Tag Archives: HIV

Treason and the Embracing of Fascism

30 Jul

I have spent many weeks working on this particular article, as it has been eating at me and has been the cause of great consternation. While I typically do not reach out to 45’s base supporters, I am reaching out now, as I am exceedingly nonplussed. My observations are that continued support of 45 in the wake of his behavior in the last two years provides overwhelming evidence of a disturbing embracing of fascism and a complete lack of understanding of how a democracy operates, not to mention the overwhelming evidence of how racism unites a huge portion of the population in the United States.

In the past two years we have witnessed such sociopathic behavior from 45 and the entire GOP and what we have witnessed can’t be undone–it cannot be taken back. We now have to look at how do we repair the monumental damage done by this administration and all of you who colluded with this nefarious behavior. Here is just a minuscule list of the damaging and unacceptable behavior that is moving to deteriorate and dismantle our democracy: 45 endorsed and campaigned for Roy Moore who raped countless women and girls–how on earth do you move forward after that? How is that acceptable behavior? While campaigning, 45 mocked a reporter with disabilities–for me, I was certain this would have been the end of his campaign, but the American people sadly proved me wrong and said it was okay to mock people with disabilities. His base further disappointed me by saying it is acceptable for men to grab women by their genitals. I don’t know how any of you readers were raised, but I was raised with respect for human decency and all of 45’s behavior and the collusion and support by the entire GOP fly in the face of human decency.

Another breaking point was the separating of children from their families and placing children in cages in camps. When we learned that one particular child with Down syndrome was separated from his family, FOX correspondent Corey Lewandowski mocked the child and family with his pathetic “womp, womp.” Honestly, how does one bounce back from this behavior? Have you no decency Mr. Lewandowski? Have you no empathy? I grow fearful and exhausted by 45’s base who shout: “if you break the law, you get separated from your family.” Sadly, you all don’t seem to understand how the law works and how applying for asylum works, or what due process means. One has to be on American soil to fill out the paper work to apply for asylum and should not be separated from one’s family and then is entitled to due process.

Now let us talk about treason.  While 45 works to alienate our allies and insults Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, demonstrates unbelievably boorish behavior to the Queen of England, and then praises oppressive dictators like Kim Jung Un seems like a dystopian piece of fiction, but sadly it is our reality. His private meeting with Puppet Master Vlad Putin is more than just problematic, it is in fact treason. 45 said: “It is U.S. foolishness and stupidity and the Mueller probe that is responsible for the decline in US relations with Russia,” all of this in the face of the evidence that Russia was involved in disrupting our democratic process. Then to make matters worse, 45 has now invited the Puppet Master to come to DC for another private meeting. Why are we not collectively freaking out over this? Why have charges of treason not been filed?

Moving on to more examples of behavior that you can’t take back–behavior that painfully demonstrates that 45 and the entire GOP display the very worst of humanity. 45 and his administration are currently trying to purge all current soldiers who are impacted by HIV.  Even more disgusting is that 45 is diverting Ryan White funds that are designated to help those impacted by HIV to separate children from families. The very unstable 45 has now also threatened Iran with war.  Is this who we are as a nation? The sad answer is YES–this is who we have devolved to as a nation. It is not a small wonder that we have lost any respect from our allies around the globe.

In my 51 years of living, never did I imagine I would witness the nation embracing Fascism, but alas here we are. Fascism is the embracing and subscription to an authoritarian government that does not allow for opposing views; it vilifies the free press and demonizes opposing voices as “enemies of the state.” There is a strong push towards nationalism and great disdain for economic equality, rampant misogyny, and disdain for the arts and intellectuals — disdain for human rights. All decision making is from a unilateral voice without a system of check and balances, and fraudulent elections.

Call to action: I worry that those of you who remain in 45’s seemingly implacable base, your legacy is one of hate, racism, homophobia, misogyny, and fear. Please prove me wrong. I implore all of us to reflect and show ourselves and the world we are better than this. I want America to weep no more. For all of us in the Resistance, please practice self-care. For me, I am watching Netflix and Kim’s Convenience.

