Ahead of our national political conventions and in the midst of new incidents of racist violence and terrorism, the country seems to be in a weird state of suspended animation.
What new calamities are about to beset us?
When are things going to simmer down?
Please, can we do without more “breaking news” reports for a while?
This month, delegates to the Republican and Democratic conventions will choose their party’s presidential standard bearers and the platforms and principles on which they will run.
We’ll find out who the vice presidential candidates are and our ridiculously long presidential campaign will roll into its final months.
Rather than clarifying the issues and presenting a strong, unsullied candidate to lead the country forward, the conventions are likely to exacerbate the tensions putting us all on edge.
There will be strong protests against the racist, ultra-nationalist agenda of Donald Trump on the outside of the GOP convention and ideological battles inside. I hope the street protests will remain non-violent and the police reaction restrained.
Meanwhile, the Democrats will cope with squadrons of Hillary haters on the outside and last-minute maneuvering by Bernie Sanders supporters inside. It will be interesting to see how accommodating or inflexible the Clinton machine will be to Sanders’ more radical proposals.
There will be plenty of drama at these conventions without the addition of any new mass murders or atrocities, thank you very much. I’m sending that little prayer out into the ether in the hope it gets to whatever spirit or power runs this crazy world.
My fear is inter- and intraparty acrimony will continue into the final campaign, alienating voters and intensifying the divisions among us.
Trump has earned his negative ratings among Latinos, African-Americans and women by his sexist, racist and xenophobic rants. It’s hard to imagine a worse candidate for president than Trump. He is stupid, self-absorbed and mentally unstable.
With such high negatives in so many key voting groups, Trump is likely to lose the race but not before inciting greater fear and resentment among people eager to blame someone for their troubles.
In contrast to Trump, Clinton promises to build bridges rather than walls. But her success as president depends on whether she has the coattails to increase the number of Democrats in the House of Representatives and lift fellow Dems into the majority in the Senate.
Clinton’s decision to use her own email and non-State Department server as secretary of state, while not illegal, reveals a casual disregard for rules and a sense of impunity about her behavior. Ditto the arrogant, tone-deaf behavior of Bill Clinton in meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch just days before the findings on Hillary’s email use were released.
Despite her royal airs, I will vote for Hillary Clinton. She is much more qualified to be president and her policies will do more than Trump’s to move our country forward. Her choices for the Supreme Court will have a positive influence for decades to come.
Yet a Clinton victory will lead to more intransigence by Republicans, whose Hillary-hating knows no bounds. They’ll fight her tooth and nail just as Dems would fight tooth and nail against Trump. Consensus seems impossible in this country right now.
Stay tuned for more breaking news…
The Orlando massacre would be shocking at any time, but it was especially hurtful at the beginning of LGBT Pride Month.
Orlando was completing a week of gay events and PrideFest had opened to warm weather and happy crowds along Milwaukee’s lakefront.
The color and camaraderie of annual Pride events are legendary.
Young parents with babies in strollers mix with bikers, leather men and drag queens. Old married couples, ripped guys, shy newbies, lesbians, merchants, politicos and clergy all sport rainbow-colored accoutrements. There is much open affection — handholding and kissing — and a gentle acceptance of others’ playful and sometimes outrageous personal styles.
Spending a day drinking in all that diversity and positive energy only to learn the next day that someone has mowed down your people was terribly painful.
Through decades of covering hate crimes in Milwaukee, I’ve often thought about the vulnerability of our LGBT community. Attacks on gay and transgender individuals are often unusually vicious. The crimes are committed by perpetrators with deep animus toward the victims’ sexual variance. They can involve serious injuries and, in the case of murder, show evidence of “overkill.”
That appears to be the case with Omar Mateen, who sprayed gunfire through the crowded Pulse nightclub in the early hours of June 12. His father said Mateen had been enraged by the sight of two men showing affection toward each other in public just weeks before the attack. Mateen was outraged that his 3-year-old son witnessed the scene.
Given that the boy’s father is now a reviled mass murderer, Mateen’s son is going to have a lot more to deal with than witnessing a fleeting PDA.
