Here is an excerpt from President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.’s June 1, 2021 Proclamation on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Pride Month:
The uprising at the Stonewall Inn in June, 1969, sparked a liberation movement — a call to action that continues to inspire us to live up to our Nation’s promise of equality, liberty, and justice for all. Pride is a time to recall the trials the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) community has endured and to rejoice in the triumphs of trailblazing individuals who have bravely fought — and continue to fight — for full equality. Pride is both a jubilant communal celebration of visibility and a personal celebration of self-worth and dignity.
While June is coming to an end, our pride doesn’t have to. All of the celebrations of pride should continue year round. The companies that show support for the LGBTQ+ community with rainbow themed marketing strategies need to continue to advocate for LGBTQ+ equality. Our politicians, community leaders, businesses, etc. need to do tie to to support “our Nation’s promise of equality, liberty, and justice for all.”
This Pride Month, we have recognized the valuable contributions of LGBTQ+ individuals across America, and we have reaffirmed a commitment to advocate for LGBTQ+ Americans as we struggle against discrimination and injustice. This cannot end as the month of June ends. Until LGBTQ+ Americans have full equality and protection under the law, we cannot let up. We still have a lot of work to do. My dream is that one day no LGBTQ+ individual will ever have to fear coming out, we will never have to hide who we are, and our sexuality for all the many interpretations on the sexual spectrum.
queer me shift me transgress me tell my students i’m gay tell chick fil a i’m queer tell the new york times i’m straight tell the mail man i’m a lesbian tell american airlines i don’t know what my gender is like me liking you like summer blockbuster armrest dates armrest cinematic love elbow to forearm in the dark humor me queerly fill me with laughter make me high with queer gas decompress me from centuries of spanish inquisition & self-righteous judgment like the blood my blood that has mixed w/ the colonizer & the colonized in the extinct & instinct to love bust memories of water & heat & hot & breath beating skin on skin fluttering bruise me into vapors bleed me into air fly me over sub-saharan africa & asia & antarctica explode me from the closet of my fears graffiti me out of doubt bend me like bamboo propose to me divorce me divide me into your spirit 2 spirit half spirit & shadow me w/ fluttering tongues & caresses beyond head heart chakras fist smashing djembes between my hesitations haiku me into 17 bursts of blossoms & cold saki de-ethnicize me de-clothe me de-gender me in brassieres & prosthetic genitalias burn me on a brazier wearing a brassiere in bitch braggadocio soprano bass magnificat me in vespers of hallelujah & amen libate me in halos heal me in halls of femmy troubadors announcing my hiv status or your status i am not afraid to love you implant dialects as if they were lilacs in my ear medicate me with a lick & a like i am not afraid to love you so demand me reclaim me queerify me
The White House has installed an exhibit dedicated to “celebrating LGBTQ+ Pride Month 2021” on the Ground Floor Corridor. The exhibit is the first physical display of historical items dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community. The items were borrowed from the Smithsonian Institution and in partnership with the Smithsonian’s National Museum on American History.
The exhibit features artifacts from historic LGBTQ+ community figures like Harvey Milk, Marsha P. Johnson, and Jerame Davis, the former executive director of National Stonewall Democrats. Another figure highlighted in the exhibit is Rose Cleveland, who was the sister of the 23rd and 25th President, Grover Cleveland.
“Rose Cleveland, President Grover Cleveland’s sister, served in the role of White House hostess until his marriage in 1886,” the exhibit reads. “For almost 30 years, Rose Cleveland maintained a romantic relationship with Evangeline Marrs Simpson Whipple. The women lived together in Italy from 1910, until Rose’s death from the Spanish flu in 1918.” The exhibit notes that Rose and Evangeline rest “side by side” in Italy today. Correspondence between them was published in 2019 by the Whipple Collection from the Minnesota Historical Society, where they are housed today.
There are artifacts describing major events in LGBTQ+ history such as the Stonewall Riots and the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. Photos shared online show the corridor illuminated in Pride colors, the first known time in history, the Advocate reports.
LGBTQ+ activist, columnist and Philadelphia Gay News founder Mark Segal reported that upon visiting the National Museum this week, personal artifacts of his “from that first Pride in 1970, which we called Christopher Street Liberation Day March” were among those included in a series of items shared with the White House. The items included a flyer given out over 50 years ago promoting the march and Segal’s marshal badge worn that day. “That 18-year-old boy at Stonewall never expected that not only would he be asked to dance with his husband at the White House, but that one of his personal artifacts would be on display there,” Segal wrote. “Fifty-two years ago that was inconceivable to me. Now, it’s a joyous reality.”
