The Radicalesbians and the Furies Collective were not the only groups of lesbian feminists struggling to have their voices heard. Although black lesbian feminists had been actively working for black liberation, women’s equality and gay rights for decades, they had yet to find a group that represented their experiences.
The black liberation movement was male dominated and promoted traditional feminine roles and “family values,” while the women’s movement focused on white, heterosexual, middle class issues and failed to acknowledge the lived experiences of African American women and the issues central to their lives.
Thus, in 1974, Barbara Smith, Beverly Smith, Demita Frazier and other black lesbian feminists formed the Combahee River Collective. The group began holding consciousness-raising retreats to share their experiences, discuss political work and define their beliefs and goals as black lesbian feminists. As a result of these meetings, The Combahee River Collective Statement was published in 1977.
The document outlined their views and proclaimed their commitment to “working on those struggles in which race, sex and class are simultaneous factors in oppression” (The Combahee River Collective 232). The Collective also declared the need for an autonomous black women’s movement, insisting that: “Black, other Third World, and working women have been involved in the feminist movement from its start, but both outside reactionary forces and racism and elitism within the movement itself have served to obscure our participation” (232).
The Combahee River Collective also aimed to reveal the racism in the white women’s movement, and address the issues central to their lives, such as “sterilization abuse, abortion rights, battered women, rape and health care (239).” Unlike many white feminists and/or lesbians at the time, the Collective rejected female and lesbian separatism. As explained in The Combahee River Collective Statement, they saw “…any type of biological determinism, a particularly dangerous and reactionary basis upon which to build a politic” (236). Although the Collective was adamantly against sexism, excluding men for their “biological maleness” meant excluding far too many people in the same way that black, lesbian women had been excluded.
(via Lavender Menace | lovely rants)