PWR BTTM Talk Anti-Gay Protest at Mississippi Show: 'We Weren't Going to be Intimidated'


Reports of homophobic, xenophobic, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic taunts and threats have risen in the week since Republican Donald Trump was elected as the nation's 45th president, with the Southern Poverty Law Center logging more than 430 incidents of "hateful intimidation and harassment" since the end of the contentious election and Monday morning (Nov. 14).

Not counted in that tally is a scary scene that unfolded outside of the club Big Sleepy's in Jackson, Mississippi, on Wednesday night (Nov. 16) before a show by queer punk duo PWR BTTM. When the pair arrived at the venue they were confronted by a handful of protesters holding up signs with biblical verses and yelling homophobic slurs at the audience. 

Billboard spoke to members Liv Bruce and Ben Hopkins (who both use the pronouns they/them) about the incident. 

"We have never been directly protested by a bunch of a--holes like this before," says guitarist/singer Ben Hopkins. "There's a million people out there who would love to stand in the way of a queer, all-ages show with gender neutral bathrooms... and the more we started touring the more I anticipated it." What's important to Hopkins, 25, is to not blame Mississippi at large (or the venue, which they said was really great about the whole thing), because bigotry exists everywhere, but to take away the positive from that night: "we met a group of amazing people of all ages who came to our show to create a queer community that existed before PWR BTTM did."

The band chronicled the incident on Twitter. 

this is happening at the show tn. I am completely unafraid; I am sad for them.

- pwr bttm (@PWRBTTMBAND) November 17, 2016

These protestors at our show said my asshole was going to fall out, and I was like I think im a better bottom than that

- pwr bttm (@PWRBTTMBAND) November 17, 2016


And, instead of shrinking from the threat or trying to fight fire with fire, the pair simply ignored the hate and fought back by moving the entrance to the back of the club to ensure the safety of their fans and covering the front window to block out the haters. "It was just four men with big signs who showed up to start the night and I got all up in their grills... but then we quickly moved everyone inside, which was amazing, because then it was just four dumb men standing on a corner alone with their dumb signs," Hopkins said. 

Yelling things like "you're gonna burn in a lake of fire" and "you're a man and you're not allowed to dress like that," did nothing to deter the group, their fans or support acts. (Frankly, Hopkins said burning in a lake of fire sounded "kind of amazing.") Both Hopkins and bandmate drummer/singer Liv Bruce, 23, saw the protesters for what they were, people who "just wanted attention and when you don't give it to them they fall like a soufleé," Hopkins joked. 

Asked if the election of Trump might have played a part in this micro-protest, Hopkins said these kinds of homophobes certainly existed before, but "hell yeah they're emboldened by a racist, homophobic, Cheeto monster demagogue being president of America." 

You can stand out front all you want. But we're not gonna look at you.

- S T E V E N ⚡️ (@GetSiQSteve) November 17, 2016

When the hate group outside our show stood by the window, as blocked them out. Thank you, MS

- pwr bttm (@PWRBTTMBAND) November 17, 2016

A lot of people have been blaming Mississippi for our weird night last night and that's just not the case.

- pwr bttm (@PWRBTTMBAND) November 17, 2016


Bruce did engage at one point, walking out to the protest huddle with three dresses they were deciding between for the show and asking the hatemongers which one they should wear. "They said 'you'll go to hell' [for wearing a dress] and I just said, 'yes, but which one will make me go to the cushiest level of hell?'" they taunted back at the homophobic huddle. "We went back and forth, 'this one is too revealing,' one was my modest housewife dress and then I picked one they didn't really like and that really upset them. I took some selfies with them because the best thing I could do was treat them as anything but a real threat."  

Bruce said they never felt unsafe and after the show the group started screaming more epithets and trying to get the band and their supporters to engage. "It was almost like they missed us and wanted more attention because we hadn't given them any," Bruce said. "I can relate to that because I love attention, but I think there are better ways to get it." 

Hopefully this was an isolated incident, but Hopkins said they are "very concerned" about what a Trump America might mean for the band. "But I don't ever lose faith in large groups of people to overcome small groups of small-minded people," they said. At the very least, Hopkins was not intimidated, but rather emboldened by the love of the fans at the show, the venue and the bands and far-flung supporters who've weighed in since. Besides, Hopkins says, they are not one to be trifled with.

"I certainly gave them a piece of my mind at first," they said. "I laid it out for them very straightforward that we weren't going to be intimidated and if they laid one hand on one kid at our show I would drain their souls with my proboscis... because you know I'm a witch. I think they were intimidated."