The exhibit is curated from the LGBT Pride exhibits currently at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum. One is the “Illegal to be You: Gay History Beyond Stonewall” exhibition on display at the museum since 2019, and planned to close on July 6, 2021. The items I took he ongoing Smithsonian exhibit showcase different aspects of LGBTQ+ American history, activism and the “everyday experience of being queer,” according to curator Katherine Ott. The display includes knives used to lobotomize gay men during the ’70s, lab equipment from 1980s HIV researcher Jay Levy, a full figure skating costume from gay Olympian Brian Boitano, shoes from trans tennis player Renée Richards and cosmetics used by irreverent gay director John Waters.
LGBTQ+ Pride Month was established by President Bill Clinton in June 1999, though back then it was called Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. Clinton said at the time that he signed the 1998 executive order that made it possible for people of any sexual orientation to work in the federal government and to receive security clearances. “Today, more openly gay and lesbian individuals serve in senior posts throughout the Federal Government than during any other Administration,” Clinton’s June 2000 proclamation stated.
The previous twice impeached, traitor’s administration did not even acknowledge Pride Month until 2019, and only half-heartedly then. In the first two and a half years of that administration, the former president took numerous steps to curtail LGBTQ+ rights, from nominating judges aligned with anti-gay hate groups to banning transgender people from the military. George W. Bush declined to recognize June as Pride Month during his eight year administration.
President Barack Obama issued a proclamation every year he was in office. “All people deserve to live with dignity and respect, free from fear and violence, and protected against discrimination, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation,” Obama’s June 2015 proclamation read. “During Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, we celebrate the proud legacy LGBT individuals have woven into the fabric of our Nation, we honor those who have fought to perfect our Union, and we continue our work to build a society where every child grows up knowing that their country supports them, is proud of them, and has a place for them exactly as they are.”
On June 25, President Biden declared “pride is back at the White House,” delivering remarks in a day of events intended to mark the contributions of LGBTQ+ Americans. He spoke after signing H.R. 49, which designates the site of the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting as the “National Pulse Memorial.” Biden recognized that much work remains to be done to give equal rights and protections to LGBTQ Americans. The president invoked Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, and said he was right when he said it “takes no compromise to give people their rights.” He called on the Senate to pass the Equality Act to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ people.
“When a same-sex couple can be married in the morning but denied a lease in the afternoon for being gay, something’s still wrong,” Biden said. “Over half of our states — in over half of our states, LBGTQ+ Americans still lack explicit state-level civil rights protections to shield them from discrimination. As I said as a presidential candidate and in my first joint address to Congress, it’s time for the United States Senate to pass the Equality Act and put the legislation on my desk. On my desk.”
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg spoke before the president was introduced, and both the secretary and Biden gave a shout-out to Buttigieg’s husband, Chasten. “Us even being here proves how much change is possible in America,” Buttigieg said. Also at the Friday afternoon ceremony were members of the Congressional Equality Congress, including Senator Tammy Baldwin and Congressman David Cicilline; one of the highest-ranking openly trans service members, Lieutenant-Colonel Bree Fram; and state legislators.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
— Exodus 20:16
I was trying to come up with an LGBTQ+ Pride topic for this week’s Sunday post. I decided to write about being our “authentic self.” Isn’t that a large part of coming out? We want to be true to ourselves and to stop lying to others about who we really are. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” is the ninth commandment (the designation varies between religions) of the Ten Commandments. According to the New Testament, Jesus explains that obedience to the prohibition against false testimony from the ten commandments is a requirement for eternal life. According to Jesus, false testimony comes from the sinful desires of the heart and makes people unclean.
However, when I googled “the bible and authentic self” most articles are about how Christians should resist being their authentic selves. One piece said, “To those who are of the world, ‘be yourself’ means speak your mind, don’t hold anything back, love yourself more than anyone else, and openly reject anyone you just don’t like. The advice to ‘be yourself’ can quickly turn into an excuse to be unfriendly and overly blunt.” The problem with this is that this statement is only valid if you are a terrible person. “Love yourself more than anyone else, and openly reject anyone you just don’t like.” While that sounds like a lot of Christians I know today who reject those who aren’t like themselves, it is certainly not in the spirit of the Bible. Another article Sue Bohlin, a speaker/writer and “webmistress” for Probe Ministries, lays out precisely why so many Christians fear authenticity, “In today’s culture, coming out and admitting you’re gay is applauded as ‘being authentic.’ Claiming you are a man trapped in a woman’s body, or vice versa, is ‘being authentic.’ But refusing to accept such labels means you’re inauthentic.” The Bohlin goes on to say:
More and more Christians are throwing in the towel in their fight against unholy sexual and relational temptations, claiming to follow their “authentic self.” Even worse, a growing number of churches are doing something similar by embracing same-sex marriage. I have a question for them. If God really created them to be gay and blesses that identity today, what will happen a hundred years from today? Will there be homosexuality in heaven? There will be no sex in heaven because the only marriage will be between the Church and the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ. If one’s identity is wrapped up in same-sex attractions, as it is by those claiming to be “gay Christians,” who will they be when all sexual and relational brokenness is a thing of the past, a mere memory of earthly life?
