#ThrowbackThursday “Spring Fling ’86” The Birth of Penguin Place. (The William Way LGBT Community Center)

In 1986, I had the pleasure of working with some very special members of Philadelphia’s LGBT community to produce a “Spring Fling” fundraiser for what was to become Penguin Place. At the time, ours was a Community Center without walls.

Penguin Place 1

Spring Fling was held at the Mask and Wig Club (located on south Camac St.) I will never forget the Spring Fling or the months of planning that led up to it. Each of us made a special contribution. We had battling DJs, planned “spontaneous” entertainment that seemed to manifest out of nowhere (think “flash mob” but with jugglers, magicians, and musicians), and brilliant slide show presentations that were revealed on a rear projection screen behind a beautifully painted stage backdrop.

I was working as an AV technician at the time so my contribution was the rear projection screen, the slide projectors, lenses, and animation fader which I borrowed from work.

I have always regretted that I didn’t get to know Bill Way better. In our short friendship, he was very supportive and encouraged my creativity.

Shortly after Spring Fling, I left Philadelphia for a new job out west. By the time I returned, Bill had died. Penguin Place was a reality and had a permanent facility just two blocks north of the Mask and Wig Club. The New organizers had taken Way’s dream to the next level and was serving the community.

That the William Way LGBT Community Center has been in it’s permanent home at 1315 Spruce St. for nearly two decades is a testament to the work and dedication of the community.

I think about William Way and that odd bunch of people who inspired me to get involved in my community. It was a very brief moment in my life but it reflects the very best of the LGBT community. As we just saw with Marriage Equality, when we work together the possibilities are endless.

#InternationalHolocaustRememberanceDay Remembering Gay Victims of the Holocaust

“In 1928 there was an estimated 1.2 million “out” homosexual men living in Germany.  As Adolf Hitler rose in power, gay organizations were banned and scholarly books regarding homosexuality were burned. Hitler’s racial state ideology branded homosexuals not only as “parasites” and degenerates, but as enemies of the state. In 1935, the Nazi government significantly expanded the criminalization of homosexuality.” via Stop Homophobia

If this doesn’t sound familiar, perhaps you should take a look at the rising anti-gay hysteria going on in Russia since Vladimir Putin enacted the Russian LGBT Propaganda Law which claims to “Protect Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development” but in has since led to an increase and justification of violence against LGBT people. To be clear, these laws have nothing to do with family or children. These laws are meant to scapegoat gays in very much the same way Germans scapegoated Jews and other “undesirables”.

The following is a collection of quotes and links compiled from around the web that shine a light on the forgotten victims of nazi terror.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

Mug shot of a homosexual prisoner in Auschwitz. Pink triangles were used to designate homosexual inmates. State Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Oświęcim, Poland

Mug shot of a homosexual prisoner in Auschwitz. Pink triangles were used to designate homosexual inmates. State Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Oświęcim, Poland

“In Nazi Germany, homosexuality was persecuted to a degree unprecedented in history. In 1935, the National Socialists issued an order making all male homosexuality a crime; the provisions governing homosexual behavior in Section 175 of the Criminal Code were significantly expanded and made stricter. A kiss was enough reason to prosecute. There were more than 50,000 convictions. Under Section 175, the punishment was imprisonment; in some cases, convicted offenders were castrated. Thousands of men were sent to concentration camps for being gay; many of them died there. They died of hunger, disease and abuse or were the victims of targeted killings.” — Travels of Adam

By now, most people are familiar with the Pink Triangle which, along with the Lambda and the Rainbow Flag, is a symbol for LGBT pride. But it has a dark history, one that isn’t taught in school. I remember a teacher talking about nazis exterminating millions of Jews and “others“, as if the others were an insignificant footnote of world history. When pressed, he explained that the ‘others’ were made up of gypsies, socialists, deviants and political prisoners.

triangle key2

Nazi Badge Chart identifies prisoners according to “offense”

 

Under the direction of SS head, police drew up “Pink Lists”, and embarked on a vicious crackdown on homosexual men and women. Many were sent to mental hospitals, others were castrated by court order, and 100,000 of these men were sent to concentration camps.The pink triangle (now a symbol of Gay Pride) was placed on the prisoners to mark that they were homosexuals. An estimated 55,000 were executed.

Heinz Dormer, spent nearly ten years in prisons and concentration camps. He spoke of the “haunting agonizing cries” from “the singing forest”, a row of tall poles on which condemned men were hung: “Everyone who was sentenced to death would be lifted up onto the hook. The howling and screaming were inhuman, beyond human comprehension”. source

Here is the badge chart translated to English

Here is the badge chart translated to English

The vast majority of those forced to wear pink triangles didn’t survive.

