From Glitter to Gay Hordes :: Equality Activist Nick Espinosa

Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 7 MIN.

Nick Espinosa has just turned 25 years old, but he's made a political impression at a national level -- and he's done it with glitter.

Espinosa, who works full time in the field of equal rights advocacy, shot to national fame when he doused anti-gay politician Newt Gingrich with glitter at a book signing last spring while shouting, "Feel the rainbow, Newt! Stop the hate! Stop anti-gay politics!"

The May 17 glittering of Newt resulted in a story from the Associated Press, which dubbed the young activist a "prankster." But while Espinosa appreciates the value of putting a fun, and eye-catching, spin on his message, he's not simply fooling around. He's serious about the work of securing legal and civil equality for minorities, including GLBTs, and their families.

Espinosa found validation from the very same source when the AP followed up with an article calling so-called glitter bombing a "trendy new tactic," and referring to those who resorted to it as "glitterati." Pies in the face might suddenly seem pass�, and sticks and stones the airborne missiles of choice for none but the hopelessly drab.

Glitter is spectacularly flashy, but it also has the benefit of being completely harmless. It's hard to imagine assault charges stemming from a good glittering, and to be sure, to date, no such charges have been filed. That, Espinosa suggested to the AP, is as much due to the targets' own media savvy as anything. "They don't want to talk about it -- it's embarrassing to them," the young equality leader said. "If they were to press charges, it would make them look bad."

After Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann were glittered by other protesters who had heard of the new tactic and liked it.

More recently, Espinosa and a horde of gay "barbarians" staged a pair of protests -- in costume, and with a lot of dramatic, as well as visual, spectacle -- at a Christian counseling clinic run by GOP presidential contender Michele Bachmann and her husband, Marcus.

The horde showed up not just once, on July 21, but once again, on Aug. 25. On the first visit they paid to the clinic, where so-called "reparative therapy" is allegedly practiced, the horde demanded to see Marcus Bachmann for some disciplining.

The theme of the protest was a reference to comments that Marcus Bachmann had allegedly made on a Christian radio broadcast, in which Mr. Bachmann called gays the "barbarians" that threaten America. Bachmann declared that gays need "discipline" and corrective "action steps," and critiqued counseling models in which the patient's feelings are the focus of the session.

"We have to understand: Barbarians need to be educated," Bachmann reportedly said on the May 12, 2010 broadcast of "Point of View," a radio show that purports to promote a "biblical Christian worldview."

"They need to be disciplined," Bachmann continued. "Just because someone feels it or thinks it doesn't mean that we are supposed to go down that road. That's what is called the sinful nature. We have a responsibility as parents and as authority figures not to encourage such thoughts and feelings from moving into the action steps."

Marcus Bachmann has since claimed that he did not make those statements, and said that what appears to be a recording of him speaking on the air is actually the result of his comments being re-edited and taken out of context.

The Bachmanns' clinics reportedly traffic in so-called "reparative therapy," a mode of treatment promoted by anti-gay religious groups. The claim is that such therapy can "cure" gays.

Reputable mental health professionals dispute the notion that being gay is a pathological condition, and warn that such treatments are bound to fail if applied to gays. There is some question as to whether bisexuals looking to focus on one gender exclusively might find such therapy useful.

Marcus Bachmann has denied that anyone at his clinics tries to press reparative therapy onto gay clients. But the gay horde needs his personal assurance.

When Espinosa and his horde showed up a second time, the staff of the clinic locked the doors at the sight of them. But the group didn't need to come inside and request a spanking from Bachmann: They brought one of their own.

One of their own Marcus Bachmanns, that is: A local actor portrayed Mr. Bachmann, wielding a whip and promising to set the horde to rights. But, armed with the Lady Gaga song "Born This Way," the horde "baptized" Bachmann in effigy by dousing the actor in sparkling confetti. The passion play ended with the Bachmann character being transformed into a dancing supporter of GLBT rights.

From comedies to dramas to action-adventure blockbusters, Hollywood thinks in threes. Espinosa's "gay horde" certainly possessed elements of all those genres, so would he be back to complete a trilogy of his own?

"As long as politicians like Michele Bachmann continue to profit off of a harmful and discredited 'therapy,' you can expect people to continue to find smart, creative, and fun actions to hold them accountable for their repulsive behavior," was all Espinosa would tell EDGE in the course of an interview conducted over the weekend.