I suggest that a believer’s true and real and lasting “authentic self” is all wrapped up in not who we say we are, but who God says we are: His beloved child, redeemed and purified and made holy as He is holy. Chosen, accepted, and included a citizen of heaven and a member of God’s household. Belonging to Jesus because He bought us with His very lifeblood. Sealed with the Spirit, made brand new from the inside out.
There is a MAJOR flaw to her argument. When she says, “A believer’s true and real and lasting “authentic self” is all wrapped up in not who we say we are, but who God says we are,” is her fatal flaw. Our authentic self is who God says we are. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image.” John 1:3 says, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” God made us. He made us in his image. Therefore, if we are gay, God is also gay. God is also straight, bisexual, transgender, asexual, etc. He represents all things because he created everything; therefore, he is every part of every aspect of the spectrum of sexuality.
The most significant issue is that most Christians are closed-minded and narrowly focused on their beliefs. They pick and choose what Bible verses they want to follow and ignore those inconvenient for them. For example, they condemn LGBTQ+ people, but they do not condemn divorce of which Jesus does condemn in the Sermon on the Mount. Yet, what is most curious is that if homosexuality was so wrong (an abomination), why did Jesus never mention it, not even once? Furthermore, LGBTQ+ issues are not discussed anywhere by any of the New Testament authors. Yes, there is a verse that is often misinterpreted in Leviticus to condemn homosexuality, but if Christians follow that one verse from Leviticus, then shouldn’t they also follow all of the other prohibitions from Leviticus?
Leviticus 18:22 prohibits male same-sex intercourse, and Leviticus 20:13 prescribes the death penalty for violators. But Christians have never lived under the Old Testament law. The Old Testament contains 613 commandments for God’s people to follow. Leviticus includes rules about offerings, clean and unclean foods, diseases, bodily discharges, sexual taboos, and priestly conduct. But the New Testament teaches that Christ’s death and resurrection fulfilled the law, which is why its many rules and regulations have never applied to Christians. Romans 10:4 says, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” Colossians 2:13-14 says, “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.” Hebrews 8:13 says, “In that he saith, A new covenant [New Testament/Jesus’s Teachings]*, he hath made the first old [Old Testament/Laws of Moses]*. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.”
Even greater than cherry-picking verses from the Bible, many heterosexual Christians often still claim that sexuality is a choice. Because of their close-mindedness, they cannot understand that LGBTQ+ individuals are born this way. They were created by God in his image, in all the various degrees of sexuality. They are often so small-minded that they cannot imagine being born anyway other than cisgender heterosexuals. They do not want to open their minds to God’s true words because then they may have to look at themselves and see their own flaws. The only choice we have about our sexuality is whether or not we choose to be our authentic selves the way God created us.
As members of the LGBTQ+ community, so many of us for so long have been taught to be ashamed of who we are because we do not fit the predominant image and standard profile of acceptable persons. We have been taught to look at ourselves through lenses that cannot see our true beauty and essence as citizens in society, as people of God, and as children of the greater universe. When we look at ourselves, we must try as best we can to see everything there, but this is sometimes hard to do without a genuine desire to take a hard look and see what’s there, to view ourselves clearly, squarely, and freely. The beauty and goodness of what we see sometimes give way to the not so beautiful things that we see, say, and do. We must cast aside all fear in taking that honest look if we are to grow into a greater awareness of who we really are and what we can ultimately become as genuine persons of promise and value.
If you watch RuPaul’s Drag Race (RPDR), then you likely know who Todrick Hall is. I’ve always found him incredibly sexy, and I do like some of his music. Starting with season eight, Hall became a resident choreographer and occasional judge on RPDR. In addition to RPDR, Hall is an American rapper, singer, songwriter, actor, director, choreographer, and YouTuber. He gained national attention on the ninth season of the televised singing competition American Idol, where he made it to the semi-finals. Following this, he amassed a following on YouTube with viral videos including original songs, parodies, and skits. He aspires to be a role model for LGBTQ+ and people of color, and includes his experiences as a Black gay man in his art.
As a singer-songwriter he has released four studio albums, including the visual albums Straight Outta Oz (2016) and Forbidden (2018). In 2020 he released an EP, Quarantine Queen, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic featuring “Mask, Gloves, Soap, Scrub,” and was the international host of Global Pride 2020. On June 8, 2021, Hall released his fourth studio album, Femuline, which was preceded by the singles “Boys in the Ocean” and “Rainin’ Fellas.” The album is inspired by gay pride and features appearances from Chaka Khan, Tyra Banks, Brandy, Nicole Scherzinger and Ts Madison. He’s also released trilogy of EPs titled Haus Party, Pt. 1, Haus Party, Pt. 2, and Haus Party, Pt. 3.
I particularly enjoy two of his songs. One of them is his new release “Rainin’ Fellas,” and the other is his 2019 song “I Like Boys” from his EP Haus Party, Pt. 1.
