Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What the Maine Vote Tells Us

Last night, early in the night, I saw the stats trending down in Maine and called my close buddy, Ivy Bottini to tell her, “We’re losing Maine.”
I added, “The majority never votes positively on the rights of a minority. They will always protect their turf.” (That’s why we invented democracy – so that the majority couldn’t trample on the rights of the minority. )
What Ivy told me in return was an old maxim that we veteran activists know well, “We have to take power. No one is going to give it to us.”

So I called Mark Sullivan, spokesman for Protect Maine Equality, and asked him, “Do you have a back-up plan for tomorrow? Our troops should be staging protests, or a statewide sit-in tomorrow.”
But I could tell, he didn’t want to hear about defeat that early in the evening.

So I get up this morning and see that Maine lost by one full percentage point more than we did last fall in California, 53-47%.

There was nothing wrong with Maine’s campaign and nothing critical wrong with California’s either. Both struggled valiantly and brought our side up from the mid 30% ten years ago to the highs of 47-48%.
Simply put, straight people want to keep their “M” word. If gay people can get married, how can they understand their world? It’s changing too much, too fast, too soon for them. I know these are the comments of older people like my Roman Catholic parents. They don’t understand the subtlety of our argument that civil unions and domestic partnerships are not separate-but-equal categories. They are telling us, “Why can’t you just take your civil rights, since you say your fight is about civil rights, and leave us the M word?”
This sentiment showed clearly in Washington state last night where our winning ballot measure (Yes, we won in Washington!) simply elevate the status of civil unions to grant us all the rights of married couples—without using the “M” word.

What does this tell us? What is the message of Maine and Washington for our gay strategic leaders?

I think the LBGT movement should stop wasting our precious funds and energy on a strategy that leaves 90% of gays and lesbians out of the picture. We have lost in 31 states now, and the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over regardless of feedback. I think our leaders should be more concerned with winning our rights, instead of fighting paper-tiger battles around the “M” word. We should re-focus our efforts on doing what Washington did—winning. Our movement needs to be about winning civil rights for domestic partners in all 50 states. Dozens of states don’t even have domestic partnership (civil union) statues. They have nothing. Where are our big organizations and their purse strings when it comes to fighting for simple recognition of gays as couples in Kansas, Florida, or Colorado?

I say its time to re-direct the gay movement into fighting the real battle for civil rights in all 50 states. Put the “M” word on the back burner for a decade and watch—it will fall into our laps as soon as the older generation stops voting. But during this next decade, our people need REAL rights, not words, in order to conduct their lives as fuller couples, parents and human beings with practical needs.

As a movement we’ve made real progress over the last four decades. But progress means winning battles, not losing expensive wars. We cannot allow the right to define the direction of our movement as we pour millions into their coffers. If we re-direct our efforts towards writing an effective series of laws that gives gay & lesbian couples their civil rights, in much the same way as California legislators like Sheila Kuehl did over the last twenty years, gay couples in dozens of states will profit from this re-direction.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Lesbians Leading the Marriage Fight …I don’t think so!

A rebel dyke’s thoughts on marriage

I was shocked to read in Don Kilhefner’s last column in Frontiers IN LA, that he believes lesbians are leading the same-sex marriage fight. Part of me wants to say, “And what’s wrong with that? White-gay-men have led almost every fight in our movement for the past 40 years. And the other part of me wants to ask, “Where did you get this crazy notion?”
In his article, “The Same-Sex Marriage Steamroller” Kilhefner says, “Let me respectfully suggest that the same-sex marriage issue is largely a lesbian-led one.” As evidence for this odd conclusion, he cites an article printed in the New York Times that “indicates that nearly 70% of same-sex marriages in Massachusetts are between women.”
I don’t doubt that lesbians are getting married far more than gay men. This is nothing new. Dykes have been more into commitment, home-building together, and nesting than gay men’s more freewheeling lifestyle -- decades before the ‘marriage’ issue wound up on the front burner of our political agenda.
But to cite the fact that lesbians are more inclined toward marriage than gay men as evidence that the marriage issue is “largely a lesbian-led one” is a sloppy and sexist conclusion. It is true that there are lesbians in the leadership of the marriage fight, but for every gay woman in leadership, I cite gay male names and organizations like Geoff Kors of Equality California, Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign, Cleve Jones, blah, blah….
And yes, for the first time in our history, some organizations also have lesbian leadership like Torie Osborn, Kate Kendall, and Jenny Pfizer, and our home-grown maverick, Robin Tyler. So, for the first time in the 40 year history of the LBGT struggle, perhaps the marriage fight is truly co-gender in its leadership. And I realize that to some men, equal leadership might feel like lesbian domination but this is not fact.
Kilhefner goes on to say that “if something was so far out of balance in favor of gay men’s issues, our sisters, right so, would and have in the past, fervently pointed it out to gay men.” To that adjudication I say – the LGBTQ movement has almost always been out of balance in its pursuit of issues that affect gay men. In the radical 70s the movement was led by gay men who sought to eradicate laws inhibiting gay men’s sexuality. In the 1980s and ‘90s, the male leadership’s single-issue was fighting AIDS. And in this century the energy-field has been all about the T, as in transition and transgender. So there has never been a decade in which an L word issue has dominated. Until, perhaps now. So please guys, don’t get all hen-pecked over the fact that dykes are co-leading the marriage fight. We lesbians have been with you and supporting your issues for a very long time.

