Monday, December 21, 2015

Against Gay Human Rights in Africa,
Or Activists Are Always Wrong

By Kelly Cogswell

Activists are always being told to shut up, sit down, go away--by people in their own movements. "Honey catches more flies than vinegar," they say. Or "The patient dog eats the fattest bone." The specter of backlash is also raised, as if the black activist were responsible for racism. As if the queer ones were responsible for homophobia which would have probably gone away by itself like a bad cold if we had just hunkered down and eaten some soup.

And somehow, these conservative, complicit forces rewrite history to take the credit when proven wrong. The local black luminaries who attacked MLK were practically photo-shopped in beside him there in D.C., or Selma. The queer institutions that sidelined activists, and tried to discourage a certain group of rogue lawyers from petitioning the Supreme Court to end the ban on same-sex marriage were first in line with their celebrations and press releases and demands for donations when the case was actually won.

No wonder that The New York Times can still publish articles like the tendentious "Support of Gay Rights in Africa May Hurt" which is just another argument for silence and inaction tarted-up with a juicy pseudo, neo-colonial twist. We're being told once again that the locals, in this case, Nigerian queers, were better off before activists got involved. And also that the current backlash is all the fault of Americans and their tame little proxies.

For the record, local queers have been activists in Africa long before they starting getting outside help. One of the oldest being Gays And Lesbians Of Zimbabwe (GALZ) founded in 1990. Second, Nigerian queers were never in great shape unless you ignore isolation, fear, stigma, shame, and violence. And finally, are we really expected to believe that a few years of cautious U.S. State Department reminders that queers, too, have human rights, and modestly funded local queer activities suddenly spurred Nigeria into a homophobic, gay-hating mess? Really?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton didn't make her famous "LGBT rights are human rights" speech until late in 2011. Obama didn't properly evolve and make his own speeches until the following year. In fact, up through the Bush administration, the U.S. was still joining forces with the likes of the Vatican, Iran, and Saudi Arabia to squish every mention of LGBT rights in global anti-AIDS efforts. In 2001, we even went so far as to fight to exclude queer issues from the UN-sponsored World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.

If Nigeria recently exploded in homophobia, it's less because of specific activist groups or their meager American funders than because the entire African continent has been swept by a wave of gay scapegoating for the last two decades.

In 1995 in Zimbabwe, the opposition-massacreing dictator Robert Mugabe launched the campaign, telling his citizens it was their duty to arrest queers, citing the law of nature, morals, and society. Most importantly, he attacked homosexuality as "un-African," a phenomenon of colonists and whites. This gave him a convenient domestic enemy to distract his citizens from the usual ills of poverty and dictatorship.

His techniques were quickly echoed in Zambia, Uganda, and of course, Namibia, where government ministers denounced "un-African" homosexuality and demanded our elimination. Namibia's marginally better tyrant, President Sam Nujoma, euphemistically said we should be uprooted. He actually sent queers fleeing in 2001 when he not only characterized us as public enemies, but called for lesbians and gay men to be arrested, and deported or imprisoned.

Anti-gay campaigns weren't only in Africa's south or west. In Egypt, in 2001, the government put fifty-two men on trial for "contempt of heavenly religions" while the newspapers discussed whether homosexuals should be given a chance to repent before they were burned or stoned.

The irony, of course, is that for years, in order to finance their cynical local campaigns against "foreign" or "colonial" or "European" or "American" homosexuality, African homophobes have been gobbling up the money of white, extremist, right-wing American Christians, from Pat Robertson to the deep-pocketed National Christian Foundation. And not just the money, but also the guidance, support, strategizing and overall clout.

That is barely featured in the NYT article, which also ignores the fact that African governments' queer scapegoating is largely driven by political opportunism, as is the case of most state-sponsored scapegoating. The backlash the NYT frets about is to a great extent manufactured--by corrupt African politicians, U.S. Christian Right interlopers and a local yellow press. It's not particularly spontaneous, or "provoked" by home-grown queer activists and their meager, progressive American funding. In fact, the outsized, poisonous role the American Christian Right is playing in Africa should be, in itself, more than enough reason for other Americans to pour millions into LGBT projects in the region.

The fact that The New York Times actually thinks there are any cases of LGBT abuses in which we might be better on the sidelines makes me want to puke. The only question is what exactly we should do to help, not if we should. Money, of course, is the easiest option. Nigerian queers shouldn't have to apologize for taking American dollars, when they'd be bashed as foreign agents anyway. Americans shouldn't apologize for giving them. Especially since, by helping queer activists, we also bolster elements of democracy like freedom of speech and assembly. If we fight violence against queers, we make Nigeria a more peaceful place. Fighting for trans women or dykes, we improve the lives of all women in a country where their status is dire. Now, more than ever, we rise and fall together.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Selling Misery

By Kelly Cogswell

If you read the headlines, or read my column for that matter, you'll want to go back to sleep, pull the covers up over your head and stay there. The terrorists are around the corner, the world is going to hell, and despite our progress, queers all over the universe have little shiny targets on their foreheads.

But how accurate is that view, even for me, who can actually see the effects of gunman and mad bombers just down my Parisian block? I read an article the other day reminding us that in places like the U.S. or France we were much more likely to be killed by food poisoning, or crossing the street, or falling off a ladder than we were by murderous assholes that swallowed a little too much Islamist (or Christianist) propaganda.

Last December, Slate published an article called, "The World Is Not Falling Apart," which used wide-ranging statistics to prove that the world was more peaceful than ever before in history. "Worldwide, about five to 10 times as many people die in police-blotter homicides as die in wars." When it came to terrorist attacks, Americans, anyway, were more likely to die of bee stings or "deer collisions, ignition of nightwear, and other mundane accidents."

Even women have seen improvement, no matter that in France, one dies every three days in an act of domestic terrorism committed by their boyfriends or husbands. In Brazil black women are slaughtered so frequently we really have to use the word femicide. Nevertheless, global rates of rape, sexual assault and intimate partner violence against women are considerably less than they were a few decades ago.

And for us queers, in the last few decades many places have seen the repeal of sodomy laws, huge marriage equality wins, and major progress on trans rights. Isn't it time to pop open a bottle of champagne and celebrate? What's the matter with me that I keep harping on violence, and deaths, and antigay campaigns?

Maybe it's my activist past. I have that saying trapped in my head that declares nobody is free until we all are. And when it comes to queers, there are plenty being left behind. In the United States, LGBT people of color, trans people, poor people. The ability to exercise our new right to marry also varies from region to region. We heard a lot about Morehead, Kentucky, but there are plenty of other places where county clerks have announced they won't hand out marriage licenses to queers. The only difference is things are already so bad for LGBT folks in those communities, that nobody feels supported enough or safe enough to even begin to challenge them.

And if we Americans lift our heads to look outside our own country we see places like Nigeria where the war on queers is overt and institutionalized. If we dare concern ourselves with the bloody rampage of the Islamic State we see queers thrown off of cliffs and out of windows. Stoned to death. Iran is looking positively civilized for occasionally sending us to the gallows.

But still, how often does it happen overall? Isn't this backlash an indication of how threatened some people are by our progress, our new visibility? What do I stand to gain by encouraging you to keep your champagne safely in the fridge, to be afraid? Especially in the increasingly privileged U.S.?

After September 11th, I remember that Bush and company played on our fear and anxiety to sell us censorship, and spying, a Department of Homeland Security, and a shiny new war in Iraq. Probably some in the Bush administration believed these things were useful. But many just liked the new power. And a great many more stood to profit financially from new control of old oil fields, or the giant machine of war. They also used fear and anger to inoculate us against their abuses, like the torture engaged in at the prisons of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

As for me, all I want is for you to stay awake, pay attention. Remain mobilized. History teaches us that trends can be reversed. Things seem like they're getting better now, but nobody knows how sturdy our progress is, especially if you look at how easy it's been for the anti-abortion people to roll back women's gains.

