After spending a full day discussing and exploring sexual liberation at Creating Change, I reflect on some of my own personal growth and the amazing conversations about sex and desire that are possible when we allow ourselves to go there.
Zack and Peterson are pleased to welcome a special guest to today’s show. Beaming in from Charlotte, NC is Devon Hunter, who is an adult film actor, escort, and dancer. He’s also an avid writer and blogger who reaches out to educate about the adult entertainment industry and queer culture. Throughout the discussion, we discuss […]
I first wrote about the schism in our movement back in March, but an extremely thorough piece on Congress.org paints an updated picture on where things stand through the lens of DADT repeal. I, personally, have been chastised for speaking out against what could perhaps be called the “old guard” of the movement with the […]
Zack… and Peterson… are coming at you from opposite sides of the continent! Zack is in Las Vegas for Netroots Nation and Peterson is heading off to TransForm New Hampshire. The sound quality is a bit low because it was recorded via phone, but the content quality is at its queerest. Zack shares some of […]
As if we needed one. It still bothers me I once identified as Catholic. Let’s see what the Church has been up to. » Last month, the Washington DC Archdiocese announced they would completely end their foster care program because of same-sex marriage. The thought of having to place homeless children with same-sex couples was […]
Radical queers are going to fuck shit up! – Juan Gabriel Padilla On Saturday, the main feature of the Creating Change plenary session was a panel of queer youth of color. The discussion dealt with the challenges that youth organizing faces, highlighted by a recent report from FIERCE (Fabulous Independent Educated Radicals for Community Empowerment), […]
(UPDATE: To clarify, there will be mechanisms in the U.S. Census to count same-sex couples, but only on a state-by-state level. Same-sex marriages will not be included in the national count of married couples due to a code conflict and concern for statistical inaccuracy, and that is the point I am trying to emphasize in […]
Name: Judi Israel Age: 62 Hometown: Barrington, RI Occupation: Clay Sculpter Why I Found Her at The NEM: Judi’s son Josh is gay, but she told me she would have been at the March whether he was or not. LGBT issues have been on her radar since she was 16. She had a friend who […]
Today is World AIDS Day. I worry that there are some out there who think HIV/AIDS is not still a big problem for our species or for the LGBT community, but it very much is.
Having my own scare once opened my eyes. I had had a low-risk sexual encounter with someone, and a few months later found out he had contracted HIV. Though he might not have even been positive at the time of our encounter and we did not exchange fluids, any doubt is enough. The worst was that I still had to wait a few more months myself before I could get tested. Though I didn’t have much reason to be worried, I still felt incredible dread that the course of my life had changed forever.
Thankfully, I had not contracted HIV. I did not become a statistic.
Nonetheless, I realized from that experience how easy it can still be to get it. I am not far removed—none of us are. And while HIV might be much more livable than it ever was, it is still a huge burden to the health and also financial well-being of the LGBT community and world at large.
Rather than prattle on here, I invite you to take a look at some of these other resources. Please explore them and let today be an important reminder that we have a long way to go in fighting back this virus.
I first wrote about the schism in our movement back in March, but an extremely thorough piece on Congress.org paints an updated picture on where things stand through the lens of DADT repeal. I, personally, have been chastised for speaking out against what could perhaps be called the “old guard” of the movement with the suggestion that I am not informed enough about history or that I do not have enough respect for the work of those who came before. The “enough” suggests that if I had enough, I’d be singing a different tune.
In the interest of both clarifying my own point of view and an attempt to make some sense of these divides in the community, I’m going to use this post to explore some questions that help sort out the different perspectives. This will hopefully help people (myself included) clarify who they are calling out and why.
Do we measure success by progress or by full equality?
Obviously, this question isn’t really a dichotomy, and yet it seems to effectively separate people out. I don’t think anybody who is equality-focused is ungrateful for progress and I don’t think anyone who is progress-focused is blind to equality. The forest is made up of trees and each tree makes up the forest.
The distinction here is the idea of “success” and our standards for it. What is it we celebrate? What is it we take pride in?