And as to marriage itself, I do heartily agree with Kilhefner and Ivy Bottini’s recent essays that our LGBT movement is in danger, not from lesbians, but from our co-gender leaders who think that marriage is the only issue on the gay agenda. I am a lesbian who does not believe in state-sanctified relationships. And I know thousands of lesbian feminists, like myself, who are not getting married because we believe that the vow we make to each other in front of family and friends IS the most sacred and important.
I do believe that we LGBT folk might be over-narrowing our movement into a single-issued struggle that will not serve us in the future. I saw the Women’s Movement almost die because it focused all of women’s liberation on the ERA Amendment (which never did pass). The Suffragette Movement (for women to get the vote), did disappear from the map with the passage of the 20th Amendment. The Black Civil Rights movement became narrowly focused on the Civil Rights Act (1964) and after it passed, that movement lost much of its steam. So history does tell us, a single-issued movement can be quickly cut off at the knees. Social movements are strongest when they put forth a broad range of goals.
I worry, along with Bottini and Kilhefner, that the over-focus on marriage weakens the broad health of our struggle for full equal rights for every lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer person not just in California, but in the whole world. We should be sending money and troops (organizers) to small towns in America and countries in the world where gender-variant people like us are in jail. We should be in the streets protesting the discharge of women and men from the armed services. We should be right there, with legal defense and money, when people are murdered on the small streets of the Midwest. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be caught up in the luxury of quibbling over which year to return to the California ballot. As long as we are divided, that’s a signal that the time is not now. But now is the time to build and strengthen our political, social service and cultural institutions. Yes, we will win the right to marry one day soon. The real question is -- will we endure as a community long after the last vote has been cast on marriage?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

When Butchdom Was in Flower

I’ve just had one of the most unusual experiences of my life – being in unknown city surrounded by 400 Butch identified - women, dykes, bois, trans folk, youthful studlets, aged bulldykes, feminist she/he’s, rapper-aggressives, classic and soft butches, and every other kind of lesbian Butch I’ve never seen nor heard about.

Yeah – I was there at the start of a new movement being born within the great family of LGBT people, but here the “B” stands for Butch. Yes, I’m talking about the first ever Butch Voices Conference in Oakland, August 20-24, 2009.

Walking into the grand ballroom of the Marriott up to the stage to give my keynote address, I saw and felt a great wave of power and awe sweep toward me. The power in the surge felt all-woman, yet also mass-culine, a rough-and-tumble, yet strangely elegant surge of love. What is this power? I asked myself as my shoulders coiled in fight or flight mode, the first instinct of growing up butch in a hostile world.

But then I saw Jewelle Gomez in the second row stand up and start clapping. And then the whole room rose up like an old-bull rising to her feet one last time, and I realized that they were clapping for me like I was Achilles returned from a lifetime of war.

And suddenly I realized that this surge was the force of butch-love. And it wasn’t just for me it was for each other. None of us had ever in our lifetime been with a great crowd of our own kind and this was awe, amazement, and wait… I remember the feeling from the 70s, great bands of lesbian feminists gathering and shouting and reveling in ‘sisterhood’, but only this time… it was lesbian brotherhood.

And later I found myself in a workshop led by Sasha T. Goldberg - a room packed with 60 butches who’d come to hear what the hell the workshop title “Bulldagger: For Women-Identified, Female Pronoun using Butches” – meant. And what it turned out to mean was some fear that our kind of butch might be an endangered species. We worried that so many of the young Butches were choosing unusual combinations of mixing ‘butch’ with masculinity. Did that mean that our definition of butch was being cut off at the knees? So we put our fear out on the table and looked at it. We talked about the loneliness of growing up as the original gender-warriors of lesbianism. And out of that shared pain came the realization that we need to re-define ‘butch’ in a post-trans world. And out of this realization we decided that we would not surrender to fear, not even to the fear of extinction. No, that’s not the butch way. We don’t surrender to fear. So we decided, we are not going to cut off our junior brothers who are taking ‘butch’ beyond the binary of male & female. How could we reject them when our own lives are about demanding that the straight world move over and accept the existence of masculine woman? How could we divorce them off when they are only creating a new platform out of the freedom we fought to give to them?

