"I had no idea what gay people were until late middle school," Andy says. "I saw on the news a gay-pride parade, and I remember watching the people march. I thought, Oh my God, that's so disgusting—why are there so many?" He started secretly cutting his arms and legs; before long, he was suicidal.
He came out as a lesbian at 14, but his identity continues to morph. "I'm a dyke and tranny and boi and grrl and fag," he tells me. Not long ago, he had "top surgery"—a double mastectomy. "I know hundreds of people" with similar church stories, he says. "We're still healing, still coping. I didn't want anyone else to go through that."
As he puts kindling on the fire, he says that the group has been lying low since the church action. "Police harassment," he says. "They called one girl's landlord and her parents, outed her as a radical and a queer."
"They called my parents, too, and tried to get me to talk," says a member named Travis.
In the end, Mount Hope responded with a lawsuit accusing 14 Bash Back! members from several states of violating the church's constitutional rights.
"It's outrageous," Tristyn Trailer-Trash says. "The really offensive part is they didn't respect the preferred genders of the people they sued."
The suit alleges that Bash Back! blocked worshippers from entering and leaving the church, violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances act. The law, known as FACE, was created to curb the use of intimidation during the anti-abortion protests of the 1990s. But it also protects places of worship from tactics aimed at keeping parishioners away. "The intentionally threatening actions of the individual defendants left Church members feeling terrified," the lawsuit states. It also alleges that Bash Back! members vandalized the building by pulling fire alarms, a charge Andy and the others deny.
"There was no damage done to that church," says attorney Tracie Dominique Palmer. "They did not pull any fire alarm. There were no assaults, no arrests. There was no blocking entrances. This was an exercise of free speech."
Mount Hope insists its main goal is to keep groups like Bash Back! from returning. "If they didn't shout offensive things about Christ, and go up and kiss onstage, we wouldn't be talking about this," says Kevin Theriot, the attorney representing the church. "I mean, this wasn't an MTV awards show. We're trying to protect folks who are worshipping from people using terroristic means to make a political point."
In May, with their fate still undecided, Andy and his cohorts go to Chicago for Bash Back!'s national "radical queer convergence." All told, more than 300 members descend on the DePaul University campus for workshops on queer theory, movement history, and make-your-own sex toys. Organizers patrol the student union with walkie-talkies. Participants adopt false names to confound infiltrators and anyone who might want to serve legal papers. Andy is now Maxxx. He has shaved his hair into a Mohawk and wears a baggy T-shirt, revealing forearm tattoos of Molotov cocktails and hand grenades.