“Dance is not only a form of artistic expression, but also a powerful form of healing,” says Firas Nasr, founding organizer of Werk for Peace. “Dance has always served as a base for the queer and trans community…. That’s why we feel dance is such a powerful mechanism for social change.”
And dance they did. Wildly. Outside the Trump International Hotel, where hundreds of LGBTQ people, many of them in town for the Task Force’s Creating Change conference, convened to protest the current administration. Werk for Peace staged the event, much as it had staged similar dances outside Vice-President Mike Pence’s D.C. residence and the Kalorama abode of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
More than 1,200 people came to protest. Some, like Rissy Berliner, were there to push back against the decision-making of the Trump administration. “We’ve got to show reason in this country,” she says. “We’ve got to show the rest of the world that we have sensibility, and that we have empathy.”
“This administration has completely undone a lot of the good work that was starting to be made for the LGBT community,” says Mary Rudden, part of the Werk for Change team. “In reality, there’s still so much work to be done.”
The protest’s official hashtag was #WerkForConsent, which Nasr said was to push local and federal governments to stop taking away the bodily autonomy of the LGBTQ community.
“Our bodies are inscribed with social and political narratives, and a lot of times the way that our bodies are inscribed with that narrative is through violence, such as sexual violence or walking out into the street and being harassed for who you are,” he says. “Our work and our event was really about occupying the streets and claiming them as our own, as our safe space to assert our bodies and be free as who we are.”
Rodney Taylor, of Charleston, S.C., was, in fact, dancing for respect for consent and body autonomy. “Everyone has their own body and everyone needs to have respect for the one body that they were given. As long as they respect each other’s bodies, then we can truly accomplish things, because then everyone can work on their own terms.”
The protest, which started at President Trump’s hotel before moving through the streets of D.C., took place on the one-year anniversary of the president’s attempt to ban immigrants from several Muslim-majority nations. At one point, a No Muslim Ban Ever march converged with the Werk for Peace participants, becoming one grand protest.
“It was a beautiful synergy of individuals with multiple identities,” says Nasr. “Being Arab and queer, [I] felt that it was a very beautiful mechanism for highlighting our intersectional identities and celebrating those identities.”
The route took dancers past the D.C. Council offices on Pennsylvania Ave., which Rudden said was to highlight the importance of following LGBTQ issues on a local level, not just national, including promoting bills that would decriminalize sex work and address hate-based harassment.
“Keep an eye on what’s happening to LGBT issues in town, what’s happening with the D.C. government, in terms of legislation,” she says. “And just [be] aware that we are your neighbors and we need your help.”
That sentiment is one Taylor agrees with, adding that people should be mindful of other LGBTQ struggles and not get complacent.
“We may have things like marriage, but we also need to fight for things like no job discrimination, no housing discrimination, making sure that we have equal access to healthcare. All those things that we are denied says that we do not belong in this society and that we will not be allowed to survive and thrive. And if we can’t survive and thrive then we’re not supporting at all. And we have to support everyone’s rights in that.”
He adds that everyone is telling a story of who they are through the expression of dance. “When people try to silence us, we become our authentic selves and perform as our authentic selves. No one can take away that narrative and no one can tell us who we are because we control what we see, we control what we put forth, and dancing is one of the ways that we do that.”
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