Coming Out Through the Ages

History is important because it becomes our guidestone for the future. Knowing the steps and struggles that came before us give us a better feel for who we are and where we need to go. Knowing the stories of those who witnessed first hand the hardships that got us to where we are now can even give us the ability to truly love ourselves. Our history is important because it shows our “logical family,” not the family we were born into. It gives us a sense of community in times where the light seems to struggle against the darkness.

Please take a moment and share these coming out stories. Each shows a part of our recent history and what it was live to live through those eras. Many of these people didn’t know the strength they had at the time or the impact they were about to make. And please take a moment to visit Pyeharrisproject.org, the site these videos came from.

Coming out in the 1950s

Coming out in the 1960s

Coming out in the 1970s

Coming out in the 1980s

 

Tracing Our History

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What does history mean to LGBTQ people? I often sit and wonder this very concept. Being Irish, Scottish, and Native American I can have a shared history with those peoples. Being American, I can learn and interpret where we started and what we’re moving towards. Asians, Africans, Japanese, British, Australians, and Central Americans can all be easily identifiable when it comes to history and it’s because of a shared experience. You can even look at your own family history and see where you came from; again this is because of a shared experience through your DNA. How does that fit in with LGBTQ people?

It would be nice if when we came out that we were sent a magical letter offering us invitation to a school that only teaches history of LGBTQ. We had a means to take a special mode of transportation; I’m thinking a unicorn that pulls a chariot able to carry s few of us at a time. We arrive at a large hall where we are greeted by icons of our history to give us our education. Teaching everything from the history of our modes of dress to why drag queens should be celebrated, classes that teach us the importance of acting out and civil disobedience, showing that we don’t need to be defined by boxes that heteronormative society has placed upon us, and teaching us that love is equal in all eyes and should have no limitations.

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Photo by Gabriela Palai on Pexels.com

Sadly, there is no Hogwarts school of LGBTQIA, no train to sweep us away to our magical world of wonder, sparkles, and rainbows, and no means of solidarity to keep us sane and moving forward with pride and strength. We are born, largely, into heterosexual families who, not always for their own faults, no very little of our history and culture. We are given talk about our burgeoning desires in the relations to the birds and the bees. We aren’t surrounded by images of others like us in love. When we do get images, they are more furtive glances into what is defined and perverse and taboo. As LGBTQIA kids, we oftentimes sneak books and magazines into our bedrooms to read in the quite hours. We constantly clear our browser history, so parents aren’t aware of what we may have been viewing and this is only if you are a LGBTQIA youth. These means become complicated exponentially as we get older and develop other relationships.

In 1979, the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay History Project said, “Our letters were burned, our names blotted out, our books censored, our love declared unspeakable, our very existence denied.”- LGBTQ Heritage Our desire to know our history isn’t just a passing fancy of the modern era to prove our worth; as far back as the early 19th century there has been a desire by people with same sex attraction and non-normative gender identities to find means of connecting with our past. It wasn’t until the late 70s that homosexuality was still considered a mental disorder; so finding our history in libraries and bookstores is increasingly difficult.

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Part of the issue with tracing our history comes from the fact that many of the words that are used today to describe us aren’t that old. Take the word homosexual was first recorded in use between 1890-95. The term lesbian being used to describe women who love other women also shows record of being used in the 1800s and became much more popular in the 1960s. I hear what you are saying, it dates back much older to the sister of Sappho who were a group dedicated to Sappho of Lesbo. Now tell me that don’t sound like a line? Religious communities destroyed many of her works but what does remain does speak of her love of women. Gay however has a much more varied past, as far back as the 17th century it was used to describe a person who is “uninhibited by moral constraints.” A gay woman was often a prostitute, while a gay man was a womanizer. Using it to specifically talk about a homosexual was more of a branch of it being used to talk about a prostitute. It wasn’t until somewhere closer to 1920 that it was used more exclusively as a reference to gay men.

