Monday, June 27, 2011

Gay Pride Days from Zagreb to New York

I sit at our kitchen table in Melbourne, Australia, hugging the phone close to my ear. Two dear New York friends just arrived back at their Upper West Side apartment from the New York Gay Pride March and are pouring out to me the details of their joy- filled days beginning with the traditional Dyke March on Saturday night and then the all queer extravaganza on Sunday. I listened and remembered the early days--hundreds of us, standing in the rain one mid 1970s afternoon outside of New York's Town Hall, demanding that the gathered legislators pass Intro 22 or 23 or 24--giving gay New Yorkers some basic civil rights protection, year after year we stood, the hall, out side the hall, the activists from GAA, from GLF, from New York DOB, from LFL, from the bars, just folk from the old Firehouse on Wooster Street, veterans of other liberation struggles standing, marching, sitting in and out, kissing in unallowed places, dancing on the restrictions of old time vice squad raids, I see their old time faces, Morty, Jim, Vito, Bruce, Arnie, Ginny, Allan, Barbara, hundreds more--now for those who being able to marry is their heart's desire, at least in New York and a few other states, came this day of welcoming. For others, a sense that now we can concentrate on what it means for queers to be global citizens, one of many communities trying to ensure that food, shelter, water, medical care and educational richness, freedom of movement and dissent, freedom of the queer and women's body from limiting national norms--are on the international agendas of us all.

I have been getting messages all week about proud lesbians marching from a variety of places with some striking contrasts. As so many times before the conversation starts in a less safe place, with words of consternation and worry from my friend Lepa Mladjenovic, from Belgrade, a fervent lesbian and feminist activist..

Monday, June 6, 2011, 9:52 AM
Before sleep, I am thinking to write to you a thought of mine about the events in relation to genocide and M. He is all over the front pages with his horrible face, and I think of all the families who lost thousands and thousands killed by this man. In the nationalist papers, he is depicted as a "high family man," in poor health and many other emotional statements about him. It makes me nauseous. I can't stand it! I remember the famous Hannah Arendt who was following the process against Eichmann. She created the historical term, "the banality of evil." She was so right.

The second thought is that in the midst of this nationalism in the region, hope-driven activists are making Pride Parades. I was present at FOUR Pride Parades that were disastrous for all of us, due to the hate-driven nationalists who were ready to kill us all. And now, a few days before SplitPride, similar things are happening again. Hate graffiti is already all over the town, and yesterday one young woman anti-war activist in Split had urine poured all over her head and body by one of the nationalists. This is going to await us as well next Saturday.

I just think we should move on different kinds of manifestations. This place is not ready for PrideParade. So much fear in lesbians and gay activists. I have witnessed so much these years. So it is. But young people are coming and they decide on what to do. I must go there to be with them, where the fear is.

I am so happy that you two were in Belgrade.                                                    Lepa

Phone Texts:
12/06/2011: Oh, again, we started touched by the sun but soon a thousand nationalists hitting, shouting, screaming, "Kill, Kill" but we are all well and beautiful but exhausted
14/06/2011: Joan, I am back and feeling good and yes, one thousand men screaming in one voice, "Kill Kill Faggots" and "You Must Die"...It was frightful at times, but we got through to the end and it was good for our lesbian community. We were great together.
                    19/06/2011: From Hotel--News today. Zagreb Pride Capitol of Croatia; week after disaster in Split: total success! And a thousand activists, huge for us and NO violence! Super happy.
                    25/06/2011: 11:07--I heard the great joy in New York, we could all be there tonight


Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 7:42 AM

Dear Joan,
We are back from SPLIT PRIDE ANNO UNO.  You know, Split is a beautiful town on the most beautiful Adriatic sea in Croatia. Just like Serbia, Croatia was in the war, has had 20 years of militarism and militaristic values and as in many other places, the rise of the institutions of fundamentalist religion. On top of these two, there is the special role of football teams in the making of the wars in the nineties in the Balkans. Some of the warriors were to be recruited from these soccer clubs. The first war volunteers came from the football fan clubs, and they all in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina had one of the major roles in soldier making so at the present it is all the same. On the streets are either old soldiers who are still ready to kill which they did already once or young men from football fan clubs. In Belgrade it is the same and in Croatian Split, it is too.
I will write more about this, but I am just writing you some notes to make you understand what happened. For me, it was clear at one moment: 20 years of living with police and fascists, and for those first many years the police were on the side of fascists and now the same ones are supposedly protecting EU values. Get it if you can! Now all of Croatia is talking about it, and all the papers have discussions about it. And even more, next week is the 10th Pride March in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia! Soooo--they are one step into the EU (the European Union.) I send you two short youtube clicks, one that show the violence and the other that shows that we succeeded even if we had to make a shorter version of the program, with the lesbian chorus singing the antifascist Spanish song, "Aj Karmela" and me dancing in front of them, after the fear and the crying.

