Out Against the Right: An Organizing Handbook for Queer Activists and Grassroots Organizers
For lesbian activists and grassroots organizers fighting the Christian Right.

Visibility Issues #2: Safety & Surveillance

  1. Work in pairs.
  2. Make sure people always know where you are.
  3. Use marshals, legal observers and lawyers at actions.
  4. Travel in groups
  5. Never publicize addresses, consider seriously before publicizing phone numbers.
  6. Talk to each other about your fears.

When you make the decision to be visible and out as dykes, no matter where you live, you are definitely taking a risk. Lesbians and gay men are targets not only of the organized right-wing, but of homophobic individuals, the police, and the FBI, to name only a few of our enemies. Obviously, those of us who can be out have to take that risk because we are never going to make change if we all remain closeted. And being closeted does not necessarily mean you are safe from harm; coming out can prevent a caught-you-red-handed sort of attack. One of the first steps towards keeping ourselves safe is to be realistic about the dangers. Then we can do as much as we can to keep ourselves safe without becoming too focused on it.

Lesbians and gay men have been and are targets of verbal and physical assault, and have also been killed when there is no anti-lesbian and gay initiative campaign in progress. However, such a campaign gives license to and spurs homophobic violence. Hattie Mae Cohens and Brian Mock were burned to death when some Neo-Nazi skinheads threw a molotov cocktail into their basement apartment in Oregon during the campaign there. In Idaho during Proposition One, people's cars were vandalized and a pipe-bomb was thrown at a lesbian couple's house (it missed and exploded in their lawn). Lesbian Avengers in Portland, Oregon had Neo-Nazi skinheads stand outside of their meeting place surveilling them with video cameras. A high number of people with "No" bumper stickers were pulled over by police in Idaho and Maine. Even without an initiative, police have historically acted abusively towards us at demonstrations or even when we report a crime. The FBI has used various surveillance techniques against lesbian and gay political groups for many years and has also used tactics of internal disruption to split them apart. Groups have had their offices broken into and lists of members stolen. The list is endless and we can't give advice on everything. Instead we can make suggestions and you can decide for yourselves what you want to do.

Figure out how you can keep yourselves as safe as possible. Do your work in pairs. For example, if you are putting up lawn signs or wheatpasting posters, one person can do the work while the other acts as a look-out. Let other people know when you are going out to do initiative work, and find out who will be home if you need to call them. When people go out canvassing or to do literature drops someone should be stationed at a particular place and everyone should have their phone number. When the work is finished people should call in or come to the central location to check in. When you do actions you should train people as marshals, have legal observers, and have a lawyer on hand or on call.

Use reasonable security at your meeting places. A couple of dykes should always be at the door when you have a public meeting or host a social event. When women leave your meeting place or an event they should go in groups, even if it is just to the parking lot. You can provide escorts for women who are leaving alone, at least until they get to their car or to public transportation. If you keep lists of members or supporters, keep them in a secure place. In some areas of the country, offices have been broken into, lists have been stolen and people have been outed by phone calls to their employers or families.

Never put anyone's address on a flyer use a post-office box. When possible, avoid publicizing home numbers by getting a voice mail number. Don't put someone's phone number or address on your voice mail message; ask the caller to leave their name and phone number and call them back. When you call back, trust your intuition if you think they sound phony. Most times, a crank caller won't leave their number in the first place. If you do get a call at your home or headquarters from someone claiming to be interested in an event but seems suspicious, ask for a number and say youll have someone call back. If they're not legit they'll hang up. If you get harassing or threatening calls on your voice mail (or on any other phone), keep a copy of the tape, let the phone company know, and if there is a local Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Protect let them know as well. If you think it is necessary, you can also let the police know.

As far as government surveillance, there is no way that you are going to stop it from happening if it is going on. The best you can do is ignore it. However, if you want to do some action which requires surprise as part of its impact, don't discuss it on the phone. Only talk about it to each other in person. This will cut down on the possibility that law enforcement people will know about it in advance. On the other hand, most of your actions will be in public places and you will be advertising publicly, so don't get riled up about the fact that the police may know about it they can read your posters and flyers too.

If you run a public event or meet in a public place, there is no way you can keep most people out, although you can make it uncomfortable for them to be there. Good facilitation can minimize an interloper's disruption. And while running secret meetings or holding meetings or events in private homes might seem like a solution, the very people you want to find you other dykes will not know where you are either. Remember, you don't ever know all the people who will be important to your project. If some people come to your meeting and stand outside surveilling you with video cameras, get your own video people and turn the cameras on them they will usually leave. The same tactic works well with police video surveillance (or violence) at demonstrations. Above all, be realistic about the danger, talk to each other about your fears, and figure out how you can support one another and keep each other as safe as possible.

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