Monday, May 11, 2015

Let's Hear it for White Appreciation Day!

By Kelly Cogswell

It's not such a bad idea, White Appreciation Day, the brainchild of two Hispanic restaurant owners, Edgar Antillon and Miguel Jimenez, who recently bought a BBQ place in Milliken, Colorado. It might well be a simple publicity stunt, but fair's fair after all, and if, like Mr. Antillon said, "We have a whole month for Black History Month," and another for Hispanic Heritage, "…the least we could do was offer one day to appreciate white Americans."

And why should I bite a gift horse in the mouth that feeds me? Especially since Mr. Antillon's such an obviously generous guy. He's already been a long-time activist supporting the rights of pot smokers to score handguns. His own organization, Guns for Everyone, even offers classes on the whole concealed carry thing, because I suppose folks have to be instructed on how to buy a gun, and then not wave it around, for instance, or strap it to their chests.

With all the abundance of holidays he enjoys, why not share? Do you think WAD will deprive you of something? As if the big white head could get any fatter? Or white cops more violent? White corporations more greedy? No? Why not concede this gesture, and let the poor disenfranchised White Race have their day?

Scheduling is the biggest problem. At first glance Presidents' day seemed a no-brainer for WAD, but that's out now that Obama's portrait is up in whatever gallery Presidential portraits are relegated to. Labor Day might actually work since unions in the U.S. are largely defunct and nobody ever does anything for that day anyway, except have a BBQ which is half Mr. Antillon's goal. We also might consider replacing Parents Day on July 26 which seems awfully redundant given that my Mother and Father have already had twenty-four more hours than they're owed, if I'm allowed to do the calculating.

Or perhaps we should plump for May 10th, that locally unknown day set aside to remember the abolition of slavery, which lasted 400 years and not only enslaved multitudes, but directly killed 60 to 70 million Africans. Yes, what better day to acknowledge how the effects still reverberate, not just in economic inequality, violence, and institutional racism directed towards the descendants of slaves, but those poor White Folks deprived of around the clock, disposable "help."

The least we deserve is a cheap pulled pork sammie, 10 percent off at Rubbin Buttz BBQ. Maybe Ben Affleck can even make peace with his slave-owning ancestors who were probably just going along with the crowd.

I have to say it took me a while to understand the potential. I've spent many an International Women's Day as a tireless harridan quoting statistics at the men demanding their props. There's the matter of wages, violence, sheer and unadulterated power, I'd say. Every March 14 I rage against the Irish bigots justifying queer exclusion from the St. Paddy's Day Parade in New York because we had an entire month and our own goshdang parade.

But, this is the thing. With a WAD firmly in place, white folks flashing our skin and demanding special treatment on all those other days will only be entitled to a slap upside the head. Preferably from our own mommas who will tell us to our rotten, complaining, candy and tear-streak faces, "No, yesterday was your day at the fair. No more tear gas and hollow points, and steel-toed boots in the subject's head. Or preferred admittance to Harvard. Or that seat on the board. That gate-keeper's gig. Nope, nuh-uh. Only one day a year for you."

WAD will put Whiteness on the level of every other race. Shrink it down to cake and bunting only one day a year instead of having it as the unspoken default. Name a thing, call it out, you don't conjure, but control it. Every two bit sorcerer knows that. So here's to WAD.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Lesbians Make History in Belgrade

By Kelly Cogswell

On Sunday, April 19, more than one hundred women took to the Belgrade streets for the first lesbian march in the entire region. The march capped off four days of The Lesbian Spring, which included photo exhibits, film screenings, discussions, workshops, and of course, parties.

A bold action in a city where Pride marches are often banned after threats of violence, and marchers are sometimes attacked, the Lesbian March included rom women from Niš and Novi Bečej, and activists from the Lesbian Women's Network. Their focus was lesbian rights, and lesbian visibility.

Marchers participated for a range of reasons according to an April 20 post in e-Novine. Ana Pandej, a Lesbian Spring organizer, was sick of lesbians being invisible, not just in society, but in demos for worker's rights, women, even Gay Pride. "It's like we're not even there...It's really essential for women in general, particularly lesbians, but also straight, bi, and queer women, to be visible in public spaces."