Randolfe Wicker was wearing a black suit and tie when he participated in what’s thought to be the first U.S. picket for gay civil rights, which took place in New York City in 1964. He wore it when he answered questions on-air in 1965 as one of the first openly gay men to appear on television. And he donned that suit again when he protested New York’s prohibition against serving gay patrons during a “sip-in” in 1966. Wicker jokes that he looked like a preacher for most of the 1960s—but for one of the earliest LGBTQ+ activists, it was a political choice.
Wicker believed that being perceived as respectable would gain LGBTQ+ individuals civil rights. He told Time Magazinethat, “A black suit and tie works wonders anywhere, because if you wear a black suit and tie people will stop and listen to you and consider what you have to say. It was assumed we [gay men] were mentally ill; it was considered that we were certainly criminals, and we were also considered to be morally depraved. But people would still sit and listen to you, and that’s the beginning of a conversation.” But was it?
Wicker was a member of the Mattachine Society (Initially called the Mattachine Foundation), which began as a secret organization in Los Angeles in 1950, with their first Statement of Purpose drawn up in 1951. The group was founded by Communist organizer Harry Hay and other leftists, including Bob Hull, Chuck Rowland, Dale Jennings, Konrad Stevens, James Gruber, and Rudi Gernreich (Jewish Refugee). The Mattachine founders borrowed the initial structure of the organization from the Communist Party, and the leadership, the “fifth order,” was anonymous, so members didn’t even know their names. The Mattachine Society became one of several prominent groups organizing during the period of LGBTQ+ activism referred to as the Homophile Movement.
Thousands of men and women across the country were arrested on charges related to their sexuality each year throughout the 1950s. In California, certain sodomy convictions could carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. And even when the charges resulted in a slap on the wrist from a judge, an accusation could result in the loss of jobs or even homes. But after Mattachine co-founder Dale Jennings was followed and harassed by a police officer, the society mounted a defense—and won the case. Within just a few years, the group would grow to include thousands of members across the country in places like New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco. But, while the Mattachine society believed respectability was the best path to civil rights, the organization’s ties to the Communist Party USA were always a problem for gaining any respectability.
The arguments for respectability politics have continued to be part of civil rights strategy in all areas of civil rights. We saw this during the BLM riots last summer, and we see it in LGBTQ+ individuals who condemn gay pride celebrations for its (sometimes) outlandish aspects. Here’s the problem respectability politics; they don’t work. They are based on a false notion that says if only we behave, if only we play by the rules, if only we are good enough, then the church will love and accept us. But it’s not true. Because even if we tell our detractors that we are celibate, they still think we are having sex. (Trust me, I know this firsthand from my mother.) And even when we quote the Bible to them, they still distrust our reading of it. Even when we dress like them, talk like them, and marry like them, they are still waiting for us to mess up so they can discredit us. And if we play into respectability politics, we are working against liberation. We are saying, “I’m not like the rest of the LGBTQ+ community. I’m one of the good ones.” And by saying that, we allow straight and cisgender people to say it as well, and suddenly the “bad queers” are pushed to the side, or worse, pushed out entirely.
Respectability politics set up a hierarchy that allows straight and cisgender people to hold up the “good gays” and silence the “bad gays.” And who are the bad gays? We are anyone who believes that liberation should be for the whole LGBTQ+ community. We are the ones who get angry or raise our voices about injustice. We are the ones who say that it’s not okay for allies to speak over the LGBTQ+ community. We are the ones who say that there is more than one way to be LGBTQ+ (it’s the reason for the “+”). We don’t have to be celibate, and we can medically transition if that’s what’s right for us. We are the ones who dress the way we want. We act the way we want. We are proud of who we are and every aspect of the gay community. Maybe something is not your cup of tea, but that doesn’t make it wrong. I love drag queens, but I have no desire to be one. I love seeing men in skimpy outfits at Pride, but am I comfortable doing the same? No, I’m not, but if I had their body (or body positivity), then I might be right there with them.
When the people who hate us come for us (and they will), they won’t care if we have conformed to some false heteronormativity. They won’t care that we are white, dress nice, and toe the line. They will look at us as if we are just like all of the other members of the LGBTQ+ community, the ones that you have said you aren’t like. They won’t see the differences between us. They will lump us all together. In that moment, your respectability will not save you. They will still say that you don’t have a place in their churches, you don’t deserve to have civil rights, and it would be better off if you would just go away. Setting up this hierarchy allows people to control us. It also allows people to say who deserves respect and rights. They say only those who toe the line and behave deserve rights. They think you only deserve respect if you are polite and don’t get angry and speak softly, yet it will always be false respect if they ever give it at all. When it comes time to allow us civil rights, they will have a myriad of excuses for why we don’t deserve equal or civil rights.
