Lesbian Lives – a 25-year history (by Ger Moane)
Lesbian Lives started as a discussion day that was jointly organized by Women’s Education Research and Resource Centre (WERRC) in University College Dublin (UCD) and Lesbians Organizing Together (LOT) on Saturday 5 February 1994. I was involved in both groups and with Ailbhe Smyth as the WERRC director and a group from LOT we set about organizing a day that would bring academic and community women together. And we called it Lesbian Lives to mark that this was about ‘us’ – not an abstract conference on sexuality. To see almost 100 lesbians in the Arts Block in Belfield was amazing for everyone. Only a few years previously UCD was still refusing to give recognition to the lesbian and gay student society. The programme was peppered with interesting workshop titles and they were filled with great discussions. As a lecturer in UCD at the time, I got a particular kick out of the workshop on stereotypes where we ended up filling a blackboard with slang words for lesbian – from dyke to lipstick to pearl-diver – which we left on the board as we left the room.
For the next few years, Lesbian Lives retained the format of workshops along with keynote speeches, poetry, art and culture, followed by a lively night of dancing and entertainment organized in conjunction with LOT. Workshops ranged through coming out, activism, tantric sex, creative writing, lesbian history with titles such as ‘Pearl Diving’, ‘Music for the Lesbian Lothario’ and ‘Fun in Bed’. Rosemary Gibney and others at WERRC began to take advantage of visiting academics and writers who along with local artists provided uplifting talks, readings and exhibitions. The two pieces from GCN capture the atmosphere and enthusiasm – and the sheer novelty and fun of being surrounded by lesbians for a day of discussion!
By the late 1990s, LOT was no longer involved and the balance between academic and community involvement had shifted, with Lesbian Lives moving in the direction of Lesbian Studies and Queer Theory. A host of renowned international academics and writers delivered fascinating keynote addresses alongside workshops and creative events, and the Social event became part of the annual calendar in Dublin. Mary McAuliffe and Katherine O’Donnell sustained what was now an international Lesbian Lives Conference until 2011 when the conference moved between the University of Brighton and UCD until 2019.