Surprise Front Page Appearance
Stop the Execution of Shaka Sankofa
AIDS Dissenters and Defenders
AIDS In Africa
No Stone Butch Unturned
Our Bodies Our Lives
Beijing+5 and Minus Some
Who Wants to Marry
Zephyr Zephyr Bad Bad Bad
Stop the Execution of Shaka Sankofa
If nothing happens to stop it, Shaka Sankofa will be executed in texas on June 22. This murder will doubtless receive the sanction of george w bush, governor of texas, just another campaign stop in his bid to become president of the u.s.
A clay brick possesses a greater sense of fairness than the judicial establishment in texas. Known as Gary Graham then, Shaka Sankofa, an African-American man was 17 when Bobby Lambert, a white man, was shot and killed. The subsequent trial can be characterized by this statement. "Because we assumed Gary was guilty from the start we did not give his case the same attention we would routinely give a case. We just did not have the time to worry about a guilty client, and I would not have felt comfortable trying to find evidence that would have proved him innocent. It may sound unfair but that's the way it was." This from an investigator for the defense.
Lawyers did not investigate the credibility of key eyewitnesses, nor did they interview other eyewitnesses. Five people have claimed that Shaka Sankofa was several miles away when the murder happened. Other eyewitnesses have said the murderer was not Shaka Sankofa. An appeals court has decided that these witnesses are unreliable, even though they have not been heard in open court.
While on death row, Shaka has written extensively about prisons and the death penalty. His case has gathered international attention.
Texas has twice before tried to execute this man. Twice before their attempts have been beaten back. In 1993, at a time when california's own execution machinery was coming back into operation, a rally in Oakland in support of Gary Graham attracted people from LAGAI to Danny Glover. This time it has to be more. Texas law and the federal "effective death penalty" law severely limit legal options. Bush can still postpone the execution by 30 days and the texas board of paroles can free Shaka Sankofa.
Demonstrate Tuesday, June 20
5pm at Powell and Market in San Francisco
An Epidemic By Any Other Name
AIDS, Africa & amerikan Interest(s)
When writing for a newsletter that runs stories like "Clinton abducted by UFO", "Liberace Haunts the White House/Hillary Hides Candelabras", & "Superman Declared an Illegal Alien", one wonders if readers can separate true absurdities in our stories from the fictional ones.
In the past month, the CIA has had a gay pride party and AIDS has been declared a threat to National Security. Believe it or not, both statements are true and apparently not related. Openly gay congressman, Barney Frank attended the sissy spy soiree and declared pride day at the CIA "a sign of real progress". He also stated that he was proud to have voted to cut their funding. He was hoping to bring the CIAs budget out of the closet. It has an estimated $30 billion in its secret 2000 budget.
Meanwhile at the white house, AIDS czar Sandra Thurman (still not accustomed to discussing health with the military crowd) delayed an important AIDS meeting because she could not find the Situation Room. AIDS is now a "situation" like Kosova or the Middle East and not just a pesky pandemic.
Interestingly enough, AIDS in the u.s. isnt the threat that they are worried about. AIDS in the developing world is the threat to National Security. This is the theory: AIDS (particularly in Africa) is spreading so rapidly that whole segments of the population will be wiped out. Those remaining, primarily orphans & the elderly, will not be able to hold their societies and economies together. Health budgets will be wiped out and fights for the few remaining resources will break out on tribal and national lines. Amerika will then be drawn into these conflicts. Its actually a good theory, but is making AIDS a "situation" a good thing? Werent mcarthyism, cointelpro, wars in Vietnam, Central America, Kuwait, & the Balkans matters of national security?
This country didnt adequately respond to AIDS in Africa (or anywhere else) as a health crisis. But amerika isnt motivated by health. It remains the only western industrialized nation without national health care. Isnt it awfully "clintonian", to reinvent AIDS as a military crisis? After all, he and Al reinvented government. In a nation that fully funds its military and not its schools and hospitals, perhaps its savvy to militarize the pandemic. Is AIDS a threat to national security or are amerikan interests a threat to Africas health?
Of Interest and Interests
In the past few months, the amerikan media ranging from Berkeleys counter-culture KPFA to the establishments "journal of record" (the ny times), amerikas media has displayed a heightened interest in Africa. Whether its been the Ethiopia/Eritrea war, the Congo situation, the Africa Trade bill, or AIDS in Sub Saharan Africa, there have been multiple stories every day in the papers, on the radio, and on the web about the amerikas interest in or more truthfully amerikan interests in the continent.
During my research for this article, virtually half of all quotes in the mainstream media about AIDS in Africa were from economists, investment analysts, pharmeceutical executives, and officials at the world bank. I was naive enough to believe that health workers and people with AIDS would be interviewed most frequently. The financial "community" views this as an issue of globalization. And in many ways they are right.
Epidemiologists paint some of the very forces of globalization (accelerated trade, travel and urbanization) as contributing factors of the epidemic in Asia, India, the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe as well as Africa. Africa is hardest hit now, but Asia & India are expected to have "a dramatic increase in infectious disease deaths, largely driven by the spread of HIV/AIDS," according to a published report called a"National Intelligence Estimate" drafted by government analysts.
AIDS has been around for almost two decades, why are big government and big business responding now? While there is probably some altruism hidden deep deep at the bottom of their motives, there is also self interest. Their promotion of, and involvement in, globalization has linked them to African economies. Also, AIDS is big business. And the long term prospects for military expenses, humanitarian demands, and the failure of "free market democracies" dont appeal to them.
Economists at the world bank have noted that AIDS didnt previously effect the macro-economy in countries like South Africa because declines in population growth [deaths] caused by AIDS would off set any declines in economic growth [profits] caused by the epidemic. Charming, but it explains why money people did little or nothing. However, the number of AIDS cases in sub-Saharan Africa has grown dramatically and will soon threaten African economies and eventually effect those of the industrialized nations. Now, amerikas interest begins to make sense.
Lets look at the numbers:
* UNAIDS, an umbrella group including the World Health Org, world bank, & 5 UN agencies.
** The AIDS Foundation of South Africa.
While numbers like these are quoted as facts in the media, these sources acknowledge that they are extrapolated from smaller samples taken at health care facilities and testing centers which is a technique that has its limitations. However, these sample groups have a significantly higher rates of infection every year.
