You Should Go: Brush Up Your ’90s Activist History with Lesbians to Watch Out For

Photos courtesy of Lynn Ballen/Lesbians to Watch Out For

Picture it, dear reader: you’re on Jeopardy!, ready to conquer your opening round, staring down those blank blue screens with fire in your eyes. And then bam, there it is, first category on the board:

“Lesbian and Queer Activism in 1990s Los Angeles.”

How would you fare? If you’re like me and a) the answer is “not well enough” and b) you live in the LA area, I have great news: the new history and art exhibit Lesbians to Watch Out For: ’90s Queer LA Activism has you covered. It’s what you wish you’d learned in school, but were too afraid (or young, or closeted) to ask.

Two pieces of '90s activist ephemera side by side. On the left, a zine-style poster of a woman in profile with short brown hair. The text over her face reads "Queer Nation" and "Not a dyke haircut." On the right, the cover of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Islander Sisters Pride Calendar from 1994/95.

You love ’90s queer ephemera, I love ’90s queer ephemera, let’s go to this exhibit

“The exhibit goes beyond the histories usually told,” explains organizer Lynn Harris Ballen. “It focuses on protest, street activism, and grassroots community groups, and we gathered material from personal collections and oral histories to tell these stories.” That material includes zines; protest signs and stickers; and recountings of queer performances, censorship, and the spaces where activists fought for change around LA and West Hollywood. The diverse multimedia collection highlights organizations like ACT UP LA, Queer Nation LA, the LA Dyke March, United Lesbians of African Heritage (ULOAH), Los Angeles Asian Pacific Islander Sisters (LAAPIS), Lesbianas Unidas (LU), Bi-Net, Transgender Menace (the exhibit is “without question inclusive of trans women”), and the Lesbian Avengers.

Judy Sisneros, another lead organizer, notes that “from the AB101 protests to Hollywood Homophobia actions to organizing for the ’93 LGBT March on Washington, ’90s lesbian and queer women’s activism in LA reflected the energy of the decade: dyke visibility marches, public kiss-ins and declarations of ‘we recruit!'” That’s the kind of cultural history you’ll revisit (or see for the first time) at Lesbians to Watch Out For. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take all the queer resistance inspiration I can get right now, thanks.

The exhibit opens TONIGHT (Friday, June 2) at 7:00 pm at Long Hall in West Hollywood’s Plummer Park, with music, protest sign and button making, vintage stickers and zines, video, and the documentary Lesbian Avengers Eat Fire Too (more info at the opening night Facebook event). It will be open on weekends through June 30 (Fridays 6:00-9:30 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 1:00-6:00 pm), with the exception of June 9-11 because of Pride logistics.

And! As if that wasn’t enough, Lesbians to Watch Out For is also hosting a Grassroots Organizers Tell All panel at Plummer Park’s Community Center at 7:00 pm on Wednesday, June 14. Panelists include Liz Friedman (Queer Nation), Alice Y. Hom (AAPIP Queer Justice Fund), Lisa Powell (ULOAH and Black Lesbians United), Helene Schpak (ACT UP), and Anne-Christine d’Adesky (Lesbian Avengers), moderated by San Diego State University professor and former Lesbian Avenger Yetta Howard. They’ll be looking back at what worked and what didn’t in 1990s organizing, giving advice to today’s young queer activists, and discussing what they’re learning from current resistance movements.

On board yet? Cool, me too, see you there!

Carrie's body is weird and she's making that work for her. She lives in DC by way of Los Angeles and has a conflicted relationship with social media, but you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram anyway.

Carrie has written 81 articles for us.

21 Comments

  1. Coool! I just went on an LGBT history tour of DC and it was awesome!

    Is that pic in silhouette of Katherine Hepburn? Only now am I realizing how many hints my mom was dropping when she referred to KH as a BAMF during my youth

  2. I am not yet ready to go an exhibit where the events happened when I was a teenager. Maybe I should go with a young person so I can explain everything and not feel so old.

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