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About Lavender & Love

About Lavender & Love

In Western culture it started life as a color of desire, thanks to the lyric genius of 7th century BC poet Sappho, whose papyrus fragments told of her erotic predilections for younger women with "violet tiaras." 

By the late 1800’s, the public caught on to the subtle color coding of the gay community.  And it was around this time, lavender became inextricably linked with being queer.  This coincided with the Aestheticism Movement, which rebelled against the stuffy, rigid and uptight morals of Victorian England and the industrial age.  Aestheticism uplifted beauty, passion and "art for art's sake." In an effort to discredit these artists, newspapers denounced people like Oscar Wilde who wrote about his "purple hours." 

Lesbians finally wrested lavender back from artists and gay men in the 1920s.  Violets became the gift of choice to suggest a woman had a more “sapphic” interest in another woman.  She would gift a posey of the delicate flowers to her intended romantic interest.  

Lavender became a mean-spirited symbol in the 1950s under McCarthyism. Approximately, 5,000 federal employees lost their jobs on the basis of their sexuality.

Historian David K. Johnson, called it "The Lavender Scare,” due in part to the use of a “streak of lavender” being a popular taunt of effeminate men.  

But, as queer people have always done, throughout history, we have taken that which others use to subjegate us; reclaim it; and turn it into a symbol of empowerment.  So, by 1969, the color symbolized empowerment. When the queer community did their first ever Gay Pride march to commemorate the Stonewall Rebellion, lavender sashes and armbands were handed out to symbolize gay power. 

That same year, Betty Friedan, then president of the National Organization for Women, sought to oust the lesbian membership from their rosters.  In a typically cis-White-woman stance, she thought feminism should exclude lesbians because it would hurt the cause of woman.  (If there was ever an example of backwards, twisted, patriarchy aligned feminism, this is it.)  Those lesbians, however, did not slink away.  At the Second Congress to Unite Women, a group of radical activists showed up wearing wearing tye-dyed T-shirts printed with the words "Lavender Menace." They stormed the stage and made sure the topic of lesbainism was covered. 

So, from women poets dancing on the beautiful Greek Isles to proud lesbians storming the NOW Conference stage, lavendar has always been a color to show the strength and power of women loving women and other queer folk.

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