As promised, here’s the second post where I wanted to discuss Memorial Day. Again, this is a day meant to pay tribute to those who died in service of the United States Armed Forces. If you’ve paid your own tasteful tribute today, even if it’s as simple as offering condolences or planting an American flag on a military member’s grave, good for you… for you understand the gravity of this solemn day.
A couple of thoughts that surfaced to the top of my mind the day after an important spring election. Well, it was important here in Madison, and I’ll bring up why in a second. If you had spring general elections where you lived, know that it was important for your locale as well, and that you exercised your right to vote.
Perhaps the most noteworthy election occurred in the city of Chicago, which in Lori Lightfoot will see only its second female mayor, not to mention its third African-American mayor. (That her opponent was also black and female made it an historic campaign.) Lightfoot is also gay, and will become Chicago’s first openly LGBT mayor.
Lori Lightfoot’s victory is certainly noteworthy and historic in Chicago, certainly perking the spirits of her supporters and some optimism within the city’s LGBT community. But here in Madison, we had our own significant election this week, involving the person pictured to your right. Satya Rhodes-Conway has called Madison home for 20 years. She served on Madison’s City Council for 6 years and had been working with a UW—Madison-based think tank when she decided to run for the office of Mayor of the City of Madison.
Satya was among 6 candidates for mayor and placed in the top two when the first round of the election was held in February. The other person who advanced to this week’s election is perhaps best known by this moniker: “Mayor for Life.” No, don’t take that literally, but he did spend 22 years over 3 tenures as mayor that covered parts of five decades. That and the fact that his viewpoints and fighting spirit matched that of most of the citizenry (progressive, radical) gave one the sense that he could be mayor for as long as he lived on this earth.
Today (March 31) is the International Transgender Day of Visibility. This is the tenth anniversary of this day, which is intended to highlight trans people of all stripes worldwide, as well as the accomplishments we’ve made and the difficulties we still face.
For sure, it’s good that in recent years the trans community has made so many positive advancements. As well, it’s great to see positive representations of our community (the TV series Pose, for one). These have helped foster a much-needed acceptance of us by those in the cis-gender community.
But for all our personal and collective gains, modest or otherwise, there have been equal amounts of disgust backlash toward us, especially from the extreme portions of the politically and culturally conservative corners. Just one example is the “mission” of You Know Who and his cronies to prevent trans service members from serving openly in the United States Armed Forces.
It’s anti-trans attitudes like these that still makes the need for cis-gender allies all the more greater. The activist Miss Major said it best in a Twitter video that went viral this week, stating that those who care for our community are “the people who need to become more visible.” In other words, we need allies to stand up and tell the dismissive world that we’re not the pariahs the closed-minded think we are.
The following poem is inspired by TDOV; the anti-trans attitudes that sadly still linger; the need for cis-gender allies to come out from their closets, so to speak, and stand up for us; and to a lesser extent, the news this week that there will be no LGBT+ pride parade here in Madison this summer. Again, we’re not evil or deviant. It’s just that the rest of the world still needs to recognize that and stand to our defense.
I still need to take this stand
And remind you of who I am
I’m not what that certificate says I am
But I am still more than that
I can do so many things
Build buildings, fly planes
Or put out flames
Even run a mile in 10 minutes flat
I can be a pilot or a poet
For too long, I’ve been flat on my face
But I getting back into the race
With the help of allies who’ll be my friends
I can stand and deliver
I can serve and protect
I can fight to defend your freedoms
But Lord knows that I’m in need of them
We are one nation, indivisible
But I can’t be invisible
I’m human, can’t you see?
Why can’t you and others get get past my identity?
You only want an explanation
As to my gender identification
Why such the rush?
Does it matter to you where I flush?
I may be a guy or girl
Or somewhere in the middle
My identity shouldn’t be a riddle
Really, why can’t you see that?
I don’t blame the doctors who had to write down
That I was only one gender
The day into this world I entered
But since then, I know I don’t define as that
There’s no need for examination
I live my life not as a fabrication
I don’t need your interrogation
So put away your spotlight
Help me make this stand
Please take my hand
And let’s tell this land
That for trans rights, we must fight
Don’t wish us into a cornfield
Or put barricades before us
Be our allies, and forward let’s thrust
Across this great, yet still terrifying, land
Let’s have vision of persistence
Against those who still deny and resist us
Remind them that we’re not just trans, but also human
And always and forever part of our Maker’s plan
So, please take my hand
And together, you and I
We’ll make this stand
Time to fire up that recognizable theme music and… oh, wait, this isn’t supposed to be about Felix Unger disdainfully looking at his roommate’s pig sty of an apartment? Okay then, sorry. [sound of record needle scratching] Yeah, this is about last weekend’s big event, the 91st Academy Awards. And, yes, I’m late to the “pile on the Oscars” party. In my defense, I’m still trying to shake off a very long, grueling, and stressful work week, so please give me some slack.
