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“All These Mean Dykes Standing Around:”Shelley Ettinger Describes the Lesbian and Gay Community of the 1970s

The womenís movement of the 1970ís sent shock-waves through every corner of American life, transforming the way people thought about families, jobs, and every day interactions. By questioning traditional sex roles, feminism also encouraged the growth of the gay and lesbian rights movement. Previously, many gay men and lesbians had concealed their sexuality, but the 1970ís witnessed the growth of assertive and visible gay and lesbian alternative cultures. As a college student at the University of Michigan and a union activist within the city bus company, Shelley Ettinger remembered living and participating in an active, assertive lesbian culture during the mid-1970ís. Although gay men and lesbians still faced harassment and discrimination, they were no longer afraid to express their identities or to speak out against bias and discrimination.

Listen to Audio:

ETTINGER: About 1975 I lived in a house with a bunch of lesbians on the west side of Ann Arbor. And Danny and a few of the other gay men who I hung with a lot, and hung out in those days meant smoking pot and listening to records and stuff you know . There was always one or two bars in Ann Arbor that was either a gay bar or had gay nights on the weekends that you would go to. One of these guys was wearing drag one day. This was a neighborhood that wasn’t near the university it was more of a regular residential neighborhood in Ann Arbor. Some neighborhood like teenage kids, sixteen year olds, seventeen year olds started actually terrorizing us — chased us down the street with chains and threw rocks and stuff. It got very scary. So somehow it got to be this thing that they were going to do a big attack on our house on Devil’s Night. So we organized. The word went out. We called our friends and our friends called others, anyway like all the lesbians in town got called and everybody came to our house. Maybe like fifty, sixty, seventy people — to guard our house.

And it ended up we had a party you know we turned on the music and partied, but we also, people were all around the house and it was like this wonderful, wonderful thing that happened that the community mobilized to come defend us. And at one point only we saw the kids kind of approach and you know we had all these mean dykes standing around. And they were holding chains and stuff too, I mean we were ready to fight if we had to, and the kids disappeared and that was the end of it.

Source: Interviewed by Miriam Frank 9/11/98
Courtesy of Miriam Frank