Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Conflict at Meridian Hill Park drum circle: gay dancer forced to stop dancing?

2014 06 15 - 2028 - DC - Meridian Hill Park

UPDATE: It's maybe not so straightforward. See the comments for this post, especially from "Alpha Master Pimp." (I think that's the first time I've written that in a blog post.) I've also heard from several friends who've seen the dancer before; one said "it's more of a crazy Ru Paul affectation than dancing" and another said he often dances at Metro stops.

Here's a potentially disturbing and homophobic story from this Sunday's Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park drum circle. Local resident Andrew Bossi tweeted that a man was dancing when a drummer told him to stop, that what he was doing was "erotica not African" (presumably because the dancer was homosexual) and told the dancer that dancing was no longer allowed. Some folks there protested and the man kept dancing, but the drummer stood next to him and followed his dancing to get him to stop, then said something quietly to him. Soon thereafter the dancer left. A woman later started to dance and the drummer didn't stop her.

Here's the full story, from Bossi's Flickr feed. You can see his photos in this post, above and below.
A gay man* (with large hair and a green shirt) took to dancing to the rhythms of the weekly drum circle in Meridian Hill Park / Malcolm X Park.

(* I'm making an assumption about sexual orientation here, but I feel pretty confident in my guess. I apologise for repeatedly singling this element out, but it is integral to concisely describing what followed)

As the beats wore down to a pause, another man with long dreads and a visor walked among the drummers collecting signatures, loudly announcing that such dancing would now be prohibited, I quote: "it is not African; it is erotica." 
This drew a mixture of support & opposition from drummers as well as audiencemembers. Swearing, insults, and anger soon followed, primarily sourced from the dreadlock man & a seated drummer wearing a white DC flag shirt and a number of colored arm bands -- these two leading the move against the dancing. The gay man protested peacefully, not raising his voice as he declared his right to dance.

I heard some protests, with several calling out "This park is for everyone". The man in the white shirt eventually gave up on asserting his position & began pounding away on the drums, sparking the next round of the drum circle and drowning out the issue.

The gay man once again took to the center, resuming his dancing. The dreadlock man immediately positioned himself directly beside the dancer, attempting to limit the movements. (Ed: seen above) Eventually the dancer gyrated toward the edge, at which point the dreadlock man moved around and stood directly beside as to block any easy movement back into the center. The dancer wasn't literally trapped in, he could walk out -- but he could not continue dancing without bumping into the dreadlock man.

The two had quietly exchanged words throughout this encounter, ultimately ending in the dancer stepping out of the center and to the side, visibly upset. The dreadlock man subsequently allowed a woman clad in traditional dress take the center & begin dancing, her moves just as provocative as the man's... but my takeaway was that in conforming with gender roles it was deemed "traditional" and therefore acceptable.

It was at this point I walked off, having other things to do in the day and wanting to have no more part of this vitriol other than reporting and documenting the incident.
2014 06 15 - 2017 - DC - Meridian Hill Park 2014 06 15 - 2025 - DC - Meridian Hill ParkI don't have the drummer's point of view, or the dancer, but this seems absurd to me. The entire point of the drum circle is to let people express themselves.

This man was dancing, like many others do at the drum circle. The drummer had no right to make him stop, especially if he did so only because of what he presumed the dancer's sexual preference to be. I'm surprised more people didn't stick up for him.

Below is Bossi's tweeting of the incident and a  responses, plus two more photos.

I hope this sort of thing doesn't happen again, and that folks who come next Sunday won't allow it. Everybody should be able to dance.


  1. An outrage! This is a clear cut example of intimidation and bullying. Just because one drummer did not agree with the dancer's expression of movement, his gender performance, doesn't mean he can coerce him to stop. I feel sorry for the dancer. We should band together and show our solidarity for the dancer by showing up next Sunday and disrupt the conventional forms of gender performativity!

