Sunday, December 20, 2009

An informal history and photo tour of "my Durham"

Ah, the weekend...time to slow down (particularly if you're snowed in, thankfully I'm not) to post about topics that aren't part of a news cycle.


While many people now know I'm not one of those "big city gays," I still find myself in conversations with blogtopia peers where they make an assumption that I must be writing out of DC or New York City since I'm a political blogger.

When I say I live in Durham, NC, a number of people have a vague notion that it's located in a relatively progressive area of the state, others don't know where it is or what it's like politically. Many assume I'm not a native of the South since I don't have a very noticeable accent (neither does my brother, we're not sure why).

Anyway, here are the thumbnail facts: I was born in the Bull City back in the stone age of 1963, and moved to New York, specifically first to Hollis, Queens (Run-DMC!) and later Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. That was from 1976-1989. I returned to Durham in 1989 for the pace and quality of life -- all I need now is my civil equality (no small matter).

Sure, we could pack up and move to a Blue state where our Canadian marriage was recognized, but Kate (who hails from Birmingham, AL) and I love Durham, the people here, the interesting political environment, and the fact that we can live a pleasant existence in our progressive bubble as we work to make more of our state Blue and LGBT-friendly. Someone has to do it, we can't all leave the places that need more, even difficult work to move closer to equality.

LGBTs here have to move our lawmakers in the right direction by city and by county, letting people see we are neighbors, co-workers and members of the community. That's still a powerful cultural step of social change, particularly since decisions at the federal level will likely occur on issues like marriage before our legislature ever spines up.

Anyway, enough soapboxing...get on with the photos. I actually took these almost two years ago, as Kate and I decided to do a little Aunt Pam video tour of Durham for my nephew Mr. E., who doesn't know anything about the town his dad Tim grew up in.

More below the fold, including a little family history and photos around town.

 

Most of you probably don't know that the Spauldings have a rich political history in the life of the Bull City and NC, in electoral politics, education, business, and had an impact on the civil rights movement. See C.C. Spaulding here and hereAsa Spaulding, Sr., and Elna Spaulding). The latter are my late paternal grandparents; their papers are stored in the Duke special collections library.

Asa And Elna Spaulding Papers, 1930-1983. ca. 36,500 items
Nationally acclaimed and internationally recognized businessman, Asa T. Spaulding Sr. (1902-1990), was president of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company--one of the premier black-owned financial concerns in the United States and a keystone among the institutions that established Durham as the "Black Wall Street" during the early decades of the twentieth century. Spaulding was a leader in the insurance industry and was the first black actuary in the United States. He was an advocate for African American economic development and served as an officer in various business and insurance associations. In national politics, he was an advisor to Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson and Carter--advocating for civil rights and economic development for black Americans. He participated in several White House conferences and was appointed to a number of presidential committees. Notably, he was a member of U. S. delegations to the UNESCO conference in New Delhi, India in 1956, and to the inauguration of Liberian President William V. S. Tubman in 1957. On the local level Spaulding was a civic leader and devoted member of the White Rock Baptist Church.

The Spaulding papers are comprised of personal and professional correspondence, speeches, photographs, clippings, awards, printed material, and business and legal papers relating to Asa Spaulding's numerous business, religious, civic, educational and political interests. The collection is particularly rich in documentation about political and community development in Durham, North Carolina.

Complementing the materials on Asa Spaulding is material concerning his wife, Elna Bridgeforth Spaulding. A civic leader in her own right, Elna Spaulding founded and served as president of Women-In-Action for the Prevention of Violence and Its Causes, a community development and charitable organization in Durham. She was elected to two terms on the Durham County Board of Commissioners, served on numerous boards, and was active in such organizations as the Durham Day Care Council, Lincoln Community Health Center, Duke Medical Center, North Carolina Central Museum of Art, and local chapters of The Links, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and the National Council of Negro Women. The Spaulding papers also contain genealogical materials about the Bridgeforth and Spaulding families, and include information about the Spauldings' family life with their five children.

I guess some things are in the genes; over the summer I participated in a video, "The Spaulding Legacy and Oral History Project" on the history of the family, including the extended branches (see screen caps). Many family members are involved in some kind of community service, serve in public office, are in education, etc., so they wanted to capture the oral history of elders, in particular. Fun fact: I am somehow related to author and entrepreneur Stedman Graham, (better-known as Oprah's current/former?! BF). I've not met him.

Oh, you may be wondering...with the whole insurance company family business stuff, whether I'm the recipient of any largesse. The answer would be no -- and there's no giant inheritance awaiting me either, lol. I've never been particularly close to this side of the family (unpleasant,complicated divorces can do that), but I owe it to Mr. E to let him know what his legacy is on this side of the fence, since I won't be around forever, and my brother Tim, who is 5 years my junior, doesn't know much about Durham and family history.

OK, enough gabbing; here's the quick tour of some of the landmarks in Durham that were part of my childhood, certainly not comprehensive at all, but I mean come on, you'll fall asleep if it's too long...

Left: the home I grew up in until about 5, in East Durham, south of the Durham Freeway (the construction of which destroyed much of the black business district and residences). The house on the right was the last home we lived in prior to the abrupt move to NYC. Long story. Have to explain that one to E. someday.

 
In Central Durham, the black historic Hayti district, a street bears my family's name; only a few blocks away is the home of my grandparents (right). I remember spending many a Sunday visiting and watching, of all things, Face the Nation. No Barney, Smurfs, the Wiggles or Disney Channel back then for little Pam. Politics from day 1.

 
Left: Where I spent K-6 - Immaculata Catholic School in downtown. I later went to public school -- Pearsontown Junior High in southern Durham (it's now an elementary school), and then we moved to NY. Right: One of the many Liggett & Myers tobacco buildings in downtown, all eventually abandoned in the 90s, and later renovated (some still undergoing change) into business and residential use. I work in one of the first warehouses that was renovated, Brightleaf Square.

 
NC Mutual building, just up the hill from Brightleaf Square on Chapel Hill St. I was a baby when it opened. There's a photo out there somewhere of me at the building's dedication in the 60s, held aloft by then-VPOTUS Hubert Humphrey. 


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My Durham News column: Our Disability Challenge

A snippet from this month's column on how disabilities are viewed by the public, and how the City is handling compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
How are we doing in the Bull City in terms of the ADA? The City of Durham Web site says it will "make all reasonable modifications to city facilities to ensure that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to enjoy all City programs, services, and activities." In terms of physical disabilities, that includes what most of us notice around us each day – carving curb cuts into sidewalks at intersections, providing buses that "kneel" to accommodate wheelchair access, and providing access to information and services for residents with speech, hearing and/or vision impairments.

In 2005, as a result of a complaint that several city-owned facilities constructed after 1992 did not met ADA Standards, including the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and Stadium, City Hall, the Carolina Theatre/Cinema, and several city parking facilities, an agreement was reached with the federal government to remedy the situation. The city requested and received an extension and projects full compliance by December 2010.

For people with "invisible," not-always-readily apparent disabilities (diabetes, hearing impairment, mental illness, etc.), the issue of what the public perceives as a disability versus the reality of what constitutes disability still represents a wide cultural gap, despite the ADA being in place for almost 20 years.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bloggers honored at 2009 Courage Awards - The NYC Anti-Violence Project

The 2009 Courage Awards were an inspiring event, and it was humbling to be honored as one of the citizen journalists (the glamour word for bloggers, don'tcha know, since we didn't have PJs on). For an organization that handles calls 24/7 in support of those who need some place to turn to when they are the victim of bias crimes, the NYC Anti-Violence Project should be hailed for its essential work for the community.

NYC AVP Courage Awards Blogger Acceptance Speech

Bil Browning (The Bilerico Project), Joe Jervis (Joe.My.God.), Andy Towle (Towleroad), and Pam Spaulding (Pam's House Blend). Award presented by Michelangelo Signorile.

