The dulling of the Blade

Creator

Publisher

Off our backs

Date

Date Issued

1980-12

Is Part Of

Off our backs, December 1980

Format

application/pdf

Language

English

Type

Coverage

Washington (D.C.)

Spatial Coverage

Washington (D.C.)

Rights Holder

Washington Blade, Inc.

Text

the dulling of the blade
This Is a local story, a national story, a women's story, and
mast of all a lesbian-feminist story. It is about an issue for which
feminists and especially lesbians have been taking flak for years:
working with men. In Washington there is remarkably l i t t l e cooperation
between lesbians and gay men. The Gay Activists Alliance, the
Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the Gay Switchboard, and the Gay
Community Center have few women neuters despite attempts at outreach.
Lesbians show up at the ainual gay pride celebration but do not get
involved in the planning of i t.
This story is primarily about the Blade, recently renamed the
Washington Blade, whose masthead proclaims it "the gay newspaper of
the nation's capital." The Blade began l i f e in 1969 as the Gay Blade
and was at the beginning a struggling mimeographed publication on •
which lesbians played a significant role. It is now a competently
produced biweekly tabloid'that covers local and national gay-related
news and circulates mostly in the Washington-Baltimore area. In
early 1981 i t plans to go weekly and aim for a more national distribution.
Donna Harrington,' one of the co-authors of this article,.was
for a year the office manager and a contributing writer of the Blade.
Susanna Sturgis. the other co-author, was a contributing writer during
roughly the same period. Neither of us-, for reasons that will become
obvious, remains associated with the paper in any capacity.
For each of us, the decision to leavB the Blade was d i f f i c u l t -aad...
complicated. During and since the period of disassociation we, separately
and together, have discussed our experiences with other activists and
writers in the Washington lesbian community. Both of us at the time
believed that what had happened to us and what we had learned from it
were matters of local interest only. We have since been persuaded
otherwise.
We read about the San Francisco Lesbian Chorus, which was invited
to sing at a fund-raising event for city supervisor Harry B r i t t ; a
female impersonator "entertainer" made grossly misogynist jokes, and
the chorus walked out. We read about lesbian Feminist Liberation in
New York, which withdrew from a coal i t mlBjMKhning a march on Albany
for lesbian and gay rights because of, the .prominence accorded to
the founder of the North American Man/Boy Love Association. We read
Vicki Plotter's provocative discussion of the issue in the July 1980
Big Hama Rag, entitled "Lesbians and the Gay Movement: Are Lesbians
Glad To Be TGay'?" We read Vickie Leonard's commentary on working
with men in the November 1980 oob, called very appropriately "On
Second Thought, We Were Righ%7lr"
Yet two lesbian-feminist former members of the Blade's board
of directors remember that in the months following the defeat of the
gay rights ordinance in Miami, the paper was receptive to lesbianfeminist
participation. One suggests that this may have been related
to the vulnerability that many gays f e l t after the Dade County defeat,
the campaign for the Briggs i n i t i a t i v e i.n California, and other threats.
Gay men in Washington feel less vulnerable now. The mayor appears
regularly at gay functions and acknowledges that gay voters provided
his margin of victory in 1978. Gay bars proliferate in the more comfortable
areas of town. The slick Washingtonian magazine's September
cover story was "Is DC Becoming the Gay Capital of America?" In Washi
ington at least, gay men—whom lesbian activist Sally Gearhart called
"the most cooptable group of all oppressed groups"—are making i t,
and i t is not likely that they will be enthusiastic about the
lesbian-feminist proposition that patriarchy needs overthrowing.
bummed out at the office
"If you scream, people say you're melodramatic; if you submit,
you're masochistic; if you call names, you're a bitch."
Joanna fiuss. The Female Man
Donna Harrington was hired for the 35-hour-a-week position of
administrative assistant at the Blade in early May 1979. A newcomer
to the D.C. area, she looked forward to working both in the
field of journalism and within the gay community. There would be
no more getting fired for being open about her sexuality. She
liked the four other full-time staff members, all of whom were men.
They went out of their way to help her feel welcome and relaxed in
her job. After several weeks she received her f i r s t local news
assignment covering a lesbian art opening at the Gay Cownunlty
; Center. She thought she had found a new career and a new l i f e at
the Blade.
At Donna's f i r s t work evaluation in August, editor Don Michaels
praised her highly and told her that he wanted her to assume the
role of editor df the Community Focus section in September. He
promised her an office assistant and asked her to start wording a
4 0 - hW week, effective Immediately. By the end of the summer she
•as elected to the. paper's board of directors. ,*
Week* passed with no further mention of Donna's new duties or
the promised Office assistant. Gradually, she began to find the
L Blade office a very Isolated place, Most visitors were male adver-
! t i t e r s , and most of them assumed that she was the receptionist,
, am assumption that was tacitly encouraged by the Blade's male staff.
At this time she was also becoming more aware of the lesbian-
: feminist presence In the community, and she resolved to become a