You can live however you want. You can choose celibacy, singleness, or marriage for yourself; that is not the issue here. But when you demand it from other people or when you set it up so that your choice is the one that is acceptable by the straight and cisgender people, you become part of the problem. Liberation is about liberation for all of us, and if it’s not liberation for all of us, then it’s not liberation at all. When you narrow the rules so that only the “good” get in, you’re not actually working for liberation. You’re working so that someone else’s rules and priorities can define us, and that’s not good enough. We all deserve to be free.
For many years, I cared deeply about acceptance by my family and friends in Alabama. I wanted my parents to see that I am who I have always been and that there is no shame in my gayness. In recent years, I have realized, they will never change their minds. I watched them throw their support behind our former, twice-impeached president when he represented everything my parents taught me not to be. (I even pointed that out to them, but it got me a dial tone on the other end of the line.) They relished in his hate and lies. I realized that if they could turn against all they believed to “better” call themselves Christian; then they would never accept me for being gay. One thing this pandemic has done is that it has kept me away for a year and a half (two years if I go back down at Christmas, which I probably will). At first, I was sad I would miss them last Christmas, but I got over it. I didn’t want their constant judgment and to be forced to “be straight.” I hope and pray that I will have the courage to be who I am when I go back to Alabama to visit my family the next time.
In the LGBTQ+ community, some criticize pride parades because they see them as having an undue emphasis on sex and fetish-related interests. They claim this as counterproductive to LGBTQ+ interests and expose the “gay community” to ridicule. However, traditional media outlets often emphasize the most outlandish and non-representative aspects of the community. The main issue is not whether gay people will be ridiculed for the sometimes outlandish and sexualized aspects of LGBTQ+ pride parades, but that pride parades are visibility. We aren’t going to change anyone’s opinion of us by being “respectable” during pride events. When I was growing up in Alabama, I never remember any pride parades in the state, though Birmingham has had a pride parade since 1989. As pride parades have become more common, in addition to Birmingham, there are celebrations from Huntsville to Mobile. The same is true of Mississippi. I think Jackson had a pride parade when I lived in Mississippi from 2000-2009, but now, pride parades are held across the states.
The fact that there are pride parades in states like Alabama and Mississippi shows that LGBTQ+ visibility has increased in the United States in the past 20 or so years. Pride parades are not just for big cities anymore. When I moved to Vermont, the only pride parade was in Burlington, but now there are celebrations in Montpelier, Rutland, and Bennington. Visibility is the primary goal of LGBTQ+ pride, but it’s also about belonging. Respectability politics is counterproductive to LGBTQ+ visibility. It forces us to hide and pretend to be something contrary to who we are. The variety of expression at LGBTQ+ pride events shows the diversity of our community. It brings out of the margins all of our community to proudly proclaim, “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it!” because we aren’t going anywhere. We don’t need acceptance. We don’t need approval. We don’t need permission. We need liberation.
Between the Dragon and the Phoenix By C. Dale Young – 1969-
Fire in the heart, fire in the sky, the sun just a smallish smudge resting on the horizon out beyond the reef that breaks the waves,
fiery sun that waits for no one. I was little more than a child when my father explained that the mongrel is stronger than the thoroughbred,
that I was splendidly blended, genetically engineered for survival. I somehow forgot this, misplaced this, time eroding my memory as it erodes everything.
But go ask someone else to write a poem about Time. Out over the bay, the sun is rising, and I am running out of time. Each and every year, on my birthday,
I wake to watch the sunrise. I am superstitious. And today, as in years past, it is not my father but my father’s father who comes to shout at me:
Whether you like it or not, you are a child of fire. You descend from the Dragon, descend from the Phoenix. Your blood is older than England, older than Castille.
Year after year, he says the same thing, this old man dead long before I was born. So, I wake each year on the day of my birth to watch the fire enter the sky
while being chastised by my dead grandfather. Despite being a creature of fire, I stay near the water. Why even try to avoid what can extinguish me?
There are times I can feel the fire flickering inside my frame. The gulls are quarreling, the palm trees shimmering— the world keeps spinning on its axis. Some say I have
nine lives. Others think me a machine. Neither is true. The truth is rarely so conventional. Fire in my heart, fire in my veins, I write this down for you and watch
as it goes up in flames. There are no paragraphs wide enough to contain this fire, no stanzas durable enough to house it. Blood of the Dragon,
blood of the Phoenix, I turn my head slowly toward the East. I bow and call for another year. I stand there and demand one more year.
About This Poem
“Can the dead visit you? Can a grandfather who died before you were even born come to you? Every year on my birthday, I get up to watch the sunrise. And every year, I feel quite clearly my father’s father is there with me.”—C. Dale Young
Why I Chose This Poem
I chose this poem because I was looking at poems for LGBTQ+ Pride Month on the Academy of American Poets website, and the title of this poem, “Between the Dragon and the Phoenix,” caught my eye. I have a tattoo on my left arm of a dragon and a phoenix. The tattoo is very meaningful for me because it represents a friend of mine who died last year. He had been a friend of mine from about the time I started blogging. He had helped me through some difficult times, and I will forever be grateful for his friendship. In the last few years of his life, he had suffered some major health problems, and he was not able to recover from them.
