[Image: Bisexual contingent of the 2012 San Francisco Pride Parade.]
Today’s post on Medium, “Let’s celebrate bisexuality, minus the identity policing“, explores identity and labeling in recognition of Celebrate Bisexuality Day.
[Image: Bisexual contingent of the 2012 San Francisco Pride Parade.]
Today’s post on Medium, “Let’s celebrate bisexuality, minus the identity policing“, explores identity and labeling in recognition of Celebrate Bisexuality Day.
[Image: Pax as a toddler in 1971, holding their Ernie puppet.]
Today’s post on Medium, “Of puppets, headcanons, and gay agendas“, explores the controversy over whether or not Ernie and Bert from Sesame Street are a gay couple.
[Image: Marchers in the Resistance contingent of the 2017 San Francisco Pride Parade hold various signs supporting trans, black and brown folks, and immigrants.]
Today’s post on Medium, “Assimilation or extermination: The lies of the ‘LGBTQ’ president“, is about the erosion of the rights and dignity of LGBTQ people by Donald Trump and his administration, after Trump lied about supporting the community during his campaign.
This is a post for Medium members only, but non-members get three free members-only stories a month, and my Patreon subscribers get access to exclusive previews. Please follow me on Medium if you aren’t doing so already, thanks!
[Image: Pax speaks at WikiConference North America 2016. Photo by Ziggy.]
On August 10 I will be presenting a talk on combating harassment with user page protection at WikiConference North America 2017 in Montreal. The presentation will discuss the idea I submitted which led to protecting user pages on the English Wikipedia from editing by anonymous and new users. The working title for my talk is “Facing Defacement”.
In preparing for this talk, I’ve been monitoring the abuse log that captures attempted edits to user pages that were prevented by a filter. I’ve seen some pretty ugly examples of hate speech, particularly regarding sexual orientation. I’ve been subjected to racist and trans-antagonistic taunts on Wikipedia myself, which was what led me to submit the idea. While protecting user pages does not prevent harassment elsewhere on Wikipedia and the Internet, it’s an important start.
WikiConference North America leads into the Wikimania 2017 conference, which I will also be attending. I look forward to meeting with hundreds of Wikimedians from all over the globe.
[Image: Pax pets Shiva, a steer at PreetiRang Sanctuary. Photo by Ziggy.]
This week, Mercy for Animals featured me in their article, 13 LGBTQ Vegans You Need to Follow. I had already found and shared the article to my Facebook page before MFA posted it on Facebook themselves. Very shortly afterward, the negative comments came flooding in.
We had your garden-variety bigotry:
And we had your bigotry using religion as a rationale :
[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “Ummm No I will decide who I follow- not this- agenda- very disappointed – I run a biblical page and share your info- will NOT share this- you need to propagate your species – the first positive command, be fruitful and multiply !”]
And we had the predictable questioning why marginalized humans should get any attention on a page devoted to animal rights:
[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “You know, it’s really a shame when animal groups get political. The only ones that suffer are the animals. Because of this, I am now unfriending your face book page. This message has nothing to do with animals. Also, I don’t agree with the gay agenda.”]
[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “Lost focus! This page should not raise politics, religion …! One should only comment on such a scandal if it involves animal welfare! This way there will be disagreements! The focus here are the animals! Try to use love and respect for animals to raise other flags is wrong it’s just the animals that will lose!”]
[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “Why does sexual preference always get mixed into everything these days? Doesn’t this takes away from the sole purpose of this facebook cause and mission? Im fine with what ever a person’s preference is but let’s put the focus back where it needs to be. Please, let’s work together to save the ones without a voice.”]
[Image: Screenshot of a comment reading “By this post you’ve just ruined the main purpose of the group, why so many people were following you. You better be fair now and rename the group to something like “LGBT VEGANS”, so all can understand what exactly they deal with.”]
Note that roughly half of the comments above were made within 45 minutes of the article’s posting, overwhelming any positive feedback. The moderators later removed the worst of them.
This kind of pushback is sadly familiar to those of us who are working against human oppression in the animal rights community. I’ve already addressed many of the common excuses for this behavior, including the expected replies that the above commenters aren’t “real” vegans or aren’t typical of all animal rights activists or of activists from a particular organization. This bigotry and oppression exists, period, and it’s one reason I’ve significantly decreased my involvement in animal rights and vegan activism lately. Activists who would shame me, or others, for taking care of myself need to read this response as well.
