The stigmatisation of lesbianism is perpetuated in the dispute between Martin Pugh and June Purvis ("Lesbian fracas splits scholars", THES , January 25).
Writers who are anti-feminist or critical of one strand of feminist politics use the suggestion of lesbianism as a discrediting tactic. Some feminist historians have responded by ignoring evidence of lesbian relationships and/or emphasising the beauty and heterosexuality of suffrage leaders. A more recent strategy, which emphasises the historiographical difficulty of claiming that someone was a lesbian, serves the same purpose. There are difficulties, but when a higher standard of proof is demanded than for attributing heterosexuality, then a heterosexist double standard is operating.
Yes, some suffragettes were lesbians. Sometimes it affected their politics, sometimes it did not. To deny this is to reinforce anti-lesbian prejudice that affects all women, not only lesbians.
Department of cultural studies
University of East London