Tag Archive | history

Celebrate Indeginenous Peoples Day

Indigenous Peoples Day “Today we celebrate the people who first called this land home. We remember the struggles and tragedies they endured. We honor their place in and contributions to the shared story of America.”

Indigenous Peoples Day “Today we celebrate the people who first called this land home. We remember the struggles and tragedies they endured. We honor their place in and contributions to the shared story of America.” (click to embiggen)

America was inhabited already when Columbus blundered his way into the West Indies. They are called the West Indies, in case you didn’t know, because he thought he had sailed all the way around the world to Japan, China, and India. Seriously. He was convinced that San Salvador was Japan, and Cuba was China.

Columbus wasn’t a great thinker. Contrary to what school teachers were still telling us when I was in grade school, Europeans had known for centuries that the world was round. And Pythagoras and Aristotle had both deduced that the Earth was a sphere because of the shape of the Earth’s shadow on the moon during Lunar eclipses. Eratosthenes calculated the size of the Earth pretty accurately based on shadows at different latitudes more than 200 years before the time of Christ (He also correctly deduced the tilt of the Earth’s axis a bit later).

Columbus thought that Eratosthenes was wrong, that the Earth was much smaller, and that it would take only a short time sailing west to reach Asia. He was very wrong. And not just because there were two continents Europe didn’t know about.

And then there was the abominable way the Columbus and the Europeans that followed treated the people who lived here. It was not, as some of my other teachers used to say, merely that the Europeans had more advanced technology. The Europeans were fond of making written agreements with the people who already lived here, and then when it suited them, ignore the agreements and take, kill, or pillage whatever they wanted.

So, yeah, even though I am a pasty-skinned, blue-eyeed white guy with ancestors from places like Ireland, England, and France, count me as one of the people who celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day.

Tribes of the Indian Nation

Tribes of the Indian Nation (click to embiggen)

The movement to replace Columbus Day with a holiday honoring Native Americans have been around for a long time. In 1989 the state of South Dakota abolished the state observance of Columbus Day and enacted a Native American Day to be observed on the same day as the Federal Observance fo Columbus Day.

Several other states: California, Nevada, and Tennessee all observe a Native American Day in September (the California holiday first called for by then-Governor Ronald Reagan in 1968, though not enacted into law until 1998).

Governors in Alaska and Vermont (and probably others, but I haven’t found them, yet) have issued proclamations to declare and Indigenous Peoples Day, but neither state’s legislature has enacted it into law, and such proclamation tend to be ceremonial, usually assumed only to apply to the year issued.

On the other hand, a rather huge number of cities and towns all over the country have adopted ordinances replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. Maybe when more follow more states will join South Dakota.

“Columbus didn't discover America, he invaded it!”

“Columbus didn’t discover America, he invaded it!”

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Normal is overrated — more adventures in dictionaries

Bugs Bunny making a silly face with the words “I've done a lot of things over the years, but acting normal isn't one of them.”

“I’ve done a lot of things over the years, but acting normal isn’t one of them.”

The first time I experienced mental health therapy was in middle school, after I was injured by a bully severely enough that the school nurse said I needed to be taken to the hospital. Later, in the infinite wisdom of a typical school administrator, I, the perennial victim of bullying, was threatened with expulsion if I didn’t go to counseling and if the counselor did not report I was making progress. They never said progress toward what, but it became clear as the twice-monthly went on through the rest of that school year and the next, that what she was trying to do was teach me to act like a normal boy. I don’t think she ever used the phrase “normal” to my face, but she certainly did when explaining things to my parents.

There were many reasons why I didn’t behave like a “normal” boy. And usually when I have written about this topic before I have focused on how as a queer kid I was gender non-conforming. But that wasn’t the only problem. There are queer kids who did a better job than I ever did of blending in. And there are lots of not-queer kids who were bullied for being different in other ways. I had other strikes against me.

One of my relatives, for instance, described me as “a lost adult trapped in a child’s body” when referring to my childhood. One reason several people perceived me in that way as a child is because my intelligence was several standard deviations above average. That had two very distinct effects on my behavior. One was that I often understood and knew things people didn’t expect a child to know, but the other was that there were very few of the kids my age that I got along with, so I kept forming close relationships with adults. And that increased the gap between myself and most of the kids my age.

Now, the word “normal” derives from the Latin normalis, which means made according to a right-angle or square. But ask most people what normal means and you’ll probably get something close to what Oxford calls sense 3: “Constituting or conforming to a type or standard; regular, usual, typical; ordinary, conventional. Also, physically or mentally sound, healthy.” Interestingly, that usage of the word in English only came about in the early 1800s. When in first came into the language, in the late 1400s, it referred exclusively to a regular verb. Then in the mid 1600s its meaning expanded to refer “Right-angled, standing at right angles; perpendicular.” Which is how it entered the lexicography of mathematics.

I was interested in science for as long as I can remember. We can blame my mom the science fiction fan for that. When I was a baby, she literally read aloud whichever Robert Heinlein or Ray Bradbury or similar book she had checked out from the library. And mathematics is something I fell in love with early in school. We moved around a lot because of my dad’s job in the petroleum industry, but as luck would have it, the school district where I attended first grade and a portion of second was one that won awards for excellence year after year. They gave me a great start.

For instance, the explanation my second grade teacher in Fort Collins had given me of the Distributive Property, was how I got labeled a freak on the first day (three schools later) that I attended school in Cheyenne Wells. It was late spring in Third Grade when we moved to Cheyenne Wells, and they were just getting to things like the Distributive Property of Multiplication. The teacher tried to explain it to class, but her explanation wasn’t very good. And during the period when we were supposed to be going through a worksheet and helping each other with the problems, the teacher overheard me explaining the the kid next to me how it works, so she brought me to the front of the room and made me explain it to the whole class. And then they all knew I was a Math Freak, a Brain, and the Teachers new Pet.