Zoé Gudović, another activist with the organization reemphasized the importance of claiming space, and acknowledging the contributions of lesbians to LGBT history. She also said, "We took to the streets today to show that we are not some Western import. We exist in this country. We are citizens of this society that we help build, and we want change. Change which will come when people understand just how much political oppression affects women, and how it's omnipresent for lesbians…"

Zoé Gudović enjoyed the cultural events of Lesbian Spring. "We were able to see a film from Bosnia-Herzegovina about a group of female soccer players, the film "Lesbianna" from filmmaker Myriam Fougère, and we discussed different books and publications and we had the opportunity to seen an exhibit of photographs of lesbians taken by lesbians." She was impressed by how much the group of international lesbians had in common, in particular their struggles with invisibility and violence.

The Lesbian Spring was organized by a range of groups and individuals. It was timed, in part, to coincide with the presence of the Feminist Caravan, a project of the World March of Women, an international activist group.

Dyke-Baiting, Trans-Hating, and The MichFest Debacle

By Kelly Cogswell

Early last week, Lisa Vogel announced that the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival would close after this year's 40th anniversary event. The response was tears in some quarters, and from some "good riddance." I'm ashamed to admit that I put off weighing in because I'm not thick-skinned, and I hate getting trolled.

But somebody has to say the obvious. That the whole MichFest thing may have begun as a fight about trans inclusion, but for the last few years it's mostly been an opportunity to engage in dyke-baiting, and attacking women-only spaces, however "women" is defined.

While MichFest organizers did eject a trans woman in 1991, they later acknowledged--repeatedly--that the action was a mistake. Trans people actually do attend the festival. Some even staff it, and I believe, have directed workshops. Last year, founder and director Lisa Vogel attempted to clarify the matter by issuing a statement declaring that MichFest considered trans women as women, and that at the festival nobody's gender was ever questioned.

Given the multiple apologies for the fuck up, and the fact trans women already do attend the festival, though not all are out, it's hard to understand why critics continue to give the impression that pitchfork wielding dykes and evil cis women have repeatedly chased trans women from MichFest.

Worse, they encourage other trans people to attack both organizers and participants with a level of rage and hate that we do not see directed towards anything or anybody else. Not the politicians that refuse to allow trans people to determine their own identities. Not cops that routinely roust trans women. Not their rapists. Not their murders. Nope, the real obstacles to trans progress are those filthy bigoted dykes at MichFest that should probably all be exterminated.

Am I exaggerating? Not much. The internet is awash with anti-MichFest posts that end with diatribes attacking lesbians as a class, many wishing for our collective demise.

MichFest critics have been so effective misrepresenting the facts, that I was surprised last year to discover trans women actually did go and many treasured their experiences there. One woman explained how much she learned hearing other women's stories, and getting a sense of feminism in practice. The problem was that she was afraid to come out as trans and have her heart broken. That is a real issue. And I would've liked to hear more from her. Unfortunately, she didn't fit the narrative of the MichFest critics and people like her were erased.

It's true that she may have risked rejection. I don't know what the atmosphere is like, and lesbians aren't more enlightened on trans issues than anybody else. And, as in any other group, there are some dykes that are hardcore trans-haters, including a number who deny the transgender experience, explaining that trans women are just effeminate men that refuse to accept their femininity and are trying to extend their male privilege into the female domain.

The biggest difference, in this debate, anyway, is that most lesbians, including the organizers of MichFest, have made a big effort to distance themselves as fast as they can from these trans-deniers and bigots. Lesbians are so eager to condemn transphobia that we'll even attack each other to prove our bona fides. A number of lesbian organizations like the National Center for Lesbian Rights were persuaded to sign a petition boycotting lesbian artists that were going to appear at MichFest, though some, including NCLR and its director Kate Kendall later reconsidered.

Tellingly, while everybody rushes to denounce the transphobia of MichFest, few have emerged to defend lesbians from the resulting dyke-baiting. No one is willing to talk about lesbian issues at all, including why MichFest existed in the first place. Why? Because Vogel refuses to renounce her belief that women (however that is defined) deserve their own space? Where female bodies and experiences can be central, and they can relinquish the daily burden of misogyny and abuse...?

Is it all too dykey? Too… essentialist for the post-feminist, post-queer year of 2015? Before you write a comment full of sneers and snark, tell me, just what has changed? Not misogyny. Not violence. Not the attacks on female bodies. Unless men have quit raping women this week, quit killing us at home and in the street, quit dissecting the voice, and hair and thighs of the few women that venture into politics.

Half the women I know have PTSD from a life of having a cunt and tits in public. Why wouldn't some women need a breather, a woman, womyn, wimmin-only space? Men don't know what it's like. Even trans women don't know what a lifetime of it is like. How could they? Which is why it would be nice if we could chill out and talk about all this, how our lives intersect, even if they aren't identical. We could maybe even talk about how dyke-baiting isn't good for any woman, trans women included. Turn down that sleazeball on the corner, whaddaya get called? A dyke.

