As he took note of the massive protests forming in the Los Angeles area, Spencer Carney knew he had a decision to make.
The protests joined countless others throughout the nation and world, all to call out systemic racism and policy brutality after George Floyd was arrested in Minneapolis and died after one of the four arresting officers knelt on his back and neck for nearly nine minutes. But, Carney noted, they also ran contrary to social distancing widely adopted to help curb COVID-19, a disease of particular threat to senior citizens such as those who occupy most of the Glendale resident’s apartment building.
“The idea of going out to a protest and exposing myself to people not practicing social distancing or wearing a mask represented a conflict,” he said. “It was difficult for me to brainstorm these things, because in the past, I was always that guy who would go out and protest. I’ve been to the last two Women’s Marches. I went to USC and helped start One for All, which is a social justice theater troupe.”
Having attended various Pride events in years past, Carney also took note of the All Black Lives Matter march in Hollywood last weekend, which called attention to the adversity faced by black members of the LGBTQIA community and took place in lieu of the canceled Pride Parade.
“As a gay man living in Glendale, I knew this would be the time for me to go out and not just stand up for my own rights, but those for my black and brown brothers and sisters, so I was so conflicted,” he said.
So Carney, a 25-year-old actor from Kansas City, Missouri, who moved to Glendale three years ago, decided to don an outfit entirely of old Pride Fest clothes, illustrate a sign reading “Black Trans Lives Matter” and walk to City Hall, where on Sunday he stood alone with his sign and told anyone who walked by “Happy Pride.”
“A lot of people were very respectful of me, but I got flipped off a lot,” he said candidly.
One of those passersby was Grey James, who helped plan what would have been Glendale’s inaugural Pride Fest slated to happen this month before the pandemic pulled the plug on it. (His organization, GlendaleOUT, later hosted an online event and lobbied for City Hall to emblazon Pride colors on its facade through June.)
“My first thought was — and this is entirely generational — ‘This kid is going to get killed,’” James said. “I stopped to talk with him a short bit but had to get to work. It really sunk in what an amazing action his was. It was touching, really, and I was like, ‘Why are we not doing this? Why are we leaving this kid hanging? And this movement, and our own community?’ So many steps towards inclusion and equity for the queer community are the efforts of our allies, what better a way to finish Pride Month than to be someone else’s ally?”
Soon enough, GlendaleOUT’s social media pages (Instagram: @glendaleOUT) asked all supporters to join Carney on Tuesday for the peaceful stand-in, where participants would wear masks and practice social distancing as they showcased their supportive signs to motorists. The organization Black in Glendale (Instagram: @blackinglendale) also joined in the informal gathering — now named All Black Lives Matter: A Gathering — which is slated to resume on each remaining Tuesday of the month starting at 7:15 p.m. Several dozen joined Carney this past Tuesday.
“That was just amazing,” he said. “I’m really grateful. It’s been a really moving experience.”
Tasha Jenkins, one of the founders of Black in Glendale, said that in recent years she has become more aware of the many layers of abuse faced by different segments of the black community, especially trans men and women. Like other tragedies she hears about in news segments, she couldn’t put that out of her mind once she learned about it.
“I feel like you have to do something,” she said. “You can’t pretend this is not happening and this is not going on.”
This helped her understand when she saw the phrase “All Black Lives Matter” reach prominence at the aforementioned Hollywood march. Then she saw GlendaleOUT’s post about joining the City Hall stand-in.
“When I saw that, I thought, ‘We have to go,’” she said. “It wasn’t a question.”
Forming coalitions among different interest groups and advancing common goals is a key part of effective advocacy, Jenkins said.
“You have to start making waves,” she added. “In advocacy, you’re doing work that does not always make you popular with people. It’s popular in a way that gets you ‘in trouble.’ It’s good trouble, because we have to advocate for our students, we have to advocate for our children and we have to advocate for others. It just becomes a snowball effect. My advocating for children became advocating for other peoples’ children.”
Carney, in searching for a model for his own advocacy, said he ultimately took inspiration from Dylan Sharon, who organized a similar one-man stand-in protest in the Orange County town of Rancho Santa Margarita that eventually attracted more than 200.
“I was inspired by his ability to effect change all by himself, so I thought maybe I could do that here in Glendale,” Carney said.