  2. Here we go, I knew that sooner or later white people would find a way to destroy the drum circle. Those men have been drumming in Meridian Hill Park for over 35 years, and now white people have come along with their incidious, treacherous ways to bring a stop to it. The drum circle was there long before white people "discovered" it. But as soon as something happens that they don't like, they want to use their power to stop it. It's an African drum circle (something culturally African that white's will never understand). The drumming and the songs are not erotic and aren't meant for erotic dancing, whether it be a homosexual man or a woman. So now they are determined to "disrupt the conventional forms of gender performativity." That's so white of you. I guess you finally got what you wanted.

  3. I think you must be a troll, anonymous -- that guy with the dreads was trying to stop the other guy (both of whom aren't white) from dancing, calling his dancing erotic. When a woman danced the same way (according to the photographer) the guy didn't think that was erotic. That seems unfair. Either both or neither are erotic -- and anyway, where is the rule that prevents dancing? I've seen dancing there for years. Who is the dancing judge? Your argument makes no sense.

  4. I was the drummer in the White shirt and colorful armbands...
    And what actually was going on was a long standing issue between "Taft" the guy who has the permit with the long hair and the visor AND the other dancer who happens to be Gay BUTT that was NOT the issue with him being singled out (once again) By Taft, not for his sexual lifestyle. But for the ENERGY he was (once again) trying to enforce on the drummers and dancers in that circle in a VERY Selfish and disrespecting manner (once again).
    Now, I do NOT expect many of the people who have posted before or who may have viewed the "incident" that occurred in front of EVERYBODY.
    But it actually IS a personal issue between the TWO OF THEM that I was stating should be handled OUT OD THE VIEW of the public and OUT OF THE CIRCLE that I co lead with many others.
    As far as the LBGT twist to all of this?
    It's NOT that serious. The "boi" in question has some serious mental issues. And when he does show up at first he does cause a disruption in the circle with EVERYONE! And if HIS image was the ONLY image of "lifestyle diversity" any of you noticed during the whole damn day. From 3pm until 9pm.
    Then shame on you!
    We are many. And I do Mean We.
    Now maybe because Our Color and the image of conflict between Taft and the boi and Me trying to get them to take that drama out the circle.
    Keep in mind that throughout the corse of the day both the "boi" dancer in question and Taft calmed down and the circle went back to it's image of diversity as normal.
    For many of you who do NOT know the history of that event or what it stands for and what it does NOT stand for?
    Your gonna have to get a grip on your pearls and stop acting like we can't handle some drama when someone wants to pop up in our church and wanna have a drag show.

    If you stick around us in that circle at THAT event?
    You may just learn something better than assuming black folks can't have nothing without acting like a bunch of

    And you wonder why that event is even there every sunday for 59 years and counting?

    Because we handle conlficts most of you just gossip about.

    All day!


  5. The tweeter started with the assumption that the dancer was gay -- perhaps true but nonetheless an assumption -- and then added in a whole other list of assumptions without ever stopping to think that maybe there was an underlying issue he didn't know about or understand.

    This is why we can't have nice things -- people starting Twitter hate/judgement fests without really understanding what they're talking about, other people passing it on unthinkingly.

    The ironic thing is that drum circle is one of the most diverse, participatory scenes I the city -- except for people like Andrew Bossi who'd rather stand on the sidelines and tweet. He could've spoken up right there.

  6. Alpha Master, I appreciate the background, thanks.

  7. I know the dancer in question. Nice guy sober, but has some serious issues with alcohol and tends to get belligerent when he drinks. Could explain the 'personal issue' referenced by the above commenter. And yes, the OP was correct; he is gay.

  8. @AlphaMasterPimp

    Thank you for your input- I'll seek to incorporate in with my photo's comments. I did inquire with others nearby, but none had any more knowledge of the issue than myself. Going solely off of what was observed & not being familiar with any personal histories between participants, the audience acquired an impression similar to my own.