My friend Aph Ko has faced similar backlash for her work to promote black vegans, which she talks about in her new book, Aphro-ism. Helping Aph out with Black Vegans Rock is about the extent of my vegan/AR work currently. I’ve prioritized transgender advocacy and documenting the resistance to the Trump administration. Speciesism is still very bothersome to me, but fighting it is not my primary focus right now.
Allies can help by amplifying the voices of vegans in the LGBT+ community; there are many more besides those in the MFA post. Note that I have not shared my interview that was linked in that post because of concerns that some others featured on that “Queer Vegans” site are not actually vegan. I’m not splitting hairs here; the researcher intentionally included ex-vegans and ex-vegetarians in her interviews, but the title and intro do not state this explicitly. (Update, June 19: The researcher, Leah Kirts, has edited her Queer Vegans site in response to my feedback.)
Regardless, people in the LGBT+ community need help whether they’re vegan or not. Pride month should be a time to recognize and celebrate sexual and gender diversity, not just with rainbow icons and profile frames on Facebook (which are fine), but with specific acts of allyship, and financial contributions for those who have the means. Many queer writers (including me) have links to PayPal accounts, Patreon pages, or other ways you can do more than just show appreciation, but actually help us survive. Helping marginalized humans does not take away from the animals; it helps make more allies for them in the fight against all oppression.
[Image: Screenshot from NBC News of Donald Trump speaking in Iowa, with the caption “What did Donald Trump think of the third night of the DNC?” A quote from Trump reads, “I wanted to hit a couple of those speakers so hard… so hard their heads would spin they’d never recover.”]
Last night, along with the rest of the world, I watched the election returns come in with a growing sense of dread and disgust. Unlike many of my friends reacting on Facebook with shock and horror, however, the result was not entirely surprising to me. This country was built on a foundation of exclusion and oppression of everyone except for straight cisgender white Christian men, and those are the people who Trump correctly predicted constituted the “silent majority” that would carry him to victory.
Although I did not endorse or vote for Hillary Clinton, I don’t want to talk about her flaws, perceived or actual. I don’t want to talk about e-mail servers or Wikileaks or Russian interference or what might have happened if Bernie Sanders had been the Democratic candidate. And I definitely don’t want to talk about third party “spoilers”. Anyone blaming or shaming progressives who voted for third parties, or who didn’t vote at all, needs to keep your comments out of my space.
The only thing I want to address right now is that millions of US-Americans voted for a man who ran on a campaign of unbridled bigotry, bullying, and blatant dishonesty. The people who say they want to “Make America Great Again” are thinking of a time when people like me—a queer black trans atheist—were invisible and openly oppressed, and ridiculed with impunity without any fear of repercussions. A time when joking or bragging about sexually harassing women was more socially acceptable, inside or outside of locker rooms. A time when religious freedom applied only to people practicing different flavors of Christianity.
This oppression and invisibility and rape culture never actually went away, which is what many of those who were shocked with the election results didn’t understand. You all need to understand it now. Donald Trump is the product—the very embodiment—of white supremacy. His people have spoken, and they want to “take back” a country that they never actually lost in the first place.
I am not willing to take this result quietly. I am a pacifist, but not passive; I support loud, angry protests and civil disobedience. Last night, people in a number of cities took to the streets, and that will continue today and likely for the forseeable future. This will not be a peaceful transition of power.
In the meantime, for anyone in the LGBT+ community who is feeling suicidal, please know that there is help out there. You can call the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 or the Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. Our community is under attack, but we are resilient, and we will get through this if we have each others’ backs.
I had already planned to spend time with fellow black trans people (and our allies) over the next two days, tonight at the Black Excellence Tour with CeCe McDonald and Joshua Allen, and tomorrow night at the Free CeCe documentary that opens the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival. I will have to miss the Trump protests in San Francisco and Oakland tonight, but it’s important for me to be with some of the people who are most impacted by his bigotry.
I am not OK. I was not OK before the election, and I don’t know if I ever will be OK in the future. If you want to support me, please amplify the voices of the marginalized people who have been speaking out against institutionalized oppression all along. Make our country great, for the first time.
[Image: A rainbow flag partially covering the flag of the USA.]
Note/reminder: I am affiliated with no political party and endorse no presidential candidate at this time.
