Category: LGBTQ

Sep 06 2014

Cece McDonald Teaches About the PIC (with video)

William C. Anderson wrote a short essay about CeCe McDonald for the No Selves to Defend anthology which I share below.

by Micah Bazant

by Micah Bazant

Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald is a trans woman whose bravery in the face of injustice has changed lives and perceptions in the United States. On the night of June 5, 2011, CeCe was out with friends when she was attacked. Three people began harassing her and her friends outside a bar by deriding them with racist and transphobic slurs, before attacking them physically.

CeCe fought for her life; when the dust settled one of her attackers lay dead. CeCe survived the attack, but was arrested by the police. After receiving 11 stitches to her cheek, she was interrogated without counsel and placed in solitary confinement. CeCe was charged with second-degree murder for defending herself. Rather than face trial by a jury that would not likely sympathize with her, she accepted a plea deal to the lesser charge of second-degree manslaughter.

Read more »

Mar 06 2014

Guest Post – No More Nice Gays: The Trouble with the Good Gay Parent Argument

This was originally published at In These Times. I am republishing it here with the permission of the author, my friend, Erica Meiners.

No More Nice Gays: The Trouble with the Good Gay Parent Argument
by Erica R. Meiners

On the heels of Vladimir Putin’s Olympic proclamation that (foreign) gays will be welcome in Russia as long as they leave the kids alone, America’s homegrown anti-gay coalition is headed to the courts to unfurl their “scientifically-endorsed” gays are bad for children banner. A challenge to Michigan’s constitutional ban on gay marriage started last week and “the kids” are center court.

By stoking associations like homosexual = pervert = sex offender = child molester, Putin and Team Anti-Gay Marriage USA are stirring a simmering cauldron that many LGBTQ people try hard to avoid.

To counter a long—and continuing—narrative of LGBTQ folks as criminals and deviants, advocates have worked feverishly to stamp out these linkages that some find unseemly. (Ex: Lesbians drive Subarus! Gays care for needy puppies and children! Transfolks make excellent soldiers!) These associations have proven difficult to negate, however, because a determined and bankrolled cadre of pseudo-scholars are always ready to wade in.

In Michigan’s upcoming constitutional battle on gay marriage, for example, sociologist Mark Regnerus is scheduled to testify for Team Anti-Gay Marriage USA and present his less-than-objective bad gay parents summary, which has been discredited as junk science for its flawed methodology and is overwhelmed with a landslide of research demonstrating the opposite.  Mountains of bona-fide blue chip scholarly research document that gays and lesbians are generally model parents, workers, soldiers, citizens and spouses. Homosexuals are statistically no more likely than heterosexuals to sexually abuse children and to stunt youth’s emotional or sexual development. And they do not turn their kids gay.

Despite this research, core associations between queers and people who harm children have not been eradicated. Homegrown evangelical Christians, crowds of Parisians protesting gay marriage, swaths of the Catholic Church, politicians and religious leaders in Nigeria and innumerable elementary school hiring committees, among others, find homosexual/child molester associations too convenient, convincing and fervor-inducing to not entertain or exploit.

Yet while Putin’s statement and Regnerus’s “research” elicited the dutiful response from LGBTQ organizations and allies, the fact remains that gays are no more a risk to children than anyone else. So what if queers shift tactics and refuse to line up experts to testify to this effect ad nauseam?

Instead of going on the defensive, there is a broader truth we could be exposing: This nation, and this planet, repeatedly and viscerally harms many of its occupants, including people who qualify as minors. In the U.S., 14-year-olds are tried as adults and sentenced to natural life in prison, and universal access to quality childcare programs is nonexistent. Most youth are denied access to meaningful sexual health education, and marginalized youth don’t get an equal chance at a quality education. Approximately 1 in 4 children live at or below the federal poverty level and roughly 16 million children live in households with severe food scarcity. And children are marshaled to sell everything, including themselves—just ask Honey Boo-Boo.

