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  • Samira Burnside

As Anti-Queer Legislation Ramps Up, LGBTQ+ People learn how to defend themselves

On May 17th, Florida governor Ron DeSantis (who recently announced his campaign for the 2024 Presidential Election) put into action 5 different Anti-LGBTQ bills that covered everything from drag bans to trans bathroom bans. On May 20th, a group called Found Family Collective, in concert with an organization called Weapon Brand, ran a self-defense training course directed at the LGBTQ+ community.


Found Family Collective is a “Grassroots Non-Profit that exists to connect transgender, lesbian, gay and queer people together intergenerationally with events and programming that are designed to facilitate joy, dignity, connectedness and resilience. It is a relief from the political and social climate that we’re in in Florida right now.” according to an officer and founding-member of the organization, Angel D’Angelo. Found Family Collective began in July of 2022 as a reaction to the “(Bullshit) going on in the legislature” at the time, most likely in regards to bills like the Don’t Say Gay law, which was recently expanded by the Florida Board of Education to forbid the vague teaching of “Gender and sexual identity”, including LGBTQ+ histories, in classrooms. Angel got together with a few people that he knew had investment in the future of the LGBTQ+ communities, and over the course of several meetings, found Family Collective emerged.


(Angel D'Angelo of Found Family Collective.)


Since their first event in November of 2022, Found Family Collective has hosted many varied events aimed at the queer community. From mother’s day gatherings for those who don’t have a mother in their lives to community open mic nights. When Found Family Collective was advertising their first event, a “thanksgiving” event that provided a found-family like space for queer people who had been outcast from or otherwise had no family to go to on “so-called Thanksgiving”, they received contact from a group called Weapon Brand. Weapon Brand is a self-defense training company helmed by cousins Jamie Anderson and Brian Anderson Needham. They usually train the employees of companies who want their workers to be safe, but Brian has also trained over 50,000 law enforcement, probation and correctional officers. They reached out to Found Family Collective proactively in reaction to a gay-bar shooting in Colorado to give out coupons for their classes at the event, and one thing led to another and this self defense series began in April 2023. The class on May 20th was the second class in the 4 class series.


 

“You might look at me and go ‘what does he know about our community?’, and I don’t, but I know people.”

 

“You might look at me and go ‘what does he know about our community?’, and I don’t, but I know people.” Said Brian Anderson-Needham at the start of the class, standing in a circle of wary yet attentive listeners. Soon after Brian’s introduction, Cet Mohamed-Moore, a co-founder of Found Family Collective, went up to speak about some concerns involving Brian’s involvement with the class. One of Found Family Collective’s stated goals is being anti-oppression, and Brian is someone who has trained over 50,000 law enforcement, probation and correctional officers, and in the eyes of many folks in the community, anti-oppression rhetoric is directly opposed to the police and prison industrial complex, especially as Found Family Collective practices restorative justice in handling conflicts.


(Brian Anderson-Needham (Left) and Jamie Anderson (right) displaying a technique)


But this complaint was answered readily and with compassion. Cet spoke about how Brian, as someone who worked with those groups, knows how those groups train and think, and he is effectively taking those tools out of the hands of those law enforcement agencies and delivering them into the hands of the people, the everyday citizen, so that they can protect themselves too. Weapon Brand’s primary customer base is, after all, businesses, both local and national, and the people who work in them. Why shouldn’t citizens have the same tools to protect themselves as law enforcement? With all of the preamble out of the way, Brian began the class.


(Cet Mohamed-Moore, photo taken by Stephanie Colombini for WUSF Public Media)


The class was a mix of psychological training as well as physical technique training. Brian taught a cautionary style of self-defense, avoiding aggravation of the aggressor as much as possible and teaching the class how to pick up on the signs of something bad about to happen as much as he taught them how to defend against an aggressor. Brian described the class as “Not so much a self-defense class, but a situational awareness class.”. The class ran through several likely scenarios, primarily involving aggressors coming from behind, but also how to defend against one coming from the front through strikes. An air of proactivity ran through the class. At one point, Brian said: “We’re trying to build empowerment so that there are no more victims.”


