Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Monday, January 30, 2006
On Saturday I headed to the Bowery Poetry Club for the Mariposas benefit on behalf of the SOMOS... Project at the Latino Commission on AIDS (the program fights homophobia in the Spanish-speaking Latino community of New York). Since October, when I got the news that spoken word artist and actor Emanuel Xavier had been attacked and beaten up badly, I had followed his progress closely and even wrote a cover story for Gay City News but I had yet to have a chance to see him face to face.
Emanuel sustained some inner-ear damage for which he is still being treated but he has begun to perform again as well as organize showcases for other performers. He first reached me in December with the idea of putting this benefit together and I suggested that he engage SOMOS... He wanted to name the event Mariposas (Butterflies), a word used in many Latin American to refer despectively to gays, and I thought it was fine not only as an appropriation of the term but also for what butterflies usually reprsent: A process of transformation and of inner beauty rising up.
The night was hosted by the legendary Elizabeth Latex, who also performed. Emanuel was joined by percussionist Joyce Jones and spoken word poets Robert Ortiz and Dino Foxx (an Austin, Texas native making his New York City debut - you can hear some Dino's poetry by here).
For an early Saturday night, a lot of people showed up and, while both Robert and Dino expressed initial nervousness, they seemed to warm up as the night went along. The crowd was great with Diva André from the House of Xavier sitting up front and calling certain performances "crunch!" And, despite Robert's boricua background and Dino's Chicano background, their poetry touched amazingly similar themes of family unity and disunity, ethnic bonds and divisions, assimilation and displacement as well as sexuality and love. Both were extremely moving in their own ways.
Emanuel performed some of his best-known pieces including "Americano" and "Tradiciones" with the incomparable Joyce Jones backing him up on percussion. And, even though some of his darkest work has always had touches of humor, there seemed to be a lot more darkness in this particular performance than at any other times I've seen him perform. His newer poems dealt with issues related to community and family violence, the separation of a couple over the issue of expressing love in public and of being able to leave a legacy behind in showing the way for a younger generation of poets. In a biting and trenchantly sardonic piece, he also addressed writers like Harold Bloom who has dismissed spoken word poetry in the past and, in the most moving moment of the night, thanked his personal heroes in "Legendary," which he dedicated to Pepper Labeija and other children of the night who are gone.
All in all, an amazingly moving night. Thanks Emanuel.
[NOTE: For Dino Foxx's take on the night, go here]
Though some are comparing the film to "made-for-cable forgiveness melodramas of the Lifetime Channel and Oxygen Network variety," we hope that it reaches New York movie screens so we can judge by ourselves.
It is not the first time that an independent flick explores issues related to Latino thugness and gay identity. In 2003, Tadeo Garcia explored these themes more directly in "On the Down-Low" which was based in the Southside of Chicago instead of Los Angeles. My organization co-sponsored a presentation of that particular film at the 16th New York City LGBT Film Festival, NewFest, where it won Best US Feature honors.
What the Village Voice says about the film:
Wan and cutesy, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's QUINCEAÑERA is most notable for making explicit the slumming subtext of many an earnest Sundance crowd-pleaser. Shot near the directors' own Echo Park residence and focused largely on the neighborhood's Latino community (in particular a newly out, tough gay boy and his possibly immaculately pregnant cousin), it's less about culture-clash affirmation than gentrifiers' guilt.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
On Thursday, a day before the sentencing, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a moving OpEd piece by Gwen's mother. Sylvia Guerrero. I am reprinting it here in its entirety. I hope that I don't get tagged for copyright infringement.
Life after Gwen
- Sylvia Guerrero
Thursday, January 26, 2006
I am not sure how I expected to feel at this point. When my daughter Gwen, a transgender teenager, was brutally murdered on Oct. 4, 2002, I was sure that I would never feel whole again. Looking back, I didn't yet know exactly what "transgender" meant or how to fully embrace my child's identity. But I knew one thing: I wanted justice for my child.
I thought that maybe I'd feel better on the day when the four suspects in her murder were brought to justice. More than three years and three months since Gwen's murder that day is finally here. On Friday, these men are being sentenced to prison terms for their actions, two of them convicted of second-degree murder and two taking plea bargains for voluntary manslaughter. I guess I hoped that once we got to the sentencing date, the pain would end and I could get back to my life. But it hasn't and I can't.
