All We’ve Got: The Importance of Space for Lesbian Communities

On November 14th the Women’s and Gender Resource Center, the Office of LGBTQ Services, and the Waidner-Spahr Library co-sponsored a screening of All We’ve Got, a documentary film highlighting the importance of space for women in the LGBTQ community and the recent disappearance of such spaces. The film was directed by Alexis Clements, and she worked closely on the production of the film with a group of five other people who are all part of the queer community. All We’ve Got is Clements’ first film, and she is also an award-winning writer. She has formulated an array of questions, and her work seeks to find the answers for herself and the wider LGBTQ community. The film outlines the implications of spaces designated specifically for the purpose of inclusion, and how it impacts the dominant cultural perspective, identities, history, and the queer community. There was a discussion after the conclusion of the documentary facilitated by Jess Howard, one of our librarians. While the turnout was small, it allowed for an engaging and intimate discussion.

The sense of community within queer communities was essential to the main ideas of the film. Having a sense of belonging is very important for the queer community, and the spaces identified within the film strove to create that feeling. However, there are several factors that prohibit queer folks from easily finding a place where they do feel like they can belong. Demographics including race, socioeconomic status, age, and gender identity can present barriers. Also, a great number of the queer spaces have already closed and are not available to queer communities anymore. Finally, there is the question of having to “find” a queer community because realistically the existing spaces are few and far between. Queer folks have to make an extra effort to find places to express themselves openly when it seems like such communities should be easily accessible.

The first space that was profiled in the film was a lesbian bar in Oklahoma called Alibi’s. The bar is run by two lesbians and has become the hub of expression, inclusivity, and belonging to the surrounding queer community. Alibi’s is not a loud club, and revolves around a culture of open expression. It was seen as a place in which friendliness and openness were two key components of its desirable atmosphere. Not all the people who enjoy Alibi’s are queer, and all people are able to find it as a space that is inclusive and welcoming. Alibi’s management has apparently not always been as inclusive as it is now. The previous owner presented a barrier to inclusivity in the form of age and did not have the same values that the new owners brought to Alibi’s. The new owners faced financial obstacles because of the fact it was a lesbian bar located in a very small town. However, despite this Alibi’s is known as “Tornado Shelter” for the queer community because it a safe space that continues to be unceasingly reliable.

Another space that Clements focused on is the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn. The name of the space is a play on words that incorporated the use of “her” rather than “his” and this was a detail that members of the audience felt was very unique and powerful. The archive is the only building in Brooklyn that has exclusive lesbian ownership, and it has a rich history from the beginning of the gay liberation movement. One of the main ideas for the archives was that the queer community needs to maintain its rich history. The environment is first and foremost an empowering and inclusive space that was comforting and nurturing. The archives cater to a wide range of ages from twenty years to eighty years, and this was a crucial part of creating a legacy for this space. There are many fun events that also take place there, including parties, and kissing booths, and other activities that allow the community to become more closely intertwined.

Esperanza, a space in San Antonio Texas, is a place that has the same values as the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn and Alibi’s, but is also created as a place for like-minded women of color. Esperanza has been able to address issues of intersectionality by being a place in which queer women of color need not “fragment their identity,” when stepping into its atmosphere, and rather are able to enter the space as “whole people.” The issue of identity is deeply ingrained at Esperanza because it has historical ties with the Chicanx movement. There is also a great emphasis on collaboration within the queer community to stop important history from being lost and there is an overwhelming need to preserve a legacy. Preservation of history and values continues to be imperative, and the community at Esperanza is working together tirelessly under the motto “Todos somos Esperanza.”

The film touched on a variety of other spaces which all had the same the same goals in common. The spaces available to the queer community should be treasured and a legacy must be created to keep spaces intact. Spaces designed for inclusivity and the LGBTQ community are in danger and their number continues to decrease as a result of gentrification, financial issues, and ownership problems. Also, because of our increasing use of technology, more spaces are being created online for the queer community, but that does not lessen Clements’ claim that physical spaces are of utmost importance, and there is still a visible need for such spaces of empowerment.

The discussion was lively; each student contributed very different ideas, and they all made great points. One student mentioned the economic aspects of spaces and how the economic system seemed to be difficult to navigate for spaces intended for queer communities. Another student brought up the idea that the intergenerational aspect of these spaces seemed to have a very integral role in the constitution of the atmosphere that is created. This was due to the fact that times have changed so drastically, and the ideology of queer movements and history has to be brought to the agenda of the next generation to ensure the continuation of what the present queer community deems important. It seemed to me that each viewer was able to take away a great deal from the topic, and that the film encouraged extended thinking about the implications for the future queer community through creating a meaningful and constructive dialogue surrounding the importance of queer spaces and queer communities.

Written by Ellen McInnes ’22, WGRC student worker

Note: Malinda Triller-Doran, the special collections librarian, provided easels containing information and artifacts from the LGBT History Project that highlighted Central Pa queer women’s spaces.