1 writer':fo/1§bb. Don and Steve Mart/, then ad manager, both expressed ?f
I stroma dissatisfaction with her proposal. Don sharply reprimanded her
reporters" for the Blade. Donn» dropped the idea.
During the falFuonna was hospitalized with a serious illness.
The hospital was directly across the street from the newspaper office,
but not one of her co-workers came to v i s i t , and only one of them
even telephoned. When she returned to work, she was greeted rather
stonily by Don. It seemed that while she was out, he and Steve had
gone through her work files and found numerous" problems. They made
i t clear that she was to redeem herself or be fired. In the following
weeks she discovered that most of the errors had been Steve s, not
hers. Steve refused to discuss the matter. When she.brought i t . to
Don's attention, he insisted that she was merely trying to shirk her
responsibility.
At this time, Donna was finally allowed to hire D.C. poetactivist
Susan Wood-Thompson as office assistant. Susan's presence,
though only 10 hours a week, relieved some of Donna's isolation as
a woman and a feminist. After several weeks, despite Susan's r e l i a - ,
b i l i t y and good work, Don insisted that she change to a schedule
that was more convenient for him but impossible for.'her. Donna
suggested that Susan be given a key to the office, an easy solution
to the scheduling problems. Don Michaels refused and even objected
to Donna's lending Susan her key. His reason? He was certain, with'
no proof, that a former woman staff member with a key had once stoler
• a typewriterj ,
Donna was becoming increasingly puzzled about where she stood at
the Blade. Don had insisted that she l i s t her name in the paper's sti
block as "Donna J. Harrington," rather than "D. J. Harrington," which
she preferred; he said i t was necessary that the women's community kn<
there was a woman on the staff! Then without advance notice she discovered
that she was now listed as assistant editor. The change was
in name only and reflected no raise in pay or change in responsibilities.
When i t was decided to move the office, she was not consulted;
when she expressed reservations about the security of the new buildim
she was ignored. When she,was harassed and then attacked (fortunately
without physical injury,)"iTn'the bathroom, she began to carry a small
can of tear-gas spray. This became a standing joke with her male
co-workers, who viewed her as paranoid. The gay male in-jokes and
intrj-office sexual dynamics further increased her isolation.
Donna eventually confronted Don with her frustrations, and he
responded defensively and hostilely, telling her that he considered
her work to be consistently sloppy and that she did not deserve' his
time or understanding. This encounter ended in a shouting match.
Steve and Don began to treat her with open hostility; they decreased
her editorial responsibilities and redefined her job to be more bookkeeping-
oriented. Donna came to feel that improvement was impossible
and- in May 1980 she quit as a staff member. The next meeting of the
board of directors, of which she was s t i l l part, was called for July
she was not informed until after it occurred.
In researching and writing this article, we discovered remarkabli
parallels between Donna's experiences and those of the woman who preceded
her as office manager. Denise Sudell, former acting managing
editor at Philadelphia Gay News, found the same anti-woman, antilesbian-
feminist hostility there. Denise, in addition, was told to
stop covering women's news because women did not spend enough money
supporting the paper's advertisers, according to the male editor.
oh we of little faith
"I realize that it is probably difficult, since you have no lesb;
staff members jith editorial responsibilities and ties to the lot
bian community, to knou uhat is going on with lesbian and feminist
polishing, but I imagine that it would be possible to work
something out if the Blade uere billing to have a stronq lesbian
presence in the paper,"
Susanna Sturgis to Steve Martz, 8/J/80
"When I read such things as your rhetorical question about my
interest in lesbian content or your dig about no lesbian staff
with editorial responsibilities (uhich, in particular, I find an
infuriating overs vilification of a complex issue!, I despair
about our ability to understand, respect, or trust one another. '
Steve Martz to Susanna Sturgis, 8/8/80
Women writers, to put i t mildly, have not been numerous at the
Blade in recent years, and neither have articles of specific Interest
to women. Our study of the paper for the 14 months preceding the
writing of this article Indicated that such stories and features
constituted at best 15 percent of the Blade's copy. In a telephone
Interview with Mb collective member TaBTbejanikus. Don Michaels
said that the paper covered a lot of general news of interest to
both men and women, unfortunately, much of this so-called general
news Involves women In the same peripheral way that history textbooks
and the Washington Post do: male recorders talking to mile activists
who communicate with mile o f f i c i a l s.
Donna, her predecessor as office manager, and the feminist members
of the board of directors actively tried to recruit woman writers
for the Blade. They worked unsuccessfully to revive regular writers
meetings end to hold open houses especially for women. They began to
develop a support system for women who worked on the paper. ThJTmenaglng
editor did not encourage any of these activities.
m i l ii u iw.li J I U I J , a nmiuiiai n u i ; , a wuncn i nury, ana
most of all i lesbian-feminist story. tt is about an Issue for which
feminists and especially lesbians have been taking flak for years:
working with men. In Washington there fs remarkably l i t t l e cooperation
between lesbians and gay men. The Gay Activists Alliance, the
Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the Gay Switchboard, and the Gay
Community Center have few women members despite attempts at outreach.
Lesbians show up at the ainual gay pride celebration but do not get
Involved in the planning of i t.
This story is primarily about the Blade, recently renamed the
Washington Blade, whose masthead proclaims I t "the gay newspaper of
the nation's capital." The Blade began l i f e in 1969 as the Gay Blade
and was at the beginning a struggling mimeographed publ1 cation on •
which lesbians played a significant role. It is.now a competently
produced biweekly tabloid that covers local and national gay-related
news arid circulates mostly in the Washfngton-Baltimore area.. In
early 1981 1t plans to go weekly and aim-for a more national distribution.
Donna,Harrington, one of the co-authors of this article, was
for a year the office manager and a contributing writer of the Blade.
, Susanna Sturgis, the other co-author, was a contributing writer during
roughly the same period. Neither of us, for reasons that will become •'
obvious, remains associated with the paper in any capacity.
For each of us, the H « M ^ M I tn i?fwn +h? m ^ e vili djjij&cuji Jnfl
complicated. During and since the period of disassoclation we,,separately
and together, have discussed our experiences with other activists and-••. ..
writers 1n the Washington lesbian community. Both of us at the time
believed that what had happened to us and what we had learned from i t •.
were matters of local interest only. We have since been persuaded ' ,.
Otherwise.
We read about the San Francisco Lesbian.Chorus, which was invited ',',
to sing at a fund-raising event for city supervisor Harry'Br1tt; a
female impersonator "entertainer" made grossly misogynist jokes, and
the chorus walked out. We read about Lesbian. Feminist Liberation in
New York, which withdrew from a coalitiflnRhning a march on Albany
for lesbian and gay rights because of the prominence accorded to •
the founder of the North American Man/Boy Love Association. We read
Vicki Piotter's. provocative discussion of the issue 1n the July 1980
Big Mama Rag, entitled "Lesbians and the Gay Movement: Are Lesbians
Glad To Be TGay'?" We read Vickie Leonard's commentary on working
with men in the Novenfcer 1980; oob, called very appropriately "On
Second Thought, We Were Right?1-
Yet two lesbian-feminist former members of the Blade's board
of directors remember that in the months following the defeat of the
gay rights ordinance in Miami, the paper was receptive to lesbianfeminist
participation. One suggests that this may have been related
to the vulnerability that many gays f e l t after the Dade County defeat,
the campaignfor the Briggs initiative in California, and other threats!
Gay men in Washington feel less vulnerable now. The mayor appears
regularly at gay functions and acknowledges that gay voters provided
his margin of victory in 1978. Gay bars proliferate in the more comfortable
areas of town. The slick Washingtgnian magazine's September'
cover story was "Is DC Becoming the Gay Capital of America?" In Washington
at least., gay men—whom lesbian activist Sally Gearha.rt called
"the most cooptable group of all oppressed groups"—are making i t,
and i t is not likely that they will be enthusiastic about the
lesbian-feminist proposition that patriarchy needs overthrowing.
bummed out at the office
"If Hou scream, people say you're melodramatic; if you submit,
you're masochistic; if you call names, you're a bitch."
Joanna Russ, The Female Man
Donna Harrington was hired for the 35-hour-a-week position of
administrative assistant at the Blade in early May 1979. A newcomer
to the D.C. area, she looked forward to working both in the
field of journalism and within the gay community. There would be
no more getting fired for being open about her sexuality. She
liked the four other full-time staff members, all of whom were men.
They went out of their way to help her feel welcome and relaxed in
her job. After several weeks she received her f i r s t local news
assignment covering a lesbian art opening at the Gay Community
Center. She thought she had found a new career and a new l i f e at
the Blade.
At Donna's f i r s t work evaluation 1n August, editor Don Michaels
praised her highly and told her that he wanted her to assume the
role of editor of the Community Focus section In September. He
promised her an office assistant and asked her to start working a
40-tibur week, effective Immediately. By the end of the summer she
M S elected to the, paper's board of directors.
Weeks passed with no further mention of Donna's new duties or
t*e promised office assistant. Gradually, she began to find the
Blade offIce a very isolated place. Most visitors were male adver-
M«ert, and most of them assumed that she was the receptionist.
• • assumption that was tacitly encouraged by the Blade's male staff.
Jit this time she was also becoming more aware of IKeTesbianfeerinlst
presence In the community, and she resolved to become a
writer fbrJ?tob. Don and Steve Hartz, then ad manager, both expressed »
strong dissatisfaction with her proposal. Don sharply reprimanded her
for her alleged disloyalty. He believed that organizational a f f i l i a t
i o n elsewnere In the lesbian and gay co«*unlt1es would prevent staff
and writers from being truly loyal members of and "objective
reporters" for the Blade. Oonna dropped the Idea.
During the fallHGoSna was hospitalized with a serious Illness.
The hospital was directly across the street from the newspaper office,