And so it was decided, almost from the very first day, not just in this workshop, but the Butch Voice Conference as a whole declared that we didn’t want to draw a line between female and male identified butches. We didn’t want to cut off the new shadows of what it might mean to be butch. We just said “no” to dividing ourselves along the patriarchally created lines of binary genders that we’ve fought so long and hard to bury.

And in case some dykes are out there saying, so what’s the big news, a bunch of ‘guys’ got together and decided they are guys? That wasn’t the case. When I gave the Conference organizers the title of my keynote, “Keeping our Feminism, While Exploring our Masculinities,” I thought I might be a lone voice of feminism at the weekend. But I was determined to insist that the new generation of butches know the strength of Feminism and don’t grow up without it. So I was shocked and over-joyed when butch after butch, particularly the African American, working-class butches, whose voice was strong this weekend, claimed feminism as a cornerstone of their own ideology of ‘butch.’

And yes, Butch Voices also taught me a lot about class. Things that this other class, privileged, Chicana, feminist, classic-butch never knew. And I had one of the best nights of my lesbian life rocking to the performance night talent called “Butch Nation” which blew the roof off Humanity Hall in Oakland. But these are others stories…more stories about butch voices…that I hope to write about later.

So for the thousands of dykes who missed this extra-ordinary event, tune into - because the awesome organizers promise ButchVoices2 two years from this summer.

For more from me see my website under construction at, moving shortly to

PS Title of my blog gives a nod to 1922 book/play/movie 'When Knighthood Was in Flower', about chivalry in the Tudor Period!

PHOTO: Lisa Everly. (seen here, Lynn H. Ballen & Jeanne Cordova, co-producers of the LEX-Lesbian Exploratorium exhibit, GenderPlay, part of the BV art showcase 'Visually Speaking' )

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What do Sotomayor and Palin have in common?

Watching the sexism, 10 white men ‘bullying’ a lone woman reminds me of the worst of Chris Matthews trying to grok Hillary Clinton. And just when I feel my stomach start to settle down one of these guys from The Family of Old White Guys brings up the “wise Latina” quote for the 45th time and makes me feel I was wrong to come back from living in Mexico. As a Latina American, it doesn’t take much to out-wise these good old boys who haven’t swept a floor since they left Mommy, I am appalled by the overt racism of the supposedly wisest men in America – Senators.

I want to paint my protest sign and get out there on the streets for Sotomayor, a feeling I haven’t had since the paint-Anita Hill-as-a-tramp in the Thomas for Justice hearings decades ago. So I can feel the heat from my Latino hermanas across the country. I ask myself -- Why are Republican Senators being so obviously racist? Don’t they know they are loosing thousands of Latino votes by the hour?”

And then it dawns on me! These hearings are not about Sonia Sotomayor, she’s a shoo-in, everyone has admitted that. So what’s this show about? It’s about Sarah Palin’s constituency and who’s gonna be its champion come 2012. Her constituency, the Last White People Standing Party, that’s the LWPS party, not to be confused with the NSWP party – the National Socialist White People’s Party, yep, the NAZIs.

The Last White People Standing party is the last gasp of rural, used-to-be, the ‘real’ America, why are all these people of so many colors taking us over constituency that Palin now represents. And the Last White People are very, very pissed off. And something, I believe, the rest of us have to take seriously, if only to watch them try to take back their disappearing country. That will affect the rest of us.

Obama’s election as our first African American president, and come on, Michael Jackson was blacker than Obama, has tipped the balance of power in this country so much that LWPS might well be that missing third party on the national stage. Remember Ross Perot who at least hid his racism behind his ‘pro-business’ rhetoric? So let’s watch out for the rise of this third party. Oh it won’t be called the Last White People Standing party …no, it’ll be called something very democratic sounding and close to God. Let’s see, the Patriot’s Party, or maybe the National American Party. Yeah, that’s a good catch-all word – American. What does that stand for?

Pop Quiz Question: What will that new Party be called? Best answer gets front seats at the next sold-out LEX event! And, kudos to Angela Brinskele who got the last pop quiz lesbian history question first and right. Still owe Angela that GenderPlay T-shirt! Congrats to Angela!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rules for Radicals....