July 2, 2011
When we talked about SPILT Pride in our many discussion, we at first did not comment on the irony that those 2000 men were shouting, "Kill Kill Faggots," but where were those faggots? The parade was full of lesbians! There were a few gay men, but much fewer then lesbians--imagine, they wanted to be violent on men but the parade was full of Women, yes, yes
Look at the stage: three men who are all the time in the photos, one is from Belgrade, one from Montenegro and one from Split, that's it. My pink pants are behind the lesbian flag on the lift side. Nine women are in this photo. Behind us are these great banners: "Lesbians against Fascism" and "My Woman Partner is My Family."

Belgrade Buddies

I have shared these words and images with you because of the complexities of the happiness of these days and the fears. And even more, to document the courage of these lesbian and gay communities to link the dignity of their body's desires to the desire for a more just state, not just for the gay body but for a time when national flags do not mean armies. And because these bodies are precious to me, my dear friends from all our 'Regions.'

from the streets of New York, the LHA contingent, photo by Kathryn Kirk, June, 2011--35 years of marching

The Empire State Building in gay colors
NYC, 2011, photo by Paula Grant

NY, 2011, photo by Paula Grant

New York Gay Pride Scenes by Paula Grant, 2011

Gay Pride, Brazil, 2011

Closing Thoughts on These LGTBI Days

No longer do we march in the streets with just our own agenda--civil respect for our desires and our lives-- but it has become clear, at least in New York, in Tel Aviv, in Belgrade, in Zagreb, that we are carrying national aspirations as well. In New York, wealthy gay Republicans poured money and promises into the future campaigns of conservative Republican candidates if only they would deliver this moment and they did. What has been bargained away? What have we exchanged for this vote? What other conservative agendas will we have empowered by this transaction for surely that is what it was. I have my own fears that do not allow me to feel a life time of organizing has reached its best moment. I worry about the fate of the Palestinians, gay and and straight, if this support includes giving more power to those who refuse to hold Israel accountable, who see being a so-called American friend of Israel, as never questioning the forces of occupation. Sometimes on our banners are written invisible messages: the huge banner of the Tel Aviv gay pride march had the non seen words, no Palestinian queers from Gaza welcomed --because any who tried would be stopped at the policed borders. I worry about the future of our own national agendas for social care like medial care if we now have tipped the scales even more in favor of right wing politicians. Will marriage put food on the table or keep the libraries open or say no to endless wars? What was our bargain exactly--money, lots of it from affluent gay men, buying our trip to the altar. What have we exchanged? In other countries, promised entry into the European Union kept marchers a little safer this year. Now we are in the big mix of things, where some places in America at least, dollars buy respect for some of us. Bargaining chips in all the rainbow colors.

Monday, June 20, 2011

"We Live Here Too"

The site of the new homes
Two of the Matrix Women

The other night Di and I made our way to the Brunswick Town Hall on Sydney Road--here every neighborhood, if I may call them that, has their own elected council and their town halls which serve as community centers in a way, some whose buildings date back to the early 1900s-- to celerate a history making lesbian event. Throughout the 1980s in New York, plans for senior lesbian housing circulated in the lesbian air with occasional fund raisings and then, for decades, silence. SAGE was the closest we could come, but here in this Australian state of Victoria, the dream of affordable accessible housing for low income lesbians has become a reality. A wintery wind blew us into the large basic auditorium, where over a 100 older lesbians had gathered to mark this moment of social cncern history. Gray heads everywhere I looked, a sea of Melbournian older dykes, myself among them, to applaud the enormity of the Matrix Guild's enormous accomplishment: the opening up of three new and fully accessible apartments for older low income lesbians. Actual affordable exciting housing, "facing north to maximize light and views." Now with this equity, the group will press forward to build more housing for senior lesbians. A generous bequest well used made this initial launching possible. Simple. Huge. Hard collective work around it all with a cooperative council. Just in time when here religious charities are asking for exemptions from discrimination charges if they do not want to care for the needs of queer people.

I know I write of places far away from my home ground, but this dream made real spans geographies. My large great city with is over the top real estate prices has never been able to accomplish such a thing--private ownership yes for so many of us--but here secular feminist queer social caring has broken new ground.

From the Matrix Guild Brochure:
"Raising awareness of the health, housing and care needs of older lesbians.

Founded in May 1992 by a group of lesbian feminists its aims and objectives are
To promote appropriate care and support for older lesbians
To provide some accomodation that caters to the needs of aging lesbians who are financially disadvantaged
To support ageing lesbians' accomodation choices
To challenge ageism and to oppose discrimination against olderd lesbians
To advocate on behalf of older lesbians to governments and other relevant bodies
To promote social contact and support among older lesbians
To research lesbians' experience of aged care

I will be sending back to the Lesbian Herstory Archives the Guild's publications, "We Live Here Too: A Guide to Lesbian Inclusive Practice in Aged Care" and "Permission to Speak: Determining Strageties towards the Development of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Friendly Aged Care Services in Victoria" to give inspiration.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Where is Amina? Revised Truth: Amina Was Never Lost

As many of you must know by now, this whole story, beginning with the articles about the brave gay girl from Damascus was a hoax. Amina is a fictitious character created by a 40 year old American straight man who thought it would be alright to create both appreciation and apprehension about an unreal spunky gay girl  daring the restrictions of Syria. And I, knowing that all things gay are now in the global air for barterings as markers of good states and bad states, feeling a little disquieted by the feel goodness of the story and then it sudden tragic turn, helped to promote the story of Amina, seeing so clearly her struggle to breath, her terror as she is whisked into the black car and out of our caring sight.

