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    Liberation Generation

    By Jewelle Gomez–

    When I finished graduate school in 1973, I was teaching in an upstate New York arts center, The Loft, which brought together the children of wealthy, white parents in affluent Bronxville and children of working class, mostly Black and Puerto Rican parents in neighboring Tuckahoe. It was one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve ever had because of the students and the instructors, who were a motley mix of women and men who were devoted to the arts and the kids. I was, however, also the loneliest I’d ever been in my life.

    The young woman with whom I’d been in a relationship through much of high school finally married a man and I was left without a clue how to find other lesbians. The two women at The Loft who gave me the books that helped me define myself as a feminist were not lesbians, so I wasn’t sure about confiding in them. Still, they managed to change my life.

    They were friends with several documentary filmmakers and were offered an invitation, which they passed on to me, to a private screening of a new, groundbreaking film, Word is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives, which premiered in 1977

    ( Directed by the Mariposa Collective, it features interviews with 26 gay men and women who relate coming into their sexuality in times and places where there was not much of a “gay movement.” From parental rejection to electric shock treatments, the stories were uncensored. Last year it was added to the National Film Registry.

    Someone recently identified people my age with a term much better than “Baby Boomer.” We are the Liberation Generation; every moment, whether under a disco ball or in a contentious meeting, was a step toward the liberation of ourselves and those who would follow.

    Watching the film in 1977, I saw the first Black lesbian I’d ever encountered. Betty Powell (1941–2023) was articulate, handsome, deadly serious, and funny. This was before the internet, so I had to carry her image in my mind. When the coffee table book was published, I bought it just so I could see her face whenever I wanted.

    As time passed, I became active in the LGBT community, in part, because of the sound of Betty’s urgent voice talking about liberation. Later, I met some of the people involved with the film: Tede Matthews, Sally Gearhart, and Harry Hay. Each of us was drawn together through our liberation activism. Then I met Betty!

    She was one of the women who invited me to participate in the first board of the Astraea Foundation. We were a board of lesbians, however, we knew we couldn’t put “lesbian” in the name of the foundation in the 1980s because too many women would be afraid to apply for funds from us.

    Achebe, the name she soon adopted, served not only on the Astraea board (now the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice ), but also on the board of Kitchen Table – Women of Color Press. We were fellow members of the New York social/activist organization SalsaSoul Sisters in the 1980s, so I learned she could party with the best of them! She belonged to many organizations, such as the National Black Feminist Association and the Black and Jewish Women’s Dialogue Group.

    She was the poster child for the Liberation Generation. Her life was a gift you can explore at the Smith College Voices of Feminism History Project:

    Some friends recently got together on Zoom to comfort each other after Achebe’s loss from COVID this February. There was so much to say we could barely speak. She made a huge difference in many lives because of her ability to work hard and to inspire others to do the same. She loved to speak French, she loved tennis, and she lived for liberation.

    Jewelle Gomez is a lesbian/feminist activist, novelist, poet, and playwright. She’s written for “The Advocate,” “Ms. Magazine,” “Black Scholar,” “The San Francisco Chronicle,” “The New York Times,” and “The Village Voice.” Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @VampyreVamp

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    Published on March 9, 2023