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While some in the glbtq community have struggled for integration into mainstream society, others have chosen to separate themselves from it. In this context, the term "separatism" refers to the process by which a minority group chooses to break away from a larger group. At the same time, "separatism" may be used to describe how members of a group (no matter how marginal) prevent those designated as "outsiders" from joining it. Thus, separatism refers not only to attempts to create alternatives to straight society, but also to exclusionary practices within the glbtq community itself.

The "Gay Ghetto"

Before Stonewall, oppression forced many lesbians and gay men to large cities, where the privacy, anonymity, and population density allowed substantial alternative subcultures to develop and flourish.

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After Stonewall, with the creation of businesses, social services, saunas, restaurants, and other venues that served a predominantly gay or lesbian clientele, "gay ghettos" began to appear in large cities. Some bars and clubs that catered to gay males restricted patronage so that, either implicitly or explicitly, women were excluded. Similarly, lesbian bars tended to exclude men, both straight and gay. In addition, drag queens sometimes found themselves excluded from business venues or political groups by gay men who were uncomfortable with gender nonconformity or by lesbians who objected to drag on political grounds.

Lesbian Separatism

In the early 1970s, after encountering misogynistic attitudes and practices in the gay liberation movement and anti-lesbian discrimination in the women's liberation movement, some lesbian feminists decided to create spaces over which they themselves had autonomy. By ending their dependence on and contact with men, and by forming communities based on the privileging of lesbian identities (which could be political as well as sexual), these women developed separatist cultures in urban, suburban, and rural settings. In seeking to minimize their contacts with men, lesbian separatists created women-only communes and houses, political groups, and businesses, as well as women-only events, such as music concerts and poetry readings.

Lesbian separatists subscribed to a "radical feminist" philosophy that views gender difference in terms of essentialism. Unlike the liberal feminists of the mainstream women's movement, who argued that gender was a social construction, lesbian separatists contended that the differences between men and women are rooted in nature. Thus, women naturally possessed a female energy characterized by its warmth, nurturing, and pacifist qualities. On the other hand, due to their male energy, men were hard-wired to be aggressive, competitive, and destructive. Because men could not, or would not, ever change their ways, lesbian separatists believed that it was necessary for women to exclude them from their lives.

Lesbian separatist feminists also excluded male-to-female people from their communities and other women-only spaces. For authors such as Janice Raymond and Mary Daly, male-to-female should not be considered women, but instead agents of the patriarchy. According to this line of thinking, biology is destiny, because a biological male, even if a transsexual, will always possess masculine energy and privilege.

In the 1970s, a number of high-profile incidents occurred in which MTF transsexuals were purged from lesbian communities. For example, in 1973 Beth Elliott, who was serving as Vice President of the San Francisco chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, was outed as transsexual and forced to resign her post. Likewise, in 1977 rumors circulated that Sandy Stone, a recording engineer for Olivia Records (a women's music company), was transsexual. After threats of a boycott from lesbian separatists, Olivia management asked Stone to resign.

By the mid-1980s, many lesbian separatist communities began to fracture around issues of race, class, and gender expression. Critics from both within and without the communities charged that radical feminist ideology held the white, middle-class woman as its standard, and that, in particular, the needs of women of color were ignored. Debates over sexuality, role playing, and who should be considered a "true" lesbian also polarized women-centered communities, and contributed to their decline.

Michigan Womyn's Music Festival

The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival is a popular week-long separatist event that takes place every summer on private land in Hart, Michigan. In 1991, concert-goer Nancy Burkholder was ejected by staff from the festival grounds on the suspicion that she was a male-to-female transsexual. It turned out that the festival's organizers had an unwritten policy regarding the exclusion of MTF transsexuals from the yearly event.

The controversy over Burkholder's expulsion led to debates within and between the lesbian and transgender communities regarding what constitutes a "real" woman. The festival promoters argued that only people who are biologically female and who have lived their entire lives as women should be eligible to attend. The festival policy thus excludes both male-to-female transsexuals (regardless of their identification as women) and female-to-male transsexuals, as well as female-bodied people who do not necessarily identify as "women."

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