Friday, January 25, 2013

As Obama salutes Stonewall, a Stonewall vet's life hangs in the balance

Stonewall legends Cristina Hayworth and Sylvia Rivera, circa 1998 (Photo by Luis Carle - Do not reproduce without permission)
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall, just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone, to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
- President Barack Obama, January 21, 2013
As in past occasions when president Barack Obama has mentioned or alluded to the gay community in one of his major speeches there has been some vigorous debate in the LGBT community as to its figurative and actual impact with some calling it a historic step and others pressing Obama to do more.

As a blogger, I usually stay away from what usually devolves into "debates" that end up being just as polarized as they began but one Facebook post from a long-time friend caught my eye.
Yes, the POTUS mentioned Stonewall. Yup, that's history-making in its own right & full of contradictions. While some will take this as "gay rights has arrived", I'm wondering what Sylvia, Marsha & Bob would say. I think they'd remind us that Stonewall was a rebellion... in the streets... started by homeless & street youth of different backgrounds, Black & Puerto Rican drag queens, and others whose stories are forgotten in the romanticized symbolism of what Stonewall has too often become. I think Sylvia would be proud that the President mentioned Stonewall, and she'd also tell us to get our a*#*! back on the streets.
The names mentioned here refer to Marsha P. Johnson, Bob Kohler and Sylvia Rivera, all Stonewall veterans and as invoked by Joo-Hyun Kang who had a close friendship with Bob and Sylvia.

I asked Joo-Hyun for permission to reprint her message here not only because she was so close to the three legendary figures but also because I was reminded of her words when I became aware of a terrible situation developing in Puerto Rico involving surviving Stonewall veteran Cristina Hayworth.

I have to say that before writing this post I had been planning to write a different post about Puerto Rico and what the November elections meant for the LGBT community in the island.  The governor's office and the office of the mayor of San Juan changed hands from legislators who kept any LGBT-friendly reforms for years to new legislators who campaigned on improving the life of LGBT people in the island and have started making efforts in that direction since taking office.

As a matter of fact, just after the elections my friend Yoryie Irizarry wrote a post for 80 Grados in which he named the biggest losers of the election other than former governor Luis Fortuño: The Pentecostal Council Fraternity and pastors Anibal Heredia, Wanda Rolón and Jorge Raschke who used their once formidable ties to past administrations to block any attempt to improve the lives of LGBT individuals in the island under the guise that to do so would be to offer "special rights" to gays and lesbians and would be akin to surrendering to the "gay agenda".

Reverend Raschke in particular ratcheted up the incendiary homophobic language calling the University of Puerto Rico "The Sodom and Gomorrah University" in 2005 after the institution decided to offer health care coverage to same-sex partners of their employees and he blamed Hurricane Katrina on the moral failings of society.  He has also actively lobbied for a same-sex marriage ban in the island and for the elimination of any measure that would protect the LGBT community from discrimination.

Most recently Raschke riled against transgender individuals. A translated excerpt from a July 7th interview with Puerto Rico's El Vocero:
'Transformism' is a behavior that goes against nature. You can call it art or whatever you want but when it becomes a behavioral pattern it's not simply art.  It's a behavior that goes against what the Bible says: "A woman must not wear men's clothing, nor a man wear women's clothing"...
While we must not think less of anyone, one can disapprove of that which goes against the entire framework of christian ethics. This is something that is spiritually incorrect, that should not exist, but that doesn't mean we have to treat a person badly.
The clearest example, of which all of Puerto Rico is aware, is Cristina Hayworth. She says I am the only minister who has kissed her - to be clear: not on the mouth!  One thing is the sin and the behavior and another is a human being.
Finally, when asked if the Catholic Church had a position on whether a transgender person would go to heaven or hell, Raschke replied that anyone who accepted Christ, confessed their sins and rejected them still had a chance to go to heaven. In other words, unless you stop identifying as transgender and repent for having done so, you are going to hell.

Then THIS happened on a Puerto Rican television show called Dando Candela on Wednesday:

His political influence long-diminished, Raschke still provides great incendiary quotes on anything LGBT-related and the inclusive nature of Obama's inauguration was no exception.  Predictably he said it was part of the gay "agenda" he had warned everyone against and deemed it "nothing more than seeing those warnings become a reality."