Anyway, it goes without saying that the Academy Awards are the most scrutinized entertainment awards show on the planet. Even just hearing the word “Oscars” makes a human being consider at least one of three Oscar-related questions: How glamorous were the celebrities on the red carpet? Was the ceremony worth watching? And were the actual Oscar recipients deserving?
One word that kept running through my mind when writing my last post was the thought of one’s character. Three definitions of the word “character” stood out to me:
- The total features or traits that form an individual’s being
- One’s integrity or moral & ethical quality
- One’s reputation
In this era where those who want to wish the LGBT+ community out of existence, or at least push us back into a dark corner, we need to construct our positive character to the world. In other words, put on display the good things that make us who we are and form our well being, and that will make a positive impression on the rest of the world. But that shouldn’t stop there, for we still need to call out those whose own dark character forms the broad brush that paints us in unflattering colors.
To borrow a line from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.” I’m embarrassed that I don’t always heed those words, sometimes going as dark and spiteful as those who hate our community. But when I take a stand against those who disdain us with scorn, it feels empowering.
Who I am everyday
I am someone normally button down
Ending workdays with a tired frown
Every now and again, I step right in
A garment and gender I’m not normally seen in
Yet they feel like a brand new skin
And brings out a new attitude from within
Why I do the things I do
Well, for one, I love to work
And with it, the earned financial perks
That keep me fed and sheltered
And, yes, clothed
But why two sets of clothes?
Well, to have you know
Dressing up, I feel an empowered aesthetic
Dressing up lets me become empathetic
And forms in me a positive ethic
That helps build a better world
That’s why I’m a guy… who’s also a girl
Well… who are you everyday?
I don’t need to ask it
Rather, I can see it:
You have your own jobs you go to
And your own homes to come to
There, you’re lord and master
Of your own personal castle
In a kingdom you want to expand
To points beyond everything you can see
Why do you do the things you do?
I don’t need to ask
For I can accurately guess:
The world doesn’t fit your narrow definition
Of the world sharing your morality
You’re mad that that number’s less than a plurality
And for that… you retaliate against all humanity?!
What makes us, us… and not like you
Yes, I know this will add to your petulance
But the whole world doesn’t share your stance
We admire others, near and far
And let them live freely
No matter who they love or what they are
We treat people with respect
And not try to mold them into an object
That came from an assembly line
What makes us all human beings
We’re born, we’ll die
And in between
We’ll live and breathe
And do our own things
If it’s not the same as your life
It doesn’t give you any right
To mold us into something you desire us to be
So don’t shun us, harm us, or taunt us
And with whitewash, don’t paint us
Your principles don’t make you our principal
So please let us live free
Because we’re all independent
Living with good intent
And if you take time to know us
You’ll recognize something in us
We are not strange and peculiar
Our character is what build our character
It’s not just who we are
It’s also how we live to be
Two years ago this weekend, the day after You Know Who became you know what, millions of people marched in cities across the country. It was the starting point, or at least the most prominent moment, of what is called the Women’s March movement to advocate women’s rights, workers’ rights, immigration reform, and several other important issues, not to mention respect of others and anger toward You Know Who and his right-of-center cronies. Here in Madison on that day, an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 participants marched up State Street and assembled at the Capitol Square.
Yesterday (January 19), not only in Washington but across the country, the anniversary of that march was commemorated by another round of marches and rallies. Yes, a march and rally was held here in Madison as well. No, unfortunately, it wasn’t as big as the one that occurred two years ago; the estimated number attending at the State Capitol was reported at 700. Perhaps it the snow and cold that kept some people away (Madison had received 4.5 inches of snow in the overnight hours), but 700 is still a pretty decent number all things considered.
In my last post, I sang the praises of newly inaugurated governors here in Wisconsin and next door in Michigan signing executive orders aimed at prohibiting discrimination toward state employees or those they serve based on gender or sexual identity. Both Tony Evers and Gretchen Whitmer were elected governors of their respective states last November, when a nice “blue” wave washed across much of the United States. And their pro-LGBT orders were a nice start to 2019. But they weren’t the only ones to make such an awesome move.
The lady sitting at that desk is another newly elected governor, Laura Kelly of Kansas. Kelly took office this past Monday, and in her own first official act as governor, signed an executive order that reinstated protections for LGBT workers within the executive branch of state government, as well as extend such protections to businesses that have contracts with the state. I say “reinstated” because back in 2007, the governor at that time put into place protections that prohibited harassment, termination of employment, or any form of discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Eight years later a successor governor who was nowhere near as progressive rescinded those orders, claiming it’s the responsibility of Kansas’ legislature to enact any changes.