As prepared, November 9, 2009 (Andy Towle); delivered by Pam Spaulding.


Because crimes against LGBT people are seldom reported on a national basis, and covered mostly in local papers, if at all, we have a valuable opportunity to raise awareness about how severe and widespread these crimes are, and the frequency at which they occur. As one of the few forums, and perhaps the most effective, that exist right now to communicate these crimes to other gay people and our heterosexual allies, we can inspire them to take action.

We will never stop standing up for my fellow LGBT citizens when they are struck down by hate, and never ease the pressure on those who would choose to strike us down, whether by words or by fists. Whether it be a young trans woman in Colorado referred to as "it" by a lover she thought she trusted and struck down in a rage, or a bar goer who beats a gay man with his fist to the surface of a parking lot late at night after a night of drinking in South Carolina, or a man who decides he doesn't like the look of a lesbian couple in Provincetown so he decides to push them through a plate glass window, or two deadbeats in Laramie, Wyoming who decide to mete justice on a young gay man by beating him and leaving him to die on a frigid fence, we will continue to report each and every story.

We are humbled and challenged by the ability to communicate the amount of information we have regarding hate crimes to such a wide audience, and we will continue to be vigilant in my continuing coverage of violence against the LGBT community. It's a vigilance that would not be possible without my fellow bloggers Andy, Joe, and Bil. We cast a wide net and I am proud to be honored alongside them.
Also honored this evening was Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner, who delivered a humorous, engaging speech (I'll have the transcript soon).

 



BTW, Tony Kushner also delivers wonderful spontaneous bear hugs, since I was almost tackled by him while I was videotaping actor B.D. Wong as he was finishing up his intro just before presenting the award to Kushner. (reason: he was enthusiastic after the acceptance speech (mostly written by Andy Towle, btw) I delivered. You can catch the amusing POV bowl-over on the right as my camera tilts wildly; on the left is B.D. Wong's introduction.

 



One of the highlights of the evening for me was to have my pic taken with B.D. Wong since Kate and I are addicts of L&O: SVU. I managed to get two shots with him, one before and one after I delivered the acceptance speech for the group. Those shots are below the fold. 



But of course I wasn't the only fan...(Joe and Bil joined in the fun as well):

 



The full image and video gallery is here. A slideshow:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The NYC Anti-Violence Project's Courage Awards is just around the corner...

It's coming up soon! Tickets are available. Hopefully, given my health issues, I will survive the airplane trip in one piece in order to receive this distinguished award.

The New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP) will hold its 13th Annual Courage Awards on Monday, November 9, 2009 at the W New York Ballroom at 541 Lexington Avenue, New York. The evening includes cocktails and a chefs' tasting and a program featuring the award presentation.

At this year’s event, AVP has the privilege of honoring Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tony Kushner, author of Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes and The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures, for his truthful and cutting edge political writing and analysis; Weblog creators Bil Browning (The Bilerico Project), Joe Jervis (Joe.My.God.), Pam Spaulding (Pam's House Blend) and Andy Towle (Towleroad), in recognition of the impact of LGBTQH weblogs have made in the fight for civil rights and against violence in our communities; and Clifford Chance US LLP, for their commitment to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and HIV-affected (LGBTQH) rights and extensive work on behalf of the communities AVP serves.

Date: Monday, November 9, 2009

Location: W New York Ballroom at 541 Lexington Avenue, New York

Time: 7pm-9pm (VIP reception starting at 6pm)

Crossing the not-so-good, not unexpected health threshold...

I posted this entry on the Blend, but it's probably more suitable to discuss my medical woes here, since PHB has become more of a political coffeehouse discussion space than a personal blog. It's about a forced transition as a result of my recent trip to the endo.

It has been surprising how much mail I've received here and on Facebook from readers regarding my open discussion about living with fibromyalgia, from diagnosis to living with it while doing this full-time blog and holding down a full-time job since 2004. I'm glad that others dealing with this found the research and descriptions of the condition to demystify it ("Fibromyalgia: when your brain is not your friend") useful.
Anyway, it's been a difficult couple of weeks, the "miracle" of Cymbalta hasn't exactly worked out. It was doing the trick to reduce the fibromyalgia pain, but a different problem emerged that has been under pretty good control until the flares started coming back with a vengeance after being put almost 100% at bay by the drug. I was told to up the dose from 60 to 90mg. That gave some relief, but not much.
Some of my other "friends" (nearly life-long chronic illnesses) were getting into the mix, and they are clashing and interdependent in causing the misery on the playing field. First up to bat is my PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome), something I've had since about 13. What is it?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common hormonal disorder among women of reproductive age. The name of the condition comes from the appearance of the ovaries in most, but not all, women with the disorder — enlarged and containing numerous small cysts located along the outer edge of each ovary (polycystic appearance).
Infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods, excess hair growth, acne and obesity can all occur in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Menstrual abnormality may signal the condition in adolescence, or PCOS may become apparent later following weight gain or difficulty becoming pregnant. The exact cause of polycystic ovary syndrome is unknown. Women with polycystic ovary syndrome may have trouble becoming pregnant due to infrequent or lack of ovulation. Early diagnosis and treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome can help reduce the risk of long-term complications, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Well, the condition wasn't exactly a surprise, as my mother had it, but it "corrected" itself when she had me and my brother. Mine was accompanied by severe insulin resistance, also common with PCOS, making it extremely difficult to lose weight for many, I fall into that category. Or, rather, another "friend" was diagnosed officially a few years later -- insulin-dependent diabetes. I was the first in my family diagnosed. Once I was tagged, then the dominoes fell, my mom and dad had it (neither obese), my maternal grandmother, a maternal aunt, and probably more undiagnosed. I got all the crappy endocrinological genes, my brother, thankfully is free of diabetes.
My problem is the PCOS was working in concert to make it necessary to take a lot of insulin for it to work in my body. The flip side of the miracle of life-saving insulin is it often comes with weight gain as well. Yes, can't win. Both maladies made it very easy to eat very little and still gain weight (or rather, not lose it after I reached a setpoint). Only recently have I been dropping pounds, mostly after my gall bladder was removed, and before the fibromylagia kicked in. Lately I've been losing because my blood glucose levels were out of control.
Why? Not because I was shoving Snickers in my pie hole (I was reduced to eating a bowl of cereal for breakfast and an apple for lunch and salad and some protein for dinner) the numbers were topping 300 when they should have been 80-100), but because the excruciating pain of fibro (or any chronic pain) shoots your blood glucose numbers into the sky, you dump the sugar from the body that cannot be processed; in essence your body is feeding on itself. In my case this was confirmed when I began the Cymbalta; the pain ebbed, my sugar levels dropped dramatically and I felt like a new person.
Which brings us back to today. The long run of high blood sugars, plus the fact that I have had very insulin-resistant diabetes now for about 25 years, almost ensures some complications would come into play, even with decent control up to now Thankfully, my eyes are fine (no blindness risk), my kidneys are fine (those often fail for some with diabetes). My dance with doom is diabetic neuropathy.
Diabetic neuropathies are a family of nerve disorders caused by diabetes. People with diabetes can, over time, develop nerve damage throughout the body. Some people with nerve damage have no symptoms. Others may have symptoms such as pain, tingling, or numbness—loss of feeling—in the hands, arms, feet, and legs. Nerve problems can occur in every organ system, including the digestive tract, heart, and sex organs.
About 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes have some form of neuropathy. People with diabetes can develop nerve problems at any time, but risk rises with age and longer duration of diabetes. The highest rates of neuropathy are among people who have had diabetes for at least 25 years. Diabetic neuropathies also appear to be more common in people who have problems controlling their blood glucose, also called blood sugar, as well as those with high levels of blood fat and blood pressure and those who are overweight.
In July I got an inadvertently inkling of how bad the nerve damage was when I visted the neurologist to exclude some other issues and he performed some tests on my feet.
  • Sensation/pain test: Using a sharp, pointed device he tried it on my foot and I could feel the pressure of the device poking me, but no pain or reflex to make me move my foot away. When he applied the same pressure up near my knee, it felt like a sharp needle. Way sharp as in it hurt and I jerked my leg away.
  • Cold sensitivity: He took a metal instrument and said to let him know what it felt like. He put it on the sole of my feet, asked if it was cold. It felt mildly cool, not uncomfortable. He did it on the top of my feet, felt a little cooler, still not remarkable. He put it up on my thigh and it felt like he had just taken it out of the freezer!
So today I went to see my FNP who is terrific, she and my endo have been working my case as long as I've been back here in Durham, so they've seen all the highs and lows as I've gone to neurologists, rheumatologists, primary care doctor changes, etc. over the years. The last 6 months have been the toughest slog by far. During this last bout with the insulin resistance/pain/high BG, the neuropathy in my feet made itself all too present on a daily basis.
- almost all shoes hurt;
- feet are burning at times every day;
- sock seams hurt now;
- numbness, can still sense, but hot/cold perception is almost non-existent;
- feet unnaturally cold all the time (have to wear socks to bed, and thick socks during day).
All this is going on in addition to the fibromyalgia's disabling pain and almost-out-of-nowhere unnatural fatigue, like hitting a wall. We discussed various options to try to get my BGs down and address the pain; it's such a crap shoot, since there's no one magic bullet with this constellation of syndromes and diseases. You'd think that someone who never smoked, did drugs or even drinks more than a couple of times a year could get a break, but alas, no. I guess the half glass full is that if I did, I might be sitting on the operating table waiting for something to be amputated. But I digress...
So the threshold I crossed today with my FNP -- and she brought it up before I did -- was that it was time to apply for a permanent handicapped placard for my car. I didn't want to hear this. It's too soon to let these "friends" drag me to this place; however, she was frank with me about how I can only slow this by taking care of myself. It's just denial. I know I will adapt. I always have when several life curve balls have been tossed my way. I just have to be realistic, there is not an endless energy supply to run my feeble body and do what I have done each day since July 2004.
But as I sit here weary and wondering why I continue to burn the candles at both ends as my doctor tells me today that this pace is also directly contributing to my declining health, I find it amusing that there's a lot of criticism out there (and I do know who you are) that indy bloggers aren't "doing anything" for the movement (i.e. just spouting criticism from the keyboard). There is a blanket assumption out there that we're only bellyaching and not doing anything offline. I can only speak for myself, but what limited free time I do have I've managed to also:
  • speak to young people at gay-straight HS alliances to discuss what it is like to come out and to go out in the professional world;
  • give time, money, and energy to state organizations for their programs;
  • give and help raise funds to defeat anti-gay ballot initiatives;
  • use personal funds, vacation and sick time to travel to places to advocate for rights in Red states and to speak on panels about new media, the political landscape to enhance the fight for equality;
  • make the decision to take on even more work - to be the first out lesbian columnist for a major newspaper in NC in order to share with my neighbors that gay is OK.
That's all while still blogging and working, mind you.
These days I've had such difficulty getting out of bed -- literally -- that you've probably noticed less-frequent postings. The thought of the pain caused by traveling, lugging bags and the whole airline shuffle makes me loathe it now.
And, btw, I'm not special in any way; many other citizen journalists/activists do more than speak their minds about the movement's flaws and strengths. I guess what I'm really serving up is a big STFU with a swirl on top to those intimidated by these "accidental activists." Your privilege and access are not at risk -- we have been told that we don't know how anything works in the halls of power. So stop fretting and soiling your diapers. Life is too short, equality will come with or without you. Peace out.