Even the feelings toward homosexuality changed over the time frame as often as the climate of the culture did. When a new group asserted power, history was changed and rewritten. Older dogmas would fall to the wayside for new or “enlightened” ways of thinking. There are conflicting ideas amongst Catholic scholars as to when exactly the church started condemning homosexuality. There are records of Christian monastic communities and other religious orders where homosexuality was a part of their way of life and the church exerted no direct interference. What is known is that it became a much more serious offense in the High Middle Ages and reaching their height in the Medieval Inquisitions. During this time, being homosexual was equal to being accused of Satanism. This was around the time that Thomas Aquinas came up with the idea of “natural law,” were homosexuality was viewed as “special sins that are against nature.”

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As Christian dogma changed over the ages, what it enforced also changed. And with that mentions in history of positive references to homosexuality would have been removed so that there would be more representations of how it was a sin and amoral. History also shows us that almost every culture referenced LGBTQ in some way. Native Americans who had no concept of the individual and sexual roles didn’t focus on a gender binary point of view. There are plenty references from various tribes that show men dressing and living as women, while taking husbands. There are accounts of women who dressed as men and fought in battles. There are even reference of those that did not fit any binary thought of gender roles that were held in high spiritual regard.

Realistically we are all human. Not a single one of us is any different other than who we choose to love and sleep with. If they world viewed it as such, there wouldn’t be a need to try to find our history and teach it. However, history is a way for us to feel connected and comforted. It is a way for us to draw strength when so many only want to take that away from us. We live in a climate where we have fought for rights and watch as they are slowing being taken back, history can be what gives us the strength to keep fighting forward. Each of you matters for our future.

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Oh, the times they are a changin’…

With this being National LGBTQ History Month, I also think it is important to celebrate the present. Our city, Cleveland, has had a few victories this year that definitely need celebrating. While we still have a fight ahead of us, acknowledging where we have made advances gives us strength to fight on. Share with me in this and know that each of you are a part of this.

Say what you want, but gay bars have been the cornerstones of LGBTQ culture for a very long time. They have been sanctuary, front lines of rebellion, keystones to neighborhoods, and starts of our “out lives”. As we move forward through our history, we are seeing a decline in those establishments.

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Leather Stallion Saloon Cleveland, OH

In the 1960s, as New York’s gay community started coming into its own, we needed a place where we could come together without fear of reprisals. Until that point, there were laws in place, in most of the country that gay men could not be served in public. All it took was for a bartender to assume you were gay for them to not serve you and even have you arrested. Sit to close to another guy, busted. Touch a man that looked intimate, cops showed up and probably smashed your head. Even meeting in public places was dangerous. Cruisy areas were heavily patrolled and regular arrests were made. But the LGBTQ community had an unlikely ally, the Mob.

New York had a liquor law that barred what they called disorderly conduct on premises, this was used to make sure that gay men didn’t dance together in bars or even be romantic with one another. The Mob saw this as a perfect business opportunity. The Genovese family was the “Dons” of Manhattan’s West side bar scene, which included the Village, where the LGBTQ community was getting its start. “Fat Tony” a.k.a Tony Lauria bought the Stonewall Inn in 1966 and made the first gay bar. It was run very cheaply; no running water, no sanitation for dishes, bathrooms not cleaned or maintained, and no fire exit. It was, however, a place we could go freely and be who we were without fear of being arrested. It also gave a safe place, as long as it was open, to runaways and LGBTQ homeless.

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Stonewall Inn New York

After the events at Stonewall, more gay bars started popping up in cities all over the country. As years progressed, they weren’t just limited to larger progressive cities. This gay more rural LGBTQ people opportunities to meet others like themselves to alleviate the feeling of being alone, even if it was only once every month or so. We knew we had a place to go where we felt like we belonged and could meet others. For me I remember it being more like a community center with a bar. TVs showed LGBTQ movies, TV Shows, and videos. Events were held each month and clubs like Leather Clubs or Pride Committees. It was the place you could come and see people you didn’t get to see daily and just be yourself. The Internet hadn’t really come to handheld devices yet, so this was our meeting place.

