Friday, February 12, 2010

QNY's Justin Elzie Arrested in Protest

By Father Tony

QNY team member Justin Elzie and three other members of Queer Rising have just been arrested in a Valentine's Day Protest at the New York City Marriage Bureau Office at 141 Worth St. Justin is on the left in this William Berger photo.

Update: here's the video:

On Friday, February 12 from 8:00-10:00am, LGBT activist group Queer Rising lead a crowd of impassioned protestors in a Valentine’s Day action outside the new 24,000 square-foot New York City Marriage Bureau Office (141 Worth Street) to make a powerful statement in support of marriage equality for all LGBT Americans. Resulting in their arrest, Alan Bounville, Jake Goodman, Justin Elzie and Gabriel Yuri Bollag, all members of Queer Rising, performed a non-violent civil disobedience.

This unprecedented protest, compared to marriage equality protests of the past, significantly raised the stakes in terms of its political organization:

·       Alan Bounville, Jake Goodman, Justin Elzie and Gabriel Yuri Bollag chained and pad-locked themselves to the entrance railing, subsequently blocking entry to the marriage bureau.
·       A gathering of under 100 same-sex marriage equality proponents for a press conference and rally in the park opposite the bureau.
·       The application – and subsequent rejection – of over 20 same-sex couples hoping to obtain a marriage license inside of the bureau.
·       The application – and subsequent approval – of a lesbian and gay man, whom according to New York State law may legally marry each other, for a marriage license.

“New York City is home to the Stonewall Riots and in that tradition we are here to say that equality doesn’t arrive through the ballot box.  The bankrupt strategy of putting all efforts into electing so-called ‘friendly’ officials has failed. We must shift to building a grassroots, national movement that demands full equality by any means necessary. Today, through our symbolic marriage applications, rally and civil disobedience, that message was quite clear.” –Spring Super

For more information please visit Queer Rising on Twitter, Facebook or at

About Queer Rising:
Queer Rising is a grassroots, member funded organization that demands queer rights through direct action. Formed in late 2009 as a response to the New York State Legislature’s denial of same-sex marriage to its constituents, Queer Rising was responsible for such acts as crashing a prominent state senator’s private Christmas party, turning it into a public protest, and during national holidays taking to the streets in demand of equal rights for all. Tired of watching hard-earned dollars fill the coffers of elected officials purporting to support LGBT causes, Queer Rising has vowed to give voice to the movement whether those conversations take place in the halls of public buildings, in the offices of elected officials or on the streets.


  1. This is embarrassing. It isn't helpful. Years ago we needed public demonstrations to create awareness. EVERYONE is aware of our struggle. This is just public expressions of anger and most people simply find it annoying.

    IF you have any evidence that this is IN ANY WAY helpful, please provide that. I think the opposite is true.

  2. Dear anonymous,
    I published your comment because it was not overtly stupid, but I really think you should give name to yourself. I won't publish any further comments from your IP address without a name attached to them.

    No, I do not think it is embarrassing, and yes, I do think it is helpful. We can eat ourselves to death by finding flaws in our efforts to gain equality, but the only ones qualified to criticize are those who can demonstrate that they have acted and have done something to help the LGBTQ community. Do you have that right? What have you done?

  3. From a member of Queer Rising...props to Father Tony!

  4. Tony,

    There's been some confusion over on JoeMyGod about whether what he cited as Queer Nation's statement about yesterday's action is actually from them or if it was a mix of their statement and outside media coverage.

    Can you confirm that the 5 paragraphs that you've posted after the video above—-beginning "On Friday, February 12..." and ending "in the offices of elected official or on the streets."-—is all part (or the whole text) of an official statement released by Queer Rising?

    I would appreciate it.

    Bill Henning

  5. Dear Bill Henning
    As you can see within the text, those words were furnished by Spring Super, whose comment on this post is just above yours. I do not know who has or had authority to write or speak for Queer Rising, I think it should be easy enough to follow the link to their website and to their facebook presence and to contact any of the folks involved for clarification. Justin himself would be a reliable voice. I'll forward this to him so that he is aware of the question.

  6. Thank you, Tony.

    That's what I had assumed. But one particularly hardheaded member of Queer Rising has been angrily insisting that no one at Queer Rising ever described yesterday's action as "unprecedented."

    I appreciate the confirmation.


  7. I think we need to cut them some slack regarding the choice of words and that we should focus on their actions. If we want to take comfort in polished press releases and chrome plated media maneuvers, we have HRC and NGLTF and GLAAD etc who do that very well. Queer Rising is more viral and grass rooted, right? If I were with Queer Rising, and if I had written "unprecedented". I'd be saying to my detractors "Yeah, I said it. So maybe it's the wrong word. So shove it."

  8. Tony,

    Direct action is one of the most valuable tools we have to achieve our goals. But effective direct action does one of three things:

    1) apply pressure on a person or entity with power over to effect change on our issues
    2) garner media coverage about our issues
    3) raise the consciousness of people who witness it

    Yesterday's marriage action was, unfortunately, not directed at an entity with any power over our issues. So, to be effective, it would have to succeed on points 2 or 3.

