We’re Here, We’re Queer, We Are the 99%

BY Julie Bolcer

October 06 2011 6:00 AM ET

OCCUPY WALL STREET 1 560x (GETTY) ADVOCATE.COMCompared to other high-profile protests of recent decades, such as those at the
World Trade Organization ministerial conference in 1999 and the
Republican National Convention in 2004, veteran queer activists reported
sensing an unprecedented level of inclusion at Occupy Wall Street. Some
attributed it to the younger generation of organizers and their
attitudes.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Adkins, who
is in his 30s and works as the assistant director of the
multicultural center at Williams College. “There is a difference around
queer issues between these two generations. People in their early 20s on
the whole have a greater awareness that queer issues are part of class
and race issues and that class and race issues are part of queer
issues.”

T.J. Helmstetter, a strategist for the Working Families
Party, which participated in the solidarity action with Occupation Wall
Street on Wednesday, said the protest represented an opportunity for
LGBT people to connect with a broader social movement at a critical
point in both their histories.

“We’re not just some community
within a silo that is only worried about marriage and serving in the
military,” he said. “We’re worried about the same struggles that
everybody else is worried about — putting food on the table, getting our
kids to the doctors, saving our homes.”

That’s not to say that
queer issues want for individualized attention at Occupy Wall Street.
The speak-easy caucus, for example, was founded to provide a safe space
for non-male participants and other marginalized people. Last week the
General Assembly approved a declaration that, among other statements,
denounced corporations for having “perpetuated inequality and
discrimination” based on characteristics including “sex, gender identity,
and sexual orientation.”

At times, those very prejudices have
emerged during the protest. On Saturday, for instance, Adkins was one of at least
three transgender people and numerous other queer participants arrested
on the Brooklyn Bridge, and he complained of being mistreated in police
custody because he is transgender. And as in social movements of the past, fewer women than men seem to hold prominent roles, based on investigation
during last week’s walk-through.

If some of the demands from
Occupy Wall Street, such as inclusive employment nondiscrimination,
seem more aptly addressed to Washington, D.C., queer participants
acknowledge the reality of how laws are made but only to a point. They respond that their
protest aims to change something much more fundamental — namely, the
corporate influence on politics symbolized by the epicenter of the
global economy.

“You can lobby your
congressman all you want or talk about specific pieces of legislation,”
said Helmstetter. “But what this is really about is how our society is
structured. It’s time to stop letting Wall Street and corporate greed
dictate our policies and it’s time for politicians to be held
accountable to the other 99%. That includes LGBT folks.”













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