Helping Hands Help Themselves
While the u.s. move to combat the pandemic in Africa is definitely a good thing, it is not enough. Also, any aid based on greed is not the most effective way to help people. The clinton administration has requested a budget $254 million to fight AIDS overseas as part of its new beefed up campaign. Unfortunately, it would take $2 billion to adequately fund prevention in Africa and a like sum for treatment according to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS. The u.s. has signed on to UN Secretary General Kofi Annans goal of reducing new infections in the next five years. Lets see them put our money where their mouth is.
Most of the policy wonks believe the best way to help Africa is to improve their economies. They point out that AIDS is expected to reduce South Africas Gross Domestic Product (GDP) between .5% and 1% yearly. James Wolfenshon, president of the world bank, told the national security council that "AIDS can no longer be confined to the health or social sector portfolios. AIDS is turning back the clock on development." Development is not all they care about. The government intelligence report mentions the millions of future children who in the next 20 years the us fears will become a "huge and impoverished orphan cohort unable to cope and vulnerable to exploitation and radicalization". Which does Washington and the world bank fear most the "exploitation" or the "radicalization"? Again, amerika fighting the pandemic is a good thing. But lets not forget their real motives.
One obstacle to the fight is the Foreign Assistance Act which requires that all taxpayer funded aid is to come from american suppliers. Even though condoms and AIDS test kits can be purchased cheaper abroad, they must be bought from the u.s. along with other supplies. Talk about a sweet heart deal for big business. Public Health agencies are lobbying for an exemption for condoms and testing kits.
The big money is in drugs. AIDS activists around the world have been demanding that AIDS drugs, particularly AZT & protease inhibitors, be made available in Africa. The major pharmaceutical companies were refusing for years because African nations couldnt pay full price (up to $15,000 a year or more according to some sources). When South Africa (as well as Brazil & Thailand) passed a law that would allow the manufacture or importing of cheaper versions of the AIDS drugs, it was considered an attack on korporate amerikas intellectual property. The drug companies claimed that they werent trying to deny anyone assistance but they were afraid that the knock-offs would be sold by corrupt African officials in the united states (where many people cant afford the "AIDS cocktails").
South Africa was added to the "watch list" by u.s. trade rep. charlene barshefsky to determine if they should suffer trade sanctions. After much pressure from AIDS activists, clinton threatened that his administration would not pursue patent violations from South Africa in relation to pharmaceuticals. The drug companies offered to sell at discounted rates. While one company offered to sell a blend of anti-virals at one-eigth the average global price, this was seen as more of an attempt to prevent the manufacture of "generic" anti virals then a humanitarian effort. The media wondered if the companies could afford it. A Merrill Lynch analyst assured the ny times that "the financial effect [wouldnt be] significant". Boy, did I sleep easier!!!
The companies neednt have bothered. Even at the discounted rates the companies offered, it would take a significant portion of the entire health budget to buy the drugs. And then health workers would have to be hired to administer them and educate PWAs on how to take them correctly. South Africas new president Thabo Mbeki, like some strains of HIV, has proven to resistant to AZT. He has stated that he wont spend his entire budget on antivirals and will not purchase small amounts so that selected people will be allowed to live. He considers that discrimination, and he has a point.
However, there are success stories. In Uganda, a safe-sex campaign using the phrase "So Strong, So Smooth" turned condoms into a must-have item. Infection rates were cut from 15% to 9.7%. A program in Senegal has kept its infection rate at 2%.
Fighting poverty, illiteracy and sexism remain the best ways to fight AIDS. Women are the majority of HIV infected South Africans. The high rates of illiteracy make written prevention materials practically useless. 70% of the worlds illiterate persons are women. The imbalance of power between the sexes makes it often impossible for women to refuse mens demands for unprotected sex. The increase in orphans and elderly persons whose grown children have died of AIDS has increased both child and eldercare demands on women. It has been documented that when an African family has even one member sick with HIV the family reduces the amount of money it spends on the childrens education by 50% and has 40% fewer to spend on food. These things continue the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, sexism and AIDS.
AIDS activists have played a critical role in fighting the pandemic wherever it appears. If activists in the u.s. act in solidarity to those around the world we can make even greater gains.
I am interested in corresponding/talking to people who have seen AIDS programs in Africa, Asia, India or elsewhere. Contact me at Thomase99@hotmail.com
It has a familiar ring: on April 17, 4 members of ACT UP/SF burst into a Project Inform meeting shouting in protest at what they see as the AIDS education organizations campaign to kill queers and people of color with toxic drugs for the sake of drug company profits. They threw pills at speaker Martin Delaney and others, shouting "Stop Your Lies, Martin Delaney." People in the audience responded by shouting at them to "Get Out" and "Shut Up." There was a melee, or several, and a woman, Judy Leahy-Hogan, ended up getting treated at Kaiser for a badly bruised knee. On May 16, a man and a woman were charged with misdemeanor battery and 2 other men with trespassing in connection with the incident.
Project Inform was granted a temporary restraining order against five ACT UP members, and a hearing was scheduled in San Francisco Superior Court to decide whether a 3-year injunction would be granted. On the day the trial was scheduled to start, according to an unconfirmed rumor, someone from Project Inform told the police inside the courtroom that the ACT UP members had threatened them, and they were arrested for violating the restraining order.
ACT UP/SF, of course, is claiming to the ever-dwindling number of people who will listen to them, that they are being persecuted for their unpopular political beliefs. That would be an easier position to defend if they did not have a history of violently attacking people, mostly women, dating back at least to 1995, when Michael Bellefountaine got into a fist fight with Larry Kramer at a fundraiser at the Hyatt, and Ronnie Burke dumped pounds of used kitty litter on Pat Christens (AIDS Foundations six-figure executive director) at a candidates forum.
In between, members of the group spat in the face of reporter Tim Kingston, who says he "found it kind of rude." At that time, Bellefountaine reportedly told SF Weekly reporter Tara Shiyoa, that "Spitting is kind of evening the playing field. People don't want to be spat on, so they'll listen to me."
ACT UP has a point about one thing, though. Their political views are extremely unpopular, and people get very upset if you even mention them.
