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Jay, Karla (b. 1947)  
 
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During her time at college, Jay was opposed to the war in Vietnam and in favor of civil rights, but she did not participate in any demonstrations until late in her senior year. Left-wing students at Columbia seized a building to protest both the university's role in federally-funded weapons research and its displacement of low-income African-American residents of Harlem so that the school could put up new buildings. Jay joined in the occupation and was on the scene when the Tactical Police Force arrived to remove the students. She was not among the hundreds beaten or arrested, but seeing the response of the authorities radicalized her thinking.

Another response that she had seen--to her dismay--was that of male demonstrators to their female comrades. Jay declared herself "appalled by the behavior of the men," who insisted that women should be relegated to a secondary status and should conform to stereotypical gender roles by doing such tasks as making coffee. The combination of experiences during the protest spurred Jay to become an activist in the nascent feminist movement.

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Jay earned her bachelor's degree in 1968 and continued her education as a part-time graduate student in comparative literature at New York University. She supported herself by working as an assistant editor at the David McKay Corporation. While there, she read the manuscript of a soon-to-be best-seller, David Reuben's Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask (1971), and was shocked by its racism and . She voiced her concerns to the owners of the company, whom she found sympathetic. Reuben, however, insisted on retaining most of the offensive material.

In 1969 Jay joined the recently-founded feminist group Redstockings. The majority of the women were heterosexual, but when Jay came out during a consciousness-raising group session, she soon learned that "there were quite a number of lesbians in quite a number of closets in Redstockings."

Among the issues discussed by the Redstockings was that of names and identity. Many of the women changed their surnames to their mothers' birth names, but, given her difficult relationship with her own mother, Jay chose another course, adopting a new name based on her middle initial. She changed it legally in 1978.

Also in 1969, Jay joined the Gay Liberation Front. Never a separatist, she was excited by the prospect of lesbians and gay men working together for equality. As it was, the women of the GLF, greatly outnumbered by the men, were often frustrated by the relatively little attention that the organization gave to their concerns. While gay men pointed out that they ran a considerably greater risk of being arrested or becoming victims of homophobic violence, lesbians contended that they were "doubly oppressed both as women and as homosexuals" and that they were marginalized in both feminist and gay rights organizations.

To improve the relationship of gay men and lesbians within the GLF, Jay introduced consciousness-raising groups. Some men complained that she was "imposing feminism" on the organization, but she persevered and considered the groups "a great success" because they were "especially useful for helping us women better understand some of the men" and because "some of the more vocal men also discovered that the silent men and women had interesting points to make. People still disagreed, but some became more understanding of others and more willing to make space for others to speak."

Jay also addressed specifically lesbian concerns and succeeded in persuading the leaders of the GLF to hold women-only dances to give lesbians a place to socialize that was safe and more salubrious than the few available bars.

A group of lesbians in the GLF formed the Women's Caucus. In addition to working within the organization, they sought inclusion for lesbians in the feminist movement. To that end, they organized a "zap"--an unexpected political action--at the opening of the second Congress to Unite Women in May 1970. Just as the program was beginning, one member of the Caucus doused the lights in the auditorium, allowing approximately thirty others time to take the stage. The protesters wore T-shirts with the slogan "Lavender Menace," a term that Betty Friedan, then president of the National Organization for Women, had used to describe lesbians.

The Lavender Menace women took control of the meeting and engaged in dialogue with the audience members, who, wrote Jay, showed an "unexpected openness" toward them. Nevertheless, gaining acceptance within the women's movement remained a problem for lesbians for years to come.

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