Over the years, LGBTQ bars in Cleveland have come into existence, thrived, and closed often. Leaving the landscape shaped by their being. In the 1970s there were as much as two-dozen gay bars, according to Cleveland.com. Their main areas were the Warehouse district and a small stretch of St Claire. From then until the mid 80s, they scene was thriving and exciting Many bars held specialty balls and events and the parties were wild. U4ia and Bounce were some of the bigger nightclubs and more popular for drag shows, both have now closed. A Man’s World, Leather Stallion Saloon, and Cocktails tended to be more neighborhood styles bars with Man’s World and Stallion catering to the leather crowds. At present there are roughly six LGBTQ bars left in Cleveland; Leather Stallion, Twist, Cocktails, The Hawk, Vibe, and the newest Shade. Leather Stallion frequently holds neighborhood events and caters to its original leather clientele. While Twist and Cocktails have smaller stages, they do host drag events.

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Twist Social Club Lakewood OH

As the 90s moved into 2000s, we saw computer gets smaller and cell phones move to smart phones. Apps were being developed that let us meet people without having to leave our homes. This was the start of the decline of the gay bar scene. Craigslist also gave freedom for random sexual encounters. With all of these changes, we saw that the bar scene slowly started falling away as the cornerstones they once were. Society, as a whole, has shifted as well. It is now much more accepted to be LGBTQ than it was in the 1960s, so the need for the sanctuaries has seemed to have fallen away. Many more conventional bars are more accepting of all sexual orientations, so niche bars are less frequented.

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The Park Roanoke, Virginia

Throughout our history we have celebrated our differences. We have reveled in our promiscuous sex life and wanted our own safe place to be as we are. With the shouts of “We’re here, We’re Queer, get used to it,” we expected others to take us at what we were. History progressed and we slowly started fighting for our right to marry, have a family and be like everyone else. Our radical sides fell away and we wanted to go back into the closet, so to speak. We fought against heterosexuals for so long and now we were fighting to be like them. Our acquiescence is what has caused a central core of our community to be left behind. I am not saying that it right or wrong, it just is.

I think it is important to remember where our foundations lie and we must accept that gay bars were a vital part of that foundation. Our community has changed, but it is still the gay bars that were where our fight began. Let us remember them and if they still exist near you, frequent them to show that you remember. We may need them again, one day.

 

 

Celebrating the Victories

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With this being National LGBTQ History Month, I also think it is important to celebrate the present. Our city, Cleveland, has had a few victories this year that definitely need celebrating. While we still have a fight ahead of us, acknowledging where we have made advances gives us strength to fight on. Share with me in this and know that each of you are a part of this.

Fighting is hard, especially in the instances of civil and social justices. We get focused on the need to push forward and what the next battle is going to be that we often forget to take a moment out to celebrate what we have gained. That doesn’t mean we should not stay focused, but we need to recognize victories that have been gained. Currently, Ohio and Cleveland are both a battle ground for getting protection status for LGBTQ people in the work place. When only 20 states have any form of protection status, every additional state added to that list is very important.

Again, victories are important and something I think we should take a moment to celebrate. Mayor Jackson has made appointments recently that are leaps for our community. Sherry Bowman was appointed as LGBTQ+ Representative to Cleveland’s Community Relations Board. She is both a native Clevelander and a long time activist in the LGBTQ+ and African American community. In 2006 she created a website called feelgoode.com to provide information and access to people to get involved in local activism. When the site closed in 2012 it was receiving 300,000 hits per day. She went on to become actively involved in local advocacy groups and was instrumental in helping shape Cleveland’s nondiscrimination ordinances. This year the mayor appointed her, to serve as a LGBTQ+ representative on the Cleveland’s Community Relations Board. This position is responsibility to help build positive relationships between City Hall and the LGBTQ+ community at large. Sherry’s goals include more economic opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community, reducing violence against the transgender community, and to maximize collaboration between the various organizations that serve the LGBTQ+ community.

We also saw the appointment of Commander Deidre Jones as a LGBTQ Liaison to the Department of Safety. Deidre has long been out in her 30 years service with the city. Her role as LGBTQ liaison will be to build on and strengthen relationships between the Police and the LGBTQ+ community. Part of her means to accomplish this is to work on increasing recruiting from the LGBTQ+ community, to meet with and examining other Police leaders to bring back best practices to Cleveland, provide ongoing training to officers, and to meets with business owners of the LGBTQ+ community to ensure their public safety needs are being met. She is also working directly with officers on cases involving the LGBTQ+ community on how to respectfully write reports, behave on scene, and interact with the media. “I want to improve the basic interaction,” Jones says, “to make sure that LGTQ+ people are afforded the same dignity and respect from officers that everyone else would get.” Commander Jones wants to increase visibility of Police and Public Safety as allies and to keep the tradition of police participation at Cleveland’s annual Pride in the CLE celebration.