Associated Press: An Apology For Hillary ?

29 Aug

clinton-foundationHow sad and disheartening that the Associated Press (AP) has devolved to the likes of Fox News, where one can “report” a series of lies and present it as news. What is even more profoundly disturbing is that when confronted with the fact that they the AP had no evidence of wrong doing and should offer a retraction, they took a very petulant “I got my hand caught in the cookie jar”defense. Is the AP trying to model itself off of the behavior of Trump?

For those not familiar with the story, some brief background. Last week the AP pitched a story that screamed “Half of the people Hillary Clinton met with as Secretary of State were Clinton Foundation donors!!” The problem? They only looked at two years of her time as Secretary of State. They threw out every meeting she had with anyone they considered a “government official.” Left with 154 PRIVATE CITIZEN meetings (out of over 7000), it’s a wonder that only 85 turned out to be donors to a major philanthropic organization. When major news outlets — including professional Clinton basher the New York Times — called them out and asked for details, the AP refused.

Honestly, I was embarrassed for Stephen Braun and Eileen Sullivan of the AP. Their claims and allegations are not only unfounded but read as though it is a parody from The Onion: “Secretary of State Clinton talked to very important people and even took money for her foundation.” Really? Is it that far of a stretch to think that high profile people talk to other high profile people and ask them for money for a foundation–and by the way, The Clinton Foundation helps to provide medication for more than half of all adults and 75% of children impacted by HIV/AIDS world wide, not insignificant.

In fact, if you take the time to comb through Braun and Sullivan’s article, you will see they have zero evidence to corroborate any wrongdoing on the part of Hillary Clinton. Sadly, when faced with this subterfuge by Braun and Sullivan last Tuesday, they have offered no apology, no repair, and in fact have approached the debacle in a very Trumpian manner.  Perhaps, they are trying to build a wall around Hillary and they will force her grandson Aidan to pay for it? Journalism requires honesty and transparency. How sad that the AP instead opted for innuendo and smear tactics, picking “facts” to prove a flawed thesis.

What is of great concern is that the AP article reads like a bunch of anti-Hillary bumper stickers. There seems to be great intent on behalf of Braun and Sullivan to deliver talking points without any substance, an approach we have seen used by the likes of Fox News. Yes, I admit, it is a low blow to be compared to Fox, and that is where you are now AP (in my best, “but y’are Blanche, y’are!” voice). When did AP start to stand for Appalling Practices?

Happy Birthday, Olivia Newton John

26 Sep
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Today is Olivia Newton John’s 67th birthday!  I want to say Happy Birthday and I would like to celebrate a woman whose music has brought me endless joy and whose dedication to social justice inspires me. Olivia Newton-John was born in Cambridge, England in 1948. Her father was a Welsh-born professor and her mother a German Jew whose family fled Germany as the Nazis came to power. (Her mother’s father was Nobel-winning physicist Max Born.) The family moved to Melbourne, Australia when Olivia was six, and it is that country that she considers her home.

A talented singer, she began performing in her teens and took part in a number of Australian TV programs. She met future collaborator and producer John Farrar, who encouraged her to take part in a contest on Sing Sing Sing. She won a trip to England, initially planning to stay for a year to explore the country and her career. She built up slow, steady momentum and released her first album in 1971.

That launched real international success, including an invitation to perform the U.K. entry in the 1974 Eurovision contest. (She came in 4th; the winner that year was Sweden, with ABBA’s Waterloo.) She was still struggling to get a foothold in the U.S., but won a Grammy for best Country Female Performance. That award raised anger in Country purist circles, in part because she was still based in England. (The ever-wonderful Dolly Parton, however, supported her.) Taking advice from fellow Aussie Helen Reddy, Olivia moved to the U.S. In short order she launched a massively successful career.

