OccuQueers Strike Back at Corporate Pride
Austin, Texas came alive with Queer Pride last Saturday night, as a full day’s events culminated in a long parade through the heart of downtown and one of its small gayborhoods. A charity ‘fun run’ was followed by the ‘Pride Festival,’ a ticketed event with a strictly limited number of free volunteers at Austin’s Fiesta Gardens, culminating in the annual Pride Parade, which featured a handful of floats alongside large contingents from churches, activist groups, and city departments. A Capitol Metro bus with a bubble machine was chased by balloon decorated ambulances. Austin Police Department officers, fresh from their new It Gets Better video, marched near groups from huge corporate sponsors like Wells Fargo.
Not all were pleased with Pride as it has become. Amber Baldwin echoed many in the community in a Facebook post after the event:
[A] gate price of $20 dollars … excludes many in our community. I do not believe Pride should be a fundraiser. The reason I believe this is the fact that if it is a fund raiser…only those able to raise funds can participate. Also, if Wells Fargo and Hyatt, and David Acura want all that publicity and advertising…they should provide the funds for everyone in our community that wants to be able to attend to attend!
Hyatt sponsorship was deemed especially problematic — though Hyatt is publically welcome to LGBTQ clients, it is also increasingly well known for its poor treatment of workers in a field that is traditionally highly populated by queer people — hospitality. Over 5,000 unions, organizations and individuals have joined the Hyatt Boycott. When we reached out to hospitality union organizers, we heard horrifying tales — in just one incident, a $5,000 tip left by a major sporting team intended for housecleaning workers was stolen by the hotel.
In retaliation, an affinity group formed by the Occupy Austin OccuQueers scaled the outside of the Kiss & Fly, a gay bar shut down after the owner became notorious for dealing drugs and stealing worker tips. The banner, depicting the Hyatt logo with the word ‘Fuck’ in bold letters above it, was painted on a pink satin sheet. It hung along the parade route, visible from a block away even as night fell, for the entirety of pride parade and about an hour after.
GetEqual TX, the OccupyAustin Party Wagon, and Friends Take the Streets; Gay Bashing Taints Celebration
While a team of activists was dropping their deliberately provocative message, another group was gathering near the Texas State Capitol. GetEqual TX, as in previous years, would be the last to march in the Pride Parade. This allowed them to encourage regular spectators to join them in the street.
In 2012, their efforts were aided by Occupy Austin and its famous Party Wagon, a mobile, lighted sound-system cart which protesters pull through the street on marches. The OccuQueers had also recruited allies from Occupy Bexar and the UNITE HERE! Hospitality Workers Union in San Antonio. Banners demanding full equality and anti-Hyatt signs, stickers and literature spread through the crowd as the march soon grew to take up two and a half city blocks.
All through, people danced to the tunes from the Party Wagon, which ranged from classic funk tunes to Nicki Minaj dance hits; needless to say, Austin’s queers kicked it Gangnam Style that night. As we passed the banner drop, the crowd cheered and chanted its words while a smaller group lead a mic-check about Hyatt’s evils. The crowd thinned as we passed the Fourth street clubs, but at least a couple hundred continued to dance. The wagon moved past the clubs, headed toward Republic Square Park.
The Austin Police Department, fresh from their new declaration of tolerance, couldn’t pass up a chance to harass our street march. Officers told us to shut down the sound. In this video, an officer has the following exchange with Joe Cooper, the Party Wagon DJ:
Officer: Go Inside A Bar and Dance!
Cooper: But a lot of these people don’t have any money.
Officer: Then I don’t know what to tell you.
Celebration of Pride is only condoned by the authorities when it makes the city money. Though the dance party had been joyous, calls to continue in the face of police threats were forestalled by a generator that was running out of power. After a mic check to announce the upcoming one year birthday of Occupy Austin on October 6, the party wagon was wheeled away just as motorcycle cops and multiple cars arrived at 4th and Colorado to enforce the shutdown.
Later that night, police were nowhere to be found as a gay bashing occurred at the same intersection, as reported by KLBJ Radio:
A man beat-up in downtown Austin over the weekend is asking police and the Travis County District Attorney to investigate his assault as a hate crime.
“I came up here and on Friday night, I was acosted by a stranger at a pizza truck,” Andrew Oppelman, a Houston hotel worker, said Monday.
Oppelman and a companion standing near the intersection of Fourth & Colorado at about 12:15 a.m. Saturday when he says an Asian man, no older than 30, became belligerent and words were exchanged. That’s when Oppelman says it got physical.
Elsewhere, I received reports that police took the time to harass several homeless queer people, making one arrest.
The Occupied Parade and banner drop created lively, controversial discussions both online and off; it seems likely that both Austin Pride and Hyatt are paying attention. These discussions add to an international dialogue about the meaning of Queer Pride and the attempted corporate takeover of our celebrations.
The OccuQueers meet this Wednesday at the Q in Austin (5:30pm, 3408 West Ave) to discuss followup actions and their participation in upcoming October 6 events.