No amount of justice can return the part of me that these men took when they killed Gwen. The closure that people keep talking about hasn't come. It would be so much easier to write that it had. After all, that is what most people want to read: The system worked; my family is whole; the story is over. It would be comforting and allow us to get on with our lives. Of the many things I'm feeling, closure isn't one of them.
I'm angry. Angry that Gwen's brothers and her nieces and nephews won't get to grow up knowing her the way her aunts, uncles, older sister and I did. Angry that instead of celebrating her birthday, we get together each year to commemorate her death. Angry that, in both trials, the defendants tried to blame Gwen for her own murder. Angry that other young lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender kids continue to face the discrimination she did in our public schools and our workforce.
I'm also grateful. Grateful that my family and our friends rose to the challenge and sat through two gruesome and explicit criminal trials to make sure that everyone knew that Gwen was loved for who she was. I'm grateful for the support we've all received from perfect strangers who have told us in-person and through e-mail that we are in their thoughts and prayers. I'm grateful for the remorse that two of the defendants and some of their family members have expressed to me and my family.
And I'm sad. Sad that I'll never get to see Gwen grow into the beautiful woman she would have become. Sad that four men chose to end my daughter's life, and throw away their own simply because they thought they were acting like "real men." And sad that other transgender women have been killed since Gwen's murder and that we don't have a realistic end in sight to that violence.
Within this mix of emotions, though, the one that I hold onto most dearly is hope. Since that tragic night, my own family has grown by two beautiful grandchildren. More and more parents are supporting their transgender children. California has become the country's most protective state for transgender people. And just this month, a new law has been proposed in Sacramento, the Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act, authored by Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View, and sponsored by Equality California, an LGBT civil-rights lobbying group, to protect people from being blamed for their own murder.
Maybe the reason I don't have closure around Gwen's death is that there is still work to do. If I've learned anything since Gwen's murder, it is that hope alone is not enough. Each of us who hopes to live in a state where our families are protected needs to work toward making California that place. For instance, boys and girls in schools throughout the Bay Area need to hear, firsthand, how important it is to be themselves and to respect each other's differences.
None of us can change the way the world was on Oct. 4, 2002. But each of us now has an important role to play in creating a state where we can celebrate more birthdays and commemorate fewer murders.
Sylvia Guerrero is the mother of Gwen Araujo and an activist for LGBT civil rights. She speaks at schools around the Bay Area through the Gwen Araujo Transgender Education Fund administered by the Horizons Foundation.
Friday, January 27, 2006
Ok, so politically and even - to some degree - socially, I have been out of the loop for a few months now, considering that I used to attend every single LGBT political meeting in the city (or so it seemed). But after I stepped off as treasurer of the Out People of Color Political Action Club (though I am still part of the executive committee as a member-at-large), I decided to take a breather.
So at the big two LGBT political events I attended Wednesday night at the LGBT Community Services Center (a community event to salute newly-appointed City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and a Stonewall Democrats endorsement meeting), I had this weird feeling of stepping back into the fray. Nicely, it also gave me a chance to see friends I hadn't seen in a while (Colin Robinson, Michael T. Luongo, Ellen Ensig-Brodsky, Ronnie Billini among many others), but also have an opportunity to give personal thanks to Ana Oliveira, the departing Executive Director at Gay Men's Health Crisis, who supported me and some of my activities during her tenure as the agency's leader, and staff and members of the Board of Directors of the Empire State Pride Agenda, whose board I also left last year.
The Quinn event drew hundreds of people, quite more than I was expecting, and had an appropriately celebratory tone (I'm always amazed when throngs show up for a purely political event). She entered the room to tremendous applause and almost could not leave the place as many wanted to shake her hand and congratulate her personally (I was among them). In perhaps the most touching moment of the night, NYS Senator Tom Duane seemed visibly embarrassed when Christine spoke warmly and at length about his long-time mentorship. Tom tried to shush the crowd but the crowd wouldn't have any of it and also gave him an extended applause.