In 1987 UC Berkeley Professor of Microbiology Peter Duesberg began to advance the theory that HIV did not cause AIDS. Duesberg cited a number of bases for this argument, some having to do with the nature of retroviruses, in which he is (or was, until he started making these iconoclastic assertions) an acknowledged expert. Duesberg also based his claim on the allegation that HIV failed to satisfy "Kochs postulates", which were established in the late 19th century as the test for causation of diseases by microbes.
Duesbergs work was immediately dismissed by the scientific and medical establishment, even as it was embraced by some queer media, like Christopher Street, which for a while in the early 90s did a series of cover articles proclaiming that HIV was a hoax. Many quacks picked up on his theory, including some who used it in extremely oppressive ways, like the guy (I cant remember his name) who used to do late-night homophobic infomercials about how HIV could not cause AIDS.
What Duesberg was saying, as I with my laypersons perspective understand it, was that HIV had not been proven on the first of Kochs postulates, which says that in order for a microbe to be the cause of a disease, it must be present in every case. There have been at least some cases of symptomatically diagnosed AIDS, not including in Africa and other underdeveloped countries where testing is not widely available, in which neither HIV nor its antibodies were ever detected. (I personally have known two people whose viral load was 0 until they day they died.)
The other postulates are that the virus must be isolatable from the infected organism, and that it must reproduce the disease when introduced into another organism. HIV obviously passes on those two, but groups like Alive & Well and Reappraising AIDS point to the fact that there are people who remain healthy long after testing positive as casting doubt on the linkage between HIV infection and AIDS.
ACT UP San Francisco, which can pretty much be counted on to carry a really unpopular flag (remember DNCB, the photochemical they wanted to be the treatment of choice?), took up the battle cry with a vengeance. They expanded Duesbergs argument without understanding it. While Duesberg and most other scientific dissenters do not contend that HIV has no role in causing AIDS, that seems to be ACT UP/SFs position. In fact, they and some other groups maintain that AIDS does not exist, that it is just a scary new name for a bunch of unrelated old diseases. At last years parade, ACT UP/SF burst into the Pride Parade with a banner saying, "AIDS Is Over." Two years ago they had the table next to us, and in between selling pot brownies were calling out to people that they didnt need to practice safer sex.
Their spin on the whole thing is that AIDS is a myth promoted by the right-wing to demonize gay sex and drug use. The irony of their position is that Duesberg has helped to fuel the anti-gay agenda, by stating that lifestyle, including promiscuous anal sex and recreational drugs, is the cause of what we know as AIDS, along with the pharmaceutical drugs prescribed to treat HIV.
The distinction being drawn here is that HIV is a virus, while AIDS is a disease. For years we in the AIDS movement have talked about people who are HIV+, distinguishing them from People With AIDS: you are HIV+ whether you have symptoms or not, but you are said to have AIDS only when you become sick. Based on this distinction, the CDC has over the last 16 years come up with a number of different definitions of AIDS, initially limiting it to pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) and Kaposis Sarcoma (KS), which left out many of the opportunistic infections (OIs)that were common in people with HIV. That led to the creation of the "in-between" category of ARC AIDS Related Conditions.
In the early 90s, the CDC amended the definition, due largely to pressure from groups like ACT UP, to include anyone whose T-Cell (white blood cells affected by HIV) count was under 200. This enabled more PWAs, especially women who were prone to a very different set of OIs than men, to qualify for disability benefits and services limited to PWAs. It caused a new set of problems, though, for health care providers: someones diagnosis keeps changing as their body responds or stops responding to anti-virals, and many people do not want to have an AIDS diagnosis now that the CDC is requiring names reporting of PWAs. Most practitioners therefore feel that it makes more sense simply to talk about "HIV disease." This effectively does away with the issue, but leaves the question of who gets sick and who does not a little murky.
But it seems that slowly, over the last 13 years, Duesbergs position has been gaining support among a growing group of reputable scientists and former AIDS researchers, including Kary Mullis, a 1993 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry. But I should clarify: these scientists are reputable until they join the ranks of "AIDS dissenters." Then, in a flash of light, they cross over immediately into the ranks of quacks, thus enabling the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS to assert that legitimate science has disproved and rejected the idea that HIV may not be the sole cause of AIDS.
Its has the tinge of a vicious cycle: your membership in this group makes you a bad scientist, so the only members of the group are bad scientists. It brings to mind a book that was extremely influential and overused in academic circles in the late 70s and early 80s, called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Its a thin, unassuming looking paperback, first published in 1962 by a guy named Thomas Kuhn, a previously obscure professor of history of science, which is not exactly a sexy field. But after the second edition came out in 1970, it somehow made its way into the hands of philosophers and social scientists and became, for a brief period, possibly the most commonly assigned book on college campuses.
Kuhn talks about the creation of "normal science," which is defined as "the activity in which most scientists inevitably spend almost all their time, is predicated on the assumption that the scientific community knows what the world is like." And he goes on to observe that "Normal science often suppresses fundamental novelties because they are necessarily subversive of its basic commitments." This continues until, for one of a number of reasons, "the profession can no longer evade anomalies that subvert the existing tradition of scientific practice then begin the extraordinary investigations that lead the profession at last to a new set of commitments, a new basis for the practice of science."
NIAID, UNAIDS, the CDC and the World Health Organization, not to mention UCSF, AMFAR, and large AIDS organizations like the SF AIDS Foundation, have jumped to assure us that HIV is, in fact, the sole cause of AIDS. NAIADs web site dedicates a huge amount of space to fact sheets, background briefs and other articles discrediting the work of Duesberg & Co. While the AIDS research establishment has for years been looking at long-term survivors to try to determine what factors make the difference in how HIV impacts the body, little of that appears on these web sites. If NIAID spent a tenth of the time discussing the research being done on the relationship between Hepatitis C and HIV that they do discrediting the AIDS dissenters, I might be more inclined to believe them.
Several developments since 1987 have inspired people to take another look at causation:
South African president Thabo Mbeki has appointed some dissenters to his 33-member AIDS panel, against the wishes of other members of his government.
People in the AIDS community become incredibly emotional at even the mention of AIDS dissenters (most of whom are not the same as AIDS deniers). Journalist Bruce Mirkin has engaged in a so far 5-part online debate on CitySearch with Christine Maggiore, founder/director of Alive & Well AIDS Alternatives, a SF-based organization of AIDS dissidents. The debate is classic he said/she said her statistics are hand-picked and/or misinterpreted (whose arent, really, Bruce?); he is quoting her out of context, yada yada yada. Its entertaining, but not that enlightening, as Bruce himself says he recently concluded.
