NOT GONNA STOP 'EM. As part of the performance art project, Lorri Millan and Shawna Dempsey take on the roles of rangers with the Lesbian National Parks Services. Readers of a US website sent Dempsey death threats earlier this year.
It is amazing how bravely and blissfully forgetful all of us deviants can be. My longtime collaborator Lorri and I create lesbian feminist performance pieces. We are often asked, "Do you get negative responses to your work?", to which we always answer, "Never! The humour makes it palatable. Most people sincerely want to engage." And we believe that — that art can and has changed the world — but then every few years something comes along that reminds us that, heck, we don't live in a lesbian utopia after all. There are people out there who are crazy!
Such was our shock a few weeks ago when misogynist and homophobic emails started showing up in our inbox. And not from the usual garden-variety Canadian wackos. These were death threats. From Americans. Goodness knows they are armed. The May 2009 slaying of Kansas abortionist Dr George Tiller, in his church no less, chillingly illustrated that bigots with guns are a dangerous combination.
So why were Americans threatening our lives? It seems a conspiracy theory website posted an article about an ongoing performance project we do. As rangers with Lesbian National Parks and Services, we patrol streets, parks and campuses opening educating folks about the lesbian wilds. Armed with double entendres, we ask people to consider their ideas of nature and "the natural." Our earnest delivery, dorky uniforms and luminous white knees add to the goofiness.
Apparently this was lost on author Henry Makow in his exposé for Infowars.com
. His opening salvo charges, "University students continue to face a bizarre government campaign to make them homosexuals." I hadn't realized that Lorri and I are part of pro-gay plot by Harper's Conservatives. The article continues, citing our links with the Rockefellers.... "In Women's Studies courses, co-eds learn to be feminist 'change agents' and harass professors who step out of line. If you Google 'Rockefeller Foundation' and 'Women's Studies', you will get 128,000 entries. The Rockefellers now direct government and education through their sponsor-ownership and control of most politicians, parties, cartels, business councils, professional associations, think tanks, foundations, university endowments, mass media, intelligence agencies, secret societies and organized crime." Amazing! That is probably the first time lesbian feminist performance art has been linked to organized crime. Who knew we had such power!
All of this would be entirely laughable if it weren't for the more than 1,000 comments that were posted within 48 hours. Now that's a lot. My Xtra articles are lucky to get five reader responses! And the tone of the comments was hardly conversational.
Some Infowars.com readers wondered how they could hook up with Lorri and I for a threesome (I doubt they are our type), some compared us to Nazis and some thought we were further proof of the impending need to end the world. DeathFromAbove wrote, "This world is crazier than i could have ever imagined, fuck it all, let it all blow up." Hopefully he hasn't been stockpiling explosives.
Even this we could dismiss as, "Oh, those zany Americans..." if it weren't for the aforementioned death threats that were sent to our personal email addresses. The article provides a link to our promotional website, which contains our personal email and our snail address, which happens to be my home. Suddenly my roommates were nervous, and declared that I would be opening suspicious packages in the back yard, alone. We were afraid.
Just to back up a bit, my house has always been known as Homo Heaven, and has sported a variety of signage over the years identifying it as such. When a bunch of us bought it back in 1993, it was the only visibly-marked queer space in Winnipeg. This has come at a cost, but usually nothing more serious than eggings. However, in 2002 a hand-written note appeared on the front stoop saying, "Take down your fucking sign or we be thownin' brick then move fuckers." Articulate, no? Still, I dutifully Xeroxed the letter and sent it in to the lone "diversity" officer on the Winnipeg Police force. I wasn't at all surprised when I received nary a reply. The men in blue have hardly proven to be allies of the queer community.
So I wasn't quick to call the Winnipeg Police regarding the email threats. I waffled and prevaricated, and finally phoned, saying, "I know you probably can't do anything about this but...." Here's where the story gets interesting. Mere minutes after I called in the complaint, there were two officers at my door. They asked me why these threats might be happening now. I explained the article, and how our lesbian feminist performance art (how scary!) sometimes offends people. The male officer pointed to the email I had printed out and soberly said, "It doesn't matter what your work is about. No one has a right to send you this." Maybe we have entered an era of lezzie utopia after all!
The female officer suggested that I remove my home address from our website, but when I said I hate to compromise a professional promotional tool because of fear, or capitulate to hate mongers, they nodded in agreement. Will wonders never cease....
The police urged me to call again if anything suspicious occurred, and asked if I wanted to be hooked up with a trauma counseling service. They took copies of the offending messages, and said they would warn the senders from further correspondence or (heaven forbid) follow through. They did the right thing, and said, "I'm sorry this happened to you."
Within a few weeks the nastiness petered out, and we even received a couple of supportive emails from open-mined conspiracy theorists. I'm sure the event will recede in my memory and I'll soon be saying once again, "Controversy? Because of our work? Never!"
But what I won't soon forget it that there seems to have been a change in the way law enforcement deals with the gay community. We pay taxes, we support our police services, and perhaps finally they are supporting us. It has been a long time coming. And it is about time.