Tag Archives: Portland OR

Kúkátónón: Social Justice and Dance

7 Jan

Kukatonon 2015 Gala Save the Date 11_19.inddOver the past few years, one of my favorite regular events has been the Annual Gala of the Kúkátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe. This amazing organization, founded by the amazing Rolia Manyongai-Jones, blends heritage, social justice, health, and teamwork into a dazzling tapestry of motion and music.

The mission of Kúkátónón is “to inspire confidence, commitment and vitality among the children in the dance troupe; and to broaden awareness of African and African American cultural traditions throughout Oregon.” To these ends, the Troupe teaches children traditional dance and music, engaging them in cultural awareness. An awareness much appreciated by alumni and now present board member Lionel Clegg who reflects upon his time in the troupe: “there were no groups out there that celebrated African culture or taught us about our heritage.”

Currently, all of the troupe members are African, African American or multi-racial; all the dancers and most of the drummers are girls. Approximately 80% of the members are from low-income families. Kúkátónón is dedicated to addressing the needs of black youth in Portland and altering racial disparities through a holistic approach: dance, drumming, culture, art, and identity.

As an exciting, dynamic program, Kúkátónón also meets many needs of its participants. Afterschool programs are essential to keep kids safe, engage children in enriching activities, and give peace of mind to parents during the out-of-school hours. They also help improve students’ academic performance, school attendance, behavior and health, and support working families. More than fifteen years of research points to how youth who participate in after-school – and summer – programs demonstrate increased academic achievement, better school attendance, and have fewer disciplinary actions such as suspension and expulsion. Programs such as Kúkátónón also address improved social and emotional outcomes such as decreased depression and anxiety, reduction in risky behaviors, and improved health and wellness. I must confess, I so appreciate looking at Kúkátónón as a health equity venture. My hope is we will open larger discussions around racial disparities and health inequities and how we as a community can do more to support our youth of color.

Sixty-one percent of African-American parents say they would enroll their children if programs were available compared to 38 %of parents in general; 28% of African-American children have no adult supervision after school and are responsible for taking care of themselves during the afternoon hours. Kúkátónón fulfills a critical social justice mission in our community by helping meet these needs.

The need is especially acute for African-American girls. As noted in the Unlocking Opportunity Report,  these girls face significant barriers to educational attainment, including lack of access to quality educational opportunities; pervasive racial and gender stereotypes that affect the decision-making of school leaders and educators; discriminatory discipline practices that disproportionately push them out of school; high rates of exposure to sexual harassment and violence; juvenile justice system involvement; and lack of support for those who are pregnant or parenting while still in school. These systemic educational barriers and challenges produce life-long economic obstacles, such as limited job opportunities, lower earnings, and disproportionate representation among those in poverty. As a result, African American girls are uniquely vulnerable to a “School-to-Poverty Pathway.” By building skills in teamwork and collaboration while building self-esteem and confidence, Kúkátónón gives its students a stronger chance to overcome these obstacles.

The benefits of arts learning are both immediate and long-term. Students are engaged, animated, thinking and working together as they learn about art through art. Young people who are highly engaged in the arts are also more likely to thrive later on, earn higher grades, graduate from high school and college, volunteer, vote, and participate in politics at school and in their community. An investment in Kúkátónón’s arts learning program is an investment in the health and well-being of our children, and a unique cultural resource.

How can we help? I’m so glad you asked. It is really quite easy. Click here to donate and to look at Kúkátónón’s website. While you’re there,  don’t forget to buy your tickets now for this year’s Gala on Saturday, February 14.

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Homophobia Sneaks in Everywhere: From Mississippi to Oregon

6 Apr
LGBT Folk Not Welcome

LGBT Folk Not Welcome

I could feel my heart being crushed at the news that the Republican Governor of Mississippi, Phil Bryant, signed a bill on Friday that makes it legal to discriminate against people in the LGBT community.  While not surprising coming from Mississippi, it is nonetheless disappointing. Not the first and probably not the last time the state of Mississippi is on the wrong side of history–this is not a state known for equity and equality.

