Tag Archives: LGBT History Month

Remembering Alan Turing: LGBTQ Pride Month 2015

7 Jun

Alan TuringIt was 61 years ago today that Alan Turing took his life. He was not able to see anyway out of the homophobic culture he had endured.  The irony is not lost that just two years ago the British government finally declared that Turing would no longer be considered a criminal for being gay.

Alan Turing was born in 1912. His teachers and family noticed his immense talent for mathematics early on, and he began a rigorous education. He became a fellow at King’s College at the age of 22 and began work on computation. His pioneering work earned him the title: Father of Computer Science. During the war, he worked for the British government as a code breaker. His methods helped crack critical German codes. Some have gone so far as to give him credit for Britain making it through the war without surrender. Turing’s contributions to computer science, cryptology, artificial intelligence, and mathematics are immense, and his gracious style made his ideas approachable, helping spark further innovation.

He was also gay. He was generally careful about this fact, given that any homosexual activity was still criminal in the United Kingdom, but he did have partners. In 1952, after reporting a break-in at his home, he admitted to the police that he was in a gay relationship with the other man living there. He was arrested charged with “gross indecency.” While he felt no guilt about simply being who he was, he pleaded guilty to avoid the negative publicity of a trial. He opted for injections of artificial estrogen — chemical castration — rather than go to prison.

The conviction revoked his security clearance and ruined his career. It kept him from travelling to the United States to expand on his work. It left him alone and bitter, his promising life in ruins at the age of 40 just because he wanted to live his life honestly. In 1954, he died of a cyanide overdose that was ruled suicide. What a pointless end to an amazing life and we must ask ourselves who is culpable–who has blood on their hands?  How do we learn from this tragedy and learn how to support our LGBT brothers and sisters?

While very well known in math and science circles, the scandal kept his work and life from greater renown. It wasn’t until 2009 that the British government — in a statement from Prime Minister Gordon Brown — apologized for what Brown aptly described as “appalling treatment.” (The Brits did better than the Catholic church, of course, with its habit of taking centuries to apologize for its legal abuses…) In the past four years, a bill has slowly worked through the parliamentary process to formally pardon Alan Turing. It appears poised to pass in October.

It will be wonderful for the charges against Turing to be formally erased. But his life cannot be returned. The amazing things his mind would have accomplished will never come to pass. The horrific impact of homophobia and abuse of power cannot be fully calculated or undone. Over 49,000 men were sentenced for the same crime in Britain — including Oscar Wilde — before the law was finally removed from the books.

There are still many countries with laws like this. There are still jurisdictions in our own country with laws like this. Let the dark example of Alan Turing be a call to action — every life deserves dignity, legalized oppression and discrimination must be stopped. In the end, Alan Turing was a victim, not a criminal. He does not need to be pardoned, the British government does, and this one positive step is simply not enough to wash the blood of thousands from its hands.

LGBTQ Pride/History Month 2014: Reflections and Work Yet to Be Done

30 Jun

pride_monthAs we celebrate the last day of LGBT History Month, I am reflecting on the amazing civil rights work being done by Binyavanga Wainaina.  Let us all hope that every country in Africa will celebrate and embrace the LGBTQ community.

I am also hopeful that the transgender community will be celebrated and embraced with the visibility and leadership of people like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock.

I think it is also important to look back and be able to honor those that came before us — to pay tribute to those who assumed level of risk, so that future generations might have an easier life just for being who we are.  Thank you, José Julio Sarria.  Thank you, Harry Hay.

While many states can now enjoy and celebrate marriage equality, this does not mean that LGBTQ people are no longer targeted or marginalized. Of course, we must not forget that the disproportionality of targeting/marginalization is greater for people of color who are also LGBTQ.

Of course, this is also the time when I get to highlight some of my favorite LGBTQ stories over the years.

Yes, our Dumbledore is on the list of favorites, as is Professor Sprout (Miriam Margolyes).  Of course, I have to include Bayard Rustin as one of my favorite heroes.

As with Black History Month and Women’s History Month, I wish we did not need LGBTQ History Month, but the fact is we do! We must not fall into the delusion that people in the United States and all over the world are treated equally by virtue of being human.  In most states in the south it is not safe to be part of the LGBTQ community.  In Uganda it is legal to kill gay people – a proposal seen just recently here in the United States.

I bring up Black History Month and Women’s History month because of all the people who have multiple identities and experience oppression on multiple levels. Marriage Equality is just a small portion of what needs to be addressed regarding civil rights.  Violence against the LGBTQ community has increased by 13% over the past year, with people of color, transgender and gender non-conforming folk being especially targeted.

