PROVINCETOWN — Townspeople were alarmed last week by a flyer advertising a protest against drag to be held on Commercial Street on Friday, Dec. 1. The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, which claims to be an association of lay Catholics and which runs a campaign called America Needs Fatima, was behind the leaflet.
On the appointed day the anti-drag protesters did not show up, but more than 100 drag-loving, colorfully clad, carol-belting counterprotesters did.
According to the Fatima campaign website, the organization held more than 22,000 “rosary rallies,” involving anywhere “from two to hundreds of participants” on Oct. 14, decrying gay marriage and abortion and promoting its causes, which according to its website are “defending the values of tradition, family, and private ownership.”
The day of the advertised protest was also World AIDS Day.
At Post Office Café, where the rally was to take place, two drag shows were scheduled for 6 and 7:30 p.m. that evening.
The annual AIDS memorial candlelight vigil was already planned for that afternoon.
A ‘Fire Drill’ in Drag
The Fatima flyer calling for an anti-drag protest shocked members of the community who are used to Provincetown being a queer haven where celebration rings louder than threats. Some 50 people gathered at the Provincetown Brewing Co. on Nov. 29 to discuss a counterprotest.
By then, the word on the street was that the Catholic protesters were unlikely to show up. Police Chief Jim Golden had called the organizers and was told the protest was off, according to Jack Kelly, owner of the Post Office Café.
Still, on that evening at the brewery, there was easy agreement about assembling in support of drag whether a rally against it materialized or not.
“It’s an opportunity to have a fire drill,” said Michelle Axelson, owner of Womencrafts, who was one of the organizers. “So what if they don’t come? We’ll have grown stronger in our fast responses and practices if we recommit to being a cohesive community who shows up for each other.”
Aaron Clayton, another organizer, agreed. “I think this is building a kind of nucleus of an action-oriented community,” he said.
Kelly said that after seeing the online flyer targeting his business he considered organizing an outdoor concert but ended up deciding that combining a counterprotest with the World AIDS Day vigil felt like the right thing to do. “And I think the more positive we make it, the better,” he said.
Discussion at the brewery led to the idea of a nonviolent “queer joy block party” at which counterprotesters would join with those already marking World AIDS Day. Assistant Town Manager Dan Riviello said that, because of the already planned vigil, the police would close a stretch of Commercial Street to traffic from 5 to 7:30 p.m.
In the hours leading up to the appointed hour on Friday, more than 100 people gathered on Commercial Street in the cold drizzle wearing parkas, onesies — and drag.
Molly Tucker, clad in glittery pants, a yellow slicker, and a gauzy pink ribbon — “the theme being celebratory” — had helped spread the word about the action. Tucker was on edge: “I’m going to be kind of hyperactive and staying as aware of my surroundings as I can,” they said.
Tucker, who is from Beaumont, Texas, said organizing there involves preparing for violence. “Any time there’s any sort of tension between people, guns are getting pulled,” they said.
Jesson Beck had reached out to America Needs Fatima to learn about the group’s plans. He said he was invigorated by the strength of the queer community. “The significance in all of this to me was that generations before us people really laid down some solid groundwork, and that’s not to be forgotten,” he said.
Daniel Peters of Fort Worth, Texas moved to town in May and was one of the counterprotest’s on-call “de-escalators.” Afterward, he said he saw only two men who seemed to be in town for the original anti-drag protest.
Many townspeople had come for the annual reading of the names of members of the community lost to AIDS. From there, they marched to the AIDS Support Group’s drop-in center for food and speeches.
Unitarian Universalist minister Kate Wilkinson offered a prayer at the vigil.
“I think it’s really important for religious people to show up motivated by our faith with a different message,” Wilkinson told the Independent that evening. “My faith tells me to love everyone, and that Christmas is all about love and full expressions of yourself.”
For about an hour, those gathered in front of the Post Office Café chanted, sang Christmas carols, and delivered rousing speeches about the power of community. Then, as the rain let up, the assembly marched to town hall with an eight-color-striped Gilbert Baker flag so enormous it needed 16 people to carry it.