Monday, April 13, 2015

No Honeymoon in Brazil For Post-Marriage Queers


The cover of a Christian magazine.

By Kelly Cogswell

So the feds finally recognize your marriage, big deal. Pop a cork, swig some champagne, then get back to work. You can't legislate the end of homophobia. Just look at Brazil, with its enormous LGBT Pride Marches, marriage equality, and entrenched homophobia and violence.

I've been swapping messages about the state of Brazil's Queer Nation with Mariana Rodrigues, a 31 year old dyke activist who worked at Liga Brasileira de Lésbicas (League of Brazilian Lesbians) when she still lived in Sao Paolo. And she started off by telling me that despite all their legal progress, young queers that dare to come out are regularly met with fierce disapproval or even violence from family, friends and society at large. When one of her young friends announced he was gay, his father actually tossed him out of a moving car.

And despite the parades, most people are still closeted at work, or they wouldn't find any. Especially feminine gay men, and butch dykes. Trans people almost never find employment in a formal workplace. Luma Nogueira Andrade, the first trans university professor in the country, is a rare exception. Now, she's actually the first trans college president in Brazil at the University of International Integration of Brazil-Africa Lusophony (UNILAB) in the northeast. She describes herself as travesti (transsexual) instead of transgender to highlight the history of stigma and violence that transsexuals continue to face.

Almost one queer is killed every day in Brazil, with trans people accounting for half the victims, largely because they're forced to the margins of a society where violence is already endemic. In fact, violence against all LGBT people is increasing, especially in big cities like Sao Paolo and Rio. Mariana believes it is the beginning of an enormous backlash.

Just two weeks ago, a video went viral showing a huge group of young men, called "Gladiators of the Altar" shouting that they were going to hunt down queers and kill them. They are organized by one of the largest evangelical groups in Brazil, the enormous Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. A few days afterwards, Mariana found an equally horrifying post on their website, that shows an image of a father with a gun in his hand saying, "Who else wants to admit they're gay?" The caption: "everyone should have a gun at home to solve their own problems."

More and more, politicians attack LGBT people and women's rights during their campaigns, as they compete for the conservative, evangelical vote. Mariana was shocked when the Brazilian president, Dilma Roussef, actually vetoed a curriculum developed to help teachers cope better with diversity in schools. A member of the Workers Party which has been the most progressive on LGBT issues, Rouseff claimed that it was not the government's role to "spread sexual orientation propaganda."

As in the U.S., the division of church and state is increasingly blurred as conservative evangelical movements elect more and more legislators, and invest entire fortunes in buying up media outlets and creating giant lobbying machines. Marco Feliciano, a staunch evangelical, is now the president of Brazil's federal council of human rights. Besides declaring that black people are cursed because they didn't worship Jesus in Africa, he's also blamed bi people for the AIDS epidemic. Jair Bolsonaro, another evangelical deputy, said that children only become gay because they're not beaten enough. Both were re-elected in a landslide.

In the last election a Catholic candidate promised to create a mass movement rising up against the evil of homosexuality, which among other things, threatened the traditional family. In that case, the public defender filed a lawsuit against him because those statements were made on national television and incited hate crime. Last week he was sentenced to pay a fine which will go towards a public service announcement supporting LGBT rights, though it might be overturned on appeal.

Nevertheless, LGBT activists can't keep up, and Mariana worries that evangelical politicians may actually be able to reverse decades of legal and social progress in Brazil. Just recently, a program about gender equality and sexual orientation was removed from the national curriculum after intense lobbying from evangelicals. They claimed these "theories of gender are included to propagate and encourage homosexuality in children."

And in Tocantins, the state where Mariana now lives in central Brazil, LGBT activists worked for two years to pass a program containing provisions for education, health, social assistance and work, and insuring the LGBT population there basic human rights. Eight days after the plan was approved and announced, the state government caved in to pressure from Christian members and revoked the whole thing.

Even when the federal government does makes progressive recommendations, they are often ignored by the state governments. (Like in the United States, LGBT rights and protections vary from state to state). Sometimes policies are passed, but not implemented because they aren't awarded funds. Other times, judges rule according to their personal beliefs rather than the laws on the books.

Still, Mariana sees some positive shifts on the cultural front. A new soap opera featured a kiss by two older lesbians in the first episode. While there was a huge uproar from the evangelical population, there was also a number of strong, approving voices. This was progress from the first time there was a lesbian couple on a soap when it caused such outrage the writers almost immediately killed them off. Gay activists are organizing some beijaços (kiss-ins) to support the new show.

