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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  • I thought the double-headed axe was supposed to represent the vulva.

    • acommentator

      It can represent anything the observer wants it to, since no living human can do anything more than guess at what it means (assuming that symbols widely distributed over time and place always meant the same thing, which seems highly doubtful to me).

    • -Jane Don’t-

      It made me think of the Degenderettes…

      • Deb Thompson

        That is what that group and others like it have been doing is appropriating womens symbols ,womanhood , and of course Females .. seems as by you comment , that is what is happening , women, who are unfamiliar with 2nd wave feminists politics and ideologies lesbian separatists of the seventies and the herstory you assume, and think that it is something from a current group which is nothing to do with lesbians past herstory but a copy and a misrepresented one :(( A Labyrs is what it is called

      • ✧ʕ̢̣̣̣̣̩̩̩̩·͡˔·ོɁ̡̣̣̣̣̩̩̩̩✧

        yet another stolen symbol or word.
        queen (cwen) used to mean female human, but early in its history it was perverted to mean prostitute, effemintate male human, &c.
        reclaiming queen is a good idea.

  • JingFei

    I know Gaye (online), and she is just lovely. She is intelligent, nurturing, supportive yet fiercely defensive of lesbians from all walks of life.

    Thank you FC so much for featuring her! It took a lot of guts for her to do this. She had to make sure she brought protection (people who would act in defense of her in case of physical assault). So it was no easy task.

    Gaye is an inspiration. <3

    I'm Mu Guiying on Twitter btw! lol ( for Gaye)

  • unfashionable

    I’m thinking we lesbian feminists (and other radical feminist females) need our own local events, apart from inclusive/intersectional men’s pride and its trendy allies. Maybe a Take Back Our Boundaries march, publicized only by word of mouth and mimeographed flyers. Back to basics. Still dangerous after all these years, but safer than doing it solo. Gaye Chapman is my hero and an inspiration.

    • FierceMild

      That’s a great idea

  • Tobysgirl

    The lesbians at gendertrender said they would welcome straight women marching with them. My question regarding what happened at SF Dyke March was, Where were the radical feminists? Bev Jo said many lesbians were scared to march, so consequently the actual contingent of lesbians was small and subjected to violence.

    • FierceMild

      It appears to me that marches such as dyke march and pride parades have been taken over by BDSM types, burlesque dancers, pornsick gay men, circus dropouts, and trans activists. It seems like you’re more likely to meet a 6 foot tall “female” sub in a collar, ass-less chaps and pink stilettos at these things than lesbian women. Kind of like what happened to take back the night.

      • JingFei

        My partner and I don’t go near Pride anymore (and it’s so close!). We travel elsewhere and avoid it.
        It’s been taken over by Trans/Queer extremists, SJW’s- so many of them straight fetishists. The Dyke March is becoming all Trans/Hetero Sparklequeer and they are vilifying every lesbian who refuses to drink the Kool Aid.
        There was actually a poll somewhere that confirmed lesbians and (true) bisexual women (as In FEMALE cuz there’s no other kind) are feeling alienated at Pride.
        I’d like to start something new in my area but it’s so scary becauseif one has a JOB (and so many of these Queer activists don’t)- or we have lives- the first thing they attempt to do is ruin us :[

        Because they depict anything that’s lesbian only = “Despicable exclusionary Hate group that wants all Trans/NB people DEAD”. Their drama and hyperbole is the likes I have never seen.

  • Tobysgirl

    What the fuck is LGBTQIA+? I prefer LGBTWTF. And, even better, LGB.
    And, Gaye, how did you end up in southern California dressed like 90 percent of the women in Maine?!?!?!?!? Actually, this would qualify as dressed-up for a lot of women in Maine!

  • Wren

    Great interview!! A true shero!!

    But this makes me feel guilty for not going to my local Pride event. Next time I will go and search for women like Gaye who are risking life and limb and offer some support, even if that just means giving her a thumbs up or making sure she has someone to walk back to the train with. However I can help, I must.

    • -Jane Don’t-

      I feel bad I haven’t gone to pride either. Maybe next year I’ll arrange something and go with my cousin and his boyfriend. Also, your comment reminds me when, about a week ago I ran into a gender critical woman at a bar and we had a great conversation. I told her about this site and Gender Critical on reddit…It was nice to not be called a bigot and meet someone who “gets it.” I think more people than we think realize trans activism is BS and you can’t change your biology, but they’re too polite and nice to say anything. Because debating is LITERAL VIOLENCE. :-/

  • Frilly Prosecutor

    “So I am not a lesbian feminist, but I am a feminist who cares very much
    about lesbians and what’s being done to their communities.”

    Same here. When I first began reading up on radical feminism, I found a blog run by a lesbian radfem and that was where I first learned about TIMs attacking and abusing lesbians. I was horrified. I’d had no idea before that. I mean I was aware TIMs were attacking women as a whole but not that these men were actually claiming to be lesbians (wtf?!) and were singling out lesbians and branding them “transphobes” for not sleeping with them.

  • ✧ʕ̢̣̣̣̣̩̩̩̩·͡˔·ོɁ̡̣̣̣̣̩̩̩̩✧

    the Little Red Hen is one of my favorite stories.