The San Francisco Lesbian Avengers

The San Francisco Lesbian Avengers


2 documents related to the activities of the Lesbian Avengers; the first marking the 1994 holiday season and containing a page of “queer-positive, non-sexist Shopping Tips,” and the other advertising “Avenging Tongues,” “An Evening of Talent and Silent Auction/Raffle,” which took place on March 11, 1995. Both printed on green paper stock, in very good condition. No copies listed on OCLC.

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The Lesbian Avengers were a direct-action group founded in New York in 1992 by veteran lesbian activists who had been involved other organizations, including ACT UP. Their aim was to highlight issues faced by lesbians, including misogyny within both the gay liberation movement and the wider world. Chapters of the group blossomed in the following years across the USA, including San Francisco in 1993. The immediate inspiration behind the formation of the San Francisco chapter was the first annual Dyke March held in Washington DC in March 1993. At that event, Avengers protested in what had become their unique and iconic symbol of anger, eating fire, in front of the White House. The Dyke March is considered the most visible legacy of the Avengers: marches are still held annually, and even internationally. 

These two flyers attest to the vibrant activities of the San Francisco chapter. The first double-sided flyer includes something of a State-of-the-Nation address to “Dykes and everyone else in the queer community” who "have so little to be joyful about this holiday season.” It lists information repetitively, almost poetically, emphasizing the causality between oppression and activism:

BECAUSE we still only earn 69 cents for every dollar that men earn, […]

BECAUSE all year ‘round, but particularly during the holidays, dyke families are invisible, […]

BECAUSE the way we live and love is still a felony in half the states of this Land of the Free; […]

The litany of reasons ends with information for recruiting new lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered members. “Shopping Tips…from the Lesbian Avengers!” is featured on the verso, including books for kids and for teenagers available at local feminist bookstores—Old Wives’ Tales and A Different Light—and two sections featuring “Toys for Girls” and “Toys for Boys” that include exactly the same items.  

The second flyer advertises “Avenging Tongues,” a fund raising event to benefit Sor Juana Ines—a domestic violence agency serving Latinx women—and featuring both a silent auction and performances by Karen Ripley, Amy Simpson, and the filmmaker and writer Susan Stryker. Auction/Raffle prizes include a $40 gift certificate for A Different Light bookstore and “A Date with a Lesbian Avenger.” 

Both of these flyers—one aimed toward consciousness raising and recruiting, the other a fundraiser—might have been informed by the Lesbian Avengers Handbook. Described by founding member Sarah Schulman in My American History as “The Lesbian Avengers Action Outline,” the outline gave readers a comprehensive and concise guide to direct action in terms of determining outcomes, logistics, planning, fundraising, and documentation (i.e. it is suggested that all events include their own film team to record and provide footage for local media outlets). The structure and content of these San Francisco activities, as well as their grounding in feminist-run businesses, is in keeping with the wider history of feminist direct action as it was allowed to take shape by artists and booksellers who saw in their practice the potential to nourish activism.


“The Lesbian Avengers Action Outline,” ACT UP Documents,, excerpted from founding member Sarah Schulman, My American History: Lesbian and Gay Life During the Reagan/Bush Years (New York: Routledge, 1994).

Kelly Cogswell, Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014).