but not one of her co-workers came to v i s i t , and only one of the»
even telephoned. When she returned to work, she was greeted rather
stonily by Don. It seemed that while she was out, he and Steve had
gone through her work files and found numerous- problems. They made
i t clear that she was to redeem herself or be fired. In the following
weeks she discovered that most of the errors had been Steve's, not
hers. Steve refused to discuss the matter. When she brought i t to
Don's attention, he insisted that she was merely trying to shirk her
responsibility.
At this time. Donna was finally allowed to hire D.C. poetactivist
Susan Wood-Thompson as office assistant. Susan's presence,
though only 10 hours a week, relieved some of Donna's isolation as
a woman and a feminist. After several weeks, despite Susan's reliab
i l i t y and good work, Don Insisted that she change to a schedule
that was more convenient for him but impossible for her. Donna
suggested that Susan be given a key to the office, an easy solution
to the scheduling problems. Don Michaels refused and even objected
to Donna's lending Susan her key. His reason? He was certain, with
no proof, that a former woman staff member with a key had once stolen
a typewriter.
Donna was becoming increasingly puzzied about where she stood at
the Blade. Don had insisted that she l i s t her name 1n the paper's stj
block as "Donna J. Harrington," rather than "D, J. Harrington," .which
She preferred; he said i t was necessary that the women's community kn<
there was a woman on the staff. Then without advance notice she discovered
that she was now listed as assistant editor. The change was
in name only and reflected no raise in pay or. change in responsibilities.
When i t was decided to move the office, she was not consulted;
when she expressed reservations about the security of the new buildini
she was ignored. When she^as harassed and then attacked (fortunateli
without physical injur'y'J'ih the bathroom, she began to carry a small
can of tear-gas spray. This became a standing joke with her male
co-workers, who viewed her as paranoid. The gay male in-jokes and
intra-office sexual dynamics further Increased her isolation.
Donna eventually confronted Don with her frustrations, and he
responded defens-ively and hostilely, telling her that he considered
her work to be consistently sloppy and that She did not deserve' his
time or understanding. This encounter ended in a shouting match.
Steve and Don began to treat her with open hostility; they decreased
her editorial responsibilities and redefined her job to be more bookkeeping-
oriented. Donna came to feel that improvement was Impossible
and in May 1980 she quit as a staff member. The next meeting of the
board of directors, of which she was s t i l l part, was called for July
she was not informed until after 1t occurred.
In researching and writing this article, we discovered remarkabl
parallels between Donna's experiences and those of the woman who preceded
her as office manager. Denise Sudell, former acting managing
editor at Philadelphia 6ay News, found the same anti-woman, antilesbian-
feminlst hostility there. Denise, in addition, was told to
stop covering women's news because women did not spend enough money
supporting the paper's advertisers, according to the male editor.
oh vye of little faith
"I realise that it is probably difficult, since you have no Utsb
staff merters with editorial responsibilities end ties to the lei
bian camunity, to know what is,going on with lesbian and feminist
polishing, but I imagine that it would be poesible to work
something out if the Blade were billing to have a strong lesbian
presence in the paper. "
Susanna Sturgis to Steve Hartz, 8/2/80
"When I read such things cm your rhetorical question about my
interest in lesbian content or your dig about no lesbian staff
with editorial responsibilities (which, in particular, I find an
. infuriating oversimplification of a conplex issue!, I despair
d>out our ability to understand, respect, or trust one another.
Steve Martz to Susanna Sturgis, 8/8/80
'Women writers, to put I t mildly, have not been numerous at the
Blade In recent years, and neither have articles of specific Interest
to women. Our study of the paper for the 14 months preceding the
writing of this article Indicated that such stories and features
constituted at best 15 percent of the Blade's copy. In a telephone
Interview with oob collective Meatier TacTeDeJanlkus. Don Michaels
said that the paper covered a lot of general news of Interest to
both men and woman, unfortunately, much of this so-called general
news Involves women in the same peripheral way that history textbooks
•"* t h * MwMwittf) Pott do: male recorders talking to male activists
w*o communicate with male o f f i c i a l s.
Oonna, her predecessor as office manager, and the feminist members
of the board of directors actively tried to recruit women writers
for the Blade. They worked unsuccessfully to revive regular writers
meetings and to hold open houses especially for women. They began to
develop • support system for women who worked on the paper. The managing
editor did not encourage any of these activities.
Susanna, who had already published a few articles in the Blade.
was recruited as a regular writer by a woman board member In the'early
summer of 197g. She had reservations about writing for a largely male
continumd on next pag
m*~?u< igao/off our backs
• M t t
and nonfenrinlst audience but at the same time was interested in reachi
ng lesbians who did not regularly read oob or the Washington Area
Women's Center newsletter to which she was also a contributor Her
early experiences were positive. She did occasional news and feature