In this abysmal reality, devoting time and resources to convincing the public that gays don’t harm children or disrupt “normal child development” seems out of step, tone deaf and ludicrous. A bit like demanding that the Metropolitan Museum of Art add your homemade quilted Last Supper tapestry to their collection.

Beyond this landscape where institutional harm is a normalized component of everyday life, the image of the child itself requires a queer and critical engagement. As someone who has attended multiple neighborhood meetings where (imagined and real) children have been marshaled by a range of groups to install more blue-light street surveillance cameras, to stall discussions about low-income housing that might attract dangerous strangers to the neighborhood, to support increases in street policing for child protection or as a props to mete out increasingly austere allocations of resources, I can attest to how the “symbolic child” shapes our everyday lives.

And “child protection” justifies punitive practices and policies that frequently have little to do with the lives of real children. The enforced drug testing of pregnant women and the expansion of policing and surveillance make our lives less secure while supposedly securing the rights of the symbolic child. Or consider Marlise Muñoz, a brain-dead mother forced to “incubate,” as her partner Erick stated, a fetus—not a person but very much a symbolic child. A dozen states have laws on the books forcing pregnant women to endure a range of treatment or medical procedures without consent, in addition to the two dozen states with laws that require pregnant women, like Marlise, to be kept on life support without consent.

Instead of arguing that gays don’t compromise the safety of children, can we talk about how a focus on the lives of imagined children makes all of our lives unstable and precarious, and all our futures more vulnerable?

For in all this talk of children and our futures, there are real children who are left in the cold. As the late and beautiful scholar José Esteban Muñoz, put it: “Racialized kids, queer kids, are not the sovereign princes of futurity.”

This is, perhaps, the most dangerous trick of all. Not only are the kids wielded against many of us, but the shining and mythical innocence possessed by select children is not extended to others. Just look at Trayvon Martin.

So why not: Yes, Putin and Team Anti-Gay Marriage USA, queers are corrosive, unsafe for children. Our first perverted moves: Redistribute food and land to the hungry, open the prison doors and educate all, particularly children, about bodies and sex.

We recruit.

Jan 16 2014

Taking Care of Our Own: Stand With the Broadway Youth Center

I wish that I had time to write something thoughtful that would make you understand how much the Broadway Youth Center (BYC) means to me and to so many of us in Chicago. But unfortunately time is short. Luckily someone more eloquent has shared poignant words about the importance of BYC. My friend Lara was the director of BYC for years. She posted some words on Facebook and I will share them with you.

If you can, I am begging you to come show your support tomorrow morning at a hearing to renew BYC’s zoning permit. The Center faces stiff opposition.

If you cannot appear at tomorrow morning’s hearing, you can submit a letter of support. Please do one or both of these things.

Below are Lara’s words:

When I was Director of the Broadway Youth Center, I wrote something for a fundraiser in May 2013—right before we moved to Wellington Ave UCC. I thought I would share a few passages before tomorrow’s special use permit hearing, especially for those of you less familiar with the Broadway Youth Center’s impact.

“The work we do is truly incredible and life-changing—it’s youth-centered and authentic and real. What I love most is that it’s constantly evolving and refining itself as we learn more from our communities about what works.

What these numbers [annual quantitative outcomes] don’t tell you is that we have the honor and privilege of focusing our efforts on meeting, in a profoundly holistic way, the needs of youth who are street-based or experiencing homelessness, LGBTQ youth, youth who are pregnant and parenting, low-income youth, and youth who have survived tremendous trauma. For us, this means the Broadway Youth Center holds some of the highest concentrations of resilience in the entire country. The Broadway Youth Center literally RADIATES determination, guts, and ingenuity—which is why our work continues to be ground-breaking and powerful and relevant.

The numbers are impressive. But they don’t tell the story of how we’ve created a stable space for young people to build with one another for, in some cases, more than eight years. That’s the kind of long-termness that builds chosen families.