And we are vulnerable. Not just from our enemies but from our own authoritarian trends. Squashing internal dissent. Attacking speech because we don't agree, or it lacks nuance. Trying to get things banned. We've forgotten that civil liberties like freedom of speech and association are the most important weapons we have to protect the gains we've made, and hopefully enable new ones.

I wonder sometimes if I've helped fuel that whole trend, with my constant doom and glooming, making everything seem equally important, equally dire. Maybe I should try to lighten up, remember what liberation feels like, and joy.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Paris Attacks

By Kelly Cogswell

I've been trying to write a piece about Paris since the attacks happened last week. I'm not sure what I can add. Or if I should. Silence is underrated. Especially these days when even the posts by people who lost sisters or brothers or lovers begin to sound the same, but somehow still get you in the guts.

Then of course there is the "if only" brigade. "If only the crowd had been armed," said Donald Trump. "If only the French government hadn't been involved in Syria," said, it seemed, everybody on the Left. Both are sure that the actions or inactions of France and other big Western powers somehow pushed the terrorists to do it.

No matter that the (minimal) French role in Syria and elsewhere seemed like an afterthought in ISIS' post-attack statement. Their obsession with Paris was in its role as "the capital of prostitution and vice." Instructively, the cafes and concert hall they chose to attack had nothing to do with the heavy-handed power of the French state, and everything to do with a neighborhood in which genders, races, and religions mix.

Which means the attacks on Paris was not a reprise of 9/11, but more of a continuation of the Islamic State's own campaigns in Iraq and Syria. Or attacks by Boko Haram in West Africa where the real issue is often the refusal of other Muslims to embrace extremist strains of their religion marked by the literal enslavement and rape of women, and the spectacle of tossing gay men off of cliffs.

Though if we insist on talking about foreign meddling, let us at least mention how Saudi money finances extremists mosques in places like Molenbeek, Belgium, nurturing the likes of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, presumed mastermind of the Paris attacks. The guy looks so fucking happy to be holding a gun in all the snapshots on the news, and positively ecstatic in that video shot in Syria where he got to kill a bunch of rival Muslims, then drag them behind his truck.

Monday, November 09, 2015

The State of the Queer Cuban Nation

By Kelly Cogswell

Late in October, a handful of independent activists appeared for the first time before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reporting on the state of the LGBTI community in Cuba and asking the commission to pressure the regime not just on behalf of queers, but of any independent group trying to work for human rights on the island.

In the video, they seemed articulate, dignified, and maybe a little desperate, offering quiet reproaches to an international LGBT community that has a blind eye where Cuba is concerned, largely ignoring actual LGBT people trying to speak and work on their own behalf, while seeming to applaud every press release from CENESEX, the government-approved National Center for Sex Education run by the straight daughter of Cuba’s dynastic ruler, Raúl Castro.

Carlos Quesada of the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights, said that the “so-called visibility” of Cuba’s queers internationally was dependent on one name, Mariela Castro and that “it contrasts with the actual situation of the members of the LGBTI community in Cuba.”

Determined to see if they could get something done outside the CENESEX bubble, a coalition of Cuban groups, including the Free Rainbow Alliance of Cuba (Alianza Arcoiris Libre de Cuba), the Trans Fantasy Network (RED-Trans Fantasía), The Foundation for the Rights of the LGBTI Community (Fundación por los derechos de la Comunidad LGBTI) and Divine Hope (Divina Esperanza), a queer Christian Group, decided to conduct their own study of the state of the queer Cuban nation. They prepared a questionnaire focusing on personal experiences of discrimination and violence, and whether or not LGBTI people had basic information about their human rights.

It was an ambitious project, especially for embattled independent groups. "By law, organizations that do not declare their support to the state are not allowed to be registered," explained Juana Mora, of the Free Rainbow Alliance of Cuba, and former member of CENESEX. She let those words speak for themselves, knowing that the commission would be well aware that in Cuba, independent activists and journalists face harassment, discrimination, violence, and arrest. Later on in the presentation, she and Quesada described how queer activists were continually monitored and their research materials seized and copied, routinely denounced as counterrevolutionaries, threatened, and subject to detention and interrogation.

Unsurprisingly, most LGBTI people approached for the study were too afraid, or too disillusioned to talk to them. Mora told the commission that "…in Cuba there's a culture of fear surrounding any discussion of human rights. Because when Cubans hear these words they think you're attacking the government. The other thing is, that since in Cuba there isn't a culture of respecting human rights, many people responded that it was a waste of time, knowing that nobody would do anything about your problems."

In the end, though, they persuaded 150 people nationwide to participate. Of these 26 were lesbians, 81 gay men, 19 bi people, 23 trans women, and 1 intersex. Sixty-six self-defined as white, 28 as being of African descent, and 44 as mixed race. Forty-four were between 15 - 25 years old, 56 were between 26 and 35, and 38 were older than 36.

Their news wasn't good. Despite the CENESEX “circus,” as Cuban queers typically call the institution's displays, violence and discrimination were incredibly high, especially on the institutional level. Eighty-seven said they had been assaulted both verbally and physically by cops, and arbitrarily detained. Forty-five had been discriminated against in the workplace, harassed or fired. Sixty-seven had experienced violence within their own families, including being thrown out of their homes. Violence and discrimination, both within and without the family, was worse the further you got from Havana. Cops regularly blackmailed and extorted rural queers. Worse, if they fled to Havana, they risked constant harassment and extortion by cops there and were often deported back to their place of origin. Trans people faced the worst of the violence and discrimination, especially if they were of African descent.

Mora testified that in general, very few of the people polled knew about international human rights instruments, or worldwide advances in LGBT rights. Few had access to resources or support on the island, especially in the areas of work and education. No statistics were kept about homophobic or transphobic murders. Few victims of violence even reported assaults because they weren't investigated, much less solved and prosecuted. "Nothing happened to the guilty. In only one highly public case was the murderer punished."

Sisy Montiel, coordinator of the Trans Fantasy Network, testified that she had become an activist because she herself was the victim of discrimination and violence, and as a young person was arrested so often for being "ostentatiously effeminate in public" that she barely finished high school.

She eventually got sex reassignment surgery, and found work in the theater, but many others like her were forced into prostitution, or killed themselves, literally encouraged by the state to end their lives. Things weren't much better now, she said. Kids are harassed so much in school they either leave or are expelled. Which meant they couldn't go to college or get decent jobs, usually forcing them into prostitution. Discrimination prevented most from getting medical care. Access was made even worse by racism, with black trans people being refused hormones and surgery.

After screening a short film, "Situation of LGBT population in Cuba, 2014-2015," they offered a list of recommendations, which again emphasized the need to pressure the Cuban government to respect independent organizations and civil society in general, and LGBT groups in particular, exposing how social change of any kind requires the same basic rights--to meet and assemble peacefully, to express themselves, fundamental rights that Cubans simply don't have. Not yet.

The Cuban government declined to participate in the hearing.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Orphan Black and the Queer Identity Game

By Kelly Cogswell

Thanks to that devil Netflix, I'm now hooked on Orphan Black, the sci-fi series in which Tatiana Maslany plays a slew of cloned women who are caught between the evil scientists who created and study them, and the religious fanatics that want to see them all dead. You could read the whole show as a deconstruction of identity, or a smorgasbord of it, with plenty of nature and nurture jokes thrown in.

Acting at this high level always raises questions about just what a person is. Do we have some essential, and immutable kernel of self that finds expression in how we speak and move, and how we choose to live our lives, or is this thing we perceive as "I" an arbitrary collection of ticks that we've picked up from the world around us that practically anybody can mimic, if not sustain?

