Violence directed toward gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer and intersex persons is a topic that brings sadness and disgust to the hearts of many people, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Denver resident Joseph “Obi” Oberdier is especially passionate about this topic, which was his inspiration for creating a free self-defense class, which he teaches at Cheesman Park every Saturday at noon.
“The first priority of this class is functional self-defense for the Metro-area queer community so that [they] know how to defend [themselves],” Oberdier said. “The second priority is to help raise money for different queer-related charities.”
Before last Saturday’s class, Oberdier gave a personal lesson to Robert Abelardo, the first student that he has trained from white belt to black belt in karate. As noon drew closer, nine more students arrived.
Before the lesson began, Oberdier gave a disclaimer that the class would not contain any “kill moves” and that it was aimed at self-defense and enabling them to escape an attacker.
During the first half of class, Oberdier taught the students three different choke-defense moves, which they practiced on each other. The second half of class contained a lesson about how to break free if an attacker has them pinned to the ground.
Finally, the students practiced 90-second grappling sessions, with different partners each time, to become used to different techniques and sizes of attackers. However, Oberdier warned the students of a 100-pushup penalty if they were to hit another student too hard.
Oberdier said that during the last two weeks since starting this class, it has seen gay males, straight males, an HIV positive male and a drag queen in attendance.
“Now we just need lesbians,” he said.
Each student seemed to be having fun and socializing with their fellow students.
“I think it’s really important for everybody to know how to defend themselves or at least protect themselves, even if it’s just basic,” Metro student Laslo Pires said.
Oberdier used to teach students at various martial arts studios, but now he only gives two of his advanced students extended lessons in another location, in addition to the classes at Cheesman Park.
“I started martial arts because I was getting beat up for being gay,” he said. “It’s obviously something that I’ve cared about for a very long time.”
Oberdier understands the need not only for self-defense in the GLBTQI community, but also self-confidence.
“I ran into some homophobes coming home from a night out last spring and while my friends were fine afterwards, I was trembling like a leaf in the wind,” UCD student and Vice-President of the Auraria Genders and Sexualities Alliance, Kevin Anderson said.
“Since I started taking Obi’s class, I have been able to feel better about being unafraid to be flamboyant and obviously gay. I feel empowered, like I am no longer someone who has to be afraid of someone wanting to attack me simply for who I am.”
Although classes are free, Obi accepts donations for various GLBTQI charities. He is currently accepting donations for the Dane Hall Fund. The story of Hall, a gay male who survived an attack by four men who curb-stomped him after he left a gay club, touched Obi’s heart.
In the future, he will be raising funds for Cyndi Lauper’s GLBT homeless youth shelter in Harlem, New York, and next summer’s AIDS walk.
“Obi’s class is very important for the entire [GLBTQI] community because it is teaching empowerment and self worth,” Anderson said. “If you feel you have the ability to stand up to those who would bash you simply for who you are, you will feel much better about yourself.”
Obi encourages students and anyone interested in his class to get in touch with him at (303) 668-9806. He hopes to have 20 or more people in attendance for the class on a weekly basis.