Friday, June 24, 2011

The First Gay Pride Was a RIOT

Have you ever heard of the Stonewall Riots? If not, you are not alone. But, I think they need to be addressed, especially considering that it is gay pride month.

In Denver, we celebrated pride last weekend with our annual gay pride fest, sponsored by our GLBT center (and many corporate donors). There was a parade, there was dancing, there were drag shows. It was a big party and I, with most of the attendees, was drunk all weekend.

While there is nothing wrong with a big party, or getting drunk, I think that there is something missing from this celebration. Mainly, the activism. The first gay pride parade happened the day after the stonewall riots, as a protest to the police brutality and the discriminatory laws that the LGBT community experienced at the time.

Previous to the 1970s in the United States, it was illegal to openly engage in homosexual conduct. Police brutality against LGBT individuals was incredibly pervasive, and it went completely unnoticed by the mainstream culture.

Then only gay bars that existed at the time were underground bars run by the mob. The Stonewall Inn was one of these bars. At 1:20am on June 28, 1969, the police raided the Stonewall Inn. This had happened before, but the LGBT community had finally had enough. The patrons of the bar refused to follow protocol for these raids, refusing to go with the officers. Many people were arrested, but the wagons sent to take them to the jailhouse had not arrived yet and they had to wait. Those released from the bar did not leave quickly, instead they stuck around, crowding the outside and drawing more of a crowd from the neighborhood and nearby bars. Some drag queens decided to perform for the police by posing, primping, and dancing in exaggerated ways. The police got violent, and a riot started.

This was the first time the LGBT community fought back, and it was brilliant. The next day, for the first time, most of the LGBT community risked getting arrested and marched down the streets of new york in solidarity. This sparked what we now know as the gay civil rights movement and gained us many of the rights we have today, as queer people, including the right to get drunk in the park for our yearly gay pride festival.

So, why then, are we not continuing the work that these brave people did? Sure, there are a few people involved in social justice organizing for the queer community, if you're reading this then it's likely that you are. But the LGBT community at large is complacent. Are we happy to just get drunk and ignore the fact that we still do not have equal rights. We still face discrimination and police brutality. We still can't marry the people we love.

So what are we doing about it? What are you doing about it? Celebrate, yes, but then do something. We need to make changes, and fast. If you think the people who want to take our rights away from us are getting drunk and not organizing, then you'll be taken by surprise when we don't have any rights anymore.

The LGBT community is facing more backlash than we have in a long while, it's time to fight back and get all the rights we deserve.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Why My Mom is a Super Hero: Barbie Dolls, Disney Princesses, and Mainstream Beauty Ideals

My mom is my hero.

To most people who know me, this might be a surprising statement. She often gets lumped into the generalized statement, "my conservative parents who I almost always disagree with." When ranting, I often over simplify, my mom is actually really awesome. Here's why:

My mom was really intentional in the way that she raised me. She put a lot of work into making sure that I grew up to be a confident, strong, passionate, and independent woman. I mean, she named me after Jo Marie Pounecheck on the TV sitcom The Facts of Life, a very independent ans strong woman. Was I supposed to grow up to be any different? I doubt it.

My mom was, and is, super supportive. She always encouraged me to experiment with new things and gave me the opportunity to do so. Whether it was paying for dance classes and attending every recital or letting me get finger paint everywhere (and I mean everywhere, there is still paint on our coffee table from it). Even into middle and high school, my mom (and dad) spent massive amounts of money to encourage me in my artistic endeavors. When I did Theater, she picked me up from my rehearsals, listened to me complain about the backstage drama, and sat through every performance, no matter how bad. And we had some really bad shows. They bought me my first and second camera, and paid for the materials I needed in my film photography classes. They helped me pay for my guitar, and payed for the guitar lessons.

This is all pretty no-brainer parenting, at least from my privileged perspective. Support your kid, be a good parent. Makes sense, right? But my mom did some other things that really shaped who I am today. Because, whether she'll admit it or not, my mom is a feminist.

