Gay Pride Parade Memories

Image: LGBTQA Jews marching in the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, 2014. Note the Israeli flag under the arch in the background. Photo by Sarah Stierch (CC BY 4.0.)

 

The famous Gay Pride Parade is today in San Francisco. It’s not the great-grandaddy of Pride parades (that’s New York) but it’s the one that usually makes it onto the news in the “red” states because it has the most colorful visuals. There are the Dykes on Bikes, of course, and the obligatory Nearly Naked People marching down the street, along with some Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. All make it onto teaser film for the Ten O’Clock News because face it, that’s ratings gold, right down to the phone calls complaining that someone should Think Of The Children.

Around my house, we no longer attend the Pride Parade because I’ve grown uncomfortable with crowds and mobility is an issue. However, every June we reminisce about Pride Parades. There was a time when they were a very big deal for our family, because that’s when all the other people we referred to as “family” would come out and be counted.

I think our first Parade was in 1988 or 89. AIDS was still ravaging the community, mysteriously sickening and killing gay men. Lesbian organizations were crumbling all over the place because many of us were putting our time into AIDS support or activism. Bisexual and transgender people and issues were still largely invisible; there was very little room for anything in the collective psyche but AIDS.

The Parade was much smaller then, and much more subdued. There was a float for ACT-UP, and contingents from the various legal and political organizing groups, and a group of people carrying a huge section of the NAMES Memorial Quilt. We were angry, sad, and determined to survive. Even in those days, though, there was a celebratory aspect to the Parade, because celebration has always been a form of defiance for us LGBTQ folk. The Dykes on Bikes led the Parade, and there were two floats I’ll never forget.

The first was the Bears float. “Bears” are round, hairy gay men. They and the people who are attracted to them celebrate that roundness and hairiness. (I don’t get it, but face it, I’m a lesbian – I’m not wired to understand it.) I will always be grateful to that float of Bears, because they were throwing little teddy bears into the crowd and my young son caught one. He was thrilled; he was still little enough that a new toy was a very big deal. We didn’t realize then that he was going to grow up to be a big round hairy guy himself, albeit a heterosexual one. However, along with the teddy bear he caught the message that it was cool to be a big round hairy guy. I will always be grateful to those men for the happy body image they bequeathed to my little one.

Immediately after it, there was another float, this one the Folsom Street Fair float. The Folsom Street Fair bills itself as “the world’s biggest leather event.” (That’s “leather” as in “leather fetish.”) That float was covered with scantily dressed people wearing a lot of leather straps and chains. Before I could cover his eyes with his new teddy bear, my son piped up, “Why are those men dressed up, Mama?” I answered with the first thing that came into my head: “Because they like to play dress up, sweetie.” Satisfied, he said, “I need to think of a really good name for my bear.” And that was all.

I think my last Pride was in about 2000 when the GLSen group (Gay/Lesbian/Straight Alliance) at my son’s high school wanted to march. I marched with three kids and the faculty advisor. As the only “out” queer parent at the school, I felt I really had to support them. The little boy who caught the bear had grown; he was the straight member of our contingent.

 

The change over the years in between those two parades was dramatic. By 2000 AIDS was no longer “the gay disease” although it was still a problem. By 2000 our congregation was marching in the Parade, too. I remember explaining to my rabbi that I needed to be with the high school group because it was so much smaller. By 2000 I was thinking about rabbinical school and I knew a lesbian who’d been accepted to the program at Hebrew Union College. 

Now I’m a rabbi. Now there are many LGBTQ Jewish clergy in all movements, so many that I don’t know them all. Linda and I are married, something we could never have imagined in 1988. The kids I marched with in 2000 came back to the Bay Area, all grown up, to attend my son’s wedding last weekend.

Much has changed, but much still needs to change. Transwomen of color live in dreadful danger, and transmen have it very rough, too. Gender fluid folk, and others under the “trans” umbrella, still have to explain too much and too often.  LGBTQ Americans may be able to get married, but our jobs and homes are still at risk in many states. AIDS is more manageable, but it’s still with us. Too many people still want to kill us.

Want to help? Support an organization like the Transgender Law Center, or the National Center for Lesbian Rights.  When you meet an LGBTQ person, don’t tell them what or whom you know, just be present to them as a person. If you meet a young person who identifies as LGBT or Q, don’t argue with them about it being too soon for labels. Just accept them for whom they are. Remember:

God saw everything that God had made, and indeed it was very good. So there was evening, and there was morning, a sixth day. – Genesis 1:31

After Orlando: 10 Options for Action

Image: Graffiti on a brick wall: “Seek Justice.”

