Queer Protest Protested — By Queers

by November 18, 2009

IMG_0595An LGBT rights march on Sunday was protested by Bash Back! Twin Cities, an anarchist-leaning queer group who are probably best-known, locally, for picketing a Human Rights Campaign fundraising gala in Minneapolis two months ago. But despite a screaming match between march organizers (using megaphones) and the eight BB! protesters, not everyone in the larger protest actually realized they were being counter-demonstrated.

IMG_0596 The spat is over the same issues behind the HRC picket — BB! holds that pro-marriage activism like the march, organized by Join the Impact – Twin Cities, actually hurts the community because it overlooks the importance of issues including healthcare reform, police abuse, discrimination, and employment discrimination in the lives of poor LGBTQ folks. Join The Impact – Twin Cities was started around this time last year in response to the passage of Proposition 8 in California, and helped organize Minnesotans to attend the National Equality March last month, in Washington D.C. Recently, the group has whithered somewhat and Dan DiMaggio, one of the lead organizers of Sunday’s rally, said he hoped it could provide energy to re-launch the organization.

When two protests of around 60 people, combined, try to shout each other down, it feels like you’re witnessing a boxing match between two blades of grass and their roots – together, both groups barely filled a quarter of the plaza between Minneapolis’ City Hall and the Hennepin County building in downtown Minneapolis. Still, this fissure over strategies for getting to equality runs straight through the LGBTQ community nation-wide — the night before the National Equality March, a group affiliated with Bash Back! defaced the Human Rights Campaign’s building with pink paint and glitter, and a Memphis, TN chapter of BB! claimed responsibility for defacing a billboard featuring a gay former marine and the caption “I’m gay and I defended your freedom.”

As BB! followed the JTI-TC march from a short rally in downtown Minneapolis, down Washington Avenue to Bedlam Theatre in the West Bank, chant and counter-chant echoed off the high-rises. “What do we want? Equal Rights!” was met with “No Assimilation!”; “Don’t get married, for-ni-cate!” answered “We de-mand equa-li-ty!”

Before the march left Government Center, some JTI organizers and some BB! members talked – separately – about the possibility of sharing megaphones and combining marches, but that idea seemed to die quickly. As the march began, DiMaggio of JTI flatly refused to let BB! share the stage.

IMG_0591“It’s hard to have a dialogue with these people,” DiMaggio said. To illustrate his point, he quietly tried to get the attention of a BB! member walking by. When they didn’t respond to his half-hearted call, he turned to me and said “see? That’s what dialogue with them is like!”

In the end, JTI organizers’ megaphones were more than a match for eight voices — as I walked through the small crowd of JTI marchers, many in the middle had no clue there was a counter-protest going on.

For some who were aware of the BB! members following the march, the company was alternately annoying and upsetting.

IMG_0598“I didn’t appreciate them at all,” JTI marcher Jessica Davis told me at Bedlam Theatre after the march had ended. “They should have had their own march if they don’t agree” with the march’s emphasis on marriage equality.

“It feels like it hinders our efforts,” Justin Grey Day, a marcher with the JTI-TC group, said in reference to the BB! group’s attempts to drown out the larger march’s chants.

IMG_0588Despite the low turnout, DiMaggio was optimistic that JTI would grow, and spoke of plans to “re-launch” the group in December by inviting the Twin Cities’ LGBT community to help shape the agenda and issues it would pursue.

“We’re going to do our reseach,” DiMaggio said, “And we’ll come back in December with some concrete proposals.”

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