I remember getting beaten up in the bathroom when I was a little kid at summer camp.  I was singing You’re the One That I Want from Grease, when a couple of bullies came in and beat the tar out of me.  How I hated those kids and how I loved Olivia and how did I not know I was gay back in the 7th grade?  Of course, even today I sing to Xanadu and all of the classic Olivia songs.  There is another song that holds a very special place in my heart, Tutta La Vita.  This song came out when my friend Kent was sick in the hospital and I loved this song for both the lyrics and for the music.  Sadly, my friend Kent passed away from HIV, but I think about him when I hear this song.  How wonderful that our Olivia stands in solidarity with the LGBT community.

Besides her beautiful music, Olivia has been a tireless advocate for many causes. She is an outspoken environmentalist and animal rights advocate. (She has cancelled Japanese tours over the slaughter of dolphins in tuna nets.) A breast cancer survivor, she also devotes a great deal of energy to cancer education, diagnosis, research, and treatment. She has also worked closely with UNICEF and been an advocate for LGBT rights.

A great singer, actress, activist, and all-around decent human being, I love our Olivia! (And who can forget her amazing performance in Sordid Lives?) Thank you for bringing your joy and passion into so many lives.

One of the Voices of Social Justice: Tama Seavey

23 Sep

Tama and I became friendsTama through social media and we both do the same type of work. I had posted a story about Paula Deen and Trayvon Martin and received a great deal of rather nasty resistance from a particular white heterosexual male.  His comments opened the door to meet a great number of lovely people such as Tama. We both run companies that provide Diversity/Inclusion and Racial Equity workshops. Sadly, we are across the country from each other, but I still hold out some hope that we will get to work together.  As you will see from this interview, it is difficult not to fall in love with Tama.

Many of you may already know Tama by her last name or by the work she does. Her first husband was Neal Seavey, a news reporter for WNBC who died of AIDS in 1983.  Tama lights up when she talks about Neal and it is clear she was drawn to him because of his dedication and commitment to civil rights and social justice, core values which Tama shares. Her experience being married to a gay man helped Tama become a fierce LGBT ally and understand the intersections of oppression.  Her amazing compassion demonstrates that she operates from a place of abundance rather than deficit.  Like her late husband, Tama  challenges:  racism, heterosexism and the abuses against targeted people wherever she can.

Here is the interview with this lovely and amazing woman, Tama Seavey.

Tama is a black woman who will celebrate her 57th birthday in October.  She lived with her mother and her family in Newark, NJ until she was 11.  She left home at the age of 12 and lived in 14 different homes within the foster care system.  All 14 of the homes were white.  While Tama describes herself as “being a handful,” I suspect she was using all of her resources just to survive.  She managed to graduate high school with honors at 16. She was married at age 19 and graduated from the University of New Hampshire.  She has three daughters — she lights up when she talks about her daughters.

Tama, what brings you to the  work of social justice? 

I worked for a number of years in administrative capacities in human service agencies noting the great disparity between their stated missions/social justice agendas and the reality of how people of color and other disenfranchised people were treated both staff and clients.  All of the isms were present internally and demonstrated to the clients. The stated agendas were there with the funding dollars flowing freely to the agency based on the missions, yet the reality was every agency failed dramatically to “live to the missions/visions.”

I was outraged at what I saw as mini racist and exclusionary societies supported and functioning primarily with government dollars and realized the true meaning of systemic racism.  How systems were linked together – networked together to bring about a complete system of organized oppression against targeted populations.  The understanding of this fueled my drive to turn it around, one agency at a time, sometimes one individual at a time and to be a voice of freedom from oppression.  I decided to work as a change agent in every aspect of my life.

Over the course of the following years, I have brought education, training, insight, and management change to boards, executives, and managers of diverse non-profit human services organizations working to create systemic change while teaching to build effective bridges between the mainstream population and those who have been denied access in our society.

Do you consider yourself an activist?

Yes, very much so.  My roots are in activism and I believe in activism at the grassroots level.  I am an effective trainer, writer, speaker and have worked for years studying organizations, systems and the responses of systems to the pressure of duty and responsibility to be inclusive entities and non-supporting of racism and injustice.  I believe that change – the sustained change we are looking for — that will create change for excluded populations will only come as a result of grassroots activism and by those people who work outside of the systems that keep exclusionary/unjust behaviors in place.