The AIDS establishments motives in quashing the dissenters are not badly intentioned. Martin Delaney, director of Project Inform, raises the legitimate concern that young people, who hear ACT UP and Alive & Well saying that AIDS is harmless and practicing safer sex is anti-gay will adopt dangerous behaviors without knowing anything about the scientific debate. He quoted from an article in which a West Hollywood man who tested positive for HIV tells his sexual partners that he is negative. "...since HIV is harmless," the man said, "being positive and negative is the same thing." Jeff Getty of ACT UP/Golden Gate accuses the dissenters of murder: "I have met the survivors of people who followed their advice and stopped taking drugs and then died of opportunistic infections."
Nonetheless, it is a fact that every issue of the BAR and the Bay Times, which have devoted large amounts of space to refuting and dismissing the AIDS dissenters, contains at least one full page ad from a drug company promoting one of their new antiviral combinations. People now point to the extraordinary results of the protease inhibitors, and I certainly know many who are probably alive today because of them, but I had friends who said the same about the early AZT-based treatments, and pretty much all of them are dead now.
With Bruce Mirkin I would ask, if AIDS doesnt exist, where are the people I used to know? He likens it to Holocaust deniers, mentioning, incidentally, that Duesberg was twice listed as a guest on Radio Free Amerikkka, produced by the liberty lobby (who are Holocaust deniers). But then, for forty years, Black men in Alabama were ostensibly treated for "bad blood" and they were dying too, but there is no such thing as bad blood and they were not being treated.
I dont say that the dissenters are right. In fact, I think they are probably wrong. And the thug-like tactics of ACT UP sure dont help to get them taken seriously. One thing I do know: people should not be prevented from receiving information that might save their lives.
But AIDS researchers have been searching for 16 years, at unprecedented funding levels, for cures and vaccines for AIDS based on the HIV causation theory. Mightnt it make sense to spend some of that money to investigate other theories, even if just to rule them out or discover other strategies to prevent the progression of infection to disease?
Since 1987 there have been several developments which h support the link between HIV and AIDS. Some are:
-- Most recent evidence, including the development of more sensitive HIV tests, suggests that HIV does fulfill Koch's postulates. New research has also found that illegal drugs and AZT do not cause the kind of immune deficiency that AIDS does.
-- 38% of AIDS cases are among women in the United States who have no other risk factors than heterosexual contact. Duesbergs theory does not account for HIV+ children, born to a mother with HIV, who develop AIDS even as their HIV-negative siblings remain healthy.
-- Providing the antivirals AZT or neveripine to pregnant HIV+ women drastically reduces the risk of AIDS in infants.
-- Drugs which prevent the replication of HIV in the lab have dramatically (if often temporarily) improved the health of people diagnosed with AIDS.
-- HIV is the only factor which has been found to connect gay men in the U.S., young adults in Africa, teenage girls in Southeast Asia, hemophiliacs in Europe or Japan and injection drug users in South America.
courtesy of Critical Path
We regret to inform you that Kiyoshi Kuromiya, one of the world's leading AIDS activists, died on the night of May 10, 2000, due to complications from AIDS. To the last, Kiyoshi remained an activist, insisting on and receiving the most aggressive treatment for cancer and the HIV that complicated its treatment. He participated fully in every treatment decision, making sure that he, his friends and fellow activists were involved with his treatment every step of the way. He never gave up.
Kiyoshi devoted his life to the struggle for social justice.
He was a committed civil rights and anti-war activist. He was also one of the founders of Gay Liberation Front - Philadelphia and served as an openly gay delegate to the Black Panther Convention that endorsed the gay liberation struggle.
As a pioneering AIDS activist, Kiyoshi was involved in all aspects of the movement, including radical direct action with ACT UP Philadelphia and the ACT UP network, PWA empowerment and coalition-building through We The People Living with HIV/AIDS, national and international research advocacy, and loving and compassionate mentorship and care for hundreds of people living with HIV. Kiyoshi was the editor of the ACT UP Standard of Care, the first standard of care for people living with HIV produced by PWAs.
Kiyoshi is perhaps best known as the founder of the Critical Path Project, which brought the strategies and theories of his associate/mentor Buckminster Fuller to the struggle against AIDS. The Critical Path newsletter, one of the earliest and most comprehensive sources of HIV treatment information, was routinely mailed to thousands of people living with HIV all over the world. He also sent newsletters to hundreds of incarcerated individuals to insure their access to up-to-date treatment information.
Critical Path provides free access to the Internet to thousands of people living with HIV in Philadelphia and this region, hosted over a hundred AIDS related web pages and discussion lists, and showed a whole generation of activists and people living with HIV that the Internet can be a tool for information, empowerment and organizing. He was a leader in the struggle to maintain freedom of speech on the Internet, participating in the successful lawsuit against the Communications Decency Act.
Kiyoshi understood science and was involved locally, nationally and internationally in AIDS research. As both a treatment activist and clinical trials participant, he fought for community based research, and for research that involves the community in its design. He fought for research that mattered to the diversity of groups affected by AIDS, including people of color, drug users, and women.
He fought for appropriate research on alternative and complementary therapies as well, and was the lead plaintiff in the Federal class action lawsuit on medicinal marijuana.
In the first issue of Critical Path, published in 1989, he wrote, "it is our conviction that . . . a heroic endeavor is now needed both to provide for the continuing health maintenance of Persons With AIDS the world over, and, by the year 2001 to find a cure for the ravages of AIDS for all time." That task he set us still remains unfinished.
We will miss Kiyoshi's intelligence and the clear and even analysis he brought to any meeting or political activity. We will miss his commitment, and dedication to the idea that all people living with HIV should participate in the decisions that will affect their lives. And we will miss his wit, his smile, his sense of fun.
If you want to honor Kiyoshi, we urge you to make a donation to the activist organization of your choice. And sometime soon, today, or tomorrow, or next week, take the opportunity to speak truth to power, join a picket line you might have passed by, or help plan a demonstration against global injustice that you thought you were too busy to be involved with. He would have liked that.
