18 November 2008

Stop the H8 Baltimore Edition

Scenes from Baltimore's Stop the H8 rally, 15 November 2008

Catching up, and trying not to think about Certain People who have aggravated me recently, like the Senate Democrats on the Joe Lieberman issue (Shame! SHAME!!!), or Baltimore's own Cardinal James Francis Stafford and his astonishingly incendiary and idiotic anti-Obama remarks at my Library School Alma Mater, THE Catholic University of America (I need to be careful -- I might run into His Eminence on the street outside work!).

Ah well, at least it looks like one of my picks, Eric Holder, will be the new Attorney General, so all is not entirely wrong with the world today...

“We owe the American people a reckoning. It is our responsibility as citizens to preserve and protect our constitution… Let me be clear: I firmly believe that there is evil in the world, and that we still face grave dangers to our security. But our ability to lead the world in combatting these dangers depends not only on the strength of our military leadership but our moral leadership as well. … To recapture it, we can no longer allow ourselves to be ruled by fear. We must evaluate our policies and our practices in the harsh light of day and steel ourselves to face the world’s dangers in accord with the rule of law.” -- Eric Holder


Here are a few photos from Baltimore's "Stop the H8" rally last Saturday. Many thanks to Doug Rose, Mark Patro, and Steve Charing (BTW: if the photo is from a long distance away or fuzzy, like the ones above, then they're mine!)

Towleroad is gathering and posting a collection of photos from around the country.

Poet Emmanuel Xavier and actor Wilson Cruz (photo by Leo Toro)...okay so they were in New York, not Baltimore, but Emmanuel is a friend and as for the stunning Mr Cruz, well... a guy can can dream can't he? (Thanks Andres!)

Since the rally, I've been thinking a lot about Wanda Sykes. She took to the podium on Saturday in Las Vegas and took the opportunity to not only come out as a lesbian, but also as married. I was particularly struck by her saying this:

"You know, I don't really talk about my sexual orientation. I didn't feel like I had to. I was just living my life, not necessarily in the closet, but I was living my life...Everybody that knows me personally, they know I'm gay. But that's the way people should be able to live their lives."

To my ear, that strikes me as the default "Black Position on Homosexuality." We don't care what you do, keep it quiet, live your live, and we'll leave you alone. It's how most black gay people live, I think -- within our communities, as opposed to in 'gay ghettos' like what The Castro, The Village, Boy's Town, or Dupont Circle used to be before being slowly gentrified out of existence by 'trendy' straights. We really don't tend to march or put on t-shirts or demand our les/bi/gay rights. The velvet closet of the black community suits us just fine.

Except when it doesn't:

Syracuse man was killed for being gay, police say

SYRACUSE, NY - Dwight R. DeLee shot and killed Moses "Teish" Cannon with a .22-caliber rifle Friday night because he didn't like that Cannon was openly gay, Syracuse police said.

Cannon's family accepted his sexual orientation. The Post-Standard reports "pictures of Cannon in women's clothing were on display in the family's living room, and the family selected one" for the newspaper to publish."

We can sit in the warm bubble bath of acquiescence all we like, but unless and until we come out, speak up, and stand up for ourselves in our homes, *in our churches*, and in 'da hood', crimes like this will continue to occur. Just as the election did not end racism, so, too, we are not in a 'post-gay' society.

A few other things about the rally: Like most over 30 people who went to these events I was struck by how young most people were. Fresh faced and full of excitement, a very welcome sight for those of us who are veterans of various Marches on Washington and other demonstrations. Everyone had either digital cameras or cell phones, so these were probably the most FaceBooked protests ever. And the first and loudest cheer from the crowd went up at the first mention of the name of our President Elect.

And I saw one person carrying a "Gay is the New Black" sign.

Now, this is not a new idea, as this article from 2003 attests, although it has been updated for our times. Over the course of time, and particularly in the fashion industry where the phrase originate, a lot of things have been "The New Black" (although there are those of us who will insist that Black is ALWAYS Black).

I have problems with this formulation (as a black gay person, does that mean that Half of me is the new Other Half of me?), and I confess I wimped out and didn't engage the person with the sign to ask what it meant (see my opening comments on why that may have been for the best!). So, I'll leave it to someone very much smarter than I am, Mendi Lewis Obadike, to break down why this particular phrase gives many of us pause:

Here are a few of the reasons why that slogan rankles me:

1.Queer people didn't start being gay or start having to fight injustice with the end of Jim Crow, nor with the election of a black president of the US. The struggle is old; "gay" is not "new".

2.Black people didn't stop being black or stop having to fight injustice with the end of Jim Crow, nor with the election of a black president of the US. The struggle continues; "black" is not "old".

3.Queer black people experience discrimination based on sexuality and race at the same time. The struggles are coterminous.

4.Who is the ideal audience for this sign?

(a) Queer black people? Probably not, since the slogan seems not to acknowledge that we exist.

(b) Straight black allies in the crowd? If so, what is the message? Your struggle is over? Seems like a strange way to strengthen alliances.

(c) Straight black people you imagine to be your enemies? Seems like a strange way to pull them in.

(d) Other people of color? Probably not, since, the slogan seems not to acknowledge any other races of people have had struggles or movements of any importance.

(e) Antiracist queer white people? Maybe, but don't anti-racists struggle to make our visions of community more complex instead of narrower?

(f) Queer white people who don't really think about race? Yes, to me it seems like the ideal audience for this sign is white queer people who want permission to think simply and narrowly about what the queer community is and who matters in it.

The most generous reading I can make is that "gay is the new black" is a sloppy way of saying "discrimination against gay people is a serious civil rights issue that we should all care about" or "we have fought problems this big before and won" or "this issue is going to take all of us working together" or "none of us is free until all of us are free". Why be sloppy about it for the sake of a presumption of wit when there is so much at stake and the risk is so big?

The odd thing about the Advocate cover above is that, while the accompanying article makes some good points about how the gay/black equasion is a less than perfect fit, and includes a question mark at the end (Gay Is The New Black?), the cover does not.

Gay is the new black in only one meaningful way. At present we are the most socially acceptable targets for the kind of casual hatred that American society once approved for habitual use against black people. Gay is the dark pit where our society lets people throw their fears about what’s wrong with the world. (Many people, needless to say, still direct this kind of hatred toward black people too. But it’s more commonly OK to caricature and demean us in politics and the media in ways from which blacks are now largely exempt.) -- Michael Joseph Gross

I understand the need to sell magazines by being provovative, but this still makes me uncomfortable (and feels like a bit of a bait and switch). More people are going to see the cover, and either instantly agree or disagree, than take the time to read the more reasoned article. More black people of all sexual orientations, are going to see that cover and be put off by it than will read the article. The addition of a mark of punctuation on the cover might have lead magazine rack browsers to think and consider the proposition, rather than turn them off.

I can only hope that Prop 8 causes "the gay community" to consider its approaches, tactics, and how it talks to all segments of the country in the fight for civil rights.

1 comment:

BronzeBuckaroo said...

Good read! Then, there is so much more to the issue. There is the disenfranchisement of black gay folks because of white gay hegemony. Tired of the hypocrisy! Tired and Impatient in waiting for a change that is long overdue in gay culture. Then, in fairness, so long as black gay culture has brothers and sisters failing to stand up to be heard, not be stereotyped, black gay men who refuse to play the MANDINGO, etc----NOTHING WILL CHANGE!

Why should the larger black community support their gay sisters and brothers & sons and daughters when figuratively and literally they see white gays doing to them what most believe white folks overall have being doing to ALL black folk for over 400 hundred years--WILLINGLY SCREWING THEM!