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Unfortunately, the Sunday morning as the National
television news shows were about to report the
Conference's success to the nation, a war broke out
in the Middle East and the women's story got buried.



"We Are Everywhere" -- Lesbian Coalition at IWY, 1977

Twenty thousand attendees from across the nation descended upon Houston, November 18 - 21, 1977, for the International Women's Year National Women's Conference (IWY), the first federally funded women's conference in U.S. history. Two thousand elected delegates produced the National Plan of Action, a document of twenty-five resolutions submitted to Congress and the president that recommended federal action to increase women's equality and alleviate barriers in society. The three most contentious resolutions - reproductive freedom, the Equal Rights Amendment, and sexual preference - threatened to derail the ratification process, as anti-feminists were pitted against feminists, and some feminists against lesbians.

Feminist conference-goers intimately understood the importance of the moment for equality, especially lesbians. Under the guidance of the National Gay Task Force's Jean O'Leary, lesbians coordinated a yearlong, nationwide effort in the state delegate meetings to ensure inclusion of the sexual preference resolution in the broad array of recommendations. On the final day of the conference, lesbians and their allies displayed a huge banner that read "Lesbian Rights," and carried a thousand balloons labeled "We Are Everywhere" to demonstrate support for the resolution.

The open debate period, prior to the vote, included vehement opposition from anti-feminists, but the highlight was Betty Friedan's shocking endorsement of the resolution, which was a complete reversal of her previous opposition to lesbianism as a feminist movement platform. Finally, the vote was called, and the plank passed, overwhelmingly! Lesbians and their allies cried and screamed in elation, jumped on chairs, and embraced each other as balloons ascended to the rafters.

Three months later, delegate Jeanne Cordova, of the publication The Lesbian Tide, reported, "Indeed for lesbians, Houston was the first time we were seen as more than the female half of the Gay Movement, more than the Lavender Menace of the Women's Movement."

The Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY (July 19, 1848) was invoked with the lighting of a torch and then carried 2,600 miles by relay runners to Houston. Poet Maya Angelou wrote a new Declaration of Sentiments to parallel the one passed by the 1848 convention, it
accompanied the torch and was signed by thousands. Also see this link.