Comics do it all the time with spot on impersonations. In Orphan Black, Tatiana Maslany transforms herself so persuasively into a dozen or so separate clone characters, sometimes even going all Shakespearean in pretending to be one clone pretending to be another, that she's an argument for the internal diversity of humans, our capacity to adapt.

Technology obviously plays an important role in making all her characters seem simultaneously real, but the key is the acting which is done without benefit of the fancy make-up and prosthetics that we've all seen in movies from the Nutty Professor to The Saint. With just a pair of glasses, a headband, or a wig, or nothing at all, she changes the body language, and accent, but goes beyond these obvious tricks to allow the intelligence inside to shift, creating a new personality, a new character without getting so clever you're pulled out of the show to applaud her craft.

I marveled at that scene in an early episode in Season 1 when British con artist Sarah was meant to visit her young daughter, but asked Canadian Soccer Bitch Alison to stand in. We saw the character Alison seize on Sarah's externals like many actors would do, embracing her lower class British accent and tougher, street-wise gestures, only failing to erase her own fakely open expression. To convey both characters at once, the actor Maslany carefully allowed Allison's character to peek out of Sarah's usually skeptical eyes, and to reveal herself around the mouth.

Afterwards I wondered about the relationship of our bodies and brains. How one shapes the other. How life shapes us. How society does. From the acceptable expressions on our faces to the ways we dress and walk.

Maslany of course is an exceptional actor. But all of us are malleable to some degree. We don't just "perform" gender, but class and race. Culture, nationality. We go to work speaking Standard White English in Standard White America, but at home suddenly become more black, or Latino, or Asian, or white, rural working class with a ferocious twang. We code-switch, shifting word choice, accent, even tone of voice not to mention our clothes. Of course, some of us become more butch. Some more femme. Here in France, I've discovered that I keep my face more still like Parisians do. I sit differently on the subway. Speaking a different language, even my gestures change. I become some other version of my self that seems equally true.

I think this malleability is why we like to play so much as kids, trying on roles with Halloween costumes and our parents clothes. Bit by bit we construct something we can live with, a premise that Orphan Black plays with, joking about the fake happiness of the suburbs, but also dressing up Sarah in Clash tee shirts for a little rock and roll street cred. In fact the show is also a kind of mediation on acting and identity, and socially imposed norms. The clones weren't just created in a lab, but by the languages and neighborhoods and societies that shaped them. And of course, their own choices as well.

I consider it a reminder to be wary of any homo or trans activist claiming that they deserve rights because they were born that way. Because the only true response is, kind of. You were kind of born that way, but so what? We all contort ourselves to survive. The only argument about rights that really persuades has to do with that old-fashioned thing, democracy. It doesn't matter who I sleep with, what clothes I wear on what body. Either we're equal, and we're free, or we're not.

And yes, I know, that by asserting our "fluidity," I seem to be contradicting my usual pitch to accept intransigent labels like lesbian. But I haven't changed my mind. Organizing for social change requires broad strokes and words large enough to make multitudes visible. More than one thing can be true.

Monday, October 12, 2015

"Suffragettes," Women and Slaves

By Kelly Cogswell

Just this week, the makers of the film "Suffragettes" were slammed as colonialists and racists for daring to compare the states of women and slaves, not just by using Emmeline Pankhurst’s phrase "I'd rather be a rebel than a slave" in the script, but plastering it on promotional tee-shirts that cast members like Meryl Streep had the gall to wear.

Like these critics, I was extremely uncomfortable with the group photo. To my American eyes, all those white faces grinning over the slogan somehow made slavery seem like a choice for those stupid blacks, rather than a condition they were forced into. Using this in promotional materials in 2015 when the horrors of the "peculiar institution" are increasingly revised and diminished, wasn't the greatest choice.

This summer, though, I was at some academic event where white French philosopher Monique Wittig was likewise condemned as racist and colonialist for apparently comparing slavery and the subjugation of women. Since then I've been wondering if the knee-jerk condemnation of this comparison is due to an expectation of racism from white feminists, or if it is also related to just what we think slaves were or are.

For instance, I saw the TV miniseries Roots as a kid, so for years I'd hear the word slave and think of a muscly LeVar Burton in chains, and standing on the auction block. Gradually, I learned to identify slavery's legacy in the shooting of unarmed black men, most recently in Chicago's housing policies for the black community, deepening my understanding of slavery, but only its U.S. version.

But at it's most basic, what is a slave but a nonperson who cannot own property, but is property? And like a shovel or a horse, a slave is not paid for her work, has no control over her body, the pleasure she provides, or the offspring she bears. Rather, a slave, like any other possession, is subject to the will of the master. She can be discarded, mutilated, or killed without consequence, having no legal standing in her own right, but only in regards to her owner. And it is often his violence or threat of it that keeps her in her place.

Using those definitions, Wittig would have been perfectly correct to acknowledge points of comparison, especially coming from France where most women didn't sit around in cafés smoking cigarettes with Sartre. No women could vote in France until 1945. They weren't even given legal majority until 1938. They didn't have the right to have their own bank account without their husbands' authorization until 1965. And only won the right to abortion in 1975. Domestic violence remains a huge problem.

My own grandmother grew up in rural Kentucky, had four kids and told me how incredibly relieved she was when a kind doctor tied her tubes. The women around her were just baby-making machines. They churned out one each year until they were died and were replaced by the younger version. Violence was common. And as much as my mother hated my father, she told everyone gratefully, "At least he didn't beat me."

Like race-based slavery, the free labor of women (of all races) is essential to national and local economies, free household and agricultural labor, free child care. Most importantly, in terms of comparison, it is still often justified as a kind of divine right, the man only acting as caretaker of an inherently inferior being, who is spiritually and morally deficient, not to mention less intelligent than a good horse. Besides, God said it's okay.

And as with race-based slavery, the legacy of women as property continues to pervade every aspect of our lives, not just in social, political and economic inequalities, but in the continual, daily, persistent subjugation of our female flesh from petty harassment on the street, to rape, intimate partner violence, even murder. Women get killed all the time, especially when they try to leave their abusers, to be free. The largest difference -- our deaths are so common, nobody bothers to hold a demo, or take to the street.

Without being identical, the similarities are there if you look for them. Maybe we don't want to. We've already forgotten or never knew just how bad women had it. And how far we still have to go. I only learned a couple of years ago that in the U.S. women couldn't get credit cards in their own names until 1974 -- when I was in the third grade. It was about that time that individual states began to recognize marital rape, though it didn't become criminalized across the country until 1993, and even now is rarely prosecuted successfully, because, well, the vestiges of woman as property remain.

As we increasingly reconsider the legacy of slavery, it's worth remembering that early U.S. suffragettes were often abolitionists as well, finding both allies and common ground.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Storifying Stonewall

By Kelly Cogswell

I'm not surprised that the director of the new movie "Stonewall," sidelined the butches and drag queens of color for a hero who was gay and white and male and so macho that nobody was gonna be checking his trousers to see if he had all the equipment promised by that pale chiseled face. After all, that's what the LGBT movement did, tidying up its history almost as quickly as the broken glass and ashes were cleared from the West Village streets.

Only four years afterwards, Sylvia Rivera, one of the original Stonewall riot girls, had to claw her way onto the stage of the 1973 Pride celebration, and wait out the jeers before she could speak about how trans women were getting beaten and raped in jail, and call on the community to look outside the inner circle of white middle-class concerns.

Even now, national LGBT groups put forward only their whitest, most gender-conforming foot, and until recently would jettison the T any time trans issues seemed a stumbling block to pro-gay legislation. Questions of racism in our community are still barely acknowledged.

So why would we expect more from the earnest gay director Roland Emmerich, who told Buzzfeed he just wanted to make sure LGBT kids knew their history, and in particular shed a little light on LGBT homelessness? I don't even care he said he wanted a "straight-acting" character that middle America could identify with, because isn't that what most directors want, especially mainstream directors like Emmerich?