It wasn’t just the first school, of course, it was also the fact that I loved to read so much, that whenever I was given a new set of books at school, I would read them all the way to the end on my own as soon as I could. And half the time that I spent in the library I was tracking down non-fiction books about topics that came up in the science fiction, mystery, and adventure books that I loved. And most of the time throughout grade school and middle school, I would rather sit in a corner and read than run around the playground or do other things the rest of the kids were doing any time we were turned loose.

That always failed to endear me to the other kids.

Despite the fact that at heart I was an introvert, I also loved explaining things to people. Which often came across as me being a show off or know it all.

As an adult, I work in a technology field writing and designing documentation and help systems explaining how systems work. So all of those characteristics eventually became useful, eventually.

But there was no amount of counseling from that therapist—or mentoring from my middle school wrestling coach (and pre-algebra teacher!), or the other attempts by specific teachers who tried to take me under their wing to steer me through the shoals of bullying—that would make a smart, queer, introverted, book- and science-loving, know-it-all pass for normal in a typical primary or secondary school.

Which isn’t a slam on the other kids, but rather the way we herd children together by age and leave them to their own devices to work out social dynamics. The theory is that we learn to get along with diverse people that way, but the system creates an artificial social environment that encourages some of our worst behaviors.

I survived. I not only came out of the system free of bitterness and resentment, I often find myself in the position of defending public schools from the distorted statistics some people wave around trying to prove other options are better (spoiler alert: the statistics are on traditional public school’s favor). And when it comes to bullying, private schools and charter schools don’t handle those situations one iota better. In fact, for marginalized kids, they are much, much worse, statistically.

But I digress.

Learning to get along is a worthwhile goal. Conformity and trying to pretend you’re something you’re not, are toxic and destructive. I wish we were better at teaching the former, rather than enforcing the latter.

That statue doesn’t mean what you think it means—bless your heart

The official declaration of the State of Mississippi when they seceded from the Union at the beginning of the Civil War: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world.”

The official declaration of the State of Mississippi when they seceded from the Union at the beginning of the Civil War: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world.” (click to embiggen)

I wasn’t born in the South, but because of economic factors too complicated to go into at this juncture, the small town in Colorado where I was born was inhabited almost completely by recently transplanted southerners. All of my grandparents had been born in former Confederate states, as had most of the teachers at the public school, and the parents and/or grandparents of 95+ percent of my classmates at school. And even though my father’s job had us moving around to other parts of the central Rockies through most of grade school, because our family attended Southern Baptists churches, I continued to be exposed to certain myths about the Civil War that descendants of Confederate families tell themselves. I was taught that slavery wasn’t the primary issue of the war, for one. I was taught that most soldiers on the Confederate side had been involved for economic reasons, and certainly not because they believed that whites were superior to blacks, for another. And I was taught that just because the Southern Baptist church and many other institutions still advocated for the segregation of that races, that it wasn’t because they still believed that one race was superior to the other.

Each of those statements was a lie.

I was a teen-ager in the 70s when the Southern Baptist Convention finally endorsed desegregation of its churches. And it was as a teen that I learned most of what I’d been taught about the history of our denomination and the Civil War was untrue.

Historically, every state that seceded to form the Confederacy (not just Mississippi a port of whose declaration is pictured above), explicitly listed either slavery or the superiority of the white race (and some mentioned both), as their reasons for seceding. The infamous cornerstone speech delivered by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens explained that the foundation of the new Confederate government was “the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

It can’t be any clearer than that: the primary mission of the Confederacy was the perpetuation of slavery of black people and the entrenchment (nay, glorification) of white supremacy. And Confederate soldiers did not volunteer, fight, and die by the thousands because of some need to preserve the mythical idyllic pastoral culture of the Southern plantation—most of them were too poor to own plantations, for one thing! No, typical Confederate grunt believed that if slaves were freed, working class whites would surely lose their livelihoods. The collective self-esteem of the white working class was shored up by the explicit statement that at least they weren’t slaves, so while they might have worked hard in exchange for less than their fair share of societal prosperity, at east they were better off than those black folks! The abolition of slavery was then perceived as an existential threat to the white working class. Of course they were willing to take up arms to protect slavery!

In the immediate aftermath of the war, symbols of the Confederacy weren’t displayed publicly. There were memorials erected in a few places to those who died in one battle or another, and certainly individual tombstones were occasionally emblazoned with Confederate symbols, but there wasn’t a stampede to erect statues to the leaders of the Confederacy afterward. For one thing, there wasn’t a lot of pride in having been on the losing side.

The first big rush of Confederate monuments was years after the war ended as Reconstruction officially ended and Federal troops were withdrawn in 1877. Across the former Confederacy, state legislatures started enacting Jim Crow laws, designed to make it difficult or nearly impossible for black people to exercise their right to vote and to enforce segregation of the races. And statues and monuments went up all over the South. The plaques usually talked about the bravery of the person depicted, but there were also language about the nobility of the cause for which they fought. Blacks living in those states, most of whom were former slaves, knew exactly what that cause had been, and the message the statues and monuments was clearly: “white people are in charge again, and don’t you forget it!”

A portion of the Southern Poverty Law Center's graph showing when Confederate monuments and statues were erected across the country.

A portion of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s graph showing when Confederate monuments and statues were erected across the country.

Most of the Confederate monuments were put up in the 1910s and 1920s, coinciding with an increase in activity of the KKK and similar organizations terrorizing blacks. And the next big surge was in the 50s and 60s when civil rights organizations began having successes against some of the Jim Crow laws. The purpose of those monuments was not to honor the culture of the South, the message was still “stay in your place, black people, or else!” A great example of this resides not many miles from my home. Washington territory was never a part of the Confederacy, and the few inhabitants of the state who served in the war did so as part of the Union Army and Navy. A local family, some years after the war, donated land in what would one day become the Capitol Hill neighborhood to the Grand Army of the Republic (which was an organization made up mostly of Union side Civil War Veterans) for a cemetery for Union soldiers. And that’s who was buried there. But decades later, during one of those surges of monument building, the Daughters of the Confederacy paid to have a monument to soldiers of the Confederacy erected in the cemetery. There are no Confederate soldiers buried there. Not one. And there are no soldiers’ names engraved on the massive monument. But there it is, erected in a cemetery full of Union soldiers, a monument to the so-called noble cause of the Confederacy.

