54 Portraits of Lesbians in the ‘80s

feature art: Autostraddle // photo: Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images

We’ve always been here.

That’s something that, no matter how many times I try to wrap my mind around it, never ceases to amaze me. I think we all know that a lot of queer culture is youth obsessed — always looking forward, looking for what’s hot, what’s next. But I’ve always gotten chills at the longevity and strength of our community.

I think all of us at Autostraddle feel that way, nerds who get excited about our history. And that’s one of the reasons we asked legitimately one of my favorite indie artists, Jenifer Prince, to create an exclusive print this Pride that celebrates queer love across the decades (there’s a copy of the print at the end of this list — a little treat for when you’re done scrolling. And you should get one, because if you’re already reading this photo list, I’m gonna assume it’s extremely your shit.)

I don’t usually include the full Getty description in captions for photos when we do these lists, as opposed to focusing solely on the photographer’s credit, however I’m making an exception this time because I think the full description really adds to time and place.

Sometimes it’s just about seeing two women hold each other in some dope aviators on a sunny day, you know? Kinky dykes on bikes in black-and-whites. That’s what magic is made of.

That’s the inspiration for this list. Simple. And I hope it brings you some happiness today.


1980

In a black and white photo, a black woman wears a hat and has on a lot of conference buttons around a lanyard. She holds up a sign that says "Black Lesbian Feminist"

Gwenn Craig, of San Francisco, CA, holds aloft a poster reading ‘Black Lesbian Feminist’ during final session of Democratic Convention, New York, US, 14th August 1980. UPI fwl/Stewart (Photo by Bettmann via Getty Images)

1981

Billie Jean King gives a heckler the middle finger (it's sideways, but still the point gets across) after a match. The photo is in black and white.

(Original 1981 Caption): Tennis star Billie Jean King, who recently admitted she once had a lesbian affair with her former secretary, deals with a heckler 7/12 with a brief lecture and an uplifted middle finger. After the match at Los Cabelleros Racquet and Sports Club, Mrs. King said it was the first time a fan had bothered her publicly about the relationship with Marilyn Barnett since she confirmed the affair at a news conference.

1982

Two women with short brunette hair wearing tank tops at Pride in 1982. One woman is physically holding the other woman up with her her upper body strength as they hug.

Two women embrace during the Gay Pride parade in New York City, USA, June 1982. (Photo by Barbara Alper/Getty Images)

In a black and white photo, a white lesbian couple embraces each other during Pride. One has on a shirt that says How dare you assume I'm straight'.

Gay Pride Day in New York City, June 1982. One woman wears a t-shirt with the slogan ‘How dare you assume I’m straight’. (Photo by Barbara Alper/Getty Images)

A lesbian has a sign that says I am your daughter, sister, friend, nurse, teacher, secretary, ex-wife, mother, a lesbian are women who love women

Gay Pride Day in New York City, June 1982. One sign reads ‘Lesbians are womin loving womin’. (Photo by Barbara Alper/Getty Images)

The Duchess bar in the West Village, during the Pride Parade (later the LGBT Pride March) in New York City, June 1982. A banner reads 'In memory of the voices we have lost: Lesbian Herstory Archives'. Amongst the photographs are images of Eleanor Roosevelt and author Radclyffe Hall.

The Duchess bar in the West Village, during the Pride Parade (later the LGBT Pride March) in New York City, June 1982. A banner reads ‘In memory of the voices we have lost: Lesbian Herstory Archives’. Amongst the photographs are images of Eleanor Roosevelt and author Radclyffe Hall. (Photo by Barbara Alper/Getty Images)

1983

A black and white photo of Audre Lorde with a short afro and a dark colored v-neck collard shirt with her hands tucked into her pockets. She looks serious. She is against a white background.

Writer, radical feminist, womanist, lesbian, and civil rights activist Audre Lorde, 1983. Photo by Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

A wide shot, black and white photo, of a large group of lesbians marching during Pride in London, they have large signs that are being cut off by the upper edge of the photo.

