With a recent survey finding 69% of GLBTs have a lack of confidence in the Bush Administration's ability to make the right decisions regarding an Iraq war, Chicago GLBTs have been an integral part of peace protests.
Many of those arrested in a Chicago Police Department roundup of non-violent protesters March 20 were GLBT, including several well-known activists who described an out-of-control police force angry that demonstrators had initially gotten the upper hand.
Many of those same anti-war activists were part of the Queers Against War: Mobilizing LGBTQs Against the War forum last Sunday at Chicago Temple downtown. An estimated 300 people crammed into the basement room to hear speakers and discuss strategy about the anti-war actions.
The featured speaker was Leslie Feinberg, author of Stone Butch Blues and an anti-war activist with International A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now Stop War End Racism). Ifti Nasim of Sangat was scheduled to speak but he is still recovering from a recent heart attack. Others who did speak were Rev. Alma Crawford, Co-Pastor, Church of the Open Door; Yasmin Nair of Queer to The Left; Andy Thayer of Chicago Anti-Bashing Network (CABN) and the Chicago Coalition Against War & Racism.
Organizers also included Neena Hemmedy of Khuli Zaban, and the event was co-sponsored by Queer to the Left, Sangat, International Action Center, A.N.S.W.E.R. and CABN.
Thayer was among the more than 500 people rounded up Thursday night after police lost control of a march that started in Federal Plaza and moved to Lake Shore Drive, blocking traffic and embarrassing police. Thayer was among the organizers, and he said they had negotiated with police to move the 15,000-strong crowd safely to Michigan Avenue to finish the protest. But Thayer said the commander changed his tune and started herding protesters—and anyone else in their path—to waiting vehicles.
Many of the people were just watching the demonstration, others had just exited busses or businesses, and in one case even a jogger was caught up in the mass arrests.
Police detained them until Friday, and most were released without charges. Others were charged with things such as mob action. TV cameras broadcasting live from the demonstration showed the orchestrated arrests by police, as protesters could not exit an area surrounded by officers.
Among those arrested were John Pennycuff and Robert Castillo, longtime activists who said they were just observing the march. Both were handcuffed behind their backs, forced to stand in paddy wagons to 111th Street, and the jail cells were so crowded people took turns sitting overnight in the jail. Neither Castillo or Pennycuff, who works for Windy City Times, were charged.
The couple are also on the city's Commission on Human Relations Advisory Council on GLBT Issues. And ironically, Chicago City Council itself has even passed a resolution against the war.
At Sunday's forum, Joey Mogul of the Peoples Law Office, Queer to the Left, and the National Lawyer's Guild, said the Guild wants to represent those trapped in the march and falsely put in jail, those arrested and released, and those 'falsely charged.' She said those interested should call (312) 345-1704.
Near the end of the forum, one of Mogul's clients, Aaron Patterson, who she helped free after 17 years on death row, spoke to the crowd. He said while he is limited in some of the things he can do to support the anti-war movement, he is going to do what he can to help work with all communities. Patterson was also helped during his incarceration by Thayer, and he said he promised Thayer that when he got out, he would join him in supporting GLBT causes.
Changing the Norms
Yasmin Nair, a lecturer in the Department of English at University of Illinois at Chicago, said Queer to the Left's goal is to expand the queer agenda to include topics such as housing, the death penalty, and war. She said the anti-war movement is a fundamentally 'queer' movement because it recognizes that this 'war' reinforces 'the very economic, social and political hierarchies we try to dismantle.' She said the anti-war movement, which had attracted all kinds of people, is a world power in its own right.
One other impact of war is that the 'queer agenda' and other social agendas not only lose funding, but they lose energy as people divert organizing efforts to the anti-war campaign. 'The developers will go on building,' she said, noting that housing issues are still important to work on.
Andy Thayer recapped Thursday's demonstration, as well as the linkage of CABN to the fight against roundups of Muslims and Arabs, and mass registrations of Pakistanis. He has gone as a gay man to mosques, schools and other mainstream places, and said while it is not perfect, sometimes he feels more received in those environments than he does speaking about race issues in the GLBT community.
