Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever

Forty years ago, on June 27, 1969, the gay liberation movement began when police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Sheridan Square in New York City's Greenwich Village. On that night, gay people fought back.

According to a New York Times article published on June 29, 1969, police chased more than 200 men into the street at 3 a.m., and a crowd of 400 quickly gathered. More than a dozen were arrested in the riot, and the gay rights movement was born. The Columbia Universities Libraries has a valuable online exhibition, Stonewall and Beyond: Lesbian and Gay Culture, featuring newspaper clippings, interviews, and contemporary queer scholarship.

How far have we come in 40 years? Depends on where you live and where you work. If you live in Massachusetts, you have the legal right to marry. If you serve in the U.S. Military, you will be fired from your job.

President Obama has not yet honored his very specific campaign promise to end the discriminatory and ineffective Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, which prohibits gays and lesbians from serving in the military. Nonetheless, he seems to be trying to reach out to the LGBT community. The President and First Lady hosted a LGBT Pride Month reception at the White House on June 29. But nice White House receptions are not enough.

I hope President Obama will heed the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in King's famous 1963 work, "Letter from Birmingham Jail." They ring true when you think of the Stonewall rioters of 1969, and they ring true today as gay and lesbian Americans are tired of waiting for full civil rights.

King wrote: "We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed... For years now I have heard the word 'Wait!' ... This 'Wait' has almost always meant 'Never.' We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that 'justice too long delayed is justice denied.' ... We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights... Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever."

Saturday, June 27, 2009

I Want You Back

The Sapphist Gazetteer does not want to hear anything bad about Michael Jackson right now, so let's just give it a rest, and, instead, celebrate his music. Those of us with sapphic orientation should especially appreciate the Jackson 5 soundtrack in one of the best-ever L Word scenes, which appeared in Episode 4 of Season 5. A video artist by the name of Iamfreetobeme has uploaded a terrific, joyful compilation of Season 5 moments, including the party during which the girls dance to Michael Jackson singing "I Want You Back." Click the link to the YouTube video and prepare to smile for the next 3 minutes and 12 seconds.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sapphist Laureate Reappointed

Those in the lesbian realm might have missed an important occasion last month when Kay Ryan, the US Poet Laureate, was appointed by the Library of Congress to a second term. The position, officially called Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, is the nation’s only federally designated position for a literary artist. Ryan—a 63-year-old poet, educator, and lesbian from California—served her first term as US Poet Laureate in 2008-09. That term ended on May 7, and her second term will end in spring 2010.

We hope this second appointment is a bright spot for Professor Ryan, who in January lost her spouse and partner of 30 years, Carol Adair, 66. Ryan and Adair taught together at the College of Marin, a community college in Marin County, California. Ryan has taught remedial English classes at the College of Marin since the early 1970s.

"She was a simply stunning teacher," Ryan said of Adair.

Ryan’s poems have been compared to those of Emily Dickinson—another person of interest to Sapphists, considering Dickinson’s infatuation with her brother’s wife. (That’s a post for another day.) But Ryan's poetry reminds the Sapphist Gazetteer of another great American lesbian poet, Mary Oliver.

Many of Ryan’s poems are published at the Poetry Foundation website. But here’s a nice one for you:

Paired Things
BY KAY RYAN
Who, who had only seen wings,
could extrapolate the
skinny sticks of things
birds use for land,
the backward way they bend,
the silly way they stand?
And who, only studying
birdtracks in the sand,
could think those little forks
had decamped on the wind?
So many paired things seem odd.
Who ever would have dreamed
the broad winged raven of despair
would quit the air and go
bandylegged upon the ground,
a common crow?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rachel Maddow: 'It's Better To Be Out'

Our beloved big ole lesbian tomboy Rachel Maddow has encouraged all gay folks to come out. She made the appeal during an interview on Charlie Rose on June 18. The final two minutes of the 24-minute interview were dedicated to “the sexuality issue,” as Charlie phrased it. Rachel explained that coming out is “a different degree of traumatic for everybody,” but, nonetheless, she implied that we must be brave because she said being out is better for the individual and ethically right for the community. Maddow, 36, says she came out at age 17, which means she's been out for 19 years. So, as usual, Dr. Maddow knows what she's talking about.

The entire interview is worth watching, but, for the extra busy lesbians among us, The Sapphist Gazetteer, a master typist, has transcribed the gay bits for you:

Charlie: Was the sexuality issue ever an issue?

Rachel: I wish that I had figured it out earlier than I did.

Charlie: How did you figure it out?

Rachel: I just sort of arrived at it through rational deduction. [Laughs] I literally woke up one day and was, like, ‘Oh, that’s what’s been going on.’ [Snaps fingers and laughs]

Charlie: Was it easy?

Rachel: No. Coming out both to oneself and to one’s family is a different degree of traumatic for everybody. It wasn’t easy. I figured it out when I was about 17, and I wish I’d figured it out earlier. But I am glad; I’m happy for the decision to come out publicly very soon after I figured it out myself. So my time as a closeted person, which I think is a pretty awful place to be, was a very, very short period of time in my life, and for that I’m grateful.

Charlie: And that is the advice you give to every gay person, or do you say, ‘Everybody, find your own way.”?

Rachel: Find your own way, but it is better to be out than to be closeted. And I can say that in terms of quality of life, and in terms of what is ethically right for your community. It is better for other gay people if you’re out. The more people that come out, the better. And so that’s the only thing that I encourage anybody to do, and I certainly live that.