A Call To Action: I ask that all of our allies/supporters to raise your voices — stand in solidarity with those of us in the LGBTQ community. Together we have the power to eradicate homophobia, transphobia, racism, misogyny, and poverty.

LGBT Pride and History Month 2014: Jared Polis

29 Jun

JaredpolisToday I would like to honor and celebrate Representative Jared Polis from Colorado.  Polis is currently one of a handful openly gay member of congress — no small feat given how welcoming John Boehner has made the House of Representatives for the LGBTQ community. He’s also the first out gay parent to serve in Congress.

Polis has dedicated his life to improving education. While his business enterprises have been diverse, he has focused his extensive philanthropy and political aspirations on ensuring access to quality education for everyone. His first elected office was to the Colorado State Board of Education, where he served part of his term as Chair. He also worked to ensure the passage of the largest school bond proposal in Colorado history, improving and modernizing educational facilities in the Boulder Valley School District.

Polis has put his own money to work as well, creating a foundation dedicated to creating “opportunities for success by supporting educators, increasing access to technology, and strengthening our community.” His work focuses on ensuring that schools have adequate technology to prepare students for success in a rapidly changing world. He also demonstrates amazing dedication to issues of racial equity, as he strives to create better access for targeted and immigrant children.

Since 2008, Polis has been the Representative for Colorado’s 2nd District. In Congress he continues his push for quality education, serving on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. He also chairs the Red to Blue program, helping Democratic candidates in competitive Republican-held districts. Rep. Polis is an outspoken critic of the lives and money the U.S. has wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan. A staunch supporter of civil rights, he has supported legislation and action opposing US involvement in countries with anti-gay laws as well as programs supporting the LGBT community in Iraq, Honduras, and elsewhere.

Jared Polis has been open and out throughout his career, providing a visible example of a proud, successful gay man as well as a supportive partner and father. I would also like to take time to thank all of the LGBTQ parents raising children and being visible! It is still relatively early in Rep. Polis’ career, but his work thus far indicates a commitment to equity and opportunity. I look forward to seeing how that passion grows.

LGBT Pride and History Month 2014: Harry Hay

26 Jun

hay5Today I would like to honor and celebrate the late Harry Hay.  Hay, whom many consider the founder of the Gay Rights movement died in October of 2002.  Hay understood intersectionality, as he advocated not only for LGBT rights, but also for the Labor movement, and for Native American civil rights. Hay founded the Mattachine Society, a leftist gay liberation organization which worked for the civil rights of homosexuals during the 1950s.  The Mattachine Society was tied to the Community Party during the age of McCarthyism here in the United States, which made it difficult to secure consistent leadership.  Many members left the society in fear of the dire actions being carried out by McCarthy’s henchmen.

Unlike other gay liberation movements, Hay strongly resisted the move towards assimilation.  Like many gay men, Hay succumbed to societal pressure to deny his identity and try to adopt the identity of being heterosexual.  This attempt led him to marrying Anita Platky.  The couple adopted two children and later divorced, for Hay could no longer manage the pretense of being heterosexual. Sadly, 60 years later, we still see people engaging in heterosexual marriages due to the overwhelming societal pressure to be “straight.”  Here is a perfect example of how the liberation of LGBT people is directly tied to the liberation of our heterosexual brothers and sisters and is connected to the liberation of other targeted populations.  I know my own narrative and activism as a gay man helped to pave the way for my activism around other social justice issues, such as eradicating racism, misogyny, and poverty.

Hay’s first male partner was none other than the amazing civil rights leader Will Geer, whom many remember only for his role as the grandfather on the television show the Waltons. My husband and I loved Geer in the  1954 film adaptation of Salt of the Earth — not a trip to chuckle town, but a great film about social justice racism, and poverty.

Years later, Hay and his partner John Burnside would look to the Mattacine Society and Native American cultures that revered gays for inspiration to start the Radical Faeries in 1979. Today, I am aware of two Radical Faerie communes that still exist; one in Tennessee and one here in Oregon.

Harry Hay was a true pioneer — a bold speaker of his personal truth who demanded that everyone be afforded the right to live openly, honestly, and safely. Justly called the “Father of Gay Liberation,” he is a person to whom we all owe a continued debt today.