He lived in Hawaii but was of Chinese descent. We rarely exchanged Christmas gifts, but we always sent each other something for Chinese New Year and for birthdays. One year, I sent him a drawing of a dragon and phoenix in the classic Yin and Yang position. I had an artist friend of mine draw it and I had it framed and sent to him. When his mother saw it, she became very excited as it was nearly the exact same design as had been on her wedding dress many years earlier. Because he cherished that piece of art and displayed it prominently in his house, I had a similar design tattooed on my arm to always remind me of him and his generosity.
Like in the grandfather in “Between the Dragon and the Phoenix,” I feel that my friend is with me always.
About The Poet
C. Dale Young was born in 1969 and grew up in the Caribbean and South Florida. He received a Bachelor of Science in molecular biology and English at Boston College in 1991 and went on to earn an MFA in English and creative writing and a doctoral degree in medicine, both from the University of Florida.
In his review of Torn, Mark Doty writes, “C. Dale Young’s poems employ sly forms of repetition, touching back to phrases we’ve already encountered as if to guide us along the poem’s winding way. How important—and how fierce—these directions turn out to be as his poems push into their deepest territory: the burden of expectation and guilt, the fiercely pressurized experience that an education in the ‘healing arts’ becomes. … [Young] brings all his strength to bear on the necessary work of art, which is also a means of tending and of stitching, a craft that by its very artfulness implies the possibility of hope.”
Young’s honors include the Grolier Prize and the Tennessee Williams Scholarship in Poetry from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, as well as fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. The former poetry editor of the New England Review (1995–2014), Young currently practices medicine full-time and teaches in the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers. He lives in San Francisco.
In response to Saturday’s Moment of Zen post about the pharmacy guy, VRCooper said, “Girl…We have to send you back to gay school.” I know it was mostly a joke, but I never went to “gay school.” Growing up in rural Alabama in a religious family, I never knew any gay people or anything about gay people until I went away to college and began reading gay books and researching what it meant to be gay on the internet.
Most gay people I know have gay friends. I never had a gay friend (notwithstanding a few short-term boyfriends) with whom I could hang out, go to bars, watch a movie, or go to gay events. I had one gay friend and confidant, who lived about a thousand miles away. We met through my blog and became good friends. We texted each other all the time. I am so much better at texting than being on the phone. Then, my friend died in a car wreck, and I’ve never had another close gay friend. I am a painfully shy person. I’ve always hated talking on the phone because I’ve hated how my phone voice sounds. You can ask Susan. We also became friends through my blog, and it took her forever to convince me to talk to her on the phone. Now, we talk on the phone at least once a day. She’s my closest friend and confidant. I don’t talk nearly as much to my best friend who lives in Texas.
I’ve never made friends easily. I’ve made female friends more easily than male friends, but they are still few and far between. I have a hard time talking to people I don’t know. So, when VRCooper suggested, “Strike up a conversation,” it’s quite a difficult thing for me to do. I feel awkward. The truth is, I need constant encouragement to give me a little courage to be my charming self, and I am a charming and good-hearted person. My friend who passed away was always encouraging me to step out of my comfort zone. VRCooper also said my “tone in writing reeks of defeat.” I know it does because I have zero self-confidence when it comes to men. Once I get to know someone or become comfortable around them, I can talk their ear off, but I am not one to initiate a conversation. When the other person is a man, it is even more challenging getting comfortable with them.
Even when I do make friends, I tend to have a hard time opening up. There are certain things about my personal life I have a difficult time discussing. I had an easier time with my friend who passed away because he was gay. There were things I could talk to him about that my conservative, sheltered upbringing doesn’t allow me to talk about to just anyone comfortably. There was something exceptional about that friendship which is why I was so devastated when he died. It took me a long time to try to be social again. I finally decided that is what my friend would have wanted me to do. I had to try to get back in the saddle which is an apt analogy. I fell off a horse when I was a kid and got kicked in the head. Every time I’ve gotten on a horse since, I find it impossible to get comfortable and enjoy it. However, if I ever had the chance to ride a horse again, I’d hop back in that saddle and try to enjoy it.
Also, I have often found like with any group of people, gay people have their clicks. Before the pandemic, I went to as many gay events in Burlington as I could. Sometimes I had one of my female friends go with me; sometimes, I went by myself. Whether it was First Friday (monthly drag shows and dances) or Burly Bears (the only gathering for gay men in Vermont), I tried to fit in. I tried to make conversation but found it extremely hard. Occasionally, someone would come over to talk to me, and I’d chat and have a good time, but inevitably they went back to their friends. Again, I was left standing there alone with my drink. Soon, gay events will start up again in Burlington, and I will try again. I have also tried to meet local people online for friendship, but no one ever seems to want anything more than sex. It seems impossible to find someone willing to have just dinner or even just meet for drinks.
