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Leslie Cohen – Audacity Of A Kiss

07 Oct Posted by in Guest Writers | Comments Off on Leslie Cohen – Audacity Of A Kiss
Leslie Cohen  – Audacity Of A Kiss

Lovers of love, queer history, nightlife, art, and great stories from New York City in the 1970s are in for a treat. Leslie Cohen’s powerhouse memoir The Audacity of a Kiss has just been published. The breezy read includes her years running the landmark lesbian nightclub Sahara, which dazzled Manhattan from 1976-1980, and her romance, still going strong at 45 years, with her wife Beth Suskin. Their love is literally a federally-recognized monument: they were models for the Gay Liberation sculpture created by famed sculptor George Segal, installed in 1992, after over 13 years of controversy, outside the Stonewall Bar in New York City’s Christopher Park.

We sat down with the author to chat a bit about the past, the future and some secrets to Leslie and Beth’s longevity. 

Liz: Looking back, what made Sahara unique?

Leslie: We were the first club by and for women. What existed before Sahara was mafia-owned, and they were outsiders who just wanted to make a buck. It wasn’t other women who created it. We wanted to party and be with our own, and were tired of going to dives. We felt women deserved better so Michelle Florea, Barbara Russo, Linda Goldfarb and I decided to create our own space. It was a real struggle. [Women] couldn’ get a credit card on our own. We couldn’t get a loan. I came from a curatorial background and that trained me to do the impossible. And we did!

Liz: What do you think of the scene now?

Leslie: It’s amazing that we don’t need to hide in gay-only spaces. But there’s a strong need for women’s spaces, where you cruise unabashedly and don’t have to worry about whether the person is straight, where you don’t have to worry about an unwanted sexual male gaze, where you form community. That’s why I love the Lesbian Bar Project.

It’s also interesting that new language is being developed to define people so that gender doesn’t have to be so binary. I’ve always been more of a combo and felt different because of it. I just hope that it all doesn’t become too PC, which is always a challenge when you’re starting a newer understanding of things. In the early days of feminism it was ‘my way or the highway’ and that blocks people out. At Sahara, we brought a broad spectrum of women to understanding feminism without policing their politics. You have to give people a chance to incorporate change into their gestalt.

Liz: What’s your secret to making it work with Beth?

Leslie: I never thought I was going to find a life partner. But Beth came into the picture and it was immediate and we were so connected. We had the same goals, same moral code and the priority of love above career, above all else. Beth said it well, that our relationship is like a fine piece of porcelain sitting on a pedestal and our job is to maintain, respect, protect, and love that third entity which is our relationship.

Of course life gets in the way. Sometimes you drop the ball. At a certain point you have to have to step back and look at that other person and say, this is my best friend, not my enemy. Sometimes you have to surrender; otherwise you get caught up in egos.

For more information:

Elizabeth F Schwartz (she/her pronouns) is a Miami-based, nationally-recognized attorney and advocate for LGBTQ+ people. She authored the book Before I Do: A Legal Guide to Marriage, Gay & Otherwise. @SchwartzOutLaw & 

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