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When D.C.’s Lesbian Avengers descend on Capitol Hill to make a political point, they always bring a camera or three. Otherwise, they’d be just another handful of giggly lesbians shuffling through the hallowed halls of Congress. On the first day of the 106th Congress in January, local filmmaker Eddie Becker accompanied the Avengers to the Hill to immortalize the distribution of their first annual Congressional Spirit of Bigotry Awards, from which Becker’s 12-minute short film takes its name.
The mini-documentary features Avengers Karen Taggert, wearing a strappy gown and tiara, and Marina Colby, in a blazer and pinstripe shirt, bestowing personalized awards on Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), and Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.)all of whom earned the Avengers’ dishonor for “blatant acts of homophobia, misogyny, and hypocrisy.”
In each case, the legislator fails to appear, but staffers handle the situation with grace: A woman in Talbots-ish attire purses her lips at the desk, while, behind her, a man in a crisp dress shirt tersely accepts the award on his boss’s behalf. A Lott staffer asks the group to shut off the cameraswhich they don’t. As the Avengers leave, he tells the women to “have fun.” Colby replies, “We urge the [senator] not to make our list next year.” Barr’s receptionist takes custody of a can of fat-free whipped cream, in recognition of Barr’s experience licking whipped cream off a woman’s breasts at a 1992 leukemia fundraiser. And, for “misogyny above and beyond the call of duty,” longtime abortion opponent Hyde receives a bundle of Maxi pads signed by the Avengers. A bit foul, but memorable.
If the lawmakers didn’t appreciate the Avengers’ tokens of disaffection, they would be even less impressed by the group’s screening of the film last Saturday night. Imagine this, Mr. Barr: About 30 pierced, lithe lesbians gather in Adams Morgan on the first floor of Becker’s housewhich also happens to be a day-care center. As at most Avengers events, the party quickly turns into a giant group hug, with endless rounds of cheering and cooing (“Look, there’s two toilets in the bathroom! That’s so cute!”). Sitting in a child-sized chair, Colby bounces a kickball while the other guests suck on 40s of Schlitz and sample three different kinds of hummus.
“The chutzpah, the energy…of these women were to me really inspiring,” says Becker. His film proves to be a glimpse of functional, if shambling, democracy in action. Despite their ballsy intent, the Avengers, once they are surrounded by the accouterments of power, are more nervous than they’d like to admit. The camera catches Taggert crossing herself before entering Lott’s office, for example. Yet the women manage to raise the collective blood pressure in each office they visit before merrily tromping off to their next stop to the soundtrack of Caribbean steel drums. Amanda Ripley