stories as well " " » 1 tories as wel l as revie"w" s, a">n*d assoc•i•a-t»e- edi tor Steve' Mart* and Don
Michaels used her a r t i c l e s promptly and with very rare a l t e r a t i o n^
about which she was always consulted. auun''
The relationship began to break down in mid-winter when a
review of Monlque H i t t l g and Sande Zeiq's Lesbian Peoples was held
for week after week without explanation. .Afte'r Tn""fnquTrv in Anril
the a r t i c l e was used i n the May 1 issue. Then i t happened again, with
a short review of the Frontiers lesbian history issue. There
based lesbian historian and a c t i v i s t who. had even contributed occasional
articles to the Blade.
On August 2, 1980, Susanna wrote to Steve Martz, expressing her
concern about the paper's apparently dwindling commitment to lesbian
.content in the "preferences" (reviews)' section, asking'about the fate
of the Frontiers review, and tentatively suggesting that i t might "be
possible to .wort something out i f the BJ-ade were w i l l i n g to have a
strong lesbian presence in'the paper."" 'Steve's response was prompt
.ipd astonishing. He avoided Susanna's concerns and wrote, "I sense a
lot of between the lines meaning that borders on h o s t i l i t y . As a resi
l t , I am pessimistic about our ever being able to establish the kind
of trusting relationship that Don and I. enjoy with our. regular writers.
. . .Without [ t r u s t ] and. a sense of sharing a common goal, I feel we
would just be setting ourselves up for an unpleasant and f u t i l e ' c o n f
r o n t a t i o n . " ' ,
We sense in this letter a lot of between the lines meaning that
suggests that Steve did not trust Susanna, very much and that he was
. doing the l i o n ' s share of the work 'in setting up an unpleasant and
f u t i l e confrontation. His usual excuse when a piece was not used was
that there was a two-month backlog of "preferences" a r t i c l e s . As o f f i c e,
viorker, however, Donna saw unsolicited submissions come in from men all
over the country and receive p r i o r i t y over contributions from regular
^oiiien writers who lived in the paper's circulation area.
The Frontiers review was something of a special case. In his
letter', Steve wrote that he "held i f at f i r s r i n the hope that a suitable
companion piece might develop, '">< #j£gP>' embarrassingly honesl,
-hen one did not, 1 forgot that I had l ^ T W i l e ; " -.Details about t h i s'
prospective "companion piece" — why i t was thought necessary and what
i t was to be — were not forthcoming. What made'the' incident especially
nuzzling was that, as Susanna wrote to Steve on October 16, she was
not without contacts in the national lesbian historians network" and
eight l o g i c a l l y have been consulted aboutthe development of this
companion piece."
In an interview conducted in preparation for this a r t i c l e , a •
'ormer contributing writer described what she called the managing
editor's "Brenda Starr attitude" toward women writers at the paper:
no only wanted one female star at a time, and when your time was up,
the men started running down your work and showing you no consideration.
Susanna realized that her time, such as i t had been, was over. When
:Jonna and Susanna l e f t , they took with them their considerable knowledge
of the lesbian and feminist communities. The BJjde editors have
actively discouraged lesbian writers from developing contacts within
or f a m i l i a r i t y with the "women's community.," and unfortunately this
deficiency is now being reflected in the paper's coverage of lesbianrelated
stories.
protecting their own
On August 7, 1980, the Blade carried an a r t i c l e , written by the
current star woman w r i t e r , about the increasing,incidence of assault
on lesbians and gay men near The Other Side, a gay-patronized disco
in WashingtW. The thesis of the story was stated succinctly by one
of the victims, a gay man who was quoted as saying that "for the last
few. years, [the violence] was f a i r l y inactive, then a l l of a sudden
i t ' s increasing." But violence against lesbians around The Other Side
has been a persistent problem for the last three years, as minimal
inquiry in the right places would have revealed. .
Over two years ago Washington lesbian a c t i v i s t and writer Wendy
Stevens helped organize an ad hoc group called Womanalert to publicize
and take action against a series of attacks on women near lesbian
bars. After reading the August 7 a r t i c l e , Wendy wrote and submitted
to the Blade a four-page essay providing some historical
background on the incidence of violence and describing the actions
taken by Womanalert — and the h o s t i l i t y with which Womanalert was
ret by the male owners of The Other Side. It was September 18 before
Don Michaels responded that he would be w i l l i n g to consider the a r t i cle
for publication "1f you concur with the alterations I made on the
enclosed copy." He did not share Wendy's letter or even the fact of
i ts existence with the author of the original a r t i c l e.
Don's changes effectively gutted Wendy's essay. When the women
of Womanalert t r i e d to d i s t r i b u t e flyers warning about the attacks and
Suggesting precautionary measures, one of the bar wners ordered two
of Ms bouncers to drag Wendy out of the bar, and he personally told
her that she was "binned from the bar." As a result women pleketed
The rwh.r <;irf» f „ , t»uarii weeks durino. which they were harassed by
speak specifically to the issues of negligence and h o s t i l i t y oh the
part of The Other side, you have continued to obscure the bar's disregard
for the safety of women c l i e n t s , which 1s the reason I wrote
the l e t t e r tq' the Blade,. "^ -She concluded with a request that Don