Barbie Dolls:
When I was little, I was not allowed to have Barbie Dolls. Every time someone would give me a Barbie Doll for my birthday or Christmas, we would take it back and get something else. Something I usually thought was cooler anyways. It wasn't until I was given a Barbie Doll that had a tube of glitter for her hair at my sixth birthday party that I got to keep the doll. I really wanted the glitter, so I opened the doll to get at it. We couldn't return the doll, so I got my first Barbie. I honestly thought it was pretty lame until I was ten or eleven and my Barbie Dolls started experimenting with their sexuality, no Ken Doll needed.

The reason my mom was so against Barbie Dolls was because she didn't want me to grow up thinking that I had to look just like Barbie. After I was allowed to play with them, she talked to me about how I would be beautiful no matter what. And for a really long time, I believed her.

Disney Princesses:
My mom did not forbid me to watch Disney Princess movies, the way that many mothers who lived through second wave feminism did, but she did talk to me about them. We always had very constructive conversations about how I did not need to wait for "prince charming" to save me. She made it very clear that I was my own person and I never needed to be dependent on a man, which is a pretty prevalent theme in Disney movies, especially the older ones that I grew up with.

From Snow White to Sleeping Beauty, the princesses were always saved by a man. Even strong, brainy, and brave women, like Belle and Mulan, ended up with a man at the end of the movie. My mom always emphasized the other strengths of these women, and the other characters in the movies.

My mom also made sure that the Disney Princess movies were not the only representations of women I grew up with. My parents watched shows that portrayed their women characters as strong and independent leaders. We watched shows like Star Trek, and Xena: Warrior Princess. The series of Star Trek showing at the time was Star Trek: Voyager, with Captain Janeway, the first ever female commanding officer who did a damn good job. And, Xena, of course was a strong, intelligent, and passionate woman who kicked some serious ass, too bad my parents stopped watching it when I was about twelve, something about too many lesbian themes. Regardless, I got the point. Women are more than weak princesses waiting for a prince to save them. Brilliant!

As I grew up in a Christian home, the Bible was often used as a bedtime story book. My mom's favorite character in the Bible is Queen Esther. Queen Esther was an incredibly brave woman who stood up for what she believed in, even though doing so could have cost her her life. Regardless of the dangers, Esther stood up to her King, and saved her people. The story is not about Esther falling in love or being saved from a bad situation by a man. The story is about how she was strong and did what she had to do. This is what my mom made sure I grew up with. Esther was one of my main role models growing up.

Mainstream Beauty Ideals:
Once, when I was little, I asked my mom why she was fat. See, my mom isn't, and has never been a small person. She is totally cool with this. When I asked her, she replied "because God made me this way." This moment has stuck with me my whole life. I always remember this moment as defining in who I grew up to be. I grew up with a mom that did not conform to anyone else's idea of what she should look like, and my dad still thought she was sexy.

I took this a step further than body image, because my mom has never been afraid to be exactly who she is, regardless of what others would say. I followed suite as I grew up, refusing to be somebody I didn't want to be. Of course the bullshit the media and my peers shoved down my throat effected me, it effects everyone in one way or another. But I have always had a strong sense of self to stand on when it comes to this pressure, and I fully believe that my mom has had a huge impact on that.

This is the part where my mom is going to start to disagree with me. I think that my strong sense of self that my mom helped me build growing up had a huge impact on how I experienced and explored my sexual orientation.

I am not saying that the way my parents raised me made me mostly attracted to women. That was always there, I was born with it. I am saying that the way they raised me has had an impact on how I identify that attraction to women. It has an impact on how I identify as "Queer," and what I do with that identity. I grew up to be a queer feminist activist, and an outspoken one at that, because of how my parents raised me. I fight for what I believe is right, I fight for my people, because that is what I was raised to do.

With "Queer" sometimes being a political identity in ways that "Gay" or "Lesbian" are not, I think that the way I was raised has a lot to do with my identity. And a lot of that identity and the actions that follow come from the way that my parents raised me. I was raised to live out my beliefs through my actions. I was raised to always speak my mind. I was raised to always be who I am, and never who someone else tells me to be. I was raised by a super hero mom, and I grew up to be exactly who she raised me to be.