Lesbian and Gay Pride March 1983 through the streets of central London. June 1983. (Photo by Carl Bruin/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

In French: Femmes lesbiennes dans le défilé de la Gay Pride à Paris (lesbians march at the Pride parade in Paris)

Femmes lesbiennes dans le défilé de la Gay Pride à Paris, en juin 1983. (Photo by Christian RAUSCH/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Lesbian Witches Marching in Gay Freedom Day Parade

Lesbian Witches Marching in Gay Freedom Day Parade (Photo by © Roger Ressmeyer/CORBIS/VCG via Getty Images)

In a color photo with a black edge around all sides, A group of women march behind a banner reading "Lesbian Mothers" during the Lesbian/Gay Freedom Parade in San Francisco, CA.

(Original Caption): A group of women march behind a banner reading “Lesbian Mothers” during the Lesbian/Gay Freedom Parade in San Francisco, CA.

Lesbians Against Police Violence in Gay Freedom Day Parade

Lesbians Against Police Violence in Gay Freedom Day Parade (Photo by Roger Ressmeyer/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

1984

A photo of two women walking while having their arms wrapped around each other, shot from behind in black and white.

The Gay Pride March on Fifth Avenue, New York City, USA, 1984. (Photo by Peter Keegan/FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Among a crowd on the grass outside the Civic Center, two women share a smile together, one woman is black and lays across the lap of a woman who is white.

Among a crowd on the grass outside the Civic Center, two women share a smile together during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 24, 1984. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

Two women smile as they hold hands and march

Two women smile as they hold hands and march on Market Street during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 24, 1984. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

A woman smiles as she carries a sign that reads 'I Raised One Great Dyke'

A woman smiles as she carries a sign that reads ‘I Raised One Great Dyke’ and marches along Market Street during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 24, 1984. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images) (Editor’s Note: Technically this woman is not a lesbian, but c’mon, I had to.)

Two women raise their fists as they watch marchers during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade

Two women raise their fists as they watch marchers during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 24, 1984. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

1985

Two black women from Dykes on Bikes embrace, one is licking the ear of the other.

View of a pair women from the ‘Dykes on Bikes’ group as they embrace, seated on a motorcycle before the start of the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 15, 1985. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

View of two women, one with her head against the shins of the other, as they sit, with a pet dog on the grass in a black and white photo. One woman is black and the woman propped up against her thighs is white.

View of two women, one with her head against the shins of the other, as they sit, with a pet dog on the grass outside the Civic Center during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 15, 1985. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

Two women (identified only as Bonnie and Laura) lie on the grass and embrace at the Civic Center d

Two women (identified only as Bonnie and Laura) lie on the grass and embrace at the Civic Center during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 15, 1985. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

A large group of people sit on the grass but in the center is two lesbians with mullets with their faces close together, one sticking out her tongue at the other.

View of a group of people seated on the grass outside the Civic Center during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 15, 1985. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

Close-up of two women as they wipe their eyes

Close-up of two women as they wipe their eyes during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 15, 1985. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

View of two elderly women as they kiss on Market Street

View of two elderly women as they kiss on Market Street during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 15, 1985. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

Portrait of smiling woman, dressed in a sleeveless denim jacket and fingerless gloves, from the 'Dykes on Bikes'

Portrait of smiling woman, dressed in a sleeveless denim jacket and fingerless gloves, from the ‘Dykes on Bikes’ group as she spreads out her hands before start of the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 15, 1985. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

A close up portrait of two women at the dykes on bikes parade, they share a motorcycle and the first woman is fat wearing aviator sunglasses. The second woman is thin with a leather vest.

Portrait of two women from the ‘Dykes on Bikes’ group seated together on a motorcycle before the start of the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 15, 1985. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

In a black and white photo, View of members of the 'Dykes on Bikes' group as they ride motorcycles along Market Street in San Francisco.

View of members of the ‘Dykes on Bikes’ group as they ride motorcycles along Market Street during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 15, 1985. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

A thin blonde woman with long straight hair takes portraits of the Dykes on Bikes in a black and white photo.

Portrait of a woman from the ‘Dykes on Bikes’ group, as she takes photographs before the start of the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 15, 1985. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

1986

Close-up of two women as they embrace in a black and white photo, the taller woman has on sunglasses and the shorter woman has tucked her face into the neck of the taller woman.

Close-up of two women as they embrace outside the Civic Center during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 29, 1986. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

Two woman smile as they greet one another in a black and white photo, one woman has a leather vest and sunglasses and teased, short blonde hair. The other has fanned out brunette hair.