"reconsider p r i n t i ng my l e t t e r to the editor as I t was w r i t t e n . " Not
•surprisingly, she has received no reply, and her essay has not been
published. Now, four months after the original a r t i c l e appeared, it
is unlikely that i t ever w i l l be.
exorcising feminists
Mac .con: et:; '..;.•
Afferent!"'
finit\< v{5': them other than the fact
- ti'isther 3>'ji ir-presstd us together
t''.'- .ivcrw i~:x. Ami the sexes ari so'
Sally .Gearhart, oob interview, Jan. 1980
When asked i f the Blade had trouble keeping lesbian-feminists on
the s t a f f , Don Michaels replied, "Perhaps. There were personality problems,
individual personality'clashes; i t was not a problem of sexism."
I t is clear to us that the Blade's trouble with lesbian-feminists
involves deep p o l i t i c a l differences that cannot be dismissed as "Individual
personality clashes." H i s t o r i c a l l y , when women become independent
and self-defining, men t ry to bring them into line by calling them
i r r a t i o n a l , hysterical, immature, and neurotic; men persistently.shift
the focus from their own oppressiveness to the women's behavior. We
are not w i l l i n g to let that happen to us.
We know that the gay men who run the Blade have serious problems
working with lesbian-feminists, and' we have come to suspect that
thev do_not believe that lesbian-feminists have enough "clout" to make
working with them worth precious' male' time." TheTr~commb7i response i s"
to get r i d of the women who make them uncomfortable. Donna and her
predecessor at the Blade and Denise Sudel'l when she was at Philadelphia
Gay News had a common experience: as they became more radical,
more assertive about feminist issues, and more closely identified with
the women's community, their relationships with their gay male colleagues
disintegrated. Their competence and commitment abruptly came
under attack.
The men at the Blade, l i k e men elsewhere, do not refuse to* hire
. women; they simply find and cultivate women who w i l l not challenge their
authority. The BJade' s \«cw*eht star woman w r i t e r has consistently
received .twice as much money for her articles as any other women and
almost twice as much as the men. These women are tokens, when Don
says that he wants to add a f u l l - t i m e editorial position and hire a
woman to f i l l i t , we see no reason to disbelieve him, but we don't
anticipate that the woman w i l l be' a feminist either. If on the job
she develops the kind of feminist consciousness that would enable her
to cover and interpret women's community news, the chances are that
working for the Blade would soon become a f r u s t r a t i n g , even intolerable,
experience.
The lot of the contributing w r i t e r is less intense but nevertheless
d i f f i c u l t . On one hand she is part of an international lesbianfeminist
writers network Committed to transcending the limits of patriarchal
language and l i t e r a t u r e ; on the other she is contributing
to a newspaper that apparently aspires to being the gay equivalent of
the Washington Post. Her male editors use journalism school phrases
l i ke "objective reporting" as i f they had meaning in the real world,
she hears "white, male, middle class — with a gay slant." Once she
chooses t'o w r i te for an audience that includes nonfeminists and nonlesbians,
she risks spending her time explaining over and over why
women-only events and organizations are important and what the limits
are on "gay s o l i d a r i t y . " Stories that she can't do herself are
either ignored or inadequately covered by men or nonfeminists.
Feminist staff members and feminist writers have suffered from
isolation at the Blade, and the evolution of the B1ade's governing
'structure has not been toward ending that isolation. Twc years ago
a few board members were struggling to gain for the board an active •
role in the direction and management of the paper. Gradually, thanks
to manipulation by the managing editor and apathy or acquiescence by
the board members, the board became a rubber stamp. Last summer it
was transformed into an employee-held body, .and membership was res
t r i c t ed to employees who have worked for 13 months and are able to
invest $500 and those already on the board who could pay the $SO0.
This change eliminated the last lesbian-feminist from the board. The
current structure ensures that the only women who w i l l be able to shape
the Blade's future are those who are acceptable to the- men now there
and who are w i l l i n g to work in a male-dominated structure with a male-
,defined process.
read oob
The Blade, now the Washington Blade, is on the verge of becoming
a weekly, national gay newspaper". Feminists who are interested in
reading gay male news reported from a gay male perspective might want
to check i t out, but i f you want to find out what is going on in the
Washington area lesbian community, we urge you to subscrihe to oob
and i n our own w r i t e , the newsletter of the Washington Area Women's
Center. You aren't going to learn much about i t from the Washington
Blade.
hu rt/mnn .1. Niirri.rulton
about which she was always consulted.
The relationship began to break down in mid-winter, when a
review of Monique W i t t i g and Sande 2eig's Lesbian Peoples was held
for week after week without explanation. After an 'inquTry in April
the a r t i c l e was used in the May 1 issue. Then i t happened again, with
a short review of the Frontiers lesbian history issue. There is no
question but that the Blade should have noted the publication of this
particular issue Of Frontiers, a women's studies journal Not only is
lesbian history of s i g n i f i c a n t interest to "the O.C. lesbian community
