Noe Valley Voice February 2002

'Lesbians Without Borders' Revived in Noe Valley

By Erin O'Briant

A new Noe Valley social group for lesbians is actually the reincarnation of an informal organization that began here in 1995. Back then, partners Nancy Welsh and Susan Sternau placed an ad in the Noe Valley Voice inviting readers to attend a social group for Noe Valley lesbians. The couple, who had recently relocated from Philadelphia, hoped to meet new people in their adopted city.

"Within a short time they had come up with a mailing list of about 100," recalls longtime lesbian activist Del Martin, an early member of the group. "[Partner Phyllis Lyon and I] have been residents of Noe Valley since 1955.... So we know a lot of people around here, so we helped them add to the list."

That simple attempt to make new friends turned into a thriving monthly potluck. "It's been very helpful to lesbians who are new in the area and don't know how to meet others," Martin says. "For those who've been rejected by their families, it gives them a sense of family with a group like that."

But when the original hosts moved to Sausalito last year, the informal group floundered.

Now Noe Valley residents are reviving the institution with the re-named New Noe Valley Lesbians Without Borders. The name is "to signify that people from other neighborhoods are welcome," says co-organizer Betty Sullivan. According to Sullivan, since last fall the potlucks have drawn women from Noe Valley, the Mission, Bernal Heights, and even the East Bay. "The truly young ones are not here. It's mostly women in their late '30s, '40s, '50s," she says.

Sullivan, joined by steering committee members Michaele Reppas, JoAnne Arnos, and Michelle Grams, hopes the group will continue to thrive. "We absolutely want to keep it growing, and we want it to continue to be welcoming to people from all areas and all age groups," she says.

"It is a strong mix of types of folks, inclusive of women of all walks of life, and great diversity is encouraged," she adds. "We also want to find more women in Noe Valley who want to be host because we don't really want to move the event out of Noe Valley."

Sullivan, who lives on 23rd Street near Hoffman, says she hosts the potlucks at her house unless someone else in the neighborhood volunteers. The food is the main event, but socializing plays a big part, too. "In addition to good food and conversation, we usually take time for a few announcements and a group discussion of any key issues or happenings we want to share," she says.

Sullivan believes the social group fills a need, even in gay-friendly Noe Valley. "Lesbians need to meet each other -- it's like any affinity group, you want to be able to talk with and meet with people of similar interests."

To learn more about New Noe Valley Lesbians Without Borders, call Betty Sullivan at 415-641-0611 or e-mail her at