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Storming the Stage: A History of Disruptions to Advance Our Rights

Storming the Stage: A History of Disruptions to Advance Our Rights

Activists Interrupt Bill Clinton at AIDS Conference, 2014
LGBT and AIDS activists had high hopes when Bill Clinton became president in 1993, but they held his feet to the fire after he dashed those hopes with legislation such as “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act. Advocates continued confronting him post-presidency as he worked on global concerns. At the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, in 2014, he was speaking on the state of HIV prevention and treatment in Asia and Africa when activists marched to the front of the auditorium chanting, “Clinton end AIDS with the Robin Hood tax,” a proposed tax on stock trades to help fund AIDS services. The former president ended up being a textbook example of how to respond; he kept his cool and let the protesters have their say, Australia’s Star Observer reported. As they continued chanting, he asked the audience, “Have you got the message?” then said, “Give them a hand and ask them to let the rest of us talk,” upon which the demonstrators took their seats.

Queer People of Color Occupy Gay Bars in Castro, 2015
In reaction to violence against people of color and transgender Americans, 150 activists with Queer Trans People of Color marched into two bars in San Francisco’s Castro District that serve a largely white clientele. In support of #BlackLivesMatter and #TransLivesMatter, “they chose to interrupt business-as-usual over the Martin Luther King Day weekend at two bars, Toad Hall and Badlands, regarded as sites of middle-class white privilege,” S.F. Weekly reported. As the decried what they saw as the larger LGBT movement’s half-hearted response to the killings of marginalized people, they temporarily shut down Toad Hall and drew reactions “ranging from tearful embraces to rudeness and physical encounters,” according to the paper.

Trans Activists Storm the Stage at Creating Change, 2015
This year has continued to be marked by direct action. At the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Creating Change conference in Denver in February, about 100 transgender activists and allies, led by Bamby Salcedo, stormed the stage and interrupted emcee Kate Clinton, carrying handmade signs and chanting “Jessie Presente!” in reference to 17-year-old queer Latina Jessie Hernandez, who was shot to death by Denver police the previous week. Salcedo demanded better accountability on the part of police and the criminal justice system, and called for LGBTQ organizations to include transgender people on their boards and staffs as decision-makers. “If you serve us, you need to include us,” Salcedo said to a crowd cheering and raising their fists in solidarity. Task Force deputy executive director Russell Roybal thanked the demonstrators for their input and announced that Denver Mayor Michael Hancock would not speak as planned.

#BlackOutPride Protesters Disrupt Chicago LGBT Parade, 2015
The LGBT Pride parades held in many cities on July 28 of this year had a particularly festive atmosphere, as the U.S. Supreme court had ruled in favor of nationwide marriage equality two days earlier. But a group called #BlackOutPride called out racism among white gays and drew attention to the situation of trans people and people of color. Eight people interrupted the Chicago parade with a die-in, lying on the pavement, as others with the group stood around them carrying signs. A statement was read explaining “why, as more than one sign declared, ‘Marriage is not enough,’” TruthOut reported. The statement was this: “Queer youth experiencing homelessness, and the plight of trans and queer communities of color, is not merely an issue of transphobia and homophobia in Black and Brown communities; it is equally about classism, racism and gentrification. It is about the draconian measures of austerity that push our people onto the street, refuse us reentrance into real estate and the job market, and the police and prison systems which work together to ensure we stay locked out. Young, Black, Brown, Native, trans, poor, working, immigrant and disabled people are suffering because every system of governance in this country is geared to destroy us.”


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