but this Frontiers was guest-edited by Judith Schwarz, a Washingtonbased
lesbian historian and a c t i v i s t who had even contributed occasional
articles: to the Blade.
On August Z, 1980, Susanna wrote to Steve Marti, expressing her
concern about the paper's apparently dwindling commitment.to lesbian
content i n the "preferences" (reviews) section; asking about the fate
Of the Frontiers review, and tentatively suggesting that i t might "be'
possible.to, work something out i f the BJade were w i l l i n g . t o have a
strong lesbian presence in the paper. "'~!Tte"ve's response was prompt
and.astonishing. He avoided Susanna's concerns and wrote, " I sense a
lot of between the lines meaning that borders on h o s t i l i t y . As a res-^
. i l l , - I -am pessimistic -about our ever being able to establish the kind
of .trusting relationship that Don and I enjoy with our regular writers.
' . ' . , , Without [ t r u s t ] and a sense /of sharing a common goal , I feel we
.would just be s e t t i ng ourselves up for an unpleasant and f u t i l e con-' ';. •
frontation." • ' .
• We sense in this letter a l o t of between the lines meaniTK) that , ~
suggests that- Steve did 'not t r u s t Susanna very much and that he was;
doing the l i o n ' s share of the.work in setting up an unpleasant and
f u t i l e confrontation. His usu^l excuse when a piece was not used was Y.
that there was a two-month backlog of "preferences" a r t i c l e s . As office
worker, however,. Donna saw unsolicited submissions come in from men a l l.
over the country and receive p r i o r i t y over contributions from regular ,
//amen writers who lived in the paper's circulation area.
The Frontier's review was something of a special case. In his
l e t t e r , Steve wrote that he "held i t at f i r s t " in the hope that a s u i t * ';
iile companion piece might devplop, b u r
i aJflM?e embarrassingly honest,'
rfhpn one did hot, 1 forgot that I had f n f t W i l e . " Details about this,
prospective "companion piece" —' why i t was thought necessary and what
i t was to be —.were not forthcoming. What made the incident especially•
;-"j2Zl1ng was that, as Susanna wrote to Steve on October 16, she was--'-'
not without contacts in the national lesbian historians network" and '
" i g h t - l o g i c a l ly have been consulted about the development of this
companion piece. "•
In an interview conducted in preparation for t h i s a r t i c l e , a
.femur contributing w r i t e r described what she called the managing
.•'•tutor's "Brenda, Starr attitude" toward women writers at the paper:
»e only wanted one female star at a time, and when your time was up,
the men started running down your work and showing you no consideration.
Susanna realized that her time, such as i t had been, was Over. When
'jonna and Susanna l e f t , they took with them their considerable knowledge
of the lesbian and feminist communities. The Blade editors have
actively discouraged lesbian writers from developing contacts within
or f a m i l i a r i t y w.ith the "women's community," and unfortunately this
deficiency is now being reflected in the paper's coverage of lesbianrelated
stories..
protecting their own
On August 7, 1980, the BJ_ade carried an a r t i c l e , written by the
current star woman w r i t e r , about"the increasing"incidence of assault
on lesbians and gay men near The Other Side, a gay-patronized disco
in Washingta*,. Tne thesis of the story was stated succinctly by one
of the v i c t i m s , a gay man who was quoted as saying that "for the last
few years, [the violence] was f a i r l y inactive, then a l l of a sudden^
i t ' s increasing." But violence against lesbians around The Other Side
has been a persistent problem for the last three years, as minimal •
inquiry in the r i g h t places would have revealed.
Over twp years ago Washington lesbian a c t i v i s t and writer Wendy
Stevens helped organize an ad hoc group called Womanalert to p u b l icize
and take action against a series of attacks on women near lesbian
bars. After reading the August 7 a r t i c l e , Wendy wrote and sub- '
mitted to the Blade' a four-page essay providing some historical
background on the incidence of violence and describing the actions
taken by Womanalert — and the h o s t i l i t y with which Womanalert was
met by the male owners of The Other Side. It was September 18 before
Don Michaels, responded that he would be w i l l i n g to consider the a r t i cle
for publication " i f you concur with the alterations 1 made on the
enclosed copy." He d id not share Wendy's l e t t e r or even the fact of
i t s existence with the author of the original a r t i c l e.
Don's changes e f f e c t i v e l y gutted Wendy's essay. When the women
of Womanalert t r i e d to d i s t r i b u t e flyers warning about the attacks and
suggesting precautionary measures, one of the bar owners ordered two
of his bouncers to drag Wendy out of the bar, and he personally told
her that she was "benned from the bar." As a result women Picketed
The Other Side for Stveral weeks, during which they were harassed by
the co-owners, who shouted lines like."you know, we don't need women
to make t h i s bar work." Don deleted a l l of t h i s information with the
comwnt th«t "Rehashing the specific hassles with Chris [one of the
bar owners] would no' doubt cause a l o t of f r i c t i o n that would obfuscate
the more Important points being made." ... . .. .
Wendy-wrote back on September 28 that Don's editing indicated that ,
he misunderstood her Intentions and reiterated that "the story pre- #
Sented i n the Blade Is out of context and misrepresents 'management
that has h l s t o f l c T n y f e l t no need to be accountable to the communi