The Nazis believed that male homosexuals were weak, effeminate men who could not fight for the German nation. They saw homosexuals as unlikely to produce children and increase the German birthrate. The Nazis held that inferior races produced more children than “Aryans,” so anything that diminished Germany’s reproductive potential was considered a racial danger” — US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Eventually, the LGBT community took back the symbol of oppression.

LGBT reclaim the Pink Triangle (1980s)

 

Nazis interested in finding a “cure” for homosexuality expanded this program to include medical experimentation on homosexual inmates of concentration camps. These experiments caused illness, mutilation, and even death, and yielded no scientific knowledge.– source

“There are no known statistics for the number of homosexuals who died in the camps.”

I don’t know what it’s like to have family members that have survived the horrors of Auschwitz. It’s something for which I have no frame of reference so I would never assume to put myself in the same category as those with a direct familial link to nazi persecution. But I can identify with those who were singled out for something that is innate, especially when I look around and see history repeating itself.  I can honor forgotten victims.

Nazi Holocaust – The Forgotten Gay Victims

The fight against fascism and bigotry must also incorporate the defence and support of the Gay and Lesbian Communities. The message needs to be made loud and clear, and repeated often; ANY form of discrimination, bigotry or oppression must be fought and defeated in the 21st Century!!! — PNW

 

When we say “Never Again” we’ve got to mean it for everybody. It’s the only way to ensure that we are all safe from persecution because, if they come for one group they will come for yours too.

For more on Gays and the Holocaust…

Isn’t it sad how Americans forget our own history?

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Most American over twenty years old were old enough to understand the fear and anxiety that followed the terror attacks on that Tuesday morning in September of 2011. I remember a feeling of unreal disconnect. I’ve written about the eerie silence of that day. The lack of air traffic overhead. People walking in stunned silence. The entire country in uncertain fear. Most reasonable Americans, though reeling with disbelief and shock, wanted justice not revenge. President Bush’s response wasn’t perfect, but it was strong and reassuring. When Mr Bush sent troops to Afghanistan, I was behind him. Our nation was behind him. Then, under suspicion of weapons of mass destruction, we invaded Iraq. It was a diversion from our original directive. Our leaders took advantage of the confusion and anger of the American people. We were duped.

This was the moment in American history when things changed. This was when the NSA was given carte blanche. This was when we traded our constitutional freedoms for the illusion of security. This was the shameful moment, the first time in American history, when the barbaric act of torture and revenge was seen as just another unfortunate fact of life, like the a sudden rainstorm catching you without an umbrella or getting mud on your new shoes. Sure, it’s unpleasant to think about but I’ve got troubles of my own. I forgot to set my TIVO to record Will and Grace! Stan died having sex with his mistress. Will Karen be left penniless?

To be fair, we lied to ourselves. We didn’t call it torture. We called it EIT, or Enhances Interrogation Techniques. Doesn’t sound so bad. If water boarding is simply an enhanced interrogation technique, why did we execute the Japanese for war crimes after WWII for doing it?

#WAD2014 – #Reagan, #AIDS, and ACT-UP

For those of you who don’t understand why I dislike Reagan so much, here’s a poster from 1987 protesting our president’s silence on the deadliest virus that America had seen.

AIDSGATE, 1987, posterThink about that for a minute. Hundreds of thousands of Americans were sick and dying, and the American president was silent!

Ronald Reagan’s silence led to the organizing of LGBT protest/action group, The AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power, or “ACT-UP”. Their slogan, “Silence = Death” is based on Reagan’s silence.

AIDSIntroPicSilenceDeathSo the next time a conservative talks about how great a president Reagan was, ask them if they think it’s okay for an American president to ignore the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Ask them if they ever wonder how much closer we might be to finding a cure for HIV had Reagan actually done something.

If it sounds like I’m angry it’s because I AM angry. A whole generation of gay men from artists, writers, athletes, and teachers to doctors, lawyers, friends, lovers, and family, an entire generation was lost because of the callous attitude of Ronald Reagan and his successor, George HW Bush. Those of us who survived watched the ones we loved die all around us.

Gran Fury, The Government Has Blood On Its Hands, 1988, posterBoth Ronnie and Georgie Sr have blood on their hands.

I am dedicating World Aids Day 2014 to the fighters, the people who stand up for justice. From ACT-UP to protesters in Ferguson, we are all fighting for our lives. Never stop fighting. Sometimes shouting is the only way we’re heard.

A Quick Word of Appreciation for our Veterans

It’s no secret that I am morally opposed to war. I was vehemently against the invasion of Iraq. But no matter how I feel about any particular conflict, I will always, always, support the men and women who, at the request of our government, drop everything and risk their lives defending our country’s best interest.

Flag2Here is where I would normally go off on some political rant about “false patriotism” but I think the majority of United Sates citizens, regardless of their political slant, are patriotic. So, for now, I’m setting aside the political posturing for a more important message.