On the bright side, I have to give an "I'm not worthy" to my fellow baristas who have been churning out great content while I've been down for the count way too much (and many of the Blender diaries have been stellar)! They are just as valuable as activists, as well as the loyal readers who create, shape and participate in online and offline actions to create change and hold bigots and politicians accountable. You're all worthy. We'll all keep fighting on.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Durham News column drops today: 'Taking the stage at Pride'

'Taking the stage at Pride' is a short write up on what happened at NC Pride when I keynoted before a festive crowd, despite the rain. A snippet:
More than 4,500 people showed up to take in the speakers, entertainment and all the vendors. The crowd spanned all ages, races and religions. The many open and affirming local houses of worship far outnumbered the few tired protesters who showed up with their "turn or burn" signs.

In fact, one of the men who showed up with a giant sign saying "3 gay rights: AIDS, HELL, SALVATION" was an import from Primrose, Ga. -- Pastor Billy Ball, who has sent me repeated barely-tethered-to-reality hilarious e-mails over the years because of my blog, so his presence was for my benefit, I suppose. He wasted who knows how much gas driving up here for an hour-long parade.

...I talked about the LGBT community's inability to handle its own discomfort in dealing with race and religion, and the self-segregation that goes on that prevents mutual understanding. One good sign I saw was the many people of color who were present at Pride, particularly black and Latino members of the community.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My keynote address at NC Pride 2009 - with video and photos

Photos are now up on Picasa.




Pam Spaulding

NC Pride Keynote Address (as prepared for delivery)

Durham, NC (Duke East Campus)

September 26, 2009




Hi everyone -- it's a great gay day in the Bull City! Just a little too gray…

It's so strange to be standing up here rather than down there. I honestly wonder why I have been asked to address you today at NC Pride.

After all, I'm just a blogger, scratch that, citizen journalist. Back in July 2004 when I started Pam's House Blend, it was just a way for me to let off steam about the sad state of political affairs for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community under our last president.


You'll recall that the 2004 election year was an unending assault on our lives with professional anti-gay organizations working hard to ensure amendments passed in states to bar gay and lesbian couples from marrying. And passed they did at the ballot box, in Missouri, Montana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Michigan and Utah. A clean, depressing sweep.

What a difference five years makes, huh?! While Massachusetts has had marriage equality since May 2004, we have seen it blossom in CT, IA, MA, VT; NH (in 2010) and ME. We saw it flourish for a brief time in CA before it was voted away by mob rule with Proposition 8.

In fact, as we stand here today, we are trying to stop a massively bankrolled effort to repeal marriage equality in the state of Maine. Civil rights should never be determined at the ballot box, yet time and again, homophobia has driven people to believe that might makes right.

While marriage equality is important to me, and many of you out there, for those of us who live in NC and other states where there are few or no protections at the state level, the gains we seek are so modest, so essential, and happen all too slowly down here in the South. And that leads me to great news to report about our state. . . the gains in 2009:


Gains in 2009

* For the sixth year in a row, a proposed state constitutional marriage amendment was killed in committee. North Carolina is the last state standing in the South without an amendment. Give a cheer for that! We have to keep it at bay because the language in this discrimination amendment would not only deny same-sex couples marriage, but it would ban civil unions or any other kind of relationship recognition.

* The School Violence Prevention Actto address bullying and harassment in schools, including acts targeting LGBT students. It's sad that there was even opposition to this bill, which creates safe space for learning for all children. It marks the first time sexual orientation and gender identity are included in North Carolina law. I have to give a shout out to Equality NC; the organization received the "Most Amazing Achievement" award from the national Equality Federation because this is the first gender identity-inclusive law in the South!

* Another step forward is the passing of the Healthy Youth Act, that enables comprehensive sex education program in grades 7-9. Before this bill, abstinence-only education was the only option.

* The state held the line on funding for HIV prevention programs and the AIDS Drug Assistance Program will continue to provide low-income patients with the medicine they need.

* Second parent adoption and the welfare of children received a boost in a ruling this year by the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

* And last, but certainly not least, on August 17, the Durham City Council unanimously passed a Resolution in Support of Civil Marriage for Same Sex Couples. It was a measure submitted by resident Joshua Lee Weaver. Durham now joins Chapel Hill and Carrboroas the only cities in North Carolina that have passed such a resolution. Of course it carries no weight in terms of legal recognition, but it speaks volumes about how our city values our relationships and supports diversity. Thank you, Mayor Bell and members of the Council.

