I came up, came out, and came of age in early 90s AIDS activism. My queer identity and activist identity are indelibly linked; nearly everything I know about creative resistance, celebration of tiny victories, and mutual support I first learned from the inspiring action of ACT-UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. And nearly all of the folks who I first learned from are dead – we lost so many in those years. And yet, through all the pain and challenge, we never lost a sense of humor. In a recent newsletter for BinderCon, my friend Tina Horn recently defined queerness as “whatever mischievously undermines power”. I strongly identify with that definition – the creative resistance, serving as a modern court jester poking fun at the king.
The iconic SILENCE=DEATH poster, black with a pink triangle pointing upwards and bold white text, was a tiny resistance to queer invisibility, and to the refusal of the government to acknowledge AIDS. But my favorite text on that poster is the fine print: Turn Anger, Fear, Grief into Action. So earlier this month, when I was visiting the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York, I was deeply moved to see this text in a huge mural on their wall: “What does Trump’s presidency tell us about the state of queer America? Do you really think marriage rights and elections protect you? Queer power is the power to change the world. Turn Anger, Fear, Grief into Action. Be Vigilant. Refuse. Resist. SILENCE=DEATH”.
The Stonewall riots, the event that we commemorate each June, was an uprising led by queer and trans women of color against police suppression. The corporate sponsored Pride festivals, permitted and regulated and led by police details, would be unrecognizable to those early leaders. Let’s remember that we are still not embraced or celebrated by the majority culture. Let’s remember as well that many of us hold multiple identities, and that our sexual orientation or gender identity may not be the only facet of our lives under attack. If we are not white; are gender variant; poor or working class; undocumented; Muslim; femme or feminine or female; form non-dyadic partnerships; and/or otherwise resist the dominant paradigm, we still must resist for survival. As we make our collective way toward liberation, let’s remember that we only find our way to true freedom by undermining oppression in all its forms.
Jenn Steinfeld is a bourgie revolutionary and queer feminist with a passion for speaking truth to power. As a founder of Marriage Equality Rhode Island, and helped steward the organization for more thJenn was named a Mover and Shaker for her LGBTQ advocacy by Rhode Island Monthly in 2006 and received an inaugural Julie Pell Empowerment Award for Social Change & Civic Engagement from the Equity Action Fund at the Rhode Island Foundation in 2010. She is a student of nonviolent communication and an avid knitter and gardener. In her day job, she manages the Social Innovation Initiative at Brown University's Swearer Center; she is also a student in the MA program in Mindfulness Studies at Lesley University and would be happy to talk your ear off about using neuroplasticity to enhance wellbeing.