Here are ten ways we can take action, if we choose:

  1. We can mourn the dead and comfort the mourners.
  2. If there is a memorial or demonstration in our area, we can attend.
  3. We’ve already begun to see places to donate to assist the victims and their families. Pulse Victims Fund by Equality Florida is a GoFundMe site with responsible connections.
  4. We can contact our elected officials about the loopholes and gaps in gun safety legislation. The murderer has already been described as a mentally unstable domestic abuser who had already been investigated twice by the FBI for terrorist connections, but he was able to purchase a military-style assault weapon with a high capacity magazine. What’s wrong with that picture?
  5. Register and VOTE. Before you vote, do your homework and vote accordingly: which candidates have voting records that match with your values? Which indulge in hate speech when they are campaigning? Which elected officials are in the pocket of the National Rifle Association? Which elected officials have sponsored or supported the over 100 anti-LGBTQ bills pending in the states? (Thanks to my colleague, Rabbi David Novak, for reminding me of this one!)
  6. We can speak up whenever we hear hateful speech from anyone about any group of people. Every time we say, “Not cool” to someone spouting it we remind them that it is wrong. Every time we fail to say something, we suggest by our silence that those words and attitudes are acceptable to us.
  7. We can donate to institutions that track hate crimes, like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti Defamation League.
  8. We can educate ourselves about anti-LGBTQ violence. Did you know that 20% of the hate crimes in the U.S. are directed against this small minority? Or that 70% of ant-LGBTQ murder victims are people of color?
  9. We can donate to local organizations that provide mental health support to LGBTQ clients. Here in my local area one choice is JFCS-East Bay but it should be easy to find organizations in your own area. Many of us are freaked out pretty badly after a day when on one coast, 50 LGBTQ people were murdered in cold blood and on the other coast, a man was arrested on his way to the Pride parade with a car full of weapons and ammunition.
  10. Donate blood, if you are able. Even if you live thousands of miles from Orlando, this and other gun violence puts pressure on the supply of blood. According to the American Red Cross, every pint donated may save up to three lives.

Notice what isn’t on this list: “thoughts and prayers.” Author John Scalzi wrote an eloquent post yesterday about “thoughts and prayers” and the emptiness of those words. I am reminded of the prophet Isaiah, who spent most of Chapter 1 of the book carrying his name decrying the futility of ritual when real live people are suffering.

To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? says the Holy One.

I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts;
and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats.

Why are all those sacrifices offered to me? asks the Holy One.
I am fed up with burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened animals!
I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls, lambs and goats!

Yes, you come to appear in my presence; 
but who asked you to do this, to trample through my courtyards?

Stop bringing worthless grain offerings.
They are offerings of abomination to me!
Rosh-Hodesh, Shabbat, calling convocations —
I cannot stomach the sin within your assemblies!

My soul hates your Rosh-Hodesh and your festivals.
They are a burden to me; I am tired of putting up with them!

When you spread out your hands I will hide my eyes from you;
no matter how much you pray I won’t be listening,
because your hands are covered with blood.

Wash yourselves clean. Get your evil deeds out of my sight.

Stop doing evil! Learn to do good!

Seek justice, relieve the oppressed,
defend orphans, advocate for the bereaved! – Isaiah 1:11-17

If you have other ideas of action to take in the face of this terrible event, I welcome your suggestions in the comments.

Some Queer Thoughts after Orlando

Image: Rainbow flag, tattered, from Pixabay.com.

I wrote a post about the Orlando massacre (Stop the Hateful Cycle.)But I have to say that when I first heard the news about the shooting I wasn’t thinking about Torah. I heard the news as a person who’s been out as a lesbian since 1987, and it kicked me in my LBGTQ kishkes [Yiddish for “gut.”]

I heard the the news just as I went to bed. I deliberately switched off the radio and went to bed because I could not bear to hear about another shooting in a gay club. I knew that if I listened for even one moment I’d be up all night at the television, identifying with the people in the club and the people who love them. It was Shavuot; I had no business at the TV. It was Shavuot, and anyway I could not bear it.

I came out as a lesbian after I had children, so I was never much of a partier at clubs. But I knew the power of those places in the gay rights movement, how none of us were taken seriously until a riot at the Stonewall club in NYC, how many of the lesbian leaders in San Francisco met at Maud’s back in the day. I knew that the clubs had bulletin boards long before the Internet. They had a long history as places where lesbians, gay men, and everyone under the umbrella of “queer” could come to organize or just try to figure things out.