I was there with Carlos Macias of GLAAD and Pedro Julio Serrano of Freedom to Marry, recent arrivals in New York City, and stood at the back of the room with OutPOCPAC's Gerard Cabrera, who gave Carlos and Pedro Julio the run-down of who was who at both events. Pedro Julio, who knew newly elected and openly-lesbian Councilmember Rosie Mendez, officially introduced me to her. In his blog, Pedro Julio writes about his emotions on Wednesday night and, particularly, about seeing Rosie on the podium and the meaning of a gift he gave her on the night she won the council race. It's a moving piece and, if you understand Spanish, you should read it here. Call me crazy but I was actually moved to see these two younger Latino gay men from other latitudes be so entranced by city politics.
For pure political intrigue and fireworks, the Stonewall Democrats endorsement meeting almost turned into a free-for-all as invited speakers and candidates not scheduled to speak fought for podium time. As Jossip put it "For once, it wasn't the gays who queened out."
But Jossip wasn't the only one who took notice: The New York Times has ran two articles on the fall-out, one yesterday on the state attorney race and one today on comments made that night by Andrew Cuomo.
All in all though, the night also drew an amazing number of people, and I have to give kudos to Stonewall Democrats President Dirk McCall for managing to keep the calm in the midst of flying elbows. At the end of the night, Eliot Spitzer walked away with the first of what I predict will be a large number of endorsements from the City's LGBT political clubs.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
I was out of the country for the launch of the "new" blade so forgive me if this is old news, but the print version has been totally re-designed (alas, the web version still does not reflect the design changes and the only image I found was of the cover of the last issue before the design was launched so I can't actually show you how it looks).
Gone are the gaudy and sometimes distasteful lead cover graphics illustrating a single story and instead you have a more serious hard news design with a lead story on top and two smaller blocks below the fold. This might be boring to people who like gaudy and over the top but it's a huge improvement for news junkies like me. Better still, there seem to be additional reporters listed in bylines and additional news coverage. There seems also to be a new street release date (Mondays instead of late Thursdays), and, at least in the January 23rd issue as well as online, no "Bitch Session" column. Just that in itself is reason to make me a believer.
As for changes at Windows Media? Well, you can read more here.
Monday, January 23, 2006
This is the latest step for a beleaguered newspaper which emerged as an alternative to the other major New York City Spanish-language daily, El Diario La Prensa but has suffered as of late: Since 2004 advertising at Hoy had fallen precipitously, a number of reporters had been fired and local newspaper stands started refusing to carry the newspaper due to their delays in meeting store-front sale agreements.
The reason? The damaging findings by the Audit Bureau of Circulation released in the summer of 2004 which revealed that Hoy and its parent newspaper, the English-language daily Newsday, had substantially inflated circulation numbers (a key measure when it comes to a newspaper's livelihood: Advertising prices).
This is unfortunate because Hoy's reporting on LGBT issues has been, for the most part, stellar, bringing fair and balanced information to a large segment of the New York City Spanish-speaking community with cover stories on same-sex marriage (see image above), gay-bias attacks in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, the suicide of a transgender Mexican porn actress, the hanging death of a gay Mexican youth at Flushing Meadows Park, and gay pride rallies. Last year they even did a first-ever gay pride supplement featuring several community organizations as well as a story on gay parenting.
So, this might be a last-ditch move for a newspaper looking for a way out of a circulation scandal, a smart move that will save it, or both. Let's hope it survives and can continue to be a voice for some of our issues in years to come.
Friday, January 20, 2006
One of my fave bands is back in action, but you wouldn't necessarily know if you follow music release dates. That's because Underworld have opted out of the regular music industry channels and have decided to release music exclusively online for the forseable future. Not that this is new (most recently, Roisin Murphy released 3 EP's online in advance of the proper release of her latest and glorious solo album, Ruby Blue) and i-Tunes has a plethora of music only available otherwise on vynil but not on CD's.
Underworld were supposed to be the darlings of the dance music revolution when V2 - a subdivision of Virgin - signed them up in the 1990's, probably hoping that they would keep releasing singles in the vein of "Born Slippy" (which graced the soundtrack of the popular British film Trainspotting and was a pub favorite with its "Lager, Lager" chorus). Alas, Underworld chose instead to produce more intricatelly complex fare with a beauty in songcraft unmatched by any of their peers. "Shudder / King of Snake" with it's magnificent use of the relentless Giorgio Moroder synth-line from Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" set to an ominous yet erotic throb, the elegaic "Sola Sistim", and the urgency of "Push Upstairs" - all from V2 relseases Beucoup Fish and A Hundred Days Off are just stunning tracks and yet...
