Hey, remember the Felker Kerfuffle? When the anti-trans chair of the Burlington Republican Committee accused attendees at this year’s Pride Parade of assaulting poor old Fred Sergeant, Stonewall vet turned cranky anti-trans old man? The alleged incident got a huge amount of attention in the teeny-tiny far-right ecosystem of Vermont journalism. At a September event held by the Pride Center, Felker tried to wring more juice from the lemon by leading a small band of protesters defending Sargeant’s honor.
Felker made his accusations. There was seemingly no evidence, so it seemed like a Rashomon situation that would never be resolved.
Turns out, Felker videotaped the entire Pride Parade “assault.” He never publicly released the video even as he continued to cry foul because it shows no assault by any legal standard. Certainly nothing that threatened Sargeant’s personal safety in any way. If there was anything like a physical attack, Felker failed to capture it on video.
I know this because someone got hold of the video and posted the entire 18 minutes on YouTube. Feel free to watch it yourself. I have, and I took extensive notes. You’ll pardon me if I go on at length. But there are no word counts in blogging, so I can Zapruder this baby if I see fit.
Before we proceed, let me stipulate that Sargeant was, indeed, a participant in the Stonewall riots. He should be honored for that. But it doesn’t give him a lifetime pass to be hateful. Sometime between 1969 and now, his heart shriveled down to a raisin-sized niblet of prejudice.
Sargeant clearly went to Pride with intent to provoke. He was standing as close to the parade route as he could. He was holding a long stick and a sign that said “Gay Not Queer” on the back*. (He frequently had trouble keeping a grip on both sign and stick.) On the front of the sign was a red circle with a line through it and the words, “Black Face, Woman Face.” This is apparently Sargeant’s own way of denigrating trans women and drag queens (?!?) as the equivalent of blackface performers. Charming.
*Both Sargeant and Felker are affiliated with the LGB Alliance, a group that claims to fight for gay and lesbian rights but spends most of its time denigrating transgender folk and other non-binary types. They draw the line at “B”.
For those who normally feel isolated and othered, Pride is a time when everyone’s in the same boat and everyone is accepted for who they are. It’s an unabashedly joyous time. And there was Sargeant, like a guy who crashes a pool party and tosses a turd in the water. Did he get some blowback? What else could he have expected?
It’s also clear that Felker was there to catch people mistreating Sargeant. He protested otherwise in a long conversation with a parade participant named Evan. Evan accused Felker of being there for the express purpose of capturing something nefarious on tape.
“The whole street, you just happened to be there at that moment recording,” he said.
Felker replied, “Until [Sargeant] started getting approached, I didn’t even think about recording.”
Well, that’s a damn lie. For the first four and a half minutes of the video, Felker is standing in the back pointing his camera in Sargeant’s direction. Sargeant is barely visible in front of the crowd, holding his sign above his head. Felker started taping long before there was any visible sign of trouble.
During that time, participants holding rainbow umbrellas and banners start trying to block Sargeant’s sign from view. That’s the “getting approached” part. At the 4:20 mark, Sargeant is surrounded on all sides by the ad hoc rainbow barrier. He starts moving around, trying to make his sign more visible.
At 4:40, a woman makes a grab for the sign.
Felker immediately pushes forward, gets right in there. “Hey, what are you doing?” he says. “What are you doing? What are you doing? You realize you’re assaulting this man?” As he says this, his camera swings toward the woman. Sargeant is not in frame for a few seconds.
“So? I’m not hurting him,” the woman says, and moves off.
That, my friends, is the first “assault” we see. A woman trying to grab Sargeant’s sign and failing. It’s possible that something else happened while Sargeant was off camera, but when he comes back into view he’s standing there having an animated conversation with a couple of people. There is no evidence of anything physical.
Sargeant continues to angle his sign for better visibility. At about the six-minute mark, Felker is talking to a parade participant, a gray-haired bearded man in a green T-shirt who doesn’t particularly care for Sargeant’s sign.
“This is Fred Sargeant,” Felker tells green T. “He was at the first Stonewall. Maybe you’re unaware that that happened.”
“I am aware,” green T replied.
“I don’t think you are,” Felker said. Nice.
At the 6:20 mark, a couple of participants seem to be arguing with Sargeant. A young person in a gray ballcap steps forward and makes a grab for the sign and then steps away.
A few seconds later, a woman points at the sign and says to Sargeant, “You don’t need to be here to hate, sir. Why don’t you just go home?”
If Sargeant responds, it’s inaudible. He starts waving his sign back and forth. At the same time, he’s waving the long stick or maybe just having trouble controlling it. Either way, it’s a bit dangerous.
At 6:55, a participant says ““Sir, I will call the cops if you move your stick one more time.”
Felker moves back about 10 feet. Sargeant is making strenuous efforts to gain better visibility for his sign. At 7:50, a man with a black beard and hair in a ponytail engages Sargeant in conversation. Felker moves closer. Ponytail tells a couple of participants to back off and give Sargeant more room.
At 8:26, Ballcap returns and makes another grab for the sign. Sargeant resists. Ballcap steps away and then reaches for the sign again. Sargeant keeps hold. Ballcap makes one more try. Sargeant turns briskly away from him, protecting the sign. Ballcap moves off.
Here’s one of the, um, assaults.
And… that’s it.
Felker continues taping for nearly 10 minutes, but captures no other physical contact between Sargeant and anyone in the crowd. In fact, he spends most of that time taping his conversation with Evan, not focusing on Sargeant.
For those keeping score at home, two people make separate attempts to take away Sargeant’s sign. They fail. They make no physical contact with him, as far as can be seen.
Now, Felker claims that other stuff happened, that Sargeant got knocked to the ground and someone threw a cup of coffee on him. None of that stuff sis seen on Felker’s video. If there had been real assaults and Felker was there to capture them, he failed.
That said, there were light brown stains on Sargeant’s white T-shirt, so the coffee claim may be true. But it’s unproven. And honestly, if that’s the worst that happened, Sargeant should count himself lucky. Turd in the swimming pool.
During his conversation with Evan, Felker repeatedly claims he was only there to ensure Sargeant’s safety. Perhaps. But at no point did Felker physically intervene or even put down his camera. His first priority was capturing video, not protecting anyone.
Felker failed. He never caught sight of the man on the grassy knoll. His video does nothing to prove his assertions. Unless, that is, he’s using a particularly all-encompassing definition of “assault.” Grabbing a sign.
The grabbers may have overreacted, but if I’d been there for a celebration of community and some asshole was there with a purposefully provocative sign, I would have thought about grabbing it myself. If Sargeant suffered injury or inconvenience off-camera, well, he put himself — with forethought — in harm’s way. Doesn’t justify physical intervention, but it does help explain it.
Fred Sargeant is, for whatever reason, a bitter man who hates the very people who would have fought alongside him at Stonewall. Felker is a living, walking troll who does everything with a smirk. When Evan told him not to bother running for office again, Felker insisted he would in spite of his record of complete futility. Troll on the ballot.
He set up a trap for the Pride participants. They didn’t bite. So he simply claims that they did.