Queer: September 2007 Archives

drum corps section

the vanguard

past the Stonewall site

the campaign theme

not as bad as it looks

the curious gather on the sidewalks

We're saying the First Amendment isn't just for the homos.

It was a fabulous party. First, it was safe (no assaults and no arrests), but it was really fun, it was beautiful, it broadcast the issue, and on top of another event earlier this week, it looks like that issue now has real momentum.

Last night's Parade Without A Permit, put together by The Radical Homosexual Agenda [RHA] and its allies, was the second in what is likely to be a continuing series.

Progressing through streets filled with surprised and delighted diners and party goers enjoying the warm evening air of a Saturday in autumn, somewhere between 150 and 200 colorful and energetic activists broadcast the word about City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's support of new NYPD rules restricting free assembly. The group started inside Washington Square Park, accompanied by signs and outrunners with informative pink paper flyers and led by banners and a snappy percussion section. The party wound its way through the West Village, Quinn's own district, for more than two and a half hours before dispersing from Pier 45 at Christopher Street.

Surprisingly the "unpermitted" assembly, was neither broken up nor even seriously provoked by the police. In fact the few uniformed people visible last night performed the kind of martial duties which groups like ACT UP have historically assigned to themselves, halting vehicle traffic for the protest's passage across streets and then, most remarkable of all, letting it take most of the width of Eighth Avenue all the way to 15th Street. At that point the parade turned left and then left again to head back into the Village. The police disappeared at about the same time.

Did the NYPD get the word from Quinn's office to see that nothing untoward would happen to the queers and their friends, or was the Department's low-key handling of the event just part of its historical and notorious pattern of arbitrary enforcement of the law? Also, "good cop" one day, "bad cop" the next, was something we experienced throughout the years of ACT UP's biggest actions. You never knew when you were safe, and you don't today, especially if no one is watching.

One of the most striking images of the evening was presented early on, when the ragtag (I mean that in the very best sense) procession passed the site of Stonewall Inn, where the modern homosexual movement began.

The pictures above and on Flickr and on other sites show the diversity of the protesters, in age, gender, sexuality, race and mobility, one of the most satisfactory elements of a evening of empowerment.

Not only is the First Amendment, and freedom from an arbitrary police force in general, not just for homos, these rights must not be secured only for a queer elite and "decent citizens" of other descriptions. Reflecting today on what was accomplished last night, Andy Podell, a member of RHA, warns:

We have used our position as relatively-privileged queer activists to advocate for freedom of assembly and against police harrassement of queers and activists. At some point our rallying cry of last night, "We don't need a permit", becomes a little easy and self-indulgent. We don't need a permit because at this time a city councilperson doesn't want to fuck with us because we're queer and have connections and it would be bad publicity for her.

Like the well-connected SRLP [Silvia Rivera Law Project], the intervention of Quinn in getting the charges dropped against Wed's night's arrestees does not mean that the NYPD will stop harrassing trans people or people of color or queers. I'd like to see the RHA up the ante in connecting with people who get picked on by Quinn or the NYPD outside of the eye of the queer media (it might not even be queers).

It's probably just a (very minor) fantasy of my own, and it will probably stay that way, but for the next parade I'd love to see a pink and black fife player added to the excellent drum corps: For me it's the original Revolution image, but this second one might just be led by queers - of every description.

I've put more images of the evening on Flickr.

Sylvia at New York City Hall, with the community she helped create, in an undated photo

"Hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned" [Sylvia Rivera, 1995].

At the Sylvia Rivera Law Project's after-party following its fifth anniversary celebration and fundraising event Wednesday night, two members of the community were violently arrested and others were pepper sprayed by police without warning or cause.

I'm betting the cops were frightened.

The Project, named for the fierce and indomitable queer and trans rights pioneer, provides free legal services, advocacy and other support for low-income people of color who are transgender, gender non-conforming, or intersex. For details on the incident and continuing updates, see the SLRP site.

When will the savagery stop? How long will we have to put up with this stupidity and this thuggery?

Especially in a city as dynamic and sophisticated as this one is, no one should have to fear assault and arrest by the police simply because of who she or he may be.

I don't expect most members of the NYPD to understand New York, since their ranks are drawn from a fairly-narrow pool of communities, each of which tends to fear the heterogeneity and eccentricities which are the lifeblood of this metropolis, and because increasingly neither officers nor their bosses even live inside the city they patrol and monitor.

Incidentally, in spite of what some people may think and say, including officials who should know better, the police are not supposed to "control" us or our "situations". The police are public servants, entrusted and paid to keep us safe, not to tell us what we may or may not do.

