Feature: DIVA marks 200th edition with rallying call for more LGBT rights

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DIVA editor Jane Czyzselska tells PinkNews.co.uk what’s changed since the queer women’s title was launched in 1994 and what she believes still needs changing.

Lucy Spraggan, Heather Peace, paralympian Claire Harvey, authors Stella Duffy and Sarah Waters, Pratibha Parmar, Paris Lees, Jane Hill, Allegra McEvedy Maggi Hambling – we’ve got a stellar roll call on the double cover of DIVA’s 200th issue – something DIVA’s first editor, Frances Williams wouldn’t have dreamed possible in 1994.

Back then our aim was to showcase everything that was fun, glamorous and edgy about lesbian culture. This was lesbian chic as worn by lesbians, not straight supermodels like Cindy Crawford.

Finally we had our own magazine and were being written about by ourselves, not by outsiders gawping at us. In 1994 there were precious few media resources available to us – no internet, the occasional gay TV show, only a handful of out and proud celebrities who were household names.

Today the situation is unquestionably better than it’s ever been, with lesbians now granted protection from discrimination based on our sexuality in many areas of our lives.

But despite the sweeping changes, there is still much to do. Our government is about to rewrite the 2010 Equalities Act to protect homophobic members of the clergy from being prosecuted for prejudice when they refuse to marry same-sex couples in church, sending a dangerous mixed message about the status of all LGBT people and giving tacit approval to the homophobes who wreak havoc in the lives of LGBTs, especially gay children and young people.

This homophobia has a corrosive effect on many people’s lives making them feel shame about who they are and who they love, often forcing them to live secret, closeted lives and making it harder for them to fulfill their true potential whether it’s in their personal or professional lives.

It creates the ludicrous legal loophole that sees non biological lesbian mothers of children born through known donors before 2009 being forced to adopt their own children in order to have full parental responsibility for them.

Butch women are still seen as social pariahs by many both within our communities and outside it, black lesbians and bi women are not as visible in public life and the media as their white counterparts indicating that racism is yet another factor, that many must contend with.

Over the years in DIVA we’ve written about the changing lives of our readers, from living as social outcasts in the aftermath of Margaret Thatcher’s Section 28 right up to the present day with equality in law still on the political agenda. As the laws have changed in our favour, so lesbian identity has changed, with fewer considering the term ‘lesbian’ to be a defining aspect of their identity.

In the mid-90s, before the advent of queer and the LGBT umbrella, the notion of who belonged in the lesbian community was far narrower than it is today. Today bisexual women and trans lesbians are a core part of our readership and they are currently engaged in their own struggle for self-determination.

DIVA’s been a friend to many over the years, reflecting the highs and lows of our lives. We still provide readers with advice on coming out, where to find partners, where to go to find like-minded gay, bi and trans women, and what lesbians are doing in other countries; and today we report on how new equality legislation continues to affect and change our lives, how and where to get hitched and how to start families.

One of the most crucial aspects of DIVA has been our visibility on the newsstands of shops like WHSmiths and supermarkets like Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s. With very few images of lesbians on the high street, DIVA has helped tens of thousands of readers to ‘feel normal’ in a culture that has marginalised our communities for decades. We hope that in a few more decades we won’t be required to help lesbians and bi women to ‘feel normal’ rather simply reflect, inform, entertain and inspire our readers, like a good and trusted friend.

Jane Czyzselska is the editor of DIVA.