The Broadway Youth Center is a place where youth workers have built multi-year-long relationships with youth participants. And it’s through that type of long-termness—in combination with youth who have a deep relationship with our space and use that trust to build with new staff and volunteers—that we truly get to do the deepest work around healing. And community building. And HIV prevention.

What these numbers don’t tell you is that access to gender affirming, youth-centered, and sex-positive health care is rare in our communities. It’s precious. And we must protect it because we know it works.

What these numbers don’t tell you is that the BYC holds incredible pain and injustice. But also so much that is sacred.

I rarely share stories—mostly because I worry that our communities will take hold of one story about a homeless young person and think that that’s everyone’s story. But I’m going to tell you a story about a moment in the life of the BYC.

It’s the story of our weekly community meetings. A place where youth and youth workers gather to discuss resources and issues impacting the community. Picture chips and cookies being passed around. The room getting hot and stuffy because there are 40 bodies all crammed in together. Some young people are sitting with the entirety of their belongings in one bag—next to them. Many youth in the room do not yet know where they are going to sleep tonight.

And then we get to Youth Spotlight—this is the part of the agenda where youth can share a song or a talent.

Two things happened next.

First, a young person takes off her backpack. Removes a one piece, couture unitard with hand sewn bead work (that she has done herself), and puts it on—over her clothes—in less than 30 seconds. This unitard is stunning and sets the tone of wonder for what is about to happen next when a young person stands up to sing.

Acapella.

The performer literally has a soft glow about them—their gender is glowing and dynamic and fluid. And just gorgeous.

And this person starts to sing. I can’t even remember the song. But I remember looking around at the other youth and youth workers.

You could hear a pin drop. It was complete reverence and respect for this young queer deaf transgender singer-artist-diva. And even if this young person couldn’t hear or experience the song the same way many of us were hearing it, this person could look into our eyes and hearts and know in that moment that what was coming from their lips was gorgeous. And powerful.

And I remember the clapping and foot stomping that followed. And the way everything seemed to float off the ground.

That kind of vulnerability and trust in a community just blows me away. For me, this is the kind of healing work that symbolizes the BYC. The kind that just fills up your chest and vibrates out-bursting through doors like a powerful wind. It just can’t NOT touch you.”

Please join us tomorrow if you can!

BYC

Jan 14 2014

Cece McDonald is Out of Prison But Not Really ‘Free’

Yesterday was a good day.

Cece McDonald was released from prison after being unjustly incarcerated for 19 months. Adding insult to injury, she was locked up in a men’s prison despite being a woman. Many people rejoiced including Cece herself who was obviously thrilled to be out of prison.

Cece with Laverne Cox leaving prison

Cece with Laverne Cox leaving prison

I noticed a number of people on social media remarking that Cece was “free.” I thought of my friend Marcus who several years ago reprimanded me for applying this term to him. We were eating lunch about a month after he was released from serving five years in prison. I said, “So, how does it feel to be free?” He looked at me in his soul-searching way and replied: “I wasn’t free when I went in and I sure as shit ain’t free now.” I felt as though I had been punched in the gut because I of course knew this to be true. Since that conversation, I have tried to avoid using the term “free” when I talk about formerly incarcerated people.

Cece will suffer the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction and incarceration for years to come. This is what I call the ‘invisible shackles of the carceral state.’ Across the country, almost 6 million people are ineligible to vote in elections as a result of a criminal conviction. Cece who lives in Minnesota will be barred from voting until her “felony conviction record [is] discharged, expired, or completed.” This means that she will be disenfranchised for several years. She is one of the “lucky” ones who won’t be permanently barred from participating in a critical aspect of civic life.

Thankfully Cece has a supportive community of friends around her and has already found a place to live. However, most returning citizens find themselves scrambling to afford and rent apartments upon their release from prison. In many states, formerly incarcerated people are banned from public housing. Some find a place in halfway houses. Many more are made homeless.