t y which supports I t . By editing out the portions of my l e t t e r which
published. Now, four months after the original a r t i c l e appeared, i t
is unlikely that i t ever w i l l be.
exorcising feminists
id <m iffintt'.! jith them other than the fact
:'.'r.K-''i u~ loizthcr .„?*;.; ?rpreosed us toaether
Sally Gearhart,
•T. t i e cexas) are so
oob interview, Jan, 1980
When asked i f the Blade had trouble keeping lesbian-feminists on
the s t a f f , Don Michaels replied,, "Perhaps. There were personality problems,
individual personalitv clashes; it. was not a problem, of sexism."
I t is clear to us that the Blade's trouble with lesbian-feminists
jnvftlves deep p o l i t i c a l differences that r.c&nnot be dismissed as,,"indivr,,
idual personality clashes." Historically, when women become independent
and self-defining, men t ry to bring them into line by c a l l i ng them
i r r a t i o n a l , hysterical, immature, and neurotic; men persistently shift
the focus from their own oppressiveness to the women's behavior. We
are not w i l l i n g to let that happen to us.
. 'Je know that the gay men who run'the Blade have serious problems
.working with .lesbian-feminists, and we have come to suspect that
thev do_not believe that lesbian-feminists have enough "clout" to make
working with them worth precious" male" time. Tfiei"f~T:oniro"n'response i s • •
to get r i d of the women who make them uncomfortable. Donna and her
predecessor at the Blade and penise Sudel1 when she was at Philadelphia
Gay News had.a comnon experience: as they became more radical,
more assertiye about feminist issues, and more closely identified with
the women's comnunity, their relationships with their gay male col^
leagues disintegrated. Their competence a.nd commitment abruptly came
under attack.
.the men at the Blade, like men elsewhere, do not refuse to_ hire
women; they simply find and c u l t i v a te women who w i l l not challenge their
authority. The Blade's .curEeht star woman w r i t e r has consistently
received twice as much money for her a r t i c l e s as any other women and
almost twice as much as the men. These women are tokens. When Don
says.that he wants to add a f u l l - t i m e editorial position and hire a
woman to f i l l i t , we see no reason to disbelieve him, but we don't
anticipate that the woman w i l l be' a feminist either, If on the job
She develops the kind of feminist consciousness that would enable her
to cover and interpret women's community news, the chances are th'at
working for the Blade would soon become a f r u s t r a t i n g , even intolerable,
experience.
The lot of the contributing writer is less intense but nevertheless
d i f f i c u l t . On one hand she is part of an international lesbianfeminist
writers network committed to transcending the l i m i t s of patriarchal
language and l i t e r a t u r e ; on the other she is contributing
to a newspaper that apparently aspires to being the gay equivalent of
the Washington Post. Her male editors use journalism school phrases
l i k e ^ ' o b j e c t i ve reporting" as i f they had meaning in the real world,
she'h.ears "white, male, middle class — w i th a gay s l a n t . " Once she
chooses to w r i te for an audience that includes nonfeminists and nonlesbians,
she r i s ks spending her time explaining over and over why_-
women-only events and.organizations are important and what the l i m i ts
are on "gay s o l i d a r i t y . " Stories that she can't do herself are
either ignored or inadequately covered by men or nonfeminists.
Feminist staff members and feminist writers have suffered from
isolation at the Blade, and the evolution of the Blade's governing
structure has not been toward ending that isolation. Twc years ago
a few board members were struggling to gain for the board an active
role in the direction and management of the paper. Gradually, thanks
to manipulation by the managing editor and apathy or acquiescence by
the board members, the board became a rubber stamp. Last summer i t
was transformed into an employee-held body, and membership was r e s
t r i c t ed to employees who have worked for 13 months and are able to
invest $500 and those already on the board who could pay the $500.
This change eliminated the last lesbian-feminist from the board. The
current structure ensures that the only women who w i l l be able to shape
the Blade's future are those who are acceptable to the men now there
and who are w i l l i n g to work in a male-dominated structure with a maledefined
process. ,
read oob
The Blade, now the Washington Blade, is on the verge of becoming
a weekly, national gay newspaper, feminists who are interested in
reading gay male news reported from a gay male perspective might want
to check i t out, but i f you want to f i nd out what is going on in the
Washington area lesbian comnunity, we urge you to subscribe to oob
and in our own w r i t e , the newsletter of the Washington Area Wonen's
Center" You aren't going to learn much about i t from the Washington
Blade, .
•by Donna J. Harrington
and Susanna J. fturgis
We uant to thank all the women uho contributed their 6'UiW, expnn.erL.-as,
and insights to us as ue worked on this article. We want especially
to express our appreciation to the lesbian-feminists of the "no-name"
qroup who convinced us that our story must be told and then supported
UJI as we worked on it. Blessed be I
ntt AIIV hurlrt/rfwnrfwr IMO/DVH

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Citation

Off our backs, “The dulling of the Blade,” Rainbow History Project Digital Collections, accessed June 21, 2024, https://archives.rainbowhistory.org/items/show/848.

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