  9. The boi in question was DRUNK when he showed up.
    We don't allow anyone who is DRUNK to be in the circle dancing around others and disrespecting the drummers, dancers and the vibe/image we are trying to promote.
    LATER on he sobered up and began to "play well with the others"
    Had he been able to join the dancers and NOT stand in the middle of the circle having his own drag show even while others asked him to keep it moving there would have been no issue.
    Taft and him have had words a lot before.
    I joked with Taft that he just may be his illegitimate son the way they keep beefing with each other.
    But he has a history of disrupting the circle with his negative energy.
    Especially when he is HIGH and DRUNK and in need of some form of attention.
    It has less to do with his sexual preference than it does with his attitude and disrespect of the circle on any given day he shows up demanding to be seen as the center of attention in the circle.

    This whole RANT is really the problem.
    Because JUST LIKE THE boi In question it is a attempt to disrespect what the circle stands for and it shows that some local onlookers have no respect for the image we try to promote every sunday.

    Shame on you!


  10. I have personally seen this homophobia in the drum circle for years. Though not flagrantly pronounced, everytime it rears its head it makes me uncomfortable. Some of the elders have been outspoken about homosexuality in the circle and I admit to not engaging as the majority of the participants also did not engage. This creates an environment of passive consent even if we do not all agree. I stay anonymous in this post but hope to put this discussion in perspective. Whatever the specific incident from which this article was written I cannot give an account to but yes, there is discrimination in the circle, and not only to homosexuals but to many different cultures and peoples. As another anonymous poster stated much about race and the orgins of the circle I tend to disagree that this is an African drum circle. This is a community drum circle like those from all over the world, from several different cultures being shared together. At any given moment you can hear Native American drums, Latin drums, African drums, Arabic drums and so on and drums played communally is not an exclusively African tradition. I have much respect, love, and gratitude for the elders who have created and provided us a tradition we can all celebrate in DC and believe they do not deserve to be attacked but there is a culture clash in this circle that can be very hurtful to others that I believe does not embody what we all hope to be, together.

  11. Dear Anonymous:

    The history of THAT DRUM Circle started over 50 years ago. When it FIRST started there was ONLY a few African Americans who was taught by the creator of that event ALLOWED to play drums in THAT circle. After Doc Barnette took over there was ONLY ONE white person allowed to play and later the leader would ONLY allow others who took classes from him in that circle. Only after years of that circle growing and many more experienced drummers showed up did the LEADER allow a few others to join. THAT DRUM CIRCLE was NEVER a free for all community event. ONLY after the last leader died did WE allow others to join AS LONG AS THEY RESPECTED the REASON WHY that event was created. William Taft NOW owns the permit for THAT event with the Park Service. And there are rules that state NO SMOKING and No DRINKING IN THE CIRCLE. Also NO Drunk displays of lewd dancing. What that guy was doing WAS LEWD and He was DRUNK and disrespectful to the other drummers AND the dancers that could not dance because he was having his own personal drunken drag show in the middle of the circle. Now, as far as Sexuality within the circle? There is None. NONE. The Drum Circle is a spiritual event. While there are many people who attend the circle who do not want ANYONE displaying their SEXUALITY in that circle, we do no discriminate. The Drum Circle is and has ALWAYS been a African American lead event. Just as the Nick Name of the park being named Malcolm X park is also. It celebrates the emancipation of ALL washingtonians not Gay Pride. Yes it has NOW become a community event as long as the community respects the reason WHY WE ALL attend that event. It is a spiritual event. Willaim Taft owns the permit and enforces the rules. And the Boy in question was being disrespectful to everything that event was about. And he knew it. And that was not the first time he has been told to NOT walk into that circle dancing like it was some personal drag show. Now if you have a problem with it? Take your complaints to William Taft personally. You have his name and you know what he looks like. Now be a adult and voice your complaints with Him. I'm one of the leaders of that drum circle. As long as NOBODY causes conflict in THAT circle they are free to join us. And I'm a member of the LBGT community. So miss Me with that homophobia bullcrap!