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Kevin Schmotzer was appointed as the first LGBTQ+ liaison to Mayor Frank G. Jackson, this year. His position is to address the needs of the LGBTQ+ community with the internal departments, social service organizations and coalitions and as an adviser to the mayor. Mayor Frank Jackson was quoted saying, “Mr. Schmotzer will helps us expand and advance nondiscriminatory policies that move our entire community forward.” Kevin has been working with the city of Cleveland for two decades and served as the Executive of Small Business Development for attracting entrepreneurship, creating and administering programs, and financial incentives for economic development in Cleveland. Mr. Schmotzer also served on the 2014 board for the Cleveland held Gay Games.

We also have the recent passing of the Cuyahoga County Non-Discrimination Ordinance. This ordinance gave equal protection and access employment, housing, accommodations, including public bathrooms and locker rooms. This allowed Cuyahoga to fall in line with most of its localities that already had these types of protections in place and a further step to ensure that all of Ohio has them, as well.

We still have a way to go in our fight and the forward momentum needs to be carried along. Whether you are out, have plans to come out, or not we need to rally together to ensure that all people are equally accessed to services. None of us should ever feel that we are not a part of the global collective. Find your means to fight and speak out. Civil disobedience or full on activism, all aspects are needed to make a change.

 

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Shock and Awe

This title recalls the Bush era of going to war in the Middle East where he said he would give them Shock and Awe. Its seems this current president has gone to war with the LGBTQ people of this country with his own brand of shock and awe.  Daily we see how our rights are changing and the horizon looks more dark that hues of rainbows. The Goose stepping Government Goons are determined to hit us as much as they can. One right, as of yet, they can’t seem to refuse is that of LGBTQ rights to marry. Because of this, he and his anti-LGBTQ cabinet are targeting everything they can.

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In the two plus short years he has been in office he has overturned or put into place so many hate filled vitriol pieces of legislation. He has enacted a ban on Transgender People from being allowed in the military. He has judicial nominees that are fully against any further LGBTQ legislation set to be pulled into their positions or already have been. These officials are poised to remove any protections LGBTQ workers may have. He has rescinded a right of all K-12 students that are Transgender their basic civil liberties and are now forcing teachers and doctors to tell their parents, if they do not already know. He has rescinded another memo from the Obama era granting protection to Trans workers from being fired. He is allowing and siding with business after business the right to discriminate based solely on being LGBTQ, whether it is workers or patrons. He even argues that anti-gay discrimination is perfectly legal, as the Federal Civil Rights act doesn’t include LGBTQ people. He has allowed The Department of Health and Human Services to enact new regulationsand created an agency, the Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom, that will purportedly work to ensure health care providers’ religious liberties aren’t violated, which essentially gives protection to health care provider the ability to deny giving care to LGBTQ patients. He also fired all members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS without an explanation; this came before recent news that shows he is allowing the Ryan White Fund to be drained to support his Child internment camps. He refuses to recognize June as LGBTQ pride month, a month that holds historical significance for our community in its fights for rights. And as of yesterday, the House of Representative passed a bill that will allow adoption agency to deny, legally, any LGBTQ couple from adopting children and provides no recourse if the Federal government chooses to step in and impose fine to those state agencies denying those couples a chance to adopt.

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Photo by Toa Heftiba u015einca on Pexels.com

This, my friends, is the same person who stood up and held a Pride Flag claiming that he was a friend to the LGBTQ community and that he would fight for our civil liberties. And many people bought into this line that he tried selling us, like so many others. Here we are on the precipice of change, yet again. This time we are witnessing 50 years of struggle being washed away and many times without the public even realizing that it is happening until it is done.