He's best known for blockbuster action films that feature likeable, macho central figures, and narrative arcs that never diverge as they move towards their inevitably exciting but happy conclusions. While he deserves his props for casting actor Will Smith as the lead in "Independence Day," when that seemed a daring choice, and centering an interracial couple in "The Day After Tomorrow," these movies still warn us not to expect subtlety, and any careful handling of what historians like to call facts.

In fact, it seems he treated "Stonewall" like any fiction film, imagining that if somebody had to pick up that brick and throw it, and if it would help get this important story told, why not a nice white boy from Indiana that the rest of America could identify with, and maybe even elicit a little sympathy for LGBT issues, especially queer kids that were the bulk of the original Stonewall crowd? At least he didn't pretend to be doing a documentary, unlike some films about ACT-UP that also give the impression that our most important activists have always been white and male.

For me, the problem of "Stonewall" and other films like it is as much the form as the usual content. Suppose Emmerich had been writing the film now, taking into account all the recent progress we've had in trans visibility, and deciding to give center stage, for instance, to Marsha P. Johnson, would it would have changed the film in any significant way? Or like Dan, would a Marsha-like character exist mostly to suffer for a while, overcome adversity, and develop into a heroine, just in time for a happy, happy ending, in this case conveniently taking place before the real Marsha's violent death.

You'd get a black trans face in there, and maybe be closer to the facts, both of which are good, but not good enough, since what I want is a film about Stonewall and the queer experience that actually comes closer to the messy truth.

That's the fundamental problem, after all, with all these kinds of heroic social change films. They homogenize experience, flatten it out, so that it is impossible, for me anyway, to recognize "history" onscreen where all the activists are heroes, even if they are flawed. And success is always inevitable. Even last year's movie "Pride," had that kind of glow about it. No matter that the queer campaign in Britain to support striking miners eventually failed, we did get to see hearts and minds changed as some conservative miners relinquished their homophobia and supported the queers in a big fuzzy hug at their own Pride Parade. The death of one of the gay characters of AIDS just lent an additional poignancy to the whole thing.

I suppose it's tempting, especially for embattled movements, to create these little mythologies in which we raise our fists at the right places, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and never fight with each other for more than a few minutes. But they aren't real. Even if they are eventually made more representative, seemingly more accurate, these stories cannot be our stories until that traditional narrative is broken, twisted, queered. Until we learn to celebrate failure without sneering at success, and bust the story open to reveal how much we've accomplished, less by charging heroically ahead, than by simply persisting, sometimes in blind hope, sometimes in rage.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Hating Kim Davis

By Kelly Cogswell

Good ole Kim Davis, how we love to hate her. Long after she got sprung from jail, and same-sex couples were issued their marriage licenses, it's still Kim Davis as a lead on half the gay rags of the country and beyond. Mostly because she's so easy to hate. She's a woman, after all, and from rural Kentucky.

Her garden-variety bigotry gives you license to make jokes about hillbillies and incest, rednecks and Possum Bottom Kentucky Honeymoon Lodge and Bait shop. You get to rant smugly about her stupidity and backwardness and ignorant accent, and even declare that she shouldn't be sent to prison because it was bad enough that she already lived in "the soggy backlands of Rowan County, Kentucky."

And when you get tired of Kentucky-bashing Kim Davis you get to ridicule her body and her hair, and her four marriages to three men which allowed one self-declared Christian gay man the opportunity to frame an attack on her femaleness as a battle against hypocrisy, declaring, "God bless the whores who love multiple penises up their worn out holes…" and "cock-hungry crevices" to the delight of his "progressive" Facebook friends.

Women are participating too, in the same way former southerners are first in line to sneer at redneck hillbilly pervs. I quit reading articles about Hillary Clinton sometime in 2008 when lefty dykes would join the men ostensibly going after her politics, but mostly attacking her shrill irritating voice, and her incompetent hair, and her childbearing, ball-breaking hips. In fact, they wrote similar attacks against Sarah Palin, who shared none of her program, but all the same shameful equipment.

I also don't read what most "progressives" have to say about Southern politicians because there's always gonna be some line in there equivalent to "Go BACK to the part of Amerikkka that hatches bigots by the hog full… GIT!!!" Because apparently there are no bigots up north. Or out west. No homophobia. No racism. No ignorance. No religious fundamentalists. No dead queers, no cop bigots.

And by extension, the hillbilly heaven of the south has only those things. There are no large liberal swaths, or restaurants where black and white middle-class couples might all go for brunch. Or book fairs arranged by committees including black and white women that might welcome a dyke like me. In fact, by implying the south is exclusively comprised of white ignorant hillbillies there are no people of color at all, except I guess for a handful of morons waiting around to be the next certain victim.

You have to wonder where they all went, the growing numbers of immigrants, of Latinos, of Asians, but especially the African Americans who produced the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and now a huge crop of anti-AIDS activists that you've probably never heard of like Dr. Joyce Keller. Or Gina Brown. Who don't count at all in how we perceive the south because they are black, female and alive.

Every time I see this kind of South-bashing, I can hear the pathetic little voices after the 2000 election blaming us for the democratic loss, and asking why those idiot inbred hillbillies never vote in their own interests. Maybe we are. Maybe it was your own smug, bigoted assholery that sent poor people, and women, fleeing to the Republicans. And not just poor white people. And not just white women. Yes, racism is one of the primary reasons that the white working class keeps voting for the 1 percent, afraid those nameless hordes are gonna get their jobs, or their homes or their women. But your classist, regionalist sneers do a pretty good job of alienating a wide range of people.

In fact, the current Kim Davis-bashing has almost as much to say about hating people of color and immigrants as it does about southerners, not to mention women. Not just because the jokes and rants have managed to erase people of color from the narrative of the south with all that hillbilly crap. But because the nature of the rhetoric raises questions about just how serious white progressives can be when they support #blacklivesmatter or Syrian refugees or abortion clinics.

After all, if you're so fucking giddy, so absolutely happy to hate somebody with an accent, who comes from a region marked by poverty, who has a vagina, are you only gonna welcome those immigrants who don't make grammar mistakes or too much noise when they move in next door? Or only support the "good" blacks who don't interrupt Bernie Sanders' nice speeches with their shrill and angry demands? What about the dykes, or fags or trans people who refuse to keep to their carefully delineated place? What about all the rural queers? If we step out of line, will you hate us, too? You betcha.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Long Live the Lezzie--In the Post-Label Era

By Kelly Cogswell

Every couple of months, I read an article in HuffPost or Buzzfeed or some other hipster rag about how all these actresses and singers and whatnot have come out as… nothing, really… because they're so fucking cool, they're post-label, as fluid as their $129 lip gloss, which is perfectly applied, no matter how gender neutral. Do I even need to say that they're all stinking rich, and nearly always white? It's easiest to believe you're above "labels", which other people just call "words", when you're not even in the 1, but the top .05 percent.

I'd like to announce for the record that "lesbian" is just a label in the sense that all words are. This one is offered to us by the English language to describe female types primarily attracted to other female types. There are no political qualifications, no sports certificates you must have, or clothes in your closet, or sexual acts you must engage in. Your hair can be of any length and degree of cleanliness. You can identify wherever you like on the gender spectrum. And better yet, lesbian works nicely as both an adjective or a noun.

When people say they don't need or don't like labels, they're really saying, they don't want labels. And why? They accept a great many other labels like singer, for instance, or actress, or even writer, which serve the useful purposes of distinguishing them from plumbers so we don't call them to fix the drip under the kitchen sink.

Neither do most dispute the word white, even though skin color is actually quite changeable depending on the season, and if they tried to wiggle out of that category like the unfortunate Rachel Dolezal, or Tiger Woods, everybody would come down on them like a ton of gold bricks. You are white, they say. You are black. Get used to it.

