Leslie Cohen on 50 Years After Stonewall
Leslie Cohen talks with Emmy Winner Charlotte Robinson host of OUTTAKE VOICES™ about the legendary nightclub for women Sahara that she established with three of her friends in May of 1976 to December of 1979 at 1234 Second Avenue at East 65th Street on Manhattan’s fashionable Upper East Side. Cohen, Michelle Florea, Linda Goldfarb and Barbara Russo created New York City’s first upscale women’s club that showcased women in art, politics and music. On Thursday night the line went around the block when both men and women were invited in for political fundraisers and cabaret. Celebrities such as Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, Patti Smith, Pat Benatar, Warren Beatty, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug and Elaine Noble, the first openly gay state Representative from Massachusetts appeared or performed there. This led to Leslie and her partner Beth Suskin becoming the models for the iconic sculpture “Gay Liberation,” in Greenwich Village which commemorates the Stonewall riots and was declared a national monument by President Obama in 2016. We talked to Leslie about how Sahara changed the course of her life and her spin on the future of our LGBTQ civil rights.
When asked what the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots means to her Cohen stated, “First of all it’s a celebration of how far we’ve come and it’s also a reminder of how precarious the rights that we have achieved have become under Trump who is consistently chipping away at everything we have fought for over the last 50 years. So this reminder is very important now to remind people to educate young people about how difficult it was and how much everyone has to fight for what we now have. I know the New York Historical Society, because I have been working with them, is putting together a major exhibition of Stonewall 50 and I would really encourage people to go. It’s going to have a section on Sahara which makes me very happy because it’s so important to know our history and to make sure our history is recorded and to continue pressuring for equal rights for ourselves and not only for ourselves now but for trans people who were so instrumental in Stonewall and the early gay rights movement because they were courageous and brave. We should also be very vigilant because these rights can be taken away. It’s important to stay visible and it’s important to be out there. Write your books, tell your stories, make sure that we are part of history and people can refer to it especially young people. This is so important for young people to see that there are many gays and lesbians who fought for their rights and have found joy and happiness. I’m happy being a lesbian. I’ve had a lot of joy and a lot of fun and I want young people to know that. I have found love. I’ve been with my now wife for 42 years and it’s possible. You will find happiness.”
Leslie Cohen moved to Miami to practice law in 1992 and is now retired. She has just finished a memoir about her life during the time of Sahara, the creation and controversy over the “Gay Liberation” sculpture and her enduring love affair with her partner and now wife of 42 years, Beth.
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