Sadly, closer to home, I realize that the purported progressive Portland, Oregon hosts many homophobes as well. Last week, it came to light that the owner of The Moreland Farmers Pantry, in Sellwood, a Portland neighborhood, spewed her homophobic views. Owner Chauncy Childs posted this on her Facebook page about gays and same-sex marriage: “…a tiny minority is dictating a change of our social structure.”  I guess a population wanting equality and equity needs to be more than just a “tiny” 10% of the population. Childs went on to say that she supports the right of businesses to refuse to serve gay people.  The Charm Free Childs went on to say:

…that gay marriage is wrong because it is the start of a slippery slope that could eventually lead to pedophilia and bigamy.

Rest assured Ms. Childs, my gay husband and I will not get in our gay car find a gay parking spot and enter your store of hate.

Call to action: I would please ask that all of us LGBT folk in that “tiny population” boycott The Moreland Farmers Pantry.  May I also ask all of our allies to also boycott Ms. Childs’ Farmers Pantry.

Sadly, the latest homophobic episodes in Mississippi and Oregon are just a constant reminder that we are never completely safe and that we must constantly remain vigilant against homophobic bigots.

One of the Voices of Social Justice: Matthew Johnson

19 Jul

Allies

As the conversation around civil rights and marriage equality has become a very hot button topic during this Presidential election year, my friend Matthew asked if would I interview him for my blog.  Matthew and his wife are not just our neighbors, they have become our friends and family here in Portland.  One can catch us at their house with their kids or all of them at our house on our front porch.  I have to thank Matthew for speaking out and using his heterosexual privilege to help marginalized populations. This is the second interview in what I hope will be a year long series.

Where and how did you grow up?

I grew up in a little white yuppy bubble in Ohio—the conservative town of Chagrin Falls, a suburb of Cleveland. I found out in high school that our county had been gerrymandered around a black community and 95% of the high school graduates went on to college.  The gerrymandering made it impossible for black kids to attend my high school and none of us realized how privileged we were.  Coming out of high school was a shock to me because I met a huge group of people that were not like me: gay and lesbian, black people, people that were not from the same socioeconomic status.  Where I grew up, if you were gay, no one really dealt with the issue. One could never bring up the issue—it was a taboo issue, we would just say ‘he is just light in the loafers.’  It is not a bad place to grow up, but it is very sheltered and very privileged.

Matthew met his wife in Seattle and upon learning they were pregnant they decided to move to Portland to buy a house and raise their family; they currently have four children:

I was pleasantly surprised to found out how progressive Portland is and I was happy to find out that Multnomah County is the most secular county in the country. I did grow up going to church—a Christian church, but not evangelical—I still chafed under it. I chafed under it because my nature is to question and the Christian church is not set up for that—it is not set up for debate. [Currently, Matthew identifies as atheist.] This does not mean I hate Christians. I appreciate the comfort it gives them, I just don’t subscribe to it.

Do you consider you and your wife political?

We are political in that we vote and we vote at every opportunity. We don’t campaign or canvass but we don’t hold our political views to ourselves. My wife identifies as a Democrat and I identify as an Independent.  We both believe in civil rights and that no one should be able to deny others’ civil rights.

Why did you feel compelled to visit with me about Marriage Equality? 

I believe strongly in it.  I want to have some sort of an outlet as a person of privilege who does not need to address the issue, but I feel compelled to.  If I were a gay man and wanted to get married I would need to go out and approach legislators.  As a straight man I need to help and work to make a difference.  [Matthew is fully aware of the power of straight allies and the use of our collective voices.] The whole issues is insidious—the issue of marriage equality is not a threat to my heterosexual marriage, nor is it a threat to any heterosexual marriage.  I’m not putting anyone on a pedestal: I’m just saying that as a group (LGBTQ) should have the same rights that everyone else has—it is not a privilege it is a right!  For full disclosure, I have a lesbian sister.  She came out a decade ago and I was the last person she told.  When I asked her why I was the last person, she said “because I didn’t think it would be an issue with you.”  My parents were very accepting.

I know a bunch of heterosexual couples that do not want children, so does that mean their marriage is invalid? I have a real problem with the inequitable distribution of power—you can’t institute who someone falls in love with anymore than you can institute what color people are supposed to love.