LGBT Pride and History Month 2014: Binyavanga Wainaina

23 Jun

Binyavanga WainainaToday we honor and celebrate Binyavanga Wainaina. Wainaina lives his life as an out and visible gay man in his home country of Kenya. He has become a greatly celebrated gay rights activist for all of Africa — no small feat given the laws in Uganda and Nigeria criminalizing homosexuality.  Sadly, even members of parliament in Wainaina’s home country of Kenya are now looking at adopting serious anti-gay laws.

Recently, Wainaina was described by Time Magazine “as one of the most influential people of the year.”  The Kenyan writer describes the struggles for LGBT people in Africa:

Africa is going through an amazing time. Both turbulent, terrible but moving. Change is in the air, and I want to be inside those changes.

Wainaina also won the Caine Prize for African Writing. The chapter I am a homosexual, mum from his memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place, is garnering a great deal of attention.  Wainaina talks about why he felt he had to come out and be visible:

It seemed to me at a time when there was escalating pressure on the ability of queer Africans to live freely, that it would be a kind of reductive hypocrisy for me to remain silent.

What a lovely and courageous soul our Wainaina is. I wonder how many of us would commit to being so out and visible in a continent that is so aggressively homophobic. Remember, there are laws in Uganda and Nigeria that make it legal to imprison and even kill LGBT people. Bravo, Binyavanga Wainaina.  May your voice for social justice leave a legacy of peace and harmony for all of our LGBT family living in all parts of Africa.

LGBT Pride and History Month 2014: Evan Adams

20 Jun

File-Evan_AdamsToday we honor and celebrate a man of diverse talents. Evan Tiesla Adams was born in British Columbia in 1966. He is a Coast Salish from the Sliammon and identifies as First Nation. Adams first came to prominence as an actor, starring as Thomas Builds-the-Fire in the moving film adaptation of Sherman Alexie’s Smoke Signals. I have to say that I found his performance in Smoke Signals extremely compelling. Adams is an exceedingly talented actor that really understands nuance. He won an Independent Spirit Award for that performance.

An out gay man since the start of his career, he parlayed his personal experience into another award-winning role, co-starring in the 2002 film The Business of Fancydancing. He has also appeared in numerous television shows. Adams is committed to presenting an accurate picture of his life as an out First Nations man. He participated in the documentary Just Watch Me, narrating his struggles coming of age in 1970’s Canada. Adams is also a talented playwright, with numerous works performed around the world.

Throughout his acting and writing career, he devoted significant time and energy to First Nations issues. Particularly interested in health care, he worked extensively on HIV awareness and drug and alcohol addiction treatment. In 2002, he completed a medical degree at the University of Calgary. While he has not abandoned the stage and screen entirely, he focuses on First Nations health care.

Adams was appointed director of the Aboriginal Health program in the University of British Columbia’s faculty of medicine. His work won great acclaim, resulting in his appointment as the first Aboriginal Health Physician Advisor to the province of British Columbia. In 2012, he was elevated to Deputy Provincial Health Officer, focusing on the needs of the province’s First Nations people.

Whether presenting honest, nuanced depictions of First Nations people, speaking passionately about gay rights, or ensuring effective medical policies in his home province, Dr. Evan Adams is a dedicated worker for social justice.  Thank you for your visibility and dedication to human rights.

LGBT Pride and History Month 2014: Laverne Cox

16 Jun

LCoxToday we honor and celebrate a woman who is a powerful voice for the too often overlooked transgender community. Laverne Cox was born in Mobile, AL, not an LGBTQ friendly state or city.  She graduated from Marymount Manhattan College and began an acting career.

Cox was one of the first out trans women to make significant appearances on network television, especially as a woman of color. She appeared on two episodes of shows in the Law and Order franchise and was an out trans contestant on the VH1 reality show I Want to Work for Diddy. As her fame grew, she began using it as a platform to speak about trans issues and equality.

Her fame has only increased since she was cast as trans prisoner Sophia Burset on the Netflix show Orange Is the New Black. It’s a compelling performance of a well-written character, and Cox deserves all the accolades that her work has garnered. That fame has made her one of the most famous and visible trans actors in the world and provided her with even more opportunities for advocacy and activism.

Cox is a passionate speaker who has a powerful way with words. She makes her points clearly and supports them with the sad facts about the oppression and aggression directed at the trans community. She makes space for the unfortunate reality that very few people understand — or even try to — the complex realities of being a transgender person. When she appeared in a now-infamous interview with Katie Couric, she responded to a clumsy series of questions about genitalia and surgery with a classy, informative, calm focus on the real issues facing the trans community.