Now that some communities are rethinking these monuments—many of them extremely cheap bronze statues erected during times of civil rights tensions—other people are claiming taking them down is erasing history. No, taking down these post-dated monuments in public parks and so forth isn’t erasing history, it’s erasing anti-historical propaganda. The other argument that is put forward in defense of the monuments is that “both sides deserve to be heard.” That’s BS in this case, because there aren’t two sides to racism. There aren’t two sides to bigotry. There aren’t two sides to genocide. White supremacy is not a legitimate side to any argument.

When we defeated Hitler’s armies, we didn’t turn around and erect monuments to the government that murdered millions of people in concentration camps. We destroyed their symbols. When we liberated Iraq, we tore down the statues of Saddam Hussein, we didn’t enshrine his image in an attempt to give both sides equal time. Those few Confederate monuments that list off names of people who died are fine (even if a lot of them have cringeworthy language about the cause they were fighting for). Cemeteries where actual Confederate veterans are buried of course can have symbols of the Confederacy on the tombstones and the like. But the other monuments, the ones erected years later, they don’t belong in the public square.

They belong in the dustbin of history.

Gay It Forward, part 2

“You only gave us rights because we gave you riots. Queer Power”

“You only gave us rights because we gave you riots. Queer Power” (Click to embiggen)

The original Stonewall protest was a riot. Some people want us to forget that. They want us to be polite, not to make waves, and not to upset or scare “ordinary” people. But make no mistake: the only reason we queer people have any legals rights now is because we refused to be quiet, we refused to be invisible, we refused to go quietly.

By “we” I don’t mean to imply that I was actually at the Stonewall Inn on that fateful night, or for several nights after where the street queens and homeless gay teens and butch lesbians and angry sissies kept coming back out on the streets and demanded their right to exist. I was 8 years old living in a small town in Colorado (and if I recall correctly crushing hard on Robert Conrad as Secret Service agent James West). I wouldn’t even hear about the events of the summer until more than ten years later. But that summer the people who were standing up to the police and demanding the simple right to be out in public without being harassed, weren’t the quiet ones. That wasn’t entirely their choosing. Heroes of the time such as Marsha P Johnson or Silvia Rivera were exactly the sort of gender non-conforming queer who had spent their entire lives being literally unable to hide. When the police raided that night, they took their usual tack of grabbing the people who looked least “normal” to single out for a beating and arrest.

“The first PRIDE was a riot.” And a nice caricature of Marsha P. Johnson, the street queen often credited with throwing the first brick at Stonewall. (Click to embiggen)

“The first PRIDE was a riot.” And a nice caricature of Marsha P. Johnson, the street queen often credited with throwing the first brick at Stonewall. (Click to embiggen)

Their only crime was being at a bar and being obviously queer-looking and/or queer-acting. Just for some context: it wouldn’t be until 1973 that a court would rule as unconstitutional laws banning people from wearing clothing “typical of the opposite sex” (which included women wearing pants). The police had a lot of leeway in deciding what constituted not dressing in clothes appropriate to one’s gender. And that’s how these raids would go. Cops would surround the bar, then come in, turn on the lights, order everyone to line up and produce their identification. Anyone who was “cross dressing” would be arrested (and usually get roughed up on the way). It was not uncommon for male cops to grope the butchest lesbians while making lewd remarks to try to get them to react, so they could be arrested for resisting.

Ultimately, the cops and other authorities were targeting people who were different.

There had been raids before, but almost never before had the crowd turned on the police. Normally everyone who could run away did, and those who couldn’t tried not to be the few who would get beaten. But that night, the patrons decided not to cooperate, and things went downhill rather fast.

Again, no one, including many of the people who actually were there, knows why the crowd reacted differently that night. Just as no one knows for certain why the police were raiding the Stonewall Inn that night. The leading theory is that the mafia-connected owners of the Inn were suspected of making more money than they admitted to from blackmailing well-to-do customers, and were therefore not bribing the cops and liquor inspectors as much as they should have been. But because all of that was highly illegal, we’ll never know. The riots went on for several nights. Then, in the weeks afterward, several of the people that had been there formed politcal groups to fight for queer rights: The Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaires and the Gay Liberation Front.

Let’s pause here to talk a bit about terminology. Transgender, transvestite, and cross-dressing were terms that at that time were used inter-changeably by people within the community, even though today it’s considered offensive to act as if those terms refer to the same thing. There is still some controversy about which of the street queens should be considered transgender, for instance. It’s an argument I don’t want to get into right now.

And it’s really beside the point. The people who were at the forefront of the Stonewall Riots, and who organized the first new gay rights afterwards were mostly trans (or otherwise genderfluid/non-conforming) people of color. It was the most marginalized who led the way.

Protest sign from a photo of an early Pride march: “An army of lovers cannot fail.”

“An army of lovers cannot fail.” (Click to embiggen)

I’m not trans, myself, but from a very early age I was called “sissy,” “pussy,” “faggot” and worse (by members of my own family and teachers, no less). I was four years old the first time that my dad angrily beat me while calling me, among other words that I didn’t know the meaning of, “cocksucker.” And at four I didn’t know what a drag queen was, let alone a gay or lesbian person. I wasn’t intentionally acting whatever way it was that made that the go-to insult to throw at me. I didn’t mean to be the kind of boy that caused teachers to tell my parents later, after one of the most severe bullying incidents at school, “As long as he walks like that and talks like that, how else do you expect the other boys to react?”

