I spend the entire weekend immersed in New York City’s gay community. My self-appointed task was to paper the town with flyers advertising the newest Charter of the Pink Panthers Movement, and to celebrate the return of real queer community organizing to the city where it was founded by doing the only thing that could do it justice: patrol.
I started out on Saturday, in Washington Square Park, arguably the heart of Greenwich Village, with the 24th Annual NYC Dyke March. As I wandered around the “entrance” to the park, under the famous arch, I was moderately successful in my task. What I did notice, however, was the glaring division in demographics that colored my success.
Overwhelmingly, my flyers were taken most often by women of color, with black women taking them nearly 100% of the time, followed by Latina women who took them 80% of the time. White women only took my flyers if they were over the age of 30, I noticed, and then, only if they were of a certain ilk; the handful of white women who took my flyers were either dressed in leather, or other “activist” paraphernalia, like signs or handmade shirts with grassroots slogans on them, couple were disabled.
White women were more likely to ignore me completely, avoiding eye contact(not that I make it much anyway)and using body language to distance themselves from me- all except the one soccer mom wearing a large #ImWithHer button who took a flyer, asked me if she could donate money at the website, tucked it into her pocket, and walked away.
It really is indicative of social activism. People of color, differently gendered people, disabled people… in other words, the marginalized inside the marginalized. These are the people willing to roll up their sleeves, willing to build community for themselves. And once again, white people were too shielded and blinded by their privilege to even listen to the message.
I continued my weekend after the march by patrolling at two Hell’s Kitchen gay bars, Boxers and Posh. I was rather impressed by the diversity, the crowd was very evenly mixed, with the salting of hetero girls you usually find. I started to really feel Pride taking over, and as I drove away from Hell’s Kitchen later, I noticed just how many rainbows, and other Pride accoutremants were visible, not just in the “gay neighborhood” of Chelsea, but all over the city.
I took a quick trip back home for some necessaries, and headed back into the village for the Pride March. I set up a little camp, a couple of chairs, and a cooler of drinks and sandwiches, and prepared to give out the remainder of my flyers. The division continued, and I noticed that of the men I attempted to speak with, only the oldest even listened – some smiling as they remembered marching with the Pink Panther Patrols the first time around.
This time, not even men of color would take flyers – unless they were older. Leather men looked at them in my hand, but wouldn’t take one, and young white men wouldn’t even acknowledge my existence.
Perhaps the “festivities” of Pride were too much of a cover for my attempts, but i’m noticing an alarming trend of assimilation within the Lesbian and Gay community(leaving off the more marginalized letters purposely)- where the chant is “don’t make waves, we are like everyone else” which builds a huge dividing wall between the “us” of the assimilationists and the “them” of the more marginalized parts of the queer community.
I walked away from this year’s Pride celebrations with a heavy heart; snipers on the roof of Stonewall, stubborn purposeful obliviousness, and privileged ignorance. Can we rebuild our community from the fragments it lays in? No. Can we build a new, stronger queer community? Absolutely.