Call to action for LGBTQ allies: 

Vote first of all—that is a big one.  Don’t be afraid of the issue and if it comes up be willing to speak your mind. People need to know that does not just concern the LGBTQ community—other people do care.  Don’t let people voice homophobic comments—gay jokes are not cool.  My kids will never make gay jokes!  Just as my wife was taught never to play the game “Smear the Queer.”  Her dad taught his children not to be homophobic.

Matthew and Erin, thank you for teaching your children not to be homophobic and for being wonderful friends and allies.

Women’s History Month 2012: Myra Sadker

18 Mar

Myra Sadker

The late Dr. Myra Sadker is probably best known for the book she wrote with her husband David Sadker, Failing at Fairness: How Our Schools Cheat Girls.  Myra dedicated her life to advocating for girls and educating people about gender bias in the classroom.

Sadly, in my 20 plus  years in education, I have found Myra’s observations regarding gender bias still true today.  Myra was a pioneer who challenged gender bias and inequities.  She specifically addressed the subtle gender bias that occurs in classrooms every day. Myra provided the research that documented gender bias in America’s schools, “…from grade school through graduate school, from inner cities to rural towns.” Myra uncovered not only blatant gender discrimination in textbooks and sports funding, but also subtle inequities that shaped the way students were taught.  For example, how boys, or male students are called on six times more than girls.

As someone who helped to found a Girls’ School, I still see the need for secular single sex education.  Perhaps I see a secular non-sectarian Girls’ School starting in Portland, Oregon by a social worker from Portland State University in the next two years.

Sadly, Dr. Myra Sadker died from breast cancer in 1995.  Thankfully, the work she did lives on and inspires many to address gender inequities and power distribution. Thank you, Dr. Myra Sadker. Click here if you would like to learn more about Myra Sadker.

Moment in Women’s History: Elizabeth Gurley Flynn

7 Aug

In the past two years, we seem to have lost the fight for the poor and the workers in the United States. Big Corporations and the super elite along with the Fecal Five seem to have quashed and silenced the disenfranchised. We need another Elizabeth Gurley Flynn to take up the torch for the marginalized.

Flynn was a worker’s activist and feminist.  She was kicked out of high school for giving too many speeches for Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).  Coming from activist/socialist parents, Flynn sought out opportunities to carry on the work of her parents and give voice to the laborers.  Prior to WWI, Flynn organized strikes for textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts.  Not a big surprise, but she also became a very vocal proponent of birth control and reproductive rights, much like our Maggie Kuhn.

In 1920, Flynn was asked to join the National Board of the American Civil Liberties Union for her proven dedication to civil liberties and civil rights for immigrants.  Although her poor health, heart disease, forced her out of the spotlight, she moved to Southwest Portland, Oregon, where she took up the torch for the 1934 West Coast Longshore Strike.  She also joined the Communist Party and wrote a Feminist column for The Daily Worker. If you have not read her book, The Alderson Story: My Life as a Political Prisoner, which documents her time in prison, I highly recommend you visit your library and check out a copy.

The silk worker for instance may make beautiful things, fine shimmering silk. When it is hung up in the window of Altman’s or Macy’s or Wanamaker’s it looks beautiful. But the silk worker never gets a chance to use a single yard of it. And the producing of the beautiful thing instead of being a pleasure is instead a constant aggravation to the silk worker. They make a beautiful thing in the shop and then they come home to poverty, misery, and hardship. They wear a cotton dress while they are weaving the beautiful silk for some demi monde in New York to wear. –Elizabeth Gurly Flynn

Happy Birthday, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. It is my distinct pleasure to share this clip of Flynn. I hope you enjoy the video.

LGBT: Retirement Communities and Safety

1 Jul

When people in the LGBT community start to think about possibly moving into a retirement community, they often proceed with fear for safety.  Most of us are aware of LGBT seniors being discriminated against. Often times, elderly residents in nursing homes may not get bathed or clothed because the staff does not want to ‘touch a lesbian’. Others have been threatened with “outing” if they report their abuser. LGBT people need more options.

There are fewer than a dozen retirement communities exclusively for LGBT people; one of them happens to be just outside of Portland, Oregon, Rainbow Vista.  I was able to speak with Ian Jones, the General Manager of Rainbow Vista before interviewing one of its residents.  Ian is a gay man and admits that it helps to make the residents feel safe to know the General Manager is gay.  Ian has been with Rainbow Vista for almost three years.  Rainbow Vista is, “here to provide a comfortable home for gay seniors at a comfortable price.  We want it to be affordable and safe.”  Ian says optimistically, “When my partner and I retire hopefully there will not be a need to have a gay retirement community.  It is not a safe place right now, and given the history our residents feel safer here.”  There are some openings available currently, so if you are interested you should contact Rainbow Vista soon.