Hey Raleigh -- get on the stick - we need the other point in the Triangle covered! What's the hold up?

An aside -- that positive news is tempered by the fact that County Commissioners in at least 15 counties and one town have passed resolutions supporting a state Marriage Amendment.


While we're on the topic of that resolution, I want to talk about what I saw at the City Council meeting when it passed it. What I saw disturbed, but didn't surprise me.

This meeting drew a standing-room-only crowd to the council chambers. Many of my blog's national readers were looking for a first-hand account, so I was there to tape and Tweet it. I panned my camera to get a view of the crowd and suddenly noticed the racial divide in the room -- those who were standing and who remained seated. I didn't see any people of color standing or clapping in approval.

In fact most of them were seasoned citizens -- mostly black women who were stone-faced in disapproval. The reaction I saw made it clear that there is work to be done to build bridges in the community regarding LGBT equality, race, and religion. I wrote about this incident in The Durham News, fully expecting vigorous feedback on both sides; however it was met mostly by silence.

In hindsight, it shouldn't have surprised me. To discuss it would be like stepping on a landmine for many people.

It was equally eye-opening when longtime social justice activist Mandy Carter and I, along with several black gay and lesbian attendees, visited two members of the NC legislative black caucus during Equality NC's Day of action earlier this year. I will preface this by saying that these membersare strongly there for us on other pro-LGBT issues, but the matter of the state marriage amendment bill by some members of the black caucus is clearly a land mine. To our faces we were told by respected chair Rep. Alma Adams that LGBT issues are not "the caucus's issues" -- as in social justice issues -- and another Rep. Earline Parmon, who supports the marriage amendment bill, justified it by saying she is a minister.

That last statement sucked the air out of the room. To have an elected official answer a constituent's question by indicating she doesn't understand the separation of church and state; well, that's tragic. When I blogged about this, many asked how did we maintain our composure in the face of answers like this.

Honestly, when we left and sat down to talk about what we experienced, the shared feeling was how hurtful it was to be rendered "less-than" to our faces. I think the day taught us all a valuable lesson that spending "face time" with lawmakers to share our stories is essential, and for black LGBTs it's critical -- it's not an option to be rendered silent and invisible.


Affirming religion

Religion itself is not to blame for this; I want to note that it is wonderful to see so many houses of worship represented here today at the booths and in the parade -- give them a hand -- it's a beautiful sight to see so many affirming allies of faith here to counter the image of religious "bigotry by bullhorn" and "turn or burn" crowds who believe that hell and damnation await us.

The presence of these open and affirming houses of worship is proof that our side will win this fight for equality. The problem these anti-gay churches have is their myopic worldview -- they believe that there is only one Christian POV that should govern how all of us should live (never mind any other faiths, they don't think that far).

In the end, that limited thinking is going to sink the bible-based movement to deny us civil rights. Activists outside of the South often want to ignore or write off working for change in the region because it is steeped in religion; I think it's short-sighted. Many members of the LGBT community have indeed been so rejected and hurt by the hateful messages blasted from the pulpit that they reject faith. That's entirely understandable. But for many, they want to reconcile the faith and traditions they cherish in an environment that affirms they are human, that they are loved for who they are. And that's OK too.

When you encounter someone who cites their religious beliefs to justify opposing the civil right of gay and lesbian couples to marry, ask them a couple of questions. 1) Do you realize that unless the couple has obtained a marriage license issued by the state, a religious marriage means nothing in the eyes of the law? 2) Do they truly believe that there isn't separation of church and state in this matter? If so, they are effectively asking the state not just to prevent us from marrying on that basis,they are also affirming state discrimination against the churches and denominations that DO want to marry those same couples. That's discrimination based on religion and I hate to break it to them -- that isunconstitutional.

Those opposing equality haven't any other card to play except to say it will "change" the definition of marriage, as if it hasn't changed over time. Years ago, marriage meant women were the property of men. And then the definition of marriage changed.

Several generations ago, blacks couldn't marry a person of the same race (because we were property), let alone someone of another race -- and the bible was used to justify that. And then the definition of marriage changed.

It's painful to see people of faith cite passages in holy texts to justify oppression of LGBT people when the same public admonitions are rarely delivered to the adulterers, thieves, and fornicators sitting in the pews, or worse, the person standing in the pulpit.

I recently received an email from civil rights legend and head of the NAACP, Julian Bond. He said, quote:

I do not believe the battle for LGBT rights will ever be won until we can diminish the homophobia in black communities and until more in the black LGBT community join the battle openly.

I've often wondered what would be the result of black LGBT churchgoers standing up in the churches they attend and saying "I'm gay - you know me - I'm like you. I am what God made me. Why do you treat me so badly
?"


I would like to see more black LGBTs in those churches muster the courage to do this. A culture has been affirmed in too many churches is that being gay or lesbian is so horrible that it's better to have a public heterosexual identity than deal with truth telling, even if the silence contributes to the skyrocketing HIV infections in the community. The silence is killing our people.


All that said, part of the reason the closets are so tightly shut in the black community is due to the fact that LGBT people of color in large part feel there is as much racism and sexism in the larger out gay community as there is in the straight community.

I have said many times on my blog that discussing racism within the LGBT community is an incredibly difficult endeavor; I try very hard to create a safe space for this. Most white people fail to engage, remaining silent out of fear of offending someone, or worse, reveal their own biases and working through them in public, even with the anonymity of the Internet.

For blacks and other minorities, who have to learn how to integrate in the dominant culture out of necessity, they are often feel frustrated and defensive hearing the lack of knowledge exposed when whites make the tentative steps to engage. The honest truth is that, outside of working alongside people of color, there's a lot of social self-segregation going on (on both sides).

What this lack of cross-community dialogue means for out LGBTs of color is that one has to be willing to put yourself out there to be attacked, over and over for addressing homophobia in communities of color knowing that few, if any, white LGBTs are going to come forward to have your back.

I see it time and again, with the excuses ranging from "I'll be called a racist" or "it doesn't feel safe to do this" or "it isn't my place to do it. " Well if you're waiting for it to be safe, it isn't going to happen.

The fantasy of a post-racial society with the election of Barack Obama as the first black president is just that, a fantasy. Just flip on the TV.

So it is in this environment that black LGBTs have a difficult choice about whether to come out, though more and more are. Fearful of losing social connections, friendships and emotional shelter provided by their faith community if they come out, black gays and lesbians in the church are intimidated.

They fear the judgment of those in the pews and the pastors spewing anti-gay bile from the pulpit. Some of these minority LGBTs simply cannot envision stepping out of the closet because they don't see a welcoming largely white LGBT community on the other side of the door.

I'm glad to see the growth of Black Prides in the state; the first Triangle Black Pride to go live next year. Don't get me wrong, I think this is a welcome development as the LGBT community is diverse on so many levels. I am still concerned that the desire and need for cultural unity often leads to self-segregation for the sake of comfort and that results in less motivation for sorely-needed bridge building. It's clear that this issue of waiting for it to "feel safe" to communicate frankly about in race (or gender and class for that matter) is tough nut to crack.


John Lewis

Thinking about what "safe" means in the context of discussing race, it reminds me of someone who didn't wait for it to be safe before he questioned discrimination.

Last Saturday I had the incredible opportunity to hear civil rights legend Congressman John Lewis speak. This man of deep faith and principle has shed blood, has been beaten unconscious and risked his life and limb repeatedly during the civil rights movement. He never hesitated, and the safety stakes were a helluva lot higher. John Lewis believes in full equality for the LGBT community and walks the walk. Congressman Lewis recalled standing at the Lincoln Memorial where he stood with Dr. Martin Luther King. When Lewis took his turn at the podium, he said:

"You tell us to wait, you tell us to be patient. We cannot wait; we cannot be patient. " You want your freedom and you want it now.