Recognition of her advocacy work garnered Cox a position in history as the first out trans person to feature on the cover of Time magazine. She is also the first African-American transgender person to produce and star in her own TV show, the VH1 makeover program TRANSform Me.

As LGBT rights move forward in the 21st Century, the needs and issues of the “T” in the acronym often get overlooked or sacrificed for political expediency. Laverne Cox is a strong, smart voice dedicated to reversing that trend. Her work is critically important and her dedication is impressive. I hope all of us will stand in solidarity with the transgender community.

LGBT Pride and History Month 2014: José Sarria

10 Jun

SarriaToday we honor and celebrate a pioneer in social justice and LGBT rights. José Julio Sarria was born in 1922 or 23 (records vary) in San Francisco. His parents were recent immigrants from Latin America who never married, and his father left the picture early. His mother worked long hours in domestic service and enlisted the aid of a local couple who had recently lost their child to help raise José. He considered all three of them to be his parents. Throughout his youth he enjoyed dressing in both boys’ and girls’ clothing and his family supported him both at home and in public — if only more families would support gender non-conformity.

Sarria spoke only Spanish through kindergarten, then briefly attended private schools while learning English. He mastered it quickly, showing a proficiency for language that served him well throughout his life. After Pearl Harbor, he joined the Army. Initially assigned to the Intelligence School because of his linguistic skills, he was reassigned after failing a background check. While it was never verified, he always believed that failure to be related to his openness about his homosexuality. He served in the motor pool and as a military cook, mustering out at the end of the war.

Sarria returned to San Francisco and began college, hoping to become a teacher. He became a regular at the Black Cat Bar, a gathering place for gay men, beats, and bohemians. He met the love of his life, Jimmy Moore, who was a waiter at the bar. In a police sting, Sarria was falsely charged with solicitation and sentenced to a large fine. Realizing that this ruined his chances to teach, he dropped out of college and began waiting at the Black Cat — a perfect example of a system of oppression.

Sarria had a fine voice and began singing along with the piano player as he waited tables. Soon he became famous for his parodies of popular torch songs; this evolved into complicated drag shows in which he did send-ups of operas. He encouraged patrons and friends to be as open about their lives as possible, believing change could only come through visibility and solidarity. He famously observed,

People were living double lives and I didn’t understand it. It was persecution. Why be ashamed of who you are? … United we stand, divided they catch us one by one.

He closed the bar each night by leading a rousing chorus of God Save Us Nelly Queens, a rare public statement of pride and camaraderie. I am going to have to start singing this song wherever I go.

Sarria began his activism while at the Black Cat. He encouraged patrons to stand up to police raids by refusing to plead guilty and demanding jury trials. The resulting influx of cases caused court gridlock and judges began refusing to hear cases without strong evidence of wrongdoing. Sarria also helped drag performers and customers escape the “disguise for deception” law by sewing tags in the backs of their costumes that read “I’m a boy!” With George Strait, (not the country music George Strait) he founded the League for Civil Education, an outreach and support organization for gay men.

Disgusted by the ongoing pressure against the gay community in San Francisco, he ran for the Board of Supervisors in 1961, the first openly gay person to run for public office in the United States. Although he lost, his strong showing revealed the potential power of the gay voting bloc, beginning a dramatic change in local politics. Years later, Sarria helped advise Harvey Milk, who eventually won the seat that he had sought.

The Black Cat finally lost its liquor license in a sting operation and Sarria split his focus between social protest and his drag career. He founded the Tavern Guild, the first gay business association, and later the Society for Individual Rights, a more activist outgrowth of the League for Civil Education. He was crowned Queen of the Beaux Arts Ball in 1964, but proclaimed that since he was already a queen his new title should be Empress. He built upon this proclamation by helping build the Imperial Court System a network of non-profit charities tied to the drag and gay communities.

Drawing on his cooking experience from his Army days, Sarria also became a restaurateur, collaborating with Pierre Parker on local Lucky Pierre restaurants and running concessions at a number of World’s Fairs.

Sarria’s energy never flagged. After retiring in 1977, he continued his social work and his activism in the Imperial Courts. He finally abdicated his throne in 2007. He was recognized by numerous organizations for his outstanding work. In 2006, the city of San Francisco renamed a portion of 16th Street in the Castro in his honor. As a result, the address of the Harvey Milk branch of the public library fittingly became 1 José Sarria Court.