Whichever of my mannerisms trigger people’s gaydar, they’re not under my control. I tried so hard to act like the other boys and not get noticed. Yet, again and again I failed. So it’s both ignorant and unfair to say that the people who got targeted by cops in those raids could have prevented it if they just stopped flaunting things. Long before Marsha P Johnson wore her first outrageous flowered hat out in public, as a little boy growing up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, she had been beaten and bullied. There came a point when she decided to stop hiding who and what she was and embrace it.

Similarly, it’s both ignorant and unfair to say that people shouldn’t dress outrageously or otherwise let their freak flag fly at Pride. The only reason that so-called “straight-acting” gays have found it safe to come out at all (whether it be former NFL players or rugby players or button-down executives) is because the “queens and trannies and freaks” of previous generations decided to stand up and fight back. I’m not saying it is easy for anyone to come out, but many of the community didn’t have a choice about whether people knew—the only choice they had was whether to let themselves be beat down, or to fight back and be proud of who they were.

“We kept fighting after Stonewall. We're still fighting the AIDS Crisis. We kept fighting after Anita Bryant. We kept fighting after Jesse Helms. The struggle is far from over. I'll keep fighting. Will you?”

“We kept fighting after Stonewall. We’re still fighting the AIDS Crisis. We kept fighting after Anita Bryant. We kept fighting after Jesse Helms. The struggle is far from over. I’ll keep fighting. Will you?”

So embrace the fairies, the leather daddies, the cycle mamas, the butches, the fems, the sissies, the nellies, the drag kings, the street queens, the gym bunnies, the queer nerds, the bis, the pans, the aces—every gender, every race, every freaky and fabulous corner of the big wild Queer Community. The old Isaac Newton quote is that he could only see further than others because he stood on the shoulders of giants. We’re only able to be here and see a bright future because we’re standing on the shoulders of those fabulous freaks. And as someone else once observed, if you think someone is normal, you just don’t know them well enough.

We’re all queer! We all belong here! Let’s march into a brighter future together!

Gay it forward

Source: thedesmondproject.com/Homelessness-Info.html (Click to embiggen)

The Department of Justice estimates that about 1.7 million teen-agers are homeless in America at any time. Of those, about 40% identify as queer (that’s 680,000 kids). According to research by the True Colors Fund and similar groups, the single biggest cause of those queer teens being homeless is family rejection because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. But note that the next most common reasons are abusive homophobia or transphobia in their school, church, or community, even when their parents don’t go to the extreme of kicking them out.

Growing up in Southern Baptist churches in mostly redneck communities, I knew from a very early age that I didn’t belong. I was constantly breaking unspoken rules I didn’t understand. Nearly everyone–not just my physically abusive father, but other relatives, church leaders, many of my teachers, and a lot of the kids at school–made it abundantly clear that I didn’t act like a normal boy, and that if I didn’t figure out how to man up, there would be even more severe consequences than the beatings, teasing, and humiliations I was already enduring. I was taught–not just at church, but also at public school in health and science classes–that homosexuality was a severe mental disease that turned the people who had it into pedophiles, rapists, and worse. Homosexuals, they said, were evil creatures who deserved to die gruesomely.

When puberty hit, I finally realized that those two messages were one and the same. Puberty hit like a Tomahawk missle, blasting away my hopes of growing up to have what I had been taught was a normal, successful life. Because suddenly I realized that those odd fascinations I had had with certain men and boys wasn’t just friendship, they had been crushes. And now my hormones and body were reacting to the guys my emotions had been before. All of that added up to the horrifying conclusion that I could never man up enough not to deserve the scorn, ridicule, physical assaults, and even worse. It was no longer a matter of trying to figure out what I was doing wrong–it became a matter of life and death that I hide the truth about what I was from everyone I knew.

After fighting my feelings and having a couple of furtive relationships with other guys my age who were just as scared, I came to know with all my being that three things were absolutely true: If the wrong people found proof about what I was, I would be rejected and certainly come to an untimely and probably gruesome death alone and unloved. If I couldn’t stop having these feelings and acting on any of those urges, I would spend eternity in hell. And absolutely nothing I did–no amount of tearfully pleading with god, reading the Bible cover to cover three times, stealing my dad’s porn magazines and trying to make myself feel attraction to the women in them, et cetera–would make those feelings go away.

I was doomed. It wasn’t a matter of if, merely when.

Despite knowing I was doomed, my basic temperament just doesn’t accept no-win situations. So part of me kept trying to convince the rest of me that we could fake it as long as it took. I also had certain glimmers of encouragement I’ve written about before in science fiction. One thing I didn’t have was any role model or even a hint that there might be another kind of life possible.

There were no gay people in any of the communities we’d lived in until I was in my 20s. There were no openly gay characters in TV or movies or the like until at least my mid-teens. Oh, there were characters that seemed to be gay, but they were always either the comic relief or someone you were supposed to despise. When a few openly gay characters started showing up, they were never regular characters or even heroic. They were still either comedic characters, or victims. Very occasionally one would appear on a single episode to make a message about tolerance. But they were alway alone and there was no sense they had a life or friends, let alone a love life!

And then I saw a news story about a gay pride event that changed my life. I had seen some news stories before about the gay protest marches, but they had been brief, and were always accompanied by images of either very angry people with protest signs, or outrageous images selected to portray all the queers as freaks. This story did include some of those images, but there was more of an attempt to give the queer people a chance to speak. They showed brief clips from interviews with several people, but the moment that stuck in my head was when a pair of middle-aged men who were interviewed mentioned that they had been together for nearly 20 years. They were boyfriends, and they had been together for years.

That single bit of data changed everything. I was 19 or 20 years old. I had had a few secret relationships and flings with guys. They had all been steeped in anxiety and fear of what would happen if we were caught. These other closeted gay guys were the only queer people I had met, and they were all, so far as I knew, just as certain that we were going to burn in hell for eternity because of what we were. Though some of the fiction I’d read by then mentioned gay or bisexual people in relationships, it had all be in various sci fi settings where things were very different than the real world.