Our movement has largely been based on incrementalism, resisting discrimination at every turn. There were many battles that had to be fought, from pushing the APA to revise the DSM, to countering Bryant and Briggs, to trying to save our own lives at the height of the AIDS epidemic. These battles continue to this day: we denounce NARTH and Exodus, we track the NOM tour bus, and we have a new epidemic of suicide-inducing bullying threatening the lives of our young ones (three morethis week, including a college student) as HIV still ravages our community.
In many ways, ours has been a movement of defense and survival. Our successes have been measured by our ability to resist attacks on our rights, a measure by which we still struggle, as evidenced most recently by California’s Prop 8 and Maine’s Question 1. There continues to be a constant barrage from the religious right that never ends (NOM, AFA, FOF, ADF, FRC, etc.), and we cannot ignore these attacks on our community.
Yet, it seems the tide is turning (if it hasn’t already) in that we are successfully progressing in legitimately positive ways (as opposed to breaking even). From Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 to marriage equality in six states to the recent Prop 8 and DADT federal court decisions, we have seen progress at an epic pace. This challenges the old standard for “success” and, I think, begs for a reconsideration of where we place the goal line. Are we just kicking a can to keep it moving down the street or are we playing to win the championship for our lives?
What context informs our perspectives on the movement?
I think there is a growing generation gap resulting from a difference in shared memories. When we entered the movement and what experiences we’ve had with our identities play a huge part in how we answer the previous question.
Consider that among the span of currently-living LGBT people, there are people who’ve experienced homosexuality as a mental illness. (Our trans brethren are still somewhat in this boat.) There are people who’ve experienced homosexuality as a crime. There are people who lost countless friends and loved ones to HIV/AIDS as the government stood by and did nothing. People have been bullied, fired, deported, and beaten within inches of their lives. Many of those experiences will not resonate with younger members of our community.
I’m one of those younger members. By the time I came out in 2004, there was already extensive scientific research about the nature of sexual orientation and gender identity. Being gay was no longer a crime, and one state already had marriage equality. While I know people who are HIV+ (and once had a scare myself), I’ve never had to watch a loved one suffer and I’ve never lost anyone to AIDS. I wasn’t even bullied that much, and as far as I know, I haven’t been discriminated against in hiring (though I still could be here in PA). My story isn’t particularly compelling; there was little hardship.
Thus, my emotional engagement with the movement comes from a very different place. I’m not a survivor. I haven’t endured harassment, pain, and loss. I have great admiration for struggles endured, but I don’t get choked up at the thought of AIDS; I just don’t. I am fresh young blood who sees injustice persisting and I am motivated to interrupt that injustice. My perspective is primarily defined by my foundational understanding of our identities and the progress I’ve seen in this decade.
As an example, when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell passed, it was considered progress. Better that we could serve closeted than not serve at all. Ultimately, it didn’t pan out that way, and I’ve only seen how disastrous and damaging it turned out to be. I understand that it was a big achievement in 1993, but I was in 3rd grade; it doesn’t resonate with me as ever being a “success” or a worthwhile compromise.
What stuns me is that a young person coming out today will take the progress I’ve seen for granted. The closer we get to equality, the less patience young people will have to seal the deal. This impatience isn’t ignorant nor naive. It doesn’t speak to a lack of experience or a poor understanding of what’s come before. It also doesn’t speak to a lack of gratitude or appreciation for those who have achieved the progress we enjoy today. It speaks to new times, new circumstances, new momentum, and new fervor that cannot simply be dismissed as immature insolence. If anything, it represents the success of progress both legally and socially.
Have Will & Grace, Queer as Folk, and Brokeback Mountain been extremely validating for me as a young gay man? Absolutely. And that too is “progress.” But that “progress” rings a lot truer in gay-haven cities like New York, DC, and San Francisco where people can relish in that visibility through concentrated self-isolation. We don’t feel that out here in Middle America. I see protests and rallies in SF or NYC that support the movement and in some ways can’t even relate. Life in those homo-meccas is so far beyond what the rest of us are experiencing, but that is where many of our movement’s leaders are speaking from. Despite my efforts to keep up with what is happening throughout the whole movement through my blogging, I so often wonder if folks realize what little impact actions in those cities really have on those of us in the rest of the country. It’s great that it’s convenient for them, but what good does it do us?