Thayer said protests are still important even though the war has begun, because history has shown that President Nixon backed off nuclear plans against Vietnam because he feared a backlash.
Pastor Crawford called for a 'permanent peace machine' to counter Bush's permanent war machine. She started by discussing four African American trans youth who were arrested for the theft of a few hundred dollars, which they used for food, and they now face potentially decades in jail. She said the community must not continue to let young people down, as some children are abandoned by every part of society.
With a widening gap between the rich and poor, she said, 'our people,' who are 10% of the underclass, also grow in number.
She also talked about the large number of lesbians who work in prisons, and who are prisoners. Lesbians who are isolated in the workforce find themselves on the fast track to prison, just like many young youth of color.
Crawford criticized those gays who simply want to be part of the mainstream, especially the Democratic Party.
'You are leaders in a brand new wave [working for the] liberation of humanity,' Crawford said. While some claim these are the 'last days,' she said she believes these are the 'first days,' the 'beginning of the end of suffering.'
Crawford said the community does not need to always agree. Rather, people need to build strategic relationships. She also said the answer is not to move off of the liberal spectrum, but to move the center further left.
'Across divisions and together we have the power to not be bought or coopted. Peace and justice have an authority greater than violence or war,' Crawford said.
Leslie Feinberg, who has more than two decades of work on LGBT and progressive causes behind her, is still just as engaged in the movements, and she is managing editor of the Workers World Newspaper.
Feinberg said her fellow New Yorkers were inspired by reports of Chicago's demonstrations, and also pointed to a 'liberation' current in LGBTs here and elsewhere, as is evident from anti-war signs at pride parades.
Feinberg called Bush's 'shock and war' bombing 'rage and revulsion.' She also said that those who say anti-war activists are not supporting the troops are wrong. 'Those who support the troops are the ones who say bring them home—don't send them to be killed.'
Feinberg ridiculed the notion that there needs to be a 'gay angle' for gays to march and for the gay media to cover the war. 'We don't need a gay angle to be against this war. Not if you have a heart. This is a war that transcends every issue. Every struggle is tied with 1,000 threads to this war. The way we join is not by leaving our issues behind, but by bringing them to the movement.'
'For those who asked how could we intern Japanese Americans during World War II, this is how it starts,' Feinberg said, referring to the current arrests and detainment of Muslims and Arabs in the U.S.
Feinberg also linked the war to a deterioration in funding for such issues as AIDS, and a deterioration of civil liberties.
'But it is not just because the issues are so intrinsically connected. War also shows the character of every movement. If you can not stand up to a racist war of colonial conquest, what will you stand up to? Our movement would lose credibility if it was not against this. If we give our voices over to a military machine, then we are silent and the machine will roll over us too,' Feinberg said.
Feinberg also noted that the gay movement of pre-World War I Germany flourished, but was among the first to be shut down by patriotic ferver. Dachshunds were shot in the streets of New York because they were 'German' dogs—which Feinberg said makes 'Freedom Fries' look like 'small potatoes.'
When progressive leadership caves, Feinberg said, a hyper-masculinity often fills the void, as happened in Germany.
Fast-forward to the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Feinberg said from those four days of protest came a movement with currents—and one of those currents was liberationist, supporting the causes of the Black Panthers, Latinos, Asians, and speaking against the Vietnam War.
Feinberg said there were Gay Liberation Front banners and speakers at most anti-war rallies. Black Panther leader Huey Newton at one point stated his support of gay rights. And the United Farm Workers support for gays that started with Cesar Chavez remains today.
Feinberg said it is ironic that many mainstream gays see that supporting Democrats is a gay issue, as is supporting having gay troops in the military. But when it comes to asking whether or not gays should go in at all, 'that's not a gay issue.'
She noted that President Bush used the Taliban's anti-gay policies as a reason the U.S. went into Afghanistan to fight for change. But the new leadership is also anti-gay, and where is Bush now, she asked.
'It is time to enliven and embolden a liberation wing of the LGBT movement,' Feinberg said. Like Thayer, she called for a link with the labor movement, and for a 'general strike' to have real economic impact.