Thursday, April 3, 2014

What it means to march for LGBTQ rights

Pre-march pep talk: What do we want? Everything!
 Last night, two different LGBTQ-rights marches took place in New Orleans.

The first was a group of mainly middle-aged white gay men who carried signs advocating increased enforcement of hate crimes statutes.

I joined the second group, composed mostly of younger people with different genders, sexual orientations, and races who chanted slogans like "Build communities, not jails!" and "Hey hey, ho ho, the police state has got to go!"

As we gathered on Rampart and St. Ann, across the street from the first group, a reporter approached and asked why we felt the need to have our own separate event:

- "Are y'all here for the counter-protest?"
- "We're here for the well-being of queer folks in New Orleans."
- "Why are there two protests?"
- "We have different ideas about how to get there. We want actual safety. They're calling for increased police surveillance."
- "So are you protesting them?"
- "We're hoping they'll join us."

The marches began quietly, ours about two blocks behind the other. Winding through the French Quarter, our group doubled in size with the arrival of dancing, hula-hooping, and bicycle-riding allies.

Clusters of observers waved supportively to both marches. One man asked me why we didn't join forces with the first bunch, given how vulnerable queer people are to violence in New Orleans. I reminded him that violence comes in many forms, including those perpetrated by structures of law enforcement.

 - "So they're for the police, and you're against the police?"

 - "Well, they think that police are going to make it safer for queer people, and we think there's other things that promote wellness and self-determination."
 - "Such as?"
 - "Access to healthcare, childcare, employment, and fair housing. The police not targeting queer youth of color for stop-and-frisk."
 - "Yeah, but what about the criminals beating up gay people for being gay?"
 - "We're against that too, but throwing more people in jail isn't going to heal us or prevent it from happening again."

The first march ended at Lafitte's, where we called out a concilliatory message of "Freedom for all!"

Despite the perceived lack of cohesion, our march accomplished an important goal of bringing together people working in solidarity towards safer streets and stronger communities.

We are concerned about white gay men getting beat up by ignorant homophobes; we are also concerned about transgender youth of color being groped by over-eager cops searching for evidence of criminality. We are concerned about the role of politics in creating more opportunities for people to be incarcerated, such as through hate crimes legislation. We are concerned that our communities' needs are not being met. We are committed to having our marches and our movement, and we do continue to hope that everyone will join us.

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