The History and Future of the Changing D.C. Lesbian Scene
Washington, D.C. has always been a city of new and old, of history and relevancy. While most people know D.C. for its monuments and politicians, it has also been one of the fastest growing and most quickly gentrifying cities in the nation, with a recent majority of that influx coming from millennials. This dichotomy has been glaringly obvious among queer women and the ever-changing lesbian social scene.
Recently, I got a chance to speak with Dr. Bonnie Morris of the Rainbow History Project. Morris is a professor of Women’s Studies at both Georgetown and George Washington universities. She has been part of D.C.’s lesbian community for multiple decades and is the author of The Bar Notebooks, The Disappearing L and did a recent presentation at the Library of Congress called Lost Lesbian Spaces.
Though many younger women are unaware, D.C. has always played a huge role in the lesbian community. Throughout that history, women in Washington has always found new and creative ways to connect.
One obvious way to meet women in the community has been through the bar scene. This past year, we saw the closing of Phase 1, the longest continuously running lesbian bar in the nation. However, long before that, D.C. was home to places like Tracks, The Other Side, The Hung Jury, JoAnna’s, The Hill Haven and more recently, Chaos. However, the bar scene is not for everyone.
Long before the Internet, another way people in the community learned to connect was through print. On top of long-standing publications like The Washington Blade and Metro Weekly, D.C. has been home to grassroots publications like Off Our Backs and Blacklight. As more women found positive representations of themselves in the written world, the women’s bookstore also grew in popularity. Women’s bookstores like The Lammas and Sister Space provided a safe haven for women to discuss issues important to them, like custody battles or sexual assault.
As the community came together, women’s discussions also started at places like the Gay Women’s Alternative or the Thursday night discussion group at The Washington Area Women’s Center. “That thing rocked,” explains Morris, who went to the group for 18 years. “Women talked about everything going on in their lives. Sex, their parents, getting out of the military and racism. It was totally racially diverse. There were women with disabilities that talked about having sex, there were women who were very devout and conflicted and then women who practiced Wicca. There were women who talked about the backlash against female athletes. It was just terrific.”