From the Archives
(March 2005) What three people, living or dead, would you most want to have dinner with and why?
One of my answers is “Randall Terry, so I can poison him.”
Next question: “If you were on a crashing plane, who would you most want in the seat beside you?”
Several of my pals said their lovers, but I wouldn’t want my lover to die just for my comfort. My answer, again, is Randall Terry—because then the stinker would die.
Filmmaker Lori Hiris was in DC shooting her award-winning abortion-rights documentary “With A Vengeance” back in 1988 when I first became aware of Randall Terry and the movement he stole from his wife.
My direct-action group followed and actively opposed Terry in various cities across the US, although most of us were queer and a few of us believed that this weakened our agenda (since abortion rarely affects the LGBTQ population directly).
I won’t go into the merits of that argument here—since it seems obvious to me that legislation denying control of your body to one segment of the population must be opposed by groups that work to oppose other laws restricting what we do with bodies—but will say that most of our direct actions centered around AIDS.
We protested at NIH seeking more research money. We chained ourselves to the doors of Congress to demand more research money. We staged die-ins on Pennsylvania Avenue to call attention to the number of people who die daily from AIDS. We held candlelight vigils in front of the White House.
My all-time favorite action, however, isn’t abortion-related at all and was only peripherally AIDS related.
Nope. Urvashi Vaid or Sue Hyde or someone with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force reserved the park across the street from the Corcoran Museum and then we wheat-paste the city with posters inviting everyone to Mapplethorpe's cancelled show at the museum. Lots of people showed up too and we projected his art onto the exterior wall of the museum that cancelled his show.
My other all-time favorite protest moment was actually an off-the-cuff event that occurred between actions. A group of us were walked by the tourists in line to tour the White House and there they were in their khakis and topsiders and Oxford shirts, staring with discomfort at our black leather jackets and Doc Marten roach-stompers and ripped-up Levis. Then Scott said "We’re here. We’re queer. We’re NOT touring the White House!” and, well, that became our impromptu chant to the uncomfortables.
Another protest memory: Randall Terry held a rally in a football field near Baltimore to “defend” abortion clinics, so we planted liberal activists with walkie-talkies at the rally and at key clinics nearby. Then everyone raced to the targeted Baltimore clinic as soon as Terry identified it.
The Operation Rescue folks had already formed a circle three rows deep around the building when we pulled up—they do this so that, when one person is arrested, another person can move into that person’s spot and the group can continue to hinder access to the building—so we immediately formed a perpendicular line to thwart any more rings of their circle.
I wound up at the front of the line, standing right beside the anti-choice people, who shoved us and yelled at us and held photographs of fetuses and gold crosses in our faces and screamed that we were murderers.
My agenda was to break their line nonviolently but, as one woman with a big gold cross continued yelling and splattering her spit in my face, my agenda expanded.
I stood awhile, trying to think calm thoughts and considering the various ways I could go about getting her and her spit out of my face, then I arrived at my plan. Then, the next time she stuck a fetus photo in my face, I licked her arm and smiled at her.
Oh how I wish I had a photograph of the repulsed look that spread across that woman's face! It was a very effective non-violent action though, since she didn’t come near me again.
Eventually the so-called rescuers started singing “Amazing Grace,” then knelt to pray. I seized the opportunity and stepped across the line of anti-choice people and into a karate horse stance (which is very stable). Two men immediately punched me in the back of my knees and a third jumped onto my back in an attempt to knock me over.
My face and arms and leg scraped down the clinic’s brick wall, which tore my pants and skin, but I somehow managed to stay upright, thanks to my good stance ... and thus effectively broke their line and ended their protest once the people in front of me were all arrested.
(ha ha assholes!)
I got home late and discovered a message on my answering machine saying that my mother had attempted suicide once again. I hopped a Greyhound to travel down south and wound up seated beside a nice, silver-haired Alabama woman who looked vaguely familiar.
The woman was a talker so it took me a while to realize that she was one of the so-called rescuers who had screamed “murderer” at me all morning.
On the bus, though, she was very grandmotherly toward me, asking if I needed someone to talk to (remember, my face was banged up), if I was going back home to my fambly, if I wanted some of her orange, if someone would be there to meet me when our bus pulled in after midnight.
I guess context is everything, huh?