"As far as Im concerned, being any gender is a drag." (Patti Smith, quoted by Kate Bornstein).
In the beginning, so the lesbian and gay creation myth goes, there was Stonewall. Stonewall, which was an uprising in 1969 led by street queens and butches, dykes and fags of color, is considered to be the birthplace of the modern lesbian and gay liberation movement.
Thirty years of struggle for gay liberation, and for gay civil rights, have created the space for the fearful, closeted, straight-acting gays to begin to come out and boldly announce their belief that they are almost exactly like straight people and to politely request that they be provided some of the privilege they feel should accompany their almost heterosexual existence. These people are as happy to move the gender transgressors out of the community, as the transgender movement is to make a home for us.
"Gayness used to be about both orientation and gender," says Ricki Wilchins, executive director of GenderPAC, in the May 25, 1999 issue of the Advocate. "But then, she charges, some gays and lesbians staked out what has proved to be a successful, if divisive public relations strategy in winning support from heterosexuals. "We look like you. We act like you. Were just like you. Give us our rights."
"The movement was hijacked," Wilchins added. "Now, were just trying to reintegrate the movement again. It has left out gender queers because, lets face it, were not like everybody else. We were the flamboyant, visible ones, so we got sacrificed for political expediency. You can sell Ellen De Generis on Capitol Hill. You cant sell Reappeal."
Who is transgender?
The 1999 True Spirit conference declared that it was open to people "who... were assigned female gender at birth, but who feel that is not an adequate or accurate description of who they are, which includes but is not limited to: tomboys, butches, female cross-dressers, drag kings, F2Ms, transmen, third sexes, intersexuals, and others,...."
This definition is by no means consensus. Many transsexuals believe that non-transitional gender benders do not share their issues, or their persecution. However, many transgender activists, including Kate Bornstein and Leslie Feinberg, include a wide variety of genders and gender identification in their definition. At issue is what the prefix "trans" means. For transsexuals, it means going from one thing or place to another, as in transit or transitional. For transvestites, and non-transitional transgender people, it means existing across boundaries, as in transnational.
Now, as a (male-identified) butch I have some decidedly mixed feelings about all this. I wasnt at Stonewall, but Stonewall changed my life. Yes, Im aware that I live cross-gendered. I wear mens clothes. I get taken for a man in the most unlikely of circumstances, and particularly in womens bathrooms. I spent most of my life in mens jobs. I attended a transvestite/transsexual rap group, and at several different points in my adult life, considered SRS (sexual reassignment surgery).
Back in the last century, when I was coming of age, the vast majority of gender non-conformists first identified as lesbian or gay. SRS became popularized in the public consciousness with the publication of Christine Jorgensens story. Her "I was a woman trapped in a mans body," became the obligatory analysis for individuals who identified as transsexual, and sought SRS. Gender conformity, to the gender of choice, including heterosexuality, was required by institutions performing SRS. And so an artificial line was drawn, separating the "heterosexual" transsexual from the lesbian or gay identified gender benders, like butches, drag queens, fairies, etc.
In the late sixties and early 70's many butches, who had started down the road of transition, found that the loosening of gender roles, and the positive self-image dykes had created, was enough for them. But times have changed. There isnt a positive and expansive radical dyke movement anymore. And of the tens of thousands of people in this country who have undergone surgical procedures to modify their natal sex, some have turned out to be not as gender conforming as Harry Benjamin would have required. (Benjamin is the physician who originated the "standards of care," for MTF transsexuals, which required, for example a two year "life test" prior to the performance of surgery. Many transsexuals were assaulted or killed while trying to pass these tests.) For the past decade, a movement has been building which is taking on the existence of gender itself.
"Im whats called a transsexual person. That means I was assigned one gender at birth, and I now live my life as something else. I was born male and raised as a boy. I went through both boyhood and adult manhood, went through a gender change, and "became a woman." A few years later, I stopped being a woman and settled into being neither. I wrote a book about gender-as-neither, and I traveled with several plays and performance pieces about gender-as-neither. On the personal side of things, my lesbian lover of over three years decided to become a man. We lived together for a few more years as a heterosexual couple, then we stopped being lovers. He found his gay male side, and I found my slave grrrl side. What a wacky world, huh?" Kate Bornstein, Welcome to Your Gender Workbook.
Transgender radicals are not only fucking around with their identities, but like the lesbian movement which declared that "any woman can be a lesbian," or the lesbian/gay liberation movement which called on all people to celebrate their homosexuality, transgender activists challenge everyone to discard the binary gender system.
"We change our attitudes, our careers, our relationships. Even our age changes minute by minute. We change our politics, our moods, and our sexual preferences. We change our outlook, we change our minds, we change our sympathies. Yet when someone changes hir gender, we put hir on some television talk show. Well, heres what I think: I think we all of us do change our genders. All the time. Maybe its not as dramatic as some tabloid headline screaming "She Was A He!" But we do, each of us, change our genders. In response to each interaction we have with a new or different person, we subtly shift the kind of man or woman, boy or girl, or whatever gender were being at the moment. Were usually not the same kind of man or woman with our lover as we are with our boss or a parent. When were introduced for the first time to someone we find attractive, we shift into being a different kind of man or woman than we are with our childhood friends. We all change our genders. Im just saying its time we knew exactly what we are doing and why." Kate Bornstein, Welcome to Your Gender Workbook.
"Now another movement is seeping onto the stage of history: Trans liberation. We are again raising questions about the societal treatment of people based on their sex and gender expression. This discussion will make new contributions to human consciousness. And trans communities, like the womens movement, are carrying out these mass conversations with the goal of creating a movement capable of fighting for justice -- of righting the wrongs.
"We are a movement of masculine females and feminine males, cross-dressers, transsexual men and women, intersexuals born on the anatomical sweep between female and male, gender-benders, many other sex and gender-variant people, and our significant others. All told, we expand understanding of how many ways there are to be a human being.
"Our lives are proof that sex and gender are much more complex than a delivery room doctors glance at genitals can determine, more variegated than pink or blue birth caps. We are oppressed for not fitting those narrow social norms. We are fighting back.