"The strength of what we have been doing is that humor is an incredibly powerful tool for communicating a message -- even a deadly serious one," Espinosa added. "We dance to give hope to ourselves, and to one another in the face of absurdly cruel attacks on our communities."

The young equality advocate recalled the moment inspiration struck, setting on course for his memorable encounter with Gingrich.

"It came about quite spontaneously when I saw on twitter that Newt Gingrich was going to be signing books at a fundraiser for the group pushing the anti-gay marriage amendment in Minnesota," Espinosa recalled. "I knew I needed to come up with a sensational action that would bring attention to the hypocrisy of Newt telling people they can't get married to the person they love while he is on his third wife -- and glitter seemed a fabulous fit!

"The glittering of Newt came the week after the Republican legislators rammed through their hateful legislation that would try to constitutionally ban same sex couples from marriage," Espinosa added.

"My friends and I were all shocked and angry that a state like Minnesota would be the place where right wingers would bring their archaic social agenda, and try to send us back in time while we are looking ahead for full equality for all people."

If it all seems too ferociously and flamboyantly inventive to be the work of a straight man, then take a deep breath, set your prejudices aside, and believe it: Espinosa is not gay.

But the straight ally can still identify with the rage and pain of GLBT Americans who see their rights as individuals and as families traded away for political gain. As a young man, Espinosa saw firsthand what the politics of marginalization to do real people unfortunate enough to be caught up in the mechanisms of demonization and political scapegoating.

"When I was 15 my father was deported," Espinosa told EDGE. "Without warning, agents arrived to our house and took him into custody. It was a devastating blow to our family, and something that took me years to fully understand as a freshman in high school.

"The feeling of powerlessness as an unjust system tore apart my family is one that has stuck with me, and one that motivates me to stand up for the rights of families to stick together and to fight against anything that would keep them apart," Espinosa added.

"I know that my experience is not isolated, and that millions of families have been ripped apart by our broken immigration system, and by archaic views on LGBT equality, and until we organize and fight back it won't stop."

One contrast not missing here is that when anti-gay and anti-choice activists strike, they sometimes resort to real bombs. Espinosa sticks to glitter, though the media has dubbed his tactic "glitter bombing." What does that say about GLBT equality advocates and their opponents?

"It's almost laughable that people like Glenn Beck and Mike Huckabee claim that glitter is assault," Espinosa mused. "I would laugh if they weren't assaulting people's humanity on a daily basis, and if their constant inflammatory rhetoric didn't produce real violence in the form of the attacks we've seen from abortion clinics in the U.S. to summer camps in Norway.

"The fact that they get so upset over something as fabulous as glitter just goes to show that their hateful views are heading towards extinction as a new generation shows its power -- we are winning."

It can only help the cause of civic parity that the glittery tent Espinosa occupies it large enough for all orientations.

"I'm not gay, but as a young person I feel that this is a basic human rights issue that I cannot ignore," the young equality advocate told EDGE. "It hurts me to see politicians who want to legislate against love and prevent my friends from having equal rights to marry whom they choose, and to have the right to visit their partner on their deathbed.

"I also know many same-sex couples from the immigrant community who are undocumented and are unable to get citizenship through marriage like other couples forcing them to continue living in the shadows," Espinosa, who also works on immigration rights issues, added.

If coming out as gay to relatives is daunting, how much more difficult might it be to reveal to dear Mom that one is a puckish political activist with a sense of style and a flair for the scintillating? In Espinosa's case, it's not fraught at all with familial angst.

"My family is proud of me and the work I do," Espinosa said. "They raised me to stand up and speak out against injustice and tell me how proud of me they are for doing so."

A burst of glitter is eye-catching, beautiful... but also quite temporary. Espinosa may have caught lightning, or a reasonable facsimile of it, in a bottle, but what will he do when his 15 minutes of fame is up?

That's not, however, what the young rights leader is thinking about. The glitter is a means to an end, not a fashion statement or signature style.

"I think the glitter activism serves a very specific purpose of bringing media attention to the hateful views of anti-gay politicians," Espinosa told EDGE. "Of course, it will take all kinds of tactics and dedicated organizing to win full equality, and I look forward to being part of a lifelong movement for justice and equality for all people."

As for being dismissed as a "prankster" and generating controversy with his methods, Espinosa isn't at all worried that his meaning will be missed in the midst of the fun.

"I believe people are able to separate a sensational tactic from the serious message behind it," he told EDGE. "I couldn't pull of these kinds of actions without a deep commitment to what I'm fighting for --�it takes a lot of discipline!"

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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