Passing the (Queer)Bomb

Read the original article in The Austin Chronicle.

What’s the future of the June celebration for Austin’s LGBTQ community?

If there’s one thing the LGBTQ community excels at, it’s throwing a damn good party. In the 47 years since the first high heel was lobbed at the Stonewall Riots, queers have found a way to intertwine revelry with rights. Those of us on this side of the rainbow are all too familiar with a world that tells us we’re sick, perverted, invisible – hell, some of us can’t even pee in public without legitimate fear. But put us all together, and we create magic.

In June of 2010, a group of Austin queers began Queerbomb – a free, all-inclusive LGBTQ celebration – in response to what was then a corporate, expensive, cisgender Pride run by a predominantly white gay (and lesbian) board. Six seasons later, Queerbomb has grown from what co-founder Paul Soileau describes as a “ragtag, Little Rascals” event, filled with impassioned people and limited space, into a full-blown festival with multiple thousands of people in attendance every June. Not only has it become a local queer institution, it has become one of the few days of the year where thousands of Texas LGBTQers unite to celebrate their queerness.

“Nothing makes homophobes more angry than to see a bunch of queer people celebrating being ourselves,” says Tamicka Phil­lips, one of the original members of Queerbomb. The event, split into three parts, consists of a rally with speakers and organizations, a procession of several thousand queers through Downtown and Sixth Street, and an afterparty. “There are few greater highs than running down Sixth Street in a jockstrap,” says Matt Korn, another co-founder. “The overwhelming response is so positive. It really makes you feel strength in numbers.”

But with growth comes growing pains. Earlier this year, Austin’s LGBTQ community saw GayBiGayGay, the unofficial queer music festival and celebration that marked the end of SXSW, go on indefinite hiatus after a decade, and rumors swirled that Queerbomb would follow suit. “I think the movement does not a festival make, and I started to question, ‘How did this become a festival?'” says Soileau, who’s also known for his drag alter egos Christeene and Rebecca Havemeyer. He admits that he was the one who originally raised the question of whether Queerbomb should continue in 2016.

After hosting an open meeting for new members in March, the answer for many of those in attendance was a resounding yes. Queerbomb is both necessary and relevant “because homophobia, transphobia, racism, and sexism still exist,” says filmmaker PJ Raval, also a co-founder. “I think it’s important to question who isn’t gathering so that we can make sure everyone is included. There’s a need to call out and a need to trust your community, but good things can only come out of all this.”

Photo by Jana Birchum

But that didn’t settle the future of Queerbomb for everyone who helped start the event. Some saw the need for more organization and transparency in the way Queerbomb is run. “As an activist, I felt I need to take accountability,” says co-founder Sym Coronado-Prole. “We haven’t held ourselves accountable, and we live in Texas. There’s a large need for us to have a voice in state politics. We need to be working towards nonprofit status.”

For co-founder MJ Smith, Queerbomb needs “checks and balances.” Several of the grievances presented online concern the current structure, arguing that only a small handful of people are part of the “steering committee.” She proposes that the organization “break things into chairs, consensus-style, and have transparency between each committee [vendors, permits, procession, etc.]. Vendors need to be vetted, and we absolutely need to be working towards nonprofit status. That should’ve happened years ago.”

In recent weeks, the discussion about what Queerbomb does and what its responsibilities are to the community on which it relies for financial support has migrated to the Facebook event page and the collective’s page in a sometimes-heated public dispute, much of it among the co-founders of the event. To many, it comes as old news that there’s been dissent among the ranks of OG Queerbomb. The root of the online dissent is one part tangled personal histories and one part honest, good-natured questioning of what Queerbomb has the capacity to do.

A town hall meeting on Thursday, May 26, successfully managed to address those topics as well as give face to several new(er) members who have expressed serious interest in taking the reins from the OG members who, after six years, are ready to step down from their posts. With all the talk about the “new” Queerbomb, seeing a handful of energized queers ready to infuse the event with fresh blood was both reassuring and exciting.

The meeting also helped establish ways to move forward and to address the questions facing Queerbomb. In its current form, Queerbomb does not have the capacity to operate 365 days of the year as an agent of change in the queer community. It is a single event. But single events can still be radical forces in our community. While Queerbomb’s own mission is – for at least the foreseeable future – primarily focused on offering an alternative to corporate-sponsored Pride, it can be, and has been, a platform for other queer organizations to make their own impact and to network with other nonprofits under one “roof.” And perhaps most importantly, the event functions as a much-needed gathering place for the queer community. For those who don’t live within liberal Austin’s city limits and/or those who’ve just come out, Queerbomb is the promised land of Central Texas. The future of Queerbomb may still look a bit hazy, but there’s a sense of queer optimism in the air.

As for whether or not Queerbomb is “just” a party, that all depends on how you look at it. “For some people, Queerbomb is a party. For some, it’s a movement,” says Phillips. “For some people, it’s one day out of the year where they get to be themselves without the fear of repercussion. For me, it’s a day where I can be unapologetically black, fat, queer, loud, and happy. If most people consider it a party, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing.”

