It happened in New York on Saturday, December 12, at a march held in freezing sleet in support of abortion and child-care centers. It had been called by a new group, the Women’s Strike Coalition, organized by Betty Friedan. Betty, Gloria [Steinem], Flo Kennedy and Kate [Millet] were slated to speak, and they had just climbed up on the flatbed truck parked in front of Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s residence, when a speckling of pale purple–like pointillist dabs of paint–began to glow here and there in the crowd. Some women–no one was sure how many–were wearing and distributing lavender armbands to the entire crowd. They were also handing out leaflets explaining why “we’re ALL wearing lavender lesbian armbands today.”
“It is not one women’s sexual experience that is under attack,” the leaflet said. “It is the freedom of all women to openly state values that fundamentally challenge the basic structure of patriarchy. If they succeed in scaring us with words like ‘dyke’ or 'lesbian’ or 'bisexual,’ they’ll have won. AGAIN. They’ll have divided us. AGAIN. Sexism will have triumphed. AGAIN… they can call us all lesbians until such a time as there is no stigma attached to women loving women. SISTERHOOD IS POWERFUL!!!”
The Sisterhood, The Inside Story of the Women’s Movement and the Leaders Who Made It Happen, by Marcia Cohen.
I recently found this story in an anti-feminist work I’d printed out ages ago and found this, uh, more positive retelling via google books. The lavender armbands came about in support of Kate Millet, who in Fall 1970 had been pressured after a lecture at Columbia University to out herself as bisexual (there are some differing accounts as to whether she said “bisexual” or “lesbian” there, but she is the former). She’d been flung into popularity after publishing her book, Sexual Politics, but revealing her sexuality set straight women–like Betty Friedman, who thought focusing on lesbian and bisexual women would “discredit the movement”–squirming.
Times Magazine, which had previous praised her, published an article saying, “Kate Millet’s disclosure is bound to discredit her as a spokeswoman for her cause, cast further doubt on her theories and reinforced the views of those skeptics who routinely dismiss all liberationists as lesbians.” So some of said liberationists decided that this display of solidarity would be their response.