lesbian summer camp 1970s france
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Article by:
Chloé Bruère-Dawson
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August 9, 2023
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Letting The Sunshine In With Lesbian Summer Camps

We [lesbians] are becoming aware of our strength, we have to affirm it, and quickly! We have waited way too long. Locks were smashed open in Marcevol and together we opened the door wide[1]!

Summer of 81, Marcevol, France. Deep in the countryside, a few kilometers away from the Spanish border, gathered around 250 lesbians. Over the span of two weeks, they existed in a space of their own. Much more than a summer retreat, this time spent together was a way of reclaiming the space we lesbians were never granted.
We’ve previously discussed how lesbians’ biggest problem is and always has been space, both material and immaterial. Lesbians have been collectively invisibilized, making lesbianism itself unthinkable. If it’s true now, it was even more so in the 1970s, although at the peak of Second-wave feminism. Yet navigating against the tide, lesbians came together and built a space a summer long.
International lesbian summer camps first appeared in the mid-70s, as the feminist struggle reached a climax in many Western countries. Many lesbians came together while fighting for women’s rights, yet weren’t satisfied with the treatment they received from straight feminists. As they hoped the protest’s climate would have a spillover effect and finally grant them a political platform, they were met with deception. Soon the idea of fighting for themselves as lesbians established itself. Thus in July 1975 near Bordeaux, France, the first international lesbian summer camp took place.
Named “Camp Lilith”, the summer retreat was small, rallying around 80 people. But with the word spreading and lesbian organizations progressively emerging, each new camp organized gathered around more and more lesbians. On the French territory, three more followed: in Paussac in 1979, in Marcevol in 1980, and in L’Euzière in 1981. The latter was organized with lesbian organizations from across Europe and gathered 700 lesbians from Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Great Britain. In other parts of the world, too, lesbian summer camps were starting to be planned: In the Canterbury region of New Zealand was organized the first lesbian summer retreat in January 1977.
If those camps provided the possibility of evading the hetero-patriarchal reality for a vacation, they were not about withdrawing from society, but rather about “setting up possibilities for creation, for exchange, for a different life, for struggle2”. It was about creating community, reclaiming space, living as lesbians with lesbians.
Today, lesbian camps are still organized across the world, keeping the tradition alive. Yet they are often unheard of, and their history is even more ignored. Learning about the existence of lesbian summer retreats in my country was such a special feeling: Knowing lesbians had come together in the countryside, organized political actions, written poetry and sang songs, found love and made love, all that long before I was born was the solace I needed to go through this difficult summer. I hope it warms your heart too and inspires you to do the same. Let’s make a Marcevol’s summer out of every day and every place.
This article has been based on Ilana Eloit’s thesis research: “Lesbian Trouble: Feminism, Heterosexuality and the French Nation (1970–1981)”. A huge thanks to all lesbian researchers, without whom we would remain out of History.

[1] Claude de Marseille, Nicole d’Aix lesbiennes radicales du M.L.F. (1981) Lesbianisme et féminisme: pratique de vie à la rencontre d’été de Marcevol. Paroles de lesbiennes féministes 2 (May): 7–15, translation by Ilana Eloit
[2] Collectif de l’association pour la création d’un village de lesbiennes féministes (1980), translation by Ilana Eloit

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