To every man, woman, and beast who has risked or lost his or her life in the defense of these United States, I thank you.

Military-dogs-06For more on military dogs, check out NPR’s “Military Dogs Enjoy Brighter Future After Service” by Gloria Hillard

Remembering the Everyday Heroes of September 11th

The thing I remember most about that Warm and Beautiful Day in September is people’s unconditional willingness to help one another.

I spent most of the day today trying to come up with something brilliant as a tribute to the memory of the many lives lost in, and those affected by, the 2001 terrorist attacks. I wanted to say something about America’s resilience. But looking back at the past four years of childish political posturing, and the increasing frequency of racist violence perpetrated by those entrusted to protect and serve, it’s hard to imagine that we ever all stood together as one United States.

But we did! I saw it with my own two eyes. People with absolutely nothing offered total strangers food to eat, a place to get cleaned up and rest, or just a safe place to sleep for the night. In my own city, which was not directly affected, everyday people did whatever they could. Some traveled to affected areas to join the rescue effort. These were everyday heroes.

Then on September 13th, just Two Days Later, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson appeared on The 700 Club and claimed that God smote America because of all the “Pagans, Abortionists, Atheists, Feminists, Gays, and Lesbians, the ACLU, and People for the American Way”. What a vile, evil thing for two purported men of God to say.

Why must Americans be so ugly to one another every chance we get?

For a few months following the September 11th attacks, most of us stood together and pitched in where we could. We did it because we cared. We did it to help heal the open wound. We did it because it was the right thing to do.

But why does it have to take a tragedy for us to treat each other like human beings?

“Just One Book” Bette Davis – Storm Center

“Sure she talks sweet as honey. All the time you can bet she was working away back there. She has twenty five years to fill those shelves with poison. She and those books of hers. All they want is one thing: smash and destroy. Smash everything we’ve ever built up in this country.” –  George Slater (Joe Mantell) via IMDB

I thought I had seen every Bette Davis film ever made until last week, when I happened to catch ‘Storm Center’ on GetTVone of several new movie channels popping up on broadcast television.

Storm Center (1956) stars Bette Davis as a small town librarian branded as a communist because she refuses to remove a controversial book from the library’s shelves.

 

The film was released two years after the *McCarthy hearings, at the height of the cold war. It plays up the McCarthyism theme. Complaints are made to the city council about a library book called ‘The Communist Dream’. Mrs Hull (Davis) is asked by the council to remove the book from circulation because they feel it promotes communism and could corrupt young minds. Hull agrees at first, then changes her mind. The council fires her and here is where things spin out of control.

A young lawyer (Brian Keith) takes the opportunity to use “The Red Scare” as a platform for his political future. Rumors spread. Lies are told. Mrs Hull is branded a communist. Even her favorite little book worm, Freddie Slater (Kevin Coughlin) makes up far-fetched tales about his mentor. Everyone is willing to believe the outlandish stories in spite of their personal experiences with the librarian. The extremism reminded me of today’s political climate. In particular, our Tea Party movement.

*For those of you too young to remember, Joe McCarthy was a Republican senator from Wisconsin who led the witch hunt against American citizens, including famous actors, writers, and fellow politicians, whom he thought might be associated with the communist party. It was the height of the cold war. America was hyper paranoid about Russia. Many people lost their jobs, homes, and families in disgrace because McCarthy branded them “Un-American”.

Sound familiar?

It’s striking how little has changed in fifty-eight years. Oh sure, we like to convince ourselves that we are more evolved than our elders but when it comes right down to it, we are just as susceptible as they were to fear and propaganda. It’s how George W Bush got away with invading Iraq. Everyone of us who argued against it was branded “UnAmerican”. My own father questioned my allegiance. I think he even called me a commie. 🙂

We humans do love to rally around a common enemy. — even if the enemy is made up.

Storm Center is a little melodramatic. The ending is kinda corny, but overall, the film is enjoyable. Kevin Coughlin’s Freddie reminds me of me as a little bookworm. Like Freddie, my neighborhood librarian was my best friend. She helped me navigate through the library’s stacks and even allowed me extra books when she thought I could handle it.

You’ll have to hunt for Storm Center. It’s not available through Netflix. If you see it scheduled on a local TV station, set your DVR. It’s worth your attention.

BONUS: Trivia

  • Storm Center was the first movie to criticize the McCarthy era directly.
  • The Legion of Decency did not like the movie because of what it considered the film’s “pro-Communist” leanings. Instead of condemning the picture, though, it used a “separate classification” for it. That had previously been used on Blockade (1938) (a Spanish Civil War film that the League also thought was anti-Catholic and pro-Communist) and Martin Luther (1953) (because the film portrayed the life of the man who split Christianity, and also because the League thought it was full of inaccurate presentations of Church teachings).

Trivia via IMDB