In 2014, a criminal record is almost synonymous with permanent under and unemployment. In the current depressed economy, there are at least three applicants (usually more) for each open position. Employers have their pick of people to hire. Returning citizens are low on their list. Without a path to legal employment, many formerly incarcerated people turn to the informal economy to survive. This often leads them back to prison (PDF) within three years of their release.

In his searing memoir 7 Long Times, Piri Thomas writes poignantly about the psychological impact of his incarceration and his struggle to re-acclimate upon being released:

It took me a long time before I was able to get the prison cockroaches out of my head. I’d wake up at home from nightmares that I was back in prison hearing the horrors, the curses and screams, reliving the tensions, anger, and pain, my body drenched in cold sweat. It would take minutes for me to realize I was at home.

When I first came home, I couldn’t break the habit of waking up in the morning half-asleep, getting into my clothes and stumbling around my bedroom looking for the toilet bowl and wash bowl, then standing like a damn fool in front of my bedroom door waiting for the guard to spring the lock. While in prison, I had always fought against being institutionalized, but some of its habits had rubbed off on me a little too damn deep. Even now, twenty-four years later, I still have an occasional nightmare that I’m back in prison.

It’s not easy to “leave prison behind.” Many formerly incarcerated people battle depression and other mental health issues upon their release. Often without access to health insurance, many do not get counseling or any other support for their psychological struggles.

As a black transgender woman, Cece is at risk of violence every time she leaves the house as evidenced by the attack that led to her unjust imprisonment. In 2013, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs documented at least 14 homicides of transgender women. The numbers are almost certainly much higher. The heightened risk of violence is another kind of cage, curtailing one’s movements and impinging on any sense of safety.

So while we rightly celebrate the fact that Cece has been released from prison and wish her well, let’s not forget the injustice that she was ever incarcerated in the first place. Let’s also remember that she is still dogged by the ‘invisible shackles of the carceral state’ so it behooves us to reframe the idea of ‘freedom.’ Finally, let’s make sure to commit ourselves to fighting for the release of the thousands of other trans people who are currently still locked up in our prison nation. In a letter from prison, Cece wrote:

“The real issues are the ones that affect all prisoners. People should get involved in changing policies that keep people in prisons, like exclusion from employment, housing, public assistance…These are just a few things that will keep people out of prisons and lead to the dismantling of these facilities.” (cited by Vikki Law)

Cece gets it. I hope others will too.

Jul 07 2013

Comic: Stonewall by Mike Funk

Last week, I stumbled upon this comic about the Stonewall Uprising by Mike Funk. The comic was based on a speech given by Sylvia Rivera in 2001.

stonewallcomic

stonewallcomic2

Read the rest of the comic here.

Apr 07 2013

Image(s) of the Day

The wonderfully generous and talented artist Ariel Springfield contributed three pieces of art work to our Black and Blue: Art on Policing, Violence & Resistance exhibition. I share her contributions below:

by Ariel Springfield (2013)

by Ariel Springfield (2013)

by Ariel Springfield

by Ariel Springfield

by Ariel Springfield (2013)

by Ariel Springfield (2013)

Mar 28 2013

Bayard Rustin, the First ‘Freedom Rides,’ and Prison

I was perusing a used book store in Evanston last month and came across a first edition copy of Bayard Rustin’s collected writings. I am re-reading them now. I often wish that his contributions were better known. Those who do know something about him probably know that he was an ally to Dr. King and perhaps also that he was an openly gay man (at a time when that was perhaps as dangerous). Since we have spent the better part of this week discussing civil rights and the LGBT community, I thought that it would be fitting to revisit Rustin’s contributions since he isn’t a household name among the icons of the black freedom movement in the U.S. For me however, Bayard Rustin is/was a giant. In reading about the black freedom movement, I gravitated to him, Septima Clark, Fannie Lou Hamer and later Ella Baker as organizers of understated but unparalleled skill.

bayardrustinmugshot Rustin was a Quaker and a pacifist. In 1944, he was drafted & as a conscientious objector (CO) he refused to serve. For this, he was sentenced to prison:

“On February 17, 1944, a court found Rustin guilty of resisting the draft and sentenced him to three years (most COs received one year and a day) in the federal prison in Ashland, Kentucky, a segregated prison in a segregated state. On one visit to white COs, Rustin was beaten by a white prisoner who only stopped when he realized that neither Rustin nor the other COs were fighting back. Rustin’s protests against racial segregation, and his open homosexuality, were a source of growing tension. So in August 1945, he was transferred to the higher-security penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where he served out the remainder of his time.