Recently, long time activist Larry Kramer was quoted saying “For Gays, the worst is yet to come. Again.” The article he wrote for the New York Times states how we do not have the activists and leaders our cause once had. It almost seems we laxed into a time of complacency because of the progress we thought we were making. I feel we were to easily riding the wave of feeling good. I remember in 1999 when my lover asked me to marry him and he was making plans for us to fly to Hawaii to get married, since at the time it was legal. I never thought it would last. I doubted we would ever get some of the rights that we did in the last 20 years. When it happened I was in awe about it and thinking we are on our way to finally being treated as an equal.

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On this day, as I look forward and backward, I grimly see that we were only on a step stool that has quickly been pulled from us like a childish prank. The generation of LGBTQs that grew up with it being legal to get married, adopt and safe from losing your home and job for being who you are now have woken up to realize that this dream is fading. It is to them we must look for our next leaders and activists. We must be there to offer them strength.  Strength because they didn’t witness what happened to us in the recent past. Pride month may be over and our rights may be diminishing, but we must remain strong in the pride of who we are. We must Unite and Fight to take back that progress and push it to new heights. We must show the oppressors that we will not settle for going back to the shadows and closets we have already burst forth from. We will fight every inch for what is ours, we will fight with our very lives if it is necessary. #RiseandResist

The annual Pride Parade is replaced with a Resist March as members of the LGBT community protest President Donald Trump in West Hollywood, California
The annual Pride Parade is replaced with a Resist March as members of the LGBT community protest President Donald Trump in West Hollywood, California, U.S. June 11, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

 

“Rage, rage into the dying light”

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The Importance of Inclusivity

We all hear this word throw around today. Inclusivity, but what does it really mean. It is defined as “an intention or policy of including people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who are handicapped or learning-disabled, or racial and sexual minorities.” This mean that no one should be excluded based on color, creed, ethnic heritage, sexual orientation, gender, age, disability, or otherwise. We as people come in all types and each of us deserve, as a right, to live life the way that anyone else should. Within the realms of not hurting others.

Why am I writing about this, you ask? Well, Pride month ended a week ago and it is important to realize that Pride seems to target a select group of people. Fighting for our rights and ability to be who we are, are the “certain inalienable rights,” defined by our Constitution.

We shouldn’t forget that the rights we have come to us from a group of people standing up and deciding they were not going to be marginalized anymore. They had their rights and were going to make sure others knew they had them. They stood up against “authority” and fought back.

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June 28th, 1969 was the start of the modern LGBTQ rights struggle began at a bar called Stonewall Inn and lasted for three days. All patrons of that bar were in direct violation of the law for simply being homosexual. Stormé DeLarverie, African-American Butch Lesbian, was the first one to stand up and fight back. She was quoted as saying “It was a rebellion, it was an uprising, it was a civil rights disobedience–it wasn’t no damn riot.” She was reported as being handcuffed and roughly escorted outside. She had been hit in the head with a police baton and started bleeding as she fought back. Looking at the crowd she was shocked to see people watching and not intervening. Her response to them was, “Why don’t you guys do something?”

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Stormé DeLarverie

It was on this night when Drag Queens, who only recently had been allowed to come to Stonewall, took the charge and started fighting back. Marsha P. Johnson, an African American Drag Queen and Transwoman, and fellow drag sisters Zazu Nova and Jackie Hormona, were was in attendance. They arrived at the bar to see that it had already been set fire by the police. Marsha was reported throwing a shot glass at a mirror while screaming “I got my rights,”

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Marsha P. Johnson

The rights we have at this very moment, the ones each of us should be standing up and being counted for, were earned by people that you don’t see shown as equal in our own pride events. African American, Transgender people, Lesbians, and drag queens were the spear heads of our fights. We live in a world that is ran by straight, white, privileged, men of a certain age. These same men make the rules for everyone else and are fighting hard to take away what we have gained in the almost 50 years since Stonewall. We need to come together as a strong unified front, as in the past, to ensure we don’t lose the ground that has been fought for. Don’t forget Storme DeLarverie, Marsha P. Johnson, Harvey Milk, Cleve Jones, Bayard Rustin, and James Baldwin.  This is not the time for complacency, this is the time to stand up and be a part of the fight as so many others have been.

“Do not go gentle into that good night…Rage, rage against the dying light.” – Dylan Thomas

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James Baldwin