"Our struggle will also help expose some of the harmful myths about what it means to be a woman or a man that have compartmentalized and distorted your life, as well as mine. Trans liberation has meaning for you -- no matter how you define or express your sex or your gender." Leslie Feinberg, Transgender Warrior.
Transgenders and Lesbian/Gay Liberation
Most of the lesbian and gay rights organizations in the Bay Area have responded to this emerging movement by including "transgender" in their names or descriptions. LAGAI has not (yet) done that, and we have been criticized by some people. People who know us, know that we are pro-trans, and have organized demonstrations to protest violence against trans people, opposed the assimilationist straight-acting gay image, and held drag events. We have recently participated in, and publicized trans demonstrations against police abuse. We are currently in the process of trying to figure out how transgender ideology works with lesbian/gay liberation. LAGAI is open to transgender identified lesbians and gay men.
The transgender movement generally separates out gender identity from sexual orientation, for example, "Gender Identity is who you are; Sexual Orientation refers to whom you love or have sex with. They are two completely separate concepts and a certain gender identity does not necessarily mean a certain sexual orientation. A person who is TG may be gay, lesbian, bisexual or straight." from Gender Identity 101: A Transgender Primer by Alexander John Goodrum.
As a cross-gender lesbian/gay liberationist, I dont find that kind of divided identity to be useful, or true. The experience of every liberation movement has shown that neither oppression nor liberation divides out that way. I am oppressed as a fat jewish masculine dyke. That oppression does not equal the oppression of a fat woman + the oppression of a jewish man + the oppression of a non-fat wasp either dyke or gay man. It is impossible for me to separate out the transgender part of my identity from my dyke identity. Separating the two categories makes the experience of heterosexually identified TGs the norm.
In fact, over the course of the past 100 years at least, most transgender people have made their homes in lesbian and gay communities, however broadly defined. And lesbians and gay men, including those who feel relatively comfortable in their natal gender, have, at least until the recent assimilationist onslaught, engaged in a variety of gender fuck behavior. Halloween, for example, was a time for high drag in most lesbian and gay communities, at least until the late 1970's when heterosexuals turned it into a zoo. "Boys in the Band," and other antique gay films, reflect the kind of casual female allusions that have been common in gay male culture. And dont forget Gertrude Stein.
From its earliest days, the lesbian and gay liberation movement (as compared to the lesbian/gay rights movement) has embraced and supported gender transgressors. For example, New Yorks Third World Gay Revolutions 16 point program (What We Want; What We Believe;) included
"2. We want the right of self-determination over the use of our bodies; the right to be gay, anytime, anyplace; the right to free physiological change and modification of sex on demand; the right to free dress and adornment.
"We believe that these are human rights which must be defended with our bodies being put on the line. The system as it now exists denies these basic human rights by implemented forced heterosexuality."
The Transgender movement is now laying claim to all of this gender deviant behavior, which is their/our right. But that doesnt mean that the lesbian and gay movement should relinquish our claim to that history and culture. The drag queens of Stonewall were identifying as gay -- thats why they were at the gay bar. And they were busted as gay, thats why the cops were at the gay bar.
Gender benders have always borne the brunt of anti-gay hatred. Cross-dressing dykes are hassled, attacked, and in some cases murdered, as are effeminate gay men. In fact straight men and women, if they appear to be "gay", i.e. gender transgressors, are attacked as gay as well. Some in the transgender movement say that the gay-bashers are "misidentifying" their victims. That they are using the words dyke or fairy or fag or cuntlapper or .... because they lack the words for gender queers. I think that denies the reality of homophobia and homo-hatred in this society.
It is not, as I said, only the transgender movement which is separating out gender from sexual orientation. The human rights campaign specifically excluded discrimination based on gender from the employment non-discrimination act (ENDA). (What do you expect from an organization that endorsed DAmato?) It is impossible, as well as wrong, to fight for the rights of lesbians and gay men without fighting for the rights of transgender people. How is a butch or drag queen to prove that they were discriminated against based on sexual orientation, rather than on their gender presentation?
Some trans activists say that the categories of lesbian and gay are rendered obsolete by the emerging transgender identification. For example, Liz Maurer, a NY trans activist writes, "It is important to note that transgender identity is entirely separate from sexual orientation, and in many respects may render the concept of sexual orientation obsolete. How would someone label a person born female, who has transitioned to a man, whose partner was born male and has transitioned to a women? Customary (and comfortable , and reassuringly dualistic) notions of orientation break down as the traditional sex and gender assumption -- that all aspects of sex and gender are in agreement in all people at all times -- crumbles as well. In reality, sexual orientation is another continuum upon which sex and gender may intersect. But it is a very separate and distinct (and perhaps, in the context of transgender, unnecessary, or at least perplexing) issue from transgender identity. The sexual orientation scale is the continuum upon which people may gauge their attraction to others -- again in this culture defined in classic Western duality, bounded by the opposites of homosexuality and heterosexuality."
"Some lesbians and gay men are as straight as my mom or dad," (Y2Kate: gender virus 2000 in Planet Out)
As lesbian and gay liberationists we base our movement on the revolutionary content of homosexual love, and on its intrinsic challenge to gender roles and the heterosexual nuclear family. But what is homosexual love, if gender is totally mutable? What is homosexual love, if a person is a man today and a woman tomorrow and neither on the 4th of July? What happens to the categories of homosexuality and heterosexuality, even for more conforming transsexuals? How homosexual is a butch/femme relationship? Is a relationship between a non-transitional FTM and a butch dyke homosexual? Does it matter?
I find it hard to believe any argument that leads to the conclusion that being a dyke doesnt matter. It has mattered completely in my life so far. It has determined what employment was open to me, what streets I can walk down, what places I can feel comfortable in. It has determined my community and my friends and lovers, and influences the content of all of my political work, whether that work is obviously identified as lesbian or not. Coming out as a dyke was the single most liberating event in my life. I dont think that Im unique among butches.
Before LAGAI becomes LAGGAI (Lesbians And Gays and transGenders Arousing Insurrection) these are some of the questions which we need to answer. Integrating transgender liberation, womens liberation, and lesbian and gay liberation requires more than placing a T somewhere in our acronym. We have formed a study group to address these issues. We are interested, as always, in your opinions. We will be running articles throughout the next year on this subject. Feel free to write one.
