''Take your hand off of me!'' Farah Fosse yelled as Lauren Taylor's advances made a scene last Wednesday night at BeBar. The confrontation turned the heads of some patrons inside the bar, unaware of what was really happening. But it didn't generate an alarming response from the group of about 30 people -- mostly women -- who had gathered at Be Bar for the March 25 ''queer self-defense class.''
Taylor, a lesbian activist who has been involved in violence-against-women issues in Washington for more than three decades, was the instructor of the class, and Fosse was one of her assistants.
''I've never taught a class in a bar before when the bar was open,'' Taylor said after the class. ''It was great because it was a way for people to come out and do something useful and do the regular socializing and partying. I think people loved it, and we reached a lot of people who wouldn't have come to a class in a recreation center or somewhere else.''
Certified as a self-defense instructor by the National Women's Martial Arts Federation, Taylor currently works as the lead instructor of Defend Yourself, a local organization teaching self-defense. The 90-minute Be Bar session touched on many self-defense topics, including de-escalation techniques to possibly defuse a situation before it turns violent.
Taylor began the evening by acting out various scenarios with her assistants, before moving on to ''verbal self-defense.'' That can mean anything from an assertive ''Stop!'' to body language. For a more hands-on experience, Taylor had participants face each other, with each half taking turns yelling ''Stop!'' as they walked toward each other.
Tate, who prefers no last name nor gender and identifies simply as ''gender queer'' (though he does prefer masculine pronouns) organized the event with the help of the volunteer-based EPIC (Entertain, Promote, Inspire, and Connect) DC Project, an organization he co-founded. He says the idea to host the self-defense class came a few weeks ago when, he claims, a roommate physically assaulted him. The following morning when Tate went to work and read about two female-to-male transgender men who were verbally harassed and assaulted at Dupont Circle'sFab Lounge on Feb. 28 by a small group of women at the bar, he decided it was time to set a date. ''I said, 'Someone is sending me a message,''' he says.
''Gender-conforming women and gender variant people are at greater risk of street harassment and violence, even from within the queer community,'' Tate says, ''so I was really happy to see people taking this opportunity.''
EPIC plans to donate a portion of the proceeds from the $10 class fee -- about $180 -- to Rainbow Response, the local coalition formed to address intimate-partner violence in the GLBT community. Tate says the group hopes to do more classes at Be Bar.
A consideration in choosing Be Bar as the venue for the self-defense class is the Ninth Street bar's proximity to two killings that shook the gay community.
Durval Martins, 35, was shot and killed in the early hours of Dec. 16, 2008, as he walked to his home near Q and Third Streets NW. Tony Randolph Hunter, 37, of Clinton, Md., died Sept. 17, 2008, from injuries he suffered as a result of a Sept. 7 attack on the 1300 block of Eighth Street NW, en route to Be Bar.
''I talked to some people who said they don't feel safe going to Be Bar because of what happened,'' says Tate. ''That was something that was actually brought up while I was doing promotion for the event, people saying that it was insensitive to chose Be Bar as a location because of what had happened.
''My response is simply that people still come out to Be Bar. This is for the people who are still braving the night who need these skills. But also to encourage others to feel empowered to come out.''