1979: First March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights

October 12-15, 1979: Lesbian and Gay Asian Collective Is Founded

1981: This Bridge Called My Back Is Published

September, 1983: First National Lesbians of Color Conference Convenes

1987: Anzaldúa Publishes Borderlands/La Frontera

1987: Asian Pacific Lesbian Network Is Founded

October 14-17, 1987: Latin American and Caribbean Lesbian Feminist Network Is Formed

1990: United Lesbians of African Heritage Is Founded

December, 1990: Asian Lesbian Network Holds Its First Conference

Categories: History Content