No more victims.


Angel D’Angelo credits Cet Mohamed-Moore with the initial urge for self defense for the queer community. D’Angelo himself tracks hate-crime data and says that the rates of hate crimes for trans women, gay men and GNC people or people perceived as such has continued to rise since Trump was elected, in 2016. Ryan McElhaney, the owner of CrossFit ABF, the location where this self defense class was hosted, says that “With the amount of hatred and intolerance that’s present right now, having this kind of information for this community is huge… For me, the most important part is providing a safe space for this to happen. We pride ourselves in that here, in providing this safe space and being inclusive and being welcoming.” Jamie Anderson says that her “Heart goes out” to the LGBTQ+ community, and that the fact that the community is being targeted is what makes these classes and learning self-defense so important, because “Every human being needs to be safe”.



Many attendees in the crowd were there specifically because of the recent laws passed in Florida. Take for instance, Noah Lovell. He attended the class in reaction to the bill, and during the class, brought up how escaping a situation in an enclosed space like a bathroom might work with him in his wheelchair. Recently, in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 1521, a bill which was sponsored by Scott Plakon. This bill would criminalize the existence of trans people in bathrooms, and has already led to many GNC and trans people being harassed in public restrooms. When Noah raised this question, Brian responded attentively. While he taught the rest of the class to make distance from the attacker, he gave Noah some specialized instruction based around his specific mobility. Noah says that he always thought he would be a “sitting duck” if anything were to happen, but that self-defense knowledge gave him a “Peace of Mind”. He says that this peace of mind comes because, “I know that I can protect myself, and that I can help protect my girlfriend and the people that I love. Because, most of us- we just want to live. We just want to live like everybody else does, but unfortunately other people don’t want us to. I-we have to be prepared for any situation.”


“Stop counting on someone to save you. There is no one coming to save you. Get that in your head, and if they do, buy em lunch.”

Oftentimes, queer and trans people are portrayed as hapless victims, unable to defend themselves, in need of representation and aid. However, the event had a feeling of confidence to it. As people practiced their repetitions of self defense techniques they laughed, adjusted their posture, and tried again, getting better and better each time. Brian made an important note to emphasize the importance of self-defense and proactively learning techniques like these. He said that “The average police response time is between 18 and 21 minutes. The first 45 seconds of an encounter are the most important.”. The “No more victims” sentiment mentioned earlier echoed through the entire class. Near the start of the class, Brian made a statement that set the tone for the rest of it:

“Stop counting on someone to save you. There is no one coming to save you. Get that in your head, and if they do, buy em lunch.”

There is a world in which this statement could sound grim, could lower the mood of the class, a begrudging acceptance of a world that won’t save you, but it didn’t. Instead, the class laughed, internalized the message, and engaged. During practice periods, Brian and Jamie, his cousin and CEO of Weapon Brand, would go around and give advice to folks as they practiced. By the end of the class, everyone was laughing and more confident.


(Members of the class practice the techniques they learned.)


As organizations like the NAACP and Equality Florida issue travel warnings and urge trans and queer people to leave, as the Department of Homeland Security says that LGBTQ+ people are “likely targets of potential violence”, as pride events that were once profitable are canceled and corporations cash out even before pride month hits, as more and more celebrities like Dwayne Wade leave Florida, queer people here buckle down. Ingrid, a transgender attendee of the class said that “A lot of my friends are looking for escape routes, you know, to move somewhere… Unfortunately for me it’s much harder. I have a child here that I need to take care of and they are queer too, so, you know, getting back into the community and trying to support each other is important right now, more than ever.”



 

You can attend the next self defense class on July 15th, from 11 am to 3pm at the Allendale UMC. For more info, view this link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/queer-self-defense-active-shooteraggressor-training-tickets-642498198407

You can find Found Family Collective @foundfamilycollective on Instagram and Found Family Collective on Facebook.


You can find Weapon Brands Services and events here as well: https://weaponbrand.com/


This article was written by Samira Burnside. You can contact her for inquires at sburnside@thequeernotion.com .


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