...they were dropped by V2 (I guess V2 are now concentrating on trendier stuff such as the White Stripes), band members Karl Hyde & Rick Smith tell DJ magazine in their January 2006 issue "We've planning this download stuff for years." What 'this' means is that, according to the magazine, they have amassed more than 180 tracks in the 2 years since they last realeased a proper album and will be releasing them peridocially over time on their site. Currently online are the first 2 releases: The 28-minute Lovely Broken Thing, released on November 9th, and the 25-minute Pizza for Eggs, which was released on December 7th. Each is a seamless mix of different new tracks, the first is the harder one, with the vocoder-influenced "Jal to Tokyo" being the standout of both mixes; while the second is a more contemplative dubbier affair which greatly complements the first mix (click on the above titles to listen to track samples). For $10 pounds (about $18 bucks) you get both mixes, PDF files for the CD-covers, should you want to burn them onto a CD-rom, and a collection of some of the photo art by Tomato (sampled above).
Most striking about the band is Karl Hyde's stream of conciousness lyrics and vocal performances, quick to capture a tonal change, a hidden meaning here and there, in truly poetic ways. For an amazing look at their past work, try the Everything, Everything DVD, released in 2000. If you want more, keep checking the Underworld website for updates.
UPDATE: "Lager Lager Meta Meta" (Los Angeles City Beat, December 8,2005)
Ok, let's stick with Medellin for one more blog post. Despite the fact that it was overrun by multiplying budget costs and it doesn't connect as many areas of Medellin as Bogota's bus system, Transmilenio, it has been more than a decade since the Colombian city inaugurated its Metro system. As with Bogota's Transmilenio (which has done wonders for public transportation in Colombia's capital), Medellin citizens are almost fanatically proud of their Metro to the extent that a public service campaign asks people in Medellin to treat their city as they would treat their Metro.
Anyhoo... If you have seen Colombian movies such as Rodrigo D: No Futuro or The Rose Vendor you will probably are aware of the extreme poverty and danger that defines the outlaying areas of the city and of the so-called 'invasion' shanty-towns perched atop the sides of the majestic mountains that surround Medellin. Yet, as the years have gone by, the residents of these neighborhoods have built up homes and, for the most part, thrown out the laminated walls that they used for a home and replaced them with cement and bricks. At the same time, violence has markedly decreased so that its no longer a danger to walk these neighborhoods' streets (paramilitary gangs, which feuded with each other and kept residents from even walking from one neighborhood to the next, still exist but are not as active; some argue that this has been mandated by higher-ups who do not want to endanger the sweet deals that President Alvaro Uribe has offered former paramilitaries who 'renounce' their ways and pledge to leave arms in exchange for full pardon for any crimes committed).
Now, while Bogota's Transmilenio has 'feeder' buses that connect Transmilenio riders with most of the city not covered by the system, Medellin has tried a more limited system of connecting Metro riders to outer boroughs. Still, their most recent effort is a stunner: Last year the Metro opened a new off-shoot which goes from the Metro line running along the Medellin river at the bottom of the valley where Medellin lies to the Santo Domingo neighborhood high up on the side of a mountain. This is done not by metro but by tramway, in small cabins that fit 6 seated and 2 standing people. The cabins are in constant motion and jumping in felt somewhat like catching a ski-lift. They have called it MetroCable.
On the day we decided to give it a try, there was a huge crowd of people, many of them tourists, who had to stand in a fast-moving line to climb on. Some tourists, afraid to step down on what used to be dangerous streets, opt to climb up the three stages, stay on the cabin and turn around all the way down. My mom, my brother, his gilrfriend, my boyfriend and I stepped out and had some coffee at a local restaurant. The experience was bizarre as I got to see part of the city I would have never thought I would ever visit and the locals still seemed a bit dazed by the fact that this massive transportation experiment had been plopped right down on their streets (and stared at tourists like us as if we were fish out of water). The impact of the MetroCable was immediately noticeable by the commercialization of the streets outside the main station. I've read that it has been one of the most successful social projects in Latin America in connecting a poor neighborhood to the rest of the city but I'm not certain that the full impact will be known until years from now (positive or negative).