One of the basic tenets by which I live as a lesbian feminist is that every person has a right to make decisions about what happens to their body. No government or person should be able to interfere with this. This idea was particularly well articulated in the Lesbian Tent in Beijing at the 1995 grassroots NGO womens conference paralleling the UN conference. The Thai women from the Lesbian group Anjaree, which means a different way of life, talked about how fundamental this premise is for them. Anjaree Lesbians articulate that to come out is to say that only we have the right to decide on our sexual partners. We control our bodies. We decide by whom and how our bodies can be touched. Lesbian liberation is to have this freedom to choose. Indeed the 30,000 strong conference for womens liberation over and over called for women to gain control over the decision making in their lives, to end the violence perpetrated by states or individuals that enslave, capture, maim, starve, and kill.
Because of a commitment to CHOICE, Lesbians are found in leadership of many struggles, abortion rights, anti-rape groups, health care revolution, anti-racism, opposing capitalism corporate greed. Being a Lesbian is a "different way of life", which challenges the very basis of the rigid entrapping claustrophobic power structure we survive in. Because of this belief I as a Lesbian support the Transgendered struggle for liberation. People must have the right to live in their bodies as they choose, have access to reassignment surgery, live as the gender of their choice, change their gender every moment or not, be free from harassment, assault and murder, be able to work, have health care and a place to live.
In the past months I have read, listened, talked to people, attended conferences, in an attempt to understand the Transgendered movement and politics. I had not thought enough about the daily trials of Transgender people, whose very existence challenges the crushing heterosexist society. I heard the stories. One MTF who spoke at the Transgendered conference for health care workers brilliantly painted the picture of what it was like for her to have a job speaking and training about AIDS as an HIV+`person in the schools, and never be allowed to say that she is Transgendered. The schools will not allow this subject be mentioned without parental permission. I heard people discuss the cruelty of the health care establishment, endless nasty ridiculing and often refusing care once the Transgendered nature of the person was revealed. People talked about the continual harassment, strip searches by police, beatings and killings. The straight world just cant stand the notion of gender being mutable. It is a challenge to those odious missionary christian family values. Transgendered people have not fared well in the Oueer community, often being challenged about the veracity of their woman or manhood, excluded, seen as sullying some desired wholesome assimilated image.
Lesbians are hated by the people who control this society. The fact that we have sex with women, and build our own communities, inexorably makes the straight male world know that they are just not needed; not for money, we can get our own, not for sex or emotional intimacy, we do that much better. Because of this separate life from men we are marginalized from all sides. We have had to fight for visibility in the straight feminist movements in spite of the leadership we have taken. Those of us who are butch, more masculine women, are often belittled and ostracized. Butches suffer greatly at the hands of heterosexist society, because they cannot hide their same sex sexuality. For all these reasons the world conspires to keep us from finding each other, from having places, to keep us isolated, alone without sex or community. We have no bars, no Lesbian buildings, or community centers, just no place. When we try, our small piece of nothing becomes immediately contested by men, straight women, bisexuals. So when trans people seek to gain entrance to lesbian places, as acceptance of their chosen gender is crucial, it becomes contentious. We often resist this from a place of oppression and fear. We are afraid that there will be no safe place for us to find each other.
As a Lesbian I have been made to feel small, trashy, diseased, over sexualized and very very stupid, most particularly by men. I spent a better part of one summer and fall with adolescent boys throwing rocks nightly at the porch windows where my woman lover and I lived. They had hit puberty and couldnt stand the notion of two women having sex. No doubt their hostility was fueled by the homophobic adults in their lives. This rather frightening harassment went on until an older man, somewhat of a pillar of the community, decided to talk to the boys, not because he thought it was wrong but because he thought such carrying on was bad for property values. More recently I didnt get a nurse practitioner job, because the county administrator known for her homophobia, refused to give it to me. But mostly the two-fold oppression of being a woman and being a Lesbian, inextricably entwined has ground me down over the years; regularly being under-estimated, viewed as having less than normal intelligence, not pretty enough and just plain weird. Because of the unremitting nature of this oppression it is distressing that there is so little evidence of a vibrant Lesbian political movement. Rather it seems that those who are coupled, have gone off to make homes, raise children and live more or less assimilated lives, certainly lives that are somehow more acceptable to mainstream culture, with gay marriage as the ultimate goal.
While reading accounts of the development of the Transgender movement it is clear that the Lesbian Feminist movement and the Transgendered have collided. Reading a Transgendered account of the events at the first West Coast Lesbian Conference at which MTF Beth Elliot attempted to perform, I realized Lesbians have been hurtful and at times vitriolic. Having been at that very same conference, just barely out as a Lesbian, glorying in the new found but uncertain liberation, I was confused and felt intruded on by Beth Elliot. It was the first time I had found Lesbians, and it was controversial immediately. Both points of view were intensely felt. We misidentified each other as an enemy.
We cannot compete about oppressions. It gets us no where. One speaker at the conference I attended a MTF, was discussing the ladder of comparative oppressions and put herself on the bottom below everyone. It is a mistake to argue the comparative nature of oppressions. We are not on a ladder above and below each other, but rather experience a variety of oppressions which must all be recognized There is no question that the gay community has been transphobic and exclusionary. It is also true that the trans community has denied the excruciating and silencing nature of Lesbian oppression. Many of the lines of definition are blurred, our communities overlap, masculine dykes, sissy faggots, drag queens and drag kings.
What is to be done? It seems that separate movements addressing egregious unspeakable conditions are hitting up against each other. There may not be actual clear cut answers to these inherent contradictions. However there must be dialogue between Gay Liberation, Womens Liberation, and Trans Liberation, with an honoring of each others experience and an agreement to fight for each other. We must define the power structure enemy, which makes all our lives miserable. Lesbians must revitalize their own movement and come out of their safe couples and families. Being a Dyke means defining liberation to include the experience of masculine Lesbians, Transgendered Dykes, FTMs; providing a real feminist movement which addresses the experience of those who most challenge the power structure. The South African Lesbians led the Dyke march at the Beijing Womens liberation conference chanting,
THE POWER IS OURS, OUR BODIES ARE OURS!
from InterPress Service of APC networks, via WomensNet
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 8 (IPS) - Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed concern Thursday that the UN's Special Session on Women remains deadlocked on sensitive issues such as reproductive rights, abduction of girls, sexual rights and child soldiers. Annan said that important parts of the review document on the outcome of the Beijing Plus Five Review process remain unresolved as of Thursday. The Special Session, also called Beijing Plus Five, is being held to review the implementation of a Platform for Action on women adopted at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. "The Declaration and Platform for Action of the Beijing Conference marked a major step forward in the advancement of women, particularly in the developing world," Annan said.