One new twist in the ongoing war for LGBT rights, is how evangelicals are beginning to claim that they themselves are victims of discrimination against Christians. They say that gay people are the abusive majority preventing them from exercising their "right" to denounce LGBT people, and even call for their eradication. If these cries of "heterophobia" sound familiar, it's because evangelical movements both north and south are joined at the pocketbook, and the tactic has been spreading in the U.S. as well. Indiana's only a heartbeat from Brazil.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Killing Queers for Jesus

By Kelly Cogswell

You can almost see it coming, the train wreck of queers and religion, especially if a Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage is framed in a way that encourages religious exemptions. Already, nonprofit religious institutions have a lot of leeway to discriminate. But the new Indiana law has implications far beyond church services, or even the selling of wedding cakes and floral arrangements.

In fact, our apartments, our jobs, our health is at stake. And we have to be more thoughtful than the guy I saw on a panel Friday who first sneered at religious nutcases, and when he got chastised for his attitude, and for ignoring the positive role that churches have in the lives of many Americans, including queers, became all asskissy. And went on at length about the "real people of faith" who are apparently all nice, good-hearted folks practically poised to join us on the frontlines fighting for LGBT human rights.

Reverence and snark are equally disastrous. There's no way to deal with things like HIV/AIDS in places like Louisiana or Alabama unless we find some way to get local churches on board. On the other hand, we can't ignore the vast numbers of queers of all races and ethnicities who have fled the slow asphyxiation or active tyranny of their local church. "Real people of faith" can be absolutely terrifying in their sincerity.

Matt McLaughlin, a California attorney, who recently submitted a ballot initiative which would actually require the state to execute gay people, honestly believes same-sex relations are a "monstrous evil" that has to be addressed. And while he may be a nut, his "Sodomite Suppression Act" is more or less identical to the legislation that American pastors like Scott Lively have coldly and rationally encouraged in West African countries like Uganda.

And in Brazil, where trans people can get free gender-reassignment surgery, and lesbians and gay men can get married if they want to, adopt kids, serve in the army, or march in the largest Pride Parades in the world, LGBT people are facing increasing violence on the street, due at least in part to the growth of American-style, anti-gay evangelical churches.

While evangelicals numbered just 5 percent of the previously Catholic population in 1970, UK's The Guardian estimated last year that 22 percent of Brazil's 200 million people are now participating in Pentecostal churches. In the next few decades, they will be the majority. And unlike most Americans, they don't just sit passively in their pews. In 2013, more than 800,000 people attended a March for Jesus rally in Sao Paolo that included antigay propaganda. They've bought up hundreds of radio and TV stations, not to mention legislators, who defeated the 2013 bill that would have prohibited discrimination or inciting violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Queers are feeling it in the street. Even before this evangelical upsurge, almost one LGBT person a day was being butchered in homophobic and transphobic murders. Now the violence is only increasing as the evangelical Christian Right emerges as a national power.

Many queers were terrified last week when a video went viral showing huge rows of "Gladiators of the Altar," screaming en masse that they "were ready for war in the name of the Lord." They saluted like Hitler's Nazi youth, promising to hunt down queers, and also threatened to attack participants in Brazil's African religions, which include a vast majority of LGBT attendees.

These "gladiators" are not some fringe group, but part of the enormous Universal Church of the Kingdom of God which has raised so much money it's put Edir Macedo, the founder, onto the Forbes billionaire list. They immediately yanked the video, and issued statements asserting that the event was just a performance in church, and that its army of "Gladiators of the Altar" was only a missionary group that wasn't going to actually kill queers, just get them incarcerated in conversion therapy. In fact, their website claims the group's only regular activity is "bible classes that meet once a week."

Silas Malafaia, the multimillionaire head of the Assembly of God, another of the country's largest evangelical groups, has declared himself "public enemy No 1 of the gay movement in Brazil." According to The Guardian, Malafaia says he will support anyone who can topple the relatively gay-friendly Worker's Party, which is struggling to stay in power. During last year's election, he threatened opposition candidate, environmentalist, and fellow evangelical Marina Silva that he'd drop his backing if she didn't retract her support for same-sex marriage. And she did.

My point here is not that U.S. queers should start arming themselves against antigay militias, but that LGBT progressives should get serious about grappling with religious institutions as a major force in American life that can either support our efforts, or feed bigotry, inspire violence, and terrify people into silence. Yes, it can happen here.