Look out, world: There’s a new bunch of queers on patrol, looking out for marginalized groups and defending the defenseless.
They call themselves the Pink Panthers Movement — not to be confused with the Pink Panther movies — and they harken back to community-policing efforts of New York, decades ago including NYC’s Pink Panther Patrols of the 1990s. The grassroots groups is currently organizing in cities and towns around the country, and their president, Todd A. Haley II, agreed to an exclusive email interview with Unicorn Booty.
Unicorn Booty: How do you describe the Pink Panthers Movement to people who are unfamiliar with it?
Todd A. Haley II: The Pink Panthers Movement (The PPM) is a radical based activist group located in Colorado (headquarters ), Texas, Louisiana and California, as well as an international trans* support chapter. The movement was inspired by the New York City patrol group from the 1980s-1990s that sent active patrol units into questionable neighborhoods where LGBTs both lived and worked.
The PPM became somewhat of an homage to those warriors that took to the streets to protect our community. We still have patrol units to this day and it has become the grassroots enterprise to our endeavors. While we do protest and perform direct action activism, we tend to stay out of the mainstream spotlight. Our job isn’t necessarily to raise our voices as it is to promote the meaning of our words. To sum us up, we are old school activism fighting a modern day plight.
Was there a particular incident that prompted the formation of your group?
With the increase of LGBT violence worldwide, due to political and religious oppression from the far right and religious extremism, we felt the need to resurrect the ideology of direct confrontation and, in some cases, retaliation for the constant abuse we have seen.
We have seen a massive decrease in activist groups such as Queer Nation and ACT UP. They seemed to have become ignored and overlooked by the queer community. While we refuse to let their spirit die, we felt that we, too, must take a stand.
What started off with just a handful of active protesters soon became a legion of equality fighters. We’ve now expanded our territory into several states (with some international rogue chapters) and with other chapters now in formation, we will see 2016-2017 as our most productive year yet.
Our mission is to reach out to our queer community that has been beaten down by the hetero-supremacist status quo and help their voices be heard. We are eager to amplify their cries for help, make their voices heard and to become the roadblock for frivolous bills and legislation. We have one job here at The PPM, and that is to have ultimate protection for queer rights and culture.
With that said, it’s also been our goal to reach out to queer youth and educate them on our history and culture. Our youth has been our priority since day one, and with homeless rates rising for our queer youth it leaves them vulnerable to violence, rape and drug use. We are currently reaching out to youth programs and shelters to ensure that LGBT youth have the education, housing and support they need to engage with society in a positive manner.
What are the specific changes that PPM wants to see?
Change is difficult, but nothing has been more rewarding than the work that is poured into it. Our focus in 2016 are transgender issues. The topic is sensitive and long overdue. With marriage equality now available to the community, we have seen a drastic shifting of focus and rise in transphobia and transmisogyny within our own community.
It’s important to remember that we are all in this fight together. Too many cis-privileged individuals in our community have turned their backs on the transgender community, sparking division and discord. We strongly believe that now is the time for unity and comradery.
What actions has the PPM undertaken towards this end?
We have been watching the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) very closely. ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) was an embarrassment and downright offensive to those LGBTs that sought after fair and equal treatment in housing. This prompted us to boycott and directly protest the HRC’s feeble attempts at covering up and pink-washing this particular legislation’s true motives. Our job has been to expose the hypocrisy within our own community and the HRC has blatantly (not to mention proudly) been a crown on the head of such lobbying.
What actions do you have planned?
Again, the HRC requires pressure. Our job isn’t to fight them, but rather to rear them on very sensitive topics that face our community now and in the long run. With the HRC’s recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton, we (as well as many others) felt that this baseless endorsement was rigged and paid for. While we do not take sides on who should endorse whom, we believe that there should be a fair playing field with the account of past records seriously taken into consideration.
In this case, Bernie Sanders has a proven track record with squaring up to those that oppose equality, while Hillary Clinton has only recently (2010) taken into consideration marriage equality and equal treatment for LGBT citizens. Her views may have changed regarding our community, but we believe there’s still a deeper root to her influence.
How would you like to see marginalized protect themselves against violence?
Those individuals in our chapters take self-defense courses. It’s imperative that we as a community have the means to protect ourselves and those we love from violence. With self-defense classes at hand, we can better judge our surroundings and environment. Our patrol units have been trained by local law enforcement to watch, listen, and report any acts of violence against one of our queer brothers or sisters.
How is PPM different from other radical queer activist groups in the past, like STARS and Pink Panther street patrols?
Radicalism isn’t anything new with oppressed minority groups. Groups like BASH BACK and The Pink Pistols have contributed to our success, however, there are vast differences in our ideologies and therefore shouldn’t be compared as a whole. Yes, we connect with the Queer Anarchists groups and others like them, but we tend to distance ourselves from their message and ideas.
We firmly believe in the power of protest and resistance as our message and only violence when we are first confronted with it. We never initiate threats or protests unless we have been pushed into a corner.
Does PPM have a stance on taking violent action?
Violence is something we are used to. We are a group that has seen first-hand what violence and oppression does. However, we do not believe in violence as a problem solver, but rather believe that we have every right to the defense of our community, our bodies and the well-being of those we love.
We here at The PPM have an altruistic concern for those that have been cast aside by society because of their orientation or gender identity, and will use any means necessary to defend their right to display love both publicly and privately without harassment. If the mainstream hetero-supremacist status quo feels the need to harm one of us, they better be prepared to take on all of us. Until the hetero-supremacist establishment, the religious right or those that wish to cause us harm cease to recognize our invisibility, we will continue to grow in numbers and take a stand.
Does the organization have a position on hate crime laws?
Yes, in fact we help increase the chances of these bills getting passed by having a street presence. We have to let the community be aware of specific threats in various neighborhoods by sending our alerts via our Facebook and Twitter pages. This in turn creates a public outcry for proper and diligent legislation to be formed.
Is there a point at which the organization will have accomplished its goals and would be ready to disband?
We are never going away; plain and simple. We will never relent nor step down from our position. We don’t pass our torches onto others, but rather continually light the torches of other fighters. Let’s say hypothetically our “goals” have been obtained nationally, there’s still global oppression we’ll need to take into consideration.
Many people thought we would disband after the June 2015 Marriage Equality announcement from SCOTUS, however, they didn’t take into account, that while we support marriage equality, we still consider it a heteronormative institution in this country.
Listen, we have work to do, and as we ramp up our tactics, our enemies are not far behind with their counter-attack. Our queer youth is at threat, both at home and at school…even on the streets; this has been the same for decades. Politicians are eager to defend the right to treat our trans* community even below a second class citizen rate. Even our own community, with all its privilege in hand, has ignored the plight from our trans* community.
We believe it’s our wake up call, a call to duty for our community, to address these issues full force and without mercy. We are not safe, and it’s a lie we are being told as a community that we are. Now is not the time to recline in our own comfort, rather it’s the time to band together as a community and call out these faux politicians and community leaders on their abuse and hypocrisy.
For over 40 years we have fought long and hard. We owe it to those who paved the way for us. The warriors in Queer Nation and ACT UP deserve to have us continue the fight. This movement was designed in their honor and their strides for our modern day equality.