He also warned newly elected governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla and newly elected San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín to heed the power of a "militant community" of "thousands of catholic, evangelical and pentecostal citizens who did not vote for this."

In other words, same old, same old. Nobody would have taken notice if it wasn't for what came next.

Invoking Cristina Hayworth's name once again, the reverend made sure to use the opportunity to highlight a recent anti-abortion rally he organized and then expressed shock at the state in which he found Cristina when he bumped into her after the rally. "It broke my soul," he said.

Using the pronoun 'he" instead of 'her' Raschke said he had known Cristina long before she entered into the transgender "lifestyle" and blamed the LGBT community in Puerto Rico - and LGBT-rights advocate Pedro Julio Serrano in particular - for abandoning her.

That is no coincidence: Pedro Julio founded the LGBT-rights organization Puerto Rico Para Tod@s on September 24 of 2003 as a direct response to Raschke and his ultra-homophobic "Clamor to God" annual political lobby gatherings in San Juan.

Opportunistically, Raschke then bemoaned not having enough resources to offer Cristina more than a car ride to the abandoned building she called a home and said he was trying to get in touch with the "one or two" surviving Stonewall veterans in New York City to see if they could take care of her.

The news spread like wildfire yesterday and quickly became a referendum against Pedro Julio and the Puerto Rican LGBT community's inability to care for their own. Never mind that Raschke has devoted his entire life to denying the very government services that someone like Cristina is in dire need of having access to in order to survive.

The interview struck a nerve not only among Raschke followers but also among Pedro Julio's critics - including a few members of the Puerto Rican LGBT community who are now standing for Raschke.

Raschke himself took notice and suddenly decided he could do a bit more than drive Cristina to an abandoned building and dropping her off. He called the same Dando Candela reporter to give him an all-access exclusive the next day and made sure he was on camera as he offered Cristina shelter... while making sure he fielded other media calls as you'll see in this video...

I thought twice about including that clip because I find it extremely exploitative and painful but I also think it exposes Raschke's shameful use of Cristina's plight for his own self-serving "agenda".

As for Cristina, Pedro Julio says that LGBT activists in Puerto Rico have been aware of her plight but have chosen to offer assistance without calling television cameras to record her current situation. He also says that newly elected San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín is aware of the situation and has committed herself to helping her out.

He also says that he is aware of the current shelter she has been referred to tonight and is confident that they will treat her with appropriate care.

Cristina Hayworth was one of the founders of the first 2003 LGBT pride parade in Puerto Rico. In 1999 as a member of the Stonewall Veteran's Association she received an honorary distinction by then New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Despite Rashcke's assertions LGBT advocates and organizations in the island have organized a fundraising drive on behalf of Cristina. You can check their Facebook page here and their website here.

Reverend Raschke is also busy preparing himself for his next event. A rally against LGBT families is scheduled for February 28th.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The surprising connection between Ricky Martin and Orlando Cruz

Backstage, Evita: Steven A. Toledo, Pedro Julio Serrano, Ricky Martin and and Orlando Cruz (via Twitter)
With less than a week to go until his last performance as Ché in the current Broadway revival of "Evita", Ricky Martin welcomed some very special guests backstage at the Marquis Theater on Friday night.

In a photo tweeted after the performance Ricky has his arms around Steven A. Toledo and Pedro Julio Serrano on his right and boxer Orlando "El Fenómeno" Cruz on his left.

Ricky, of course, remains the top Latino celebrity to ever come out after declaring himself a "proud homosexual man" in 2010 while Orlando recently sent shock-waves through the boxing world after coming out in October of last year.  It made him the first professional boxer to ever come out while still competing in the sport and has deservedly earned him the cover of this month's The Advocate.

The two men also happen to be from Puerto Rico which brings us to long-time Puerto Rican LGBT-rights advocate Pedro Julio Serrano.

Months before Ricky came out, he surprised many when he released a statement in solidarity of a series of demonstrations asking the Puerto Rican government for justice in the brutal killing of a young gay man named Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado. The crime shook the island and I also believe it was also a catalyst for Ricky's decision to come out. And, indeed, one of the first things he did after telling the world he was gay was to reach out to one of the leaders behind the demonstrations: Pedro Julio.

The two have become friends and have met a few times since then. Ricky has also often used his powerful social media presence to support actions begun by Pedro Julio as well as defend him when Pedro Julio has come under attack from homophobic elements in the island.

