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Kissin' in the Square, Dyin' in the Streets

by Michele Hardesty Thursday, Aug. 17, 2000 at 5:25 AM

Despite police presence, Queers and Allies pull off a successful march organized around demands for Our Health, Our Rights, and Our Lives.

Queers and Allies March

by Michele Hardesty

Organized around the idea that “An Injury to One is an Injury to All,” Tuesday’s range of rallies brought out a group new to the L.A. scene, one that had formed only after the formation of the D2K collective. Including groups such as People with AIDS, Transgender Menace, and the AFL-CIO affiliated Pride at Work, Queers and Allies brings together a much-needed alliance of L.A. queer activists. Meeting at Pershing Square late in the sweltering afternoon, Q&A promised a “kiss-in”, a march, and finally a “die-in” to symbolize the fatal oppression gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people continue to face everyday.

“We want this march to be a celebration and demonstration of love and our commitment to struggle,” explained Q&A member Erin O’Brien, “but with the police presence in the streets right now, people are scared.” Indeed, the LAPD’s show of force on Monday night and its saturation of Los Angeles’ streets on Tuesday made for tenuous ground on which to march. But like Mumia’s supporters and anti-police brutality activists, Queers and Allies drew the same sort of connection between the current police climate in L.A. and their political work: “75% of hate crimes in this country are perpetuated by the police,” stated O’Brien.

The call for hate crime legislation marks only one of the demands on Queers and Allies’ two-page list. The demands are grouped around three themes: Our Health, Our Rights, and Our Lives. With the connections it draws to the anti-corporate movement, Q&A’s demands give a more radical twist to the mainstream of LGBT activism. Speakers such as Deeg of the Bay Area’s Lesbian and Gay Insurrection criticized the commodification of queer activism, in which the queer presence is not seen as a political force but as a marketing niche. “We’re a movement, not a market; we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not going shopping.”

Los Angeles’ last “kiss-in” happened in 1973. “The lesbian community was a lot smaller then,” remembered Donna Cassyd, who once again took part in the ring of smoochers. Pershing Sqaure’s kissers may have been overwhelmed by the media who crowded around them, but they got the march off to a positive start, even after a heckler stormed the stage, yelling, “Down with free speech!” Centering itself around a giant rainbow flag which fluttered in the grip of its many handlers, the march remained powerful and upbeat along its route, at first dealing with only a minimal police force. As the site for the “die-in” neared, however, more and more police began to appear.

On Temple between Los Angeles and Main Streets, police blocked the route. Raising their fists, demonstrators fell silent; only the overpowering sound of whirring helicopters remained in the dusk -shrouded streets. Erin O’Brien moved to the middle of Temple and shouted, “We’re not going to have to die before they pay attention!” directing marchers to lay down in the street and “die.” Despite an initial rush of police, the situation remained calm, with other demonstrators drawing chalk outlines around the bodies, accompanying them with names like Matthew Shephard, Jesus Trejo, and Brandon Teena, as well as messages like “Stop the Hate.” Nevertheless, despite the peacefulness of this moment of civil disobedience, the action provoked police to close the designated march route, forcing Queers and Allies to negotiate their march route with police, whose decisions changed from moment to moment. After much shuffling from street to sidewalk and back, marchers finally were made to turn around and retrace the route they had just made, arriving back at Pershing Square at around 8:30 PM.

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1,000 Queers March flicker Thursday, Aug. 17, 2000 at 9:20 AM
correction erin o'brien Thursday, Aug. 17, 2000 at 5:48 PM
Transgender Democratic Delegate Chelle Saturday, Aug. 19, 2000 at 4:03 AM
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