As if we didn’t know before, Mateen’s rage proves that homo-hatred is a lethal mental illness. Purveyed by religious fanatics who cling to poisonous, centuries-old texts, homo-hatred leads some parents to reject their children and to justify murder in the name of God.
If nail-biting and internet addiction are included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, why not the far more damaging scourge of homo-hatred?
The subject of Mateen’s anti-gay animus has become secondary to the search for his connection to jihadi groups. It’s likely to be submerged in a new debate about the easy availability of assault rifles. But no LGBT people will ever forget what happened in Orlando and why.
News coverage was generally sensitive and informative. The world got to see very clearly that the gay victims and survivors of Orlando have devoted families and friends. There were long lines to donate blood and many offers of assistance from police and medical agencies nationwide.
Some media outlets published timelines of hate incidents that the LGBT community has endured over the decades. The press interviewed LGBT leaders and previewed upcoming Pride events around the country, with special attention to security concerns.
Identifying would-be gunmen and preventing terrorist attacks is going to be a continual challenge in our open society. In this presidential election year, the debate is likely to be fierce. Get involved and let candidates know what you think.
Meanwhile, we can honor the dead in Orlando and stand up to the haters by continuing to observe Pride month. We’re gay and proud and American, and we’re not going back to the closet.
I’ve had the privilege of covering the Milwaukee LGBT community as a reporter since the 1970s. Here are some highlights of local LGBT history.
Forty Years Ago
In November 1976, Sistermoon Feminist Bookstore & Art Gallery opened on E. Irving Place, later moving to E. Locust St. Until 1984, Sistermoon served as a primary meeting space and cultural center for Milwaukee’s feminist and lesbian communities. Book groups, political meetings and concerts by women singers were a regular part of its schedule.
In October 1976, in a case that gained national attention, the Army Reserve ordered the discharge of Milwaukeean Miriam Ben-Shalom because she was a lesbian. In 1980, a federal court ordered her reinstatement, but the Army refused to allow Ben-Shalom to re-enlist, starting another round of court battles.
In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court ended Ben-Shalom’s 15-year struggle when it refused to hear her case. However, she remained involved in the campaign for LGBT military inclusion, joining in the festivities when the Obama administration revoked the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in 2011.
Thirty Years Ago
In 1986, the Galano Club was founded as an umbrella organization offering Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Alanon and Sexual Compulsives Anonymous meetings and fellowship to members of the LGBT community (although everyone is welcome). The Galano Club was located on Milwaukee’s east side for many years before moving to the southwest side in 2014. Find out more at www.galanoclub.org.
Other community-building organizations started in 1986. The Lambda Rights Network focused on gay political progress in the wake of Gov. Tony Earl’s defeat by Tommy Thompson and the disbanding of Earl’s Council on Gay and Lesbian Issues. Lesbians of Color began support groups, dances and other cultural events by and for women of color and their friends in the Milwaukee area.
Twenty Years Ago
In early 1996, Erv Uecker and Ross Walker pledged $120,000 over the next decade to support a gay community center for Milwaukee. Within months, town hall meetings were held, a steering committee was formed, and fundraisers and a “Name the Center” contest was held. The organizing resulted in the establishment in 1998 of the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center.
PrideFest debuted in its new venue at Henry W. Maier Festival Park June 7–9, 1996. The weather was cold and rainy, but about 9,600 people braved the elements to enjoy the music, speeches and drag races. In September, Bette Midler was the honorary chairwoman of AIDS Walk Wisconsin, attracting a record number of participants and raising over $1 million for AIDS services.
Ten Years Ago
In May 2006, The M&M Club, a popular night spot and restaurant for the LGBT community in downtown Milwaukee, closed after 30 years of business. In addition to the drink specials, karaoke contests, Sunday brunches and Friday fish fries, M&M’s second floor banquet space hosted many community meetings and parties.
Throughout 2006, Milwaukee LGBT activists worked hard to organize opposition to a state constitutional amendment that would prohibit same-sex civil unions or marriages. On Nov. 7, 2006, Wisconsin voters approved the amendment by 59 percent.
In 2014, the amendment was invalidated.
We all knew it was coming, yet U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb’s ruling against Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage ban sent many of us into a flutter of activity that bordered on chaos — blissful chaos, but chaos nonetheless.
