James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Africa and LGBT Citizens: An Uphill Battle

The challenges of LGBT citizens in several African nations have been broadcast all over the news lately. The most prominent story, the Ugandan bill proposing the death penalty for homosexuality has engendered an increasingly chilling atmosphere of hate and fear in that country. (BBC news video part 1, part 2). In Malawi a gay couple was arrested for holding a marriage ceremony and Another Malawi man was arrested for putting up gay rights posters. In both Uganda and Malawi campaigns against LGBTs have escalated and taken to the streets. Some of this activity has spread to Nigeria where a group of gay men face death by stoning for wearing women's clothes. In Kenya as well a protest erupted when a same-sex ceremony was scheduled to take place. In Rwanda the Parliament has put off a scheduled vote to criminalize homosexuality until later this year. All and all, it seems clear that although the African National Congress of South Africa has legalized same-sex marriage and offers full civil rights to LGBT folks, Central Africa is definitely a very difficult place to be queer.

The brighter spot in this struggle is that the reason for the increased mobilization of the forces of hate and fear, is the greater visibility and activism of LGBT's around the globe has spread to Africa. In this technological world, news of other countries cannot be suppressed. Even now in Uganda, lesbians and gays are demonstrating, speaking out and risking their lives for this fight. In Kenya The Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, is alive and active although the former web site called "Gay Uganda," that geocities had described as "dedicated to all those in the world who have discovered that to be gay is to be human: and to those in Uganda who walk under the cloud of their society's prejudice" has been replaced with the message: "Sorry, the Geocities site you were trying to reach is no longer available.

In Africa the interrelationship between imperialism, colonialism, religion and homosexuality has been long, complex and fraught with conflict. There are no easy answers but those interested in learning more about this aspect of Africa can peruse books that shed more light on both the conditions of LGBT life in Africa as well as the history from which they arise: "Heterosexual Africa? The History of an Idea from the Age of Exploration to the Age of AIDS" by March Epprecht. "African Intimacies: Race, Homosexuality and Globalization" by Neville Hoad and for more information on the specific condition of women and lesbians, "Tommy Boys, Lesbian Men and Ancestral Wives: Female same-sex practices in Africa" by Ruth Morgan and Saskia Wieringa.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Still Defying Silence: Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde was a poet of stunning eloquence, a political activist, a theorist and a chronicler of the times she lived in. Growing up in Harlem as a self-identified black, lesbian-feminist she was unwilling to suppress any aspect of her identity for the sake of expediency or acceptance. Her quotation, "Your silence cannot protect you!" became a mantra of sorts for the lesbian community. Her 1982 biography, "Zami: a New Spelling of My Name," captivated many who had never read a word about being butch, black and lesbian on the gritty streets of 1950's New York.

The essays in this book, "I am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde," are as powerful and relevant today as they were when she wrote them. Although she speaks to everyone, her writing here is directed primarily toward the straight, black, feminist community, to shake out the fear and prejudice that stands as a barrier to achieving a politically powerful base "family" from which to take on oppression. In this respect the title becomes a plea for unity in that struggle.

Audre Lorde died in 1992 at age 58 after a battle with metastatic breast cancer. Here is some video footage from that last year. Her final memoir, "The Cancer Journals," documented her experience with fatal illness, and was just another example of her refusal to succumb to silence.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Archives February 2010

Gary Fisher Papers : “Proceed at your own risk”

I love the first page of Gary’s diary “Vol. V.” It’s an invitation that sets the tone with a wink and a smile. And it sums up all of the contradictions that surround the work of a diarist. Are these private musings for public consumption? A means to think through one’s life? An explanation? Who is the audience? Does it affect what’s written? And, if it does, how? I can offer no answers but it is a question I revisit each time I read a diary.

Gary Fisher was a gay African American man who enjoyed writing, drawing and, if the diaries are to be believed, dancing! He was a dedicated diarist. Born on June 19, 1961 in Bristol, Pennsylvania, Fisher attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1979-1983 where he studied English and creative writing. He died of AIDS at the age of 32 on February 22, 1994. After his death, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick edited portions of his journals, poems and stories in order to publish Gary in Your Pocket. Gary’s thoughts on life and love seemed very fitting for a February post.

The Hormel Center’s archival collections include diaries from a few different individuals. The Vincent Diaries, the Gary Fisher Papers, and the Louis Graydon Sullivan Papers contain the most diaries. The Sullivan Papers are on deposit from the GLBT Historical Society of Northern California and document the life and work of a female-to-male transsexual before, during and after his gender reassignment. All Hormel Center archives are handled through the San Francisco History Center, 6th Floor, Main Library.

Proposition 8 On Trial

The testimony has concluded (click here for a video wrap up), but amicus briefs are still being filed in the Perry v. Schwarzenegger, constitutionality of same-sex marriage, case that took place in the Federal Courthouse in San Francisco. Attorneys David Boies and Ted Olson a Democrat and a Republican who repesented opposite sides in the Bush v. Gore election aftermath are the odd couple who have presented the case to Judge Vaughn Walker.

Kudos to those who, in spite of a court order banning filming the proceedings, have kept us informed of the action, blow by blow.

The Courage Campaign has a site: prop8trialtracker.com that already has an interesting lawsuit under it's belt. They used is a slightly altered version of the original yes on prop 8 logo with one of the characters changed from male to female. In other words, they made the family headed by a lesbian couple. They won their lawsuit based on the grounds that parody and satire are legal!

Firedoglake has done a great job live-blogging the entire trial so here's a shout-out to them and their flying fingers!

But the coup de grace on the camera issue came when Los Angeles film makers John Ireland and John Ainsworth decided to take the transcript and film a complete reenactment of the proceedings using volunteers from the Screen Actors Guild. It can be viewed, with actors bios and all kinds of background information at their web site: http://www.marriagetrial.com/ and for the youtube version with a larger screeen size click here.

Thanks to these folks and many others who have given us full access to this ground-breaking trial!