Womonspace : building a lesbian community in Edmonton, Alberta, 1970-1990
Lucas, Noelle May
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This thesis investigates the methods used by one group of women to increase the social spaces available to Edmonton lesbians. Ultimately, this paper analyzes the contributions of social space to community identity. In this case, Edmonton's longest running lesbian organization "Womonspace" serves as a unique testament to the importance of social methods for strengthening a sense of community identity. In 1981, the founders of "Womonspace" set out to provide lesbians with a safe place in which to socialize and to foster a positive lesbian identity. The impetus for a growing lesbian organization came in part from a shared sense of oppression from both straight feminist groups and sexist gay male organizations. The mandate of the group stressed safeguarding the privacy of its members. Womonspace organizers believed that overt political involvement discouraged closeted lesbians from joining the group. Thus, organizers did not adopt a political agenda. Not every member agreed with this policy. However, the goal of building a community and increasing social networks for lesbians called for a reasonable alternative to the more public face of activism. Ultimately, the efforts of Womonspace strengthened the visibility of Edmonton's once scattered and indiscernible lesbian population. Dances provided the central social event followed by a number of other leisure activities. Word of mouth, along with a monthly newsletter, kept lesbians abreast of social happenings in and around Edmonton. Before long, the organization attracted women from both the city and from nearby rural areas. Thus, Womonspace expanded and transformed the cultural development of lesbian networks. This study of the phenomenon of building a lesbian community argues that historians neglect the significance of social space upon gay and lesbian organizing. Much historical attentiveness towards the more outstanding issues and outcomes of political reform, activism, and the struggle for gay rights, exceeds the issue of building a viable, visible gay/lesbian community through the appropriation of social space. In addition, historical inquiry into gay history tends to examines gay community history from the male perspective. In Canada, lesbian history lags far behind gay male history. The work of such predominant and influential Canadian historians as Gary Kinsman and Steven Maynard has substantially increased understanding of the politics of same-sex gender relations particularly gay male history. A thorough historical inquiry of lesbian culture in Canada is lacking, even more so in terms of Western Canada. By investigating Alberta's largest and most successful autonomous lesbian organization, this thesis will encourage other scholars to do similar studies.