People comprise the systems that keep racism, discrimination, harassment and overall exclusion in place.  This condition in our country does not come from some huge overall entities without names and faces.  Those people sitting in the positions of power need to be called to task for maintaining the power imbalance, the privilege imbalance and for denying opportunity to all people.  This tipping of the scale, I believe, can only be accomplished through grassroots activism work.

What should marginalized communities do to have a stronger voice?

Oh, the list is very long.  At the top though is that they must speak and must speak the truth of their experience (no sugar coating, no finding the exact perfect words to appease mainstream society’s [white men and women with power] delicate sensibilities) – they must speak the truth of the experiences of exclusion.  Marginalized communities must stop tolerating their experiences and “challenge with the purpose to change” when presented with discrimination and harassment.  They must use every resource available to seek compensation and force as much justice as is available.  We, as minority individuals, walk away from challenging what we meet up with far too often saying to ourselves “we must pick the right battle.”  This walking away and waiting for the right battle plays a part in strengthening the system of injustice.  Every instance is a reason to speak and every act of discrimination and harassment is actionable.  So, getting educated to your rights is probably number 1 with the rest following.  The system of injustice will not end/will not be changed until there are penalties in place and the penalties are paid by those who perpetuate it.

What do you want your legacy to be?

I believe there is a difference between duty and responsibility.  I have worked towards a legacy that will be that I fulfilled my responsibilities for the choices I made in my life and I lived up to my duty to humanity by being of service to others.

Tama, thank you for sharing just a part of your narrative. I hope we get to hear more narratives like yours and that we all can take action.  How lovely it would be if all targeted people could stand in solidarity with one another.  I am very grateful that I have Tama in my world.

Celebrating Harry Belafonte

2 Aug

BelafonteGiven the recent events involving one of my personal heroes, Harry Belafonte, and Jay Z (a staunch supporter of marriage equality), I thought this would be an appropriate time to celebrate a social justice hero.  Belafonte is known world wide for his entertainment career, but I have always had a much greater appreciation for his social activism.  Belafonte has used his celebrity to help and support Dr. Martin Luther King.  In fact, it was Belafonte who bailed King out of the now famous Birmingham Jail.  He also financed the Freedom Rides, and helped our Bayard Rustin organize the March on Washington.

Belafonte’s dedication to human rights is not restricted to the borders of the United States, although it is worth noting that Belafonte was one of a handful of people who vocally opposed the policies of the George W. Bush administration. This was during the Great Silence when practically NO ONE dared to question the administration for fear of being called unpatriotic.  One of Belafonte’s most famous admonitions addressed Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice and their implication in the violation of human rights under Bush II:

There is an old saying, in the days of slavery. There were those slaves who lived on the plantation, and there were those slaves who lived in the house. You got the privilege of living in the house if you served the master, do exactly the way the master intended to have you serve him. That gave you privilege. Colin Powell is committed to come into the house of the master, as long as he would serve the master, according to the master’s purpose. And when Colin Powell dares to suggest something other than what the master wants to hear, he will be turned back out to pasture. And you don’t hear much from those who live in the pasture.

Belafonte has fought against the neo-colonization of countries in Africa.  He has helped the fight against HIV and AIDS in South Africa.  Belafonte has dedicated his life to human rights and continues to interrupt oppression around the world.  He also expects all people to take action and stand in solidarity with all targeted populations. He was proud to serve as one of the Grand Marshalls of the New York City Pride Parade this year in recognition of his support of LGBT rights and marriage equality.

While I do not wish to get into the particulars around what Belafonte said and how Jay Z responded, I would like and hope that these two men can come together and have a conversation away from the public, as Belafonte has suggested. They both make good points — progress requires direct action and public figures with whom marginalized youth can identify.

Belafonte is not only a treasure for social justice but he holds institutional and systemic memory.  Jay Z is young and has enormous power and influence.  Imagine how powerful these two voices could be if united and how many of us would support them both to help celebrate counter narratives that challenge the dominant culture. If we want the world to change for the better, we need to look towards the solidarity of targeted populations coming together in numbers too big to be ignored.