Righto, haven’t blogged much lately, but now I’m on a run. We’re working on the Top 20 Required Reading for Young Activists list. We’re breaking it up into philosophy, basic classics, gay, lesbian and trans categories.
For now, start with a basic -- Saul Alinsky’s classic, “Rules for Radicals.” It’s small, in paperback, cheapo. Alinsky was The Man in early 70s community organizing and Obama and I both carried the Rules in our back pockets. In 1972 I did my Masters in Social Work at UCLA and wrote my thesis on, “The Organized Lesbian Community of L.A.” The professor gave me a “C” saying, “I don’t believe this exists, but I’ll pass you because I know you’re going to create it. Nice try.”
Alinsky was our guideposts at UCLA School of Social Work for both Chicano and Black Student Alliances, whites too!
So here's a question: Anyone know who Del Martinez is (besides the President of the UCLA Chicano Alliance back in my day)?
That’s the pop-history question of the day. (no googling!)
A GenderPlay t-shirt will be awarded to whoever knows!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Time to Pass The Torch

Katha Pollitt's recent column in The Nation is about intergenerational feminist conflicts. Read it at this link... & then my response below...

I write to affirm Katha Pollitt’s view that it is not about waves, it is about power. And to suggest that 2nd wave feminists (and I am one, albeit a youngster of 60) all need to start pass the torch to Generation O, the Obama Generation.
Perhaps we do more action and less hair splitting here in L.A., where this passing of the torch is already well underway. And I am speaking more of the LGBT Movement, which strongly overlaps the re-burgeoning young feminist movement.
Both had their re-birth with the same historical events in 2007 – the campaign between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And in California, at least, Generation O has further earned their stripes on the same Election Day November defeat over Proposition 8, which would have given same-sex couples the right to marry.
For the last eight months, California’s Generation 0, a huge passel of high school, college and post college young kids – often led by young women – have taken to the streets in protest on a weekly basis. They have organized so many new groups that we’ve had to form a coordinating coalition called OUT West that now includes 40 organizations.
I have met these young militant adults at a half dozen history-teach-ins, civil disobedience actions, panels, rallies, marches, and on Facebook. And unlike their parents’ generation – the 40 to 60 years olds who went partying or lip-sticking during the Bush’s dead years - they want to hear from us, their grandmothers of the 2nd wave.

That’s the real news -- that the kids are back on the streets again and wanting us to tell them: what is consciousness raising? How do you get a thousand people to a rally? What are the tricks of the trade?
With a looming defeat on our state’s agenda, and having been radicalized in Hillary’s campaign AND Obama’s brilliant grass-roots organizing, the only thing they want to know is – how do we win?

These young women – and dare I say, young men as sweet and feminist as their grandmothers raised them to be. Their vigor and idealism warms my heart. They are a super-bright, socially conscious lot and I sleep well at night knowing that after the fallow years (80’s & 90s’s) – the kids are back!
And now it is our job to school them, (Our Council of Elders is putting a book list together that covers everything from Simone de Beauvoir to Kate Bornstein), to support them, and turn the power over to them. We need to be pushing them forward, making sure that on every panel of old feminists, there are Gen O speakers too. We need to open our meetings to them, yes the top planning meetings too. And make sure their views and interpretations of the world get air time too.
And now, Robin Morgan, we do need to pass the torch. We had our day and did a hell of a job with it. But now it is time to be mentors to them. They are the future.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

LEX... produces GenderPlay Exhibit in West Hollywood

GenderPlay in Lesbian Culture
Exhibit opening – Saturday, March 14th 3pm - 6pm

With singer & boi-wonder Phranc & emcee Marie Cartier & performance art from Latina trio Butchlalis de Panochtitlan.

L.A.’s first-ever exhibition that explores gender and its boundaries and the changing nature of lesbian identity.

Discover cross-dressers and tobacco-chewers of the American Civil War and the Wild West, stone butches, high femmes, and kiki's of the 1950s through the Lesbian Feminist 1970s to queers, bois, and trans people of today. See how ‘passing’ gave opportunity and language to women’s sexuality – from two spirit to genderqueer today.

GenderPlay challenges our labels, asks us to re-think our stereotypes, and looks at how lesbians define ourselves & what turns us on. All re-mixed with vintage photos, archival docs, film clips, and historic first person quotes.

ONE Archives Gallery & Museum 626 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood CA 90069 (Gallery Entrance on El Tovar)

Produced by LEX - the Lesbian Exploratorium & ONE Gay&Lesbian Archives

co-sponsored by City of West Hollywood & Christopher Street West/LA Pride

For details: