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The Train

I made it to New York City and got settled into my hotel room. I’ll be here until next Monday. I took the train down. It takes a while, but at least I don’t have to drive. It’s about a seven hour trip. I don’t mind the train. It’s relatively comfortable. It’s easy to get up and walk around. My only complaint about trains is the motion of them rocking back and forth. I usually get a little motion sick. This trip went pretty well though. It started with heavy snow in Vermont which turned to rain the further south we went. Eventually, the rain stopped and it was pretty nice in New York City. Now I get to spend a week with my friend Susan.


Hot Tub

 

Hot Tub
By Miguel Murphy

A tryst.
That ends
in a nightly dose.

A contradiction,
emptiness
refused by starlight,

the dark
enflamed with error.
Tell me again

what crime you are
so guilty of?
The hot tub,

26 Seconal—
the moon
like ejaculate.

Delicate.
Poor
Barlow,

you felt
so alone;
you were

the only queer.
January 1, 1951.
In the semantics of

your translation
you intend, in Náhuatl
a long while,

to abandon
your cadaver.
There.

About This Poem

“Robert Barlow, aged 16, was either the 43-year old H. P. Lovecraft’s lover for a summer in 1934, or just his disappointed protégé, who in his own middle years would overdose on Seconal after a student threatened to expose him for being that medical monster of the age, a homosexual. The diagnosis, the name of the disease. In 2019, I sit in my hot tub, but the freedoms of this era feel illusory. A single pill a night makes a frightening plague a kind of historical footnote. Such starlight. The backside of the century.”
—Miguel Murphy

Miguel Murphy is the author of Detainee (Barrow Street Press, 2016). He teaches at Santa Monica College and lives in southern California.


Pic of the Day


The West Coast LGBTQ activism that predated Stonewall

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By Julia Wick

It’s simple and powerful to say that the gay rights movement began 50 years ago today, when the first brick was thrown in the early hours of June 28, 1969, outside the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.

Movements are unruly, with ragged edges and a penchant for flaring and sputtering in many directions. But the weight of history has a way of condensing things. And the spin cycle of time will slough off the footnotes and find the linear narrative.

The three nights of rioting sparked by a routine police raid at a New York City gay bar and the even more routine police harassment of the gay community were unbelievably important and symbolic. But they also followed years of organizing and numerous previous eruptions against police harassment in community spaces. Much of that groundwork was laid in California, particularly in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“The spark of Stonewall goes exponentially beyond what the actual events created,” Terry Beswick, the executive director of the GLBT Historical Society and museum in San Francisco, explained over the phone earlier this month. “At least in the popular culture, [Stonewall] swallowed up a lot of the very real and even more significant organizing that was happening for decades before that — and afterwards.”

In San Francisco, police raided a 1965 New Year’s costume ball organized by the newly formed Council on Religion and the Homosexual. Officers sought to photograph all the attendees and made two arrests. The event galvanized organizing in San Francisco’s gay community and helped draw broader attention to the police harassment gay people faced.

“That was really what most of the pre-Stonewall real spontaneous actions were about — police harassment of our gathering places,” Beswick said.

“In the 1960s and back into the ’50s, gay bars were our community centers,” Beswick said. “They were where we found each other. They were where we found fellowship and emotional support, as well as sex.”

In Beswick’s view, those bars were “like homes,” sometimes “even more so” than the places where their denizens actually lived. “For police to invade those spaces really fought against the notion of any kind of self-determination and safety for us,” he said.

Two and a half years before Stonewall, the Black Cat bar in Silver Lake was raided just after midnight on New Year’s Day 1967. Police beat patrons and arrested more than a dozen people. Several weeks later, hundreds peacefully gathered outside the bar in a protest — a demonstration that was considered a seminal turning point in the early gay rights movement.

[Go deeper: “Before Stonewall, the Queer Revolution Started Right Here in Los Angeles” by Jason McGahan in Los Angeles Magazine]

And nearly a decade before Black Cat, a group of transgender women, lesbians and gay men fought back against police harassment in what turned into a melee outside Cooper Do-nuts in downtown Los Angeles. That was May 1959, and it’s believed to have been the first LGBTQ uprising against police harassment.

“Stonewall, at least in the rear-view mirror, has become a place of demarcation for historians, where we can sort of measure our progress,” Beswick said.

“But it’s important for us to resurrect those stories around other events. It’s important for the pride of LGBT people in San Francisco to know that the New Year’s Day ball event happened and that Compton’s [Cafeteria riot] happened,” Beswick said, and he didn’t stop there. He listed off the names like a litany of early organizations and leaders and places that have been turned into symbols by virtue of what happened there.

“The same kind of stories can be told all around the country, in Philadelphia and D.C. and Chicago,” he said.

 

From Joe:

What marks the Stonewall Riots as most significant in the Gay Rights Movement is that it became a catalyst for more action. The next year was the first gay pride parade and there has been one ever since. Activists in California may have laid the groundwork for Stonewall, but Stonewall lit the fire that became the Gay Rights Movement and we can’t let that be slowed down. Pete Buttigieg did us proud in the debates last night. He’s my frontrunner candidate. He’s eloquent and always has an answer. I have yet to hear him give an answer to interviewers or moderators question that I did not agree with him 100 percent. He is obviously a brilliant man and one that we need as president. If Biden wins the nomination, as I suspect he will, he would be fortunate to have Pete as his vice-president.

 


Tinderbox

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I’ve passed by this plaque in the sidewalk at 141 Chartres Street. A wave of grief always washes over men when I see it.

Author Robert Fieseler‘s book “Tinderbox” looks at the 1973 fire at the UpStairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans, which killed 32 people and put prejudicial beliefs against gay men in sharp relief.

Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson talks with Fieseler (@wordbobby) about the book.

Book Excerpt: ‘Tinderbox’

by Robert Fieseler

June 25, 1995

There was a fire, the minister of the Metropolitan Community Church – a gay man named Dexter Brecht – preached to his small flock of gays and lesbians. It was a fire so horrific that Courtney Craighead, the church’s deacon (who was standing nearby), couldn’t even speak about his memories of the event. It was a fire set intentionally on June 24, 1973, resulting in the death of one-third of their Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) congregation at the time. This fire, which had happened twenty-two years and one day before, at a hangout called the Up Stairs Lounge, remained so disturbing a memory that it never existed in the pages of American history. This tragedy, congregants knew, was in fact the only reason that the New Orleans Times-Picayune had opted to send a reporter to hear their minister that Sunday. “We gather here this morning to remember,” Brecht continued. “Remembering, whether we like it or not, is part of the human condition. It is good as a way of acknowledging our grief.”

It was a horrific scene to relate: a fire in a busy bar on the fringe of New Orleans’s French Quarter that was set with lighter fluid. On that evening, flames had invaded a sanctuary for blue-collar gay men. The fast-moving blaze overtook the second-floor bar with deep ties to the MCC faithful, but the destruction would extend well beyond church membership, claiming the lives of thirty-one men and one woman.

Although it raged out of control for less than twenty minutes, the blaze left a fallout that shocked Carl Rabin, the coroner who would struggle to identify the bodies using jewelry and hotel room keys. Fingers and faces and bones were scorched beyond recognition. “They were just piled up,” he said. “People in a mass. One falls, then another falls. It’s just a mass of death. It’s sickening.”

Then the story went silent. After a mere blip of coverage, it fell off the front pages of newspapers, and then from interior pages entirely. Local and national television channels would dedicate just a few minutes of on-the-scene coverage to the Up Stairs Lounge, in which survivors were interviewed with cameras to their backs, due to reporters’ fear of legitimizing the gay lifestyle and victims’ fear of outing themselves. Yet, in fact, the tragedy had affected nearly every segment of New Orleans’s closeted gay community, estimated a month later by the local Gay People’s Coalition to be from 40,000 to 100,000 of the city’s then 600,000 residents. Most of the dead—educated and illiterate, young and old, white and black, including a hustler, a minister, and a dentist—perished within the fire’s first 360 seconds.

The Up Stairs Lounge, Brecht related to his flock, represented a moment that exposed a majority of citizens as at best apathetic toward homosexuals while also revealing that civil rights movements of the era were tone-deaf to homosexual plight. Indeed, civil rights and feminist constituencies in the 1970s did not leap to the defense of the Up Stairs Lounge victims. The tragedy was not noted in Distaff, New Orleans’s feminist magazine—it was a time when lesbians themselves were marginalized from “mainstream feminists”—nor was there any mention in iconic black newspapers like The Chicago Daily Defender, despite there being a black victim.

“This fire was a holocaust,” Brecht intoned. “Perhaps not in the millions like in the forties, but surely just as devastating to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans-gendered community.” The immediate aftermath of this blaze—occurring on the last day of celebrations marking the fourth anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots—became a chilling moment of loss for those gay Americans who actually heard the story, who were long conditioned to the reality that their sorrows were quarantined from the heterosexual American dream. In a cartoon in the August 1973 issue of The Advocate, which was then a somewhat ragtag alternative newspaper in Los Angeles, a man in a hospital bed was bandaged up like a mummy; in the background, his chart read “Up Stairs Bar Fire Victim.”

With its physical and emotional toll, the Up Stairs Lounge fire sat in stark contrast to the legendary riot that had taken place outside of the Stonewall Inn in New York City on June 28, 1969. On that day, homosexuals, transsexuals, and street kids had joined forces to resist New York Police Department officers who were raiding a gay bar and arresting the patrons. This act of defiance had become a wellspring for gay political recruitment.

In the wake of the Stonewall Riots, a new movement called Gay Liberation arose. It was a “radical thinking” and “militant” crusade—according to a newsletter distributed by the more conservative Homophile Action League—whose stated goal was “complete sexual liberation for all people” through the abolishment of institutions that forced homosexuals to “live two separate existences.” Gay Liberation was a departure from the so-called homophile movement (the term derived from the Greek words homo and phile, meaning “same love”), which had led the fight for homosexual rights up until then. Standing in an oblique shadow of the Stonewall Riots, the Up Stairs Lounge fire would be a major test of Gay Liberation: Could the movement steward its people through a crisis? Would gay people recognize its right to lead?

Yet, as Dexter Brecht addressed his congregation twenty-two years later, the Up Stairs Lounge remained forgotten.

Excerpted from the book Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler. Copyright © 2018 by Robert W. Fieseler. Used with permission of the publisher, Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.


Late Post

I was up late last night, so I wasn’t able to write a post. I will do so after I wake up.



Moment of Zen: Home in Vermont


Last Day

Yesterday was my last day in Alabama. I fly out this morning, heading back to Vermont. I spent most of yesterday with my parents. Not a lot went on. About 8 pm the weather got bad and we lost satellite and internet. So I went to bed early, especially since I have to get up at 6 am to get ready to go to the airport.


To the Airport

I got Mama to the airport, now I’m going to sleep a little while longer. We had a great visit while she was here. Now, I won’t see her again until Christmas. I hope everyone had a great weekend.


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