But "lesbian," no. That's a label you can draw the line at to general applause, pretending like it's a totally different case, because, "Like, you know, female sexuality is so fluid that we shouldn't try to contain it at all." I'd like to officially announce that there's a word to describe that, too. We call it "bisexual" or pansexual, if you want to be fancy. No shame in those "labels" either. We can even change the words we use to describe ourselves anytime we want, in the same way that "actors" can become "directors", though in most cases, they don't, not permanently.

I'm even okay with changing language itself. Why not? I'd take an axe to it if I could. But as limited as it is, it is how we communicate, share information. I suspect that the real reason the cool crowd of queer women don't like lesbian, isn't because they don't accept labels, or that they want new or better ones, it's because this particular one scares them shitless. It has a whole history of hatred behind it, and was once synonymous for sicko, degenerate, perv. More importantly, "lesbian" slams shut the door of heterosexual privilege and access to men, and lumps them in a terribly female category with all us dykes of the hoi polloi.

Including every woman who's ever lost her children in a homophobic court, every dyke that was ever bashed, every girl that got dragged to the preacher or kicked out of her house for kissing another girl, those dykes from New Jersey that finally fought back when they got harassed and landed in jail themselves.

Some of us, like most Americans, really could stand to lose a few pounds, and refuse to swipe on a little mascara to bring out our best features which are always our eyes. I myself could use a haircut. And sometimes my personality could use a make-over, shrill and strident and so often angry I have nothing in common with these incredibly privileged females whose desire to sleep with women has never brought them anything but joy.

But there's more than grief. If you're looking for exceptional lives, you're tied as well to our histories of resistance, and radical experiments in sex and gender and literature and art. We have outlaw lesbians, utopians, and activists. A garde much more avant than yours. You can't imagine you're the first, after all, to think you're so progressive, so post-everything by announcing the demise of labels and of lesbians. Lesbophobes have been doing it for as long as I've been paying attention, which is a very good twenty-five years.

The lesbian is dead! Long live the lesbian!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

My Life as a Girl
Experiment 2: Skirting Drag

By Kelly Cogswell

It's been years since I've had to put on girl drag to go to an office, but I still throw on a skirt occasionally. My current fave: a furry brown thing that I wear with stripey tights. Once, on a kind of dare, I let a friend dress me up in his colorful wig, and silvery shoes, a rainbow colored unitard so tight it exposed my femaleness more completely than any clinging dress, and I unclenched my jaw and smiled for the camera, trying to find the drag queen inside me.

The worst experiment ever involved a bunch of South Asians, a New Mexico Latina, some kind of glittery sari, and me. I've never looked so white and dykely in my life, though in some ways, yesterday was worse, even if all I did was put on a sundress. It seemed like a good idea. The mercury hit more than ninety-five degrees in Paris and I liked how I felt half naked underneath the flimsy material that caught the faint breeze in the apartment.

But then I thought about stepping out on the street, and I started to hate that same naked feeling. So first I put a tank on over the subtle black and blue print, and pinned the bottom together with a safety pin, so I wouldn't show my knickers in a gust. Then I decided to wear my invincible Doc Marten boots.

After ten more minutes waiting around for my girlfriend to send one last email, I panicked and changed into my usual denim cutoffs and bland grey tank of urban camouflage that neither cloaks nor advertises my dykeness or femaleness, but also doesn't scream, "Look at me," like most girl drag, even those navy skirt suits worn with sensible heels.

It attracts male eyes, and with them, comments. They could be flattery, or insults. Doesn't matter. As a female, as a woman, your body isn't yours. You aren't allowed to clothe yourself for your own utility or pleasure, but always and only for men, and the women who enforce cultural standards. And those thoughts you were having, minding your own business as you were walking down the street, will almost surely be interrupted by some man's banal sexual fantasy, or his desire to assert his presence masking tyranny as a compliment.

Sure, some women always have an easy retort at hand, but if you shrink in the face of what men no doubt consider harmless repartee, if you don't reciprocate or appreciate their advances, if you actually rebuff them, then the banter is revealed as what it is, an exchange of volleys in a still lopsided war that I have shaped my life and my wardrobe to avoid.

So when we queers talk about how gender intersects with identity and expression (which is such a lovely word), we might consider how misleading the whole conversation can be for plenty of dykes like me.

After all, growing up, I was as comfortable in my Sunday School dress as in the tight white pants of my baseball uniform. I hated my body, of course, but most young females do. My self-loathing grew exponentially worse after I hit puberty at twelve, not because I was horrified by an obviously female body, but because that body was subject to almost constant harassment.

Even in jeans, I had guys touching me all the time, grabbing my butt, and following me home. I quit wearing makeup even on special occasions. During college, my clothes got baggier and baggier until I practically disappeared inside. Now I usually seem androgynous or masculine "presenting" when what I really feel is, wotever. Not human at all. A girlfriend once called me a brain on wheels and that's as good as anything.

I didn't choose my gender expression, so much as I retreated into it out of exhaustion and fear. Sometimes I suspect the occasional desire I have for a skirt or dress is a matter of nostalgia. Other times it's to see just how butch I really am, or am not. Or perhaps it's a desire to break out of my androgynous or masculine reality which I imagine is what some cis men feel when they pull out their enormous high heel shoes and beehive wigs, wanting to be at least temporarily whimsical. Maybe even ridiculous.

Because that's the other thing of course. How an egghead like me is forced into serious, more gender-neutral clothes not just to create a barrier around my little dyke body, but for the street cred of an activist and journalist. Nobody takes you seriously wearing colorful, girly clothes, but especially sundresses, sequins, feathers, tapestry, and/or furry skirts. All those toys we female types are allowed to play with, but which come at a price.

Monday, August 03, 2015

My Life as a Girl
Experiment 1: Lipstick

By Kelly Cogswell

Last Saturday, I decided to put on some lipstick for the first time in yonks, partly in solidarity with the drag performers who were recently banned from a Scottish alternative pride event, and then re-allowed, but mostly because I've been hearing so much about women lately I've been wondering what it is like to be one.

After all, I have the equipment, and the resume: a decade or two of hating my thighs, all those delicious high school times getting my butt grabbed in the hallway and being followed home by creepy guys in cars, the years of harassment on the street by sullen men demanding I smile, as is the tradition. The fortune I've paid out in feminine hygiene products to keep from smearing my offensive blood on the seats of the subway.

But I'm also a lesbian. A word that's so bright it's like a small sun, blinding many women to my membership in the club. Women of color, too, have struggled to get in-- from Sojourner Truth to Serena Williams, the poor things neither sufficiently delicate nor pale to be "real" members of the weaker, fairer sex. Almost like they were trans. Though Serena at least gets a pass sometimes for accessorizing with some good-looking guy.

As for me, I proceeded to the make-up area at K-Mart and stared at the pretty shimmering colors like a toddler stares at her blocks before knocking them over. I would have preferred to be alone. You aren't just choosing a shade, but a persona. Who did I want to be? A matron? A girly-girl? An artiste? My options were limited by my paint-stained cutoffs, my tank, my imagination. I tried to concentrate, but there was the salesperson staring at me from the nearby women's section as she explained the American sizing system to some South Asian man. "Twelve is not the age."

There were other female customers, too. Who ignored me, granted, but I found them distracting anyway. How they all seemed to be experts in the make-up field, decked out in blusher and eye shadow, lipstick, the eye liner which I considered buying, but don't really know how to put on. In general, I try to avoid sharpish objects near my eyes which are already magnets for every piece of construction debris along Houston.

I also didn't know how they could afford to be real women. Even at K-Mart you could pay twenty bucks for one tiny colorful tube. God knows what you could spend at Macy's. Which isn't even the most high end.

I found the cheapest shelf in the place, then grabbed some Wet and Wild, Megalast, a liquid lip color for $2.99 in a thick peptobismal shade called hyperpink which kind of matched my tank top. I wasn't sure if matching was good or not, so I decided to wait to put it on until I got safely home. Which turned out to be a really good idea.

