Shaping Lesbian Avenger Actions

Aiming to attract both media coverage and new members, the Lesbian Avengers skipped traditional picket lines, sit-ins, and petitions for demos with stronger visual images like fire-eating, a twelve-foot shrine, a huge bomb, a ten-foot plaster statue, flaming torches. Or at the very least, balloons and a marching band.

Striking actions were paired with intensive media campaigns that kicked in well before the demos. Press releases were followed with phone calls to journalists. Articles and interviews were placed in responsive media in order to advertise the action and attract new members. Avengers always had their own photographers and videomakers at every action to cover the event. Afterwards, there were more press releases, more phone calls.

First Action: Rainbow Curriculum
Their first action exemplified the Avenger approach.

On September 9, 1992, the Lesbian Avengers announced their presence with a protest at a New York City public grade-school targeting the local right-wing's attempts to suppress a multicultural "Children of the Rainbow" curriculum for elementary schoolchildren. Ostensibly under attack for including lesbians and gay men in its lessons about diversity, some activists like Ana Simo charged that opponents, besides being homophobic, also had a racist agenda in battling the multicultural curriculum.

The work had actually started weeks before. Avengers flyered local dyke hangouts to attract participants. Co-founder Marie Honan and others gave interviews talking up the demo and the new lesbian group. Press releases were sent. And handouts were prepared explaining why the Avengers were protesting. A banner was painted, musicians rehearsed, and tee-shirts and balloons were ordered. The printer asked how to spell "lesbian."

Meeting in Queens School District 24 where the opposition to the "Rainbow Curriculum" was strongest, Avengers paraded through this working class, multi-ethnic neighborhood with an all-lesbian marching band en route to a local elementary school where they gave out lavender balloons to children and their parents saying, "Ask About Lesbian Lives." They also wore the tee-shirts reading, "I was a lesbian child."

There you have it — a strong visual presence with balloons and marching band, handouts clearly explaining to passersby Avenger support for the curriculum and denouncing its opponents, and big efforts to reach print and broadcast media.

The Lesbian Avengers always demonstrated without police permits, refusing to ask for permission to express themselves. One Avenger later explained during the 1994 International Dyke March held in New York, "We ask for a permit; they can say no."

Above all, their choice of action reflected their commitment to challenging homophobic stereotypes. In this case, some members objected to going anywhere near children since lesbians and gay men had so often been portrayed as child molesters. The founding members asserted that that was precisely why their presence was essential. And that was the eventual consensus of the group.

Sharing Experience
One of the keys to Avenger nationwide success was the Lesbian Avenger Organizing Handbook. Largely written by Sarah Schulman, and edited by Amy Parker and Ana Simo, the Handbook explained step by step how to shape effective actions, write press releases, design flyers, even how to run meetings. Maxine Wolfe offered the classic Checklist and Outline for Actions.

Tools like this enabled independent groups to get up and running without an experienced activist present, and without the professional journalists and designers that were an important part of the New York Avengers. It also made it easier for the New York group to work on several projects at the same time, without having to rely on the same people.

Action Highlights

Sept. 9., 1992. NY, NY
Rainbow Curriculum. Avengers protest School Board 24's refusal to implement the Rainbow Curriculum by going to a grade school in the district with a marching band and handing out balloons reading "Ask About Lesbian Lives."

April 24, 1993. Wash., D.C.
Dyke March in Washington. Organized the first ever Dyke March on the eve of the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Rights and Liberation. Ate fire in front of the White House. (After handing out 8000 palm cards and thousands of Dyke Manifestos)

May 31, 1993. Austin, TX
Avengers invade the state capitol building to protest Texas sodomy laws, lobbing paper airplanes and stinkbombs and stringing up banners.

Aug. 14, 1993. Denver, CO
Two Avengers are arrested when they chain themselves to the fence of the Governor's mansion during a protest against anti-gay Amendment 2.

Oct. 22, 1993. Lansing, MI
Avengers rent a plane and fly a banner reading "Lesbian Avengers are Here" over the Michigan State Homecoming football game.

Fall 1993. Lewiston, ME
New York Avengers spend six weeks in Lewiston at the request of local queers to help fight an anti-gay referendum. The effort inspires the creation of Lesbian Avengers' Civil Rights Organizing Project (LACROP).

Nov. 18, 1993. New Orleans, LA
Fifteen Avengers stage a loud, spontaneous protest outside City Council chambers when councilors change their votes to back a mayoral veto of domestic insurance.

Winter 1993/94. Ovett, MS
Avengers from around the country converge in support of Camp Sister Spirit, a feminist retreat that is threatened by local homophobes. After an Avenger letter campaign, the federal Attorney General's office intervenes.

Jan. 15, 1994. Seattle, WA
Avengers roast hotdogs at a public "Bobbit-Q" to call attention to domestic violence during the Lorena/John Wayne Bobbitt trials.

Feb. 7, 1994. San Francisco, CA
Avengers hold a kiss-in at the local ABC affiliate to protest the network's hesitation to broadcast the "lesbian kiss" episode of "Rosanne."

April 9, 1994. Atlanta, GA
Avengers run 35 miles into notoriously homophobic Cobb County to protest the decision to hold the 1996 Olympic volleyball games there. An Olympic flame is symbolically extinguished.

April 30, 1994. NY, NY
Avengers disrupt a U.N. Development Fund for Women black-tie dinner to demand that the program address lesbian needs. Our slogan, "You can't raise chickens in jail."

June 1994. Pride Ride.
Doing actions along the way, Avengers converge on New York for the International Dyke March and Stonewall 25. One caravan crosses through the Midwest from Minneapolis via Lansing and Pittsburgh. Another caravan takes a southerly route, originating in Austin.

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