Sarria died in 2013 of adrenal cancer. He left behind an impressive legacy of activism, engagement, and honesty. May his legacy live on to inspire us all!

LGBT Pride and History Month 2014: Thank You Justice Kennedy

5 Jun

Official Photograph of Justice Anthony KennedyOnce again those merry pranksters at the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) tried their best to crush equality for loving same-sex couples. Shortly after federal Judge Michael McShane issued a strong ruling striking down Oregon’s ban on marriage equality for same sex couples, NOM tried to intervene.

NOM demanded that the Supreme Court issue a stay on McShane’s ruling while they desperately scrambled to find a way to reverse it. The petition went to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who presides over such matters for the region that includes Oregon. Kennedy requested briefs from NOM, the plaintiffs who won McShane’s decision and the state of Oregon. After those briefs were filed on Tuesday, the Justice referred the matter to the entire Supreme Court.

The full Court responded with a clear “go away!” message to NOM.

The application for  stay presented to Justice Kennedy and by him referred to the Court is denied.

It’s that simple. NOM doesn’t get any legal justifications or consideration. Just one sentence that rejects and rebukes their tragic, hateful energy.

Congratulations to Justice Kennedy for getting the weight of the Court behind this matter and to the assembled Justices for standing up for equality. Every once in awhile the Supreme Court gets things right — what a lovely example this is!

Thanks also to Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. She carefully analyzed the case before McShane and correctly decided that Oregon’s ban was unconstitutional “under any level of scrutiny.” Refusing to waste taxpayer money defending injustice, she did not defend the ban. When replying to Justice Kennedy’s request for briefs, she made it quite clear that NOM and its anonymous three Oregon citizens did not have the right to assume the power of state government. Thank you, AG Rosenblum! How sad that NOM continues to leave a legacy of hate and is on the wrong side of history.  Thank you to the strong LGBT voices and the strong voices of our allies.

Call to Action: Now we must not rest. We must look at ways in which each of our voices can be supportive of LGBT people here in the United States and all over the world.

LGBTQ History Month 2014: We Have A Long Way To Go

1 Jun

lgbtpridemonth2014June is recognized as LGBT History Month, a time for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community to come together and celebrate who we are and stand in solidarity with each other.  We celebrate in June because it was June of 1969 that jump-started the Gay Liberation Movement in our country’s history with the Stonewall Riots.  While we have witnessed much progress in some areas, we still witness mortifying discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

In 1969 it was illegal in the United States to be gay and we were targeted by police for raids and put in jail.  Sadly, the LGBT community is still policed disproportionately and there are still 29 states — mostly in the South — where it is still illegal to be gay, despite Lawrence v. Texas. Yes, most states in the South have zero protections for LGBT folk, so one can be denied employment, denied housing, and denied healthcare just for their sexual orientation.

As much as we think It Gets Better, we still have a long way to go.  One wonders why we don’t have a better campaign that says: Make It Get Better, and put the onus on the dominant culture.  We know from the 2010 National Health Report that harassment and violence against the LGBT community have increased by 20% and the increase of violence is even greater for LGBT folks of color.

Sadly, this trend is international and shows no sign of abating. India’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi,  supports the country’s lower court’s ruling, once again making gay sex a crime punishable by up to ten years in jail and putting tens of millions of Indians at risk of prosecution or harassment. Look at the spike in protesting and violence in France that started as marriage equality began to work its way through the legislative process. Look at the violence in Russia and the Ukraine and the official indifference — or outright support — it receives. Nigeria just passed “All Gays to Be Jailed” law. Even in supposedly progressive Oregon, look at the hate and discrimination practiced near Portland at Oregon City High School.

The closer we get to equality, the angrier — and more aggressive — our foes become.  While I am elated that we now have 19 states plus the District of Columbia that celebrate marriage equality, I am also fearful that there will be an enormous backlash. How many of us are still reeling from the injustice to Larry King, the 8th grader shot in the back of the head twice and murdered.

Granted, our heterosexual brothers and sisters do have to live in fear of the Gay Agenda…

I want to acknowledge gratefully that DOMA has now been overturned, as has Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. We still have a long way to go because of current LGBT hate crimes and because of the impact of multigenerational trauma.

LGBT History Month provides a time and place for the community to celebrate and come together in “numbers too big to be ignored.” (You know I love me some Helen Reddy.)  I ask all of our heterosexual brothers and sisters to stand in solidarity and support all LGBT folk in the many colors and lives we represent. This is not a time to grow complacent. We must be visible!

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