I also had the great pleasure of talking with William Stein, the Peruvian scholar and social do-gooder. Stein has published several books and has one coming out in August, Power and Oppression in the Andes.  Stein does not identify as a Marxist, but certainly acknowledges that Marx influenced both how he lives his life and his writing.  He grew up as a secular Jew in Buffalo, New York with a single mom.  He will be 90 in October.  While it is clear that he is a scholar and a great intellect, he is very gracious and has a delightful sense of humor that puts people at ease.

Growing up:

I grew up during the depression with single mom in Buffalo in a flat with my grandmother.  I was taught that homosexuals were degenerates.  So the last thing I wanted to be was a degenerate.  We did not use the word homosexual but images of oral and anal sex between men were degenerate.  My mom was ignorant and unhappy and sexually frustrated herself.  When I was 16, I had a lovely homosexual encounter with two guys one night, but when I sobered up it scared the shit out of me.  Such that I took an overdose of sleeping pills.  I didn’t take enough and I survived.  I had a bad case of homophobia.

I joined the National Guard in 1940 and served in the army in WWII.  We trained at Camp Stewart in Savannah, Georgia.  We were in the search light battery.  After basic training they gave us radars and sent us to Vidalia and we practiced with planes.  When December 7 came along, FDR already signed the order and we knew we would be sent away.  We were originally sent to San Diego for a year and then sent to Algeria.  They sent us to Sicily but then all of the sudden the Sicilian campaign was over.  Then they sent us to Italy. We had a couple of air raids and a couple of purple hearts by guys that were hit by flak.  I was lucky. I was out of danger for most of the war. I served in N. Africa and Italy.

I finished high school and went to college after the war.  I got an assistantship at Cornell—I wan in the anthropology department.   My mentor was Peruvian and I went to Peru and became a Peruvian scholar  in 1951.

Life Before Coming Out:

Just before I went to Cornell I met my wife.  She has just received shock treatments for depression.  I was not right for her and she of course she was not right for me.  We got married in 1949.  Her bi-polar disorder came back and she needed a lot of taking care of.  We had sex for a year and we had a son.  We lived in Peru but she could not handle it and she took our son and moved back to the states.  We had sex one more time when I returned from Peru and nine months later my daughter was born.  We stayed together for 40 years.  She died in 1993.  She came down with an Alzheimer’s disorder in the early 80s.    She had a massive stroke in 1989 and lingered four years in a nursing home.

In 1970 I remember hearing the Kink’s song Lola, you know “boys will be girls and girls will be boys”.  Then the Stonewall riots happened.  I always knew I was gay.  1971 I just turned 50 and I went downtown to the porno bookstore and I looked at the male porn and my knees turned to liquid.  Eventually I found my way to the Advocate and subscribed to these newsletters, for mature gays looking for each other and managed to get myself into homosexual liaisons, sometimes I had to drive a couple of hundred miles.  I was involved with a guy from Queens and I had to meet him in Binghamton.  I came out to my colleagues in 2003. I published a book and in the preface I thanked my gay friends and lovers over the years.  My colleagues did not take it amiss.  Anthropologists are anthropologists!  I was sexually active until I got here.  I just got too old.  I have been celibate for three and a half years.  Two years ago I had lung cancer and had radiation treatments.

Telling your kids?

My daughter is quite proud of me.  She discovered a cache of my collection of the Advocate and Out Magazine.  When she meets someone who is gay she proudly announces, “My Dad is Gay.”  My son lives in NW Portland and my daughter lives in South Carolina.  My son is a retired geologist. In the early 2000s with my daughter and I think they talked about it, so he was not surprised. My son would like to chalk it up to my foolishness.  I see him once a week and we have a beer.

Marriage Equality:

I’m all for it. I’m so pleased that New York now had marriage equality and so pissed at California and pissed at the Catholics and the Mormons for interfering and hoping more states will follow New York.

