Our people to be skewered this election season
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