As a rash of anti-gay violence sends panic and rage through the city, is it time for The Pink Panther Patrol to take back the streets?
I got in touch with Chris Kreussling, one of the founders of the East Village unit of the Pink Panther Patrol. He recalled the city in the early 1990s as filled with LGBT activist groups, including Queer Nation and the Lesbian Avengers.
photo: Marc Geller
In 1990, anti-gay violence was skyrocketing in the city. In April of that year, says Wikipedia, "responding to the 120% increase in violence against queers, Queer Nation climbs to the roof of Badlands, a Greenwich Village bar, and hangs a 40-foot banner that reads: Dykes and Fags Bash Back!"
By August 1990, the Pink Panthers were patrolling the Village between midnight and 3 A.M. on Fridays and Saturdays. They wore black t-shirts printed with paws on pink triangles. The t-shirts said "BASH BACK!"
Pink Panther, 1991, New York Magazine
Why the upswing in anti-queer violence? It's the same as it is today. A spokesperson from the Anti-Violence Project told the New York Times in the summer of 1990, "gay-bashing is a fairly hip thing to do these days. It's a sporting event for a lot of young men." Said a police officer at the time, "You can attribute some of it to the fact that gays and lesbians are now out in the open."
Chris Kreussling agrees. He told me, “With visibility came a backlash from social conservatives, in particular hate speech. With hate speech came increased attacks, targeting neighborhoods, bars, and clubs that were the social centers. The West Village was not the only such neighborhood. At the time the East Village had at least a half-dozen gay bars and clubs.”
Weekly World News, 1990
Like the other Panthers, Chris did not carry a weapon. He says, “We conducted self-defense workshops at the Karate School for Women on Bleecker Street. But most of the training was about street-smarts, street-awareness, and having patrols work as a team on the street. We carried whistles, and encouraged others to do so. We decidedly did NOT work with the Guardian Angels. We considered most of them to be gay-bashers themselves.”
Chris used data from the Anti-Violence Project and, he says, “produced maps of reported incidents that helped both the West and East Village Panther patrols target the areas, down to individual blocks, with the greatest risk.”
Flatbush Gardener's flickr
Patrolling the streets of the East Village in 1990 wasn’t easy. Says Chris, “On patrol, reaction to our presence was about what you would expect. We were heckled and jeered, and better that we were rather than someone else." But the Panthers were also heroes to many New Yorkers. "We were thanked and cheered. The most gratifying part was the support we got from our neighbors and community. When we marched in the 1990 Pride Parade, the response was deafening.”
The Pink Panther Patrol didn't last long. In 1991, Metro Goldwyn Mayer sued the group for using a trademarked name they said was "created and promoted in the spirit of lighthearted, noncontroversial family fun and entertainment." MGM won. The Pink Panthers show no sign of coming back.