For LGBT activists and most humans invested in equality and justice, Mike Pence is troubling, if not terrifying. Yet as this beacon of prejudice is sworn in as vice president, LGBT activists are not cowering in fear. In fact, some are doing the opposite: They’re twerking outside “Daddy Pence’s” Chevy Chase home.
A mass “Queer Dance Party” took place on Jan. 19, organized by Werk for Peace, which identifies as “a queer-based grassroots movement using all forms of dance to promote peace.”
Pence will soon move to the vice president’s official residence at the Naval Observatory—so the dance party was at once a flamboyant going away party, and a housewarming of sorts, demonstrating queer resistance still to come. Videos of the activists dancing, throwing (biodegradable) glitter, and chanting went viral overnight.
As Trump’s administration takes office, fears over how a Trump cabinet could damage issues like LGBT rights, the environment, and health care are galvanizing activists like the founders of Werk for Peace.
And yet, as energizing–and headline grabbing—as Werk’s dance party was, it’s important to ask: What’s the goal? Effective activism takes many forms, at times violent, artful, or silent, and while each strategy can be effective in its own way, successfully effecting change requires clear motives and outcomes.
“On one hand, our goal is definitely to send a clear message, from the people, by the people, that homophobia and transphobia, bigotry and hate, will not be tolerated in our country,” says Firas Nasr, the founder of Werk for Peace, “but our goal is also to be queer-centered.” Nasr, who views the queer and trans community as the primary recipient of his activism, explains that Werk’s dance parties seek to send a simple, yet often silenced message to the queer and trans community: “Hey, we are here for each other.”
Such queer solidarity and love is the point of the organization’s activism. “At the end of the rally I was fortunate enough to stand in front of everyone and use affirmations to assert our bodies and claim our space,” he says. “I looked at everyone and told them, ‘You are worthy, you are valuable, you are powerful, and you are loved.’”
And, to Nasr, no medium facilitates queer and trans solidarity quite like dance. “The dance floor has always been a critical space for the queer and trans community,” he explains, “dance floors have always been our safe spaces, places where we could express ourselves, connect with one another, and express love.”
But this freedom was dealt a tragic blow on June 12, 2016, when 49 people were massacred at Pulse Nightclub, an LGBT dance hub. Werk was born in response to the Pulse shooting. “We are claiming space, loving ourselves, and expressing ourselves in very visible manner,” says Nasr. “Dance really works to bring people in the queer community together—it’s a form of connection, self-expression, and a way to show love for one another. It’s also a form of healing.”
On the peripheries of Wednesday’s dance party, people protested against Werk’s queer and trans activists, upset that they’d “invaded” Pence’s private residence. Their placement, however, is exactly the point. “The policies Pence has instated have directly invaded our private lives and our bodies,” says Nasr. “Because of the ways that politics are ascribed onto our bodies, the queer and trans community, especially trans people and trans people of color, face hate crimes every day.”
By dancing, playing music, and calling for Pence to join in, these activists may be having fun, but their apparent joy amplifies, rather than trivializes, the seriousness of their mission. Their celebration raises the ante on Pence’s prejudice. Werk for Peace, for one, is heading on a Tour for Peace, bringing their dance parties to queer communities in cities across the US.
Let’s be sure to recognize this werk—festive as it may seem—for what it truly is: hard, brave, and resilient work, for peace.