It seemed easy enough at first. I removed the tiny wand, smeared the color around, then tried to blot. But it was so impossibly thick and sticky all I did was adhere tissue to my lips which I had to scrape off with my fingernails. I checked the label to make sure I didn't grab nail polish by mistake. No, it was liquid lip color all right. Which apparently didn't need to be blotted. Fine.

I took a step back and stared at myself in the mirror. My face was so pink from the sun it almost matched my new lips. This was not how I pictured it, that disappointment, too, an authentic womanly experience, but not the desired effect. The color that was nice in the tube made me look weird and really old. Who knew I had lines emerging from my lips? That my lips themselves had lines? Had shrunk, become thin. I looked like Andy Warhol's Mao with his Pepto smirk, all I needed was rounder cheeks. I took a couple of selfies to record the horrible, horrible mistake. Then got more tissue. Blotted. Rubbed.

It didn't come off.

I tried scrubbing at my fucking lips with hand soap, but that didn't help either, or not much. The pink substance stuck in strange patches, took refuge in all the tiny crevasses. By then my thin aging lips had swollen with all the rubbing. They looked practically bee-stung, an illusion women pay good money for. But my girlfriend stared at me like I was a freak. "It won't come off." I announced. I wondered if turpentine would work. Or nail polish remover. We didn't have either.

I had to go out again, in public, and for a moment considered a bag on the head like when I was sixteen. But then I shrugged, laughed. Wotever. It's not like I'm a real woman, anyway.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Comparing Women, Queers and #BlackLivesMatter

By Kelly Cogswell

I remember a couple years ago when the marriage equality movement was taking off, and every day The New York Times had reports of victories in one state, the pushback in another. And people fell all over themselves to support the It Gets Better Campaign encouraging queer youth not to top themselves. We were a bandwagon even the last few moderate Republicans were jumping on, or at least shrugging at. We were the it civil rights movement.

A couple of idiots even described LGBT folks as the new blacks. As if black issues and black people themselves were passé, not just that the movement had faltered.

The foolishness of declaring both obsolete was made all too obvious on July 13, 2013 when George Zimmerman was acquitted for murdering Trayvon Martin, and Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi started up #BlackLivesMatter. A couple months later, when a cop killed yet another unarmed black man, the young Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the hashtag exploded into a movement that has itself invited comparisons, usually to the black civil rights movement of MLK. Nevertheless, the three founders are queer, are female, and it's hard to imagine that there aren't links with the LGBT and women's movements as well.

In fact, lately, I've been wondering why nobody ever compares the LGBT movement to the women's movement. Like queers, women are dispersed across races and ethnicities, creating conflicting loyalties, erasing histories, and making it difficult to create a radical sense of what a woman might be. Girls born into heterosexual families are likely to experience the gender wars of society writ small in the same way young queers are forced to confront the straight world almost from birth.

So why ignore the women's movement? Because it chased dykes away, and has never been particularly diverse or queer-friendly? Though most other movements of the left have been equally anti-gay. Or is it because the cool quotient for Susan B. Anthony with her lacy collars and puffy skirts will never come close to Nat Turner, not to mention Martin Luther King or Malcom X? When Angela Davis raised her fist with Gloria Steinem I suspect we saw her blackness, not her breasts.

Or is it just because the women's movement is full of -- women? And anybody in that category is perceived as a loser. Since winning the vote, it's all seemed downhill. Abortion rights won, but then eroded. Title IX, and a big parade for our victorious female soccer stars who are still pressured to slap on lipstick, get a nice 'doo. Kaitlyn Jenner's celebrated coming out was the usual leap from the frying pan of transphobia into the fire of glossy magazine covers and female stereotypes that many women have been fighting for generations.

Many other dramatic changes, including the entry of women into every area of the workforce, have passed from memory, like the contributions of Simone de Beauvoir. And even though three women, three black queer women started the #BlackLivesMatter movement, they've been hard pressed to prove #AllBlackLivesMatter. The slaughter of black trans women are mere footnotes. The assaults and deaths of other black women at the hands of cops are almost seen as incidental compared to those of black men, even though the deaths of Kindra Chapman and Sandra Bland have given rise to the tag #ifidieinpolicecustody.

Ta-Nehisi Coates' recent book, Between the World and Me, earned a blurb from Toni Morrison as "This is required reading" though the full comment not printed on the front cover qualifies it as an "examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life..." Josie Duffy wrote that "...In the 152 pages Coates writes about the Black body, he barely acknowledges the unique ways that Black women's bodies are destroyed."

Shani Hilton, a friend of Coates, was more forthright. "Black womanhood in real life isn’t — as it largely is in Between the World and Me — about beating and loving and mourning black men and protecting oneself from physical plunder. It's about trying to live free in a black body, just like a man." Hilton reminded us that Coates' omission must be a acknowledged because "the black male experience is still used as a stand in for the black experience."

If that's true, a comparison is appropriate, even urgent for the LGBT movement. In fact, as we celebrate the Supreme Court decision giving the L, the B, and the G the right to homo marry, it's a good idea to ask what would have happened if it had only been lesbians, dykes, women of any race demanding the legal protections of marriage, especially for our children. Would we have been treated any better than straight women, or dismissed as single moms times two? Did we only win this right because there were men involved? Particularly white ones willing to write big checks.

How can we build a future from that?

Monday, July 06, 2015

Gay Marriage and Burning Black Churches

By Kelly Cogswell

After the Supreme Court announced that lesbian and gay people had the right to marry everywhere in the U.S., some Southern states announced their intent to ignore the ruling, and perhaps as proof of the limits of legal equality in the face of hate, a number of black congregations down south were left sifting through the ashes of their churches, several from acts of arson, for others lightning is being blamed.

I always did wonder about church burnings, if the culprits thought that it was black voices lifted in prayer that ended slavery, or got them out from under that heavy white thumb of the Jim Crow laws. I wonder, also, how come they aren't afraid of the God they usually profess to believe in, burning down His modest little Houses.

Or perhaps they believe black people themselves are an abomination unto the Lord, like gay folks, and that the Almighty God is too weak to act on His own behalf, apparently needing the gasoline and matches only a human can provide. Which is perhaps why they also engage in the bombing of abortion clinics and gay bars, the corrective rapes of lesbians, the slaughter of godless immigrants at our southern border.

I'm not sure we need to explain it to stop it. Hate and logic are not always friends. It's found more often in the company of fear. Fear and violence. And even if we manage to unravel a bit of white supremacy, straight supremacy, the rule of men, win rights like marriage, those of us who are hated and feared should keep in mind the limits of legal protections in a country where we adore violence so much we let our toddlers play with guns, and if they shoot each other, or us, well... That's the price of freedom.

Because what is this American love of guns, but a fascination with violence, the willingness of the owner to imagine killing at their own discretion, on their own behalf as judge, jury, executioner? No gun owner ever just says, "I like guns, so what? They're fun." They invoke Liberty, Self-Defense, the Constitution, claiming threats to their Person, their Property, to their Way of Life, to this Great Nation. And it's us they're afraid of. Naming the Communists, the Cities, the Blacks. The Illegals. The Gays. The Fascists who will force them to vaccinate their children when some minor celebrity has condemned them.

Shaking in their boots, they whip out their guns and actually do kill-- kids in hoodies, or their spouses up at night to get a glass of water. Their children coming home from college. Or they transform their fear into acts of terrorism against communities or individuals that seem to represent actual or symbolic threats. Churches and synagogues are burned. The black man dragged to death behind a pickup truck, the fag left splayed on a fence, the dykes in dumpsters, the butchered trans woman in the gutter.

Not that these victims don't have their own hates, their own fears. You don't have to listen at keyholes to hear black preachers denouncing queers, or women going after dykes (that's not a woman), or immigrants after each other because in many ways we humans are all wolves, marking our territory, baring our fangs.