Yesterday I watched the official livestream of the Republican National Convention, while reading the coverage and commentary in The Guardian as I had for the previous three days. I turned the sound down for some of it, turning it back up to hear the cover band.* I have to admit that the music was excellent, despite my disgust at hearing songs by queer and black artists who would likely not be supportive of the Republican platform.**
The display of “cosmetic diversity” continued, with black, Asian, and gay Republicans attempting to show how wonderfully tolerant this party has become. Pastor Mark Burns, a black televangelist, led the crowd in a rousing chant of “All Lives Matter.” Korean-American Dr. Lisa Shin extolled the beauty of legal immigration and the American dream. Peter Thiel, a white cisgender male billionaire, told the audience that he was “proud to be gay“, and of the controversy over trans people using public restrooms, said “Who cares?”
Well, I care quite a bit, especially as I am still often misgendered as female. Ted Cruz, who thinks trans women are perverted men in dresses, also cares quite a bit about this issue, which is likely one of the reasons why he didn’t endorse Trump (who has flip-flopped around the subject). Should I be grateful that the RNC allowed a (wealthy white cis) gay man to openly disagree with their anti-LGBT platform at their convention? This is a crumb, a mere gesture, not true progress.
In his acceptance speech, Donald Trump quite awkwardly referred to the “LGBTQ community”. He did so in reference to the Orlando massacre, calling the 49 victims “wonderful Americans.” He did not speak the name of a single one of those people, however, reserving that honor for a young woman who had been killed by a “border crosser”. He only promised to protect our “LGBTQ citizens” from “hateful foreign ideology,” using the murder of queer people of color as a prop for his Islamophobia.
Trump appeared to express genuine gratitude to the Republican audience for applauding his lines about the LGBTQ community. But again, these are mere crumbs, not real progress. If those Republicans really cared about our community, they would speak out against the many murders of trans women of color, whether or not those women were killed by “Islamic terrorists”. Of course, if they genuinely wanted to support our community, they wouldn’t be Republicans at all, not that the Democrats are doing much better in securing us equal rights in anything other than marriage. (Should I, a pacifist, really be grateful that openly trans people can now serve in the military?)
I found it interesting that, according to the Guardian, the term “LGBTQ” was the top trending search on Google last night. I’m reminded of what a bubble I live in when I see how many people are not familiar with that acronym. Granted, there are many variations on the term, but for those unaware, that configuration of letters stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning”. The awkward way Trump pronounced it indicated he might not even know what all of those letters mean himself. Or perhaps his speechwriters wanted to avoid alienating his evangelical supporters—whose support, Trump actually admitted, was not entirely deserved—by uttering the word “transgender”.
Regardless, though there are certainly transgender Republicans—Caitlyn Jenner being one of the most prominent—this party most definitely does not represent our interests in any way, shape, or form. Queer folks and cis people of color are only welcomed by the GOP if they practice respectability politics. Those politics were on prominent display throughout the Republican convention. And I fully expect to see more of them at the Democratic convention later this month.
*Guitarist and bandleader G.E. Smith, who I knew well from his days with Hall and Oates and Saturday Night Live, said of the 2012 Republican convention that he was not political and it was just a job to him; this year’s event was likely the same. I personally think this mindset is irresponsible for a prominent (and very likely financially secure) artist to take.
**From what I understand, organizations often license songs in packages from publishing companies for events like this. Whether artists can opt out of these arrangements isn’t clear to me.
[Image: Activists in the Castro, San Francisco, hold three rainbow flags aloft. One includes the stars of the United States flag, and another includes the words “We Have One Pulse.”]
Last week I was contacted by Richard Bowie of VegNews magazine for my thoughts, as a queer vegan, on the Orlando massacre. Today, the magazine published the responses from myself and several other LGBTQ vegans, including my friend and fellow Black Vegans Rock advisory board member Christopher Sebastian, and my friend Saryta Rodriguez who I interviewed earlier this year.
I was aware my remarks would be edited, and I am glad they included what I said about erasure of the Latinx community, which I also posted about this weekend. I said a lot more though, so I’m including my full responses below (the questions themselves are paraphrased). I’ve added links to relevant blog posts and articles. Thanks to Richard Bowie and VegNews for reaching out to queer vegans, and particularly to queer vegans of color, on this issue.
On my initial reaction to the news
My initial reaction was muted, because, sadly, I’d become so accustomed to reports of gun violence that I was somewhat jaded and numb. It took a few hours of reading and absorbing what had happened for the horror to really sink in. I’ve had feelings of anger, fear, and hopelessness; feelings I experience daily as a queer black trans person who suffers from depression, but now even more magnified. These feelings have been tempered only by the privilege of living in a very LGBTQ-friendly community; thousands of San Franciscans came out to hold space at Harvey Milk Plaza in a vigil for the dead.
