What’s Happening At The Border

One of the biggest news stories in the United States over the past few weeks has been immigration and the situation at the border. Thousands of children are currently living in cages, separated from their families and are often not allowed to hug the other kids around them. Countless people have made the difficult and sometimes fatal trip to the United States and over the border. For decades, deportations and changing borders have separated families.

For me, it can be overwhelming to first understand and keep up with everything, especially knowing the context of US immigration and border policies. Then, it can be overwhelming to know how to best move forward and call for a more just and humane society.

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Learning From History.

Over the past few weeks, people have been comparing current events and politics to ones from history. The collection of rosaries from immigrants crossing the US/Mexico border has reminded people of the collection of wedding rings from Jewish folks in concentration camps. People have reminded folks that both the Holocaust and slavery were legal and that legality isn’t always equal to morality, as bad policies have been in place for quite some time.

In the first episode of the NPR/WABE podcast ‘Buried Truths’, host Hank Klibanoff talks about the importance of the show by saying that “… when we understand who we were, we can better understand who we are.” Learning about history and who we were can bring new meaning and context to current issues. And by looking at history and the full context, we can also better understand how these issues work, the ways in which we can combat injustice and inequality, and find role models.

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The History of Pride.

For many people, Pride month is coming to an end but there’s one important anniversary to celebrate and remember today: the 49th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn Riots. So often, many people forget the history of Pride and the long history of LGBTQ activism and existence. We’ve been around for centuries but homophobia, transphobia, and queerphobia have made it difficult for LGBTQ folks throughout history to exist happily and openly.

While the Stonewall Inn Riots are one of the most famous LGBTQ events in US history, police raids on gay bars were common during the 1950s and 1960s throughout the United States. And they didn’t stop after the Stonewall Riots. People were frequently arrested for different reasons, including for not wearing three articles of gender appropriate clothing. Those who frequented the Stonewall during this time also dealt with police harassment outside the bar and many were ostracized from their families and communities if or when they came out.

In the 1950s, gay people were also barred from government jobs with the notion that they could be blackmailed about their sexuality into sharing secrets. This is often called the ‘Lavender Scare’ and in addition to hundreds of people being harassed about their personal lives and sexuality, many lost their jobs because of it.

Additionally, many people during this time also thought that being gay or bisexual was an illness and something that could be cured. Gay, bisexual, and trans folks were regularly (and wrongly) seen as ‘perverted’ and wrong. There were many people during the 20th century who would live in the closet in their professional lives and places like the Stonewall provided a safe space. And like today, there were also many LGBTQ folks who dealt with poverty and homelessness during that time. For many, the Stonewall was a community center as much as a bar, as it was a warm place for LGBTQ folks to openly congregate and be with friends.

All of this is to put things into context, as people had some very good reasons to protest and riot. To deal with losing your job, family, and friends because of your gender identity or sexual orientation and to constantly hear that these things are also an ‘illness’ that needs to be cured is tough. It’s frustrating, degrading, and angering to be incorrectly labeled as a risk and wrong because of how you express yourself and who you love.

So on June 28th, 1969, when the police raided the Stonewall Inn again, people fought back for days instead of dispersing like they had done before. People at the Stonewall were fed up with how the police and rest of society were treating them. This event is often credited as the beginning of the gay rights movement and like Miss Major Griffin Gracy said, it was an empowering moment for many folks. It wasn’t the first moment that LGBTQ folks stood up and fought back but it was a moment that helped push the US towards justice and equality for the LGBTQ community.

One year after the riots, the Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day took place. This event was a remembrance for what had happened that June in 1969 and was also a continued fight for legal rights and social acceptance. It began with a march with a few hundred people gathering at the outside of the Stonewall Inn and by the time that it ended in Central Park in 1970, there were a few thousand people! By 1973, the Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day was an expected event in New York City and there were other cities holding similar events.

In the decades since the Stonewall Inn Riots and first Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day, Pride has grown and evolved. There are numerous events all over the country and all over the world during June and the first couple weeks of July. Many corporations, police departments, and governments now slap a rainbow on products, vans, and more each June. Parties of all kinds happen throughout the month and people of different identities often join the celebrations.

While we’ve come a long way over the last 49 years, we also have a long way to go for a more just and equitable society. Pride shouldn’t just a celebration nowadays; it should also be a protest. These two things can, and should, go hand in hand. Celebrating our community and feeling joy in our existence is often an act of resistance and we should keep celebrating. But using this time and space to also work towards a better world is in the spirit of Pride and honors those who came before us.