A bit scary, to say the least, was the fact that on the way up the lift seemed to stop abruptly and the cabin seemed to lurch down in two pulls. For a moment it wasn't clear that it would stop falling and some of us thought that was it for us (the bottom photo shows the relief we felt when the cabin regained altitude and started moving again). Also noteworthy was the rooftop signs that residents have begun to write in huge white letters. The sign in the top picture above reads: "METROCABLE - THE NEIGHBORHOODS' AIRPLANE"
Other roof signs, which you can check here, along with other photographs, read:
"WELCOME, WE ARE WELCOMING PEOPLE"
"AT HOME, AT PEACE, AND GLAD I FEEL - IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD"
"I AM THINKING ABOUT YOU"
"DWARFS WOULD NOT BE DWARFS IF THEY STOPPED GIVING STATURE TO THE GIANTS"
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Along with the holiday lights over the Medellin river, the Volador hill, overlooking the river and most of the city, also has this plastic Christmas tree (with a gigantic wood base) which lights up at night as well. More photos of Medellin here.
(yeah, that's the boyfriend in the top pic enjoying some ice cream)
When people ask about memorable moments from your traveling experiences, it's sometimes tough to convey in words what you mean. Case in point: The Medellin river and the holiday lights that hung over it through the Christmas holidays and the New Year. Say "holiday lighting" and people in the United States will picture a cheesy set-up of many a "ho-ho"-ing plastic Santa, five or eight plastic deer pulling Santa's sled and some blinking lights (maybe a pink flamingo to boot if you are in the warmer climates) but noooooooo...
When I was a kid growing up next to the Medellin river in Colombia (once named the most polluted river in Latin America and still mierda-brownish but not as toxic), I remember how I used to marvel at the carrion vultures could stand the smell as they looked for food in the dirty waters. My dad, for one, still thinks they're one of the most magnificent birds on earth (and it would be hard to argue when you see them extend their amazing wings and fly).
Jump ahead 25 years and the Medellin river is now the most popular attraction during the holidays due to efforts to reduce its pollution and the new annual tradition of launching mind-boggling feats of holiday lighting design over the river - with brand new designs every year. Not sure who pays the bill for the electricity costs but it is simply stunning and it seems as if every Medellin resident is as proud of the holiday display as they are of their city-wide Metro.
For more photos click here.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Sunday, January 15, 2006
According to reports, on the night of December 30th, 2005, Mr. Harvey was taken at gun-point by robbers when he refused to deny he was gay and found shot to death hours later.
Under increasing international pressure, the Jamaican police department had appointed an independent observer to monitor their investigation of the case, in part due to charges that the police department and the Jamaican government often disregard and even condone homophobic violence.
Residents of the Vietnam area of Grants Pen, St. Andrews, where the operation took place, allege that the police murdered an innocent man during the operation and were "covering up" the killing, according to the Gleaner.
UPDATE: Four charged in murder of Jamaican gay man (March 9, 2005)
Friday, January 13, 2006
Something amazing is happening on Colombian television and her name is Endry Cardeño (who interprets the irrepresible Laisa Reyes in the most popular soap opera in Colombia, Los Reyes). The soap, a dramedy which follows the trials and tribulations of the Reyes family as they are miraculously rescued from povery by an eccentric millionaire, sometimes is a bit too broad to qualify as a true classic in the vein of, say, Betty La Fea, which subverted Latino soap operas by creating a story line around a bookishly smart nerdy woman who stole everyone`s hearts (even if at the end of the series the producers gave in to the temptation of falling for the ugly duckling turns into a beautiful swan storyline).
In the soap, Laisa is part of the Reyes clan, who returns from Europe having changed gender and is still warmly embraced by her family. It`s clear, in the episodes that I have seen while here in Colombia, that the character was written as a broad and somewhat offensive caricature of what it means to be a transgender woman. But it`s also clear that Endry, a transgender woman in her first acting role, has taken the character of Laisa to a whole other level and that, to some degree, she has hijacked the show. Her role seems to have expanded to include a storyline in which she becomes the host of a television talk show and, though she plays the role of Laisa for laughs and a little bit over the top, the humor rarely comes at her expense which humanizes the character. In fact, in the episodes I have seen, there`s a subplot in which a man romances Laisa not knowing she is transgender and, what could be played as a set up where the pay off might be the laughter elicited by the shock of the man realizing that Laisa used to be a man, instead has focused on Laisa`s hope that she can have a real relationship where her gender does not complicate things.