And while I’ve seen a lot more visibility and access to information about LGBT issues (thanks to television and the internet), that same visibility and access has been harnessed by our opponents, who continue to keep us at bay with their taunting and disparaging campaigns.
How accountable must politicians be to continue receiving our support?
This seems to be the question of the hour due to the impending midterm elections.
Imagine with me for a moment. Imagine if groups like the Human Rights Campaign and the Stonewall Democrats only supported candidates who were 100% committed to LGBT issues—willing to cosponsor every one of our bills in the House and Senate. This would mean there would be plenty of races in which no candidates get endorsements from the LGBT community. There would be no obligation of loyalty to candidates who didn’t follow through. There would be no endorsement of lesser evils. Money would be saved up to support candidates who didn’t hedge in their support of our community and the issues that affect us.
In this dream world, only Dennis Kucinich would have gotten direct support from the LGBT establishment in the 2008 election. It’s a crazy thought, I know. But I think considering this extreme puts into perspective the current debate about our “friends.” There are a lot of folks who think we should never challenge our “friends,” particularly when some of us are trying to get those same “friends” reelected (Sen. Harry Reid comes to mind). For them, the standard to earn the title of “friend” is incredibly low. Politicians don’t have to promise much in regards to LGBT issues to get their support; in fact, they will even engage in defensive apologetic support for elected leaders who don’t follow through, as they have with President Obama.
These differences in standards lead to conflict within the movement. This is good conflict. Unfortunately, the impression I get is that the apologists are quite good at silencing and ostracizing dissenters. As perhaps best epitomized by HRC in the Congress.org piece, the apologists are institutionalized and they maintain a proprietary grasp on some of the connections that are most important to our efforts. Critics like myself are accused of “shooting our own” or the topic is dismissed as being unproductive or unimportant. Meanwhile, no real critical discussion takes place about how our movement is being led or whether or not current strategy is the most effective (or effective at all). Such silencing of dissent is perhaps even more dangerous than the dissent itself is perceived to be. It speaks to privilege and a sense of ownership over the movement rather than a willingness to grow and adapt. The pace of society in the 21st Century is too great to accommodate such rigidity.
Honestly, I think the tide has turned enough that the LGBT movement should stop trying to “get whatever we can.” Rather than wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars and personhours campaigning for lesser evil candidates, we should dedicate that energy to community education and voter motivation. We can help voters choose lesser evil candidates to support without endorsing them. Our focus needs to be on addressing the experiences of our own community across the country, not just ensuring another Congressional term of grasping at straws. Similarly, we need to have the courage to ask for more than breadcrumbs. We can show the power of our voting block and save up our financial support for candidates who will truly stand for us. The Don’t Ask, Don’t Give campaign has definitely gotten a lot of individuals thinking about their giving; I would love to see it translate to the economic forces in our movement.
Until the organizations and individuals in our movement with the most status agree to let go of the stronghold they currently maintain on incremental apologetic strategy, this internal conflict is likely only going to escalate. Likewise, LGBT individuals in Middle America will continue to feel isolated and left behind because political power will still be prioritized over education and outreach, as I voiced concern about last week.
At this point, I am not convinced that continued incrementalism and support of AINOs (Allies in name only) is the best course for our movement. Did it get us where we are today? Yes. I won’t argue that. But is it going to get us where we should be tomorrow? That I’m not so sure about. If I can look around my state and see that the legal situation for LGBT people hasn’t really changed despite all the progress made elsewhere and in other ways, something has to change. Change doesn’t mean disrespecting what came before; it means respecting what needs to come next.
The movement ought to belong to all of us. It would be nice if all ideas and perspectives felt welcome.
[Note: Check out my follow-up post in which HRC’s response to the Congress.org piece confirms many of the concerns I wrote about here.]
