Old Lesbians Organize for Change Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Old Lesbians Organizing for Change was created to address the invisibility of self-described “older” lesbians within society in general and within the women’s and lesbian rights movements in particular. The organization has reclaimed the word “old” as a form of empowerment, rejecting euphemisms such as “senior” to show that being old is not a problem.

Summary of Event

There are conflicting reports as to when Old Lesbians Organizing for Change (OLOC) was founded. There is no question, however, that a precursor to OLOC was the West Coast Conference of Older Lesbians, held at California State University, Dominguez Hills, in April of 1987. Older lesbians, defined by the group as those age sixty and up, believed they were being forgotten not only by society in general but also by the women’s movement. [kw]Old Lesbians Organize for Change (Apr., 1987) [kw]Lesbians Organize for Change, Old (Apr., 1987) Old Lesbians Organizing for Change Aging [c]Organizations and institutions;Apr., 1987: Old Lesbians Organize for Change[1760] [c]Feminism;Apr., 1987: Old Lesbians Organize for Change[1760] Macdonald, Barbara Healey, Shevy Martin, Vera Shoemaker, Betty

Barbara MacDonald’s book Look Me in the Eye: Old Women, Aging, and Ageism Look Me in the Eye: Old Women, Aging, and Ageism (MacDonald) (1983), cowritten with her domestic partner Cynthia Rich, included the essay “Open Letter to the Women’s Movement,” which condemned the movement’s exclusion and dismissal of older women. Some say that this work was a major foundation for the first older lesbians’ conference, which led, ultimately, to the formation of OLOC. Some believe that it was MacDonald’s words especially that inspired the cofounders to take matters into their own hands. Shevy Healey, another cofounder of the conference as well as the OLOC, was an activist with personal and professional interests in ageism.

More than 150 older lesbians were present at the first OLOC meeting in Los Angeles, which was a success. In 1989, when the conference met for the third time, this time in San Francisco, OLOC had been fully established, and it had an organizational structure. Some individuals claim that the name “Old Lesbians Organizing for Change” was actually adopted at this San Francisco meeting, but others date the organization’s beginnings to the 1987 meeting. Whatever the case, the group developed a mission statement in 1989 and started a newsletter, the OLOC Reporter, in 1990. The Horizons Foundation (a funding agency for gay and lesbian causes) supported the first two conferences with grants.


Old Lesbians Organizing for Change has expanded into a national organization, and its headquarters are in Athens, Ohio. Its membership is open to lesbians sixty years of age and older, and those who are younger than age sixty are welcome as supporters. The organization holds “gatherings,” rather than annual national meetings, and has had major gatherings in 1996, 1999, 2002, and 2006. With grant funding, OLOC sponsors the Arden Eversmeyer Old Lesbian Oral Herstory Project, which seeks autobiographical information from lesbians over the age of seventy. The OLOC has been represented at the White House Conference on Aging, by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and by other major groups working to include older people in their outreach. Many older lesbians indicate that the OLOC has been one of the most meaningful organizations to which they have belonged.

OLOC is adamantly in favor of using the word “old,” instead of euphemisms such as “golden,” “senior,” or “elder,” to describe its membership. OLOC leadership has continually justified using “old” in the organization’s title, reclaiming the word, in a way, to avoid age oppression. The euphemisms are considered patronizing, as if the term “old” were a dirty word. The OLOC has made it clear that older lesbians are vital to the lesbian and women’s rights movements.

As of 2004, OLOC had a speakers’ bureau, a mission statement, a planned-giving brochure, a travel directory, chapters in many states in the east, west, and south, as well as chapters in Canadian provinces. The organization continues to work toward its stated goals, which include the following:

We are committed to empowering old lesbians in the common struggle to:

1. Confront ageism within our own and the larger community

2. Explore who we are and name our oppression

3. Analyze our experience of ageism by sharing our individual stories

4. Develop and disseminate educational material

5. Facilitate formation of new groups and stimulate existing groups to confront ageism

6. Make our presence a visible force in the women’s movement and in the lesbian community

The statement continues with the words, “We celebrate our differences and affirm our diversity.” Old Lesbians Organizing for Change Aging

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Adleman, Jeanne, et al., eds. Lambda Gray: A Practical, Emotional, and Spiritual Guide for Gays and Lesbians Who Are Growing Older. North Hollywood, Calif.: Newcastle, 1993.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Anderson, Pokey. “Rebels and Survivors: The Life Stories from Four of Our Lesbian ’Ancestors.’” OutSmart. http://www.outsmartmagazine.com/issue/i03-01/lesbian.html.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Boxer, Andrew. “Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Aging into the Twenty-First Century: An Overview and Introduction.” Journal of Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Identity 2, nos. 3/4 (1997).
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cahill, Sean, Ken South, and Jane Spade. Outing Age: Public Policy Issues Affecting Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders. Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Foundation. http://www.ngltf.org/down loads/outingage.pdf.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Healey, Shevy. “Diversity with a Difference: On Being Old and Lesbian.” Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services 1, no. 1 (1994).
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lyon, Phyllis, and Del Martin. “Aging, a Season of Grace: The Old Lesbian.” In Positively Gay: New Approaches to Gay and Lesbian Life, edited by Betty Berzon, foreword by Barney Frank. 3d ed. Berkeley, Calif.: Celestial Arts, 2001.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">MacDonald, Barbara. Look Me in the Eye: Old Women, Aging, and Ageism. San Francisco, Calif.: Spinsters Ink, 1983.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Old Lesbians Organizing for Change. http://www .oloc.org.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Women and Aging: An Anthology.” In Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women 9, nos. 2/3 (Winter, 1986).

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Categories: History