Donning rainbow flags, tie dye leotards and bedazzled denim, dozens of LGBTQ people and their allies danced in front of the Capitol to protest Texas politicians on Feb. 24.
Story by William Kosinski
Photos by Ashley Ephraim
The Queer Dance Freakout was organized by activist Jeremy von Stilb and his friends to raise awareness about Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s anti-LGBTQ stance. They hope to replace Cruz with a representative who supports the LGBTQ community.
A year ago from Saturday, Stilb orchestrated a similar dance in front of the Governor’s Mansion to protest the transgender bathroom law, Senate Bill 6. “It was a way to energize the community, educate one another and get people interested in being involved,” Stilb says.
The group is now taking a broader stance against Texas’ elected officials who do not support their LGBTQ members. In the last legislative session, there were bills to restrict LGBTQ couples from adopting, deny them marriage licenses, and restrict their choice on which bathroom they use.
Gemma Merchant, a transgender woman and UT alumna, hopes to raise awareness about all pro-LGBTQ candidates who are running in the 2018 midterm elections. “We want the same opportunities that everyone else has,” Merchant says. This protest, to her, “is all about equality.”
Other groups joined the protest to show support for their LGBTQ allies in a unified effort to elect representatives who will stand for all of them. David Whittie is a disabled man who volunteers for Adapt of Texas, a grassroots organization that focuses on community-based service programs for disabled people. “The thing about disabled persons is that it doesn’t matter if you’re gay, transgender, queer or straight. Anybody can become disabled,” Whittie says. “We have always been allied (with the LGBTQ community) because our brothers and sisters are marginalized.”
Whittie says he hopes to remove Cruz and elect a representative who will support health services for people like him. Being able to support his LGBTQ friends is a bonus. “We have to stick together or we’ll fall apart,” Whittie says.
Justin Viera is an American studies junior at UT who says coming together for the Queer Dance Freakout is the first step to create change. “The goal (of the protest) is to show people that I exist,” Viera says. “If people don’t even know that I exist, how are they going to think about me in any kind of legislation that they’re going to pass?”
There are a few more initiatives that Stilb says he hopes to organize in the coming months, including an Anti-Cruz Cruise (a drag party on a boat), a public service announcement campaign and coordination with Beto O’Rourke’s campaign to engage LGBTQ communities across Texas. All of these, Stilb says, aim to involve members of the LGBTQ community and its allies in the midterms.
Stilb recognizes his efforts do not yet reach far throughout Texas, but that does not mean he believes his efforts are futile. “I don’t think that a lot of us can do anything to affect politics on the national level, but we can do something on the local level,” Stilb says. “I feel like our efforts to get organized and keep Ted Cruz out of office is going to make a really big difference come November.” He may be right, as O’Rourke’s campaign outraised Cruz’s in the past few months.
Merchant emphasizes the importance of building a community against hatred. “We don’t support politicians who try to limit us and force us to hide,” Merchant says. “We love each other, we are a loving family and we want people to know how great each of us are.”