And, even though we disagree, I'm pretty sure my super hero mom is damn proud of me. And if I'm right, then that is the highest honor I could ever receive.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, and Terrorism

Last night, May 1, 2011, it was announced that Osama Bin Laden, leader of the militant, extremist religious movement Al-Quaeda, was killed (along with two men and one woman) by a small team of U.S. soldiers during a covert mission under direct orders of President Obama. Yesterday was also the anniversary of the day that Hitler's death was announced.

Today, I am sitting at an event on the Auraria Campus for Holocaust Remembrance Day. I'm finding it to be an interesting space to contemplate the announcement that President Obama made last night.

Everyone is talking about this announcement, the death of Osama Bin Laden. Most of America is celebrating this act of violence. People are suggesting that there be a federal holiday to celebrate. There are Osama's Dead! drink specials at my local pub. This is what we call patriotism?

So call me unpatriotic, but I don't want to celebrate acts of violence. I don't want to celebrate the fact that after ten years, 1.283 trillion dollars, and hundreds of thousands of innocent lives, we killed one man. Whoo Hoo! That's the way we do it in the good old United States of America.

When Hitler was found dead, it was not his death, specifically, that we celebrated. It was the end of the war and the release of the individuals held in the concentration camps. We celebrated that the jews, gay men, lesbians, feminists, physically and mentally disabled individuals, gypsies, polish citizens, and many others were allowed to rejoin their friends and families.

The thing is, this war is far from over. Terrorism will still exist tomorrow, next week, and next year. We have not gained anything due to this blood on our hands. Tomorrow,our country will still be at war with an abstract concept.

A good friend of mine, Kristin Ziegler, posted this as her Facebook status last night:

"Osama Bin Laden was but a fraction of the whole. His ideas were the product of nationalism, religious extremism, and hatred. Ideas that our country has sold to us as "values." And until such "values" cease to exist world over, we will continue to see terrorist acts, violence, oppression, and other atrocities committed. While Bin Laden has caused great distress, celebration is certainly not an appropriate response."

A sigh of relief might be appropriate, but celebration is not.

Don't think it's over, don't get cocky, America. The war is not over, it's still pretty hazy as to what we're fighting for, or if we're the "good guys" in this situation.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Revoulution is so Punk Rock: Music and Social Justice Movements

Music has long been a part of social justice activism. From The use of Jazz and Blues by African American slaves, to rock and roll during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. 

Music is such a good tool in social justice movements because it gets people fired up, it gets people moving, and it gets people listening without knowing it. Let's take punk rock, it can have lyrics that have nothing to do with anything meaningful, but it still gets people moving due to the great beats and hardcore feel. People want to listen to it because they feel they connect to the sound of the music. Now, take that same music and add some lyrics about something like... How the artist hates former presidend George W. Bush. You now have Green Day's  song "American Idiot," an activist song that got people pissed off.

Green Day was not the first, or the last, band to write punk music (and I use the term "punk" loosely for the purposes of this argument).  There have been many bands in the past who have gotten political with their lyrics, and much more radical too. 

Starting as a response to a lot of anti-choice backlash in the 1990s, and ruled by the girl power of musical artists such as Pat Benetar, Joan Jett, and Patti Smith, feminists in Olympia, Washington started a convergence. Many of these feminists were musicians and began writing politically fueled songs about sexual assault, domestic violence, reproductive rights, and revolution, girl style. This convergence, and many like it across the pacific northwest, started a new genre of punk rock called "riot grrl." Many believe that the Riot Grrl movement is what started third wave feminism.

Riot grrl bands include Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear, Sleater Kinney, The Butchies, Heaven's to Betsy, Bratmobile, and Le Tigre. These band are not radical because their lyrics are all about girl power, revolution, and feminism. They are radical because they do not merely point out problems, but they demand changes. They actively work to inspire their listeners to go out and start their own revolution in their communities, to take back the power from the patriarchy and break down the systems of oppression. They are intentionally using their music to inspire change. 

