Lesbian Avenger Recalls Highlights of 1994 “Pride Ride” And Fighting For LGBTQ Rights Across The Country.

by Cathie Berrey-Green

My name is Cathie Berrey-Green and I’m from Granville, Ohio.

I found myself in 1994 living in Austin, Texas. I was living in this crazy environment, like a queer collective and I needed to meet some new friends and I joined the Lesbian Avengers. I wanted to join a group that was queer-centered, women-centered and radical. They asked me to help them organize the southern version of the Pride Ride. And what this was was a Pride Ride that was coming from the south and a Pride Ride that was coming from the north, we were gonna converge in Philadelphia and then make our way up to New York for 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

Here we were, three van-fuls of Lesbian Avengers with decorations on the vans, which definitely grew as the trip went on. So the first city that we stopped in – probably crazy – was Vidor, Texas. We walk into this bar and, like, literally – you know how they talk about the movies, you can hear a pin drop – that was basically what happened. Nobody said anything. It was just a lot of stares. So we set up this action. And that was kind of when we started to hear, you know, their personal opinions and the names that they would call us and, you know, they were kinda yelling driving by, being derogatory. So that was kind of like the introduction. Like, okay, you know? We knew that we were going to have to deal with harassment and different kinds of issues and stuff and we were prepared, all in non-violent, civil disobedience ways.

So after Vidor, Texas we’ve moved – we are traveling on our way to New Orleans, right? So we did a really fun thing and we took over street car and we called it “A Streetcar Named Dyke Desire.” And we handed out lollipops that said “Lick Homophobia.” And that was really fun and, you know, we sang these songs, like old girl scout songs and changed the words. One of the things I remember about New Orleans was this younger African American woman and she was sitting on the bus and she just was watching us, you know, like most people were.

And at the end, she walked up to one of my friends and was like, “Hey, I’ve heard of you all. Where do you meet?” That was really cool and I think that was a really important thing to us to remember that there are people that we’re gonna reach without really even knowing much about it, about them specifically.

So after New Orleans, things started to get a little more, a little more real. We were on our way to Ovett, Mississippi and there were two lesbians who had bought this land. They had had these festivals before in other areas that was traveling and I’m remember them talking about how hard it was to constantly be trying to get the land and permission as lesbians. And so they decide they just wanted to buy their own property.

They faced a lot of issues. There was people who would drive by their property shooting guns, they were constantly being threatened, and their property was being vandalized. And what we are there to do is help build fences. So whereas New Orleans was about getting out and bringing you community and having a place for people to feel like they could go, this was kind of about securing it inside and bringing things together.

As we’re travelling, we’re really starting, as individuals, kind of coming into our own a little bit more, really learning a lot about each other. One of the women that travel with us, she had like a pee bag. I don’t really know what it’s called but an ability to go to the bathroom without stopping.

She said, “Well, you know, I was just kind of worried with some of the places that we may have had to stop if I didn’t have this ability.” She was, you know, very butch. One wouldn’t have thought that fear was something that, you know, crossed her mind just by her physical need of having to go to the bathroom. It sticks out in my mind is there’s something we thought was just kind of funny and “Look how convenient this is!” But really it had multiple reasons.

As we were traveling, we learned about a mother, Sharon Bottoms, who had lost custody of a child for being a lesbian. And we stopped in Richmond, Virginia at the courthouse and did an impromptu action with some local activists around that. Her mother had decided that she wasn’t fit and took custody of her son. She never ended up getting to keep her child. The Supreme Court of Virginia took custody away.

It’s in a really great to live in Philadelphia and it makes me remember that day in Philadelphia, coming through with the Pride Ride, the northern Pride Riders joining us. You know, new lesbian energy – always the best. There was a big court case that was going on and all this issue of like, you know, is saying no enough? So we did an action around that as well with our Dyke Declaration of Independence and really hitting home this concept that no means no.

Then we went to New York for the actual march, for the 25th anniversary Stonewall Riots. We get to New York and lo and behold, we actually weren’t going to be allowed to march in the same major march. Dykes on Bikes, Lesbian Avengers – really had been pretty excluded. We were considered too radical. They didn’t want us in the same presence. So we had our own march and then met up with the bigger march. That was all great and fine, but really it was the night before march that was the best one and that was the Dyke March.

So we find ourselves in one of the parties that, you know, in one of the the local bars many people were having for the event. And all of a sudden, some random comes up to me with this napkin and she’s like, “Are you, you know, are you Cathie from Austin?”

I’m like, “Yeah.”

She’s like, “Here this is for you.” And she hands me this napkin and it says “Kathy, Lezzy Avenger from Austin.” I’m like, what’s this, you know? So I open it up and it’s this napkin with some writing and it’s got this giant sticker and this giant sticker says “I fuck to come, not to concede.” And it’s got the hotel room of where the really cute girl that I saw was staying. And I thought wow, that’s just – that’s pretty bold. And that’s pretty awesome. I still see this person every now and then it – it really makes me smile. I don’t think she even knows how much it makes me smile. Because what it does is it brings my whole life full circle.

I think it’s really important to learn from the past. I think it’s important to remember that people have been fighting for a really long time. You know, the Pride Ride is about pride, about fighting for what you believe in, standing up for what you believe in, and I carry every ounce of that still with me. I’m a small business owner. I’m very out as who I am. I’m unapologetic for who I am. And I think of things like the pride ride that just helped me to be okay with who I am.

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