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Soldiers of peace

Soldiers of peace


For antiwar queer youths, the conflict in Iraq is another familiar form of American oppression.

When President Bush began crafting justifications to declare war on Iraq, our community wasn't so quick to jump on his bandwagon. "As LGBT people, we're used to Bush lying to us and about us," said protestor Andy Thayer at a March antiwar demonstration in Chicago. But now, four years into the Iraq conflict, antiwar LGBT youths are figuring out how their identities shape their consciousness and, ultimately, their actions.

At the Chicago protest, which brought 4,000 marchers to Michigan Avenue, a small group of young people gathered near a banner for the Windy City- based Gay Liberation Network. Twenty-three-year-old Joe Taylor was there, prepared to voice his frustration at the war's fourth anniversary. "Most LGBT people understand we need to cherish and fight for all civil liberties, at home and in Iraq," he said. Surveying the small crowd surrounding the banner, he conceded that most of his gay friends don't share his zeal for change. "Much of my generation didn't really experience a period of not being out," Taylor said, and the result is that "civil rights begin to be chipped away by complacency."

Taylor fears that apathy--about both gay rights and the war--will only make each situation worse.

Another queer 23-year-old, Fred Ludwig, trekked from the Chicago suburbs to join the protest. He said most of his gay friends were against the war but weren't motivated enough to take action. What's the solution? "Close the bars!" he joked.

But some things are so outrageous that even apolitical gays get pissed off. Like when Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Chicago Tribune in March that gay behavior is immoral. In May, when Pace appeared as an invited speaker at the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business, he was met by approximately 75 angry demonstrators, about half of them queer. For Thayer, a member of the Gay Liberation Network, the diverse crowd at the May protest showed how progressive populations have grown closer since 9/11, when organizations with cause to fear heightened attacks on civil liberties were "thrown into shotgun weddings...looking for a defense in case the Administration starts rounding people up." Thayer's words might seem dramatic but for the Department of Defense's February 2006 admission to having spied specifically on gay and antiwar groups.

But the shared-enemy status does not necessarily bring kinship between antiwar and LGBT organizations, said 18-year-old lesbian Ursula Mlynarek, who has been involved in peace activism since age 14 and notes that she finds a level of "normalized homophobia" in the movement. Now a high school senior, Mlynarek has organized hundreds of people in antiwar protests, battled military recruiters in her school, founded the Milwaukee Youth Liberation Army, and received honors from the American Civil Liberties Union for her activism.

"[The antiwar movement] taught me about the histories of oppressed groups around the world--but nothing about the LGBT community," Mlynarek said. "It needs to be accepted that LGBT people have been a part of every major movement against oppression."

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Kevin Hauswirth