Sunday, June 30, 2013

Drag March Now and Forever

One of the highlights of my summer is the yearly unpermitted drag march.  I first started going in 2000, only missing a few of the marches since then.  And the last year I missed it traveling, I promised myself I would not make the same mistake again. =  Each year is different.  Yet, as an unpermitted march teeming through the street with color, wigs, stories, songs, and chants – we don’t want to marry, we just want to fuck – it is an extravaganza of unrepentant queerness.  This colorful mix is the closest thing I know to democracy in action. Most years it overlaps with Critical Mass and a bike block which supports the cavalcade of bodies and burlesque marching through public space.

Cyclists in the bike block.  Its hard to imagine John and Yoko would not have been a part of  this. 
Each year, the bike block joins the overlapping marches, converging in Tompkins Square Park at 8th street entrance some time around dusk.
Harmonie Moore, the body and the brains behind the drag march, with a friend. 
Harmonie Moore, my buddy and fellow Church Lady for Choice, wrote up a call for the event on facebook.
Once more the time has come to clutch our pearls and put on our marching pumps and make Manhattan a place worth being in again.

The Drag March in New York City emerged 20 years ago at the Stonewall 25 commemoration when the organizing committee for that event asked that drag and leather folk to leave their wardrobes at home. Instead of buying into this attempt at "normalizing", the Drag March celebrated Gay Spirit in all of its' manifestations and became the most authentic celebration of all that Stonewall truly was and is.

This is an OPEN event. Please invite any and all you know to it.

Also... A Group Page has been created under the name Drag March Madness for people to gather online with thoughts and memories about the Drag march. It's an open group to serve as a kind of oral history for the Drag March.
Image for the first drag march 1994 by Tom Hill.

The march was joined by the Queerball Dance Party organized by the Rude Mechanical Orchestra folks, bridging the afternoon trans day of action and the evening drag march.   Many activists are out all day for this Friday of pride where history and betrayal overlap.   It’s obviously a good thing to have the Supremes support gay marriage, but not at the expense of  other movements, such as the gains of the Civil Rights Movement being whittled away with the court supported erosion of the Voting Rights Act.  Increasingly, the neoliberal politics of marriage seem to work as cover  darker forces.  Two years ago, Cuomo supported gay marriage on Friday, appeasing the liberals, before calling for support of fracking the next week.  The same thing seemed to he happening this year.   I am happy for the movement to move forward, but there has to be more to this. The drag march highlights a colorful image of what the clash of bodies and hopes can mean as part of a lusty right to the city for all of us.   The call for the Queerball event follows this logic:
From a galaxy far, far more gay...
The Return of QUEERBALL! A Radical Queer Street Party
To Queerness and Beyond! 
Friday, June 28th @ 5PM

MEET: at the end of the Trans Day of Action March @ the Christopher Street Piers. Look for the Queerball banner!

DANCE, DISSENT & TAKE THE STREETS TO: Tompkins Square Park and the Drag March!

BEHOLD: at 6:15PM in Tompkins — a Futuristic Spectacular Pageant of Pageantry and Spectacle!

*Because it SUCKS (and not in a hot way) to not be represented, and to be misrepresented, by mainstream Pride celebrations -- they don’t serve our interests, and we won’t serve theirs!
*Because we CAN'T BUY LIBERATION with corporate-sponsored Pride -- but we can come together, dissent, and have rowdy fun for FREE.
*Because we, too, get to make & TAKE UP SPACE for ourselves and our own politics.
*Because we WON’T SIT IDLY BY as the state and city target our shelters, our healthcare, our bodies, our families.
*Because radical queerness has to be about DISMANTLING SYSTEMIC OPPRESSION including white supremacy, capitalism, the class system, ableism, the prison industrial complex, colonialism & imperialism alongside (and not after) homophobia, transphobia & patriarchy.
*Because we want space to BRING TOGETHER folks of many queer identities, rather than allowing ourselves to be divided and subdivided into segments.
*Because we’re QUEER, we’re diverse and inclusive, and we’re gonna be SEEN & HEARD.

*SOUND MAKERS: buckets, drums, pots & pans, tambourines, horns, kazoos + tools to get us dancing through the streets.
*VISUAL SPECTACULARS: make your politics visible with signs, outfits, and banners that show that we’re queering the future and the future is queer! Show us a future with no homelessness, the dissolution of the prison industrial complex, no more borders, queer liberation--NOT assimilation in marriage and the military, an end to violent attacks and police harassment...
*COSTUMES: boas, bow ties, sparkles & glitter, uni-bi-tri-queercycles, space suits, hula hoops, stilts, acrobatics, contortions, face-painting, tarot reading + DANCE MOVES, more glitter, whatever makes you feel queer, whatever makes you feel good, and particularly whatever makes you feel like you’re
embodying a queer future.
*Every queer, homo, gender-transgressor, radical, alphabet-soup-inspiring, awesome, fun, or angry person you know or like.

*You. Me. Your besties. Your lovers. Your comrades. And the Rude Mechanical Orchestra! queerball [at] + +

Concerns about the risks of participating, or the accessibility of this event? E-mail us.

This year, I met cyclists with Times Up! at ABC No Ro.  I was particularly happy because I had a new outfit for once.  Thank you Caroline.  Thank you Times Up! volunteers for showing up in force and helping us get it together, to bring sound to the event.