Quick! Leave work early! Get down to the courthouse! Bring your ID, some money for the license! Do you have the rings? Pick up the kids! Call mom and dad! Oh my God, it’s really happening! Hurry!
What a delight that the ruling came down on the day PrideFest opened in Milwaukee. For years, PrideFest has been hosting mass commitment ceremonies for devoted same-sex couples. If the ruling stands, it looks like it will be able to host the “real thing” from now on.
Kudos to the many couples whose joy and surprise were captured by TV news teams across the state and seen in millions of homes. Some couples managed to make lucid statements about what marriage meant to them and their families. Others just dissolved into tears. Either way, it was perfect. The genuine emotion was contagious. Only those with frozen hearts could fail to be moved.
Mainstream news coverage was positive, despite the obligatory sound bites from fundamentalist types who predicted the country’s moral demise. Some reporters seemed stirred by the emotions and conveyed that vividly through their coverage.
How about the men and women who spontaneously came forward to serve as witnesses? Some of them were as thrilled as the married couples to be a part of history in the making. Thanks too to those, especially the kids, who showed up with supportive signs bearing the slogan of the day, “Love Wins.” As a lefty, I’ve been a part of way too many demos with unwieldy chants and slogans. “Love Wins” is definitely a winner.
There weren’t too many anti-gay protesters waving banners, and those who showed up were outnumbered and outshone by the happy couples and family members. It was mostly online, where posters can remain anonymous, that the nastiest comments appeared. Anti-gay zealots sure have a creepy obsession with “disgusting sex acts.” The posts almost all used this same phrase, as if they were parroting a particular preacher.
I didn’t post this because I’m sure it would perplex their itty-bitty brains, but I found a great line from Shakespeare’s King Lear to answer their hate: “Wisdom and goodness to the vile seem vile; filths savor but themselves.”
I had to dash to the drugstore to find some wedding cards for my friends and, boy, was that an adventure. No offense to straight readers, but the selection of wedding cards, mostly aimed at heterosexual couples, seriously sucks. They were either solemn and religious or snickering and suggestive of wild wedding nights, nothing with the wit or flair most queers would expect. A little Googling for LGBT-themed greeting cards ensued, so I should be good to go for the future.
Amid all the excitement, my ex, a radical feminist anarcho-pagan, called and asked if I would marry her. “Are you insane?” I parried. “We spent 12 years together, the last two very rocky, and have since become good pals. Why ruin a good friendship?”
That a radical dyke could be dazzled by marriage fever speaks to the inspiration — or the temporary insanity — of the moment. We must still await the final court ruling, but what a wild ride!
Spring has finally sprung. While others rejoice in the warmth of the sun, my thoughts have been in darker places.
There’s so much evil in the world, so little justice. I thought I’d work out my gloom by suggesting some ideal punishments for perpetrators of cruelty and injustice. Hey, it’s cheaper than going to a shrink.
Don’t be shocked. When it comes to crime and evil, I’m no liberal. I’m more like Madame Defarge, who cried: “Tell the wind and the fire where to stop, not me!”
The trigger for my depression was the alarming number of bodies — mostly women’s bodies — that showed up again this spring in Wisconsin rivers, cornfields, ditches and burn pits. I say anyone who mutilates and murders a woman and discards her body should face punishment that matches the crime in every gruesome detail. Some crimes are unforgivable, some criminals irredeemable.
Christina Huth of the Crazy 8s roller-derby team survived being shot in the chest by an armed robber in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood last year. Huth, whose moniker is “Sin N’ Innocence,” is finally back on her skates but the authorities have not apprehended her assailant.
When police do find the thug, I think he should face justice from the entire Brewcity Bruisers Roller Derby League. Put him on skates and see if he can survive a few jams with the Bruisers. What a show that would be!
Poetic justice for conservatives who want to cut food stamps and oppose an increase in the minimum wage is obvious. Force them to live on food stamps and the current minimum wage for a year. They wouldn’t last one month.
Why this meanness about denying our fellow citizens food and a fair wage to support themselves and their families? Aren’t health and employment basic requirements for a stable society? We have billions for arms and private interest subsidies but not for our neighbors? What’s that about? Beware those who want to divide us.
