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Friday, March 17, 2017

Trump America: Look Back, Look Ahead

Written by  Sage Piper

The Gay Movement’s challenge in 2017

It is our individual responsibility to continually educate and reeducate ourselves about how we have arrived here – 2017 Trump America. This is a daunting task, and one that cannot be taken lightly. It includes studying our history through today’s eyes and then engaging in the critically thinking necessary to keep publicly testifying the ways that history has shaped the present. It is this continual affirmation: 2017 Trump America did not randomly happen, and those who are marginalized are not so because they “deserve” to be. The injustice and inequality are the results of the conscious decisions of individuals and institutions which have shaped what is now collectively accepted as our “given” societal codes and norms. If our “givens” were scripted, then they are capable of being rescripted. This is the lifelong task of many among us, and I believe they are the heroes among us. However, I fear that their life’s work has been rendered unfathomable in Trump’s America, where social progress is being besieged and assaulted at every turn.

I treasure the fact that everyone involved in Baltimore OUTLoud does everything they can to examine and write about where we are and where we have been, while at the same time actively striving to shape a better future for the gay community in Baltimore and beyond. With this continuing education in mind, I have been reading and watching the work of Yoruba Richen, including her documentaries and her TED Talk: “What the Gay Rights Movement Learned from the Civil Rights Movement.” Richen has long been fascinated by the points of overlap, tension, and convergence between the gay rights movement and the civil rights movement; being a gay African-American woman herself, this is a natural exploration. She illuminates the many ways the two movements have intersected and spurred each other forward in past decades, and she strives to look beyond the stereotypical view of the hostility of the African-American community and the civil rights movement towards homosexuality.Richen often bemoans the fact that not enough historical due is given to Bayard Rustin, the African-American who was the mastermind behind the 1963 March on Washington. Rustin was also courageously out at the time, despite the often-devastating impact of that reality on his career and his health. The March on Washington was the seminal movement of the struggle for African-American equality, and it was truly Rustin’s baby. Early gay rights activists marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., and Richen confirms that the first gay rights protest at Stonewall took a page directly out of the civil rights protest of Montgomery, Alabama. The protest was also more diverse than people remember or realize. For at Stonewall, Richen asserts, “black and Latino LGBT folks were at the forefront of the rebellion, and it’s a really interesting example of the intersection of our struggles against racism, homophobia, gender identity, and police brutality. After Stonewall happened, gay liberation groups sprang up all over the country, and the modern gay rights movement as we know it took off.”Is gay the new black? Is Muslim the new black? Is black again or forevermore the new black? These questions continue to reverberate, and they are especially chilling ones to pose in 2017 Trump America. If you have not already done so, make it a point to view The New Black, Richen’s powerful 2013 award-winning documentary which chronicles the struggle in the African-American community over the campaign to legalize gay marriage in Maryland and illuminates the situation’s complexity. Check out Richen’s short film on reproductive rights or her new feature-length documentary, How it Feels to be Free, which shows how female black entertainment trailblazers such as Nina Simoe, Lena Horne, and Cicely Tyson fought for civil rights through their artistic work and political actions while taking control of their own image in the process. Delve into James Baldwin’s life. He, like Rustin, was as unapologetically gay as he was unapologetically black. I Am Not Your Negro is a powerful and beautiful film, and yet it does not mine Baldwin’s personal life in any depth. For that read, or reread, Go Tell it on the Mountain, which chronicles a young boy’s discovery of his developing homosexuality. Or check out Giovanni’s Room, Baldwin’s most directly homoerotic work, which he insisted on publishing in England when his American publisher refused to release it. Baldwin was honest in his writing about his own intersectionality, as we all must be if we are going to unite with the other marginalized communities who are all threatened in 2017 Trump America. Think about your own multidimensional and intersectional self. Then revel in the celebration, and be ready to act and to triumph.

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