Monday, October 25, 2010

Pink Panthers

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.


Chris Kreussling (Flatbush Gardener) said...

Thanks, Jeremiah, for this piece. One correction: The patrol t-shirts did not say "Bash Bask" on them. We were not a vigilante group, going out for justice. Our presence was the deterrent.

And amazing to me, I'm the "Pink Panther" in the New York magazine photo! I don't recognize the event. The white arm-band is significant, but I can't recall what it was for.

Chris Kreussling (Flatbush Gardener) said...

One more note: The Pink Panther Patrol changed its name to Outwatch following the lawsuit. It dwindled through 1991, and lingered in name for a few years before liquidating the few assets it had.

Jeremiah Moss said...

Chris, thanks for the corrections. amazing that the New York Mag photo is you--if you click on the link below it, you can see the whole article on Google Books.

Chris Kreussling (Flatbush Gardener) said...

The full photo explains it - it was (one of) the Julio Rivera march in Queens. I was wearing the arm-band because I was one of the marshals for the march.

BTW: New York mixed up the captions for the photos of Foreman and Sanderson. The photo below the march photo in which I appear is not Matt Foreman, who is white. I think it's then bias-unit Inspector Paul Sanderson. Matt Foreman is in the other photo, speaking at a microphone, identified as Sanderson.

S. said...

Yay, Pink Panthers! I guess I have a good memory, because I remember them rather well, but a lot people don't seem to recall it with ease when I bring it up. I think they should make a comeback... !

Ba said...

I wasn't in that group, but I was in ACTUP. As well as Socialites for Human Rights, another gay activist group that I helped found. (We sure as hell weren't socialites, but socialist and social we were.) And all are dead but me. Pace Carl, George, Kiki, Jimmy, and Ivan.

BaHa said...

I seem to have truncated my name; the last comment is from me, BaHa.

Anonymous said...

And now MGM has declared bankruptcy.


Steven Shultz said...

I joined the Pink Panthers in the winter of 1990/91 as an impressionable 23-year-old graduate student new to the city from California. I met friends there who are still friends today -- Mark, Patrick, Davora, Jarret, etc.

We altered weekends between patrolling the East and West Village. In addition to the leather jackets and t-shirts with the pink triangle/paw print logo, we had black hoodies similarly emblazoned. I still have mine.

I vividly remember learning self-defense moves -- me and a bunch of other young male Panthers -- from female Panthers who were bigger and tougher than us. I remember walking the streets in the dead of winter -- feeling scared to death and like I was freezing to death. But in time I felt comfortable and secure patrolling among friends.

We all despised MGM for what they did, and we sadly saw the Pink Panthers dissipate.

I had an ulterior motive for joining the Panthers. As a journalism student at Columbia, I chose to make my Master's Project a comparison between the Pink Panthers and Guardian Angels. Not revealing my motive, I hung out at the Angels headquarters for a day, and I thought I'd do the same with the Panthers. Except with the Panthers, I stayed with the group even after my Master's Project was finished.

I became a full-fledged member. Eventually, I nervously revealed what initially led me to them. I was pleased to see their acceptance of me continue.

I'll never forget those days, the people I marched with, or the little piece of queer history we all lived.

JAZ said...

Wow, what a cool story.

Chris Kreussling (Flatbush Gardener) said...

Steven: I was one of the founders of the East Village patrols. Sorry I can't remember everyone I met back then.

I still have my hoodie sweatshirt, too, though mine doesn't fit me any more! And my patrol tshirt. And several of the buttons. I still have my patrol jacket.

I also helped with some of the warmups and stretches for the self-defense classes at the Karate School for Women on Bleecker Street, now long-gone. I love strong women!

Ronnie said...

Either heckled and jeered, thanked and cheered, but its good to stand up for what you believe in. Great Job!

Glenn Drake said...

This is such an important part of gay history. Somebody should write a book about it or a screenplay. It would make a great little Indy movie. The topic could create a whole new genre of film- gay action cinema. At least it could be a documentary.

Anonymous said...

I just read about the shooting of Mark Carlson on Friday, May 17, 2013. I then did a Google search for the Pink Panthers and came across this blog. Perhaps its time for them again! I was a member of the West Village Saturday night Patrol but often patrolled the East Village as needed. I have awful memories and some great ones. I can't add much to what has already been said by other comments except that I remember vividly the whistles and how the community would respond if they heard one! The self-defense training, whistles, and the mere sight of the patrol waking the streets was empowering. I still have my sweatshirt too! (with "pink Panther" crossed out in red tape) The back of the sweatshirt had patrol written in four other languages too. We couldn't carry any weapons but I did carry a very big flashlight! I learned how to use it (if needed) by a gay cop.
Each Patrol had people assigned for specific duties if an incident arose. Legal- wrote everything down and got information from witnesses. 911 - ran to call for help (pre-cell phone era)and crowd control to provide trained emergency personnel with quick access to the victim(s).

Crazy Eddie said...

Who the baldest big cat? The tiger. Go Pink Tigers?

Crazy Eddie said...

Correction. Of course, I meant the baddest. Like Shaft. "Who's the cat that won't cop out / When there's danger all about? / SHAFT! / Right On! Can ya dig it?"

laura said...

i had no idea this problem was this serious in NYC, since the 90's. this was unheard of prior. what has brought this on? this is like a red state somewhere down south. who are these attackers?

Sharon Levine said...

What a surprise to see this page, especially after all this time. I didn't think anyone would remember us after the lawsuit - wow!