In another divisive move, Milwaukee’s Southridge Mall has restricted public buses from its massive parking lot, forcing poor, elderly and disabled people to negotiate a dangerous 1,000-foot route from the bordering streets. How backward and insensitive can you be? Exclusion is not the way to do business in the 21st century.
I hope that Southridge’s owners develop temporary disabilities that will give them a reality check and a chance to develop some empathy. I encourage Southridge customers to join the growing boycott and let management know you are shopping elsewhere. This is a local justice issue on which you can really have an impact.
To global warming deniers, who are mostly wealthy corporate tycoons, and their paid media lapdogs, I hereby channel my inner Moses: May your beach properties be inundated by the seas; may your corporate farmlands shrivel in the heat; may you have no water to drink except that fouled by your own pollution.
Finally, to Boko Haram, the Taliban and other fiends who enslave and kill little girls because they don’t want girls educated and they hate Western culture: May you be imprisoned and tortured for life, forced to watch a blaring, unending video loop of Queen Elsa belting the girl-power anthem “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen, a movie which celebrates the Western values of freedom, respect for differences and everyone’s right to a fabulous makeover.
Ah, sweet justice.
Valentine’s Day 2014 is shaping up to be one of the happiest for many gay and lesbian couples in America.
Abetted by the 2013 Supreme Court decision that repealed part of the Defense of Marriage Act, nine more states legalized same sex marriage in the past year, bringing the total to 17 states and D.C.
The movement has been buoyed by pop culture endorsements, most notably the award-winning megahit “Same Love” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. The song’s performance at the Grammy Awards was followed by the kind of joy- fully chaotic mass nuptials celebrated for years at Pride festivals, this time broadcast to a billion people. A glowing, specially deputized Queen Latifah presided over the ceremony.
HBO just debuted a new series called Looking. about gay friends and lovers. The commercial networks also are increasing their gay characters and storylines in comedies and dramas. How lovely that we’re not just lesbian psychos, gay serial killers and suicidal depressives anymore! Now we get to fall in love, get married, screw up our kids and break each other’s hearts just like straight people do!
Although political action is essential to expand marriage equality (which is still banned in 33 states, including Wisconsin), pop culture is playing a critical role in normalizing same-sex love. With same-sex marriage an increasing fact of life, the censoriousness that denied and distorted our emotional and sexual lives is giving way to greater openness and more complex portraits.
The most effective element in the political campaign and popular messaging is love. Emphasizing the love and commitment same-sex couples feel for each other is a powerful way to humanize and build empathy for people who have been perceived as different and transgressive, if not downright evil.
Power structures have not been kind to gay and trans- gender people. Historically, most religions declared us sinful, the law made us criminals and the medical establishment labeled us mentally ill. Rejection, imprisonment and torturous experiments to change our natures were once the norm.
Coming out, creating communities and organizing for change have destroyed these defamatory perceptions and cruel practices. Progress has been swift in comparison to other move- ments for social justice, some of which entailed centuries of struggle. We never would have advanced as we have without the movements for racial equality and women’s liberation lighting our way.
But our strongest motivation has been love. I’ve seen
it expressed continuously over the four decades I’ve been involved in Wisconsin’s LGBT community.
I’ve seen love in the commitment of many long-term couples to their partners and children in the absence of legal, social and financial supports for their families. I’ve seen love in the count- less unpaid hours activists have put into organizing support groups, Pride events and lobbying campaigns.
I’ve seen love in the extraordinary leadership LGBT people have displayed in responding to HIV/AIDS, raising money and awareness, and tending to the personal needs of those affected. I’ve seen love in the efforts to ease the bur- dens on LGBT youth, to protect them from hatred and rejection, and to guide them to a healthy adulthood.
It’s all about love. This Valentine’s Day, kiss your sweetie and give a collective hug to the community that helps sustain your love and your life.
Join the jeers for Liz Cheney, who threw her lesbian sister onto the tracks in craven pursuit of a U.S. Senate seat that she will never win. Liz, who denounced same-sex marriages like that of her sister Mary, needs to get a clue about real family values.