There is nothing left to chance with these artists. They do their research and they know what's going on in the world. They are using punk rock as a tool for activism. And, as I've said in previous posts, the music can also be used to keep the movement alive by getting those involved in the movement out of their heads and dancing to the music. 

I don't know many people who don't like music. I don't know any hearing person who does not hear music at least once a day. Music is a huge part of the way our culture functions, and a lot of the mainstream music we hear today is total crap. The lyrics of mainstream music are rarely positive, especially in regards to women. But people, myself included, listen to this stuff whether they want to or not. And it effects our culture, because music is powerful. 

Music is power. This is why it is so useful in social justice movements. Music is inspiring, it gets stuck in your head, it makes you listen in ways that speeches and flyers, posters and demonstrations do not. Music is a tool, use it wisely. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter, Jesus, and Radical Activism

So, today is Easter. Today is the day that families go to church and eat candy and look for colored eggs, and celebrate this guy, Jesus, who claimed he was the messiah.

Now, I don't really subscribe to the Christian mythology around Jesus being the sun of God and rising from the dead three days after he was killed by the Romans. You know, the whole point of Easter. But, I did grow up in a Christian home, so I have been inundated with these the teachings of the Christian Church my entire life, and you know what? It's not all bad.

In fact, if you really read the Bible, specifically the actions and teachings of Jesus, you might think that this Jesus guy is pretty cool. He was a radical activist who fought for what he thought was right. And, yeah, he claimed he was the Jewish messiah, but that wasn't entirely out of the blue at the time. I think it was a way for him to get a good following, and hey, it worked.

So, when you boil it down, Jesus was a radical activist who went around talking about and getting people fired up and angry about the things in society that he believed needed to change (hypocrisy of the church, poverty, prejudice, racism, etc.). Sound familiar?

So, let's take a look at his teachings, and why they were so damn radical.

Respect for all, including women:
In the time that Jesus lived, women had no rights to speak of. Seriously, none. They were not even allowed in the church. Jesus taught about respect and rights for EVERYONE. Women included. Jesus was a feminist.

Hypocrisy of the Church:
Jesus felt strongly that the leaders of the church were not doing their job. He used vandalism as a way to make a point about it by turning over the tables in the temple, claiming that the Pharisees of the temple were a disgrace to God. Jesus questioned authority, no one did that back then. He was a radical.

Turn the other cheek:
When Jesus said to turn the other cheek, he did not mean that we should lay down and take it or be complacent. The thing about the way that a person in power would hit a subservient, culturally, is with the back of their right hand. If you were to turn the other cheek, they would have to punch you, which is not culturally acceptable. This would enrage the person who hit you. The point was to enrage the oppressor, in the same way that boycotts during the civil rights movement did. Piss them off, make a point.

Go the extra mile:
Same principle as turning the other cheek, make the rules work for you. The law said that a servant was only allowed to carry a soldier's bag for one mile, so going an extra mile would get the soldier in trouble. It's a pretty goood way to call someone on their shit.

All of this, plus Jesus had Community Organizing down to a science. I mean, look at where the Christian Church is now. Yes, many of his teachings are taken out of context, but at one time the church operated much like a civil rights movement. At one time, it was illegal to be a Christian, so they had a sort of underground highway of information. What they were doing worked.

So, were the techniques used within the original Christian Movement? Things that we can take and apply to our own community organizing in social justice movements.

Community Building: Jesus's disciples were not just there because they had big 'ole man crushes on Jesus. They were there because they were his community and support system. And this support system was not just the disciples, but their families and friends as well. Support systems are so so so important in social justice work, partly because they keep everyone involved sane, and partly because they are there to do the work. Nobody changed the world on their own, change takes people power. People to support, people to spread the word and recruit new people, people to cook, people to house protesters right before a big demonstration, people to do whatever needs to be done. People and community are important. This is why we're called the "queer/LGBT community." It's not just a convenient term for sociology classes.

