How did you come to form Lizards?
When I was new to Madison, all I wanted to do was meet other lesbians. The women’s group that became Lizards actually began when someone sent around a brochure inviting women to meet at Lysistrata. [Lysistrata was a woman-owned restaurant and bar that later burned down.] I went with a lesbian friend, and I thought the get-together was a good idea. So, I started a once-a-month dinner at a restaurant, and it eventually evolved into a potluck in women’s homes.
What is the goal of the Lizards?
It boils down to just helping lesbians find other lesbians. Socializing is what Lizards is all about: no programming or topics. It’s simply a social group for lesbians over 30.
Did you meet your partner in Lizards?
Yes. We met in 1986, started dating in 1987, and we’ve been together ever since. Pat and I have a wonderful relationship.
Who are you, and what are some of the experiences you’ve had in your life?
Well, I worked at a Texaco gas station pumping gas in coveralls and roller skates. Also, I was in the Army and was seen hugging someone goodbye and got reported and investigated by the CIA. I went before a review board and was discharged from the armed forces.
I got a degree in social work in 1946. I worked at Oregon School for Girls, Mendota Mental Health Institute, then Columbia prison in Portage. I retired in 1989.
What is the current group like?
The current Lizards meets about six times a year, and sometimes as many as 25 members attend the get-togethers, which are hosted in Wisconsin Rapids, Stevens Point, Oxford, Wautoma, Portage, Pardeeville and Madison. Ages range from 40 to 80.
How did you mentor the group?
No one ever felt left out. I tried to get people to interact, especially with the new ones. I tried to draw new and/or quiet people into the group using my social work skills. Often, I would foresee someone who I knew was single and looking for a partner and introduce them to someone they might like to meet.
What is the origin of the name “Lizards?”
I was reading an article in TIME magazine where the writers had observed lesbian behavior among lizards. I seized upon that idea and used the term “lizards” as a code word when leaving messages for group members, because I was aware that not everyone wanted me to say that we were a lesbian group. The term stuck and became the name of the group.
Long-standing Lizards Members Share Their Experiences:
Elizabeth Conrad: I met my partner, Mary Jane, at a Lizards potluck. We’ve been together 20 years. I am grateful for Jane and for the Lizards; the group filled a void in my life.
Donna Coleman: I went to my first potluck and ended up volunteering to host the next. I’ve hosted and kept the list and sent the mailings for the last 15 years now.
Over the years, the list has varied from 35 to 130 people. Sometimes we get a lot of students, and professors come from a variety of universities; we even have an Army general in our group. We have had meetings as far away as Sterling, Illinois, Winona, Minnesota, and the UP [Michigan’s Upper Peninsula].
Caroline Werner: It was Jane’s energy that kept the initial continuity to keep the group going in the early stages.
I really admire her “stick-to-itiveness.” The group is pretty solid at this point, and that’s what makes being a part of it so special. You can expect to see people you know there that you may not have a chance to see at any other time.
Anne Thompson: Some of us fondly call Jane the “Grand Lizard.” I remember Jane arriving on her big black motorcycle. We’d hear a roar down the road, and suddenly there was a small figure on a big cycle pulling into the driveway. We all owe Jane a great debt of gratitude. She was one of the first women to create a time and place for lesbians to come together and enjoy each other’s company, and she has been a great role model for us.