- The Washington Times - Monday, September 5, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO - They campaign arm in arm for homosexual rights, but lesbians and homosexual men don’t always march in step. With bemusement — and at times frustration — they acknowledge a lingering gender gap in how they live, socialize and perceive each other.

The two groups each grapple with real differences — and with stereotypes of themselves and the other sex, such as that homosexual men are the partygoers, flashy and promiscuous, and that lesbians are the relatively dull homebodies —”soccer moms,” in the words of one activist.

In San Francisco and New York, homosexual nightclubs tend to be virtually all-male, while many lesbians have settled in quieter, less-expensive neighborhoods. Some lesbians question whether homosexual men, whom they supported fervently during the peak of the AIDS crisis, are reciprocating now with appropriate empathy for lesbian health problems.

“It never ceases to amaze me how much sexism there is among gay men, given that they’re the main victims of sexism,” said Kate Kendell, executive director of the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights.

National homosexual-rights leaders — both men and women — say the gender gap has narrowed dramatically from the 1960s and ‘70s, when lesbian feminists openly rebelled at what they considered to be the patronizing male domination of the movement. Now, political solidarity is strong, but differences remain.

In Chicago, for example, a homosexual men’s group at the Broadway United Methodist Church recently invited two lesbians to a weekly meeting to discuss gender issues. The men and women each brought along a list of stereotypes they subscribed to — for example, that lesbians craved to be physical-education coaches and homosexual men to be interior decorators — and found the discussion refreshing.

“It felt so novel and unique,” said Cathy Knight, one of the participants. “It’s stuff you’d think we could talk about, but we don’t.”

The group leader, librarian Arlie Sims, said he gained insight.

“It’s not hard to see the ways in which being a white male carries with it privilege — even if you’re a gay white male,” he said. “There’s a sense that everything is about the boys.”

Miss Knight suggested that even if some stereotypes are accurate, they shouldn’t divide a community that needs unity.

“More lesbians are coupled, homebodies, they don’t go to bars as much, and men are more sexually active,” she said. “My response is, ‘So what?’ If that’s what they choose, it doesn’t have anything to do with having less moral values. It’s about expressing yourself.”

Evidence suggests that lesbians are indeed more drawn to monogamy than homosexual men are — two-thirds of the same-sex couples who have “married” in Massachusetts or entered civil unions in Vermont are women. But prominent lesbians balk at using such statistics to question the multipartner dating preferences of many homosexual men.

“I don’t have any judgment about how they order their lives,” Miss Kendell said. “Lifestyle choices that are damaging and self-destructive — that’s the problem, not gay men having more partners.”

Although homosexual men, as a group, have a higher incidence of drug abuse and sexually transmitted disease, activist Cheryl Jacques said lesbians shouldn’t generalize or view the men as impeding political progress.

“I’ve met too many monogamous male couples and promiscuous, drug-using women I wouldn’t want around my children,” she said.

Miss Jacques — former president of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest national homosexual-rights group — said she has met numerous activists who distrust the other sex.

“One of the best messages you can convey as a leader, is, ‘Hey, the enemy is over there,’” Miss Jacques said. “We are a family. We may have differences within our four walls. But we all share the enemy that wants to strip us of our common humanity.”

Never was the common bond more evident than in the worst of the AIDS crisis in 1980s, when lesbians doubled as caregivers and lobbyists on behalf of stricken homosexual men who were not getting all-out support from the political and health establishments.

“It was as if we were siblings, and you found out your brother is gravely ill, and your parents pay no attention,” Miss Kendell said. “It was a life-or-death situation, and whatever the social differences were became totally irrelevant.”

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a rarity among major homosexual-rights groups in retaining a sex-specific name, even though it advocates on behalf of men, too, in pushing for same-sex “marriage” and other goals.

“That part of our name conveys a feminist philosophy and recognizes that sexism is the universal oppressor — of gay men, as well as lesbians,” Miss Kendell said.

At times, the discussion of the sexes can be lighthearted. Miss Kendell, for example, joked that lesbians “don’t have a social life — it’s just being soccer moms.”

Paris Poirier, a lesbian filmmaker from Santa Monica, Calif., tackled gender stereotypes with a mostly light touch in the 1997 documentary “Pride Divide” — interviewing dozens of homosexual men and lesbians about differences in dating habits, humor and tastes in pornography. Among the stereotypes debated were that men were more witty in their conversation, more predatory in their sex lives and less serious in their relationships.

“I don’t think lesbians are as whiny as they used to be,” Miss Poirier said. “There’s a lot more freedom to talk about gender issues.”

Matt Foreman, New York-based executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said homosexual-rights groups should place more focus on breast cancer and other women’s health issues.

“I understand the frustrations of lesbians,” he said. “They did so much to respond to the AIDS crisis and don’t see a lot of reciprocity.”

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