But there. on the TV in a news program two men who weren’t sci fi characters were comfortable saying on camera that they were boyfriends and had been for years.

It was several more years before I would even utter aloud to anyone the words, “I think I might be gay,” but knowing that there were actual, flesh and blood queer people out there who were in love and having relationships is what let me hold on to hope for a few more years and gave me the strength to finally come out.

“I a not a sinner”

“I a not a sinner”

And that is another reason I support Pride Parades and all sorts of other out gay events. Because there are tens of thousands of frightened queer children out there scared to death to be who they are. Worried that their own parents will reject them or worse. And because we know that every years hundreds of those kids commit suicide because they have no hope. As long as we have our crazy, flashy, glittery, contentious but fabulous pride parades and festivals and so on, then news sites will run stories about them. It doesn’t matter that the coverage may be slanted. Some of those frightened kids will see those stories. Some of them will click on those images. They will know that they aren’t alone. If we can give some of them hope, then our mission has been a success.

All of us who are living our lives out and proud got here because of the hard, brave work of the drag queens, trans activists, marching gays and lesbians and so forth who came before us. We owe them a debt we can’t repay directly. So we have a duty to not just pay it forward, but gay it forward.


Edited to Add:

If you can, give a donation to help queer kids who have been rejected by their families and kicked out on the street : True Colors Fund or The Ali Forney Center are good places to start. Many communities have local programs focusing on teen homelessness and particularly queer teen homelessness; a quick Google search with the name of your city or town, and the words “queer teen homeless” should point you in the right way. And if you want to hlp support transgender kids, please donate to: National Center for Transgender Equality.

Seriously, it’s all Greek — more adventures in dictionaries

“...involving, related to, or characterized by a sexual propensity for one's own sex; of or involving sexual activity with a member of one's own sex, or between individuals of the same sex.”

“…involving, related to, or characterized by a sexual propensity for one’s own sex; of or involving sexual activity with a member of one’s own sex, or between individuals of the same sex.” (Click to embiggen; I got a new self-lighting magnifier for my Compact Oxford—isn’t it neat?)

It happened after a committee meeting for the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Chorus when we had devolved to chatting. I don’t remember exactly what was being discussed, but one of the women got upset when I used the word “gay” to refer to the entire community. “That excludes women,” she said, icily. I apologized and said I didn’t mean to do that, it was just fewer syllables and sometimes I just wished there were a shorter way to refer to everyone, and homosexual is so clinical. She interrupted, leaning in and getting much angrier. “Another word for men! Geeze, how can you do that?” When I protested that it was a clinical term originally coined to refer to both men and women she really got upset, insisting, “Homo means man! Yeah, yeah, it’s like mankind means everyone because men think they’re all the matters!”

At this point I was no longer feeling defensive, I was feeling angry. So I explained that while if one were speaking Latin, “homo” meant man, but the word wasn’t built from Latin roots, it was from Greek roots, and in Greek, homo means “the same” which is why the doctor who first coined the term picked it, as he had written about extensively that he was describing people who were attracted to and formed attachment to member of the same sex, in contrast to hetero which is greek for “other or different.” So “heterosexual” meant someone attracted to the other sex, while “homosexual” meant someone attracted to the same sex. Also, the doctor in question was himself non-heterosexual and spent much of his life trying to prove that homosexuality was not a mental illness.

Suffice it to say that she did not appreciate my lecture.

That was not the last time I got into that argument, by any means.

Other times when I’ve pointed out the difference between the Greek root and the Latin word which sounds the same, people have countered that “a lot of people think it means male!” To which I replied that a many people think the world is flat, but I’m not going to stop using the word “world” because some people are ignorant.

Don’t get me wrong—I understand that perception is important, but here’s the thing: if I point to a crowded room full of people of many different genders and say “they’re all homosexual” not one English speaking person in the whole world is going to think I’m only referring to the men. No one will be confused. Yes, a few of the women in the crowd may raise the same incorrect objection as the person in my first paragraph, and some bisexual or pansexual people in the crowd will make an equally incorrect objection (there is no portion of homosexual that means exclusively with one’s own gender, just that there is a propensity toward one’s own gender). I will grant that if there are any asexual people in the crowd they will have, linguistically, a valid bone to pick with my sweeping generalization.

The thing is, I don’t happen to like using the word homosexual because it sounds so clinical, and despite the word being coined by a pro-homo doctor, originally, it was quickly adopted by the parts of the medical establishment who insisted we were mentally ill or depraved. But I also don’t like using it to refer to the community because no matter how you slice it, it does exclude asexuals, as well as trans people who are also straight.

If I’m in a situation where queer isn’t accepted, I will sometimes punt to “non-heterosexual,” but that has the problem of defining us by what we aren’t, rather than what we are.

There are people who object to the term because it places emphasis on sex, while we often argue that the real issue is love. I have some small amount of sympathy for that line of reasoning, though it often digresses into rather sex-negative prudery. And while there is a difference between love and sex, for most non-asexuals, the two things are tangled together pretty tightly. I am attracted to other men. The initial attraction is, to be honest, about hormones and desire. For me, at least, love is a choice I make as I get to know a person. Yes, there are feelings and admiration and so forth, but I have feelings for lots of people who I don’t choose to commit myself to. I admire lots of people I don’t choose to commit myself to.

This attempt to separate the sex from sexual orientation also ignores another important reality: heterosexual relationships are just as much about sex as queer relationships are. Don’t believe me? What were the only legal arguments that anti-gay people had left by the time the case had reached the U.S. Supreme Court: that marriage was exclusively about reproduction, and that heterosexual people would never make the lifelong commitments necessary to raise the resultant children is legal marriage wasn’t reserved for straights (no, that argument makes no sense, and yes, that’s really what they wrote in their legal briefs!). Yes, the people who claim that we’re the perverts obsessed with sex argued that it was wrong to define marriage as a loving relationship geared toward mutual support (yes, that was also in their legal brief).