No government, be it federal or state, should tell a person who you can marry or who you cannot marry. You have a right to fall in love and get married.

So our struggle is all one struggle. It is not a struggle that lasts just for one day, one week, or one month or one year. It is a struggle of a lifetime, to build a beloved community. A community at peace with itself that recognizes dignity and the worth of every human being.


But perhaps the most powerful message was to those in the LGBT community who are waiting for equality to come to them -- Lewis charged us to seize the moment, to not accept being told to wait your turn, it's time to demand your rights through your representative, and most of all take personal responsibility -- the message we all heard was loud and clear.

Too many people in our community are in the closet waiting for someone else to do the heavy lifting and LEAD. Many of us work for private businesses or institutions that provide protection from being fired for being openly gay, yet so many are still in the closet. They are socially out on the weekends, but have no interest in being out during the week.

They don't want to get active in even the most politically benign way -- but are keen to show up at events like Pride or a club, but have no interest in lobbying their state legislator -- that's considered too "political" or becoming an "activist. " I'm sure we have thousands here today. At that Equality NC's Day of Action a record was broken this year because 200 people showed up. We can do better than this; I know we can.


In closing I just want to say thank you. . .

There are many people who don't feel ready to come out of the closet. If you can do so without a threat to your job, education or a roof over your head, you need to wait until the time is right for you. I thank you in advance of kicking that door open for embarking on that personal journey of self-discovery.

* For some of you, this may be your first Pride, your first tentative step out of the closet. Thank you for being here.

* For some of you, this is one of the few public LGBT events you attend and feel free to be out. Thank you for being here.

* For some not here today, you are family and friends who support and love the LGBT people in your life, but can't quite get there to be a public ally. I thank you in advance for asking "What can I do to support you" to take that next step.

* For some of you, you are here for us as allies, publicly out and committed to openly working for equality. Thank you for being here.

* For a good number of you, you are out at work, out to your family and enjoy the freedom of being true to yourself. Thank you for being here. If you haven't already, head over to the Equality NC table and sign up so you can attend the next Day of Action. I'll see you there. Let's make a difference here in NC.

Thank you, and enjoy the rest of Pride weekend! See you on the Internet!

 

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Equality Alabama Gala - must-see speech by ally Congressman John Lewis

It was an amazing evening with many old and new friends at Equality Alabama's Gala Saturday night. The highlight was keynote speaker Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who is a native of Troy, Alabama. His played a legendary fearless role in the civil rights struggles of the 60s -- and he is man who believes in LGBT civil equality with equal conviction -- he immediately signed on to DOMA repeal legislation.



This is significant in a day when there is a clear dearth of support in the religious black community; Lewis has the moral standing that a homophobe in the pulpit like Bishop Harry Jackson can never touch. John Lewis took batons to the head, was beaten to unconsciousness multiple times for equality -- courage and moral conviction that Jackson and his fellow charlatans of bigotry are bereft of.



Rep. Lewis spoke eloquently about the simplicity of the government staying out of the lives of gay and lesbian couples -- there is no need to "save" marriage from two people who simply want to love one another and be legally affirmed in the same way that heterosexual couples are when they marry.

But perhaps the most powerful message was to those in the LGBT community who are waiting for equality to come to them -- Lewis charged us to seize the moment, do not accept being told to wait your turn, to demand your rights through your representative, and most of all take personal responsibility -- the message we all heard was loud and clear. Too many LGBTs are in the closet waiting for someone else to do the heavy lifting and LEAD. We are all capable of leading by kicking that closet door open. The main meat of the speech begins around 5:00 -- and you will want to hear it all. The man had the audience spellbound.



John Lewis could have let someone else take the baton to the head for his rights. He didn't; his rights were too important to him to NOT lead by example. I asked State Rep. Patricia Todd thought of his wake up call to our community. She agreed that there is no excuse for our so-called leaders, our elected representatives who say they are our allies but lack the political spine to do the right thing should watch this speech as required education. But we also noted to one another that even more critical was Lewis's call to you - those of us who rail about what someone else can do to lead or move the ball forward and don't step up, or take even small steps to be interested in determining the fate of your civil rights. Where is the fire in the belly of our movement? It's not in DC, it's all of you, if you choose to do a tenth, hell, one-hundredth of what John Lewis showed in terms of personal courage to fight for his rights against hostility day and night. The transcript is here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Durham News column drops today: 'Night at the City Council'

My column is up: "Night at the City Council." A snippet:
How many of you have attended a City Council meeting? I recently attended one and it was interesting in many respects, particularly because I write about national and state politics for my blog.

This meeting drew a standing-room-only crowd to the council chambers. I was there because the members of the council were going to vote on a resolution that would endorse and support "the rights of same-sex couples to share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities and commitments of civil marriage." Many of my blog's national readers were looking for a first-hand account, so I was there as a citizen journalist.
More behind-the-scenes action during my on-the-scene coverage of the politics in the room. See my Aug. 17 coverage with video, "NC: Durham City Council votes unanimously for marriage equality resolution."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

NN09: Women Bloggers Found: Has Feminist Blogging Gone Mainstream?

Finally, the video of one of the interesting panels I was on at Netroots Nation has turned up (sorry no transcript). I did discuss the whole dustup over having to rewrite the Blend's TOS. Lots of fun listening to the trials and tribulations of how women who blog often pay much more attention to maintaining civility on their blogs (and seem to be expected to) whereas blogs by men often are a free for all.
Women Bloggers Found: Has Feminist Blogging Gone Mainstream?
Jill Filipovic, Amanda Marcotte, Samhita Mukhopadhyay, Lindsay Beyerstein, Pam Spaulding.

A few years ago, male bloggers 'round the liberal bloglandia were wondering out loud, "Where are the women bloggers?" Many of the women in the feminist and progressive blogospheres responded with frustration—we were there, and had been, the whole time. Today, the blogosphere looks awfully different, as feminist bloggers are increasingly mainstreamed and able to exert stronger influence on online discourse. But "blogging while feminist" isn't always easy, and feminist bloggers have faced harassment and threats that are uniquely gendered and sexualized. Feminists who have been most successful at running bigger blogs have also been mostly young, white, heterosexual and middle-class—so their issues have been presented to the mainstream progressive movement as the whole of feminism. This panel will look at what has changed, what hasn't and who remains on the edges of progressive blogging. It will also examine how female bloggers—and feminist bloggers in particular—are treated in mainstream spaces, and what we can do about it.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A little fun photo album...

Here's a slideshow of the some of the pols, activists, and blogger types I've met over the years...to see who they are, check out my Facebook album.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Equality Alabama Weekend is coming soon!

I am glad that the good folks at Equality Alabama invited me back to participate in its Equality Weekend (Sept 18-20).
On Saturday, September 19, 2009 a day long schedule of educational programs will focus on workplace equality, safe schools, transgender concerns, religious issues, youth concerns , racism, romance, activism, electing gay and gay supportive candidates, parenting and other issues. The evening will include networking, silent auction, a gala dinner, and a bar after party. Friday and Sunday events will round out the weekend.
The real thrill for me about this year's conference is that the keynote speaker is ally Congressman John Lewis [D-GA]. He has literally shed blood for civil rights during the 60s, and today he is an open and strong advocate for full equality for LGBTs. I hope to snare a few moments to get a short interview with him. It will also be good to connect to Alabama State Representative Patricia Todd, the first out lesbian elected to its legislature (for House District 54 in 2006).

Fellow Durhamite and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Mandy Carter and I will head up workshops during the conference. Read about them below the fold.


Mandy's tackling:

"ERASING RACISM"
The intersection of race, gender and sexual orientation."

"BEING LGBT, BEING SOUTHERN"

Join a discussion of cross-issue, anti-oppression, and meeting at the crossroads of race, class, culture, gender and sexuality, towards building the local work, unity and interconnection of people.

