#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.

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#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.

Thanksgiving Memories

Thanksgiving inevitably leads to trips down memory lane. Random memories of family and friends that you thought you’d forgotten pop up out of nowhere. This year I found myself thinking about my father, and about a young woman from India whom I met way back in the 1980s. Two somewhat unrelated memories whose only connection is Thanksgiving, and maybe fathers.

In the summer of 1987 I was introduced to a young woman whose father had brought her to America to fulfill an arranged marriage. The problem was that her father didn’t know she was a lesbian. I hope you’ll forgive me if I can’t remember her name. It was 25 years ago. My friends and I spent the summer respectfully trying to help and support her throughout her coming out process. It was emotionally exhausting for all of us. I can’t imagine what she was going through.

As Thanksgiving approached, I asked how her family would be celebrating. She said “We don’t believe in thanksgiving.” I tried to explain that Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday. I pointed out that Thanksgiving is about showing gratitude for what you have. It’s about family, friends, etc. Still, she insisted that her family did not believe in Thanksgiving. I reluctantly submitted to her opinion and we continued along with other conversations. It never occurred to me that, in my insistence that she understand my point of view, I might be behaving just as stubborn as her father, and incidentally, my father.

My father and I had a rocky relationship. I spent most of my life distancing myself from his chauvinistic attitudes. (Notice I didn’t say misogynistic.) Dad wasn’t a bad person. He just had the misfortune of living precariously between two eras. He grew up in the 1950s, when men were kings of their castles. By the time I came along things had changed drastically. Racial equality, women’s rights, and gay liberation turned his world upside down. It was difficult, but he made an effort to change with the times. Dad’s limited education and preconceptions about the world often led to awkward interactions. He couldn’t understand why people didn’t always see things from his point of view. Sound familiar?

As I get older I catch myself doing and saying things that remind me of my father, especially around the holidays. Carving the turkey always returns me to my dad’s last Thanksgiving. His health was such that he couldn’t securely grasp and control a large knife, so the honor of carving the bird was passed to me. This was a very big moment for both me and my dad. He watched silently as I showed off my skills. I was proud. He was proud. Even my stepmother was proud. It was a very surreal moment. It took a lot for him to concede the duties traditionally held by the head of household. It was a ridiculously small gesture by today’s standards, but it wasn’t about the knife or my carving skills. It was a small example of the many changes that had occurred in my father over the course of his life.

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I’m not sure what made me think of that young woman. I understand she moved back to India with her family the following winter. I never did find out how she resolved her coming out issue, but I hope she followed her heart. I hope she stayed true to herself.

I’d like to think I’ve achieved some personal growth since the last time I saw her, but I still see a bit of my dad in myself. But that’s okay. He did the best he could with what he had. He was human. He made mistakes.

Maybe, just maybe, if we all just accept that we’re only human, and give each other a little wiggle room, and a chance to make and learn from our mistakes, the world might be a better place.

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 Don’t let life pass you by. Enjoy the time with loved ones while you can.

Marriage Equality

File this under #DiggyRant
Can you imagine waiting for The Supreme Court of the United States of America to decide whether or not you are Created Equal & endowed by your creator to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness? Can you imagine waiting for a group of nine judges to determine your worthiness as a human being?

Fifteen years ago, when the idea of Same-Sex Marriage was in it’s infancy, I may have settled for Civil Unions, but the negative outcry from conservatives and religious zealots has made me dig in my heals.

So now I will settle for nothing less than equal treatment under the law.

It’s personal.

At the height of the AIDS crisis I lost many close friends, the majority of whom were in long term relationships. In each case, the surviving partner had a negative experience with the parents or family of the deceased. All but one surviving partner were forced out of their homes as family members of the deceased claimed property. He was spared because he and his partner were rather wealthy and had hired lawyers to draw up contracts that specifically defined ownership rights. It cost then thousands of dollars for the very same protections that every heterosexual couple is afforded with a $50 marriage license.

In one particularly ugly case, the surviving partner challenged his deceased partner’s family. The father had disowned his gay son and then completely cut off all communication when he discovered his son had AIDS, but then decided he had rights to his dead son’s property. The father, who was a lawyer, told his son’s partner, “I have infinite resources. You will go bankrupt if you try to challenge me.” The surviving partner’s case never made it to court. He was forced to move less than a year later.

These are just two examples, but they illustrate the issue clearly. Our relationships deserve the same legal rights and responsibilities as all married couples.

Civil Unions are NOT Equal to Marriage. Married couples have 1,138 federal rights, protections and responsibilities. Civil Unions do not.