Politics Opinion

Killing LGBTQ+ events to counter Far-Right rabble won't work

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LGBTQ+ events are currently being cancelled due to far-Right harassment (Image by Rosemary Ketchum | Pexels)

Part of supporting LGBTQ+ people is arranging events that include them and finding ways to defend those events with the community in the face of hateful Far-Right hostility, writes Tom Tanuki.

WE'RE SEEING a spate of cancellations of family-friendly queer or drag events lately. 

Coordinated Far-Right campaigns instruct people to bombard event organisers or venues with harassment and threats. If the interference successfully obtains a cancellation, it only begets more interference.

After seeing a string of successful harassment campaigns, the conversation is turning to how we can bring in organisers of those events and make them feel supported enough not to cancel. How are we to identify – and help – them before they get spooked and cancel events after receiving threats?

I am not blaming any event organiser or host for trusting the threats they get — and these threats aren’t anything to scoff at. Recent chatter around an advertised event at one Melbourne venue, Alice Rebel’s Cafe & Bar, included anonymous scumbags suggesting they could clandestinely obtain vehicle registration details and use that to stalk performers. Others said they could stalk them home from the events themselves.

What would they do once they track them home? Did they only intend to scare people, like the vast majority of internet threats? Or are they the 0.1 per cent who’d finally follow through? Is it really incumbent upon the organisers and performers to lace their boots up and test the veracity of these threats, however unlikely they are to eventuate?

Weighing up threats is scary subject matter for anybody. It’s stressful and exhausting, as it’s designed to be. Of course, I don’t blame people for feeling fear. But I think it’s important to note for this discussion that in the case of the Alice Rebel’s Cafe & Bar event, it had already been cancelled.

The owner of the venue said in an interview on Channel Nine’s Today that she’d cancelled because she was worried that drag events aren’t so popular in the current climate. The flyer was only made public by accident because it had been pre-loaded into the venue’s social media feed. 

We’re witnessing the pointy end of a mounting, years-long campaign by the global Far-Right and all its attendant political interests to make trans people and the LGBTQ+ community a target for hatred. So, the venue owner was not wrong in identifying a change in climate.

But to reiterate: the success of scare campaigns builds momentum for organisers to create more of them. Organisers and their bigoted followers are the sharks; cancellations are blood in the water. When they get a venue to cancel, that’s deemed newsworthy and that publicity blesses their movement with more traction. So, we can agree that it’s a bad thing to cancel these events.

In a recent article, Rachael Dexter interviewed a drag artist set to perform at the Alice Rebel’s Cafe & Bar event. 

The performer asked:

“What actions are the government and police going to take against these protesters to actually make us and our patrons safe?”

The police often send a few of their own to stand outside an event and prevent scumbags from entering it. (Unless they don’t, as sometimes happens in more remote areas — sometimes they simply tell a venue they can’t or won’t protect it, leaving it exposed.) But the cops can’t stop anonymous people from making threats beforehand on Telegram. Neither can government.

The performer who asked for authorities to respond might not be aware that it’s these very authorities who are responsible for some of the pre-emptive cancellations. 

Take, for example, Glitter Nova. It was an event in late 2022 that was threatened by neo-Nazis and the remnants of the "freedom" movement.

We – activists, the queer community and assorted Melburnian legends – all promoted a huge snap showing of community support for the event. But organisers cancelled the event before anyone could even defend it. 

This came down, as I understand it, to organisers being strongly advised by Stonnington Council and the Victorian Pride Centre. These bodies, who helped create and fund the event, quickly wanted it vanished because of online threats.

Hundreds of people showed up anyway to prove they can and will go boots-on-ground to defend this kind of thing. I wrote about it in this column space. The gesture of public support was brilliant. It would have peacefully protected the event and ensured its success — if only authorities hadn’t prevented that from happening.

It can feel as though some local government and advocacy bodies are more worried about indemnity and the effect on their reputation than substantial advocacy for the communities they’re supposed to represent.

So, here’s how community support for these events actually works.

It doesn’t involve a hundred cops on horses. It doesn’t involve new surveillance laws being introduced. It’s really very simple.

Peaceful, family-friendly community supporters show up to ward off scumbags. Because there are kids inside, they don’t make a fuss. They just stand around with rainbow flags and such. If scumbags show up, they come across an insulating layer of non-violent activists who protect the event and the venue. If no scumbags show up? Great! Families walking in may enjoy a friendly cheer squad as they enter. Everybody loves a cheer squad.

When events do go ahead, this is a proven, successful approach.

Let’s set aside America, where armed counter-protesters have shown up to intimidate these family-friendly events. That’s America for you. Our experience is that the largest hostile attendance to actually materialise at Australian events has been a group of approximately ten neo-Nazi child "groomers". They crashed a queer youth event, surrounded by Victorian Police.

They got some video promotional material for themselves, which they uploaded to Telegram to aid in their recruitment of more 15-year-old white boys. Then they left. Aside from that, all we’ve seen is one or two "freedom" movement dregs either half-heartedly crashing or sheepishly standing outside events. Whenever we’ve been ready for them and working in concert with event organisers, it all tends to go smoothly.

Event organisers must see that by putting on an event like this, they are necessarily stepping into a politicised space. If event organisers aren’t comfortable with this, I would ask: when has the LGBTQ+ community ever not been subject to some measure of targeting and victimisation? 

Part of supporting LGBTQ+ people is arranging events that include them as audience or performers. An even bigger part is sticking it out and finding ways to defend those events with the community at large in the face of hateful online hostilities.

Fortunately, there is a standing offer from the community at large to stand outside and protect the event. We had a bit of trouble organising numbers a few months ago, but I suspect that after recent events surrounding Kelly-Jay Keen-Minshull (also known as Posie Parker) and transphobes, community awareness and the likelihood of participation would have shot up immeasurably. I doubt we’d have any trouble arranging some support in most areas, whether publicly or privately.

If you are running an event you think is likely to be targeted, perhaps don’t wait until you are getting threats in your inbox (which, at the moment, is likely to happen quickly). And maybe don’t just cancel. Consider the advice you're getting from self-invested, indemnity-minded local councils or bureaucratic bodies who cannot imagine what it is to interact with grassroots groups — they often give crappy advice.

You can contact groups like Pride in Protest on Twitter, for example. Consider local Left or queer-friendly activist groups that you know of in your area, who will likely be accustomed to putting bodies on the ground for various progressive causes anyway. 

Environmentalist groups, climate action groups, refugee advocacy groups or local anti-fascist action pages could all be of assistance to you. They can locate people in your area who can come and help. They can even do it all behind closed doors and help sort out exactly what’s needed to make the event a safe and happy success.

If ten losers show up and see a large group of legends out the front of your event, relaxing and welcoming families in with rainbow flags, what are they going to do? Very little, probably. That’s the point. This is an approach we must adopt until these parasites learn that they cannot successfully make queer events an easy target.

Tom Tanuki is a writer, satirist and anti-fascist activist. Tom does weekly videos on YouTube commenting on the Australian political fringe. You can follow Tom on Twitter @tom_tanuki.

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