Nothing terrifies us more than watching others progress. A black president drives those crackers crazy. Immigrants are accused of taking black jobs. Now gay marriage. Dang. Nobody will stay in their place, they say. Everybody claiming everybody else wants what they have. And so often, in fact, we do. We want the same jobs at the same pay, the same homes, the same safety. The same rights and responsibilities, and wedding cakes. Or at least a chance at them. So of course we're all afraid.

Because, while it may be theoretically true that freedom is not a pie that has a limited number of pieces, equality always does threatens someone. Remove racism from housing policy in Chicago, and there would be a lot less money in white pockets, and a white family might have to live next to blacks. Or worse, noisy Mexicans. Allow women to be educated, you may be expanding the work force, tapping an unclaimed resource, but some inadequate man somewhere will lose his job. And allow same-sex marriage, allow... change, and anything at all could happen.

People feel that possibility in their bones. And some, it terrifies. The powerful do not like to lose their power. Even the poor fight over scraps. And what's left for the straight couples that in their loveless marriages no longer have the pleasure of seeing our queer faces pressed against the windows of their miserable homes?

#Whoisburningblackchurches

Monday, June 22, 2015

Ending White Terror

By Kelly Cogswell

Last week, a young white terrorist massacred nine African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina where the Confederate flag still flies over the state house. It's time to pull it down. Not as a quick fix, but as one more step in the fight against racism.

Racism. What an inadequate word to explain these murders, and the seemingly daily shootings of young black men (and women) at the hands of mostly white cops, our refusal to treat immigrants like humans, and the continuation of our policies treating Native Americans like the foreigners they aren't.

White supremacy comes closer, a system enforced with constant propaganda and underlined with just enough good old fashioned terrorism to drive home the point that white folks are on top, everybody else is on the bottom, and you'll stay there and like it if you don't want to end up in a pool of your own blood.

But consequences are often not as visible as these deaths. And the cause is more complicated and rarely so conveniently displayed as the Confederate flag. Which begs the question, what do we do after it's gone? Banned in public, will it become even more powerful in private spaces, fetishized by people like Dylann Storm Roof who will still have guns in their hands, and still be vulnerable to messages of hate and resentment which are easy enough to inscribe on their blank, ignorant lives?

Even if the symbol is removed, the worldview that kept it hanging there for so many years won't go without a fight. Especially since the wolf managed to convince so many of us that it was nothing more than a lamb. The flag was a general symbol of rebellion. Slavery itself is increasingly portrayed as what? An inconvenience, really, for the slave.

Growing up in the parallel universe of white Kentucky, I didn't even notice the stars and bars. You'd see it seasonally on the tee-shirts and rusting cars of young white men who were just asserting their redneck class and independence, Don't Tread on Me.

I remember drawing it with pleasure in red and blue crayons. If I had remained in Kentucky, and not ventured out of my family circle, I might be one of those lamenting the loss of my heritage and clinging as tightly as I could to that ugly relic.

It never occurred to me that the flag had anything to do with defending slavery, or a willingness to recreate that system with violence and terror. All that seemed done and dusted, far from my tiny life trundling back and forth between my church and the school. Nobody even talked about racism. Black History hadn't got its month yet, declaring falsely that slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation. Or maybe, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Equality was in the fact that black kids sat wherever they wanted in the lunchroom, no matter that there were only two or three among the thirty kids in the college prep courses I took. And all of us, I think, have been surprised to find out just how cleverly white supremacy could retrench itself in every aspect of our lives from housing policy to health care.

At college I saw the confederate flag hanging out the windows of the KA fraternity, and still thought of Dukes of Hazard, not the KKK. When the frat boys dressed up in their rebel grays, greeting their sorority girlfriends decked out themselves in the dresses of Southern belles, I just thought they were all assholes. Not racists getting trained up to exercise their ideology behind closed doors, though that's what it amounts to.

I had the leisure to forgot all about it, until I read, "A Black Girl's History with Southern Frat Racism," an essay by Tracy Clayton, one of the few black students at Transy that put an end to the public display there of the Confederate flag. Despite being trained up by my years in New York, getting crash courses in race and tracking the violence in my own LGBT community, it was a kind of shock, an awakening to how blind I was then, and where ignorance could have taken me, but didn't.

"Growing up in the hood, you assume that living where white folks live means safer streets and unlocked doors. But I never feared for my safety more than I did at Transylvania University. Those flags were often the first things I saw in the morning and the last things I saw at night, smugly watching me scurry to class, snickering, mocking. Well, I do declare! Look at that uppity coon, making like she belongs here, like she’s one of us. This is what happens when you teach ‘em to read. Hope that nigger makes it home before the sun goes down. "

For all those that didn't make it in Charleston-- #saytheirnames

Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lee Lance, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons Sr., Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Confronting the Great, White HRC

By Kelly Cogswell

When Buzzfeed broke the news last week that the Human Rights Campaign had a diversity problem , the response among many activists was a great big, "Duh." The only surprise was that the HRC folks had commissioned the report themselves, and having decided to look in the mirror, actually admitted that staring back was the face of a privileged white gay male.

So kudos to HRC for bringing in outside consultants to respond to complaints of what the report called the "White Boys Club." More importantly, congrats on taking steps to make the organization less homogenous.

The only question is just how far HRC is willing to go. It's easy enough to create gender neutral bathrooms. And they'll probably even make some progress in respecting people's gender identities. It's not that hard, after all. If somebody that you thought was a woman asks you to refer to them with male pronouns, you just drop the "s" and start using "he."

Maybe HRC will even start seeing every new hire, every promotion as a chance to look around the table and ask, "Who's not here?" And to hire fresh talent who may happen to be women, racial minorities, or trans people.

But once they're there, will they actually have access to power or a chance to exercise their abilities? There's no shortage of women at HRC right now, just not in managerial positions. In fact, according to the report, the atmosphere is hostile to women and feminine men, with straight women privileged over bi women and dykes, not to mention trans women. And while some racial and gender minorities are represented, they're also not at the top. Which means it's not particularly reassuring to find that eighty percent of HRC employees apparently believe diversity is important since the other twenty percent seem to be running the show.

Entrenched as these gay, white males are, what on earth would persuade them to share power? Especially now, when they have so much juice that they even turn up on TV as Washington powerbrokers, waltzing in and out of Madame Secretary's outer office?

I have no idea. Especially since so much of their power comes from their huge war chest which they can use to lobby politicians or mobilize huge numbers of voters. And funders rarely like change. They want what they've bought and paid for. And if there's any handshaking to do, it better not be with anybody new. Besides, they're all part of the same informal network. Paul only wrote the check to Bob in the first place because they were both in the same dorm at Yale.

So if HRC leadership are tempted to integrate the boardroom, or even start new programs, I can imagine their fear. Donations may slip. Then their power. We queers are no better than the rest of society. We cling to the little we have. And the closer we get to the center of power, the more conservative we become, and the more we reflect its whiteness, its cis gendered, exclusionary maleness.

Still, what does it cost us activists to quit snickering and believe HRC can change, or even see that belief as a strategic necessity? How else can we push them towards it? Remind them of their goals, and demand action?

The organization is more complex than the greying monolithic beast we usually imagine. I was unexpectedly invited to HRC a year ago to talk about the Lesbian Avengers, and was surprised to see how many young lesbians were there in the audience, and how eager they were to talk about street activism and the limits of institutional power. I was prepared to do a big spiel defending my right to exist, but I didn't need to. Not to that crowd anyway. The young women were attracted to HRC, not for the meager salary, but because they thought HRC could make a difference. And because there weren't many alternatives. Increasingly they are speaking up.

