Hundreds of LGBTs marched in a queer contingent of demonstrators alongside several thousand others against the ongoing NATO Summit Sunday. A group of nearly 100 LGBT activists held together throughout the march and dozens of other LGBT protesters were mixed within the masses.
“I think it’s going good. This is good,” said Ryne Patrick Poelker, a local queer activist during the march. “This is an outpouring of democracy.”
The queer contingent kicked off with the rest of the marchers around 2 p.m. after a rally at the Petrillo Bandshell, many waving rainbow flags and brandishing queer rights banners. Members from several local and national groups spoke during the rally, including Occupy Chicago, Students for a Democratic Society and National Conference of Black Lawyers, among many more.
“We need to take our movement to the streets rather than be diverted by the ballot box like we were in 2008,” said longtime LGBT rights activist and Founder of Gay Liberation Network Andy Thayer. “The way were are going to be able to claw back some of our lost civil liberties will be held in the streets.”
Thayer criticized “so-called professional gay activists” for not participating in anti-war and direct action demonstrations such as ones against the Chicago NATO Summit. Local LGBT organizations were not formally represented during the NATO protests.
“It’s a golden opportunity to bring our movement back into the streets where civil rights are always won,” Thayer said.
Thousands of marchers left Grant Park and snaked through portions of the Loop, south on State Street and then Michigan Avenue to the South Loop.
Protesters chanted phrases like “We’re here, we’re queer, we don’t want your war machine,” and “Gay, straight, black, white, same struggle, same fight,” among other LGBT and NATO-related chants.
LGBTs stood in solidarity with the anti-war, anti-NATO narrative of the protesters, but focused much of their message on the controversy surrounding Bradley Manning, recent cuts to LGBT health clinics and services and demands for full LGBT equality.
“NATO not only wages war abroad, but here on our own streets as well against those branded by trans/homophobic repression,” said Poelker said. “Homeless youth, suicide risk children and those suffering from HIV/AIDS are all causalities of NATO’s imperialistic endeavors.”
The march lasted nearly two hours with little to no intense confrontation between protesters and police. That changed when marchers reached their destination at Michigan Avenue and Cermak Road, where after a brief anti-war rally involving Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, the several thousand assembled engaged hundreds of police wearing riot gear in a standoff. Protesters would not leave the area even though the permitted rally time had expired.
At that point, the queer contingent had dispersed, several leaving the area with their rainbow flags and throngs of others to the West as directed by police over a long range acoustic device (LRAD). Many remaining demonstrators stood behind barriers on the sidewalk to the North of Cermak on Michigan Avenue and were gradually pushed north by police. At one point, many fled up the street when police put on protective gas masks — fearing tear gas and flash grenades.
At about 5:45 p.m., protesters lifted a metal barricade and threw it towards police, who pushed it back towards them. A handful of protesters endured minor injuries and continued their standoff. After 6 p.m., dozens of remaining protesters were told to disperse near Michigan and Cermak. Arrests were made by the minute. The number of city and state police officials easily surpassed that of the protesters.
No other LGBT or queer-specific demonstrations are planned for the rest of the NATO Summit. However, an Occupy Chicago demonstration is planned for 9 a.m. Monday at Union Park.
Tony Merevick, Brynn Cassie West, Joseph Duggan Lyons and Ricardo Rosa contributed reporting.