Read more »

Aug 27 2012

‘Taking Back BoysTown’ or How Some Queer Folk Can Be Hella Oppressive

I am incredibly lucky to be in community with some of the most brilliant people anywhere. One of those is my colleague and friend Owen Daniel-McCarter who is one of the founders of the Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois. Owen recently published an excellent article and I want to share it with the readers of this blog. The article titled “Us vs. Them! Gays and the Criminalization of Queer Youth of Color in Chicago” is timely and will be particularly relevant to those who are interested in racism, classism, heterosexism, homophobia, and the criminalization of youth. I am only sharing a few excerpts from the article but you should really read it in its entirety HERE (PDF).

Owen offers some background for understanding the emergence of the “Take Back Boystown” phenomenon in Chicago:

After several publicly violent incidents in “Boystown” directly preceding and following the 2011 Chicago Pride Parade, residents of “Boystown” responded with calls for more policing, tougher enforcement of criminal laws, and resurrection of gang injunction ordinances. They even demanded that Chicago’s LGBT community center, the Center on Halsted, and a shelter for LGBT Youth known as the “Crib” be shut down for “attracting” violent outsiders into the “Boystown” community.” While “Boystown” residents’ fear of outside “invaders” seems to happen annually following the Pride Parade, this year was particularly hyper vigilant. Residents of “Boystown” created a facebook page called “Take Back Boystown” which touts to be “a venue for suggestions, ideas and thoughts on how we can preserve what we have and go back to the safe fun neighborhood Boystown is known for.” The site has provided a venue most notably for free-flowing rants from residents of “Boystown” about young people who are not residents of the neighborhood, referring to them in racialized code words such as “gangs,” “thugs,” and “hoodlums.” Local gay media immediately made the connection between public violence, youth, and race by reporting that “criminal activity” in “Boystown” could be due to the “presence of South and West Side youth.” As any resident of Chicago knows, “South and West Side youth” is code for Black and Latin@ youth.

Read more »

Jul 21 2012

LGBTQ Youth, Violence & The Promise and Limits of Storytelling

So this image has been making the rounds on social media over the past couple of weeks…

The photograph and words elicit an immediate emotional reaction from the audience. “How sad,” one might think. “What’s wrong with these horrible families?” another might ask. “We need to change our culture to make it more tolerant,” someone else might prescribe.

Read more »

Apr 30 2012

New Resource – Blue & Black: Stories of Police Violence – A Zine

Next Monday, I will be releasing to the public a set of resources about policing, violence, and resistance that me and my friends have been working on for over a year. Regular readers of Prison Culture are aware of this work since I have been previewing some of what I have learned about the history and current manifestations of oppressive policing here.

by Rachel Marie-Crane Williams

Today (as a preview of coming attractions), I am excited to share a new zine by my friend Rachel Marie-Crane Williams titled “Blue & Black: Stories of Policing and Violence.”

I’ve waxed poetic about Rachel at length here so I won’t embarrass her by gushing any further. I have already expressed my gratitude to her and she knows that I am in awe of her talent. So thank you, Rachel.

I hope that everyone reading this post will take the time to share the zine with someone else who you think should read it. For those who are in the Chicago area, we will be unveiling the zine and many other resources on Saturday May 5th at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Details of the event are here and we will have a few printed copies of the zine on hand.

I am swamped this week with work and several other projects so I will only post if there is any breaking news or if I feel an urge to rant. I hope to be back to regular posting next week.