Training: Jesus was smart when he chose 12 people to be his core group of followers, save for maybe Judas who screwed him over. He chose these people because he knew that they had the passion and drive to lead the movement after he was gone. He trained them, and then they trained other people. They built churches, or small movements in other parts of the country, creating a national movement.

Large Demonstrations: Jesus made a huge ruckus with his activism. He tossed tables around and gathered large groups of people and talked to them. He got a lot of attention, and he got the word out. Without social media, or media at all. No newspaper was writing about the sermon on the mount, there was no facebook event for it, but people still showed up. Word of mouth had a lot to do with this, but also, he was a loud guy who talked a lot, about revolutionary ideas that no one had heard before. Of course people wanted to listen to him, it was refreshing. And the more people he got, the more the word got spread, until his following was massive. Radical ideas that make sense, that's how you get a following.

So, Jesus, maybe not the messiah, but he did know his activism 101, and there's a lot to learn from him, regardless of your religious affiliation. I would encourage you to read the Bible, not because I want you to convert, but because there is a whole lot of good stuff in there that we can learn and apply to this social justice movement. Because, it's always good to learn new tecniques.

Queer Fatigue, Part 2: What Now?

It occurs to me that I am most definitely not the only person in the queer movement to become tired due to the reasons I talked about in my last post. I can't be, because if I'm so passionate about these things, like other people, then wouldn't those other people also get tired or angry over the same things? We're frustrated because nobody is listening. Nobody seems to get our point of view. 

And honestly, this isn't unique to the LGBT or feminist movements, or unique to this time period. First wave feminists had a lot more to risk by fighting for their right to vote. In many cases, these women were going against the will of their husbands, in a time when his word was gospel and you followed it. No matter what. The women at the forefront of this fight went as far as to be put in jail because they were protesting in front of the white house. They gave up their children, their husbands, their reputations, and their legal rights, all for something they cared a whole lot about. And guess what? They won. Women now have the legal right to vote. It took them from the convention at Seneca Falls in 1848, up until 1920 to get it done. That is a long time, did they get tired? yes. Frustrated? yes. But did they give up? Absolutely not. 

Back in the 1950's and 1960s, it was illegal to be gay. The common belief was that homosexuals could be "forcefully assimilated" into heterosexuality. Not only were the gays of that time ignored, they were silenced. And jailed, and beaten, and killed. Did they get tired of fighting? Of course they did. But I would bet that it further motivated them to keep working on their cause. 

And I am further motivated to continue that cause. Because I don't want to be tired and frustrated anymore. I want to move on from this, and the only way to do that is to fight harder. Work harder, and make change happen. 

Sure, it's hard sometimes and we need to take a little break to refresh. Self care is super important to avoid queer fatigue, or burnout. But then it's time to get back at it, more aggressively. Otherwise, nothing will get done, and we'll always be tired. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Queer Fatigue

I am so tired of being queer. I am so tired of being a feminist.

I am so tired of having to fight for rights that I should always have. I'm tired of doing trainings on LGBT bullying and oppression. I'm tired.

And I'm angry. I'm angry that threre is a need for me to be a queer feminist activist. What exactly am I fighting for that isn't a basic human right? The right to not have the shit beat out of me based on my sexual orientation? Or the right to be treated as an equal regardless of my gender identity? The right to date, fall in love with, and marry whoever I happen to date, fall in love with, and want to marry? The right to make decisions about my own body and my own life, without legal interference.

Wh are these things so difficult for everyone else to understand. Why is it that people of color, LGBT folk, women, and people with disabilities STILL do not have the same rights and privileges as a very narrow group of people included under the white-cisgender-male-able bodied group of people.

What am I missing here? Are we all human, or were we born into some other hierarchy? Please fil me in, because I'm confused as to why I have to fight against this...

And I'm tired of fighting it. I'm tired of not having the rights that all people deserve. I'm tired, and I'm fed up.