QUEER HISTORY: Making Gay History [podcast review]

Podcasts, as a medium, offer a very intimate and personal way of experiencing a production. This medium is one that you can listen to at any time and often times, you can hear people in their own voice and words. There are podcasts that are bringing back the audio drama genre; there are others that are bringing news and politically commentary to people’s commutes. And there are others that are bringing all sorts of LGBTQ/queer experiences to those who wish to listen. One such podcast is Making Gay History.

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Pride.

With Pride month officially done, I can’t help but think about where Pride has been, where it is now, and where it’s going. There’s no formal date for Pride but many cities typically celebrate during the last few weekends of June to (mostly) coincide with the anniversary of the Stonewall Inn Riots on June 28th. There always seems to be some sort of Pride event in the world during the weekends leading up to July and a few that happen during the first couple weekends of the month as well.

I always feel like a bad queer person because of this but I’ve actually only been to Pride weekend once. It was years ago and even then, I only stayed during the day and I was volunteering the entire time. I think that Pride can be this amazing celebration of the LGBTQ+ community but as an introverted person with anxiety and depression, being in large crowds for any reason and any amount of time is stressful and overwhelming.

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Genealogy

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been digging into part of my family history – something that I’ve been meaning to do for years but never really had the time. I’ve always loved learning more about my own family and hearing the stories of others doing the same. The story of the House on Loon Lake is one of my favorite episodes from This American Life and I’m really excited to hear more from the podcast Family Ghosts.

I grew up on the opposite side of the country from the rest of my mother’s family and the trips back to visit were few and far between. Those trips, much to my own disappointment, slowly stopped over time as more family moved out west and grandparents died. It was always hard and really expensive traveling thousands of miles with two kids so I don’t fault my parents for not going back as much as I would have loved to.

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The Freedom To Marry Documentary

Recently, I saw the documentary Freedom to Marry and was thoroughly underwhelmed. A part comes from my own doubts around the now finished fight for marriage equality but another part comes from just how predictable the documentary was. Jay Weissberg reviewed the film for Variety and wrote that:

Despite a small theatrical run, “The Freedom to Marry” feels designed for TV in every way: It does its job more or less efficiently (we could do without Wolfson’s parents’ friends talking about what a bright boy he was) in cookie-cutter documentary fashion. Rosenstein, a childhood acquaintance of Wolfson’s, is unable to disguise the artificiality of certain “spontaneous” conversations before the cameras.

And that’s exactly what it felt like. The message and theme of the documentary oversaturated the film in a way that felt like you were being hit over the head with what the filmmakers wanted you to take away from it. That doesn’t mean it was completely terrible or anything – there were some great moments and the film does hark back to how gay people have been treated in the United States. But I ultimately left the theater feeling underwhelmed by the production.

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When We Rise – Cleve Jones

Cleve Jones is a well-known labor and gay rights activist and his recent memoir, When We Rise: My Life in the Movement, follows his activism and life as a gay man during the 1970s and 80s in San Francisco and on. He worked with Harvey Milk and State Assemblyman Art Agnos, created the AIDS Memorial Quilt, cofounded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and now works with the hotel, restaurant, and garment workers’ labor union, UNITE HERE. When We Rise is a powerfully authentic memoir about his life, travels, work, and experience with HIV/AIDS and offers an amazing insight to a rarely talked about piece of US history.

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#NoDAPL

In the midst of Thanksgiving and Black Friday this week, much of the US is deep into traditional meals, gatherings, and shopping but the camps and water protectors in North Dakota are still standing against the Dakota Access Pipeline. These protectors are frequently met with violence and intimidation from police and others. Just a couple days ago, those on the ground were sprayed with water cannons in the middle of the night and in North Dakota at this time of the year, that can be fatal. One medic shared his story about that night and many others countered the police’s narrative and shared that the protectors have been nothing but peaceful.

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Major!

By complete chance, I saw the documentary Major! recently and it was one of the best experiences I’ve had in the past few months. A small part of my experience was also learning that a local nonprofit movie theater does a queer movie series and being surrounded in large part by other LGBT and queer folks. But being able to learn about and celebrate Miss Major was really the best part.

The documentary is in large part about Miss Major Griffin Gracy and her story as a black trans woman, veteran of the Stonewall Riots, a survivor of Attica State Prison, former sex worker, and community leader/activist. Her work at the Transgender Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), for example, has supported trans women who are currently in jail and prison or who are formerly incarcerated. There are interviews from Miss Major herself and the community around her about her life and work and there’s so much love and support in this film.

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