At­lanta Les­bian Fem­i­nist Al­liance left wide foot­print

GA Voice - - Outspoken -

By DIONNE WALKER “These women all came to­gether and de­cided we were fem­i­nist and we were les­bians and we wanted to have a so­cial jus­tice or­ga­ni­za­tion where peo­ple would be en­cour­aged to come out and be who they were.”

Last Sunday, throngs of on­look­ers cheered as rain­bow-fes­tooned floats wound through Mid­town, led by LGBT men and women work­ing in unity.

For Lor­raine Fon­tana, a found­ing mother of At­lanta’s les­bian fem­i­nist scene, the united front rep­re­sented a ma­jor turn from the At­lanta of old.

Fon­tana re­mem­bers be­ing a young grad­u­ate stu­dent, fall­ing in love with the city, yet feel­ing shunned by its male-cen­tric gay scene. It was the early 1970s and gays were be­com­ing lib­er­ated, but not, as she and other women soon dis­cov­ered, in­te­grated.

And so Fon­tana and a group of largely les­bian ac­tivists formed the At­lanta Les­bian Fem­i­nist Al­liance.

The group would last un­til the early 1990s be­fore fis­cal strains and so­cial shifts caused it to dis­in­te­grate.

As we cel­e­brate LGBT his­tory this Oc­to­ber, Ge­or­gia Voice is look­ing back at lo­cal LGBT icons and ex­am­in­ing their role shap­ing to­day’s queer At­lanta.

For ALFA, that legacy in­cludes be­ing among the first such groups of its kind in the coun­try, formed to tell les­bians it was okay to demand their own voice.

“We were part of mak­ing our­selves more pub­lic and con­nect­ing our struggle with other peo­ples’ struggle,” she said.

Their place at the ta­ble

Formed in 1972, ALFA lasted a rel­a­tively short amount of time, yet its legacy is wide. Aca­demics still study archives of the group’s monthly pub­li­ca­tion, Ata­lanta, and other doc­u­ments now housed at Duke Univer­sity. Mean­while, ref­er­ences to ev­ery­thing from the group’s news­let­ter to min­utes from its

Oc­to­ber 14, 2016

–Lor­raine Fon­tana, co-founder of the At­lanta Les­bian Fem­i­nist Al­liance fre­quent meet­ings pep­per many books.

Its stay­ing power is strong – though Fon­tana said that’s not what mo­ti­vated the group of women. Rather, she said they were sim­ply a group of rad­i­cal, pro­gres­sive women frus­trated with a gay move­ment they saw as ex­clu­sive.

Grad­u­ate school led Fon­tana to At­lanta, where she stud­ied psy­chol­ogy and en­vi­sioned her­self work­ing in ed­u­ca­tion. Be­fore long, Fon­tana said she fell in with a cir­cle that helped her rec­og­nize two pas­sions: women and so­cial jus­tice.

“I met a lot of other women who were fem­i­nist who were also com­ing out as les­bians and I dis­cov­ered who I re­ally was,” said Fon­tana, who laughs when she re­calls her life in a glass closet.

“I never dated in high school or had boyfriends,” she said.

Her com­ing out co­in­cided with the emer­gence of what was then called “gay lib­er­a­tion,” the move­ment that urged queer men and women to use rad­i­cal ac­tion to move their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion into the main­stream. When the move­ment spread to At­lanta, Fon­tana said she and her friends at­tended At­lanta Les­bian Fem­i­nist Al­liance co-founder Lor­raine Fon­tana says the group was formed to tell les­bians it was okay to demand their voice. (File photo) dances and tried to so­cial­ize, but quickly found their gen­der be­ing side­lined.

Soon a sep­a­rate or­ga­ni­za­tion just made sense.

Cre­at­ing change

The women had no blue­print when they started.

“These women all came to­gether and de­cided we were fem­i­nist and we were les­bians and we wanted to have a so­cial jus­tice or­ga­ni­za­tion where peo­ple would be en­cour­aged to come out and be who they were,” she said.

The re­sult was a group that was a few hun­dred strong, she said. The group fo­cused on cre­at­ing safe spa­ces for women, in­clud­ing host­ing queer-iden­ti­fied par­ties and so­cial jus­tice events. ALFA pub­lished the pe­ri­od­i­cal, and even rented a series of houses where women could hold gath­er­ings and live com­mu­nally.

“ALFA was a broad group where we tried to in­clude ev­ery­body in ev­ery­thing,” Fon­tana said, adding that the group grad­u­ally came to in­clude broader eth­nic­i­ties and po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tions.

The for­mula worked for years be­fore the pas­sage of time took its toll. For one, Fon­tana said the LGBT com­mu­nity be­came much more in­te­grated, min­i­miz­ing the need for such a strongly fe­male-aligned group. Then there were the in­evitable so­cial changes in many mem­bers’ lives. Some formed more niche groups; oth­ers drifted to­ward new po­lit­i­cal iden­ti­ties. And still oth­ers, like Fon­tana, sim­ply moved fur­ther into the sub­urbs and had less time to be ac­tive with the Can­dler Park-cen­tered group.

By the time the re­main­ing mem­bers ren­o­vated a house in Kirk­wood – ul­ti­mately a huge time suck, Fon­tana said – the group was on its last legs.

“It was a com­bi­na­tion of just the nor­mal kind of growth process,” she said. “Peo­ple [were] leav­ing and not hav­ing the en­ergy for ALFA.”

The group dis­banded in 1994.

Last­ing legacy

Years later, the spirit of ac­tivism is alive and well in Fon­tana, though she’s not sure if she thinks At­lanta’s so­cial jus­tice scene is as strong as it could be.

Fon­tana, 69, points to groups like the short­lived Queer Pro­gres­sive Agenda as ev­i­dence that so­cial jus­tice move­ments struggle to main­tain sim­i­lar agen­das long enough to cre­ate change.

Still, as she pre­pared to cel­e­brate the city’s multi-gen­der, multi-cul­tural Dyke March on Oct. 8, it was hard not to see the growth in the queer scene – even if ALFA hasn’t played a re­cent role.

“I don’t think there was a need for that or­ga­ni­za­tion [any­more],” Fon­tana said. “But what came later was more di­verse, more color­ful and com­plete.”

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