The Lavender Menace (Lesbian Feminist Movement)

Author: Jessa Nootbaar
Subject: History
Topic: Integrated; Women’s Rights Movement
Grade Levels: High School: 11th Grade


This lesson covers the contributions of the Lavender Menace, or Lesbian Feminist movement, of the 1970s to the general Second Wave Feminist movement, as well as the limitations and downfalls of Lesbian Feminism.

Time: 50 minutes

Lesson Plan Resources:

Lesson Objectives:

  • Learn about the Lesbian Feminist movement of the 1970s.
  • Understand the exclusionary nature of many social movements.

Essential Questions:

  1. What was Lesbian Feminism/the Lavender Menace?
  2. How and what did lesbian feminism contribute or detract from the ongoing women’s rights movement?
  3. Who did feminist movements, including Lesbian Feminism, include and exclude?


HSS 11.10: Analyze the women’s rights movement from the era of Elizabeth Stanton and Susan Anthony and the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the movement launched in the 1960s, including differing perspectives on the roles of women.

CCSS RI 11-12.1: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

CCSS SL 11-12.1: Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

HISTORY FRAMEWORK: CH 16 P 419: The advances of the black Civil Rights Movement encouraged other groups—including women, Hispanics and Latinos, American Indians, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, LGBT Americans, students, and people with disabilities—to mount their own campaigns for legislative and judicial recognition of their civil equality. Students can use the question How did various movements for equality build upon one another? To identify commonalities in goals, organizational structures, forms of resistance, and members. Students can note major events in the development of these movements and their consequences.

HISTORY FRAMEWORK: CH 16 P 420: On the social and cultural front, feminists tackled day-to-day sexism with the mantra “The personal is political.” Many lesbians active in the feminist movement developed lesbian feminism as a political and cultural reaction to the limits of the gay movement and mainstream feminism to address their concerns. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, feminists promoted women’s health collectives, opened shelters for victims of domestic abuse, fought for greater economic independence, and worked to participate in sports equally with men.

HISTORY FRAMEWORK: CH 16 P 421: Students examine the emergence of a movement for LGBT rights. The homophile movement began in the early 1950s with California-based groups like the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis. Across the 1950s and early 1960s, these fairly secretive organizations created support networks; secured rights of expression and assembly; and cultivated relationships with clergy, doctors, and legislators to challenge teachings and laws that condemned homosexuality as sinful, sick, and/or criminal. In the 1960s, younger activists, often poorer and sometimes transgender, began to confront police when they raided gay bars and cafes in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and most famously at the Stonewall Inn in New York City in 1969. Gay rights organizations called on people to “come out” as a personal and political act. Women, frustrated by the gay men’s sexism and other feminists’ homophobia, launched lesbian/feminist organizations.  Consider figures such as: Alfred Kinsey, Harry Hay, José Sarria, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, Frank Kameny, Sylvia Rivera, and Harvey Milk.

HISTORY FRAMEWORK: CH 16 P 431: In what ways have issues such as education; civil rights for people of color, immigrants, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans, and disabled Americans; economic policy; recognition of economic, social and cultural rights; the environment; and the status of women remained unchanged over time? In what ways have they changed?
The growth of the LGBT rights movement, for example, led to the pioneering role of gay politicians such as Elaine Noble, who was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1974, and Harvey Milk, elected in 1977 to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.


Lesbian Feminism: A cultural movement of the 1970s for the inclusion of queer women and their issues in mainstream feminist organizing.

Lavender Menace: Later called the Radicalesbians, a political group that organized for the recognition of lesbian issues within the Women’s Movement of the 1970s.

Second Wave Feminism: Also called the Women’s Movement, a political movement in the 1960s-1980s to further women’s legal and economic rights, as well as their social position.

Teacher Background:

The teacher should have some knowledge of women’s movements (historical and contemporary), as well as have read: Mapping the Margins- Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw.


  • Internet-connected computer
  • Projector
  • Combahee River Collective Handouts
  • Woman-Identified Woman Handouts


Slideshow (20 minutes) and discussion (10 minutes)

  • The teacher will show the slideshow
  • Please note the slideshow includes lots of knowledge questions and discussion questions- give time for student participation before clicking to cue the next bullet point.

Primary source analysis and discussion (20 minutes)

  • The teacher will split the class into two groups.
  • One group will read “The Woman-Identified Woman” by the Radicalesbians (1970).
  • The other group will read “The Combahee River Collective Statement” by the Combahee River Collective (1977).
  • Give 10 minutes for groups to read their documents.
  • Each group should answer the following questions about their document and present their findings to the other group:
    • What is the goal of the group (e.g. Combahee River Collective or Radicalesbians) and the document?
    • Who is the intended reader of this document?
    • What is the group’s stance on feminism?
    • What is the group’s relationship with the larger Women’s Movement?

Relevant Resources:

“1969: The Year of Gay Liberation” 1969: The Year of Gay Liberation, New York Public Library,

Burkett, Elinor. “Women’s Movement” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2 Aug. 2016

Combahee River Collective. (1977). The Combahee River Collective Statement. Publisher: Authors.

Echols, A. (1989). The Eruption of Difference. In Daring to be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967-1975 (pp. 203-234). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota.

“For Stanton, All Women Were Not Created Equal.” NPR, NPR, 13 July 2011

Jay, K. (1999). The Lavender Menace. In Tales of the Lavender Menace: A Memoir of Liberation (pp. 137-146). New York, NY: Basic Books.

Lange, Allison. “National American Woman Suffrage Association – History of U.S. Woman’s Suffrage, National Women’s History Museum, 2015

Pascaline, Mary. “Voting Rights 2016: When Did Women, Black People And Native Americans Get The Right To Vote?” International Business Times, Newsweek Media Group, 4 Nov. 2016

Radicalesbians.” 1969: The Year of Gay Liberation, New York Public Library

Radicalesbians. The Woman-Identified Woman [Pamphlet]. (1970). Philadelphia, PA: Know, Inc.

“Who got the right to vote when?” Al-Jazeera America, 2016

Author Information:

Jessa Nootbaar is a Summer 2018 Education Curriculum Intern at Our Family Coalition in San Francisco, CA, and a Sociology student at Barnard College in New York, NY.

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