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    The Audacity of a Kiss

    By Michele Karlsberg–

    Michele Karlsberg: Community icon Leslie Cohen is celebrating the publication of her memoir The Audacity of a Kiss (Rutgers University Press). In this evocative work, Cohen tells the story of a love that has lasted for over fifty years. Transporting the reader to the pivotal time when brave gay women and men carved out spaces where they could live and love freely, she recounts both her personal struggles and the accomplishments she achieved as part of New York’s gay and feminist communities. In 1976, she and Michele Florea, Barbara Russo, and Linda Goldfarb opened Sahara in New York City, a groundbreaking, elegant women’s nightclub that hosted, at different times, Pat Benatar, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Jane Fonda, Adrienne Rich, Patti Smith, and many others. After Sahara closed, she became a nightclub promoter and then went to the New York University School of Law in 1989.​​ The Audacity of a Kiss is a moving and inspiring tale of how love, art, and solidarity can overcome oppression.

    Please enjoy this excerpt:


    In 1979, George Segal, the famous Pop artist, was commissioned to create a sculpture commemorating the 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York City. The uprising was the seminal, although not the only, event to kickstart the gay liberation movement. Segal’s bronze sculpture, covered with a white lacquer finish, was eventually unveiled in Christopher Park in Greenwich Village, formerly known as Sheridan Square Park, in 1992, after almost thirteen years of controversy. The sculpture is called Gay Liberation. It depicts a life-size male couple standing a few feet away from a life-size female couple sitting together on a park bench. One of the men holds the shoulder of his friend. One of the women touches the thigh of her partner as they gaze into each other’s eyes. Over the years, Gay Liberation, the sculpture, has become more and more recognizable around the world and an icon that is visited by thousands of people every year. 

    Beth Suskin, my partner (and now wife) of more than forty- five years, and I were the models for this sculpture. Since the sculpture’s unveiling in 1992, we have stood before it many times, staring at our doppelganger selves. We have witnessed drunken men slouched on the park bench with their heads resting on our laps, children climbing on us like monkey bars and sitting on our knees, and grown men and women crying openly before it, overcome with emotion, because they remember the many years of humiliation they experienced when they were taunted, arrested, and forced to hide because they were gay or lesbian. Gay men and lesbians from around the world have come to see the sculpture as a symbol of gay pride and as a confirmation of the great progress that has been made towards their visibility and acceptance. 

    It is astounding to us that our love for one another is publicly signified and immortalized in this way. However, our love story cannot be told in full without also including the tale of Sahara, the first New York City nightclub owned by women and designed for women. I opened it with three other women in Manhattan in 1976. The club was an elegant oasis in a desert of oppression against women, both gay and straight, where women discovered a safe space to express who they were. Luminaries of the time came to witness and bask in the welcoming scene, which in turn nurtured a generation of women who would become luminaries of the future. Beth and I discovered our love for each other and nurtured it against the backdrop of Sahara, and in my mind, they are inextricably woven together. This is our story.

    Michele Karlsberg Marketing and Management specializes in publicity for the LGBTQ+ community. This year, Karlsberg celebrates 32 years of successful marketing campaigns. For more information:

    Published on October 7, 2021