GAY & LESBIAN COMMUNITY NOTES
FROM THE WEB
Net Briefs 03-09
ON SECOND STREET
Obama on Israel
SNATCH & GRAB
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Brother Vincent & Cody Lavender
There are historical moments when massive numbers of deaths—the centuries-long genocide of Native peoples in America, the deaths of the Middle Passage and slavery, the Holocaust, the AIDS pandemic—highlight death as a political lesson about the oppression of groups of people. There is nothing wrong with this. It is a logical and significant use of history, and certainly helps us see the larger picture of how human actions can cause enormous misery and harm. But such a use of death rarely allows us to contemplate the individual and what that loss might mean for a community or even movements.
Recently I was faced with two deaths that made me think about the historical contours of the lesbian and gay movement. I heard about the first death on October 31, 2008. Brother Vincent, a Marist and the vice principal of my New Jersey Catholic boys high school in the mid-1960s, died at the age of 73 in a hospital in New York. News of the second death came on December 14 via a panicked phone call from a fellow professor at Dartmouth. She had just gotten word that Cody Lavender, a student in Dartmouth's Foreign Study Program in Edinburgh, had died after falling from a fourth floor balcony in the residence hall at the local university. Cody, age 20, was a junior who was jointly majoring in women's and gender studies and religion. He was a Navaho from Arizona, openly gay and very politically active. There have been few details about his death, although the police have so far ruled out foul play, leaving open the possibility of an accident or suicide.
These two deaths made me think about the nature of choice and community especially in relationship to queerness. I have no proof that Brother Vincent was gay. All of the students at the school thought he was—although he wasn't as obviously gay as some of the other brothers on the teaching staff. He was aloof, officious, and purposefully intimidating, but students did have begrudging respect for him.
My main memory of him was being called to his office to be disciplined. In the spring of 1964, after being queer-baited by a fellow student for weeks, I snapped, attacked him, and wrestled him to the floor in sheer anger and frustration. Although he was bigger and no doubt stronger than me, I had caught him by surprise and was proceeding to punch him in the face. I was quickly pulled off him and sent to Brother Vincent's office.
After being chastised, Brother Vincent told me to be sure it didn't happen again. This was extraordinary. He often suspended students for letting their hair reach the collar of their suit jackets. While the issue of queer baiting was never raised, I am certain he understood exactly what had happened.
After his death I keep wondering what Brother Vincent's life would have been like if he had, in fact, been gay. He was born in 1935 and entered the Marist Brothers Juniorate in 1949 at the age of 14. He professed vows in 1952 and lived 56 years with the Marists.
I have no idea what this might have been like for a gay man at the time. I know plenty of gay men who became priests and teaching brothers in the 1960s and even the 1970s before they came out, but I have little access to the actual internal experience of a religious commitment that included celibacy.
Certainly, Brother Vincent—if he had been gay—could have left the Marists and lived his life differently. Although this was before the birth of the Gay Liberation Movement, there were plenty of men his age who made the brave choice to live more openly gay lives. The Stonewall riots occurred in 1969—Brother Vincent was 34 at the time and I wonder what he thought of it. I had graduated high school two years earlier and it certainly changed my life. I now knew what to do with the anger that prompted me to assault that student years earlier.
Brother Vincent found his community in the Marists; I found mine in the newly burgeoning gay liberation movement. I have worked in queer politics and publishing since 1970 and this was the world that sustained my life, gave me a vision, and allowed me to build a family of friends, lovers, and companions—all, as Edward Carpenter and Walt Whitman would have said, comrades. It also gave me a career in teaching. This was certainly not the usual career path for boys from Catholic high schools in the 1960s. What would Brother Vincent have thought of this? Would he be shocked, dismayed, envious? In some odd way Brother Vincent means much more to me with the distance of death between us than he did alive.
I feel no such distance from Cody. I saw him frequently at school. He had taken three courses with me and was planning on taking another this coming spring. He was a great student, always willing to push himself, interested in a wide range of ideas and concepts only vaguely associated with what we were studying. The last paper he wrote for me, in a class about post-WWII queer cinema, explored the links between violence and queerness in Hollywood films. It was provocative and thoughtful. Cody's strength as an intellectual was that he was interested in so many things and willing to think them through.