Now, I hear Los Reyes is a remake of a soap from Argentina called Los Roldan so I`m not sure how closely it follows the original script. I was about to say that for a transgender woman to play the role of a transgender woman on a Spanish language soap opera was a first but then I saw this synopsis of Los Roldan and realized that they were first at it. Consider that in the United States you still have producers who won`t hire a transgender actor to play the role of a transgender woman in a movie such as Transamerica (despite how great Felicity Huffman is as an actor) or HBO`s Normal (despite how great Tom Wilkinson is as an actor).
On New Year`s Day, I caught excerpts of a "Personalities of the Year" television interview with Endry, who has become a media sensation and a soap fan favorite (and that`s nearly everyone in Colombia, women, men and children included). She spoke of hearing about a RCN television casting announcement for a transgender woman to play the role while trying her luck as a model and theatre actor in Europe. Of having worked for a non-profit agency in Bogota promoting safe sex amomg street workers and drug addicts (and how ultimately she did not think her work as a peer educator would secure an economic future for herself even if she loved the work). The talk show host was incredibly offensive asking Endry if, romantically, she liked to be involved with other locas (fags) and whether she had cut it off. Endry was gracious and direct in her responses, making the interviewer look like an ass, but also challenging a lot of his assumptions. She explained the difference between a gay man and a `travesti,`as she refers to herself. She spoke of being thrown out from several schools as a kid because, even at 9 or 10, she already had femenine traits and of her decision to get breast implants. She also spoke of her personal decision not to undergo gender reassignment surgery and of fully enjoying all the aspects of her sexuality just as she is.
Yes, the character os Laisa continues the recent tradition in Latino soaps of including queer characters as the `funny`neighbor, work mate or family member (see Betty La Fea`s Hugo, the hair stylist). But in this case, the role of the clown, as played by Endry, is what is so subversive about Los Reyes and the way that she has made Colombia fall in love with a real transgender woman.
A RANDOM ACT OF VIOLENCE
By EMANUEL XAVIER
January 11, 2006-- Crime may be down in the Big Apple, but in certain areas of Nueva York, it's at an all-time high.
Three months ago, I was randomly attacked in Bushwick en route to visit my sick mother. I was brutally beaten and left with permanent nerve damage to my inner right ear.
While I am a gay man, it was not a hate crime. The group, made up of nearly 20 teens, stole my keys - which I was later told is a gang initiation rite. The gang responsible for my bruises had skin color much like mine and spoke a language that I could easily understand.
More than physically hurt, I was spiritually broken by the ignorance of my own hermanos.
Violence against anyone should be deplored. But in an age where we talk about abuse coming from others, we must also stop to look at the toll Latino-on-Latino violence is taking on our own. It's an issue that we, as a community, must address, because accountability lies on our doorstep.
Those of us who live in the barrios know that the war is not only abroad but in our salas. Like men and women willing to destroy themselves and others in the name of religion, our youth continue to commit acts of cruelty to prove their machismo.
As a familia, we must start talking about it, and find ways to curb this disturbing trend.
Youth violence - present in all classes, nationalities, religions and ethnicities - is a complex issue with no single solution. And I'm sure that years of discrimination have left our young men struggling to define what it means to be masculine.
But there is one sobering fact which remains - that a generation of our men (roughly one out of three, according to recent surveys) is being raised without their fathers.
Many of our boys lack father figures to teach them how to be real men and, as a result, look to the streets to seek out opportunities for male bonding.
As the largest growing ethnic group in the country, we cannot afford to lose any of our boys.
We should be able to walk through these calles unharmed and to raise our children to respect others.
Xavier is the author of "Americano." He's appeared on "Russell Simmons presents Def Poetry" and in the film "The Ski Trip."
What do you feel are the causes of Latino-on-Latino violence? Send your comments to Tempo,
Post, 1211 Ave. of the New York , N.Y, N.Y, 10036 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Americas
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Back on November 4th, I asked "Openly lesbian councilmember to be the next NYC council speaker?" The answer, as of last week, is YES! Christine Quinn became the first woman to hold the council speaker role and the first lesbian to do so as well.