How and why did you end up here at Rainbow Vista? 

When I moved to Portland, I moved to another elderly community outside of Beaverton.  The guy I was seeing here in Gresham told me there was a gay retirement village.  I came here and met Ian and Hank and I knew this was the place I wanted to be.  Because you can relax and be who you are here.  I don’t have to think about it I don’t have to think about my safety here.  It is nice to be here with other gay people.

What do you want people to take away from this interview?

That it is possible to have a place like this for gay people. We exist and we are persistent.

I want to thank Bill and Ian for their time.  I also want to thank Bill for sharing a part of his story. I love what he said: “We exist and we are persistent.”

The Often Overlooked “T” in LGBTQ: Interview with Kaig

8 Jun

Before we get to Kaig’s interview, I wanted to let everyone know that  Portland City Counil unanimously voted to end insurance exclusions against transgender City employees. I was able to attend the hearing this morning and was quite impressed with Mayor Adams and with Jeana Frazzini from Basic Rights Oregon.  I have to admit the testimony from a couple of very ignorant and bigoted people turned my stomach, but I was happy that these teabaggers were in the minority.  I was going to report some of the nasty comments they made, but I would rather not give them the air time.

Kaig is a 31 year old white transgendered male, born during the Reagan administration.  He identifies as Queer, rather than heterosexual (you will see his reasoning later in the interview–this is where I was able to learn a great deal from Kaig).  Kaig is originally from Seattle, but he lives in Portland.  He is close to his family of origin and receives a great deal of support from them. Like Haley and Jenn, Kaig is also a great do–gooder and a Co-Founder of TransActive. I want to thank him and acknowledge how much he is helping others that are not cisgendered.  Here is Kaig’s story.

What age were you aware of feeling different?

Some sort of awareness at 5 or 6– having an older brother I wanted to be like him. I have a memory of running around in swim trunks like him and realizing I would not be able to do this forever, that was about 5 or 6.  Then I went through adolescents knowing something was not right, but not knowing exactly what that was.  I was always  a masculine presenting athlete, even though I was not clear enough to say that I identified as a boy.

What age did you decide to take action?

When I was about 20, I came out to my parents as gay. The word lesbian never fit for me, which speaks to my gender identity.  I was in college and still really never thought about my gender identity.  I think I was 26 when I came out to my parents as trans.  I started going by male pronouns when I was 24 with my friends.  A lot of things relolve around my parents—after I came out to my parents both times I felt much better and relieved.  They were very supportive each time.  I was not real confident at first, but I was pretty sure, so I had to go for it.  It was the right thing to do. I have been on testosterone for three years and the first year was bizarre—I felt connected and disconnected to my body at the same time.  Ultimately this has lead to greater happiness.  Now, I’m very invisible to the Queer community and the trans community.  I look very gender conforming—I’m able to infiltrate different communities because of the way I look.  –It is a mixed blessing but it does open up different conversations.

When I came out the first time in my early 20s they did not shun me or do anything horrible—I got immediate support, but they did struggle with it, but we did not talk about it right away.  About six months to a year later, they processed their way through it. They were interested in relationships I was having; it took me awhile to get comfortable sharing with them.  The really strong support came out from them when I came out as trans.  They have been incredibly open and willing to hear about all sorts of ideas around gender and sexuality and masculinity.  They want to know things that I’m willing to share.  They refer to me as their son, as Kaig.  It took them about a year to get used to the pronoun change.  They have become much more politically aware of the issues that the LGBTQ community face.  My dad was Republican and conservative and he has changed that tune a lot—he is a fantastic fantastic man!

What do we, as the LGBT community, need to do to be more supportive?  

What do we, as the LGBT community, need to do to be more supportive?  I really think there needs to be the understanding that we are really one community. We are all in it for the same fight.  We all want to feel safe, we want equality, we want the same things.  I would love to see more attention being drawn to transphobia, and what does that means. I would love to see a more of a coming together of our community.  We need to have more conversations.  For the younger generation, it is important for everyone to remember that every trans person, or gender non-conforming person was once a child.  We need to give a chance and some space for kids that are going through gender identity transitions.

Thank you, Kaig for your candor, courage, and for educating all of us.  I hope, as you do, that we come together as a community and have many more conversations.

 

 

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