Gaye Chapman: The woman behind the flag

Julie Moss interviews Gaye Chapman, an out lesbian who went to the Los Angeles 2018 Pride festival with a self-made flag. A photo of Gaye has since circulated on social media alongside the words, “Real lesbians are back.”

Gaye Chapman, June 10, 2018, LA Pride

Gaye Chapman is an out lesbian. She went to the Los Angeles 2018 Pride festival on June 10th with a self-made flag, reading: “Lesbian female homosexual,” “Don’t believe the hype — trans activism is misogyny,” “Same-bio sex oriented,” and “Lesbian pride 2018.” A picture of Gaye with her flag has since circulated on social media. Julie Moss interviews her via Skype about her lived experience as a lesbian, her motivation to attend Pride this year, and the messages she wanted to send.

Julie Moss: Good morning Gaye. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Gaye Chapman: I’m in my 60s. I grew up in Arizona and I’ve lived in Southern California since the mid-80s. I have a college degree and I’m a civil servant in a senior position.

JM: How long have you been out as a lesbian?

GC: Probably since the mid-70s… I was in my mid-20s. Quite a wild and exciting time that was (laughter)! I was a busy young woman.

JM: I’ll bet! What was the first Pride event you went to? Have they changed at all?

GC: Had to be in Tucson, Arizona, in the late 70s. It was a picnic in a park with a beer bus. There were gay men and lesbians and a lot of us knew each other. I think it was probably less than a couple hundred people. Like a big picnic family-affair kind of feel.

JM: Were there any self-defined trans or queer people there?

GC: Not that I specifically recall. There was a transwoman who came to some of the lesbian gatherings. I asked about it and they said, “Oh don’t worry, he just wants to be a lesbian,” and we all laughed. But, yeah, he was tolerated.

JM: Have you been to a Pride event since then?

GC: I went to a Pride parade in Los Angeles in the late 80s and my partner and I never went back to another one. There were really excessive displays and it was just too much for us… Men ejaculating in public. Seriously. Not family-friendly, so we just looked at ourselves and said, “We don’t need to be doing this.” So we never went again.

JM: Why did you want to go to this Pride event?

GC: I felt with a lot of this stuff that’s going on I wanted to make a statement that lesbians are here — we’re real. There’s so much misinformation in the media and we’re portrayed so horribly. We’re marginalized and talked over. It felt kind of lonely. I decided to make a statement for myself — maybe it will connect with some others, somewhere. I have to say, part of [my feeling of isolation] is my fault. I was really working on my career for years and haven’t gone out to clubs or groups, and I haven’t really reached out to community in a way that I could have. We [older lesbians] have gotten our white picket fences and our careers and animals and kids and we’ve got involved in life and careers. We’ve kinda forgotten that we need to seek each other out and support each other.

JM: What do the messages on the flags and balloons you brought to Pride say and why did you want to display them publicly at this year’s Pride festival?

GC: Well, being on social media, there’s a whole lot of misogyny. There’s a whole lot of bullying of lesbians, talking over lesbians, and misinformation about lesbians. I felt like this would be a good time and a place to get a few messages out there to see if they might connect with other people. I’m sure some of those messages might take some people aback, but they include factual information and feminist ideas.

JM: Did anyone come up to you at Pride and talk to you about the messages?

GC: No one directly came up and talked to me, but while my back was turned, someone cut off all the balloons with a very sharp knife. And a woman came up and wrote on my flag, “Trans misogyny is misogyny.” I didn’t really feel like engaging with people. I pretty much just let the flag do my talking for me. Because I really did feel a certain amount of “unwelcome” there.

JM: Yes, I was going to say — with all of these social media messages, like, “Punch a TERF for Pride Month” etc., were you frightened?

GC: There was a point (it was a very long parade by the way), when I thought, “Someone is writing on my flag, someone is cutting the balloons off… Maybe it’s time to [go]. I’ve come and taken pictures, I’ve seen the parade and I’ve made my statement — I’m getting the heck out of here.” And I did. I just rolled up my flag and got out while everybody else was busy. I stopped on the way back a couple of times to check no one was following me and it turned out ok. No one came up and threatened me or anything like that. The police had a very big presence there… But also there was kind of a festive mood and I didn’t want to rain on that. I wasn’t yelling or making any big statements; I just took my flag and let my flag do the talking for me.

JM: Did you meet any other lesbians there?

GC: There were a couple of women that set up next to me. The first five floats in the parade were transgender entries, including the Grand Marshall. I turned to one of the women and said, “Where are all the gay people?” She was real low-toned and said, “I KNOW. I know.” There was an acknowledgement that we understood that transgender was going to be very prominent in this parade and it was.

JM: You have spent over 40 years in the lesbian community. Is there any message that you would like to give to the community? I’m thinking of younger lesbians in particular.

GC: Yes. Being a lesbian is a healthy, happy thing. It’s completely normal for lesbians to be lesbians. It’s odd for me that someone would want to try and not want to be a lesbian, but I do understand that there’s a lot of hate out there. I don’t feel those pressures myself, because I’m out personally. So I don’t know if I could really connect with younger people, but I do know other young lesbians who are connected [in the community] and I encourage that. Find each other, find stuff to do, find small groups, do sports, go to events. Find each other. Keep your group small. Be very careful and don’t use commercial dating spaces — they’re very dangerous and are full of men.

JM: Is there any message that you would like to send to the wider LGBTQIA+ community?

GC: Respect the lesbian community — respect us. Respect that we want to have our own boundaries, which sometimes are social and which are definitely exclusive in terms of intimacy — they’re exclusive to females. It’s not a knock on other people, it’s just what we are — it’s about us. We have no need to accommodate other people. We are ourselves.

JM:  Lastly, your picture has been captured on Tumblr with the heading: “Real lesbians are back.” What are your feelings on that?

GC: Phew! I’m just the average person — just out there. I’m out there hopefully connecting. I’m glad that a couple of other people have noticed it, and maybe next year I’ll have some company at the parade — that would be awesome! Maybe we can get a group and march together and just be lesbians. And I mean natal lesbians, which is the only kind of lesbian that there is. I know a lot of other people use that word, but we know who we are.

JM: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

GC: I haven’t got it all set up yet, but I want to promote our [lesbian] positiveness and visibility, so I think I’m going to pull names out of a hat every month or so and send a lesbian a big lesbian flag. Hopefully they will put pictures on it or decorate it or fly it once or twice a year. Like during the Women’s March, on Lesbian Visibility Day, National Coming Out Day, or on Gay Pride Day. I’m hoping to get that started pretty soon. I have someone lined up already who gave me a lot of encouragement and told me a great little private story about returning a trans flag bought by mistake. I have a brand new blank lesbian flag here and I’m going to send that out to a sister lesbian on a regular basis. I know that there are a lot of lesbians that are clamouring to communicate with each other, connect with each other, tell each other our stories, and maybe uplift the young.

We’re going keep turning up, we’re going to keep being born, and we’re never going to be eradicated, so let’s try to take care of each other. It’s just my way of making a difference, and hopefully whoever I can impact will turn and make a difference for another lesbian out there — something like lesbians holding hands.

[Afternote: After the interview was over, Gaye and I were chatting. She showed me the flag and found a tiny purple heart sticker that someone had put on it at the march without her noticing.]

Julie Moss is a freelance journalist who lives in Melbourne with her partner and three dogs.

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