I will also give two talks with Q&A:

"ELECTRONIC ACTIVISM"
Making the world a little better: With literally just a few clicks of a mouse, you can make a positive difference. Technology provides incredible opportunity for change. Join one of the movement's well-known bloggers in a discussion about this exciting new frontier.

"EFFECTIVE SOUND BITES"
Pam Spaulding uses her experience in media to consider preparation to make interviews effective, no matter how limited the sound bite selected for air or print quotes. Have you ever wondered what the perfect response is to a situation or a question? Media and interactive training: Be prepared for the next time a news reporter or a nosey neighbor needs to hear just the right response.

SCHEDULE of EVENTS

This is the latest schedule for Equality Weekend—check back often for updates!

Friday, September 18, 2009

6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Reception honoring speakers and volunteers
5608 8th Court South, Birmingham, AL 35212
[Home of Jay Barrett and Michael Cyr]
Tickets are $25.00, support Equality Alabama and are tax deductible

8:30 pm - until
Welcome Party at Our Place [smoke free neighborhood bar]
2115 Seventh Avenue South, Birmingham

Saturday, September 19, 2009

8:00 am - 4:00 pm
Registration opens for educational workshops
All sessions held at Cahaba Grand Conference Center
3660 Grandview Parkway [off highway 280], Birmingham, AL 35343

9:00 am - 9:45 am
Opening session begins
Featured speaker = Representative Patricia Todd
Top Ten for 2008-2009: Year in Review
Annual Equality Alabama Report and Future Directions
Award Presentations
Introduction of workshops and presenters

10:00 am - 11:30 am
Morning Workshops [see workshop schedule]

11:30 am - 1:00 pm
Lunch Break

1:00 pm - 2:30 pm
Afternoon Workshops [see workshop schedule]

2:45 pm - 4:00 pm
Interest-based Caucuses [see workshop schedule]

5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Silent Auction and Drawings
Networking Reception [cash bars]

6:00 pm - 9:pm
Youth Dance Party
Off Cahaba Grand Upper Level of Entrance Rotunda

7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Gala Dinner
Magic City Choral Society Performance
Featured Speaker = Congressman John Lewis [D-GA] Civil Rights Champion
Awards

9:30 pm
After Party at Joe's on Seventh [new smoke free neighborhood bar] corner of Seventh Avenue South and 27th Street South, Birmingham

Sunday, September 20, 2009

10:00 am - 12:00 noon
Services at Welcoming Churches [ask for list at registration]

12:15 pm - 2:00 pm
Brunch featuring performance by Politically Incorrect Cabaret
Historic Redmont Hotel
2101 Fifth Avenue North [in downtown loft district]
Birmingham, AL 35203

.

You can see the full program here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Video of Netroots Nation panel: "From Prop 8 to Full Equality in all 50 States"

For those of you who weren't able to make it to Netroots Nation this year, here's full video of a timely panel that I served on -- "From Prop 8 to Full Equality in all 50 States -- thanks to Will Urquhart of Sum of Change. There is fantastic information about the efforts in Maine and Washington State. It's worth the view time. Also discussed are the issues surrounding the 2010/2012 dustup. On the dais with me: Monique Hoeflinger, Michael Wilson, and Julia Rosen.



Description: From the passage of Prop 8 to the election of Barack Obama to the White House, the 2008 election had a profound impact on the fight for full LGBT equality in all 50 states. This panel will tackle how we win and defend marriage equality state-by-state and how we build momentum for full LGBT equality across America. What are the lessons learned from the Prop 8 loss in California that Maine and other states can learn in their battle for marriage equality? How will we restore marriage equality to California? And how can the netroots help win these battles?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ron Reagan interviews me at Netroots Nation 2009

Ron Reagan was broadcasting his Air America show at Netroots Nation this year. Megan Carpentier, one of the behind-the-scenes people at Air America came up to me during an earlier panel and asked if I do a segment with Ron Reagan about LGBT issues later in the day. Of course I was surprised that I was a first pick for this, considering the many great peeps in attendance. Anyway, I said sure, and showed up early since it was hard to find the radio row.

So I'm standing around chatting and all of a sudden his producer comes up and says that I was going to go on right now because the slotted guest was late. YIPES. So before I knew it, I was in the hot seat with the headphones on and doing the interview with Ron, who is a really nice guy who works well in this challenging environment with a wide variety of guests who are here at Netroots Nation.

It was a fun interview (radio is infinitely easier than doing TV) we talked about Prop 8 repeal, the Maine ballot initiative, allly support, and minority outreach.



We fit a lot into ~10 minutes.



My columns for The Durham News

[UPDATE (8/18): I had lunch with editor Mark Schultz, and the N&O/The Durham News has decided to extend my gig! He asked me whether I'd like to increase the column to twice a month, but I don't know that I can add that much to my already-full plate. I will be able to go longer on pieces if I want/need to -- usually I was constrained to 550-600 words.]

I'm the first out lesbian columnist for the News & Observer, one of the largest newspapers in the state and possibly the first out lesbian columnist for a major newspaper in NC; I have no idea. Anyway, several columns have now run in The Durham News, its Bull City community edition. It's a monthly column (I rotate with other local folks), a gig for six months that began in March 2009, so I'm wrapping up my stint.

Mark Schultz, the editor of TDN and The Chapel Hill News (as well as one of the Western Triangle editors for The News & Observer) just asked me out of the blue to do this. I was recommended by one of my old pals and former neighbor in Old West Durham, John Schelp, since I'm a Durham native. It's a small world.

My column is not like my blog -- about national politics -- this is about community flavor, but I do take on politics The first piece is still so far the one that has generated the most mail -- about breed-specific discrimination regarding American Pit Bull Terriers. I adopted Casey from a local shelter in 2008 and seen bias around here that reminds me all too much of racial discrimination. I only have about 650 words to jabber on -- no freedom for endless commentary like I have at the Blend.

My Columns

Night at the City Council
Sept 9, 2009
2 degrees of Stuyvesant, NYC

Aug 12, 2009
How city grew out of its shell
Jul 08, 2009
Sounding off on the need for speed
May 13, 2009
Pols now tight-lipped on gays
Apr 08, 2009
Fighting pet prejudice
Mar 15, 2009

Full list is on the Publications page of my site.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Panels I'm on at Netroots Nation 2009

I am heading to Pittsburgh to attend Netroots Nation, held this year on August 13-16 at the David L. Lawrence convention center. This is the fourth annual gathering of the progressive Netroots (the first two cons were known as YearlyKos). This year, Kate will join the fun as well.

It's a few days of blogger madness, attended by powerhouse full-time bloggers, part-time keyboard jockeys, readers, fans, politicians, authors, journalists and MSM types. This is a really large conference, with so many sessions, caucuses, screenings and parties it's hard to make decisions on which to attend.

I am on three panels this year and will co-host the LGBT caucus.

Thursday, August 13th 9:00 AM - 10:15 AM
Panel, 311
From Prop 8 to Full Equality in All 50 States: Fighting for Marriage Equality and LGBT Rights Across America
Pam Spaulding, Monique Hoeflinger, Michael Wilson, Julia Rosen.

From the passage of Prop 8 to the election of Barack Obama to the White House, the 2008 election had a profound impact on the fight for full LGBT equality in all 50 states. This panel will tackle how we win and defend marriage equality state-by-state and how we build momentum for full LGBT equality across America. What are the lessons learned from the Prop 8 loss in California that Maine and other states can learn in their battle for marriage equality? How will we restore marriage equality to California? And how can the netroots help win these battles?

Thursday, August 13th 3:00 PM - 4:15 PM
LGBT Caucus, 310
Michael Rogers, Pam Spaulding

Connect with like-minded folks and talk with others from your community in our identity, issue and regional caucuses.