Women’s History Month 2013: Rachel Maddow

18 Mar

RachelMaddowToday we honor and celebrate Dr. Rachel Maddow, a woman who is trying to bring real discussion back into television journalism. Maddow was born in California in 1973. While a freshman at Stanford University, she was outed in a campus paper interview before she was able to tell her parents. I always love papers that out people just for the sake of outing them–my what code of ethics does that follow?  Fortunately, they were supportive, and she has been out and proud ever since. After receiving her degree in public policy from Stanford, she was awarded a Rhodes scholarship, becoming the first openly LGBT Rhodes scholar. She received her Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University with her thesis entitled HIV/AIDS and Health Care Reform in British and American Prisons.

These early events clearly hinted at her outspoken nature and her dedication to open discourse. She won a contest to become a radio announcer shortly after returning to the U.S., launching her broadcast career. She worked in radio for local Massachusetts stations and then joined Air America. Unabashedly liberal, she has observed the rightward drift of this country’s politics with the quip

I’m undoubtedly a liberal, which means that I’m in almost total agreement with the Eisenhower-era Republican party platform.

While still on Air America, she began regular guest spots on MSNBC’s nightly programs. Soon she was offered her own show, a TV version of her radio program, The Rachel Maddow Show. This made her the first openly LGBT host of a major prime-time news show in the U.S. She also routinely has her network’s most highly rated show–in what still remains a “white hetero male dominated” industry.

Her program is a wonderful mixture of straight news, opinion, and interviews–all offered through a social justice lens. In fact, I’m not sure there are other national programs that stand in such solidarity with those that are marginalized and oppressed by those in power and charged with the task of representing all Americans.  I love that Maddow holds these hypocrites’ feet to the fire. She has no tolerance for liars or people who put talking points above reality. Her no-holds-barred approach to discussing critical events is very refreshing. The media need more people who stand up and say “that’s not right!” Hooray for Rachel Maddow for showing that caring about the truth can still matter to the viewing public.

Women’s History Month 2013: Olivia Newton-John

8 Mar

5923_31Today I would like to celebrate a woman whose music has brought me endless joy and whose dedication to social justice inspires me. Olivia Newton-John was born in Cambridge, England in 1948. Her father was a Welsh-born professor and her mother a German Jew whose family fled Germany as the Nazis came to power. (Her mother’s father was Nobel-winning physicist Max Born.) The family moved to Melbourne, Australia when Olivia was six, and it is that country that she considers her home.

A talented singer, she began performing in her teens and took part in a number of Australian TV programs. She met future collaborator and producer John Farrar, who encouraged her to take part in a contest on Sing Sing Sing. She won a trip to England, initially planning to stay for a year to explore the country and her career. She built up slow, steady momentum and released her first album in 1971.

That launched real international success, including an invitation to perform the U.K. entry in the 1974 Eurovision contest. (She came in 4th; the winner that year was Sweden, with ABBA’s Waterloo.) She was still struggling to get a foothold in the U.S., but won a Grammy for best Country Female Performance. That award raised anger in Country purist circles, in part because she was still based in England. (The ever-wonderful Dolly Parton, however, supported her.) Taking advice from fellow Aussie Helen Reddy, Olivia moved to the U.S. In short order she launched a massively successful career.

I remember getting beaten up in the bathroom when I was a little kid at summer camp.  I was singing You’re the One That I Want from Grease, when a couple of bullies came in and beat the tar out of me.  How I hated those kids and how I loved Olivia and how did I not know I was gay back in the 7th grade?  Of course, even today I sing to Xanadu and all of the classic Olivia songs.  There is another song that holds a very special place in my heart, Tutta La Vita.  This song came out when my friend Kent was sick in the hospital and I loved this song for both the lyrics and for the music.  Sadly, my friend Kent passed away from HIV, but I think about him when I hear this song.  How wonderful that our Olivia stands in solidarity with the LGBT community.