Two woman smile as they greet one another on Market Street during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 29, 1986. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

View of a woman, smiling and with her arms wide

View of a woman, smiling and with her arms wide, on Market Street during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 29, 1986. Visible behind her is a pickup truck decorated with balloons. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

Two women are about to kiss in a close up black and white photo

Close-up of two women about to kiss one another, outside the Civic Center during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 29, 1986. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

A black and a white woman share a motorcycle during dykes on bikes, the black woman has her hands up in celebration and is wearing sunglasses.

View of two women from the ‘Dykes on Bikes’ group as they ride a motorcycle along Market Street during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 29, 1986. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

View of two women (the woman on the bottom is identified only as Regina) as they kiss one another on the grass outside the Civic Center

View of two women (the woman on the bottom is identified only as Regina) as they kiss one another on the grass outside the Civic Center during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 29, 1986. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

View of a line of women as they lie back in another's laps, laughing as they raise their arms outside the Civic Center

View of a line of women as they lie back in another’s laps, laughing as they raise their arms outside the Civic Center during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 29, 1986. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

Close-up of a couple as they embrace, one woman is black with large glasses and she is smiling.

Close-up of a couple as they embrace outside the Civic Center during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 29, 1986. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

1987

A woman with sunglasses and a red bandana holds a sign that says "Jesus Loves Me and I'm a Lesbian"

People protest the Papacy’s views on homosexuality at a demonstration during the Pope’s visit to San Francisco in 1987. (Photo by Roger Ressmeyer/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

View of a bare-breasted marcher at Pride in a leather jacket

View of a bare-breasted marcher (identified only as Mia) hold aloft in a crowd outside the San Francisco City Hall during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 28, 1987. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

In a black and white photo, a white woman kisses the neck of an Asian woman.

Close-up of two women as they kiss outside the Civic Center during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 28, 1987. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

A close up of a white lesbian couple with short hair smiling in a black and white photo, one holds the other across her chest from behind.

Close-up of a smiling couple on Market Street during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 28, 1987. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

In a black and white photo that's dark except for a single light above a table, a mother and her daughter (both shadowed) sit across from one another with a small stuffed animal between them.

A normal bedtime scene for a Gay mother and her child. August 26, 1987. (Photo by Brendan Read/Fairfax Media via Getty Images).

View of a group of women holding hands as they march, the woman in the front has her mouth open wide in laughter and is wearing sunglasses.

View of a group of women holding hands as they along Market Street during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 28, 1987. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

Two women hold hands as they dance outside the Civic Center during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 28, 1987.

Two women hold hands as they dance outside the Civic Center during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 28, 1987. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

Close-up of two women, one kissing the back of the other's neck. One woman has a buzzcut and large hoop earrings.

Close-up of two women, one kissing the back of the other’s neck outside the Civic Center during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 28, 1987. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

View of an unidentified woman, in a t-shirt that reads 'Old,' as she steps off a streetcar with a sign that reads, in part, 'Lesbian and Gay Seniors'.

View of an unidentified woman, in a t-shirt that reads ‘Old,’ as she steps off a streetcar with a sign that reads, in part, ‘Lesbian and Gay Seniors’ during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 28, 1987. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

1988

A full color portrait of Kelly McKillis, a white actress with short blonde hair, sitting in a wicker chair with an oversized black sweater.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – 1988: Actress Kelly McGillis poses during a 1988 Beverly Hills, California portrait photo session. McGillis, who has starred in such films as “Witness” and “Top Gun,” was promoting her new movie “The Accused.” (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

Lesbian women congregate in New Orleans, LA, the photo is in full color and they have brightly colored sunglasses and t-shirts

Lesbian women congregate in New Orleans, LA (Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Lesbian couple on a motorcycle at the 19th annual Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade, Hollywood

Lesbian couple on a motorcycle at the 19th annual Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade, Hollywood, CA (Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

A woman, both her arms raised, rides on the back of a motorcycle in the 'Dykes on Bikes' group

A woman, both her arms raised, rides on the back of a motorcycle in the ‘Dykes on Bikes’ group on Market Street during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 26, 1988. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

1989

Melissa Etheridge in a brown camel coat leaning against a porch railing.

(Original Caption) : 1989-Singer/songwriter Melissa Etheridge is shown leaning on the post of a porch in this outdoors portrait. (Photo by Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

A black and white photo of two lesbians holding hands and marching in a 1989 Pride parade, they both have short brunette hair. They have signs across their chests that say "wife" with hearts underneath.