Saturday, August 15th 10:30 AM - 11:45 AM
Panel, 315/316
Women Bloggers Found: Has Feminist Blogging Gone Mainstream?
Jill Filipovic, Amanda Marcotte, Samhita Mukhopadhyay, Lindsay Beyerstein, Pam Spaulding.

A few years ago, male bloggers 'round the liberal bloglandia were wondering out loud, "Where are the women bloggers?" Many of the women in the feminist and progressive blogospheres responded with frustration—we were there, and had been, the whole time. Today, the blogosphere looks awfully different, as feminist bloggers are increasingly mainstreamed and able to exert stronger influence on online discourse. But "blogging while feminist" isn't always easy, and feminist bloggers have faced harassment and threats that are uniquely gendered and sexualized. Feminists who have been most successful at running bigger blogs have also been mostly young, white, heterosexual and middle-class—so their issues have been presented to the mainstream progressive movement as the whole of feminism. This panel will look at what has changed, what hasn't and who remains on the edges of progressive blogging. It will also examine how female bloggers—and feminist bloggers in particular—are treated in mainstream spaces, and what we can do about it.

Saturday, August 15th 3:00 PM - 4:15 PM
Panel, 311
The Forgotten Agenda of Race in the Obama Administration: Profiling, Immigration Detention and Mass Incarceration
Vince Warren, Pam Spaulding

This panel will discuss police abuse, racial profiling in stop-and-frisks, the Rockefeller drug laws and mandatory sentencing, immigration sweeps and detention, and opportunities for organizing online and offline. What, if any, steps has the Obama administration taken to address these problems, and what legislative and economic actions should our government take? How do the issues intersect in their effect on people of color? What political, legislative and organizing opportunities are there to challenge these policies?

On Friday I'm definitely attending this:

Friday, August 14th 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
Screening Series, 406
Screening: Outrage
Michael Rogers, Michelangelo Signorile

From Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Kirby Dick (This Film Is Not Yet Rated) comes OUTRAGE, featuring journalist/blogger Michael Rogers and Sirus/XM radio host Michelangelo Signorile. The film is an indictment of closeted politicians who campaign against the LGBT community and reveals the hidden lives of some of the nation's most powerful policymakers. OUTRAGE looks at the harm they inflict and profiles those who seek to expose their hypocrisy. The film probes the psychology of these double lives, the ethics of outing, and the double standards that the media upholds in its coverage of the sex lives of gay public figures. A Q&A with Rogers and Signorile will follow the screening.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

I will be honored with the New York City Anti-Violence Project's Courage Award

I just learned that I will receive a 2009 Courage Award from the New York City Anti-Violence Project "for the significant contributions you have made to raising awareness about anti-violence work." A snippet of the email from AVP's Executive Director Sharon Stapel:
For almost 30 years, the New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP) has been an invaluable resource to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and HIV-affected (LGBTQH) communities. Our mission is to address the root causes of violence committed against and within our communities, while providing services and outreach to survivors. Each year, AVP presents the Courage Awards, highlighting the significant contributions of members of our community and allies, whose thoughtful and meaningful work inspires us.

In recognition of the impact of LGBTQH weblogs in the fight against violence in our communities, we are honoring a select group of bloggers who have shown exceptional commitment to the values we espouse. We would like to honor you as part of that group with a 2009 Courage Award. In accepting this award, you will join the distinguished company of past awardees including: Alan Cumming, HBO, In the Life, Judy Shepard and George C. Wolfe, to name but a few.
Also among the past honorees is Law & Order: SVU's B.D. Wong.
The Courage Awards will be held on Monday, November 9, 2009.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

I'm an Accidental Activist

While I became known as a citizen advocacy journalist (the high-falutin' name for a political blogger), when it comes down to it I see myself as an average person; a woman living in the Mid-Atlantic South who happens to be black, a lesbian and concerned about my civil rights. I'm not an activist by any sense of the traditional definition, never having worked for an advocacy group, run for political office or been a grassroots organizer. 

While many people now know I'm not one of those "big city gays," I still find myself in conversations with peers and they make an assumption that I must be writing out of DC or New York City since I'm a political blogger. When I say I live in Durham, NC, a number of people have a vague notion that it's located in a relatively progressive area of the state, others don't know where it is or what it's like politically. Many assume I'm not a native of the South since I don't have a very noticeable accent (neither does my brother, we're not sure why).

I am a native Bull City resident, born in Durham back in the stone age of 1963. My mother, brother and I moved to New York in 1976, specifically first to Hollis, Queens (aka, the home base of Run-DMC) and later to Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, which back in the 80s was not a wonderful place to live, with open-air crack deals, cars stripped in broad daylight, gunfire at night. That was from 1976-1989. When I visit my family there today, it’s a wonderful tree-lined block, one that won the Greenest Block In Brooklyn Award, and children play in the streets; the neighborhood is safe and integrated again in more ways than one. But that’s now.

My return to Durham in 1989 was for the slower pace and quality of life. I really didn’t think about my rights as a lesbian until I married my wife Kate in July 2004 (Vancouver, British Columbia Canada). We tied the knot at a time when out-of-state residents couldn’t marry in Massachusetts, and the window of opportunity to marry had closed in California. On return to North Carolina we knew our marriage would legally cease to exist the minute the plane touched down.

 2004 was a meaningful year because I married and started Pam’s House Blend. I realized that what I needed was my civil equality -- and I didn’t want to have to move from a state that I love to do so. Marriage amendments in 2004 was part of the Republican strategy to achieve the re-election of George W. Bush.

Stuyvesant High School, NYC

I attended Stuyvesant High School in New York City from 1977-1981.

  
Stuy is a New York City public high school that specializes inmathematics and science. It is one of the most competitive public high schools in the United States, sending more students to some of the nation's most prestigious universities than most other public or private schools.[5] The school opened in 1904 on Manhattan's East Side and moved to a new building in Battery Park City in 1992. Stuyvesant is noted for its strong academic programs, having produced many notable alumni including four Nobel laureates.[6] U.S. News & World Report ranked it twenty-third in their 2008 list of America's best "Gold-Medal" high schools.


I went to the Stuy located at 15th Street and First Avenue.











I attended



Stuyvesant High School from



1977-1981. Stuy is one of the specialized high schools in the NYC Public



School system (you had to take a test to get in; the focus of the schools



is math and science).





Stuy is

now located in a new, hi-tech building in the Wall Street area; way

back in the day it was located on 15th Street near 1st Avenue in Manhattan.


***


Me from the 1981 yearbook.











Frank McCourt, from the 1981 yearbook. At least his picture is unflattering too. 






From my



10th HS reunion in 1991.




Frank



McCourt hadn't written Angela's Ashes yet. I don't recall



if he had retired from teaching by this reunion.










Frank with



me and my classmate and best friend Carole Brown.





***


Meeting

Frank in 2000:





Frank

McCourt
was in Durham, NC in January 2000 to promote 'Tis.

I was asked, as a former student of his, by a local bookstore to introduce

him before a crowd of 2500 people who turned up to hear Frank speak

at a fundraiser for one of our magnet high schools.



It was

great to see him; I went backstage before he went on, and of course

he didn't recognize me from the last reunion, but I brought my trusty

'81 Indicator (he recognized me in that context), the pix you see above

from the 10th reunion, and my copies of Angela's Ashes and 'Tis

for him to sign. I didn't get any decent pix from the event, or I'd

have posted them! He was a real tale spinner and was mobbed like a true

celebrity after the event!



Here is

the introduction I gave that evening:



Good

evening. Frank McCourt was one of the most popular teachers at Stuyvesant.