Cody was also very active with campus queer politics and was head of the Dartmouth Gay Straight Alliance, which he helped rename the GSXYZ—a parody of the increasingly long list of initials that have been accumulating in recent years. He wanted to continue his queer activism after college and had organized a Proposition 8 protest in front of the American Embassy in Edinburgh days before his death.
I am faced with these two deaths—and lives—that seem so wildly different in identity, length, activity, and intention.But are they really so different? The further away I get from the Catholicism of my high school, the more I can see how the social justice and social action philosophy of the Marists helped shaped my activism. While I have no idea of Brother Vincent's actual sexuality or his reasons for joining the Marists, I do know that he entered a community of men who lived together and pursued what they saw as essentially world-changing work through teaching and advocating for social justice. At school we were urged to do community work, join civil rights marches, and question the war in Vietnam, a particularly bold step since the Catholic hierarchy backed U.S. policies in Vietnam.
Cody's life may not have been, in some respects, all that different. I see students every day who have the same problems coming out that men had in the 1960s and 1970s. While young gay people now have a wider range of infrastructures to help them deal with problems, they still encounter pervasive homophobia in school, workplace, and family. In the past six years five students' parents completely cut them off when they came out. If Cody's death was a suicide was it prompted by queer hatred or enormous neglect? If so, what does this mean for the idea of progress? Did his queer community at Dartmouth fail him? The larger queer community? His community at home in Arizona? Some combination of all of them?
Communities—however we define them and understand their parameters—have an enormous impact on us, both positive and negative. Though we are often sustained by our communities, even at their best they are never really all that we may hope them to be. Communities are what people are able to bring to them. Politically progressive communities—maybe especially, queer communities—have been lifelines and life-saving sanctuaries to many of us, but we have to admit their failings and their internal problems. Perhaps we need to think through a new progressive critique of the myriad and complex connections between individuals and community.
Brother Vincent, in some sense, gave up a personal identity to become part of a religious community. What did he lose and gain? Did Cody give up something to become part of the queer community? Have I given up some sense of myself in four decades of political activism in the queer cultural and political community?
In some ways a community's response to death is a test of its strength. We saw this with AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s when, amid personal and social devastation, individuals formed and reformed community responses that saved, prolonged, and nourished lives. Dealing with death on that massive level was both draining and empowering, necessary, and, on a fundamental level, infuriating that the burden had to be carried by the queer community alone—for a time, anyway.
When I think about the changes that have occurred in LGBT communities over the last 30 to 40 years, the most striking is that the concept of community is very different from what it was, especially for gay and lesbian youth. While progress has been made in constructing support systems for queer youth, these structures have focused on dealing with the individual, not with the community. The professionalization of support has shifted the paradigm from a community model to an individual model. In the past the personal was political—now the personal is just the personal. Now, a personal problem is a personal problem. An ethos of privatization has occurred that was never there before.
This shift is seen in how LGBT political battles are framed today. In the past we fought for the right to be public, to claim the public sphere. Today the fight is for the right to privacy and nowhere is that seen more than in the fight for same-sex marriage, the most profoundly private of social institutions.
I think the important question here is how this idea of privatization affects the individual. Do people know one another as much as was possible before? Do they see themselves as members of a cohesive group or as individuals who simply share some similar sexual desires, who might join together to fight for same-sex marriage so that they can then retire to privatized worlds of domesticity?
Cody's and Brother Vincent's deaths came at different times, under different circumstances, and within different senses of community. Yet thinking about them I can see political parallels. The first is that people's lives, particularly the lives of gay people, are always more complicated than we think at first sight or judgment. Second, that as much as things have gotten better in this world, there is still much further to go and reasons to be glad as well as to mourn.
Michael Bronski is a long-time activist and writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications.
Michael Bronski is a long-time activist and writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications.
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AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
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LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
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LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.