In 1993, the Lesbian Avengers organized the first Dyke March. Within a few years, its membership grew to over 50 chapters across the country.
When Yousef Hawkins, a 16-year-old black teenager, was ambushed and killed by a white mob in 1989, it brought attention to New York’s deep and longstanding racial divide. In response, a group of teachers and administrators created Rainbow Kids, a first grade curriculum designed to promote understanding and respect. Students learn about Mexican hat dances and Greek New Year’s bread, and among the over 400 pages of recommended learning activities, there is also a 6-page section on families that includes three links to gays and lesbians.
Some parents, student council members, and clergy referred to books such as Heather has two moms, Dad’s roommateas well as Gloria goes to the gay parade equivalent, according to a member of the board Mary A. Cummins, to “dangerously misleading lesbian/homosexual propaganda”. Cummins accused Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez of promoting “as big a lie as any concocted by Hitler or Stalin.”
Playwright and theater director Ana Simo kept a close eye on the mounting rhetoric that reflected the hatred and repression of gays and lesbians they faced on a daily basis. She invited Maxine Wolf, Sara Shulman, Anne-Christine d’Adeschi, Marie Honan and Ann Maguire to develop a response strategy. They were already involved in advocacy for women’s and gay rights and in the fight against HIV/AIDS, but Simo says that as lesbians, their priorities were often relegated to the background. “No more talking, no more community building,” Simo explained, “the point was to do something on the street.”
inspired Emma Peelan intelligent, capable spy played by Diana Rigg in a 1960s television show. Avengersthey called themselves lesbian Avengers. Their first act, in September 1992, was to appear at a school in Queens, where opposition to the new curriculum was particularly strong. They arrived with a marching band led by women wearing “I was a lesbian child” T-shirts and handing out lavender balloons, inviting children and parents to “question about lesbian life.” “It wasn’t a protest,” explains Simo, “it was more like a performance with a political end result.”
Zaps how it had important precedents, says the historian Lillian Faderman. In 1968, New York radical women protested the Miss America pageant by throwing their bras, hairspray, and girdles in the trash on the Atlantic City boardwalk. In 1970 Lesbian Radicals Take Over National Women’s Organization Meetingwearing T-shirts that read “The Lavender Threat” (a derisive reference to Betty Friedan’s derogatory attitude towards lesbians).
Faderman says that for the Lesbian Avengers, humor was often just as effective as rage. “They were handing out chocolate kisses at Grand Central Station on Valentine’s Day with the message, ‘You just got kissed by a lesbian,'” explains Faderman. A park.”
Leaflet designed by Carrie Moyer, from the collection of the Lesbian History Archive.
Contrary to the accusation that has long been leveled against LGBTQ people, the motto of the Lesbian Avengers was “We recruit”, and they did this with flyers and palm cards that were stuffed into phone booths, newspaper boxes and ATMs. One shows star black exploitation Pam Grier with a rifle, the other shows a housewife in an apron with a bomb on a plate of cake. Painter Carrie Moyer the author of this playful agitprop, explains: “Part of it was to counter the stereotype that I and many others grew up with about lesbians as harsh, humorless people.”
The Lesbian Avengers also put up posters all over New York City that mimicked commercials, creating an appearance, Moyer says, while at the same time drawing the attention of the general public: “We can show up in all these places. It doesn’t have to be just a cover. gay magazine. One of these places was the capital of the country. When the Lesbian Avengers organized the first Dyke March in 1993, the day before March on Washington for equal rights and liberation for lesbian, gay and bisexual people20,000 lesbians came.
Within a few years, Lesbian Avengers membership has grown to over 50 chapters across the country. side television network, Dyke TVaired on 78 public channels and covered everything from news headlines to movie reviews.
By the end of the 90s, lesbians had moved from the marginal to the mainstream, hitting the covers of magazines. Vanity Fair as well as Time, and will soon appear in advertisements for major companies such as Subaru. It was a dramatic change, recalls historian Lillian Faderman. “I went into what we called the ‘gay girls’ community in the 1950s, and I think we saw ourselves as young lesbians – although we rarely used the word ‘lesbian’, we were all ‘gay’ – I I think that we saw ourselves as outside the law, and if we were lucky, then unnoticed. If we weren’t out of sight, we were in trouble. We were fired from our jobs, kicked out of schools, or kicked out of our parents’ homes.”
The Lesbian Avengers disbanded in 1997, although their name and logo contradictory reappeared in the Pride T-shirt collection sold by Gap last year. Whether viewed as progress or commodification, it turns out that appearances alone are not enough to prevent a backlash. Although some studies suggest that almost 40% of children today identify as LGBTQHundreds of anti-LGBTQ measures have been introduced in state legislatures this year, including dozens of so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bills that aim to limit discussions about gender and sexuality in the classroom.
That’s why being active still matters, says Carrie Moyer: “You have to be in a room with other people where you actually talk about things. The passion for change is fueled by the fact that you are together.”
They will appear when Dyke Marches take place in cities across the country this month, including in 30th New York Dyke Marchwhich will take place on June 25th. Two of the organizers, Jade Watts and Christina Nadler, say the younger generation of activists have added a few more colors to the rainbow and have closer ties to other social justice movements. But Watts says one thing hasn’t changed: “The 40,000 lesbians walking down 5th Avenue are talking about something.”