Everyone I knew hoped that they would see his name on their program

card at some point during our four years there. By the luck of the draw,

in the fall of 1980 I had the pleasure of being in his Creative Writing

class. Why was he popular? Aside from his charm, ability to spin a good

yarn (and sing), he engaged us in feisty discussion. He encouraged us

to read (oh, Hamlet!), to write and to share those written experiences,

dreams and flights of fancy. We had to keep a journal, and on each Friday,

a few of us would be called to read journal entries aloud. What I most

remember, as I look back now, was the loving, constructive criticism

he gave our work, and the open, unstructured environment he created

for us to excel in. By the way, I received a 93 in his class, so I guess

I was actually paying attention. When Angela's Ashes came out to much

acclaim, some of my classmates and I discussed Frank's amazing journey

into the limelight and we all thought how success must embarrass and

dismay this humble man, and how he must think he doesn't deserve any

of it. But of course he's bonkers. We're glad you decided not to stick

that manuscript in a drawer, because you saved your most truly amazing

yarns for publication to share with the world. And now Frank McCourt...






































































The Urban Setting
(lots to do at lunchtime and after school outside on 15th St. Now I feel sorry for all those folks who actually lived around there!)



















Stuy's wonderful



auditorium, a place for meeting and chatting before classes. Study halls



were often held here.







An empty hallway at the old Stuy. A rare sight. Everyone must be at the infamous, non-existent pool on the top floor.

Good God! What in the world am I wearing? My friend and home room mate  Marghiee and I are waiting outside before class on 15th St. Here I am out on 15th again with Carole, Tasia, and Marghiee.




 










My



Motley Homeroom Crew




















Gym class.
Oh the horror! I never got to be a squad leader -- they got the red leader shirts like the Beastie Boys wore in their early days. Anyway,

NO ONE liked gym. Remember the gymnastics rotation? I nearly killed myself on the uneven parallel bars. One semester, I convinced one of the teachers to let me bring in a jump rope so that I could teach folks double dutch.










Memorable



Teachers I Had At Stuy --




in more ways than one...





























One



of the gym teachers that inflicted humiliation on us. He always



seemed sadistic, but maybe it was me.
I



barely passed Physics, but I was very entertained during my my tenure



with Mr. Birke. One time a student slipped outof class without his



knowledge and returned much later with McDonalds and ate it in class



and he never noticed.
Another



gym terrorist, although he was funny to watch while he ordered folks



around.
























Mr



Crosby made French classes fun. I had a 97 average. Woo-hoo!
Yet



another gym terrorist. Really, I am sure that out of the school,



Mrs. Houlihan was a nice person, but little did she know how we



had nightmares of final "tests."
I



did well in Miss Lorenzo's French class as well, though what I remember



most about her is that she wore black almost every day for a long



time; she was in mourning for a family member, her father, I believe.


















Anna Mutnick











My



French classes with Mr. Mayorkas were unbelievable. His eccentricities



were legendary. It was amazing what went on in class without his



knowledge.
I



loved Mrs. Mutnick. She was my English teacher one semester, and



I always sat in the front row. I felt sorry for her sometimes, because



some of the folks in my class were extremely inattentive and kind



of rowdy by Stuy standards.
I



took several art classes with Mr. Rosen. He was acerbic with a lot



of the kids that thought art period was for kicking back. He and



I got along very well, because I was always interested in what he



had to say, and he spent a great deal of time cultivating my talents,



limited though they were.












 



 

 









 








Pulitzer Prize-winning author, storyteller, and my teacher at Stuy, Frank McCourt, passes on

The author of Angela's Ashes, 'Tis, and Teacher Man, Frank McCourt, passed away yesterday at the age of 78. Long-time Blenders know that Frank McCourt was one of my teachers my teachers at Stuyvesant High School in NYC (class of 1981). These photos were taken at my 10th high school reunion.

There is a fitting piece in the NYT about Frank.

His former students will tell you that Frank McCourt, who died Sunday, was too attuned to the false note to ever declare, once he had become a huge success as an author, that he missed teaching high school. Even so, he spent three decades as a teacher of English and creative writing in New York City’s public schools. And he was the first to say that those years, while depriving him of the time to actually write, were what made a writer out of him. He had long been retired by 1996, when his first book, “Angela’s Ashes,” was published.

...Mr. McCourt began teaching in 1958, when he was 28, at Ralph R. McKee Vocational High School in Staten Island and from 1972 to 1987 taught at Stuyvesant High School, a highly selective school then on East 15th Street in Manhattan. His students learned from him that literature was nothing more — and nothing less — than the telling of stories. Of course, he made his students dip into the canon; they learned to write from reading Swift, Joyce, Hawthorne, Hemingway and Flannery O’Connor. But, as many of them have said, the most inspired and inspiring hours spent in his classroom were devoted to listening to him share experiences from his own life.

“A lot of the class was him telling tales and telling them over and over,” said Alissa Quart, an author and a 2009 Neiman Fellow at Harvard who had Mr. McCourt during her freshman year at Stuyvesant, in 1985-86. “He used to sort of recite from memory the stories that became ‘Angela’s Ashes.’ ”

And that was all true. From time to time Frank's brother Malachy McCourt (a character actor who appeared on many NY-based soaps) would come to class and we would learn and be entertained by their stories (photos from my yearbook follow). After hours, he and Frank would appear at local clubs in a show they wrote, A Couple of Blaguards. It was wonderful to listen to him talk about "the glories" of Catholicism (and sin in particular). Here's a video of him discussing his teaching years.

I last saw Frank McCourt in January 2000. He was in Durham, NC for a local fundraiser while on his 'Tis tour. I was asked by a local bookstore to introduce him before a crowd of 2,500 people at the School of the Arts for his reading and talk. Here is the introduction I gave that evening:

Good evening. Frank McCourt was one of the most popular teachers at Stuyvesant. Everyone I knew hoped that they would see his name on their program card at some point during our four years there. By the luck of the draw, in the fall of 1980 I had the pleasure of being in his Creative Writing class. Why was he popular? Aside from his charm, ability to spin a good yarn (and sing), he engaged us in feisty discussion. He encouraged us to read (oh, Hamlet!), to write and to share those written experiences, dreams and flights of fancy.

We had to keep a journal, and on each Friday, a few of us would be called to read journal entries aloud. What I most remember, as I look back now, was the loving, constructive criticism he gave our work, and the open, unstructured environment he created for us to excel in. By the way, I received a 93 in his class, so I guess I was actually paying attention.

When Angela's Ashes came out to much acclaim, some of my classmates and I discussed Frank's amazing journey into the limelight and we all thought how success must embarrass and dismay this humble man, and how he must think he doesn't deserve any of it. But of course he's bonkers. We're glad you decided not to stick that manuscript in a drawer, because you saved your most truly amazing yarns for publication to share with the world. And now Frank McCourt...

It was great to see him; I went backstage before he went on, and of course he didn't recognize me from the last reunion, but I brought my trusty '81 Indicator yearbook (he recognized me in that context), and my copies of Angela's Ashes and 'Tis for him to sign. He was mobbed like a true celebrity after the event, but he was mobbed as a popular teacher back in the day. Everyone wanted to be in Frank's class.

Goodbye, Frank.

***

He discusses his teaching years, religion, politics, and life in Ireland in this video. It captures his storytelling style.

McCourt records the trials, triumphs, and surprises he faced during his thirty-year teaching career in public high schools in New York City. "Doggedness," he says, is "not as glamorous as ambition or talent or intellect or charm, but still the one thing that got me through the days and nights." Frank McCourt describes his struggle to find his way in the classroom and create a lasting impression on his students. Frank McCourt was born in 1930 in Brooklyn, New York, to Irish immigrant parents, grew up in Limerick, Ireland, and returned to America in 1949. His first book, Angela's Ashes, won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the LA Times Book Award. An introduction to the forum is provided by Kathleen McCartney, Dean and Gerald S. Lesser Professor in Early Childhood Development.



















































The

10th Reunion - 1991







Class of 1981 attendees at the 10th. Click to see it enlarged.

























The
20th Reunion - October 13, 2001, Nell's




At Marghiee's "pad."







































The pix below are
from Matthew Alexander's digital camera.