But I’ve digressed enough. The word “homosexual” does not simply refer to men, it comes from the Greek word homo meaning “the same.” Neither does the word refer to any exclusivity in that sexual orientation. Also, although hetero means “other or different,” neither heterosexual or homosexual linguistically imply only two genders. Heterosexual literally means sexual activity with someone of a different sex, not the opposite sex. So not only isn’t the word sexist, it also doesn’t deny the existence of genderfluid or intersex or third sex people.

And now you know!

The first openly queer person to run for U.S. public office and win was not who you think

“This is the first time in the history of the United States that someone has run openly as a gay person and been elected to public office.” – Kathy Kozachenko, Ann Arbor, Michigan, April 2, 1974

“This is the first time in the history of the United States that someone has run openly as a gay person and been elected to public office.” – Kathy Kozachenko, Ann Arbor, Michigan, April 2, 1974

On April 2, 1974, forty-three years ago, University of Michigan student and Human Rights Party candidate Kathy Kozachenko was elected to the city council of Ann Arbor, Michigan, making her the first openly gay or lesbian person to run successfully for political office in the United States. Notably, Kozachenko was not the first gay or lesbian person to serve openly in public office; in fact, her predecessors on Ann Arbor’s city council, Nancy Weschler and Jerry DeGrieck, came out during their first and only terms, making them the first openly queer officeholders in the United States. (To be clear: the distinction is that Kozachenko was openly gay as a candidate, whereas Weschler and DeGrieck did not come out until after their elections.)

After serving one term, Kozachenko stepped out of the public eye, though not out of the activist life entirely. After meeting her life partner, Mary Ann Geiger, and having a son, Kozachenko retreated more fully into private life and her place in queer history went virtually ignored for decades.

In “The First Openly Gay Person to Win an Election in America Was Not Harvey Milk,” a 2015 piece for Bloomberg politics, Steve Friess explored the factors that contributed to Kozachenko’s diminished place in the history of gay liberation: geography, misogyny, timing, messaging. When asked why the groundbreaking gay journalist Randy Shilts referred to Harvey Milk as “the first openly gay elected official in the nation,” for example, Kozachenko “figures there was little fuss at the time because it was just liberal, small-city Ann Arbor.”

“I don’t think I was brave,” Kozachenko told Friess, “because I was in a college town where it was cool to be who I was. On the other hand, I stepped up and did what I felt needed to be done at the time. Maybe that’s the whole story, that ordinary people can do something that then other people later can look back on and feel really good that they did this.” #HavePrideInHistory #KathyKozachenko (at Ann Arbor, Michigan)

(Reposted from LGBT HISTORY ARCHIVES IG: @lgbt_history.)

Is it weird for me to think this is a cool coincidence one day after I write about a much more recent openly gay person at the University of Michigan?

Facing an existential threat yet again…

On one level I understand why during many election years so many Americans talk rather blithely of it being simply a choice of the lesser of two evils. Earlier this year Stephen Colbert and John Stewart incorporated it into a small skit in which they pretended that Stewart has spent all of his time since retiring from the Daily Show living in a cabin in the woods somewhere, and Stephen shows up at his door desperate for help with the election. Stewart says, “Don’t worry! I’m sure Jeb Bush will be fine!” Stewart says.

From the viewpoint of many people, it usually appears that the major parties have each nominated basically similar guys, who have some differences on particular policies, but both talk about opportunity and freedom and respecting the Constitution. Depending on what your personal priorities are, one might say more things you agree with regarding taxes, for instance, but the same candidate says just as many things you disagree with in the topic of medical care. The other one says stuff you disagree with on taxes, while saying things you agree with on law enforcement.

So superficially it can feel as if being asked whether you want a red napkin or a blue napkin with your meal. You’re still going to get a meal which contains some food you love and some you don’t, and the bill is probably going to be a little higher than you hoped in the end, so why should the napkin matter?

For some of us, it has never been like that.

I wasn’t out of the closet in 1980. I was still several years away from the moment I would say aloud for the first time, “I think I might be gay.” But I had had more than a few furtive experiences with other guys and had been wrestling with the conflict between my conservative Christian upbringing and the fact that no matter how much I pleaded with god, the feelings wouldn’t go away. And for several years I had been watching political campaigns to pass laws to make it legal for people to fire me, to deny me housing, to send me to jail, and much worse simply because I fell in love with other guys.

In 1980 one party had for the first time in history adopted a plank saying the people shouldn’t be discriminated against because of sexual orientation. The other party very clearly was in favor of not just discriminating, but actively persecuting people like me.

My ability to live freely was on the ballot the first time I was allowed to vote for a president.

By the time 1984 rolled around, people like me were dying of a then-mysterious and scary disease. I had sat in church with my head bowed and then felt the horror when the pastor unexpectedly thanked god for sending AIDS to kill queers. One party was still saying it shouldn’t be legal to discriminate against me, and now the other one was encouraging the people who were explicitly saying I should be dead.

In 1992 the Democratic Presidential candidate didn’t just leave the rhetoric of protecting us from discrimination in the platform, he actively and frequently argued that not only should we be protected by anti-discrimination laws, and not only should we not be left to die if we got sick, but we should actually be allowed to serve openly in the military. That may seem like a little thing, but it was clearly a statement that we were full citizens deserving not just tolerance, but respect. This forced the other candidate to openly say what had mostly been implied by his predecessors: that queers didn’t deserve legal protections, that our very existence wasn’t just regrettable, but it somehow made America less safe.

By 1996 the same candidate who had pledged to help us had been maneuvered into a compromise that made the situation for queers in the military worse, but the other side, oh my goodness, the other side! In my local state the Republican party had planks in the platform that literally equated us with witches and demons, that literally equated tolerance for us with witchcraft, and that literally called for locking queer people up in medical facilities. Yes, the party had been hijacked by what we all thought of at the time the fringe, but our state wasn’t the only one. And plenty of Republicans all over the country were talking about us as dangerous, as needing to be locked up, and more.