Though I would not say we are friends, I first met Christine back in the early 1990`s when she was chief of staff for then-councilmember Tom Duane (now a state senator) and worked with her on anti-gay violence issues while she became the head of the New York City Anti-Violence Project (though I must say that, at times, the relationship became strained particularly after several staffers who happened to be people of color quit the agency in protest over Chris Quinn`s handling of the agency and issues related to violence in LGBT communities of color).
When she became a councilmember, she spearheaded a number of bills - including the Equal Benefits Bill - which I supported both personally by attending city council hearings as well as institutionally by bringing several Latino LGBT organizations on-board as supporters (The Equal Benefits Bill would have required contractors that do business with the City of New York to extend halth benefits to domestic partners if they also provided them to married couples; it was approved by the city council in 2004 over Mayor Bloomberg`s veto but was ultimately invalidated in 2005 when Bloomberg challenged it in court).
Over the years I have become a Christine Quinn fan. It`s not just her glorious (formely brunette) red-hair, mind you, but her tenacity, smarts, humor and personality. Her rise to the Speaker`s chair, which some call the second most powerful seat in city politics, has been almost methodical and clinical in its strategy and I truly believe that it will become a transformative moment in city politics. For those of us involved - even marginally - with city politics, the moment doesn`t fail to send shivers of happiness up the spine and feelings of awe at what Christine has accomplished. There is little doubt that when it comes to progressive issues and LGBT rights in the city, among those who were in the running for the speakership position, Christine was the best candidate.
As some columnists are taking note, Christine could not have become the new city council speaker without earning the support of some of the least progressive segments of city politics. This could simply be a sign of pragmatism but it might also be yet another sign of how impossible it might be for a politician to get ahead today without potentially compromising some principles (which is why I might be among the few of my peers who still give term-limited former councilmember Margarita Lopez the benefit of the doubt despite widespread anger among LGBT political circles for her endorsement of Michael Bloomberg).
In yesterday`s Village Voice, Tom Robbins explores this political reality and says "Quinn`s evolution has been hard to miss." Well, for some of us who live in Queens, this evolution unfortunately has taken the shape of her long-standing pandering for the support of Queens Democratic Party leader Thomas Manton which seems to have paid off handsomely since most political observers say that it is what ultimately got her the position. And I say this as a Christine Quinn fan!
Queens is the most diverse borough in the United States and is home to some of the largest Latino and Asian communities in New York and yet Hiram Monserrate and John Liu remain the only two Latino and Asian representatives from Queens to have ever been elected to the City Council. Manton actively fought both their initial efforts to reach the council, even if he eventually supported Liu in a second successful attempt (as Chisun Lee reported in the Village Voice back in 2001, in Liu`s failed 1997 bid, Manton supported his opponent, Julia Harrison, despite the fact that she referred to Asians in the borough as "colonizers"). A last minute endorsement secured county support for Hiram in his bid for city council, but the relationship between Manton and Monserrate has been notoriously strained particularly after Monserrate mulled - and decided against - challenging current Queens Congressmember Joseph Crowley, a favorite of Manton`s (a move that might hurt Hiram`s political future despite the fact that he has been a great councilmember).
As an LGBT activist interested in the borough`s politics, it has been hard to watch Christine align herself with the worst agents in Queens Democratic politics. Part of me recognizes the amazing work that she has done over the years, some of which I have proudly supported, but over the years it has been harder for me to stand with her at particular events related to the Queens Democratic county leadership. Worse yet, the apparent role that Manton had in securing Christine`s speakership does not bode well that she will necessarily act more independently from their influence in the future.
A public event is being organized for members of the LGBT community in New York to gather and celebrate Christine`s achievement and I will definitely be there to extend my personal congratulations and well-wishes. But I also hope that Christine can prove me wrong and find a way, as Speaker, to engage the interests of the community, regardless of the political influence of a few.
An aside: Speaking of Democratic county leaderships, Christine`s victory also speaks to the utter failure of the Bronx Democratic machine to coalesce around a leader for the second Speakership election in a row, not a good thing considering the drubbing it got as well during the Mayoral elections. That`s another county political machine in dire need of revamping.