Besides her beautiful music, Olivia has been a tireless advocate for many causes. She is an outspoken environmentalist and animal rights advocate. (She has cancelled Japanese tours over the slaughter of dolphins in tuna nets.) A breast cancer survivor, she also devotes a great deal of energy to cancer education, diagnosis, research, and treatment. She has also worked closely with UNICEF and been an advocate for LGBT rights.

A great singer, actress, activist, and all-around decent human being, I love our Olivia! (And who can forget her amazing performance in Sordid Lives?) Thank you for bringing your joy and passion into so many lives.

Women’s History Month 2013: Miriam Makeba

4 Mar

MakebaToday we honor and celebrate the powerful singer and international social justice activist known to the world as Mama Africa. Zenzile Miriam Makeba was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on this date in 1932. She began singing in a primary school choir. She married young and had her only child, Bongi Makeba, at the age of 18. Shortly after this, Miriam was diagnosed with breast cancer and her husband left her.

After her recovery, she began pursuing music professionally, working with the local jazz group the Manhattan Brothers. She left the band to form her own all-female group, the Skylarks, who merged native music with jazz stylings. It was with the Skylarks that she recorded the first version of her best known hit, Pata Pata. She composed it herself (with rock writer Jerry Ragovoy), mostly in the Xhosa language.

Her first major break also caused her major problems. She eagerly participated in the anti-apartheid documentary Come Back, Africa. Audiences responded so well to her presence in the film that the director had her travel to festivals to help promote it. It was during this time that she met fellow South African performer and future husband Hugh Masakela. When she tried to return home for her mother’s funeral, she discovered that the South African government had cancelled her passport in retaliation for her anti-apartheid work. Guinea, Belgium, and Ghana issued her international passports in recognition of her situation.

Harry Belafonte helped introduce Makeba to U.S. audiences as part of the proto-World Beat movement of the mid-60s. She was very well received and began a promising career, including the U.S. release of Pata Pata which went to #12. After her marriage to Masakela ended, she met and married Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael. His status as a Black Panther concerned the more conservative power brokers in the American music industry, and she suddenly found herself without a record deal or a tour. She took advantage of her Guinean passport and moved there, where she lived happily for the next 15 years.

While in Guinea, Makeba served as a delegate to the United Nations, speaking on race relations in Africa. In addition to performing, she continued her activism, working on hunger in Africa and political unrest. She finally returned to South Africa in 1990 to celebrate the release of Nelson Mandela. She spent the 90s recording with other luminaries (like the great Nina Simone, a true kindred spirit). She was also appointed Goodwill Ambassador to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Ever irrepressible, she also collaborated with South African first lady Graça Machel-Mandela on combatting juvenile HIV and the use of children as soldiers.

Mama Africa was known for her passion and her infectious smile. She loved performing and never slowed down. During a fundraising concert in Italy in 2008, she suffered a heart attack. It is somehow fitting that she left this world doing the two things she loved best, singing and making it a better place. Happy Birthday, Miriam Makeba! You departed too young at 76, but your legacy is still felt by the millions whose lives you touched.

Black History Month 2013: Kathleen Saadat

15 Feb

Today we honor a tireless worker for social justice and equality, my very dear friend Kathleen Saadat. Born and raised in Missouri, Kathleen moved to Oregon in the 70s. She attended Reed College and received her BA in Psychology there. She held several managerial positions with the City of Portland’s CETA Job Training Programs in the 1970’s and 80’s and held the position of Executive Director for the Oregon State Commission on Black Affairs immediately prior to her appointment by the Governor as Oregon State Director of Affirmative Action in 1987.  She managed the Youth Services arm of the Portland Urban League during the 1980’s.

Kathleen has worked in a wide variety of government positions and as an independent contractor. From 1997 until 2001, she was the Strategic Plan Coordinator for Multnomah County Oregon’s Department of Community and Family Services.  During that time she also continued work as a private consultant and trainer in the areas of human diversity and organizational development and as a motivational speaker. She has served as a Commissioner on the City of Portland’s Human Rights Commission and should also be recognized for her amazing work to fight HIV and help those impacted by HIV.