Soileau adds: “I don’t think a party devalues it because that’s a space we have less and less of. It’s a place to be gay as a $2 bill. [Queers] bring life to some ugly places in this world, [so] let’s not put a bottle on that magic we have.” As long as the event continues to engage with all of Austin’s queer communities, it will continue to be relevant. Because, in 2016, it’s still a radical act to dance in the streets with several thousand queers. Queerbomb offers its attendees a beautiful realization/reminder of the power in numbers and community.

Queerbomb 2016 goes off Sat., June 4, 6pm, starting at Fair Market, 1100 E. Fifth. For more information, see the Facebook event page,

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Meet the Trans Women of Color Who Helped Put Stonewall on the Map

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By Jamilah King

Wednesday was a big day in LGBT history: New York City added the Stonewall Inn to its list of citywide landmarks.

Members of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously decided this week to give some residents another reason to celebrate Pride this month. “The Stonewall Inn is a rarity — a tipping point in history where we know, with absolute clarity, that everything changed,” Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer said in a statement, according to BuzzFeed.

Back in the 1960s, the Stonewall Inn was the one of the few bars in Manhattan where people of the same sex could dance with each other without police harassment, which was only protected through alleged Mafia ties. On June 28, 1969, the bar’s patrons clashed with police officers, in a raid that would have otherwise resulted in arrests and public shaming. However, this time the patrons fought back, setting off what we now know as the modern LGBT movement, including the tradition of LGBT Pride marches. Two often-forgotten people who made an impact that night were transgender women of color: Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.

Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha “Pay It No Mind” JohnsonSource: Mic/YouTube

While the raid and the riot that followed went down in history, Rivera and Johnson’s contributions related to the uprising didn’t make much news. In fact, as iconic as Stonewall was to the gay liberation struggle that blossomed in the 1970s, it also became a symbol of a largely white, male movement that relegated people of color and women to its margins.

Gay activists protest after the Stonewall Rebellion. Source: Leonard Fink/CBS News

Johnson was a patron at the bar who “really started it” on the night of the riots, according to one witness in David Carter’s 2004 book Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution. Originally from New Jersey, Johnson moved to the West Village in 1967 to escape the bigotry she had faced growing up across the river. She went to Stonewall that night to celebrate her 25th birthday, reportedly becoming part of that initial moment of resistance to spark the landmark rebellion, according to the documentary Pay It No Mind: The Life and Times of Marsha P. Johnson.

Source: Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition

During the 1980s AIDS epidemic that ravaged the gay community, Johnson became a prominent activist with the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, which did things like demonstrate on Wall Street against the exorbitant prices of experimental AIDS drugs. Johnson died in 1992 at age 48 under mysterious circumstances: Her body was found floating in the Hudson River. The case remains unsolved.

Sylvia Rivera

Pioneering transgender activist Sylvia RiveraSource: Kay Tobin Lahusen/AARP

Rivera was a 17-year-old Puerto Rican drag queen on the night of the riot. According to one biography, Rivera was in the crowd that gathered outside of the bar as anger in the West Village neighborhood swelled. “I’m not missing a minute of this,” she yelled. “It’s the revolution!” She’s cited as one of the first bystanders to throw a bottle, a big deal given the power dynamics of the situation with police. Talking about the riots years later in Carter’s book, Rivera remembered, “This was started by the street queens of that era, which I was part of, Marsha P. Johnson and many others that are not here.”

After Stonewall, Rivera became an outspoken activist who rallied against racism, sexual violence and, after she began identifying as a woman, transphobia. In a 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day Rally, Rivera, a sexual assault survivor, spoke about the complacency she saw in the LGBT community after gay, lesbian and transgender people were arrested, thrown in jail for their activism and assaulted by male inmates in the years after the Stonewall Rebellion. “Do you all do anything for them?” she demanded of the crowd at a 1973 rally in New York City. “No! You all tell me to go and hide my tail between my legs. I will not put up with this shit!”

Source: YouTube

Rivera and Johnson co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, a group that worked with homeless drag queens and transgender women of color in New York City. She died in 2002 at the age of 50.

Decades later, transgender people have reached what Time has deemed a “tipping point” in visibility and activism, largely led by countless transgender women of color, most visibly actress Laverne Cox and media personality Janet Mock.

While we celebrate the history of Stonewall, let’s also not forget the incredible women who helped make it happen.

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Gay Place: Big Proud Bomb

Read the original article in Austin Chronicle.

It’s not an anti-Pride: It’s Queerbomb!


It’s not an anti-Pride. It’s accelerated Pride. A Pride on scrappy, DIY, can-do spirit steroids: Queerbomb, a fully community-engaged, choose-your-own adventure, where you are the parade, you don’t pay someone else to express your commitment to community, and you take it to the streets, not the sidelines, to remind everyone that yes, we’re here, yes, we’re queer, and we’re blowing up with love. (See Saturday.)

