Queer Stadiums – ACT UP at Shea

I had the opportunity to go to New York last week for some research and spent most of the trip in the ACT UP collection at the New York Public Library. I was looking for documentation of how the international ACT UP network communicated, especially during the early days of email and the web. I found some great material and I think the network might end up being one site for my dissertation research (I’ll write more on that in another post), but this post is actually about Shea stadium, where the Mets and the Jets used to play.

In the Spring of 1988 The ACT UP women’s committee organized an action at Shea Stadium. They bought 400 tickets to the Mets game in strategically selected blocks and unfurled massive banners throughout the game that read “No Glove, No Love,” “AIDS Kills Women,” and “Men! Use Condoms.” If you’re interested, Maxine Wolfe tells the whole story of the action at DIVA TV (video and transcript available). There aren’t any photos online but I’ve seen 8mm footage of this action from the perspective of someone sitting in the stands and it’s totally breathtaking.

Screengrab from ACT UP NY: http://www.actupny.org/documents/earlytactics2.html

I’m a big sports fan, especially NFL football. Sometimes when people find this out they seem put off, as if liking sports isn’t rightly feminist or rightly intellectual. This perception has a lot do with live sporting events as spaces that can be exclusionary and even violent toward people who don’t fit the typical sports-fan bill. It also has a lot to do with misconceptions about working class masculinity and violence. Of course, this perception isn’t helped by stuff like Tim Tebow, THE PATRON SAINT OF FOOTBALL, the fighter jet flyovers at the beginning of sports events, the constant association commentators make between contact sports and war, the singing of “God Bless America” during the 7th inning stretch, and the very existence of cheerleading or that thing called Lingerie Football. Cultural studies of sport have shown that there are many small ways in which heterotopic spaces that defy these stereotypes spring up at live sporting events, they’re just usually quiet, or go unremarked except to the people for whom they mean something. The Shea stadium action is remarkable because it puts them front and centre.

Maxine Wolfe sums up what I want to say perfectly in the video I linked to above:

When we came to the floor of ACT UP and we presented the Shea Stadium Action as our Nine Days of Action thing, the room became dead silent. Panic was in the air, absolute panic. So people started to stand up and speak. First, we got the “class” stuff. “We’re gonna get beaten to death there,” and we’re standing there very calmly saying, “Do you know who goes to Shea Stadium? We go to Shea Stadium? Kids go to Shea Stadium on Friday nights to pick each other up. Queers go to Shea Stadium.” And in the room all of a sudden the closet baseball queers started standing up. All these gay men who wouldn’t tell anyone they were baseball nuts because it’s not the “thing to be,” and they started saying, “Yeah! I go to Shea Stadium.” So we finally got people to go.