On drawing a connection between the queer community and ethical veganism
As a person who identifies as agender, I have seen and been personally affected by the false binaries humans have erected of gay and straight, male and female, masculine and feminine. Anyone who strays outside of the charmed circle of cisgender heteronormativity loses the privilege of being treated as a full human being. Gay or trans “panic” is still a legal defense for murder in 49 out of 50 U.S. states.
The human/animal divide is another false binary. We needlessly exploit and kill billions of our fellow animals every year for no reason other than that they are members of different species. We cite arbitrary traits like intelligence or the ability to speak a recognizable language as justification for deciding who is a person and who is food. But just as straight-passing and cis-passing queer people who practice “respectability politics” enjoy greater privileges, animals who remind us more of ourselves – apes, dogs, elephants – are afforded greater protections and recognition as individuals in society.
Regardless of intelligence or abilities, every animal, human or otherwise, wants to live. Until animals are treated as people instead of property, we will never have a fair and just society for all.
On the media diminishing or ignoring the queer context of the tragedy
It’s grossly irresponsible, though not at all surprising, of the mainstream news outlets to erase queer and Latinx people and focus solely or primarily on terrorism (which also breeds Islamophobia). This shooting took place in a gay nightclub on Latin night. Latina and black trans women were featured performers that evening. The vast majority of the victims were Latinx. This was not a mere coincidence.
As a queer person of color, I am tired of our communities being erased and tokenized. The hashtag “#WeAreOrlando” is wrong. We are not all Orlando, and cishet white people should be amplifying the voices of the queer and Latinx people whose communities were specifically targeted by this attack.
Anything else to add?
Going through a gender transition has made me even more sensitive to speciesism and the vast scope of unnecessary, avoidable harm we inflict upon others. We live in a culture of sanctioned, accepted violence, in the streets, in our homes, and on our plates. To achieve true peace we need to stop treating our fellow beings as inferior or disposable, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, or even species. We should recognize and celebrate our differences, not erase them or use them as excuses for violence.
Addendum, June 22: Saryta Rodriguez has now also posted her full responses to the interview questions.
[Image: A group of marchers carry flags and signs. Several wear T-shirts reading “Love Has No Borders”.]
Yesterday I returned to the Castro for a march to the Mission in solidarity with the LGBTQ Latinx community, who were the primary victims of the Orlando massacre. After last Sunday’s vigil, many complained that the event was marred by the inclusion of politicians and initial exclusion of Latinx speakers. This community-driven effort was a response to that.
Soon after I arrived at Harvey Milk Plaza, a number of shirtless white men arrived and began dancing, twirling flags, and blowing soap bubbles for an unrelated fundraiser. Though these activities were hardly out of place during Pride Month (or really, at any other time in the Castro), I began to wonder whether I was in the right place. Since becoming more woke about white supremacy, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable in white-dominated spaces, whether online or off. I know I’m not alone in this discomfort, especially with the continued erasure of queer people of color in mainstream coverage of the shooting.
[Image: Two people smile and pose for a photo, holding signs reading “Unite Here!” and “Love Has No Borders.”]
I was relieved when some brown and black folks showed up carrying signs. Then LGBTQ rights activist and event co-organizer Cleve Jones called into a megaphone for volunteers to help write the names of all 49 murder victims on large sheets of paper. These signs would be carried during our march to Galería de la Raza for the Latinx-led memorial, Pulso del Amor Continúa (The Pulse of Love Continues).
We marched two miles to Galería de la Raza, where an outdoor stage was set up. The program began with a blessing by Estela Garcia and a drumming performance by Bay Area American Indian Two Spirits. Ani Rivera and Lito Sandoval served as MCs. Speakers included representatives from AGUILAS, the Chicana/Latina Foundation, El/La Para TransLatinas, the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, Community United Against Violence, and Somos Familia, as well as perfomances by Yosimar Reyes, Maria Medina, and Per Sia. ASL interpretation and Spanish-to-English translation were provided.
[Image: An altar on the edge of a stage contains a number of items atop a colorful blanket. A sign reads “TU ERES MI OTRO YO.” In the background are the feet of Ani Rivera, wearing purple high-heeled shoes and white polka-dot stockings.]
