Let the music play, and let the revelry begin!
One year after Austin-based protesters held a “Queer Dance Freakout” in front of the Texas Governor’s Mansion, the same organizers are holding a similar dance party on the steps of the Texas Capitol from 5 to 8 p.m. on Feb. 24. The event will also feature performances by local Texas drag queens.
Last year, LGBTQ activists and allies flocked to the Governor’s Mansion to protest several agenda items being pushed by Gov. Greg Abbott and Republicans in the Texas Legislature. The bills they were protesting included a “bathroom bill” that would restrict transgender people’s ability to access restrooms that match their gender identity, bills to limit same-sex spousal benefits, and legislation to crack down on undocumented immigrants.
This year, the dancers have focused their efforts on protesting the re-election of Texas’s junior senator, Ted Cruz, a former Republican presidential candidate and an opponent of both LGBTQ rights and immigration reform efforts.
On Tuesday, Cruz cast the sole vote against beginning debate on legislation to allow DREAMers, or undocumented individuals brought to this country against their will as children, a legal path to citizenship. He has also long opposed local and federal ordinances that would provide nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Texans.
Jeremy von Stilb, a DJ and event producer who is one of the chief organizers, says he’s hoping this year’s dance protest will energize the queer community, not only in Austin, but across Texas, to get involved and work to defeat Cruz, who will face off against U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) in November.
“I throw parties all the time, and a lot of the parties have always had an activist bent, either to fundraise or raise awareness about certain issues, like educating people on safer sex practices, or trying to connect them with established organizations,” says von Stilb. “So, now, we’re flipping the script, and bringing the dance party to the activists.”
von Stilb says he and the other organizers of the event — DJ Ezra Edwards, social justice activist Becca Hyatt, and choreographer Erica Nix — were inspired by a similar dance party that activists in Washington, D.C. held outside of Vice President Mike Pence’s temporary Chevy Chase residence just weeks before Trump’s inauguration. After last year’s protest outside the governor’s mansion was deemed a success, they began organizing other events for this year.
For instance, von Stilb says, organizers are hoping to hold an “Anti-Cruz Cruise” in April, where they’ll rent a boat, have a drag show and dance party on board in order to raise money. He also wants to approach Texas drag queens who have appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race to film public service announcements encouraging people to vote. He says he will be looking at other ways that the LGBTQ community can lend its support to O’Rourke and ensure Cruz’s defeat.
“I think this year there’s two things” that might make Texas stray from its typical Republican lean, says von Stilb. “First, everyone is really upset by Donald Trump. And second, this year, there’s a candidate that people can actually see as more than ‘just the Democratic candidate.’ People are still learning about O’Rourke, but so far all the signs are indicating that it’s not a fool’s errand to oppose Ted Cruz.”
von Stilb admits that organizers have received criticism for their choice of location for the “Queer Dance Freakout,” as Cruz doesn’t work there, but it was the most logistically feasible location, at the right time.
“We tried to do it in front of his office building, but it’s gated. If we wanted to do the dance party, we’d have to do it during normal office hours, and a dance party just won’t work at 1 p.m. on a Wednesday,” says von Stilb. “But it’s more about sending a message and getting attention, and kicking off a series of events leading up to the election.
“It’s not about necessarily thinking we’re going to change any politician’s mind through a dance party,” he adds. “In fact, some people say this gives more evidence of why we shouldn’t give queer people rights. But it’s a space for us to get together. Austin is closing a lot of its gay bars, there’s fewer spaces for us to do our thing, the city’s getting rather gentrified, so this is more for us rather than it is for them.”
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