I cannot imagine why sad stories like this one, and especially the even more dramatic and deadly episodes of police violence which litter our recent history, would not be an incredible embarrassment to the force itself, to the politicians to whom its leaders must report, and ultimately to every New Yorker. Who is responsible for making the NYPD look so damn stupid? Do they want us to be like Los Angeles, a city with a police force better known for its ruthlessness than for its skills?

There's no way to assign the precise proportions of the blame various people share for the continuing shame of this Police Department, but our mayors, commissioners and chiefs, and at least one council member and speaker, would all have long rap sheets if we were to try for a real accounting.

But each time there's another incident of brutality I think about how little we actually pay the police we send into the streets. I'm not suggesting we reward incompetence, unnecessary violence or arbitrary enforcement more generously, but rather that we should generate greater competence, more appropriate physical restraint and responsible enforcement by attracting better people with better pay, and then training and educating them better. With as many billionaires as we harbor in these boroughs we can certainly afford a truly professional force, at every level.

Also, this isn't about throwing money at NYPD executives. It hasn't served the officers on the beat or the citizens who rely on them to have those who occupy the top desk jobs in the Department routinely negotiate the terms of their own compensation at the expense of rookies and the lower ranks.

It's probably unreasonable to hope that anything might change in the hottest real estate markets in the city, but can I at least dream that a pay scale proportionate to a demand for real professionalism (and appropriate to the extraordinary physical risks) might mean that most of our neighborhoods at least could be watched over by officers who actually live in those neighborhoods - and who wouldn't be parking their SUVs and Pickups on our sidewalks?

[some of the points made above originated with Barry in a conversation today; image from Miami Dade College]

the RHA visits Speaker Quinn at the Stonewall Democratic Club open meeting

Yesterday the junta in Burma invoked a colonial-era section of the nation's criminal code under which the government can use police or military force against any group of people who have not been granted a permit to assemble. The rule's threshold is any assembly of more than five. Burma and the world is once again witness to the open violence with which undemocratic authority will inevitably try to maintain itself. At this hour fourteen people are known to have been killed by soldiers and police.

Back in New York people are starting to make connections. Tim Doody is a member of the Radical Homosexual Agenda [RHA] and a constituent of Council Member Christine Quinn, who this year promulgated a New York City rule making illegal any "unpermitted" assembly of 50 or more people. Responding to news of Burma's emergency proclamation restricting citizen assembly, or what most of the media is referring to as Burma's "curfew", today Doody asked,

Does Speaker Quinn really believe the difference between a junta and a democracy is 45 people?

Last night members of the RHA attended an open meeting of the Stonewall Democratic Club, held in the LGBT Community Center, where Speaker Quinn had been asked to speak. The RHA held up two banners on the sides of the room calling attention to the First Amendment issue of arbitrarily-formulated Parade Rules which will inevitably be arbitrarily enforced. When the Q&A session was closed, and the host had not called on anyone who might have asked the Club's distinguished visitor about the elephant in the room, one of the guests who was not a member of the RHA asked that the question be solicited, adding that it would reflect very badly on the people in the room if the signs displayed so prominently went unexplained.

Quinn now graciously sought out a raised hand and the question came from the floor, 'Would you explain to the constituency in this room your support of and your role in the promulgation of the unconstitutional, so-called Police 'Parade Rules'?"

There was nothing new or revealing in her response, and I myself still honestly have no idea why she got herself into a law-and-order posture so contrary to anything she ever stood for. Her argument remains rather circular and her logic vague or obsfucatory, but in this venue there was no way to carry on a discussion or venture an appeal to reason, something thus far lacking in her defense of the police rules.

She never lost her composure and she even offered to "come back here [the Stonewall Democratic Club or the LGBT Center?] any time" to specifically discuss the issue. There were two real surprises, I think, each possibly suggesting a chink in the blue wall to which she seems to have attached herself. One was the fact that at least twice she said that the assembly rules were "an ongoing conversation", and the other was an interesting throwaway line something to the effect, "If in the future legislation is produced . . . .", suggesting that the Council might still get involved in the issue and hold open public hearings, as it surely ought to.

In the meantime the conversation will continue on the only stage the powerless have available to them: that constructed on free assembly and speech. On Saturday at 7 o'clock, a second "Parade Without A Permit", a joyous party celebrating those fundamental rights, will assemble at the fountain in Washington Square Park and progress through the West Village, the streets of the Speaker's own district.