    Having seen no coverage of the protest outside of gay media, and having viewed the video of the protest to try and assess bystander reaction, I must judge yesterday's event a failure. And a particularly dismal one since it involved high cost to Queer Rising—the arrest of four of its members who, as a result, will likely have their ability to participate in civil disobedience severely curtailed for the next 6 months to a year.

    I'm trying to convey to Queer Rising that they need to focus on effectiveness when planning future actions. As a new group, I'm happy to cut them some slack. But they seem to be caught in a loop of arrogantly overpromising and then undelivering.

    And it doesn't help that the group's public pronouncements to date have been full of hyperbole and lacking either an accurate historical perspective or any modicum of respect for the work of activists who have come before them, whether that's Marriage Equality activists who have been protesting at clerk's offices around the nation for more than a decade now; the good folk at ESPA whose electoral strategy resulted in the first ever floor vote on marriage in the NYS Senate; or the courageous African Americans who sat in at lunch counters across the South.

    I appreciate the fresh energy the members of Queer Rising bring to the table. But yesterday was their fourth action and, thus far, I don't think any of them have been effective. Some of the targets have been well chosen (Monserrate, Ugandan officials). But the demos do not seem to have been very successful at applying pressure. I don't think either of those managed to embarrass the target. And they certainly didn't succeed in garnering media coverage, which is generally the best way to motivate public figures.

    One recurrent problem also seems to be Queer Rising's blindness to how they are perceived when a uniformly pale-faced group shows up to angrily claim MLK as a gay rights supporter or to protest an unjust law being considered in a sovereign African nation.

    Queer Rising could be very effective. But they really need to think things through and step up their game. What is the goal: effecting change or just making ourselves feel good because we're out there expressing righteous anger?


  9. Dear Bill,
    I hope they will read and consider your words. I suspect they themselves would like to be more effective. I would hate to see them be discouraged. I hope you will be of some help to them. I want them to succeed.

  10. I want to thank Justin and the three other guys who were arrested for taking such a drastic step on our behalf. I'm disappointed, but certainly not surprised, that this story didn't get any mainstream media coverage.

  11. Bill - thank you for your feedback. It is much appreciated. Note though - we have a growing contingent of Latino members and are committed to the long term work of building Queer Rising as a group that intersects all groups.

    You are always welcome to join us and help plan actions you feel will make the kind of impact you feel we need to make at this point in our history. And please - bring friends from all walks of life!



  12. I agree with some of Bill's points, despite his alienating and overly negative communication style (which really does his message no favors). Most importantly for a fledgling queer group in a city that's majority people of color, I would encourage Queer Rising to give people of color leadership roles in the group, so that people of color drive the agenda, rather than asking them to just sign on to a preexisting agenda. In my experience, this is the easiest way to attract and incorporate people of color to a queer group that starts out as majority white. Just an idea!

  13. Dear Anonymous,
    Perhaps Queer Rising did invite people of color. Perhaps the invitees declined or were not interested. Either way, I did read that they have reached out to that part of our community.

    Here on QNY, I can report that from the earliest planning days, I specifically sought out women and persons of color. While initially receiving an enthusiastic response, those persons have (and I hope it is just because they are otherwise engaged) not posted anything or not responded affirmatively to the invitation. My energetic recruitment continues for women and persons of color who are New Yorkers and good writers. Things are not always as they seem.

  14. I can now comment on some of this since we are past the hearing. To the first one of the anonymous's that said:

    "This is embarrassing. It isn't helpful. Years ago we needed public demonstrations to create awareness. EVERYONE is aware of our struggle. This is just public expressions of anger and most people simply find it annoying.
    IF you have any evidence that this is IN ANY WAY helpful, please provide that. I think the opposite is true."

    Well anonymous, since we did this action, we have gotten media coverage from coast to coast. We have students contacting us from California, Minnesota, Ohio and elsewhere wanting to get involved and do Civil Disobedience in their communities. There is now a Queer Rising group in Albany which did an awesome action this past week, and a Queer Rising group forming in Boston, a Queer Action group has formed in Rhode Island. We have had people that have posted on the blogs and facebook saying that they were inspired and they shed tears. Civil Disobedience is in fact an act of education and a reminder of the struggles that we are facing. When we are stopped at the ballot box and in the legislatures then our next step is to take to the streets. Your comments echo those that were said to the anti-war protesters in the 60's and 70's who by the way affected our societies opinion on the war. There is plenty of evidence that Civil Disobedience works from the Lunch Counter Sit ins, to Rosa Parks, to the Anti- war movement during the 60's and 70's Martin Luther Kings work to Act-Ups work. If we had not done this there would have been alot of people that wouldn't have been talking about marriage equality that day. Acts of Civil Disobedience serve as reminders to our struggle besides educating and I would differ that we have every straight person on our side in our struggle right now so your wrong when it comes to Everyone being "aware" of our struggle. The fact that we had people contacting us and on facebook and the blogs being inspired and crying shows that these kind of acts besides educating and shaking up the status quo also in affect give people hope. Civil Disobedience is education. If we helped one young person in coming out or one person having hope or educating one straight persons view on marriage, then it was worth it.