Meet Zimmer Barnes, The Real-Life Gay Superhero
By Dan Avery
Zimmer Barnes doesn’t have any superpowers, but he’s a superhero nonetheless. The openly gay do-gooder helps those in need, goes on patrol and even intercepts criminals. Barnes, 25, is part of an international movement of Real Life Superheroes (RLSH), and one of the subjects of Superheroes, a fascinating documentary airing tonight on Logo.
Barnes started his crimefighting career in the Big Apple, where he was part of the New York Initiative, and continues to fight the good in Austin, where he’s trained to be an EMT.
We talked with Zimmer (he doesn’t use a costumed alias) about his secret origin, his amazing gifts and how people react to a superhero in the real world.
How did you get involved in the Real Life Superhero Movement?
Everyone’s got their own story—there were some [real-life] superheroes in the past few decades and I read about them and was inspired. One of the first times I went on patrol was on the anniversary of Kitty Genovese’s murder. [In 1964, Genovese was brutally assaulted and killed in Queens, in view of dozens of people who did nothing to intervene].
And in the 1970s there was the Lavender Panthers, a gay group that predated the Guardian Angels. This guy got bashed but when he went to the police, the police just went to bashers and told them the guy snitched. So he formed the Panthers, which was this rolling patrol in San Francisco. I feel like what we do is an extension of that.
What are Zimmer’s powers or special abilities?
I like to invent things, so I’ve made some pretty cool gadets. The first big one I made was when i was in Lone Star Brigade, a stun gun that I made out of a disposable camera—it wasn’t terribly effective but it was fun to build. I also made the Apollo, which is a wearable solar generator, and the Northstar, an extraordinarily bright light that can daze someone. You can’t carry pepper spray [in New York.]
I also do parkour, which is great for climbing walls and getting over fences.
What do you do on patrol?
Im an EMT, so there’s always someone busting their face open. Drunk and wanna fight. Like most crime it involves alcohol. We deliver supplies to the homeless, remove graffiti tags. There was a guy who had been assaulting his girlfriend and she was trying to run away. I was able to step in and distract him enough that she could get to safety.
But, like the police or detectives, a lot of what we do is just watching and waiting—a few seconds of “really interesting,” then back to boring.
Why don’t you hide your identity?
A lot of people use a full-on mask–it can helpful to be anonymous. But it can be helpful to be open, especially with police. And also, being gay, wearing a mask felt too much like being in the closet.
Did your being gay influence your decision to be a superhero
Well, being gay is an integrated part of me—everyone who is a RLSH has part of their personality that’s tied into it. My sexuality is such a non-issue among the heroes.
How does the city react to your presence as a superhero
Austin’s a pretty hippy place (laughs), so what i do has been pretty embraced by the people here.