In 2000 I found myself arguing with someone who I had thought of as a friend who lived in another state where she was enthusiastically voting for a candidate who promised to make it illegal for queers to work in medical jobs, in child care jobs, or as teachers, and wanted to create a system of “medical camps” where queer men would be “quarantined” for the safety of the rest of the public. While at the top of the the ticket Bush and Cheney both made conciliatory statements about tolerating gay people, they still opposed full civil equality. All up and down the ticket you could find plenty of their candidates arguing that the very existence of queer people was dangerous, that our physical relationships should be illegal (and in many places still were prosecuted as crimes), and so forth.

And then in 2004 the Republicans hit on the strategy of actively pushing for state bans and constitutional amendments to more deeply encode our persecution into the laws of the land! There were far more candidates on that side saying to recognizing us as full citizens would cause god to destroy America.

A lot of people try to make the lesser of two evils argument because in 2008 the leading democratic candidates were arguing for civil unions and against letting queer people marry. To do that ignores the folks on the other side who were still arguing that it should be legal to fire us everywhere (not just the 29 states where we lack antidiscrimination protections), who were angry at the Supreme Court for saying the  laws criminalizing our relationships were unconstitutional, and thus were campaigning to make being queer a crime again everywhere. Again, one side thought we were people deserving at least basic rights, the other argued we were dangerous things that needed to be controlled.

In 2012 the Republicans were spouting all the same anti-queer rhetoric even more vehemently because the other party was arguing that we should have all legal rights, including the right to civil marriage.

And in 2016? This year the Republican party platform is even more viciously anti-gay than the 1996 state platform I mentioned above. This year, a lot of other people feel (rightly) that their very right to exist is on the ballot. This year in the name of fighting illegal immigration and defending us from terrorism, one party is arguing that people of some religions don’t deserve civil rights, that people of some races are automatically suspect as criminals, that people who are poor deserve it, that women who want medical care should only get what conservative white men think they,, deserve, and so on and so on.

And while for a lot of people this feels new, it feels as if a sudden lunacy has seized one party—it’s not. I hate to break it to you, but Romney, McCain, George W. Bush, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan were all spouting equally racist, misogynist, sectarian, and homophobic policies and values as the most deplorable Trump supporters are now. Trump isn’t a disease that has suddenly surfaced, he’s a symptom of a decades-long movement in the party to fan the flames of fear, promote racial resentment, foster religious division, and encourage hate. The Trump supporters who call for lynching journalists, beating people of color, deporting non-Christians, scalping people who support same-sex marriage, burning black churches, who claim Hillary is a satanist, insist that Obama and Clinton are literally demons, aren’t the lunatic fringe of the Republican party. They are simply enacting the rhetoric that Republicans have been using to rally their troops for the last forty years.

  • You may have thought that Reagan was talking about the Constitution when he argued for state’s rights at a speech in Nashoba County, Mississippi, but everyone in Mississippi who had lived through the previous decades of civil rights struggles knew that he was saying that in the matter of white privilege vs black civil rights, he was on the side of the white guys while the blacks were clearly the enemy.
  • You may have thought that the elder President Bush’s frequent evocation of Family Values was just wholesome-sounding empty rhetoric, but the thousands of people at the Republican Convention holding up signs that said “Family Rights Not Gay Rights” knew he was telling the anti-gay bigots that he was on their side and the queers had no moral values.
  • You may have thought when Bob Dole said that “disabled people is a group no one joins by choice” he was simply arguing for more rights for disabled people, but he was telling the anti-gay people, the Creationists, and the anti-feminists that queers, atheists/non-Christians, and feminists deserved to be discriminated against and worse.
  • You may have thought that when George W. Bush said as part of a speech about racial equality that African Americans had earned opportunities that he was arguing for respecting everyone, but the Republican base knew he was saying that only some people of color deserved respect, and it is perfectly alright to mistreat any you didn’t think had earned it.
  • You may have thought that when John McCain said “that both parents are important in the success of a family” it was empty pro-family pablum, but anti-gay and anti-feminist members of the Republican base heard him saying the queers who adopt are harming children, and so are single parents (including women fleeing abusive relationships).
  • You may have thought when Romney said that employers should be flexible and let female employees “go home and fix dinner” for their kids instead of making them work late, that he was talking about personal compassion, but the Republican base clearly heard that women only deserved respect when they were mothers and taking care of their man.

I could find a lot more examples from the previous six Republican nominees where they said things that signaled to the racists, homophobes, misogynists, et al that people of color, queers, women, and non-Christians are less valuable than cisgendered heterosexual white Christian men. They have been cooking this nasty stew of hatred for decades.

It’s not just Hillary and The Donald on the ballot. It is also the right for Americans of all races, genders, orientations, and beliefs to live with equal opportunity and dignity in this society. And I don’t just mean the right to be free—for many of us, our very right to live is on the line.

Armed voter intimidation is illegal.  If you see someone with a gun at a polling place text GUNSDOWN to 91990.

Armed voter intimidation is illegal. If you see someone with a gun at a polling place text GUNSDOWN to 91990.

It won’t be enough for Trump to lose. He needs to lose decisively. And the politicians down ballot who support him and the policies that have brought him to us need to be defeated, as well. We need to send a message, yes. But we also have to extend hope and a promise that the American republic and the democratic institutions that protect our rights will remain intact. Because when Trump talks about “opening up libel laws” and “locking up” his opponents and “getting rid” of legal impediments to deportation and more, he’s talking about ending the checks and balances that have existed since this country’s founding.

It isn’t just an existential crisis for the queers, people of color, women, and non-Christians this time. It’s an existential crisis for the republic itself.

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Wishing on 9/13…

Cover of the Sept 21, 2001 edition of the Village Voice.