Queerbomb Welcome to Queerbomb 6-6-6! (June 6, 6pm!) Meet at Fair Market, across the street from the recent regular QB site (the late, lamented Pine Street Station). FM is the site of the rally, procession launch-point, and afterparty. Show up in colorful, irreverent regalia and expect 7-8,000 of your closest, queerest, creative-classiest friends, curiously playful mainstream gays, neighbors, lovers, allies, kids, pets, granny-grampies, and supporters alike to listen together to stirring sentiments from filmmaker Sheridan Aguirre, Lisa Scheps, khattieQ, Daniel Webb, and everlovin’ host-con-most, Paul Soileau. Then march like you mean it, and get back to Fair Market quickshape for an afterparty to blow out all afterparties. Sat., June 6, 6pm. Fair Market, 1100 E. Fifth. Free.

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The Good Eye: Summer Camp

See the original article and photo gallery in the Austin Chronicle.

Notes on QueerBomb’s profusion of glitter and camp

(l-r): Volunteer Marshas Edie Eclat, Annabelle Mellor, Joya Cooper, and QueerBomb founder Paul Soileau
(l-r): Volunteer “Marshas” Edie Eclat, Annabelle Mellor, Joya Cooper, and QueerBomb founder Paul Soileau (Photo by Amy Gentry)

In her famous 1964 essay “Notes on ‘Camp,'” Susan Sontag summed up the camp sensibility as: “Style is everything.” According to Sontag, camp is the appreciation of style, any style, as long as it’s extreme, over-the-top, and goofily personal. “Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature,” she says. As such, it is implicitly anti-judgment.

Sontag also says that since camp values style over substance, it is inherently apolitical. Five minutes at the fifth annual QueerBomb, the all-inclusive, rainbow-colored LGBTQ glitterfest that partied and paraded and camped its way through Austin last weekend, might have convinced her otherwise. Style was, after all, one of the driving forces behind QueerBomb’s founding; in 2009, dissatisfaction over what some saw as the Austin Pride festival’s sanitized and corporatized version of the LGBTQ community gave rise to the raucous, all-inclusive, dress-code-free alternative. (Pride now takes place in September.) As QueerBomb co-founder and spokesperson Paul Soileau professed from the dais to the crowd assembled for the parade, the event “follows its own rules and regulations … which are none!”

A charming mantelpiece photo of my husband leading me on a leash, both of us dressed as Weimar-era cabaret performers, reminds me of a time when I was able to keep up with QueerBomb. This year I went early and wore Chico’s pants, but found myself no less welcome for my boringness. In fact, the pre-procession party at Pine Street Station was, to my eyes, remarkably family-friendly, unless you consider warm hugs from flocks of bedazzled and bondage-clad butterflies inherently hostile to the ties of kith and kin.

At some point, the Nineties-era dance tunes faded out and gave way to pre-parade speechifying from the pink-chiffon-draped Soileau, wasp-waisted rabble-rouser Althea Trix, and Meg Hargis, co-organizer of the first QueerBomb Dallas celebration, which takes place later this month. All of the speakers touched on the human need to express ourselves and be accepted and loved just as we are, whether or not we are wearing electrical tape over our nipples. Soileau called QueerBomb a place to “love each other, celebrate each other, and allow each other to shine our living rooms into this space.”

Apparently I am missing out on some amazing living rooms in this town. From gorgeous queens in towering platform heels to dapper dykes in derbies and mustachios, from rainbow-striped unicorns to antler-helmed stag-men, there was more eye candy on display than eye-Halloween and eye-Easter rolled up in one. Men in ladylike dresses and women in overalls and nothing else drifted through a sea of body-paint, tutus, and Texas-shaped pasties, amid clouds of dust that smelled of hairspray and latex. While plenty of revelers were looking dead sexy, QueerBomb’s sexiness always comes off as auxiliary or secondary to me, despite all the bare breasts and bondage gear, a side effect of the wholesale jettisoning of shame and disgust over bodies, faces, and loving behavior. More than just defiance, QueerBomb style is pure, playful joy.

As the sun set over the Austin skyline, the Crystal Queer Revelation choir sang Cyndi Lauper‘s “True Colors” to the rainbow-colored crowd. Although in general I prefer the dance tunes (“This is lesbian music,” my party companion whispered in my ear when the ukuleles came out), I couldn’t help but catch my breath at the force of the haunting, beautifully harmonized lyrics. “Don’t be afraid to let it show,” the choir sang, and waves of love poured through a crowd that wasn’t, for the moment, afraid of anything.

Style may not literally be everything, but it is among our most visible and accessible forms of self-expression. For those who have fought for the right to exist and express themselves openly in public, and who are still fighting for the right to be and love whomever they want, it is also that rare and lovely thing – a powerful weapon that hurts absolutely no one, and has the power to move a spectator to smiles, or tears. “Camp is a tender feeling,” says Sontag. I, as always, am in the pro-camp camp.

Check out the online photo gallery for pictures of free-spirited fashion at QueerBomb 2014. For more information about Dallas’ first QueerBomb celebration, which takes place on June 28, go to

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