Austin Stonewall Rally & RiseAboveH8 Vigils
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on MyFDL, unlike most cities Austin celebrates ‘official’ LGBTQ pride in September. However for the past two years the same organization which holds pride has honored the actual anniversary of the Stonewall Riots with a rally at the Texas State Capitol. A small contingent of the Occupy Austin OccuQueers attended last Thursday, bringing our new Stonewall Was a Riot banner along with fliers for OccupyJ4 (our own all-day Independence Day rally at the Capitol).
About 75 people gathered for the rally by the south steps of the Capitol. As members of the queer community recited the history of the day and read from first-hand accounts, it was hard not to compare the radical, angry nature of the original riots with the sedate, low energy rally. Though there may be valid complaints about Austin’s official queer pride events (such as their sponsorship by Wells Fargo), I can’t lay all the blame at their feet — in weather over a hundred degrees, it was hard to imagine much more revolutionary fervor from that crowd. It was still interesting to compare where we’d been (angry drag queens throwing pennies at police) with where we are now (long debates between nonviolent activist groups about the definition of nonviolence), for better or worse.
For me the highlight of the rally was a drag show with about a dozen drag queens. It may have been a historic occasion — possibly the first every drag show at the Texas Capitol. Just as importantly, it was a gesture by Austin’s Pride organizers that they aren’t trying to whitewash the history of pride, as has often been the case with other events (or groups like Human Rights Campaign and their anti-transgender stances).
There was an even bigger sense of community — and I believe a bigger turn out — the following day for a vigil for Kristene Chapa and Mollie Olgin, the two victims of a shooting in Portland, Texas, one of two dozen vigils organized across North America by Get Equal TX. Mollie Olgin died at the scene, but her girlfriend Mary Kristene Chapa remains in the hospital without health insurance, though she has recovered consciousness, motion to one side of her body, and memory of the night of the shooting. In Austin, our numbers filled City Hall steps and spilled over beyond.
This rally was an opportunity for the queer community to draw together in our grief, to send not just supportive energy, but also comforting notes, gifts, and financial support to the survivors of this tragedy. We set up a small altar; it began with a stuffed animal and some lights and ended the night covered in signs, flowers, glowing LED lights and other gifts as each of the dozens in attendance visited it to pray, reflect, or meditate on the events. I choked up a little when I saw a sign reading “Your Austin Family Loves You” surrounded by glowing offerings. That was hardly the only moment that tugged on our hearts — I was not the only one with tears in my eyes as Michael Diviesti led the vigil in singing (see video above) or when event organizer Amanda Williams and gay dad Paul Rodriguez‘s voices quavered with emotion as they compared Kristine & Mollie to their own children.
Though police still say there is no sign that sexual orientation provoked the killer, we all have to join together against crimes that are so hateful, regardless of whether they qualify as hate crimes. At the end of the night, the girls’ relatives and friends seemed deeply moved as we helped them fill bags with our gifts — moved by the outpouring of loving, grieving, unified energy as much as by anything physical we’d given.
Visit Approximately 8,000 Words for more photos from these events.