Similarly, months before he announced he was gay, Orlando reached out to Pedro Julio for guidance on the possible reactions and repercussions of taking such a step.  In interview after interview Orlando has shown himself to be a thoughtful, extraordinary and exemplary gay role model. Just as if he had been out all his life.  And he often takes time to say he owes a great deal to Pedro Julio and the advice he provided.

For those of us who know, love and admire Pedro Julio and his soon-to-be husband Steven, we know that the admiration that Ricky and Orlando have expressed towards him is well-deserved.

It's a testament to Pedro Julio's work and the unexpected hearts he has touched during his lifetime and that's the reason I love this photo so much.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

We Are Jamaicans: A campaign against homophobia by Jamaicans for Jamaicans

I am probably jumping the gun here but I just stumbled onto this beautiful new campaign against homophobia in Jamaica.  I spotted it through a tweet sent by the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) this morning.  There is no link to a project page, just a description of the project on their YouTube site:
We Are Jamaicans is a campaign for Jamaicans, whether gay or straight, to share their experiences and perspectives about LGBT human rights. This in an effort to promote greater understanding and help change minds and hearts of Jamaicans about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. We Are Jamaicans is funded with the kind support of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC) through its Global Fund Vulnerablised Project. The videos were recorded and edited by Maya Wilkinson.
There are five videos in the series so far. In the first one J-FLAG's own Director Dane Lewis says "I want to just be free to be me"...

In the second one Alexis Goffe says he was constantly harassed as being gay during high-school even though he wasn't and explains the reasons why now as an adult he has decided to stand up and speak out against LGBT discrimination. "Now, if you call me gay I'll feel honored," he says, "I've come out of the closet as an ally of the LGBTQ community"...

In a third video Susan Goffe speaks of her role as a teacher and a parent. "I want Jamaica to be a safe place for all our children" she says...

In the fourth video Javed Jaghai holds index cards to drive home his message...

The final video is similar from someone who has decided to remain anonymous...

Obviously the campaign has just been launched. I will update this post when there is more information about it. But I am truly moved and hope that this opens up a more welcoming environment for LGBTQ Jamaicans.

An aside: The background music is Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' "Same Love" featuring Mary Lambert.

UPDATE: Here is the official press release from J-FLAG...
J-FLAG Boss Headlines New Human Rights Video Campaign
Thursday, January 17, 2013
Dane Lewis, the executive director of J-FLAG, Jamaica’s foremost gay rights advocacy organisation, is headlining a new a human rights video campaign featuring straight, gay and lesbian Jamaicans.
The campaign, which is called We Are Jamaicans was launched today to raise awareness among Jamaicans about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) identity and community, human rights, stigma and discrimination. We Are Jamaicans is a participatory video campaign hosted on YouTube at It features prominent Jamaicans such as Susan and Alexis Goffe and Javed Jaghai.
According to Lewis, “the campaign was developed following recommendations from consultations with LGBT persons, activists and allies to show the experiences of Jamaica’s LGBT community in a more diverse way.”
There is an urgent need to interrupt prevailing discourse on LGBT realities in Jamaica. Opportunities must be created for Jamaicans to see and hear about the experiences of LGBT people so they can understand what it means to be LGBT.
“Regrettably, the diversity and the complexity of Jamaica’s LGBT community is masked by media and advocacy narratives that too often focus on sex, victimhood, crime and HIV. These themes are not identity-affirming and they sometimes further entrench the marginal position of LGBT people in the society,” Lewis said.
Javed Jaghai, an openly gay Jamaican, says that ignorance helps to fuel homophobia and the campaign will be critical for increasing understanding among the Jamaican public about gender and sexuality variance. “By diversifying the stories told about LGBT lives, the complexity of LGBT identities will be made apparent and it will be easier to evoke empathy and secure general support for tolerance,” he highlighted.
The Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC) through its Global Fund Vulnerablised Project funds the campaign. It is expected to lead to greater understanding and help change minds and hearts about Jamaica’s LGBT community. Gay, lesbian and straight Jamaicans are encouraged to use creative ways of sharing their experiences with LGBT issues and join the campaign whether they wish to show their face or not.
Contact: Dane Lewis | Executive Director
P.O. Box 1152, Kingston 8 T: 978-8988 | M: 875 2328 | F: 946-3244
W: | E: | T: @equalityJA