I know I sound incredibly pathetic, and I know I’m complaining. I just needed to voice my frustrations. But I also want to say I’m trying to do better; I’m trying to be bolder. But it’s not easy. I’ve spent my whole life hiding behind my shyness, and I know it’s time I got over it and be more confident. What better time to do that than during pride month? It’s a time when we celebrate ourselves and boldly proclaim who we are. That’s why I went to the pharmacy on Friday hoping to see the cute pharmacy tech (CPT). I wore my pride polo shirt. It’s subtle, but hard to miss. It was obvious people noticed it. Unlike in the South, where I would have gotten ugly looks and rude behavior, everywhere I went that day, and everyone I saw including the tech at Verizon, the cashier at PetSmart, and yes, the CPT and others at the pharmacy, they all seemed nicer and friendlier.
Aside from the street festivals, corporate platitudes, and sex parties, LGBTQ+ Pride is meant to be a living embodiment of LGBTQ+ history. The tradition started in June 1970 as a commemoration of the 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn, when queer people rebelled against police harassment in New York City. But the history we remember remains myopically focused on the United States. The LGBTQ+ past on display each June is a heroic one with familiar, American milestones: the tragedies of the Lavender Scare and the AIDS crisis offset by the triumphs of Stonewall and marriage equality. This story has even become part of the progressive narratives of American democracy. In his second inaugural address, President Barack Obama declared, “The most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.”
This heroic narrative is, of course, incomplete. The U.S.-centric story of LGBTQ+ liberation ignores that sexual minorities abroad have fought just as hard and sometimes faced even greater discrimination. When we look beyond the United States, it becomes clear that liberation is far from the inevitable end of a progress narrative. Rather it is a local, subjective, and ever-changing project. LGBTQ+ rights have come with hard fought battles and the progress can sometimes be very slow.
If we look at some other countries, we see that LGBTQ+ liberation didn’t even start in the United States, and we have often lagged behind. Germany is a particularly compelling place to examine. The term homosexual comes from the German language. The term ‘homosexuality’ was coined in the late 19th century by an Austrian-born Hungarian psychologist, Karoly Maria Benkert, who wrote extensively on the subject. In his pamphlets, Kertbeny argued that the Prussian sodomy law, Paragraph 143 (which later became Paragraph 175 of the penal code of the German Empire), violated the “rights of man.”
In Berlin in 1919, Germany, Doctor Magnus Hirschfeld co-founded the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sex Research), a pioneering private research institute and counseling office. That same year, Different from the Others, one of the first explicitly gay films, was released. Magnus Hirschfeld had a cameo in the film and partially funded its production. In 1922, Dora Richter became the first transgender woman to undergo gender reassignment surgery in Hirschfeld’s Institute, the first operation of its kind in the world. Then on October 16, 1929, a Reichstag Committee voted to repeal Paragraph 175. The Social Democrats and other leftist parties backed the repeal, while the Catholic Center party and other right-wing parties opposed the repeal.
Berlin has a long history of gay culture and influence on popular entertainment, and in the 1920s the city was the Gay Capital of Europe. In 1896 the world’s first gay magazine started in Berlin, called Der Eigene (“The Self-Owning”). During the 1920s and 1930s the world’s first gay village was in Berlin’s Schöneberg. Gay and lesbian bars and nightclubs flourished, as did queer artistic expression through films, music, and print publications. Cabaret singer Claire Waldoff and actress Marlene Dietrich lived and worked in Berlin’s queer neighborhoods during this time. The first gay demonstration anywhere occurred in Berlin in 1922.
The Nazis’ rise to power prevented the implementation of the vote on Paragraph 175 and ended the gay culture of Berlin. In 1933, the Nazi Party banned homosexual groups. Gay men were sent to concentration camps, and the Nazis burned the library of Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Research and destroy the Institute. The first use of the pink triangle for gay men in Nazi concentration camps came in 1937. Then in 1945, when Allied forces liberated the Nazi concentration camps by Allied forces, but those interned for homosexuality were not freed and were required to serve out the full term of their sentences under Paragraph 175.
After World War II, Germany was divided by the Cold War and charted two very different paths when it came to gay liberation. In 1949, the country formally split into democratic West Germany and communist East Germany. Yet, of the two, it was the liberal democracy that continued Nazi-era persecution of gay men. Over the course of the 20 years between 1949 and 1969, West German courts convicted more than 50,000 queer men under Nazi statutes that remained on the books. East Germany began to repeal parts of Paragraph 175, and in 1968, Paragraph 175 is largely ignored in East Germany, decriminalizing homosexual acts over the age of 18. West Germany followed in 1969.
Groups of same-sex desiring men who labeled themselves homophiles (a word they thought sounded more respectable than homosexual) cropped up in West Germany in the early 1950s. Unlike similar groups in the United States and other western European countries, however, they quickly faded. By 1960, they had all but disappeared. There was no Stonewall moment in West Germany, nor any memorable stand against the oppressive policing and sexual morality of those early postwar decades.
