Texas LGBT activists arrested for occupying county clerk’s office

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, February 14, 2012 14:24 EDT
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From left to right: LGBT activists Brittney Tobar, Tiffani Bishop and Iana DiBona, who were arrested shortly after this photo was taken. Photo: Stephen C. Webster.
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AUSTIN, TEXAS — Taking their cues from the local “Occupy” movement, three LGBT activists in Austin allowed themselves to be arrested Tuesday morning during an annual marriage equality protest at the Travis County Clerk’s office.

Instead of the usual parade of LGBT activists applying for marriage licenses on Valentine’s Day, about 40 people representing a coalition of groups showed up outside the offices of Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir on Tuesday morning, including members of Occupy Austin.

Ronnie Garza, an organizer with Occupy Austin, explained that the alliance was a natural one because he believes “everyone should have the right to marry who they love.” Although organized by GetEQUAL Texas, the event marked the beginning of Occupy Austin’s efforts to collaborate with other area activists and send members to their events.

Turns out the gesture didn’t go unnoticed.

Two LGBT activists participate in a unity ceremony on Feb. 14, 2012 in Austin, Texas. Photo: Stephen C. Webster.

As couples walked up a pair at a time to have their requests for marriage licenses denied, DeBeauvoir faithfully carried out her legal duty of denying the requests and personally calling to apologize. She openly empathized with the couples applying for licenses, even putting an arm around one woman who began to cry.

That’s when three LGBT activists — Iana DiBona, Tiffani Bishop and Brittney Tobar — decided to lock arms and sit down, staging their own occupation in the name of love and equality.

This was not planned, according to GetEQUAL TX organizer Michael Diviesti, who seemed surprised at the development.

Then, the women began to sing: “I’m gonna stand at the marriage counter / I’m gonna stand at the marriage counter, one of these days / I’m gonna stand at the marriage counter / I’m gonna stand at the marriage counter, one of these days. I’m gonna slow dance at my wedding / I’m gonna slow dance at my wedding, one of these days / I’m gonna slow dance at my wedding / I’m gonna slow dance at my wedding, one of these days.”

Two verses in, the whole group of activists began clapping along like an impromptu church service.

DeBeauvoir, who’d stood by watching the whole time, appeared beside herself at the display.

“This is the first time I’ve been occupied,” she told Raw Story. “So, we’re gonna do what we can to leave them right where they are. We’ll work around them… But, I’m not quite sure what to do. They didn’t coordinate with me about the occupy stuff, so I want to visit with the organizers to see how we deal with the situation.”

She walked over to speak with the women on the floor, then spoke to Diviesti, then returned to the women. “We plan to stay until [closing time] or later,” Bishop remarked.

Austin County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, calling authorities to arrest activists occupying her office. Photo: Stephen C. Webster.

DeBeauvoir knelt down in front of the group and explained that they were welcome to stay until closing, at which point they would be removed — or, she said, “we could just do this thing right now while the reporters are still here.”

Eyeing nearby reporters, DeBeauvoir leaned a bit closer to the protesters and lowered her voice: “But what I’m suggesting is, why don’t you do it now and get it on camera? I mean, I’m trying to have… For you to get the maximum message here. So, what I’m thinking is, maybe we need to do it now?”

The activists agreed, so the county clerk stepped out into the hallway and picked up a phone. On a call with deputies, she commented that “the occupy movement is here,” and specifically asked that police come take the women out, but give them “the least charge possible.”

Moments later, five deputies stepped in and cuffed the women, ushering them to police cars waiting outside, even as a purely symbolic unity ceremony was taking place in the parking lot.

“We wish the law was different, but until it is I’m bound by the laws of the state and will not break the law,” DeBeauvoir told Raw Story. “One of these days, I hope that all couples have the same civil rights.”

Photo credit: Stephen C. Webster

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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