The Lesbian Avengers were a direct action activist group similar to ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). The group was originally formed in New York in 1992 by six long-standing women activists, some of whom were members of ACT-UP and also ILGO (the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organisation).
Their primary aim was to increase lesbian visibility, however, expanding chapters often added their own additional agendas. Along with what was felt to be a rise in misogyny within the LGBT community, one of the key motivations cited was a growing frustration about the contributions of lesbian activists to platforms such as AIDS and abortion and a lack of reciprocity in addressing lesbian issues.
One of the wider-reaching legacies of the Lesbian Avengers was the inauguration of the 1993 Washington Dyke March. The Second International Dyke March was held in Dublin in 1998 and Dyke Marches are still held annually all over the world to this day.
The Dublin chapter of the Lesbian Avengers was formed in 1996. Following the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993, lesbian activism had become almost invisible, being resigned to political lobbying, education and support, all of which were vital but beyond public visibility.
In GCN, issue 90, November 1996, Sonya Mulligan sent out a call to arms declaring, “As a direct action activist group, the Lesbian Avengers is not for everyone, nor should it be. It is for women who want to be involved in activism, work in the community, be creative, do shitwork, take responsibility on a regular basis, have their minds blown, change their opinions, and share organising skills.”
Amongst her motivations behind setting up the Dublin chapter, she outlined the key issues facing the lesbian community as homophobia, harassment and job loss.
One of the first public demonstrations carried out by the Dublin chapter was a ‘Kiss In’ at the Turk’s Head. In the article “DISGUSTING” – Gays get the Chop from Bouncer in Turk’s Head’, GCN, issue 77, September 1995, Derek Keegan and Deborah Ballard explain how the LGBTQ+ community were being ostracised.
Formerly the Parliament Inn, the Turk’s Head had recently been renovated and rebranded. As the Parliament Inn, it had long been frequented by the LGBT community without reproach, including hosting meet up nights for the Friends of Eon, Ireland’s first Trans support group. With the new look, management undertook to remove the LGBT community.
Although it was never publicly stated, there was evident active discrimination by the bouncer and on one occasion a same-sex couple were asked to leave after kissing. As a protest against this discrimination, the Lesbian Avengers organised for a group to peacefully demonstrate by holding a ‘Kiss In’.
Eventually, the community abandoned the Turk’s Head and took up residency in the newly opened Front Lounge further up Parliament Street. The bar remained one of Dublin’s primary gay bars for many years and its legacy lives on in Street 66.
You can read more about the Front Lounge in the current issue of GCN magazine here.
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