Bars and clubs have always been a hunting ground for the people who hate us. Watch the film Before Stonewall for more about that, or read Let the Faggots Burn: The Upstairs Lounge Fire by Johnny Townsend. My reaction last night came from a sick feeling that I’d seen this movie so many times, so many times that it would break my heart to hear it again. Usually the victims were “just” one or two individuals leaving a club, murdered by some coward in the bushes who’d decided he go get some of us because he thought the Bible said we deserved to die. Usually those murders didn’t make the broadcast news, and I heard about them much later from the LGBTQ press.

I could not bear to hear about one once again, and I couldn’t do anything about it anyway, so I went to bed.

The first good thing I heard the next day was in President Obama’s speech from the White House:

“This is an especially heartbreaking day for all our friends — our fellow Americans — who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live. The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub — it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.” – From President Obama’s speech, 6/12/16

I love that the President gets it that a “gay nightclub” is not just a place to drink and dance. I love that he or someone in his Administration knows our community and its history that well, and that he’s willing to talk about it on a day when the news media seems obsessed with ISIS.

Most of all, I love that with his speech the President reminded me that this is not the same old horrible movie once again. The FBI is investigating. The news organizations are reporting. No one is publicly crowing that the victims deserved it. (Well, nobody except Daesh/ISIS, who are busy trying to take credit, they who are in the business of hate.)

My rabbi and mentor once told me that the real test of whether to worry about local acts of antisemitism was to watch for the response from local law enforcement: did they show up? Did they take it seriously? Did any local politicians dogwhistle about the Jews bringing it on themselves? He said that if the cops responded, if they took it seriously, if the politicians talked solidarity and walked their talk, then it was upsetting but not to panic.

Now there has been an awful event – a mass murder at a gay nightclub – and I see the responders. CNN and all the news services are covering it. I see local law enforcement showing up promptly and taking risks to save gay lives. The FBI is on it. Political leaders (yes, even Senator Ted Cruz!) are taking it seriously. The President gives a speech in which he clearly cares, clearly understands the context that makes this especially horrifying and triggering to the victims’ community.

We have come a long way. We have a long road ahead.

This week, we mourn our dead.

Men, Women, and the Toilet

image
Image: A sign designating a women’s restroom. Public domain.

I was once followed into a bathroom by a man, back in the 1990’s.

It was a ladies’ room in a shopping mall, a small room tucked away between the parking structure and the shops. I heard the door open behind me and I glanced back. A man was coming in, looking straight at me, and the look on his face made my blood curdle. I ran right at him and ducked beneath his arm on my way out of the door. I began screeching, hoping that someone, anyone would hear.

I screamed all the way into the mall. He did not follow. I heard him laugh.

I had forgotten all about it until the recent spate of laws aimed at keeping transgender folks out of bathrooms. Like many women, I have a list of scary memories I try to avoid. If I dwelled on them I would never leave the house again.

I tell this story to point out the great flaw in the bathroom worries: men who are up to no good don’t need to say they are transgender to go into the ladies’ room. They just walk in. They always have.

As for the discomfort issue (I suspect, the real issue) there are many women with whom I’m uncomfortable in the bathroom. The ones who pee all over the seat and leave it that way; the ones who hog the sink while they get their makeup just so; the ones who sit in the single handicap stall and play games on their phone while I sit on my scooter outside, hoping I won’t have “an accident.” Oh, yes, and there are the ones who wear perfume as if it were a chemical weapon!

I don’t like them. I don’t want to share with them. But I do because they need a place to pee, too.

Trans women are no danger to me. In the men’s room they are in deadly danger.

There are no cases, ever, anywhere, of a man  posing as a woman to get access to women in the toilet. That’s because they don’t need to do that: if they are up to no good, they waltz right in.

Jerusalem LGBT Pride Murder Impacts the Reclaiming of Zion Square

“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” – Psalm 126:5

The murder of Shira Banki z”l is not forgotten. Instead, we have this news from Israel, as reported in Melanie Nathan’s excellent world LGBTQ news blog “O-blog-dee-o-blog-da.”

While nothing can restore Ms. Banki to her family and nation, perhaps change is possible. The dedication of Zion Square in Jerusalem to such change is a step in the right direction.