Annan emphasised in a statement released Thursday that, "It is important that the outcome document for Beijing Plus Five maintains in full all of the commitments in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action ... Every major UN event on the advancement of women has marked some further forward movement on earlier events." At a briefing held Thursday which addressed the emerging issues of the Beijing Plus Five process, Gita Sen the Co-ordinator on Alternative Development Frameworks of Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), expressed concern that there is a "tiny minority opposed to movement forward" in the review process of the Platform for Action adopted in Beijing five years ago.
This group - composed of the Holy See, Nicaragua, Sudan and Libya and sometimes joined by Iraq - is using, "delay tactics and filibustering" to impede the negotiations, Sen said. Amnesty International saying that it is "completely unacceptable for governments to try to undermine commitments they made in Beijing five years ago," named, the Holy See, Iran, Algeria, Nicaragua, Syria, Libya, Morocco and Pakistan as an "unholy alliance" attempting to hold to ransom women's human rights.
During Wednesday's negotiations Libya and the Holy See opposed inclusion of a clause concerning "freedom of expression" and the clause remains bracketed or unresolved.
The Holy See and Iran supported by other delegations proposed deleting references to sexual and reproductive rights and health in Section III of the review document. Section III deals with "Current Challenges" - these references have been bracketed as well. Brackets also remain on references to abduction of girls, land mines, child soldiers, and nuclear arsenals - due to opposition by a very small minority of delegations.
"There is an ethical question as to why these delegations are including themselves in the implementation review process of a Platform of Action that they posed reservations to five years ago and presumably are not implementing at all," Sen commented.
In the film Desert Hearts, the adaptation of Jane Rule's novel Desert of the Heart, Helen Shaver's character steps off a train having arrived at her destination in Nevada. She follows a trail taken by many others over many years in search of a divorce not then practically available in other states.
This time-honored migratory pattern will soon be altered, it seems. Recent legislative efforts in the state of vermont in the u.s. and the state of rio de janeiro in brazil give new focal points diverse in geography, climate, and society to traveling lesbians and gay men.
The rio de janeiro state recently enacted legislation that among other provisions, will impose fines on people and institutions that are found to discriminate against gay people. Bars, hotels, and restaurants may be closed for repeated denial of services to gay people.
The federal government of brazil has decreed that same sex domestic partners may inherit each others pensions and social security benefits.
In Motown the big three automakers, General Motors, Ford, and the Chrysler division of DaimlerChrysler, at the prompting of the United Auto Workers union, announced they will extend health care benefits to partners of gay employees. Curiously the daimler part of daimlerchrysler will not.
United Airlines has also been dragged, kicking and screaming, to the nuptial bed.
Vermont's decision to provide for gay civil unions extends the privileges of marriage to gay people follows a ruling by the state supreme court that the state's exclusion of homosexuals from the state-conferred benefits of marriage, including everything from inheritance and probate rights to hospital visitation, violated the state constitution.
Despite all this the number of people without access to health care will remain pretty much unchanged. For those of us who achieve bliss without domesticity and for those of us denied domestic bliss the situation remains unchanged. This still leaves mere friends, often more important than family, at the door begging for mementos from the domestic partner. The energy which has been devoted to queer and human liberation is being stolen to provide legitimacy for straight wannabes.
Thats the second part of a chant that starts "Zephyr Zephyr stole my pad," and it was probably the most rousing at the picket of Zephyr Real Estates Noe Valley office on June 3. The picket was organized by the Castro Tenants Union, formerly the Queer Tenants Union, and the SF Tenants Union to draw attention to the local agencys promotion of Ellis Act evictions in "District 8," which includes the Castro, Noe Valley, Glen Park and Duboce Triangle. Residents of the area, including newly displaced queer journalist Tim Kingston, say that their district is particularly hard hit by Ellis Act evictions because of the large number of 2, 4 and 6-unit buildings which are perfect for illegal condo conversions.
Zephyr Realty has been sending fliers and newsletters to owners of small multiunit buildings telling them how much money they could get for their property if they evicted all the tenants. According to Zephyr, a "delivered vacant" apartment or flat will get 20% more on the market than one with tenants the new owner has to deal with. And how do you come by a vacant unit to sell these days? Since Proposition G limited the Owner Move-In ruse to one per building in 1998, the Ellis Act, a state law allowing landlords to evict all tenants from a building in order to "get out of the rental business," is the loophole of choice.
Funny thing is, a few years ago some of us LAGAI types had the idea of buying a fourplex of our own, and we contacted Zephyr. Our realtor, Jan Medina, didnt seem to know anything about the Ellis Act. Or she pretty quickly figured out what we soon concluded on our own: that we would never do it. Who were we going to evict: the guy with the developmentally disabled son who had been in his flat for 20 years? The nurse midwife with the well-worn copies of Marge Piercy and Starhawk? The Russian immigrants with the menorah in the window?
But Jans colleagues Bonnie Spindler (the one who evicted Tim) and Tuan Tran have no such scruples. Having already done a couple owner move-in evictions a piece, they are now in the habit of scouting for good buildings to buy, convincing the owners its time to sell, buying the buildings themselves, throwing out the tenants and then doubling their money when they sell the empty units to silicon valley professionals.
While I was researching my article for Frontiers, Bonnie apparently forgot to call me back, but her manager Randall Kostick did. He said he was "sad and upset" that the tenant unions were picking on their small, local firm instead of Coldwell Banker and Prudential, who he says are doing the same thing. When I asked why he thought they were, he said some of the members had a personal motive, having been evicted in one of Zephyrs deals. Yeah. Cant argue with that.
The Castro Tenants Union is gathering signatures for the initiative to expand the citys condo conversion law to include tenants in common sales. Meet them every Saturday before July 10 at 18th & Castro. Theyre also hoping to do more pickets, especially at post-eviction houses that are being shown to prospective buyers. To get involved call Tommi at (415) 552-6031.