Our peo­ple to be skew­ered this elec­tion sea­son

GA Voice - - Out Spoken -

Gen­eral elec­tions tend to bring out the ab­so­lute worst in peo­ple.

Nearly seven years of Barack Obama will cer­tainly have let you know which of your friends are racists through their an­grily typed Face­book posts, speck­led with ex­cess punc­tu­a­tion.

While politi­cians may know that the keys to the White House pass through gay-lov­ing young peo­ple, said young peo­ple haven’t yet reached the crit­i­cal mass to force LGBT equal­ity through the fos­sils that col­lect up on Capitol Hill.

So it should be no sur­prise that, with 18 months of pres­i­den­tial cam­paign­ing ahead of us, our peo­ple are go­ing to be skew­ered in a high pro­file man­ner mul­ti­ple times.

This ag­grieved tar­get mar­ket is ripe for the pluck­ing by the many-car­riaged train chuff­ing down the GOP rail­way. If we still had con­ser­va­tive Democrats—they are rarer now than a park­ing space at Mary Mac’s—they’d prob­a­bly be join­ing the pro­ces­sion of peo­ple who like to use the blades of Bi­ble verses, free of con­text, to hack away at things they don’t like.

Al­ready in Texas, the leg­is­la­ture is stuffing through a bill that says churches and pas­tors are ex­empt from hav­ing to host or of­fi­ci­ate a gay wed­ding. The first amend­ment en­sures this ex­emp­tion al­ready, and it is not ex­actly like our peo­ple are push­ing for ho­mo­pho­bic of­fi­ciants, but isn’t it just nice to hand a lit­tle ex­tra fuck­you to gay peo­ple, just in case the elec­torate for­got how much those in charge love Je­sus.

Trans­gen­der peo­ple will def­i­nitely get it in the neck. Even in lib­eral states the sim­ple voice, and still have a sus­tain­able life?

One Satur­day morn­ing I went over to Wil­son Mill Park, a lit­tle neigh­bor­hood park in Adamsville near where I grew up, and took my copy of Brother to Brother with me. Brother to Brother: New Writ­ings by Black Gay Men is an an­thol­ogy of black gay men’s writ­ings pub­lished in 1991 and edited by Es­sex Hemphill. I had read the book be­fore, but I wanted to re­visit it to help me think through my feel­ings. As I read the beau­ti­ful in­tro­duc­tion Hemphill wrote, it be­came clear to me in that mo­ment that I had a re­spon­si­bil­ity. There was some­thing about the way he spoke about his own de­vel­op­ing voice, what black gay writ­ing meant for him, that told me what I needed to hear: that this was not only im­por­tant work, but nec­es­sary work, and it would be my des­tiny. The ur­gency of his words cleared the path for me. bath­room ques­tion is be­ing thrown around in fash­ion so stupid it’s be­ing worn by Björk. And the con­tin­u­ally grow­ing list of slaugh­tered trans­gen­der peo­ple, 11 that we know of in 2015, will re­main in the fil­ing cabi­net of things no one gives a shit about.

And if we get same-sex mar­riage when the Supreme Court rules in June, which we’re kind of ex­pect­ing, puff-faced Huck­abees and San­to­rums and Car­sons will con­tinue to com­pare our re­la­tion­ships to Nazis and our mar­riages to bes­tial­ity and our or­gies un­fit for Pied­mont Park.

While I have men­tioned many times that the fight over mar­riage equal­ity is re­ally a small one rel­a­tive to the smor­gas­bord of rights that ac­tu­ally en­sure our equal­ity, mar­riage is go­ing to be used as a proxy for just about ev­ery­thing

Es­sex Hemphill was a poet, es­say­ist, and ac­tivist. He was one of the most cel­e­brated writ­ers of the black gay arts move­ment, the pe­riod from 1986 un­til about 1994 when there was un­prece­dented cul­tural pro­duc­tion and po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity by black gay men. His po­ems, like “Now We Think,” and “For My Own Pro­tec­tion,” are an­thems to black gay men ev­ery­where. Still are. He died in 1995.

When I sat on the bench read­ing his words I rec­og­nized I had a re­spon­si­bil­ity. Men like Es­sex Hemphill made me pos­si­ble.

In my first year at Ge­or­gia State Uni­ver­sity, I took a course called African-Amer­i­can LGBT Ac­tivism. It was taught by Dr. Layli Ma­paryan (then Dr. Layli Phillips), who was on fac­ulty in the women’s stud­ies depart­ment. It was through this course that I rec­og­nized my ap­pre­ci­a­tion for Es­sex Hemphill could also be a that in­volves not lik­ing gays very much.

So when your pres­i­den­tial con­tenders bang on about tra­di­tional mar­riage, you can slot in trans­gen­der rights, em­ploy­ment nondis­crim­i­na­tion, chang­ing doc­u­ments to fit your gen­der, hate crime leg­is­la­tion, ed­u­ca­tion of LGBT+ his­tory, and in some cases, hos­pi­tal vis­its, along with hop­ing to hell that there is a coun­try in the world re­spect­ful of your mar­riage that one of you can get a visa to. My Amer­i­can hus­band and I were lucky to have the in­sur­ance pol­icy of South African res­i­dency if the Supreme Court didn’t deal with the De­fense of Mar­riage Act in 2012.

Your next pres­i­dent will likely choose four Supreme Court jus­tices. Think about that when you lis­ten to pres­i­den­tial con­tenders pro­claim how lit­tle they think of us. part of my own in­tel­lec­tual and artis­tic work.

In the course we watched Tongues Un­tied and read Brother to Brother, and for the first time I had the op­por­tu­nity to read the text and dis­cuss it in a class­room set­ting. I was trans­formed.

A year or two later, upon the death of my friend Ke­iron, a very im­por­tant black gay ac­tivist in At­lanta and at More­house Col­lege, I re­call us read­ing the Es­sex Hemphill poem, “When My Brother Fell.” This is the poem that many of us look to when one of our com­rades dies, and we find in­spi­ra­tion and power in Hemphill’s words. And boy did we need it.

The work of Es­sex Hemphill has in­formed my writ­ing and ac­tivism for over a decade. In my early ac­tivist life, as a stu­dent, and through the deaths of friends like Ke­iron and oth­ers, his work has been a con­stant light in my life.

May 15, 2015

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