We’re Here, We’re Queer, We Are the 99%
A stroll last Friday through the mini tent city of Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan revealed none of the classic signifiers of LGBT activism. There, amid the mattresses and recliners, the communal kitchen and library of donated books, no Pride flags or pink triangles could be seen. Nor did anyone utter the letters “LGBT” over the “people’s mic,” the call-and-response technique occupiers have devised for amplification in lieu of a city permit for a real microphone.
Occupy Wall Street is a protest against economic inequities in which LGBT participants seem to be playing a more fully integrated role. In a series of interviews, activists, most of whom self-identified with the word “queer,” reported feeling visible and incorporated into the whole of the occupation, even as they remain mindful of the unique challenges they face because of ongoing discrimination in the broader society.
“I think the coolest thing right now is that queer people are being seen as just part of the fight,” said Justin Adkins, a transgender man from Massachusetts who traveled to New York the past two weekends. “The majority of the time when I’m protesting, I’m either queer, or I’m for this. It’s not usually that I can be both. I’m a queer person fighting for economic justice. How awesome is that?”
Now in its third week, Occupy Wall Street uses a consensus-driven style of decision-making through its General Assembly. Participants eschew the notion of leaders, although a core group of volunteers paved the way for the events with voluminous email and other planning over the summer. The radical, organic structure initially baffled many observers, although by Wednesday, a growing list of labor unions, elected officials, and celebrities had expressed support for a large march that seemed to legitimize the occupation. It and similar events in other cities could continue indefinitely.
“What the public is used to or what the media has taught us to be used to is you have a protest and you have a message and that’s how the thing works,” said Marya Triandafellos, a lesbian artist who lives near the park dubbed “Liberty Plaza” and has visited several times. “In a parallel way, there doesn’t have to be a message at this point. Everyone may have the things they feel most passionate about, but overall the message is, ‘We’re not happy. We can do better.’”
Anyone is invited to come and air grievances. According to attendees, queer people have done so in significant numbers since the occupation began September 17.
“There’s a lot of visibility and there’s a lot of participation,” said Patricia Gonzalez, a queer media maker who helps translate the print newspaper The Occupied Wall Street Journal. “The participation might not be directly as organizing around LGBT issues, but in the groups that I am collaborating with or the other groups that I know, there are queer people that are very much organizing those groups and are a part of it. LGBT people are making contributions.”
“There’s queer people from all political aspects and ranges,” she said. “For example, at the General Assembly, there was a man who spoke up and said, ‘I am a bisexual man and an anarchist,’ and he said other things he was. There is this space for people like him to do that and it’s embraced.”