Group aims to fight oppression, but tactics cause some concern

Prior to this year’s June 21 PrideFest celebration, the group behind the Pride Parade’s “Queer as Fuck” contingent was relatively unknown. Since then, the self-described radical queer project known as Resyst has attracted attention not only for its confrontational tactics but also for its ties to the peace-promoting Thomas Merton Center.

        Tim Vining, director of the Thomas Merton Center and a lead organizer of Resyst, explained that although the group is a project of the center it works for a variety of causes.

        “We’d rather not identify ourselves as a gay group,” Vining told Out. “The purpose of Resyst is to show that all of the types of oppression in our society are connected. What brings us together is a common queer experience. If I’m poor, a woman and I’m queer, just getting gay rights doesn’t address my race, class situation or gender issues.”

        Vining said he moved to Pittsburgh to become the center’s director at about the same time Marie Skoczylas was hired as the center’s director of development. Together they created Resyst, in large part because they were dismayed by what Skoczylas called the lack of a “radical queer scene.”

        In describing the group’s various workshops, art exhibits and street theater activities both past and planned, Skoczylas said the goal of Resyst is “not to create a radical scene, but to create the active parts of the scene.” One street theater event staged by the group was a takeoff on the game Spin the Bottle. Instead of spinning a bottle, the leader would spin a mock missile at the names of oppressed populations, ultimately resulting in 100 percent casualties.

        In the weeks leading up to Pittsburgh’s 2003 pride celebration, rumors about the group’s plans for the day began to circulate, prompting concern from some community members over Resyst’s so-called guerilla tactics.

        “The rumor was that they were going to target the bars,” recalled Bill Kaelin, owner of New York New York in Shadyside. “New York New York is right on the corner in the thick of [the PrideFest site], and I found nothing adverse. We did see a couple small signs here and there, but nothing that alarmed me.”

        According to Kaelin, some community members perceive Resyst as being a “radical, destructive, anti-everything group,” while others see them as a group of young people disenchanted with a lack of activism

activism in Pittsburgh. But Kaelin said he believes everyone outside the group is opposed to the name “Queer as Fuck,” a play on the name of the popular Showtime series Queer as Folk.

        “It doesn’t sound like something that’s going to work,” Kaelin suggested.

        Despite the rumors, the pride festival passed without incident. “Things went very well and I’m glad [Resyst was] involved,” said Jim Fischerkeller, chairperson of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center and a PrideFest committee member. Fischerkeller added that he sympathizes with Resyst’s view that, all across the country, pride events have gone from being marches and rallies to being parades and festivals. 

Time for change

        According to Skoczylas, the first Resyst chapter began several years ago in San Francisco, and another Resyst group has formed in Seattle. Everywhere, Skoczylas said, Resyst is about finding ways to point out the “interconnectedness of oppression.”

        Fischerkeller said although its stated mission differs, he does not consider Resyst to be much different from Pittsburgh’s Cry Out!/ACT UP, which was active during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The goal of ACT UP chapters nationwide was to mobilize “non-partisan individuals united in anger and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis”; Resyst seeks to “unite through the shared struggles our differences create so that we can broaden our foundation to affect positive change.”

        But “radical movements are really difficult to maintain in the long term,” believes Chris Young, founder and chair of the League of Gay and Lesbian Voters. “Normally, they tend to be a little bit unrealistic. While the ideals are fine, it’s hard to maintain the kind of energy and stamina to keep it going forever.”

        Young called Resyst’s efforts “laudable” but said the group is tying “a very left-wing political ideology to sexual orientation, and I don’t think they can make the case to a lot of people that in fact there should be a tie. I am against oppression, but I’m also against inflicting one culture’s values onto another culture.”

Can’t we all just get along?

        Could Pittsburghers be ready to embrace Resyst’s tactics? Fischerkeller recalled that a survey conducted last year by Persad Center and the GLCC with assistance from the University of Pittsburgh indicated deep dissatisfaction with leadership in the gay community, specifically with regard to political issues.

        Fischerkeller explained that the GLCC was unable be more politically active because nonprofit organizations like the center are prohibited by law to engage in political activities unless specifically created to do so. Politically active groups, called 501 (c)(4) organizations, also are not eligible for many of the tax breaks given to regular nonprofits. “It’s not that we’re against that role,” Fischerkeller said.

        Young said he thinks Resyst could play a major role in coming years, if for no other reason than because its leaders are young and could become the leaders of tomorrow.

        “It could be reasonably argued that we’ve gotten too comfortable,” Young said. “And I think it’s pretty normal for young people who are just getting involved to take off on a radical track. It can cause controversy, but I hope they’ll learn from these things, and that older people will learn from them as well, because they do make a lot of good points.”

        Young hoped Resyst’s activities would “light a fire under people who think [the group is] nuts” and encourage individuals with differing opinions “to go out and do it the right way so they don’t screw everything up.”

        But Young added that his conservative side is uncomfortable with slogans like “Queer as Fuck.” “I do wish they would refrain from using the coarse language,” he admitted.

        Vining is unfazed by criticism of the group’s tactics and believes that to fulfill its larger goals, Resyst must draw attention to its activities. “If we can stand out at PrideFest, we’re doing good.”

The Q Archives and articles like this are republished here by the kind contribution of Tony Molnar-Strejcek, the publisher of Pittsburgh’s Out. Maintaining the cultural history of Pittsburgh's LGBTQ Community is made possible by contributions by readers like you.