1984-1990: The first gathering of Women in the Woods at Breitenbush Hot Springs was in the summer of 1984. It was first produced by Phoenix Rising, a now defunct Portland, Oregon gay and lesbian counseling center. The next year, almost all who attended the first year were first to sign up again. It began as an event just for fun, but when there was money left over after the event, the organizers decided to make it a fundraiser for Phoenix Rising. In 1990, Phoenix Rising, with much prodding from participants, scheduled a winter event (for those who wanted to cross-country ski in addition to the regular Breitenbush activities). There were not enough pre-sold spaces to close the camp and the winter event had to be canceled at the last minute. Unfortunately, Breitenbush still had to be paid, and there was no money to pay them. Women in the Woods did not happen after that for six years.
1993: A group of former Women in the Woods fans — Sarazan, Smokey, Jesse, Brooke and Pam — tried to resurrect the favorite weekend event. Since Phoenix Rising still had the name Women in the Woods, we called our event Lesbians on the Loose. Flyers were sent to the old mailing list, and we publicized as much as possible with no money. Breitenbush had to have $10,000 up front to reserve the weekend. We tried pre-selling spaces since none of us had that much money to front to Breitenbush. Although we were able to pre-sell more than half the spaces, it wasn’t enough to reserve the weekend. We refunded everyone’s money and felt we had given it our best shot.
1996-Present: After talking with Phoenix Rising and Breitenbush, a committee was formed out of the Lesbian Community Project transition team to once again try to resurrect the event. Pam fronted the money and Jack Danger maneuvered other aspects. Renee LaChance, publisher of Just Out, co-sponsored the event. The event was, as always, a smashing success. Women in the Woods has been held every year since then, the first two years as a fundraiser for LCP. After WIW parted ways with LCP, the SWAT team has put money back into the event to bring our own desserts, provide coffee, buy arts and crafts supplies and badminton. The extra monies allowed the SWAT team to offer more scholarships and to close the camp to only attendees of Women in the Woods.
The only restriction for registration at Women in the Woods was “no penises over 5 years old.” In 1999, less than two weeks before the event, WIW was approached by the LCP staff coordinator that the “no penis” rule violated LCP policy and that we would have to allow post- and pre-op trans women and men to WIW. The SWAT team decided we could not do that without notifying all participants and there simply was not enough time to do it for that year’s event. We held the event as usual. It became an infamous year when a protest was held on the forest service road outside the Breitenbush parking lot. On the last day of the event, a meeting of about 50 women who regularly participate in Women in the Woods was held to discuss the trans issue. It was clear that participants wanted to keep the no-penis rule and they encouraged us to continue the next year without LCP. At the end of the meeting several participants presented the SWAT team with $1,200 toward the next year’s deposit to Breitenbush. In addition, we tallied results from our evaluation form and it was clear that almost all participants wanted to keep the “no penis” rule and continue WIW as it had always been. Since that time, our registration form indicates that WIW is a “woman-born-woman” event. This was the same year that similar protests were occurring at Michigan and at other lesbian events around the world.
The SWAT team has heard from many participants on this issue. We are continuing our women-born-women policy, as do Michigan and other lesbian cultural events. Our philosophy is that while we are committed to diversity and support for all people, we believe we have a right to this weekend once a year, in a safe, intimate setting, to be with just women-born-women.