Southern California Women for Understanding (SCWU), an educational non-profit organization, formed in 1976 and dedicated itself
to "enhancing the quality of life for [the lesbian] community and for lesbians nationwide, creative and positive exchange
about homosexuality, [and] changing stereotypical images of lesbians." SCWU emerged in the midst of the civil rights, gay
rights, and women's movements when many marginalized social groups organized en masse to demand recognition and rights. SCWU
was one of the earliest known lesbian organizations. At its height, SCWU reached membership of 1,100 and in 1982, Lesbian News hailed it as the "largest lesbian support group in the country."
SCWU originated as a "support group" of the Whitman-Radclyffe Foundation (WRF), a San Francisco based gay rights organization
that strove to educate the public on homosexuality. In 1976, Betty Berzon, one of the few female board members, invited twenty
women to form the Southern California Women for Whitman-Radclyffe Foundation. After forming a steering committee and electing
officers, the women planned a series of "Special Interest Raps" which would allow lesbian women to come together and informally
discuss a variety of topics. Founder Betty Berzon led SCWU's first Special Interest Rap, "Disclosing Your Gayness to Family
and Friends." Berzon was a licensed psychotherapist who was one of the first to work with gay and lesbian clients.
In 1978, SCWU and WRF mutually severed its ties as WRF decided to exclusively focus their efforts on itself as an alcoholism
treatment center for the gay population in San Francisco. SCWU flourished and focused its efforts on educational and social
events, fundraising, legislative lobbying, and fostering projects for the lesbian community (i.e. Connexxus/Centro de Mujeres).
In addition to its grassroots efforts in building a social space for the lesbian community in Los Angeles, SCWU strove to
work with high profile figures. In 1977, SCWU Chair, Myra Riddell, travels to the White House as part of the National Gay
Task Force which was invited by Margaret "Midge" Costanza, Presidential Assistant for Public Liaison. Its annual Lesbian Rights
Award Dinner would honor a lesbian woman whose work benefited lesbians on a large scale. Honorees include Del Martin and Phyllis
Lyon (Daughters of Bilitis founders), Elsa Gidlow (poet), Dianne Abbit and Roberta Bennett (attorneys, founders of first Sexuality
and Lesbian Task Forces of the Los Angeles National Organization of Women chapter), Virginia Uribe (Project 10 founders),
Adrienne Rich (writer), Gloria Anzaldua (writer), Cherrie Moraga (writer), and Jackie Goldberg (Los Angeles City Councilmember).
Being an educational organization, SCWU hosted a variety of educational programs from informal "rap" groups, theater productions
(Welcome to Our Lesbian World), and guest speakers. Additionally, SCWU's research committee designed and executed studies
on Los Angeles lesbian lifestyles. In 1977, SCWU surveyed its membership via the "Personal Profile Questionnaires" with questions
on family, religious, educational, professional, health background as well as experiences with social and employment discrimination.
The committee received 1,000 responses; the results were published in the SCWU newsletter.
In addition to the projects planned and executed by the central organization, SCWU had numerous area chapters that would plan
and execute their own projects and events tailored to its respective constituency. The majority of the area chapters were
located in California – Long Beach/Orange County, San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles/Valley, Inland Empire, Palm Springs and
desert areas, San Diego, Santa Monica and nearby beach cities, Ventura, Santa Barbara and Santa Maria. The only out-of-state
chapter was located in Wilmington, Delaware. According to the Board of Directors minutes, there was some discussion about
contacting lesbian groups in the southwest but there is no indication that area chapters formed in said region.
As evidenced by expensive fundraising dinners and other events that often charged a cover fee, it is evident that SCWU catered
to a membership that consisted primarily of professional, middle and upper-class women, the majority of whom were white. In
response to criticisms of being elitist, the Board of Directors began an internal dialogue on diversity in 1989.
Despite its internal conflicts, SCWU existed until ????.