Cover of the Sept 25, 2001 edition of the Village Voice. (click to embiggen)

Jim Wright, an author who is also a navy veteran, posted some comments about the 15th anniversary of 9/11 on Facebook on Sunday which upset a lot of people. They called him a traitor and other nasty names, and reported him to Facebook for violating community standards (which the post didn’t). Subsequently Facebook (as they always do) gave in to the loud voices of rightwing people who claim to love Freedom and Liberty, but only for people who agree with them. These folks also often yell a lot about how much they love Jesus, and then they call people like me faggots, lead prayers saying we deserve death, and call for people who have committed no crimes to be executed. So they neither understand what freedom means, nor do they understand any of the teachings of Jesus.

Mr. Wright’s post was blunt, and not at all a feel-good statement. But it also contained a lot of truth:

“You’re expecting some kind of obligatory 9-11 post, aren’t you?

Here it is, but you’re not gonna like it.

15 years ago today 19 shitheads attacked America.

They killed 3000 of us.

And then … America got its revenge for 9-11.

Yes we did. Many times over. We killed them. We killed them all. We killed their families. We killed their wives and their kids and all their neighbors. We killed whole nations that weren’t even involved just to make goddamned sure. We bombed their cities into rubble. We burned down their countries.

They killed 3000 of us, we killed 300,000 of them or more.

8000 of us came home in body bags, but we got our revenge. Yes we did.

We’re still here. They aren’t.

We win. USA! USA! USA!

Right?

You goddamned right. We. Win.

Except…

Every year on this day we bathe in the blood of that day yet again. We watch the towers fall over and over. It’s been 15 goddamned years, but we just can’t get enough. We’ve just got to watch it again and again.

It’s funny how we never show those videos of the bombs falling on Baghdad today. Or the dead in the streets of Afghanistan. We got our revenge, but we never talk about that today. No, we just sit and watch the towers fall yet again.

Somewhere out there on the bottom of the sea are the rotting remains of the evil son of bitch who masterminded the attack. It took a decade, but we hunted him down and put a bullet in his brain. Sure. We got him. Right? That’s what we wanted. that’s what our leaders promised us, 15 years ago today.

And today those howling the loudest for revenge shrug and say, well, yeah, that. That doesn’t matter, because, um, yeah, the guy in the White House, um, see, well, he’s not an American, he’s the enemy see? He’s not doing enough. So, whatever. What about that over there? And that? And…

Yeah.

15 years ago our leaders, left and right, stood on the steps of the Capitol and gave us their solemn promise to work together, to stand as one, for all Americans.

How’d that promise work out?

How much are their words worth? Today, 15 years later?

It’s 15 years later and we’re STILL afraid. We’re still terrorized. Still wallowing in conspiracy theories and peering suspiciously out of our bunkers at our neighbors. Sure we won. Sure we did. We became a nation that tortures our enemies — and our own citizens for that matter. We’re a nation of warrantless wiretaps and rendition and we’ve gotten used to being strip searched in our own airports. And how is the world a better place for it all?

And now we’re talking about more war, more blood.

But, yeah, we won. Sure. You bet.

Frankly, I have had enough of 9-11. Fuck 9-11. I’m not going to watch the shows. I’m not going to any of the memorials. I’m not going to the 9-11 sales at Wal-Mart. I don’t want to hear about 9-11. I for damned sure am not interested in watching politicians of either party try to out 9-11 each other. I’m tired of this national 9-11 PTSD. I did my bit for revenge, I went to war, I’ll remember the dead in my own time in my own way.

I’m not going to shed a damned tear today.

We got our revenge. Many times over, for whatever good it did us.

I’m going to go to a picnic and enjoy my day. Enjoy this victory we’ve won.

I suggest you do the same.”

—Jim Wright, Stonekettle Station

I almost never write about 9/11. On the first anniversary, I made a post on my old blog called “Living for 9/12.” And I reposted it on this blog around the eleventh anniversary. I didn’t express the same sentiment as Wright either of those times, but I’m getting to a similar emotional space.

It’s not that I think we should forget the deaths that happened that day. But could we try using that grief to accomplish some good in the world? I mean, my goodness, it took us 14 years to pass a bill to help the fireman and paramedics and police who responded that day, survived, but have suffered longer term health issues. And yes, we killed the mastermind of that plot, but along the way we’ve bombed countries that weren’t involved, and have used the original tragedy to justify all sorts of violations of our own civil liberties, assassinating at least one of our own citizens without due process, not to mention developing a disturbing habit of killing civilians with drones!

Every year about 11,000 U.S. citizens are murdered with firearms, sometimes in mass shootings like Orlando or Sandy Hook, most in incidents that barely make it to the local news. That’s nearly four 9/11s every single year. Maybe we should actually do something to prevent some of those? Or at least let the National Institutes of Health research into whether we could do anything to reduce that number?

Why are we unable to work up any determination over any of the tens of thousands of deaths that have happened since that day?

I need to stop ranting. There was one other 9/11 post I saw on the day that I think is worth looking at. It isn’t like Wright’s at all, but it also doesn’t wrap itself in the flag to push an agenda. Tricia Romano is currently the Editor in Chief of a Seattle weekly newspaper, the Stranger. But in 2001 she worked in New York City, writing for another weekly newspaper, the Village Voice: I Was In New York City During 9/11. I’ll Never Forget.

Sausage making: my history with presidential nominees

party-imagePresidential campaigns in the U.S. are weird. Okay, let’s be honest, politics everywhere is weird, but the way Americans choose candidates has a particularly amazing number of eccentricities. We choose candidates through a patchwork systems of caucuses and primaries, which also generate the delegates who will eventually write state and national party platforms through an arcane series of district, county, and state meetings and conventions. And sometimes the arcane becomes literal (such as the time our state’s Republican party platform had multiple planks condemning witchcraft). Politics is supposed to be about compromise and finding solutions that a majority of people can get behind, which makes things very difficult for people who expect a candidate to agree with them on absolutely everything in order to get their support. The more voters involved, the less likely it is that you’re going to get your first choice. Which isn’t a pleasant realization. As I well know… Read More…

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