We assembled the sound bike, which as usual wasn’t seeming to be working, and rode over to Tompkins Square Park.  Monica said I looked like the executioner, but I still thought the Free Pussy Riot theme seemed important and relevant, although I will probably wear a pink mask next time. 

At the park, I greeted my friends from around the city who take part, buddies from the ACT UP, the Yes Men, the Church Ladies, and the Church of Stop Shopping, Radical Homosexual Agenda, Occupy the Pipeline, as well as Critical Mass.  The iconic Randy Wicker, of Mattachine Society and decades of queer activism, was there to welcome everyone with a smile.

Donald and Huckelfaery welcomed everyone for the ritual, calling the water spirit.

We marched, hung out, and reveled in the rain as we mardhed from the east to the west village.

Once there, many sang Somewhere over the rainbow.  The homage to Judy Garland’s whose death ushered in the riots a generation ago, still seems more than appropriate.

Once the singing wound down, Tim blew fire.

And the group broke into three groups, those mulling in and out of the bar, hanging around talking, those dancing to the live drums, and those shaking it to the Times UP! sound bike, where I enjoyed voguing with the kids from the Queerball dance party as well those who were ready to turn the whole thing into a ball. 

Some danced to Its Raining Men as my request.  But my friend Joe pointed out, if not enough people are dancing, he is going to change tunes.  At some point one of the dancer’s took over DJing, enjoying the democracy of the street party, and its mix of bodies and street cultures, activism and celebration, on the free access dance  hall runway of the street.  The best dancer can always take over DJing. This is a maxim of the street. The best street parties are always what we make of them in such moments.  The world is changing with every drag march.  Thanks for allowing us to take part and be part of your abundance.

As the evening went on, some of us, rode through the night, with the bike block. 

Others went to other parties or to the bar, or got ready for the Dyke March Saturday or to march on Sunday.  I hope many march with ACT UP, joined by Jim Eigo once again.  HIV is still a  queer problem, something, everyone has to cope with.

Jim Eigo posted a note on facebook about ACT UP's new campaign:

In 1987, the year of its founding, ACT UP rolled a mobile concentration camp for the length of the New York City Gay Pride Parade. We won a prize for our efforts, and helped repudiate the calls for an AIDS quarantine. In 2013 ACT UP is marching again, to remind the world—and New York’s LGBT community: 26 years later AIDS is still here. There is no cure for AIDS. There is no vaccine against the HIV virus that causes AIDS. Half of the people in the world with AIDS never get effective treatment. The criminalization of HIV in outdated laws across the US and the stigmatization of people living with HIV are unfair burdens on people guilty of nothing more than a medical condition.

This Gay Pride Day ACT UP is demanding action on an underreported part of the AIDS crisis. Even as the city has been cutting the HIV prevention budget, our community is facing an emergency in HIV prevention, a second great wave of HIV infection. Transmission rates are up by 22% for young gay guys and transgender women. About 32,000 queers in the US will become HIV-positive this year. A gay man faces 30 times the HIV risk that a straight man faces. A transgender woman faces 36 times the HIV risk of a man, 78 times the risk of other women. At the current rate of infection, far more than half of young gay guys and trans women will be living with HIV before they are 50.

To counter this second wave of HIV, ACT UP is marching to tell the federal and local government that they’re doing a lousy job of informing the LGBT community of the full range of prevention tools that are available today. And we are beginning beginning our Smarter Sex campaign, rolling out our Fuck Smarter Tookit, telling the community that only united action can roll back the current HIV prevention emergency. With our allies in Queerocracy we will be demanding an end to the criminalization of HIV—which has contributed to the prevention emergency because it discourages people from taking the HIV test. Along with many original ACT UP members a new generation of AIDS activists will be marching, REUNITED IN ANGER, to say with one voice:


Same-sex love, once “the love that dare not speak its name,” has been affirmed by the highest court in the land. With its decision in Windsor , the Supreme Court established that the federal government cannot deny the “personhood and dignity” of legally married same-sex couples. It’s a stunning turnaround for a court that 27 years ago said gay sex was not entitled to legal protections, even behind closed doors. It’s a moment gay rights advocates deserve to celebrate.
But in our exaltation over wedded bliss, we are forgetting another kind of “til death do us part”: the bonds that tie us together as a group, across social strata, race and generations — the same bonds that helped us fight AIDS.
During the worst years of the AIDS crisis, from 1981 to the advent of effective medications in 1996, the gay community forged a new definition of love: It encompassed traditional romantic love, but it went beyond the love between two people. Often shunned by our biological families, we created our own, complete with brothers and sisters who cared and fought for one another and elders who mentored the young. You only had to be at the 1987 meeting when ACT UP was formed — as the 52-year-old playwright Larry Kramer looked down on a packed hall of people half his age, exhorting us to fight for our lives — to know that we were about to embark on a remarkable journey together.
Today, though, we’re so caught up in the giddiness of the marriage-equality movement that we’ve abandoned the collective fight against HIV and AIDS.
And yes, it’s still a fight. 

But so is voting rights, our battle for public space, and to take care of each other.  But for one night, it was lovely to revel in just being alive and together in the democracy of the streets. That is worth the celebration.

Photos of  Joho, Steven Menendez and company at the  drag march.