Nique Craft galvanized people from many walks of life. A black, nonbinary metalhead covered in piercings and tattoos, they were a force to be reckoned with, and a natural-born leader who was very passionate about Pittsburgh. In turn, Pittsburgh knew them. Some considered them a jerk, some considered them a superhero, but all agree that they were a powerhouse motivated by selfless principles.
The Pittsburgh community lost Nique Craft on November 2, 2021.
Known as Gamm to local activists, they rose to prominence during the Black Lives Matter movement last year sparked by the death of George Floyd, but they were also very involved in queer social justice. They were present in almost every protest, whether marching in the streets or organizing rallies. When they weren’t shouting and chanting, they were weaving through the crowd, checking on individuals. A protector of mothers in particular, if they spotted a single mother struggling, they would whip out a hat to collect money for her. If there was someone fighting for a cause, Gamm would amplify their voice by assembling the community around them and ensuring they were heard.
“Nique brought the people,” says Dannielle Brown.
She credits Gamm as instrumental to her efforts in seeking justice and clarity over her son’s death. During her 237-day long hunger strike, they managed the camp at Freedom Corner, brought overnight security, supplied water, and made sure no one ate in front of her. They brought together local talents to run a living funeral on the 30th day of Brown’s hunger strike.
“It was a collaborative effort,” Brown says. “My voice is strong, [but] bring in the people and you had a voice of hundreds. That is the epitome of strength, a stronger voice in numbers.”
With their encouragement, local voices turned into advocates. Dalen Michael describes themself as rather introverted, yet Gamm saw a power in them as an activist. Craft approached Michael once at a protest and asked how they were feeling.
“I said ‘Horrible,’” Michael recounts. “And then they said ‘Well how does it feel to [be] suppressed by the people?’ I said ‘I hate it.’ And they said ‘Well, we need to go into that crowd and let your experience be heard.’”
At the time, Michael was taken aback at their straightforwardness. But now, they’re thankful for Craft pushing them into activism. Every time they took to the streets, Craft showed up in some way to support them. With each protest and Gamm’s guidance, their activism matured.
“Gamm helped me see everyone,” Michael says. “To add everyone’s experience and not just think about what I go through… [but] to think about everyone and how things affect everyone.”
Craft had a knack for bringing attention to injustices and rallying people to demand those wrongs be righted. They organized protests against racist and homophobic businesses, the Delta Foundation, Mayor Bill Peduto, and police brutality.
They were vehement about abolishing the police. In their own demonstrations, they made sure to consolidate security and medical personnel from the community so the movement wouldn’t have to rely on the Pittsburgh police department, who they believed couldn’t be trusted to keep the peace. They were involved in the actions of the Alliance for Police Accountability (APA) in order empower the community against overpolicing and police brutality.
Craft made sure allies felt comfortable in the movement in a way that didn’t come at the cost of marginalized folk. Around Gamm, you were gonna learn something.
Nique was unapologetically fierce – they had to be. This world is rough on people of color and queer folk, especially queer people of color. In a system built against people like them, that didn’t want people like them to exist, they decided you have to scream for change and acceptance. Nique’s unapologetic fierceness developed from a lifetime of fighting oppression and watching injustices come down on the undeserving.
Nique wasn’t perfect. They struggled with substance use disorder, battling their inner demons with drugs and alcohol. At times, their fierceness could morph into aggression. Human like the lot of us, they made mistakes, hurt people, and lost relationships.
“You were going to be on [one of] two sides when it came to Gamm,” Brown notes. “Either you were gonna love Gamm or you were gonna strongly dislike Gamm.” Of course, if someone disagreed with their principles, they would be unsympathetic and butt heads. Brown likens Gamm to Deadpool – one could disagree with their methods, yet nonetheless understand they were driven by their passion for the city. They loved Pittsburgh and strove for its betterment.
Near the end of their life, Nique begun mending their relationships. Kyna James, the coalition organizer of the APA, had had a falling out Nique. The two of them had been working on their friendship before Nique died, much to James’s shock.
“At the vigil, every person Nique hurt showed up,” James attests. “All of us still had a lot of love for Nique.”
Craft also had a soft side. They loved animals. Once, when speaking with Danielle Brown, the two of them found a kitten under Brown’s car. Nique adopted the kitten and named it J.B. – for Danielle’s son, Jaylen Brown.
Activism is not dead in Pittsburgh. Nique will forever live on in the city. How best could we honor their legacy?
“One thing that Nique taught me was we need people who are 100 percent intersectional,” Michael demands. “We need to teach people how to coexist in each other’s faces, even if it was uncomfortable for them.”
As someone who existed at the intersection of blackness and queerness, Nique understood the need to represent and accept all ways of being. When we welcome intersectionality into our activism or even just our everyday lives, we welcome a colorful, unapologetic crowd that will feel safe and secure in themselves.