Lesbians faced discrimination not only from the larger society, but even from within the women's movement. The CWLU's lesbian organizing focused on both forms of discrimination. The Lesbian Group (formerly the Gay Group) came to be known as "Blazing Star", after the name of their popular newsletter.
by Elaine Wessel
Lesbian organizing began in the CWLU somewhat informally before evolving into a workgroup called the Gay Group. The Gay Group was reorganized into the Lesbian Group, which was usually called "Blazing Star" from the name of the very successful newsletter it produced.
Beginning very early in CWLU's history, there were lesbian groupings within the organization, and connections between CWLU lesbian members and other organizations in Chicago's lesbian and gay communities. The modern gay liberation movement (which began with the Stonewall riots against the New York police in June 1969) began almost simultaneously with the women's liberation movement, of which CWLU was a part.
There were gay liberation groups which began in Chicago in the winter of 1969-70, around the same time that CWLU began, including a Women's Caucus (which eventually broke away from the male-dominated gay organizations, and became Chicago Lesbian Liberation). In summer and fall of 1970, there were discussions between CWLU women and the Gay Women's Caucus, including the involvement of some CWLU members in the regular weekly meetings of the Caucus, and a CWLU citywide meeting on the subject of gay liberation in November 1970.
Several months later, in the spring of 1971, Liberation School offered a class entitled (half-jokingly) "Women's Liberation is a Lesbian Plot." The meetings and classes created a set of informal networks in which lesbian and bi-sexual CWLU members could get acquainted with each other, and also meant that CWLU staff and activists knew who to call on for speaking and writing assignments on lesbian issues, but there was no formal lesbian presence in CWLU's structure or governance, such as Steering Committee.
This situation changed early in 1972, when a "Gay Group" (as it was then called) was formed as a CWLU work group with regular meetings and a Steering Committee representative. One of the reasons for starting the Gay Group at that point was that CWLU was discussing the possibility of revising the statement of Political Principles, particularly with a view towards including a pro-gay principle (the original statement, written in the winter of 1969-70, did not include anything about gay liberation because that movement was only just getting started).
The Gay Group of 1972 was very instrumental in revising the statement of principles, and in writing and speaking in support of this change, which took place at the CWLU annual conference in November 1972. In advance of the conference, the Gay Group put together a set of documents (including an original article, Lesbianism and Socialist Feminism) and organized one of the pre-conference meetings on the subject of gay liberation.
Although the Gay Group continued to meet sporadically after the conference, into the winter of 1972-73, the group had less of a focus and eventually stopped meeting with any regularity (without formally disbanding). The former members of the group remained friends and often did other political work together; various women from the group were often called on to write or speak on lesbian issues for CWLU.
The group re-formed in 1974, using the name Lesbian Group, and continued in existence through the end of CWLU (and beyond). One reason for re-creating the group at that time was the feeling that CWLU's commitment to lesbian issues was not as clear as it had been in previous years (for example, at the March 1974 International Women's Day demonstration, there was not a clear lesbian presence, although all other CWLU work groups were represented).
As it happened, the period from 1974 to about 1976 was also a time when CWLU and similar organizations around the country were under pressure from other leftist organizations, some of which were quite anti-gay. As a result, CWLU members who were active in the Lesbian Group were very involved in a lot of these disputes. But the Lesbian Group of the mid-1970's was not only involved in internal CWLU activities, but also played a very active role in the lesbian and gay communities in Chicago.
The CWLU Lesbian Group began publishing a small newsletter (called Blazing Star) which continued in existence until the early 1980's. The Lesbian Group was also involved with various lesbian and women's sports groups, and also played an active role in the creation of the Lesbian and Gay Coalition of Metropolitan Chicago. Several women from the CWLU Lesbian Group also became active in other lesbian and gay organizations, most notably, the Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force (formerly the Illinois Gay Rights Task Force) , which was one of the major forces behind the passage of Chicago's Human Rights Ordinance (eventually passed in the 1980's).
The Lesbian Group, which began publishing Blazing Star in 1975, was often referred to as "Blazing Star." In 1977, after CWLU disbanded, some women from CWLU (both lesbian and straight) formed an all-women's chapter of New American Movement, using the name "Blazing Star" for the group, and continued to publish Blazing Star as a newspaper, in addition to doing other feminist and lesbian organizing.
Elaine Wessel is active in the CWLU Herstory Website Committee and was a member of the Lesbian Group. Her photographs of CWLU activities may be seen throughout our site and in our Gallery section. She is presently working as an audio-visual specialist in the education field.