Lesbian* Power in Vienna

[Brussels, 18 October 2017, Blogpost by Serap Altinisik, EWL Programme Director]

“But the true feminist deals out of a lesbian consciousness whether or not she ever sleeps with women.” ― Audre Lorde

I belong to the lucky feminists working for a feminist Europe. Thanks to my role, I frequently have interesting, challenging and even funny encounters with social justice activists, civil society actors, decision-makers, funders, business advocates or civil servants across Europe and beyond. Today, I wish to share with you one of the most inspiring encounters I’ve experienced in Brussels; dinner with several co-founders of the first EU Lesbian* Conference (ELC). More so, the impact it had on the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) to organise the bi-annual board meeting to coincide with the EU Lesbian* Conference in Vienna in autumn.

In June, the co-founders and organisers of the first EU Lesbian* Conference were in Brussels to network and advocate among decision-makers to support their idea of the conference and thus giving visibility and support to lesbians* in Europe. It was at this dinner that I had the privilege to participate and network with several ELC founders, decision-makers, activists and actors at the EU level.

The dinner was full of heated exchanges and honest reflections on questions such as why lesbians* have lost their visibility within the LGBTI movement? Why would the needs, struggles and successes of lesbians have no real space among the LGBTI movement anymore? How did it happen that lesbians, who were main drivers and an integral part of the feminist movements, believe that their perspectives and needs would be better mirrored within the LGBTI movement? Are we not facing these discriminations, such as the steady struggle against marginalisation, because we are first of all women?

Time and time again our reflections brought us back to the core - to patriarchy and power. We found ourselves highlighting that patriarchal structures are everywhere and are not holding back from progressive organising and anti-discrimination movements either. Likewise, we were sharing our experiences regarding the lack of acknowledgement of privilege within our own movements and thus the use of power in the most patriarchal way; by using power over people instead of embracing the feminist forms of power.

I could continue with many more questions we were engagingly discussing over dinner. But - what is crystal clear - is that feminists and lesbians* have just too much in common! Our struggle is their struggle and their struggle has to be the struggle of all feminist movements!

With the true feeling of sisterhood and clear vision to support our lesbian sisters, our Secretary General, and I returned to the EWL. We shared our learnings and exchanges with the co-founders of the ELC with colleagues, members and many more people which then resulted in the decision of the EWL governing bodies to organise our board meeting like the EU Lesbian* Conference around the same days in Vienna.

The reactions of many members regarding the decision were of pure delight as many of them wished to participate at the ELC; several of our members were even panellists and workshop organisers.

Coincidently, this encounter and decision align with recent reflections on diversity and intersectionality within the EWL. Currently, the EWL is creating an advisory group on diversity and intersectionality, which will focus and develop recommendations for our own feminist movement to walk the talk when it comes to diversity and intersectionality.

I was thrilled to have therefore been given the opportunity to participate at the ELC – knowing that I would get lots of inspiration and consequently, suggestions and recommendations to take away for the EWL in order to become a more diverse and intersectional European feminist movement.

When I was following the reception of the ELC via twitter - I could feel in the tweets the magic of this conference.

I remember how I arrived at the venue “Brotfabrik” (bread factory) the other day and I had goosebumps when I saw so many lesbian activists many of whom are our members also. Overall, around 500 lesbian activists from more than 40 countries came together to take back their space and to work on the themes of the conference ACT, TRANSFORM, REFLECT and CONNECT.

Clearly, the co-founders and organisers of the ELC had put the finger on the pulse – it was high time for a conference solely for lesbian, bi and queer women and feminists.

EWL delegation marching in Vienna

The four days were packed with a variety of workshops, plenaries, and lectures and of course a diverse offer of cultural exhibitions and performances. The themes of the sessions were for example overcoming the patriarchal power control in lesbian relationships, reclaiming European policies for lesbians, lesbians in the workplace in Europe and gender stereotypes in education. Moreover, journalism and representations, lesbians, theology and religion or lesbian aging were also topics of discussion.

However, the common point and central thread of the conference was the lack of visibility of lesbians.

For me personally, one of the high points, was the Lesbian* March in the city of Vienna. Together in solidarity with our Lesbian sisters, the EWL marched through the city of Vienna.

With the act of marching with hundreds of lesbians and feminists through the city of Vienna, the organisers of the ELC met their four core themes as they connected their transformational reflections with the wider society.

Yes, I felt the slogan of the march: Lesbians are always and everywhere!

Lesben Überall Lesbians Everywhere

For more info about the EU Lesbian* Conference:
Twitter: @EuroLesbianCon

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