It’s almost the middle of January. And depending on where you live in the United States, the fruits of last November’s elections, which saw for the most part success of progressive-leaning candidates nationwide, are starting to take shape. And while it’s definitely good to know that the Democratic Party caucus in the new Congress has more diversity (including 10 openly gay or bisexual Senators or Representatives), this quick post will highlight a very nice development on the state level. Or to be more precise, at Wisconsin’s state level.
The man you see in the glasses in this photo is Tony Evers, Wisconsin’s 46th governor, who took the oath of office last Monday, January 7, at the State Capitol here in Madison. As you’d expect from such a ceremony, there was a lot of pomp and circumstance: The music. The administration of the oath to Evers. The same to four other constitutional officeholders, including the state’s first African-American lieutenant governor (and second person of color to hold statewide office in Wisconsin), Mandela Barnes. The speeches. And the promise of a hopeful next four years, even if the legislature is still dominated by a not-so-progressive party.
Needless to say, Governor Evers is progressive, and in his first day in office, he signed his first executive order, one that’s nothing but positive for our community. The order he signed requires that state government agencies develop policies that will prohibit discrimination against employees and whomever they serve on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Additionally, the Evers administration will begin development on “a model anti-discrimination policy that will be distributed to all state employees.”
Yes, this is indeed great news. In the previous 8 years, Wisconsin was governed by a man who sought to “divide and conquer,” starting with controversial legislation that hit public sector employees and unions where it hurt (and led to said employees storming the State Capitol in protest). His tenure also fostered an atmosphere of his party having an attitude that they could do anything they want, including actual or perceived “cronyism,” left-leaning opposition inside and outside the State Capitol be dammed.
That’s not entirely the case any more here in Wisconsin. Oh, sure, Governor Evers still has to face a legislature that’s still controlled by the other party. But his first actions show that it’s still necessary to ensure that people in our state are treated with dignity and respect, and that their work is judged on how they do the job, not based on who they love, nor how they identify, and certainly not by how they’re connected in government.
Not only did this move occur here in Wisconsin this month, our neighbors in Michigan have seen the same thing: That state’s own new Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, signed her own executive directive that prohibits Michigan’s state agencies, service providers, and whoever else works with the state from discriminating against LGBT+ people, as well as strengthening prohibitions against discrimination in state services based on sexual or gender identity.
So, this is definitely great news here in the Midwest. If only every governor had the smarts to make such moves (giving an angry look at you, Florida).
Time to get back on my high horse blogging-wise and share some news about a prominent LGBT-oriented venue here in Madison. Well, at least it was originally established to be a positive part of our community.
The building you see above is at 924 Williamson Street. Until over a decade ago, it was the longtime home to Star Photo Service; look closely at the upper front façade and you can make out a faded star that once was Star Photo’s marquis sign.
Then in August 2009, during Madison’s pride weekend, the ownership team of Rico Sabatini and Corey Gresen opened the nightclub Plan B on this site. The club’s opening came after 2½ years of not just finding a location for the club but also remodeling it for suitability. (The name “Plan B” is a nod to the false starts and changes in plans that preceded its opening.)
Virtually from the get-go, Plan B became a very popular spot, one where Madison’s LGBT community could meet, converse, drink, dance, perform, and be themselves. Speaking of performing, Plan B has been home to regular drag performances over the years, not only from national performers but those from here in Madison and Wisconsin. Trixie Mattel (yes, that Trixie Mattel) was a part of Plan B’s drag cast before hitting it big not once but twice on RuPaul’s Drag Race. And Plan B has not limited itself to the inside of the club either, as it’s used its parking lot and the street in front of it to stage its Fruit Fest block party every June. Continue reading
Back in September 2017, I posed for a professional photographer for the first time, doing so before the camera of Katie Berry at Smoketree Photography. Three months later (December 2017), Katie, her partner, and their friends in the Everyday Gay Holiday art studio/collective on Atwood Avenue threw a holiday get-together for their friends in the LGBT+ community — a “HOLIgay” party. While I’m not a party person, I jumped at the chance to doll myself up, snack on some food, and mingle with other LGBT+ people from the Madison community.
Being the photographer that she is, Katie set up a corner in the studio to let the partygoers use her fancy camera and snap a few free selfies in front of a festive “toyland/horse/holiday/winter wonderland” setting. Not wanting to pass up a photo opportunity while looking fabulous, I took the remote and snapped a few photos. There I was in red hair, soft sweater, and patent vinyl Forever 21 skirt, and Katie’s remote clicker in hand, smiling and being all beautiful for the camera. (Oh, the Santa hat was among the available props in the studio.)