The Catholic Church’s grant-making arm, the Campaign for Human Development, canceled $300,000 in grants to immigrant advocacy groups in Illinois because the groups supported marriage equality. The vindictive swat did nothing to stop the momentum for same sex marriage — Hooray, Land of Lincoln! — while depriving immigrants of needed support.
Most deserving of jeers is Vladimir Putin, for pandering to the most reactionary elements in Russian society by championing anti-gay legislation. The law, which supposedly protects youth by banning gay “propaganda,” whatever that’s supposed to mean, has fueled mob violence. What’s next for the Little Hitler of the East?
Now, for the cheers.
If anyone doubts that lesbians are the strongest and craziest people in the world, Diana Nyad reinforced those stereotypes in September. Nyad braved sharks and jellyfish and swam for 53 hours from Cuba to Key West — at age 64! You go, girl!
Edith Windsor, 84, exhibited courage of another sort. The IRS demanded that she pay hundreds of thousands in estate taxes after the death of her wife and longtime partner. No straight spouse would have had to pay the taxes. In June, the Supreme Court ruled for Windsor by overturning a key provision in the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act. Thanks, Edie!
“Cheers!” to Neil Patrick Harris for another brilliant hosting job on the 2013 Tony Awards. Hard to think he could outdo his opening number, “It’s Not Just for Gays Anymore,” from the 2011 Tonys (watch it on YouTube — it’s an absolute must-see), but NPH continues to amaze.
Expect a shower of Tonys next June for one of the gayest productions on Broadway. Queer actors Cherry Jones and Zach Quinto shine in the latest revival of Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie. Critics rave that Jones and Quinto inject the old chestnut with renewed passion.
Also on the boards is a musical version of Allison Bechdel’s Fun Home, a graphic novel about growing up in a dysfunctional family with a closeted gay dad. The adaptation is written and directed by Lisa Kron, whose rising theatrical career has included membership in the Five Lesbian Brothers comedy troupe. Bechdel is best known for her long-running comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” and deserves the wider recognition.
It’s hard to believe Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are not gay (darn) after their side-splitting routine at the Golden Globes last January. Who can forget Poehler’s jaw-dropping reference to director Kathryn Bigelow: “I haven’t been following the controversy over Zero Dark Thirty, but when it comes to torture, I trust the lady who spent three years married to James Cameron.” The glorious duo will be back throwing shade at the Globes on Jan. 12.
Mega-cheers and curtain calls: As if we needed any more proof that the Milwaukee Repertory Theater is one of the greatest theater companies in the country, The Rep followed up their awesome staging of the musical Ragtime with the most madcap, hilarious version of Noises Off ever seen in these parts. What a company!
Tickets to the Rep and other arts groups make great last-minute holiday gifts. Merry Christmas, everyone!
Despite my hard-earned rep as an atheistic radical commie lesbian, I turn into a hopeless ball of schmaltz when the holiday season begins. Every year, I succumb to the sentimentality of Christmas movies.
I used to start crying just 10 minutes into It’s a Wonderful Life, when young George gets his ears boxed by the druggist, Mr. Gower. Last year, it only took 3 minutes, when George’s little brother Harry crashes through the ice.
Many people have tired of it because of its overexposure, but It’s a Wonderful Life is a perfectly written and executed film. Jimmy Stewart is outstanding but every performer, including bit players, is stellar. The scenes crackle with intensity and lyricism: George’s heart-to-heart talk with his dad; his confrontations with old Potter; his rousing plea to Bedford Falls to stick together against the evil banker.
Lately, my favorite scene is the “Buffalo Gals” stroll between George and Mary after their plunge in the pool. The flirtatious banter between Stewart and Donna Reed, punctuated by the neighbor yelling, “Why don’t you kiss her instead of talking her to death?” is priceless.
The dialogue in White Christmas is stilted and there’s that cringe-inducing minstrel number. But when the veterans sing “We’ll Follow the Old Man” and the cast joins in “White Christmas,” I’m a goner. Besides that, Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen are cute as buttons, “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” rates among the best Hollywood dance numbers, and the “Sisters” drag routine by Danny and Bing Crosby (which Danny seems to be enjoying a little too much) is hilarious.