Tom MacMaster, pictured with his wife beside him, writes: "I never expected this level of attention. While the narrative voice may have been fictional, the facts on this blog are true and not misleading as to the situation on the ground. I do not believe that I have harmed anyone--I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about." I understand now that I have a lot to learn about the wonders of blogging, of this immediate unreal world that makes us feel as if we are part of important real things. I have to question my own reactions--the rush of good feelings I had when I first read about one gay young woman, blending two worlds, refusing to bow to the strictures of either one, how deeply I wanted this to be true and how deeply I wanted her to be safe, to be allowed to exist. Perhaps MacMaster has never felt the grip of a policeman's hands on his queer body, he has never I assume, covered his lesbian face, in preparation for the punch that was coming, never felt the terrors of being queer on so many of the world's streets and no matter how he paints his game as an act of support, he has no idea of the suffering, the real worry he caused so many because we know what is possible, in America as well as in Syria. He says, "I never expected this level of attention." He means, I never thought that a gay Syrian-American young woman would ever matter so much to anyone and her "brutal" treatment would ever cause real pain. He was wrong. I and others, long for chimeras of refused identities, of hybridities of courage and of culture and so the gay girl who wore a scarf, who gave in to no simple manipulation from either side became a moment of life's possibilities for us. I longed for Amina, not to prove Syria bad and all things gay good, but because she was the hope of the unexpected and what I found was a silly American man who thinks he has hurt no one, a very American defense.

And who was I to think I had to rush to the defense of this young woman, to spread the word, to write on the face book page, this 71 year old woman who now sits in a small house on quiet street in West Brunswick in Melbourne, Australia--who saw the living face of lesbian courage in the meeting rooms of Belgrade, perhaps it was the faces of Tanja and Nela and all the others that I saw in Amina's place, hating hands blocking their needed air, that made me so needful to let others know we were watching, caring about the fate of this invented woman. My own egotism, that I can save, that  through these words moving across the screen, my reproducing the artful details of the kidnapping, a story so easily retold, would Alert the World. Now I am learning to be more careful but not less concerned, to question my own sense of the rightness of my understandings--Identities are created on this imagined place, identities always a rich and contradictory place now take on more and more the acts of the imagined real. I am always learning. there will be more of this.  I leave my original resposnse to the unreal story for your own thoughts.

"I just received chilling words from Shebar. The young woman who took joy in confounding the decrees and expectations of several cultures while respecting that which was holy to her has been abducted from the streets of Damascus:
6 June 2011
"Dear friends of Amina,
I am Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari's cousin and have the following information to share.
Earlier today, at approximately 6:00 pm Damascus time, Amina was walking in the area of Abbasid bus station, near Fares al Khouri Street. She had gone to meet a person involved with the Local Coordinating Committee and was accompanied by a friend.

Amina told the friend that she would go ahead and they were separated. Amina had, apparently identified the person she was to meet. However, whole her companion was still close by, Amina was seized by three men in their early 20's. According to the witness, the men were armed. Amina hit one of them and told the friend to go find her father.

One of the men put his hand over Amina's mouth and they hustled her into a red Dacia Logan with a window sticker of Basel Assad. ...Amina's present location is unknown and it is unclear if she is in jail or being held elsewhere in Damascus."

6 June 2011
Update on Amina
"I have been on the telephone with both her parents and all that we can say right now is that she is missing. Her father is desperately trying to find out where she is and who has taken her..."

I remember the light articles that appeared in Western newspapers about the US-Syrian gay young woman who was posting her complexities on her website damascusgaygirl; the story was treated as a charming oddity, an unexpected modern voice but Amina was more aware of her cultural meaning, claiming the right to be an observant Muslim as well as a young woman touched by the power of the West. Now she is in danger, no longer a cool interruption to the usual narratives. I hope with the deepest hope possible she will not be seen as a symbol by either side but as a young woman who has the right to life. I hope with the deepest hope possible she will come home soon."

Finally, Back in Brunswick

A parting rainbow over Tavistock Place
The ending day's glow on the chimney tops from our Bloomsbury balcony
La Professoressa on the balcony

A week since we arrived home, our usual Women in Black vigil this Saturday, our dear friends, Jane and Ann, bringing over a wiggling Cello on the day we arrived, continued texts from Lepa and with every word about the nationalists in the streets of Belgrade, I think of our friends there, always I will see behind the headlines and see their faces, feel their bodies, sit once again with them in the night, trying to make sense of desire and launching projects of hope. What a journey we had, and to all who found me in these days, in the streets of London, New York or Belgrade, or Brighton, in the halls of SOAS, School of Oriental and African Studies, for all you gave me, us, for all I learned, I thank you with all my heart.