AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – Adorned with glitter, spandex and drag, nearly 100 people flocked to the Texas governor’s mansion Thursday night for a dance-party protest against legislation that targets the LGBT community.
Inspired by a similar protest that drew hundreds to the streets outside Vice President Mike Pence’s Washington, D.C. home last month, a few Austin DJs and activists organized Thursday’s “Queer Dance Freakout,” creating an outdoor nightclub in front of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s solemn Greek revival style residence.
There were no marches, speeches or chants at this protest, just three hours of dancing to upbeat pop and club music that could be heard from the Texas Capitol across the street.
Organizers said it was a creative way to allow people to express their concerns about the bevy of anti-LGBT bills proposed by Texas lawmakers this legislative session.
Many are concerned about Senate Bill 651, which would allow occupational license holders to refuse to serve LBGT people, based on “a sincerely held religious belief.” There are more than 65 professions in Texas that require an occupational license, including counselors, dentists, interior designers and funeral directors.
Another bill, SB 242, would effectively require teachers to out LBGT students to their parents.
But the “seed” of the Queer Dance Freakout, according to event organizer Jeremy von Stilb, is the so-called “bathroom bill” that would require people to use restrooms in Texas public schools and government buildings based on their biological sex.
The bill, SB 6, is a legislative priority this session for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. It would also pre-empt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow people to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.
Von Stilb said that the “freakout” was a way for members of the LBGT community to express their anger and frustration about the discriminatory legislation, and to show lawmakers that the LGBT community will not be discouraged.
Some politicians derided the Queer Dance Freakout. Prior to the event, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said on Facebook, “The sad thing is that these folks think their activities will help kill the bathroom safety bill. In reality, their actions demonstrate just why such a bill is needed and will only increase its chance of passage.”
But von Stilb said that it wouldn’t matter if the LGBT community “behaved” – if they remained quiet and hidden, he said, they would not be rewarded in some way.
“[The lawmakers] don’t care about us one way or the other,” von Stilb said. “This event gives people an opportunity to just have a really good time and for the lawmakers to see that we do exist.”
He said the aim of the event was to bring the queer community together, to build bonds that can help strengthen resistance efforts down the line.
Anna Nguyen, a transgender woman who attended the event, carried a sign that read “I am Trans. I am Human. (Just like you).” She said it was important that transgender people come out and “be counted.”
“It’s important that we show up and let the world know that we are here and we are visible and that this legislation affects real people,” Nguyen said.
Zavieur Fenceroy, who moved to Austin from a small Texas town after being kicked of the house by his parents for being gay, said it was “empowering” to see people dancing for LGBT rights in front of the governor’s mansion.
“I was used to having no one, no group, no community,” Fenceroy said. “To see that there’s a group of people who stand for the things you stand for, who are part of the same things as you, that you can talk to and form bonds with, and try making things right in the world that has so much wrong with it — it’s really empowering.”