Other movies I enjoy at Christmas are less obvious. While You Were Sleeping, the wonderful romantic comedy starring Sandra Bullock, takes place from Christmas to New Year’s in Chicago. There’s a lot of Midwestern holiday warmth, charming performances and many funny lines. My fave is Granny announcing out loud at Christmas Mass: “I liked Mass better in Latin. It’s nicer when you don’t know what they’re saying.”
Another heartwarmer is Little Women with Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon. There are a number of New England winter scenes that include caroling and gathering around the hearth. The interior scenes capture the warmth and love that pervade the March home. A great story, thoughtful performances and a classy score by Thomas Newman make it a winner. But prepare yourself: Beth still dies. Cue the crying jag.
Another unexpected holiday treat is Millions, a small gem by Danny Boyle, the director of Slumdog Millionaire. In Millions, 7-year-old Damian, who has just lost his mum and who talks with saints, comes upon a satchel containing millions of British pound notes. The sweet boy decides to give it all to the poor, leading to comical misadventures and a scary showdown with the criminals who want their loot back.
Most of the action takes place over Christmas and New Year’s. In one magical scene, Damian flees from the bad guys by following a bright star. He’s accompanied by the big papier-mâché donkey from his school’s Christmas play. In the end, Damian meets his dead mum for a final chat and hug before he and she can let each other go.
The best Christmas stories, like Dickens’ template A Christmas Carol, are dark as well as light. There’s nothing like a good cry, but here’s hoping that you find your way to the light this holiday season.
The 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination brings back many memories. It reminds me how growing up in the 1960s was as traumatic as it was exhilarating.
I was 5 years old in 1960, when JFK was elected. I still remember the ditty that we kids from proud Democratic and Catholic families sang at the time: “Kennedy, Kennedy, he’s our man! Nixon belongs in the garbage can!”
I was 15 when the dramatic decade ended in 1970. Richard Nixon was president. His invasion of Cambodia in April of that year expanded the Vietnam War and led to the shooting of student protesters by National Guardsmen at Kent State in Ohio.
Those years were a kaleidoscope of wild events. From the Cuban missile crisis to Beatlemania to civil rights protests, it was all brought up close and personal through TV and AM radio.
I remember being scared out of my mind at age 7 in 1962 when I walked down the hall in my house to use the bathroom. I was sure that once I was in there alone that bad guy Castro, who my parents were talking about in alarmed whispers, was going to get me.
On Nov. 22, 1963, I was in my third-grade class at St. Mary’s when the principal came on the PA system to announce that President Kennedy had been killed. It was disturbing to see the teachers so distraught. We were marched to church to pray for the president. Then the buses came to take us home.
What followed were three days in front of the TV watching the national tragedy. I remember how sad everyone was. It seemed like everyone in my family and everything on TV moved in slow motion. The only thing that’s come close since were the days after 9/11, when we were all in a state of shock.
It was about the time of Kennedy’s assassination that the Beatles invaded the United States, bringing us all a blessed distraction. I screamed along with everyone else, and all the kids on my block started garage bands. I recently listened to my Beatles records again and found, to my delight, that I haven’t forgotten a word.
By age 12, I had to think hard about the civil rights and anti-war protests. My working-class dad used racial slurs. My mom wasn’t a lot better, but she sometimes said, “Elmer!” in a chiding tone to curb his tongue. I knew it was wrong and I remember thinking how dumb it was to hate people you didn’t know and to call them names. I was a fat girl and I knew how hurtful name-calling was. It may seem like a shallow analogy, but it was the beginning of empathy.
Civil rights marches and our napalm attacks in Vietnam spurred my critical thinking. The parish priest grew impatient with my questions and demanded that I “believe and obey!” Then Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis and Bobby Kennedy was murdered on his way to the presidency. WBBM had just started 24/7 news radio, and I listened on my transistor for days.
What doesn’t crush you makes you stronger. What I gleaned from the 1960s was a profound cynicism tempered by the necessity for questioning authority. I always question authority and urge others to do the same. This one’s for President Kennedy and all the children of the ’60s who grew up too fast.