Sexual Orientation

Plank 23 of the National Plan of Action called for the elimination of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, then referred to as sexual or affectional preference, in areas such as employment, public facilities, and the military. When the IWY Commission first drafted an agenda, it did not include a sexual orientation resolution. After 30 of the 56 state and territorial meetings adopted such a proposal, however, the commissioners added the issue to the National Plan. The plank joined those on the Equal Rights Amendment and reproductive freedom as one of the most polarizing under consideration. Of the three, the sexual orientation plank stood the greatest chance of defeat.

The resolution came to a vote on November 20. Of those who spoke in favor of or against the recommendation, the most unexpected testimony came from delegate-at-large Betty Friedan. In 1969, Friedan had cautioned against supporting LGBTQ causes, calling the issue a “lavender menace” to the women’s movement. On the floor of the Sam Houston Coliseum, however, Friedan shared her endorsement, saying, “We must help women who are lesbians in their own civil rights.” The arena erupted when the resolution passed, with supporters in the bleachers releasing pink and yellow balloons with the message “We are everywhere.” Opposition delegates from Mississippi, meanwhile, turned their backs to the podium and bent their heads in prayer.

This segment from 1977 National Women’s Conference: A Question of Choices captures the passage of the resolution about sexual orientation, then called sexual preference. Commissioner Jean O’Leary, co-chair of the National Gay Task Force, reads the proposal and opens the floor for comment. Eleanor Smeal, president of the National Organization for Women, speaks in favor of the plank. Dorris Holmes of Georgia, on the other hand, worries the resolution will impede the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, calling the issue “an albatross on the neck of the feminist movement.”

Minority Women