Instead, West German politicians reformed the laws banning homosexual conduct in 1969 as part of a broader revision of the penal code. After this legislative change, new gay and lesbian bars, saunas, and periodicals soon arose. A radical liberation movement also appeared in those years. But it was strikingly different from its cousin in the United States. Its members opposed the commercial gay scene, viewing it as a barrier to the kind of solidarity that would be necessary to win real social and political change. The groups attacked gay publications, denouncing them as nothing more than “masturbation templates.”
When it came to politics, the movement also diverged from the center-left alliance that arose between LGBTQ+ activists and the Democratic Party in the United States. Over the course of the 1970s, West German activists enjoyed their greatest support from the centrist Free Democratic Party, but activists ultimately had little success pushing their policies in the federal government. They grew cynical about the possibilities of parliamentary politics. As a result, LGBTQ+ West Germans never fully came together behind any of the major parties, even after German reunification in 1990, and they continue to divide their votes across the political spectrum.
During the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, West German history also diverged from the U.S. path. Whereas the Reagan administration stayed silent and let LGBTQ+ Americans perish, the West German government, in particular federal health minister Rita Süssmuth, partnered with AIDS self-help groups to circulate information about the disease and safer sex. West Germany never shut down its gay saunas and still managed to bring infection rates down dramatically over the course of the decade. Because of the government’s success fighting AIDS, radical groups like ACT UP played a much smaller part in the German activist scene.
If, by the end of the 1980s, West Germany’s activists were far less politically radical than those in other countries, they had nonetheless managed both to preserve their subculture and find ways to collaborate with politicians and bureaucrats. West German LGBTQ+ activism was not characterized by the same triumphal moments or catastrophic setbacks as the American version, but nonetheless forged a kind of liberation no less real than that in the United States.
Yet this distinctive West German history is largely forgotten, submerged beneath the dominant U.S. narrative — even in Germany. The annual Berlin Pride celebration is known as Christopher Street Day, named for the Stonewall Inn’s address. Even by the mid-1980s, activists and historians, dispirited by a lack of parliamentary political victories, had begun to compare West Germany’s liberation movement unfavorably with that in the United States.
The East German experience with gay liberation was yet more surprising. Although most Westerners assumed such activism could not possibly have been successful in a communist state, by the end of the 1980s, East Germany could realistically lay claim to being one of the most sexually progressive countries on Earth. In the 1970s, gay men and lesbians began to organize together in East Berlin. While the Stasi, the secret police, denied the group the right to organize in public, these tenacious women and men coordinated house parties, steamboat cruises, and birthday dinners. In the middle of the decade, the East German LGBTQ+ communnity met Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a trans woman who ran a museum in one of East Berlin’s outer neighborhoods. She offered them the museum’s basement to host their activities, and for several years they “bopped and danced like it was 1904.” This arrangement lasted until 1978, when the East Berlin police forbade the group to continue meeting.
But only a few years later, lesbian and gay activists mobilized again, this time under the umbrella of the Protestant Church, the only nominally independent organization in the communist state. Spreading rapidly across the country, they pressured the government to change laws and social policies, such as allowing gay men to serve in the military, repealing a law that set a higher age of consent for gay and lesbian sex, and making it easier for same-sex partners to find housing together. The government tried cracking down on the groups, but to no avail: They continued to grow in size and number. So worried was the Stasi that its functionaries convinced the East German government to accede to activists’ demands. Stasi officials began circulating memos in 1985 insisting that government bodies address gay men and lesbians’ “humanitarian problems,” that is, taking their complaints seriously.
As a result, change came rapidly. The government equalized the age of consent, years before most other countries, including West Germany and the United States. It promulgated a policy allowing openly gay men to serve in the military. LGBTQ+ people were given the right to seek sexual and mental health counseling. The East German government greenlighted the first gay feature film, “Coming Out,” which premiered Nov. 9, 1989—the night East Germans breached the Berlin Wall. Local governments began sanctioning LGBTQ+ organizations and staging gay disco nights.
In the years after reunification, these two distinct German paths converged. The principal LGBTQ+ organization in Germany today was founded by East German activists in 1990 and the West German federal states abolished the last vestiges of their antigay statutes as a direct result of East Germany’s more progressive lawmaking. The West German subculture began to bleed into the Eastern lands, in particular East Berlin, which has become synonymous with queer nightlife in recent decades.
The point is not that East or West Germany achieved a liberation better than that in the United States, but rather that LGBTQ+ life and activism took distinctive forms in different local and national contexts. The American version of LGBTQ+ liberation is not the only history we should pay attention to. Germany led the way for many years before the United States began its LGBTQ+ liberation movement. When America was undergoing the Lavender Scare, East Germany was relaxing laws against homosexuality.