Founded in New York City in 1992, the Lesbian Avengers were a self-professed “ direct action group focused on issues vital to lesbian survival and visibility.” Lesbian Avengers were famously nicknamed “Fire eaters,” a popular attention grabbing spectacle members often performed at protests. The origins of their trademark act reaches back to 1993 when Hattie Mae Cohens and Brian Mock, a lesbian woman and gay man who shared an apartment in Salem, Oregon, burned to death after a stranger through a Molotov cocktail into their apartment window. The Lesbian Avengers responded to this hate crime by literally guzzling fire and chanting "The fire will not consume us. We take it and make it our own."1 The unabashed group also stirred controversy by openly advocating “We Recruit” on flyers and t-shirts, a in-your-face response to conservatives who suggested that homosexuals preyed on children and sought to convert heterosexuals.
Washington DC’s chapter of the Lesbian Avengers initiated numerous protests throughout the 1990s. In 1993, following the arrest of a lesbian couple at the Franconia Skating Center in Fairfax County who violated a policy against same-sex couples skating together, the Lesbian Avengers picketed the establishment, which resulted in the arrest of three Avenger protestors. "This sort of discrimination is legal and police-enforced," explained fire eater Carla Uriona. 2 In 1996, when George Mason University’s Board of Visitors voted down funding to hire a counselor for gay students, the DC Lesbian Avengers partnered with student activists and protested at subsequent board meetings, demanding the removal of the board’s leader, Rector Marvin Murray. Lesbian Avengers held a banner and pink triangles that read "Stand Up Against Bigotry; Remove Rector Murray.”3
Footage from the 1993 Dyke March
Perhaps the most enduring legacy of the DC Lesbian Avengers was their role in organizing the first national Dyke March. Feeling that the gay rights movement failed to address the issues of lesbians and acknowledge the role of women, nearly 20,000 lesbians descended onto the streets outside the White house a day before the 1993 March on Washington to rally for lesbian causes. They sought to challenge what they saw as lesbian invisibility in an increasingly visible LGBT movement in the 1990s. While not the first lesbian public demonstration in the United States, the huge turnout for the first Dyke March sparked the creation of numerous chapters of Lesbian Avengers across the United States and Canada. Less than a year after the '93 march, San Francisco and New York held their own dyke marches, with cities like Toronto and Vancouver hosting walks by decades end.4
1. "Fire-Eating Lesbians"New York Times, April 24, 1994, F1. ↩
2. Carlos Sanchez, "Three Arrested in Gay Protest At Va. Roller-Skating Rink,"Washington Post, August 21, 1993. ↩
3. Robert O'Harrow Jr. "GMU Board Rejects Counselor for Gays," "Washington Post, November 21, 1996. ↩
4. Kath Browne, Eduarda Ferreira. Lesbian Geographies: Gender, Place and Power, 73↩