Kathleen is a member of Class VI of the Oregon American Leadership Forum, a 1992 Fellow with the Advocacy Institute in Washington DC and recipient of fellowship to Hedgebrook Women’s Writers Retreat and a member of the 29th Street Writers. Her list of awards and accomplishments is too long to enumerate here but includes being listed as one of 100 Who Lead in Oregon by Oregon Business Magazine, a Harvey Milk Award, the Bayard Rustin Civil RIghts Award, and a lifetime achievement award from the World Arts Foundation in recognition of her contributions to the efforts to “Keep Living the Dream” of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Kathleen is concerned with social and economic justice, what happens to our children, and with the issues related to world peace. More than just concerned, she lives and breathes social justice. She is both passionate and compassionate, willing and able to speak her mind clearly but also able to help people move along their own path towards understanding. Her desire for positive social change is only matched by her generosity of spirit. Although she has retired from the formal work force, her passion and presence continue to be felt in myriad ways as she channels her powerful voice through her own wishes and time. Truth be known, while she purports to be retired, I look forward to her next project towards social justice.

I am privileged to know and honor her. Kathleen continues to help me learn how to build coalitions and bring disparate groups together–thank you, Kathleen.  With love and admiration!

Black History Month 2013: Martha Wash

13 Feb

MWashToday we honor and celebrate an amazing singer whose perseverance has made the music industry a more just place while entertaining millions and advocating for social justice. Martha Wash was born in 1953 in San Francisco. By her early 20s she was already known as a powerhouse vocalist. She teamed with Izora Rhodes Armstead as regular vocalists with gay disco icon Sylvester. Celebrating their big voices and ample frames, the duo billed themselves as Two Tons O’ Fun.

Two Tons pursued their own career starting in 1980, recording two albums that were very successful on the dance charts. Their first brush with pop stardom came when songwriters Paul Jabara and Paul Shaffer offered them a song that had been rejected by Donna Summer, Barbra Streisand, and many others. They renamed themselves the Weather Girls and had a huge international smash with It’s Raining Men. The track also solidified Wash’s credentials as a diva of the gay scene, an honor she has embraced throughout her career. Izora moved to Europe in the late 90s and Wash began planning a solo career.

In the meantime, Wash did session work with a number of producers. In 1989 and 1990, her voice was everywhere as she sang on hits credited to Seduction and Black Box. She had been led to believe that she was creating guide vocals or demos, but the producers were so impressed with her voice that she ended up on the final products. Sadly, she was not given vocal credit, however, and Black Box used French model Katrin Quinol as the face of the songs. Infuriated with the lack of credit, low scale compensation, and clear discrimination against her size in the video realm, Wash sued Sony music. She received an undisclosed settlement that included credit and royalties. Occurring in the wake of the Milli Vanilli scandal, her actions also changed music industry law, requiring proper credit and royalties for anyone used as a lead vocalist.

Besides her amazing talent and business determination, Martha Wash has used her fame and fortune for social justice. She is active in charitable work for autism and is the official spokesperson for Quality Services for the Autism Community. She is also a staunch supporter of gay rights and an outspoken advocate for marriage equality.

Look, from my perspective, there have been more gay couples who’ve stayed together longer than straight couples. My feeling is, if you are a citizen of the United States, you should have all rights and liberties of everybody else. If you’re paying taxes like everybody else, why can’t you have the full commitment from the United States government, from marriage on down?

Recognizing her debt to her early gay fans, she is flattered by the many drag performers that cover her songs. She also enjoys telling stories of the many people who have told her they came out while one of her songs was playing.Wash was part of the opening ceremonies at the first OutGames in 2006 and performs many benefits.

Having come to fame during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, she is also a strong advocate for the HIV+ community. She has no patience for those who stigmatize the LGBT community for the disease or for those who marginalize those impacted by HIV. On World AIDS Day in 2012 she was awarded a lifetime achievement award from the AIDS Emergency Fund for her ceaseless advocacy and fundraising.

Martha Wash isn’t resting on her laurels, however. She started her own label, Purple Rose, and released her first full album in 20 years on January 10, 2013. Something Good proves she’s lost none of her vocal fire and is aptly named for her presence in the world.

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