Zack… and Peterson… are coming at you from opposite sides of the continent! Zack is in Las Vegas for Netroots Nation and Peterson is heading off to TransForm New Hampshire. The sound quality is a bit low because it was recorded via phone, but the content quality is at its queerest. Zack shares some of his experiences spending a full day (July 21) with other LGBT bloggers and organization reps with some updates on some pressing issues. After weeks of teasing it, Peterson finally tells us about all the awesome workshops to expect from TransForm New Hampshire. Listen this week to get a sense of these great conferences, then follow Peterson and Zack on Twitter throughout the weekend for even more! (Zack edited out a lot of the delay, but left in his unusual number of umm’s and uh’s so you can tell how tired he is.)
It still bothers me I once identified as Catholic. Let’s see what the Church has been up to.
» Last month, the Washington DC Archdiocese announced they would completely end their foster care program because of same-sex marriage. The thought of having to place homeless children with same-sex couples was just too despairing, so they just said they weren’t going to do any foster care for anybody anymore. Those values of love and service were never more evident. (Washington Post story from 2/17.)
» Further, the Washington DC Archdiocese announced they would no longer offer spousal benefits to anybody. Only those spouses who are currently enrolled are grandfathered in; no spouse will ever get new benefits from the Church in the Washington area. This is the penance straight couples will pay to avoid catering to same-sex couples. Discrimination against gays is more important than… well… anything, apparently. (Washington Post story from 3/2.)
» Just in case these other actions didn’t make it clear, an Italian cardinal set things straight by saying you can’t be Catholic and support same-sex marriage. If any politicians were to suggest otherwise, they could count on being excommunicated. It’s nice to see the Church so open to debate. (Story in The Pilot from 2/19.)
» That’s not all! You can’t be Catholic and try to be safe from AIDS, either. Bishops in the Philippines called for the firing of the Health Secretary and staff there for daring to distribute condoms to help reduce HIV infection rates! How horrid! (AP News story from 2/22.)
» Apparently, though, you can be gay without supporting same-sex marriage, which means you can be Catholic? But, you can be fired for it. Of course, it could be that it’s the prostitution part that’s wrong in regards to the current gay prostitution scandal inside the Vatican. So far, two have been dismissed for it. (New York Times story from 3/4.)
» And let’s put some icing on the cake today: you can’t go to a Catholic-run preschool if your parents are lesbians. The Colorado Archdiocese wants everyone to keep quiet, but that didn’t stop the school’s staff from speaking out anonymously about how horrid this decision is. Here’s the full story from Boulder (3/4):
For the record, this post is just about the Church, not about the people.
Do I hate all people who identify as Catholic? No. In fact, I really try hard not to hate any people.
Do I think all people who identify as Catholic are accountable for the actions of the Church that they support with their membership and tithing? Yes.
You can distinguish yourself and your beliefs from the Church all you want folks, but if you still leave a dollar in the basket at Mass, you are part of the problem. You are responsible for these actions and attitudes.
On Saturday, the main feature of the Creating Change plenary session was a panel of queer youth of color. The discussion dealt with the challenges that youth organizing faces, highlighted by a recent report from FIERCE (Fabulous Independent Educated Radicals for Community Empowerment), which you can read below. The report, Coming Out, Stepping Up (embedded below), illuminates many challenges facing youth advocacy, including increased homelessness, insufficient and decreased resources, increased rates of HIV/AIDS and STIs, and strategies that are not effectively utilizing youth leadership.
The general theme that the young folks spoke to was the difference between laws and conditions. This distinction should resonate throughout the entire movement, but often doesn’t. There will be a day when the laws change, and those issues will no longer be of primary concern. There are certain conditions, however, that will persist, and in the interim, they are being totally ignored.
In general, 25-40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ. Some cities might report even higher rates. As social services—like access to health care, clothing, food, and housing—are cut, the situation only worsens for these young people and the centers trying to support them. Add in transphobia and gender-based violence, police harassment and violence, school safety, HIV/AIDS awareness, and personal wellness and mental health, and you see a whole lot of challenge that is often completely unsupported by “the movement.”
What’s worse is that advocacy organizations often take advantage of young people without reciprocating support. There are a lot of opportunities for leadership development available for our queer youth, but after the youth show up for the marriage equality rally, they never hear from the big organizations anymore. More importantly, young people are rarely included as decision makers or organizers. As one of the panelists pointed out (paraphrased):
Adults have to be open to the changes of the next generation. Youth should be empowered and trusted, not just ordered.