25th June 1989: Two women wearing “Wife” signs around their necks, smile for the camera, at the 1989 Gay Pride Parade in Greenwich Village, Manhattan commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots (Photo By Walter Leporati/Getty Images).

A femme lesbian couple shares a motorcycle. One has permed blonde hair and one has teased brunette hair.

25th June 1989: Activists from the LGBTQ community ride their motorcycles at the start of the Gay Pride Parade, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in NYC (Photo By Walter Leporati/Getty Images).

A black and white photo of two lesbians embracing, one is holding the other from behind. They both have short brunette hair.

Amidst a crowd on Market Street, one woman embraces another from behind as they watch the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 25, 1989. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

Portrait of a couple standing forehead to forehead outside the Civic Center in San Francisco. Both women are white with teased short hair.

Portrait of a couple standing forehead to forehead outside the Civic Center during the International Lesbian & Gay Freedom Day Parade, San Francisco, California, June 25, 1989. (Photo by Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images)

Two fat white lesbians share a motorcycle during the Dyke March in a black and white photo, they have their hands up waving to the crowd.

25th June 1989: Activists from the LGBTQ community ride their motorcycles with fists in the air at the start of the Gay Pride Parade, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in NYC (Photo By Walter Leporati/Getty Images).


If you enjoyed this list (I cannot even begin to tell you how often I smiled while putting this together! Why are we, as a people, so cute??) then I want to let you know that it’s forever been our dream to put together massive photo lists like this one, but for a long time we were not able to do it because photo rights are expensive! And unlike Buzzfeed, where these kinds of lists are common,  queer indie media runs on a lean budget. Last year, with the support of our A+ members, we were able to finally get a Getty Images account — but it’s not cheap!

One way that you’re able to support our work this Pride is by spending your gay dollars at home. Jenifer Prince, a queer independent artist, created this exclusive print for Autostraddle — in celebration of gay love and protest across the decades. You can celebrate queer indie art while also supporting queer indie media, and that sounds like a win to me! The print is $36 dollars, and A+ members get a discount on their purchase.

From left to right, an old-comic-style illustration depicts queer couples at a kiss-in protest. On the left is a 1920s Black, Harlem-Renaissance-esque butch / femme couple. The butch person is in a tan suit with bowler hat, the femme in a black flapper dress with fringe. They both have full arms and bodies. Then, to the right of them and in the foreground, is an interracial 1970s couple. A tall woman in white tank and blue jeans leans down to kiss a Black woman in a yellow tee wearing a beige skirt. She has an afro and orange tinted glasses and is wearing a "pride" button. Then to the right is a couple from the 1950s, one with light white skin and one with beige skin, about the same height. The light skinned person has blonde, shoulder length hair and is wearing period appropriate shorts and a knit turtleneck top. The person she is kissing has dark hair wrapped on the top of her head, and is wearing a collared shirt and a full skirt. To the right is a couple from the 1990s kissing, both are masc, and one on the left has medium brown skin and is using a crutch, the one on the right has orange hair and light skin. They are also kissing. The one on the left also has a red and black plaid shirt tied around their waist and the person they are kissing is wearing an ADA pin.

“Kiss-In” print by Jenifer Prince. (The above version is watermarked, real version is not.)

You can order a print here, and also get an A+ membership right over here, they start at $4 a month (and we have gift memberships if you are financially strapped right now).

And especially to all my 80s babies, wishing you all love this Pride!


Before you go! It costs money to make indie queer media, and frankly, we need more members to survive 2023As thanks for LITERALLY keeping us alive, A+ members get access to bonus content, extra Saturday puzzles, and more! Will you join? Cancel anytime.

Join A+!

Carmen Phillips

Carmen is Autostraddle's Editor-in-Chief and a Black Puerto Rican femme/inist writer. She claims many past homes, but left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, NY. There were several years in her early 20s when she earnestly slept with a copy of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time” under her pillow. You can find her on twitter, @carmencitaloves.

Carmen has written 515 articles for us.

16 Comments

  1. The 1980s were my liberation decade: fled my small Wisconsin town for college, found community and love in Minnesota, Chicago, and Indiana, got active in the fight for gay pride and against AIDS. This collection brings back great memories, but there was lots of community in the Midwest too, not just on the coasts!

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