Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Today In 1990, 'Queer Nation' Founded In New York City, Soon Spreads Nationwide

Queer Nation is an LGBTQ activist organization founded today, March 20, in 1990 in New York City, by HIV/AIDS activists from ACT UP. The four founders were outraged at the escalation of anti-gay and lesbian violence on the streets and prejudice in the arts and media. The group is known for its confrontational tactics, its slogans, and the practice of outing.

It was 28 years ago today that 60 LGBTQ people gathered at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Services Center in New York's Greenwich Village to create a direct action organization. The goal of the unnamed organization was the elimination of homophobia, and the increase of gay, lesbian and bisexual visibility through a variety of tactics. The organization of Queer Nation, being non-hierarchical and decentralized, allowed anyone to become a member and have a voice.

The direct-action group's inaugural action took place at Flutie's Bar, a straight hangout at the South Street Sea Port on April 13, 1990. The goals included a desire to make it clear to (straight) patrons that queers would not be restricted to gay bars for socializing and for public displays of affection, and to highlight their belief that most "public" space was in fact heterosexual space. Through parodying straight behavior (such as "spin the bottle") at these events, queers refused to be invisible while publicly questioning the naturalized status of heterosexual coupling activity. Visibility actions like this one became known as "Queer Nights Out."

Another method for Queer Nation to grab attention was the use of banners at protests and rallies. One banner used read “Dykes and Fags Bash Back,” another “Queer Nation…Get Used To It!” which referenced the organizations famous chant “We're here! We’re Queer! Get used to it!”

Although the name Queer Nation had been used casually since the group’s inception, it was officially approved at the group's general meeting on May 17, 1990.

The militant protest style of the group contrasted with more assimilationist gay rights organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign, Log Cabin Republicans, or National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Queer Nation was most effective and powerful in the early 1990s in the USA, and used direct action to fight for gay rights. They also worked with AIDS organization ACT UP as well as WHAM! Even though never officially disbanded, many of the local groups did so in the mid-to-late 1990s.

The group's use of the word "queer" in its name and slogan was at first considered shocking, though the reclamation has been called a success, used in relatively mainstream television programs such as Queer Eye and Queer as Folk. The use of the word "queer" disarmed homophobes by reversing its derogatory nature.

Other slogans used by Queer Nation include "Two, Four, Six, Eight! How Do You Know Your Kids Are Straight?" and "Out of the Closets and Into the Streets," and the widely imitated "We're Here! We're Queer! Get used to it!"'

Beginning in the summer of 2013, Queer Nation began to experience a resurgence of sorts. As anger began to rise within the American and global LGBT community over Russia's recently approved anti-gay laws, Queer Nation organized a series of actions throughout that summer and fall, pressuring corporations and public officials to divest from Russian holdings and assets, as well as to pressure public figures and corporations to withdraw sponsorship or participation in events held in or in the name of Russia, most prominently the 2014 Winter Olympics scheduled to be held the following February in Sochi, Russia.

Here are some examples of the organization's early actions:

In April 1990, Queer Nation members show up en masse at Macy's department store where Olympic gold medallist Greg Louganis was promoting a new swimsuit line. Queers arrive with Wheaties cereal boxes with swimmer’s picture pasted on front, to recall the time the cereal maker rejected Louganis as a spokesperson, ostensibly because he is gay.

Also in April 1990, in response to to the 120 percent increase in violence against queers, Queer Nationals climb the billboard on the roof of Badlands, a Greenwich Village bar and hangs a 40-foot banner that reads: "Dykes and Fags Bash Back!"

In May, 1990, After a pipe bomb explodes in Uncle Charlie’s, a Greenwich Village gay bar, injuring three, Queer Nation mobilizes 1,000 queers in a matter of hours. Angry marchers fill the streets, carrying the banner “Dykes and Fags Bash Back.”

In August 1990, there was the inauguration of "Queer Shopping Network." Members of Queer Nation travel from New York City to the Newport Mall in Jersey City with leaflets offering information about queers, safe sex tips, and a list of famous queers throughout history. The leaflets are titled "We're here, we're queer and we'd like to say hello!"

Cable Car Kiss In held by Queer Nation San Francisco
Queer Nation chapters were founded in dozens of other cities, including Ann Arbor, Atlanta, Boston, Charlottesville, Virginia, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Ohio, Columbia, S.C., Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Montreal (known as Queer Nation Rose), Philadelphia(known as Queer Action), Nashville, San Francisco, Seattle Salt Lake City, and Toronto.

Queer Nation LA was active in the early 90s staging protests against Hollywood's perceived homophobia and disrupted the 64th Academy Awards by staging a "kiss-in," obstructing entrants from the event while members of the group kissed on the red carpet. Other more radical actions include a blockade of Ventura Blvd, confrontations with various church groups in the area, and the taking over of a political science class at Los Angeles City College.

Queer Nation in Houston held a major demonstration to protest police response to the July 4, 1990, gay-bashing murder of Paul Broussard; that demonstration involved between 1,200 and 2,000 individuals who seized the intersection of Montrose Boulevard and Westheimer Street at the heart of Houston's gay neighborhood. Other actions by the group included a march in the suburban town that was the home of Broussard's killers, seizing the rotunda of Houston City Hall after another murder, protesting the Houston Post's firing of columnist Juan Palomo after he came out, and protesting discrimination against HIV-positive nurse Brian Bradley. The group also took the lead in organizing LGBT and HIV/AIDS protests at the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston.

Queer Nation/Portland generated many original and popular sticker designs and slogans, including "Fuck Your Gender," "Bend Over Pretty," and a series of stickers interpolating Madonna lyrics, as "Strike a Pose, Not a Fag."

The Queer Nation chapters in Atlanta, Georgia; Columbia, South Carolina; Berea and Lexington, Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee founded by Kelvin Lynn Cothren and Cheryl Lynn Summerville were active in protesting homophobic policies of the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain.

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