Also missing from our movement are organizations that work to support both youth and adults. There are only 101 youth organizing centers across our country attempting to shoulder the entire burden of supporting queer youth, with many states having no such resources whatsoever. There are no organizations that serve the whole community and are inclusive of the unique and vital needs of queer youth.
I was very impressed with the panel that spoke during the plenary. These are amazingly confident and poised leaders who are committed to righting the wrongs of the world. They know the struggle of their peers and will stop at nothing to try to improve the circumstances for queer youth.
Gabriel Padilla was particularly passionate, lighting a fire under the conference’s collective ass by saying that change is going to come because…
Radical queers are going to fuck shit up!
Ash Hammond echoed that energy, solemnly stating:
When I’m sitting in the audience at Creating Change 2020 listening to a panel of youth, I hope they aren’t talking about any of the things I’m talking about today.
Truly, we have to recognize that achieving queer equality means much more than just passing ENDA or overturning DOMA and DADT. If our society cares so much about children (as our opponents often remind us), we owe it to them to prioritize their needs and their struggle.
Read the FIERCE report below and find out what you can do to better support queer youth in our nation:
Kenya: Homosexual activity can be punished with 14 years in jail. USA: Any lingering laws against homosexual activity were deemed unconstitutional by Lawrence v. Texas.
Kenya: Many gay people suffer from HIV/AIDS because they know little about it. USA: HIV/AIDS is thought of as “the gay disease” even though its spread is in no way limited to the gay community.
Kenya: The country is concerned enough about the gay community that it is going to specifically try to count gay people, knowing full well the results will not be accurate and will depend upon “gay men counting each other.” U: The country won’t count the gay community on a national level despite people’s willingness to identify themselves because they’re worried the results will not be accurate according to federal legal definitions.
Kenya is to carry out a census of its gay population in an effort to bolster the fight against HIV/Aids – despite homosexuality being against the law.
Nicholas Muraguri, head of Kenya’s Aids prevention programme Nascop, told the BBC it was vital that the government reached out to the gay community.
So the USA tells us that we haven’t advocated enough for our equality so they’re not going to count us, but Kenya is going out of their way to reach the gay community out of real concern for them.
I’m not saying I want homosexual behavior to be illegal, but I actually prefer the tone of the Kenyan government to the messages we often get from ours.
“Kenyans cannot actually afford to say that the gay community are isolated somewhere in the corner – they are part of our lives,” he said.
“This group must be reached with information and services so they know how to protect themselves from getting infected.”
HIV/AIDS is still a serious concern in the United States that hasn’t been properly addressed, but we’ve seen no efforts of this concern. Further, if our government (as in the Obama administration) really cares about equal rights for American LGBT folks, couldn’t the same principle be applied? Wouldn’t it make perfect sense for the U.S. Census to say, “Marriage inequality is a problem; it will be helpful to get a sense of how many same-sex couples out there identify as spouses”? I’m not trying to compare the severity of HIV/AIDS to marriage equality, but I’m embarrassed on America’s behalf that we can even make such a juxtaposition based on something as simple as counting people.
I hope Kenya’s census efforts are productive. HIV/AIDS is a scourge on our species and we continue to flounder in addressing it, in terms of education, prevention, and treatment. We can do better by our own people.
Name: Judi Israel Age: 62 Hometown: Barrington, RI Occupation:Clay Sculpter Why I Found Her at The NEM:
Judi’s son Josh is gay, but she told me she would have been at the March whether he was or not. LGBT issues have been on her radar since she was 16. She had a friend who was gay and people made fun of him, and since then she has felt strongly about standing up for the rights of LGBT folks. She told me these issues are important because “Equality is equality. It means everybody.”
She told me that one of her artist friends jokes that “Every woman should have at least one gay friend.” Certainly, Judi has had some important relationships with LGBT folks in her life. Given her eagerness to join her family at the March, it’s clear she cherishes them. Though she isn’t actively involved in PFLAG, she often supports the organization by mentoring young people.
What She’d Change in America:
Judi has serious concerns about AIDS. She feels strongly that not enough has been done in the past and still more needs to be done in the present and future.