[the small sign on the right reads, "1st Amendment not for sale"]


The Radical Homosexual Agenda [RHA] logo incorporates the group's Regulation Pink GasmaskŪ, which has been donned by members since 2006 while they pursue their perilous mission fighting the American mainstream - an environment which they argue, and few would dispute, is presently toxic for queers.

They're back. The RHA loves a parade - for a good cause. Even if they may be more sensitive than some folks about the Lesbian author of the outrage against which they've been protesting, being queers themselves, the RHA has been fighting for all of America on this one.

Five months ago this young, spirited New York civil rights group stepped off from City Hall Park on a sunny afternoon in a colorful un-permitted parade of fellow citizens (both homosexual and otherwise engaged) to protest New York City's new and totally-unconstitutional police rule restricting freedom of assembly and speech. On Saturday, in another "Parade Without a Permit", they take their costumes, props and merry bands, bicycles and carts and strong legs on a more ambitious, a more public tour. This time the neighborhood will be the dense residential and commercial blocks of the West Village, the district represented by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Quinn is the main target of the RHA's anger because of her prominent role in the promulgation, without review, discussion or vote, of draconian rules which cede dangerous arbitrary power to the police.

This hot new band of activists and its growing numbers of allies will together be doing their best to broadcast that Quinn's position as an out queer with a progressive, largely queer constituency on which she has built her career up to now is totally at odds with her position on a principle of law so fundamental to the political life of a free society. The RHA and its friends have other serious complaints about our ambitious Speaker's positions and agenda, but this issue trumps everything else: The right to speak and to demonstrate about any subject is on the line in this city today.

The parade assembles in Washington Square Park at 7 pm this Saturday, September 29, at the edge of the central fountain. The event is absolutely not envisioned as an arrest scenario by any of its organizers, so everyone is encouraged to join the serious merriment.

For more information, see the RHA's new, James Wentzy-built website. I have it on good authority that there will be no speeches on Saturday, so maybe a visit to the site is an even better idea than it would be prior to most demos; everyone should be ready with a good sound bite at these things.

NEWS FLASH: It's just been confirmed that the Stonewall Veterans are going to be a part of this parade, front and center. Now I'm thinking, pink-and-black-draped pedicab chariots conveying our noble ur-rebels through the streets past the sites which were the scenes of their triumphs almost forty years ago. Take that, all you soft, smug folk who ever imagined you could even be the cuttings of the giants who opened the doors you pass through so easily today.

[image from the RHA]

(but right, even laudable, if I paid women for quickies)

The Republicans have trashed and now unceremoniously sacked one of their very own worthy gentlemen for soliciting consensual, uncompensated sex with another person. Senator Craig was forced to resign only days after his sensational misstep (with another man) was reported in the media.

A year ago another model Republican, Representative Mark Foley, was hounded out of office for a peccadillo even less "awful" than that committed by the married-with-three-children Senator from Idaho. Foley, an unmarried man, sent suggestive emails and sexually explicit instant messages to young adult men who had formerly served or were at the time serving as Congressional pages.

A third Republican luminary, Senator David Vitter, admitted early in July to regularly soliciting the services of a female prostitute. There has been no investigation and no movement to oust Vitter from his elected position or party responsibilities, and in fact on his return to the senate floor later in the month Vitter was greeted with a standing ovation by his Republican peers.

Why is there such a difference in the way their colleagues treated these three members of Congress? Craig and Foley happened to be of what their former friends would call the homosexual "persuasion" but Vitter seems to be fixated on the role of lusty heterosexual.

Oh, there is the thing about the toilet venue of Craig's ruinous flirtation (Americans are obsessed with potties - all potties) and also the extraordinarily-significant fact that should Vitter resign his seat it would be filled by a Democrat named by the Democratic governor of Louisiana. Unfortunately for Craig the Governor of Idaho is a Republican. Foley's was an interesting case: It suggests that here the Republicans' sincere bigotry might have gotten the better of them since their hand-picked candidate to replace the homo failed to make it in the election which followed his resignation. Of course it could also have been the product of an excessive self-confidence, one which wouldn't have survived the last year of spiraling Republican disasters.

Of course I'm not going to contrast any of this with the Democrat's treatment of Jerry Studds and Barney Frank [neither lost his job], the Republican attitude toward Presidential sex, or toward Congressional corruption involving real crimes with real victims. And while I'm not speaking of real victims, I'm not going to speak about the real, countless, world-wide victims of the first eight and one half years of this Republican administration.

"Hypocrisy" is far too mild a word for this stuff.

[image by Tom Toles via Washington Post]

This page is an archive of entries in the Queer category from September 2007.

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