  12. To refer to someones dancing as a "drag show" is already making it a homophobic issue, I'm sorry that it is difficult for that to be understood but it is very prejudiced, and to continually point to the origins of this circle as to what it was traditionally and not what it is now is outdated and exactly what I am claiming is exclusionary. Was it alright when only 1 white person was allowed to play???? In this response by alpha master I feel as though all my points have been validated but I for one continually watch this circle develop into something more than what it was. I know that is difficult to understand for some but for those who pray for the dream of MLK the circle provides hope for our future as a society that lives together. I have personally attended this drum circle (when they were circles) on and off for 2 decades and have seen it grow and change and although some want to cling on to the ideas of the past soon they will evaporate. Homosexuals have been discussed in the circle by a few elders and although that claim is either being ignored, excused, or even refuted, it is true, as I have witnessed it. I am sorry this is difficult for so many but it is necessary for us to change. Everything changes. As I said before, I respect where this circle originated but we have moved beyond what it was and I am hopeful for what it can and is becoming. Thank you author for having the courage to present an issue that has needed to be discussed for years.

  13. The whole narrative on the supposed history of the drum circle by 'master pimp' is wrong, wrong, wrong. There was never a leader, and there was never ANY attempt to exclude White musicians or anyone else. The whole idea that the permit holder, a man named Taft, can dictate rules for this event is just nonsense. Pure nonsense. Chitto - a member in good standing of the Malcolm X Park drum circle since the mid 1970s.

  14. there will never be" diversity ", as you said anonymous as you go on to talk about the whites trying to control the drum circle as they always do for so many things, sounds to me that hate has made a full circle and black folks are aaah dare I say, just like whites in their vitriol. In other words there really isn't a lot of difference between blacks and whites except the haters on both sides that wish to continue the hate till the end of times. Now I don't blame black folks from being a bit protective when whites show up, history says a lot about what whites have done to blacks but once again you prove wonderfully how we really are the same, humans. Now white folks and black folks should start up a drum circle and just call it a drum circle because humans have been drumming all over the world and maybe this is something that can bring us all together for a couple of hours and maybe in the process friendships will ensue that go past the color lines. If we start the drum circle together then a bunch of whites won't come in as they always do to ruin it, it will have been started by a diverse group of humans.

  15. Anonymous, will whites always find a way to ruin everything? Sounds like you have a lot of anger, I don't know if you are African American or not but hate and expecting another group to always act in one way is so tiring and so American in it's nonsense and revolting never ending bs. African Americans have a right to be a little weary of Whites in this country and around the world, the history shows us this but if you get the book Guns Germs and Steele by Gerod Diamond you will see how similar we all really are. I don't know what the answer is but I see brown and black people eventually being the dominant people in the U.S. and the payback will be a MF for Whites because HUMANS don't learn to fast. I see the hate making full circle while reading your comments and it's sad because eventually the White's will band together and be a pain in the ass to brown skinned people because they are discriminated against, it's like a wheel that never stops turning and proving to us that we basically are all the same, black, brown and white and the sooner we all realize this the better off the planet will be. Presently I see some that are heading in this direction of diversity and acceptance but not enough and not fast enough. On the subject of Gay people, I think this world is a better place with them in it but they have been hated equally around the world and shamefully blacks and whites hate them equally one thing we can all agree on and join hands singing Kumbayah. Just hop on over to Africa and see how Gays are hated there, the Middle East, Caribbean, America's, Muslim's, Christian's, Orthodox Jews, they all would rather see Gay people in the closet or dead. I see the Gays going eventually back in the closet, afraid, alone and destined to live lives that do not nourish who they are because Islam and Christianity is on the rise, even in many European cities Islam will be the dominate religion and so far there is not the slightest move to include Gays in any way sort or form except death, prison or ostracizing. Isn't the world a grand place because Whites will always find a way to ruin everything, along with Black and Brown people united in insanity.


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