The Lavender Menace Shirt


Betty Friedan’s warning that lesbians were a “lavender menace” would ruin the women’s movement resulted in their complete exclusion at the Second Congress to Unite Women held in May 1970. Rejecting Friedan’s comments, lesbian activists known as Radicalesbians hijacked it despite its decision.

The Lavender Menace

Betty Friedan warned members of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1969 about lesbians posing a “lavender menace” to women’s movements. She believed that openly supporting lesbianism could tarnish NOW’s mainstream credibility and give rise to misconceptions that feminists were man-haters. Friedan and other leaders from NOW felt that lesbians had become distracted from fighting for women’s rights by becoming involved with issues related to gay men’s rights. GLF women, such as Rita Mae Brown and Karla Jay, decided to take action. This group planned to disrupt the Second Congress to Unite Women conference held in May 1970 by wearing T-shirts with “LAVENDER MENACE” printed on them and handing out copies of The Woman-Identified Woman manifesto, which placed lesbianism at the core of feminist politics as an act of resistance against patriarchy.

At this protest, women chanted and waved their T-shirts. Joining them were members of the Gay Liberation Front as well as some straight activists who came to support them; the event proved successful and became known as Lavender Menace.

The term became widely associated with lesbian activists’ resistance against feminism’s silencing of their voices and issues. Though some viewed them as threats, activists were determined not to succumb to pressure and accepted being called Lavender Menace as part of their identity by proudly wearing their Lavender Menace shirts at events throughout the US. It quickly became a significant turning point in LGBT rights activism; soon afterward, NOW included lesbian membership among their ranks.

The Lavender Menace represents an essential chapter in LGBTQ+ activism and feminist history, symbolizing an ongoing fight for inclusion. JSTOR Daily reached out to Sigrid Nielsen, Bob Orr, and Kate Charlesworth – founders of Edinburgh’s Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive – to gain more insight into its continued presence today; its archive preserves hard-to-find LGBT+ books while supporting queer literary artists – read about more here. JSTOR Daily relies on readers like you. Thank you!

The History

The lavender menace shirt became an icon of lesbian activism in 1970. Worn by members of Lavender Menace (later renamed Radicalesbians), an organization demanding recognition of lesbian issues within Second Wave Feminism or Women’s Movement, they infiltrated Congress to Unite Women with these purple hand-dyed T-shirts bearing “Lavender Menace” printed across them – this moment catalyzed lesbian activism into being an essential component of Women’s feminism that made intersectionality possible and further strengthened it as an integral part of Women’s Movement.

Betty Friedan’s assertion that lesbians were a “lavender menace” that threatened the Women’s Movement was met with protest from lesbian activists from the Gay Liberation Front and the National Organization for Women; as a response, they attended and hijacked the Second Congress to Unite Women held in May 1970 wearing T-shirts marked “Lavender Menace” while handing out copies of The Woman-Identified Woman manifesto.

Some members of the Lavender Menace had already been active in the GLF but felt disenfranchised due to working closely with men without making progress on women’s issues. Therefore, they came together and attempted to hijack Congress with their manifesto in what became known as a “herring raid.” They aimed to emphasize lesbianism’s place within women’s movements more broadly.

Purple was long associated with sexuality. Sappho’s poem fragments alluded to this association, while in 1969’s Gay Power March from Washington Square Park to Stonewall Inn, it became widely seen as an affirming color.

Lavender Menace T-shirts were striking in that they were handcrafted individually, showing just how much time and energy each woman put into her activism. This element made up part of their symbolism, which now lives on in the Lesbian Herstory Archive as a reminder of all these activists made towards furthering intersectional Women’s movements.

The Symbolism

Purple has long been associated with queerness. One of its colors appeared on the rainbow flag designed in 1978, and since then, it has become a symbolic representation of LGBTQIA+ identities and communities worldwide.

Betty Friedan first used this term during a May NOW conference that year; her goal was to emphasize lesbian feminists as threats that could undermine its efforts toward equal rights for all women.

Rita Mae Brown and her local lesbian radical feminist consciousness-raising group decided to do something about it. They planned a “Lavender Menace Zap” at the 1970 Second Congress to Unite Women in New York City, infiltrating it wearing hand-dyed T-shirts bearing “Lavender Menace.” Additionally, they distributed The Woman-Identified Woman manifesto, which aimed to disprove Friedan’s assertion that feminism must be divided by sexual orientation.

Their intentions were achieved: the Woman-Identified Woman manifesto had its intended effect, sparking much controversy but ultimately driving greater intersectionality within the feminist movement. Additionally, this manifesto helped redefine “lesbian” as a political movement rather than just a sexual preference.

The lavender menace shirt serves as a visual reminder of this historic event and of how far the LGBTQIA+ movement has come in empowering women. Available in various sizes, it makes an excellent present for anyone passionate about LGBTQIA+ rights.

This shirt is made from high-quality materials and offers a wide variety of sizes to accommodate different body types. Crafted with 100% cotton spun with air jet yarn for softness and no pilling, as well as being an environmentally-friendly fashion option using less water for production than conventional cotton production and being organic certified, this sustainable option makes a statement about LGBTIA+ community pride while supporting the LGBTQIA+ Pride Foundation.

The Meaning

Lena Waithe wore her lavender Pyer Moss suit at the Women’s March on Washington as an act of defiance, remembering all those women who refused to accept no for an answer when told they could no longer participate in their communities or institutions. Additionally, it symbolizes how LGBTQIA+ people will continue fighting for their rights despite any restrictions placed upon them and that their voices must be heard.

At this event, solidarity was shown in defiance with those who braved threats, arrest, or firing for standing up and refusing to back down from their views. These brave individuals will long be remembered as some of the most courageous queer activists ever.

Lavender has long been associated with queer identity. It was chosen as the color for the LGBTQIA+ pride flag in 1978, yet its roots can be traced much further back. Sappho first referenced it correlating with queerness in her poem fragment.

Betty Friedan famously described lesbians in her speech at a 1969 NOW event as the “lavender menace.” She believed that lesbians infiltrating the feminist movement would lessen its credibility and portray feminists as man-haters. This incited a backlash from feminists; one group who identified as lesbians responded by disrupting an event held by NOW later that month and wearing hand-dyed purple T-shirts with “Lavender Menace” written across them and handing out copies of a manifesto called “The Woman-Identified Woman.”

This protest was a practical act of defiance against anti-lesbian sentiment at the time, helping to galvanize and catalyze feminist movements while making clear that feminism wasn’t solely about equal rights for women but also about creating equality for all. Their Lavender Menace T-Shirts became symbols of their resistance as well as of including lesbians within feminist movements.

Wearing the Lavender Menace shirt is an appropriate tribute to those who support equality for all people. Feminism cannot truly reach its potential until all identities and perspectives are included and utilized for positive change.