At the conclusion of the program, the names of all 49 victims were read, followed by a release of butterflies. A DJ provided music for people to dance to after the formal event.
My full set of photos from the march and memorial is available on Flickr. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks!
[Image: Members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus hold candles in paper cups at the vigil for Orlando in the Castro.]
When I first heard the news of yesterday’s mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, I didn’t have a strong reaction. I’d become so accustomed to reports of gun violence in the USA that I was somewhat numb. I knew what would follow would be more Islamophobic calls to ban Muslims, and more calls from the NRA to counter “bad guys with guns” by arming even more citizens. I didn’t want to participate in those conversations.
But slowly, the horror of the massacre sunk in. While the murder of even one person is a terrible act, this was being called the worst mass shooting in US-American history. Some have argued that that dubious honor belongs to the Wounded Knee Massacre, but the impact of last night’s 50 deaths and 53 injuries is hugely significant regardless.
Regardless of the gunman’s background and specific motives, what cannot be ignored is that this attack took place in a gathering place for queer people, during a celebration of Latinx culture. Latina and black trans women were featured performers that night. This was our space; a space to celebrate and be ourselves. A space that, since the Stonewall and Compton’s Cafeteria riots, our community had sought to make a refuge from homophobia. The freedom and safety we seek has never felt more fleeting and remote.
I learned that a candlelight vigil was taking place in the Castro that evening. I texted my partner Ziggy (who was at work at the San Francisco Opera, as he often is on weekends), asking if he wanted to join me there. He immediately asked if I knew who was in charge, as he wanted to volunteer to run sound for the event. Which he did, despite being at the end of a very busy work week. Ziggy is awesome.
I walked three miles to Harvey Milk Plaza, knowing that the metro would be jammed with people. I arrived half an hour before the scheduled 8 p.m. start, and quickly realized that I could not get anywhere near the front of the stage (a flatbed truck); hundreds of people crowded the street. I ended up staying behind the truck with Ziggy, taking photos of the people gathered there, watching or waiting to speak.
While I couldn’t see much of what was happening on stage, thanks to Ziggy’s excellent sound production I could hear everything crystal clearly. The event opened with a stirring vocal performance by the drag king duo Momma’s Boyz. One of them, Alex U Inn, later asked me where I got my purple Trans March hoodie. (It’s a limited edition; you can order this year’s now.)
It was made clear at this event that Islamophobia would not be tolerated. San Francisco General Hospital physician Suzanne Barakat gave moving testimony about losing her brother and members of his family to a hate crime. Clergy members, including the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (a real order of queer nuns), also called for not only prayers, but action.
Some elected officials attended, to mixed reaction. Latino supervisor David Campos was generally well-received. (A group of Latinx speakers complained that they were not initially invited to speak at the rally, and had to ask to be included.) Castro supervisor Scott Wiener got a more lukewarm reception. Then at one point, the audience began chanting “WHERE’S THE MAYOR? WHERE’S THE MAYOR??” Mayor Ed Lee (along with a few other officials) took the stage shortly after, and when he attempted to speak, the audience booed him very loudly. Although our mayor certainly has a lot to answer for, I couldn’t help feeling that the booing was a bit harsh, given the solemnity of this occasion.
A highlight of the event for me was hearing former Supervisor and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who I’d photographed (along with several others present) previously at marriage equality rallies. Ammiano described himself as an “old queer,” and he clearly gave no fucks about respectability. The first words out of his mouth were “Fuck the NRA.” Then, referring to the allegation that the Orlando shooter was motivated by seeing two men kissing, he launched into a spontaneous kiss-in with the (all male) officials gathered on stage. I really wish I could have gotten photos of this moment, but I couldn’t even see what was going on; hopefully someone has it on video.
Members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus closed the vigil with several beautiful songs, including a sing-along and a rendition of We Shall Overcome. We then marched to San Francisco City Hall, which was appropriately lit up in rainbow colors. I didn’t know that there would be a march, but was not entirely surprised, just not sure I was prepared to walk six (total) miles. But it was on my way home anyway, and probably faster than waiting for a bus, given the street closures.
I’d walked to the Castro many times before, to attend rehearsals with the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco. As I walked last night, I thought about our 2013 performance of Harvey Milk: A Cantata. There’s a line in that piece where a soloist sings while the rest of us whisper his words:
If a bullet should enter my brain
Let that bullet destroy every closet door.
We will not be silenced.
My full set of photos from the vigil is on Flickr. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks.