With music blaring from two large speakers perched in the back of a pickup truck, several hundred people gathered on the sidewalk in front of the Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington Friday night as part of an LGBT “dance protest” against policies of President Donald Trump.
After dancing and listening to speakers at the site of the hotel, participants followed members of the D.C. LGBT group WERK for Peace, which organized the event, in a procession along Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., to the White House. Leading the procession was the pickup truck as it continued to play dance music.
D.C. police quickly closed surrounding streets long enough to make way for the colorful procession, which included some wearing T-shirts and leotards despite temperatures hovering in the low 30s. Organizers said they didn’t apply for a permit to secure street closings in advance of the protest.
“We are here today to celebrate in solidarity our intersectionality and our resistance,” said lead organizer Firas Nasr in opening remarks as the crowd assembled outside the Trump Hotel.
“We are here to send a clear, clear message to Donald Trump and his administration that we will not tolerate discrimination, hate, or bigotry in our country.”
Nasr, who is one of the founders of WERK for Peace, told the gathering at the hotel that organizers selected dance music from all seven Middle Eastern countries that the president included in his controversial executive order that temporarily bans people from those countries from entering the U.S.
“We will be celebrating with lively music from all seven banned countries and from Latin America because those cultures are part of our fabric, the beautiful fabric that makes America great,” Nasr said. “We need to be very cognizant to the fact that many of the people from those seven countries could not join us tonight. So we dance in solidarity with them.”
Jessica Raven, executive director of Collective Action for Safe Spaces, a D.C. group that advocates for ending sexual harassment against women and LGBT people and one of the organizers of the dance protest, led a chant at the site of the hotel in support of solidarity with other communities that face discrimination and marginalization. At her request, the crowd shouted “we’ve got your back” after she called out the groups “blacks, Muslims, immigrants, homeless people, sex workers, trans people, queers, and “all of the above.”
When the procession reached the corner of 15th Street, N.W. and the section of Pennsylvania Avenue where the White House is located, and beyond which private vehicular traffic has been banned since the 2001 terrorist attacks, the pickup truck stopped. Participants in the protest then carried the speakers further along Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House as music continued to play.
The procession came to an end a short distance from the White House where a 10-foot high chain link fence blocked further access to the White House. Signs attached to the fence said it was put in place to temporarily close that section of Pennsylvania Avenue to pedestrians to enable construction workers to disassemble the large reviewing stand where the president and his family watched the inaugural parade on Jan. 20.
“Yes, we were stopped by a fence but that doesn’t stop us from loving one another,” Nasr told the Blade as he stood next to the fence. “We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re ready to dance. And that’s what we’re doing on this street in front of the White House.”
Dimitry Meister, one of the WERK for Peace members who helped organize the protest, said he viewed the dance protest as “more of a celebration toward intersectionality and acceptance of everybody” than a protest specifically against Trump. He noted that many straight people who are supporters of the LGBT community participated in the event.
One of them, D.C. resident Chris Martin, propelled himself along the entire distance from the Trump Hotel to the White House in a wheel chair.
“I’m a minority, too,” he said when asked why he came to the protest. “I’m a disabled person. First they come for the Muslims and then they come for gay people and eventually they’ll come for me too,” he said, adding, “People here are great. It’s a very nice protest.”
Karen Serio and her partner Ann West, who are suburban Maryland residents and members of the LGBT supportive Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, said they wanted to join the protest, among other things, to show that people of faith are opposed to many of the Trump administration’s actions taken during the first two weeks Trump has been in office.
“We’re horrified that all of the rights are being stripped away in front of our eyes,” Serio said. “So we’re doing what we can. We’re concerned about LGBT rights and the executive order he may sign soon.”
The White House released statements over the past week saying the president would not rescind an executive order issued by President Barack Obama in 2014 banning LGBT employment discrimination by federal contractors. Earlier this week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump had no immediate plans to sign and issue a draft “religious freedom” executive order that advocates say would curtail LGBT rights.
The Feb. 3 dance protest at the Trump Hotel and White House came about three weeks after WERK for Peace organized what it called a queer dance party outside the Northwest Washington home of then Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
“WERK for Peace is a queer-based grassroots movement that uses dance to promote peace,” a statement on the group’s website says. “We take to the streets around the world to claim space and assert: We are here. And we will dance,” the statement says. “But let’s get real. We don’t just dance. We WERK.”
(Washington Blade video by Michael Key)