August 13, 2018 at 10:13 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
LGBT counter protesters avoid contact with white supremacists at rally
white supremacist, gay news, Washington Blade

Thousands of counter protesters vastly outnumbered the 20 or so white supremacists who showed up in D.C. on Sunday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

About 150 LGBT people and their supporters marched from Dupont Circle to 18th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. on Sunday afternoon as part of what they called a Queer and Trans “ResisDance Party” and counter protest to the Unite the Right rally next to the White House organized by white supremacist leaders.

The LGBT counter protesters, who tossed rainbow colored graffiti and danced to music blaring from a portable loudspeaker while marching along downtown streets, decided not to continue their procession to Lafayette Park, where the Unite the Right rally began more than an hour earlier than originally planned.

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“We are here to send a clear message to Nazis and to white supremacists that you and your ideology are not welcome here, not here in D.C., not here in the U.S., and here in the world,” gay activist Firas Nasr, the lead organizer of the LGBT contingent, said in Dupont Circle before the contingent began its march.

“We are here today to send a clear message that we, queer and trans people, that we intersectional people, people of color, disabled folks, native folks, we are here and we’re not going anywhere,” he said.

Among the signs and banners carried by the LGBT contingent was one that read “Smash White Supremacy.”

The LGBT counter protesters were among more than 10,000 counter protesters that turned out in several different locations in downtown D.C. on Sunday afternoon to challenge the Unite the Right contingent, far outnumbering them.

Thousands of counter protesters lined the police barricades at Lafayette Park during the Unite the Right Rally. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Out of fear of potential violence and retaliation by white supremacists expected to participate in the Unite the Right rally, organizers of the LGBT contingent did not announce the Dupont Circle location where they first assembled or the route of their march until Saturday, just one day before the event.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and District Police Chief Peter Newsham announced at a news conference Sunday night after the rally and counter protests were over that the massive presence of police that separated the opposing groups on Sunday succeeded in preventing violent outbreaks similar to the clashes that erupted in the first Unite the Right rally held one year ago in Charlottesville, Va.

Activist Sarah Massey, director of communications for the National LGBTQ Task Force, was among two bikers that led the LGBT contingent’s march on their motorcycles. Massey told the Washington Blade the contingent’s organizers decided to stop at 18th and Pennsylvania Avenue for the purpose of possibly acting as a surprise “welcoming party” for the Unite the Right contingent.

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Unite the Right leaders announced last week that they planned to arrive in D.C. from Virginia on Metro and planned to exit at the Foggy Bottom Metro station. They said they planned to march along Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House and Lafayette Park, where they planned to hold their rally, which was originally scheduled for 5:30 p.m.

But press reports, including a report from Yahoo News, said the Unite the Right contingent arrived at the Foggy Bottom station about 2:30 p.m. The news reports said the contingent that arrived in D.C. consisted of only about 22 people, far fewer than the 400 people the contingent’s organizers said they expected to attend the event.

If the Unite the Right contingent arrived in Foggy Bottom near 23rd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue at 2:30 p.m. they could have walked along Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House and Lafayette Park before the LGBT contingent reached Pennsylvania Avenue at 19th Street about 3:30 p.m.

Press reports said the contingent was accompanied by a flank of D.C. police officers as it marched along downtown streets, but the press reports didn’t say which streets the Unite the Right members took.

Unite the Right Rally (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Unite the Right Rally (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Nasr told the Blade he had learned from what he believed to be a reliable source that word that the LGBT counter protesters had assembled on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House prompted the Unite the Right organizers to change their plans to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to Lafayette Park.

“It’s been incredible,” Nasr said. “We’ve successfully shut down the street that the white supremacists and the Nazis were going to walk down,” he said. “This street right here, yes, Pennsylvania Avenue,” he added.

Nasr’s claim that the LGBT counter protest led to a rerouting of the Unite the Right contingent couldn’t be confirmed from D.C. police as of Sunday night.

After remaining on Pennsylvania Avenue at 18th Street, N.W. for about 30 minutes, where they danced and shouted slogans against white supremacy, the LGBT contingent turned left on 18th Street and headed back to Dupont Circle.

Before reaching the circle, the contingent stopped for 10 minutes each in the busy intersections of 18th and K Streets and 18th and Connecticut Avenue, N.W., blocking traffic and prompting angry motorists and Metro buses to honk their horns.

Some of the stopped motorists looked on with amusement as they watched the LGBT protesters gyrating in the intersection to loud dance music and continuing to toss into the air the colorful graffiti that they said was biodegradable and friendly to the environment.

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. police were on the scene but took no action to stop the protesters from blocking the two intersections.

When asked why the contingent chose to block the streets in what appeared to be acts of civil disobedience, Nasr said, “We don’t cooperate with the police, so blocking the streets is what we do. And it’s fabulous,” he said. “It’s a queer dance protest, so that’s what we do.”

In its route from and back to Dupont Circle the LGBT contingent used volunteers to stand in various intersections to stop traffic as the contingent crossed many streets. Organizers said they made no attempt to obtain a police permit for a parade route as is the normal practice.

When the contingent began its march along 19th Street there were no D.C. police officers present. Upon the contingent’s march back to Dupont Circle a few police cars stopped alongside streets to stop cars while the contingent crossed those streets.

As the group continued along Connecticut Avenue on its return to Dupont Circle customers of two popular clubs along the street – the Dirty Martini and the Mad Hatter – walked into the street and began dancing with the protesters as the music continued to blare from the contingent’s loudspeaker.

Massey and other participants in the LGBT contingent said the dance protest was successful in drawing attention to the LGBT community’s strong support and solidarity with groups targeted by white supremacists.

“I think our queer and trans and LGBTQ event is showing love in the face of hate,” Massey said. “And that’s what this is about. We’re going to be in solidarity. We’re going to show love for one another and we’re unified,” she said.

In his remarks at the Dupont Circle rally, Nasr said he believed the event’s effort of combining an LGBT tradition of dancing to convey a serious message would succeed.

“We are here today to love one another and celebrate our community because we are beautiful,” he said. “And we are a threat to fascists and white supremacists who want us out. And our threat is our celebration.”

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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