O-blog-dee-o-blog-da

Zion Square Zion Square gathering, Jerusalem.

Zion Square, one of the landmarks of Jerusalem in Israel, is set to undergo a redesign project, embracing pluralism and tolerance, evolving through circumstances and the passionate activism of several organizations and individuals.

Diverse organizations, ad hoc groups and activists have worked together to bring this extraordinarily progressive plan to fruition, by meeting each Thursday night for over a year and a half, in Zion Square, where they have engaged in informal dialogue and created visibility.

According to an article in Haaretz, “Gay pride murder inspires grassroots movement to reclaim Jerusalem landmark”:

The Jerusalem municipality has decided that, as a major component of its call for a competition for a planned redesign of the square, Zion Square will be turned into “a place that promotes connections, tolerance and mutual respect.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 9.12.24 AMThe decision to brand and design the square this way was motivated in large…

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In Memoriam: Jeanne Córdova

Image: Photo taken of Jeanne Córdova at the 2012 Lammy Awards by lynnhb. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Jeanne Córdova died of cancer on January 10, 2016. She was one of the LGBTQ pioneers who changed the world for us: a community organizer and a journalist. Unless you are a lesbian – and an older lesbian, at that – you probably don’t recognize her name.

Jeanne was born in Germany, one of 12 children of a Mexican father and an Irish American mother. She grew up Catholic in Southern California and entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Immaculate Mary Convent in Los Angeles in 1966. She wrote about her exit from the convent and her coming-out at UCLA in her 1990 book Kicking the Habit: A Lesbian Nun Story

Jeanne was one of those who did the hard work of organizing lesbians in Southern California back when lesbians were regarded as sick or a social menace. Her recent book, When We were Outlaws is about a short period in the 1970’s when lesbians began to see themselves as Lesbian Nation, but the Establishment, especially J.Edgar Hoover, saw them as another bunch of Commies, enemies of the state.    (I say “them” because I didn’t come out until ’87.) Those were scary, heady times, when the radical Left in America was feeling its oats about the exit from Vietnam, but painfully aware of what had happened to the Black Panthers.  Córdova was a leader in the lesbian community in Southern California during that time, and she wrote about not only the external battles but the internal ones as well.  She was both a lover and a fighter, and breathtakingly honest about it, to boot.

If you want to get a taste of Jeanne’s voice, read her blog, This Lesbian World: Notes from a Community Organizer.  

I am sad that the Jeanne Córdovas of the LGBTQ community have been mostly forgotten in our recent political victories. We tend to focus on the national organizations and their current leadership – and that leadership has not always been generous enough to give credit to the cranky, stubborn visionaries who brought us to this day. The AIDS epidemic carried off many of the men, and now that generation of lesbians are dying, too.

It is a Jewish value to give credit where credit is due. I would not enjoy the freedoms I have today, the safety I have today, were it not for Jeanne Córdova and her compatriots, back in the days of the Lesbian Nation. Their activism and courage propelled us into a future in which I can marry my beloved and in which so much seems possible. Jeanne would be the first to point out that the work is far from done. The best memorial we can give her is to carry the work forward.

 

 

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today is designated as the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Jewish tradition teaches us that we were all created b’tzelem Elohim – in the image of the Holy One. We are abjured against violence to the human body so strongly that even after death, we treat dead bodies with reverence.

Transgender people deserve the same respect as every other human being, but in fact they are at grave risk of bodily harm and murder. I learned this on a visceral level years ago, when a young person who had grown up in my kitchen embarked on transition to a greater wholeness. I found I was terrified for him – terrified in my bones, because I knew what might to happen to him even on his college campus here in California.

It’s a happy story: he’s a healthy young man, pursuing his career, contributing to society. Now that he’s a thirty-something with thinning hair and a professorial air, I don’t worry about him quite as much.

But far too many transgender persons, especially transwomen of color, don’t make it to their thirties, much less beyond. Too many are murdered every year. For a sense of that, read Transgender Day of Remembrance 2015: Those We’ve Lost from The Advocate. The graphics there are not visually upsetting – no photos of bodies – but they are nonetheless shocking: too many dead.

Then DO something: join me in supporting the Transgender Law Center, a public interest law firm that has been worked hard for many small changes in US law and policy. There is much work to be done, but I have been an active supporter of TLC for over ten years and I have seen them squeeze more from a dime than any other non-profit I know.

The slaughter of transgender people is an ugly reality. Today, let’s acknowledge it by making the world better.