It would be nice if we saw them as an integral part of HRC, not as a token appendage. Especially since this report seems to betray an inner fight for the soul of HRC and maybe the soul of the entire LGBT movement, which has never done a good job supporting our entire community. Now, as the marriage equality fight winds down, we should seize the opportunity to renew ourselves, and reconsider diversity as more than a pleasing balance of skin tones and genitalia, or even a question of abstract fairness.

Diversity is an asset. A pool of perspectives, imagination and experience. And if we are to solve our most intransigent problems, or even identify or articulate them, we need more than usual suspects on the job. Not just at HRC. But in any queer organization that wants to be fresh, relevant, and effective.

Read Internal Report: Major Diversity, Organizational Problems At Human Rights Campaign

Monday, May 25, 2015

Go Ireland? The Real Meaning of the Marriage Victory

By Kelly Cogswell

Apparently, rainbows broke out all over Ireland as people voted "yes" to letting queers tie the knot. It was hailed as remarkable victory for LGBT people, not just because it was the first successful attempt to hold a popular vote on same-sex marriage, but because the measure won widespread support across the nation from the big liberal city of Dublin to the tiniest villages boasting little more than a church and a pub.

As in the U.S., I'm not sure how important a marriage win is for our community at large. Because it's possible that support for same-sex marriage is less a departure from Ireland's entrenched conservative, Catholic values than a reflection of them. A successful trip to city hall largely boils down to giving the happy couple the right to declare monogamy, protect inheritance, and pay less tax. What could be more traditional than that?

In fact, that's how the global marriage equality movement has characterized itself, largely making its case by mothballing the freak flag, banishing liberation in favor of equality, and carefully removing the sex from homosexual. Most of the photos illustrating the marriage issue portray us as hand-holding milquetoasts, content with chaste kisses and changing the nappies of somebody else's kids. Our unions are spiritual. Our new rights as abstract as citizenship.

So far, this right to bear boutonnieres hasn't made much difference to queer lives in the flesh, in the street. We're still getting bashed outside our own bars, and bullied in the locker rooms. Queer kids are getting kicked out of their own homes. Pervasive social change is still a distant promise.

Nevertheless, some members of Ireland's Labour Party are interpreting the victory there as a sign it's time to improve the country's strict anti-abortion laws. First on the agenda is repealing the 1983 constitutional amendment giving the "unborn" an explicit right to life. Second is broadening the 2013 law that allows abortion only when a woman's on the verge of death or suicide.

Currently, unless they have the means to get abortions abroad, Irish women are forced to bear unwanted children, even in cases of rape, or when the fetus won't survive past birth. If you have an illegal abortion, you face up to fourteen years in jail. Even women that qualify for an abortion under the 2013 law can't always get them. Every year it seems there are cases of suicidal girls forced to carry a kid to term. Last year, a brain-dead woman was actually kept alive as a human incubator in an attempt to save a fetus.

Women just don't count for much, there, or anywhere. We lack dignity both in life and death. Which is the biggest problem when you try to look to marriage equality as a predictor of the abortion fight. Men (and women) are winning rights in the first case. The second is all about females. And what are we but our bodies and our flesh? Especially when it comes to abortion and there's no denying that at some point a penis came into contact with a vagina, or at least a sperm met up with an egg, and the result is growing there in a female belly.

If somebody insists on finding a queer comparison, a canary to sing about the end of Patriarchy, a better predictor would be the fate of trans and gender queer people. What happens to our girly boys and masculine girls when they dare step outside or into that rigid box of gender? The way we challenge expectations of bodies and control intersects more closely to issues of abortion and reproductive freedom than the question of marriage equality ever could.

And the state of the trans Irish nation doesn't give us much encouragement for an abortion fight. At the moment, trans people can legally change their names, but still not their genders. The Gender Recognition Bill currently in the works contains regressive medical certification requirements and age restrictions.

In a report published last year by the Transgender Equality Network Ireland showed that trans and genderqueer people paid a high price for moving beyond traditional roles. The verbal harassment is endless. One person said, "Every day [I'm] called a 'tranny', 'lezzer', 'lesbian', 'it's a man', 10 to 20 times a day every day in Dublin."

Trans people are attacked in bathrooms, on the street. In one of the worst cases of late, an 18-year-old was beaten, chased and raped for being a trans man. Like other trans victims, and the average woman, gay, straight, bi, trans, he didn't trust the police enough to report it. United in humiliation and fear, we have more in common than we think. Éirinn go Brách.

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.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Sustaining the Approaching Apocalypse of Uppity Queers

By Kelly Cogswell

If I could, I'd give up on words, and just publish a photo of a cute kitten. Maybe the one with a furry little face sticking out of a boot. Or, if you prefer, I could offer beefcakes, or hot dykes, galore. Whatever would elicit that smile, a satisfied little coo.

And while you were enjoying all the overwhelming cuteness, I'd pipe in a little music laced with the subliminal messages that would get you to do more than write a quick check, but engage with queer lives in some systematic, enduring way that would go beyond the ups and downs of this week's campaigns.

Is it even possible? Not the kitten stuff, but creating a movement, a kind of long-lasting brand loyalty that would attract people for a lifetime? In this country, we love the individual more than the community, and at every opportunity perpetuate the myth that we all pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and don't owe nobody, nothin', not ever.

So instead of appealing to the greater good, we usually market outrage in brief bursts, like a fire sale, or pop-up store. Another gay guy was murdered in Jamaica, come to this demo. Two dykes got screamed at in a Paris train station when they dared to kiss, sign this petition. Shall I feed you statistics on dead trans women? Or even the living? The rates of LGBT poverty, our lack of education? Violence?

Yeah, I could get out my big stick and whack it around until I have your attention or you flee, too burnt out to care any more. Or because you only picked up this gay rag for the bar listings, or to read a little fluff piece on theater, maybe, or about that actor who finally came out and is so fucking happy he practically glows.

Right, better to go all upbeat, and vomit rainbows, the other tactic to pull you in, and educate you, at least a little about all those heroes on the ground. I was in Kentucky last week and went to a big thing on the ACLU and queer rights. The people were great, and so optimistic it made me tired, how they reconceived every defeat as a victory.

When the law passed banning same-sex marriage, they didn't cancel their party. Because after all, look at how many LGBT groups grew out of the fight. And the fact that the bigots even drafted the bill at all is proof that we're getting stronger and they can see us on the horizon-- the approaching apocalypse of uppity queers that will no doubt take place minutes after the Supreme Court acknowledges that we deserve equal rights, at least in the marriage bureau.

I don't know if I could pull it off, facing each defeat with hope and renewed energy. I'm not very Zen. Most activists aren't. Hell, nobody is. Hence the carrots and the sticks. And why it's so hard to deal with the stuff that's not life or death, but merely devastating in a daily sort of way, like discrimination in housing and employment and education, or bullying. These things that have no end in sight.

Sure, they can be partly addressed with legislation. But even a win in the Supreme Court won't end the marriage battle everywhere. Like with the Voting Act, we have to continue to pay attention, and be bold enough to demand that laws are actually enforced. Regions can still create impediments, block actual roads, scare the crap out of people, close the clerk's office when a queer turns up.

Look at the black civil rights movement, or women's movement, it seems like protecting change is even harder than creating it. It requires a life-time vigilance, not just the ADD of emotional appeals and manipulation. It's a real danger that once we can all put a ring on it, complacency will set in, and gay money will stay in gay pockets, and all those student activists going door to door will turn to something more exciting.

Demobilization will, I suspect, reinforce existing divides in our community. Not only among gay men, and dykes, bi folks, and trans people, but along chasms of race and ethnicity, class and region. Even marital status. If you're single and plan to stay that way, what have you won from this long, expensive campaign?

The most vulnerable in our community will be left behind unless we start to see the goal of our movement as more than just mere equality with a heterosexual world that is neither just in social terms, nor particularly happy. We need a broad and enduring vision that we can aspire to.