Showing posts with label OutInMaine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label OutInMaine. Show all posts

Friday, March 21, 2014

Three little maids from Maine: Opera stars come home for ‘Three Divas’ concert

Published in Out In Maine

When you’re a diva, you don’t have to meet the people you’ll be singing with before the day of the show. And you only need one group rehearsal — even if it’s for a big event like the 20th year of an opera company. Or so it might seem.

“It used to be a good thing” to be called a diva, laughs Suzanne Nance, who is one of three female opera singers slated to perform a show called “Maine’s Divas Come Home” at the University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall on April 1 as part of PORTopera’s 20th anniversary celebration.

Nance, a soprano who is also a former Maine Public Broadcasting Network radio host now working at Chicago’s WFMT, will sing with another soprano, Ashley Emerson, and a mezzo-soprano, Kate Aldrich, a member of PORTopera’s advisory board and the first Maine native to fill a principal role in one of the company’s major productions — the title role in Carmen.

None of the three have ever sung together before, and Nance will be meeting Aldrich in person for the first time; she has met Emerson in the past. “We’re going to rehearse the day of” the show, with pianist Martin Perry, who himself is a well known musician in Maine and around the world. “We’ll basically run the whole show, while saving our voices,” Nance says. “We’ll just meet, put it together, and make a show of it.”

That show will be varied in terms of song choice and format.

“The open and close we’re going to go a la the Three Tenors,” Nance says, plus “three or four of the most beautiful duets in all of opera,” and several arias, from pivotal moments in significant shows that nevertheless “can come out and stand on their own.”

The songs are diverse, including works by classical masters Mozart and Verdi alongside modern standouts like Englebert Humperdinck.

Noting that the evening’s program will begin with an ensemble performance of “The Three Little Maids From School,” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, Ann Elderkind, PORTopera’s board president, says it’s appropriate the singers themselves “started as three little maids from Maine.”

Aldrich, originally from Damariscotta, “is so big in Europe,” Nance says. Based in Rome and New York City, Aldrich first sang the role of Carmen at PORTopera and has gone on to sing it across Europe, Elderkind adds.

Emerson, who grew up in Bangor, is a recent graduate of USM’s music program, focusing on voice performance. She was involved in PORTopera’s Emerging Artists program, and made her mainstage debut in the company’s 2003 production of Lucia di Lammermoor. Right out of college, she was accepted to a residency at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where her career is “just taking off,” Nance says.

The singers are so busy, in fact, that it took about a year to coordinate everyone’s schedule, says Elderkind. And they had to pick the program in a Skype session, Nance says. When planning it, “we were all sort of giddy” about coming back to Maine, singing together, and seeing friends and family during the trip. “It’s great for us to come back and celebrate a place we love,” Nance says.

The event will also be celebrating the strength of the opera company, which has weathered a worldwide economic slump that forced bigger cities’ operas to close (including the New York Opera and the Baltimore Opera). Elderkind credits “the community of Maine coming forward” to support the company, especially in difficult times.

“Maine’s Divas Come Home” | Tuesday, April 1 @ 7:30 pm | Hannaford Hall, USM Abromson Center, Bedford St, Portland | $65 | |

The new normal: Conservatives try a different approach in fight against equality

Published in Out In Maine

In the last six months, as marriage equality and other LGBTQ rights have continued their inexorable expansion across the United States, it has become clear that instead of shaking the country to its core, or undermining America as we know it (as opponents have long alleged), protecting the rights of everyone in our society has benefited tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, of Americans in countless ways throughout their everyday lives.

What’s especially interesting is how quiet the ridiculous deep-seated opposition has actually become. The radical conservatives who for many years preached that recognizing the LGBTQ rights — same-sex marriage equality, employment non-discrimination, and more — would harm families, or kids, or communities, or the government, or the society, or something, have, it would appear, realized that marriage equality is not ending the world after all.

Writing in The Atlantic in early March, researcher Robert P. Jones reported that his studies showed nearly half of all Southerners now support same-sex marriage. Despite all the legal action and court decisions, he wrote, “these changes cannot be explained away as merely another example of federal judicial activism circumventing the will of the people in southern states. Rather, we are witnessing dramatic cultural transformations, which include changing minds even among culturally and religiously conservative Americans in the South.”

Even conservative pundits seem to be noticing this progress. Fox News commentator Howard Kurtz wrote in early March about a Washington Post/ABC poll with showing 59 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, and only 34 percent opposing. That’s almost an exact reversal of the numbers from the same poll in 2004, which Kurtz calls “a headspinning shift.”

He observes that “even GOP politicians who are against [same-sex] marriages are muting their opposition,” attributing that decision to the fact that “three-quarters of Americans under 30 back same-sex marriage (as opposed to less than half of senior citizens).”

With same-sex marriage recognized at the federal level and legal in 17 states — and with marriage inequality under siege in most of the 33 states where it is not yet legal — conservatives are in retreat. (See sidebar, “Scorecard.”)

In fact, conservative New York Times columnist Russ Douthat’s March 2 column was entitled “The Terms of Our Surrender.” Spoiler: It’s not really a surrender. Rather, it highlights a change in the scale and scope of the fight to one much larger and broader than the terms of civil marriage.

No longer inveighing against what he and others called the “redefinition” of marriage to include all consenting adults, Douthat asked his readers to redefine the idea of “religious freedom” to mean protecting, effectively, anything they feel like doing at any time, for any reason.

A great many people around the country are now objecting to laws barring their businesses, places of public accommodation, and workplaces from discriminating against same-sex couples, on the grounds that, somehow, discrimination is part of their religious philosophy and therefore outside the realm of government control.

Douthat came to a spirited defense of that prodiscrimination perspective — even terming it a “subculture,” simultaneously admitting its small and dwindling numbers and suggesting it should be preserved. He lamented the prospect that wedding photographers and adoption agencies might “be treated like the proprietor of a segregated lunch counter,” and face penalties for continued discrimination.

Continuing his sad hypothetical, Douthat posits that “eventually, religious schools and colleges would receive the same treatment as racist holdouts like Bob Jones University, losing access to public funds and seeing their tax-exempt status revoked.”

Carving out religious-freedom protections is a common method of ensuring religious institutions are not compelled by the government to change their teachings; Maine’s law, like those in many other states, was strategically written to allow churches and ordained ministers to decide for themselves whether they consecrate or celebrate same-sex marriages.

But Douthat wants much more. For him, individuals should be able to decide for themselves whether they treat other humans with dignity and respect — or whether their religious beliefs allow them to discriminate.
In fact, in March, the US Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether corporations can hold religious beliefs and, if so, whether those beliefs can exempt corporations from a great many state and federal laws.

Douthat wraps up with a weird pronouncement that seems to blame the people he views as victims: “Christians had plenty of opportunities — thousands of years’ worth — to treat gay people with real charity, and far too often chose intolerance. (And still do, in many instances and places.) So being marginalized, being sued, losing tax-exempt status — this will be uncomfortable, but we should keep perspective and remember our sins, and nobody should call it persecution.”

And his final line could be called fatalistic if it weren’t such a call to arms: “all that’s left is the timing of the final victory — and for the defeated to find out what settlement the victors will impose.”

Scorecard: Where discrimination is under attack
What Russ Douthat and other conservatives are seeing, and recognizing the inevitability of, is the march to the courthouse of LGBTQ Americans across the country. Sadly, most of them are not yet heading there to get married — rather, they’re suing to force states to allow and recognize their marriages.

According to NBC News reporter Pete Williams, “cases are now pending in all but eight of the 33 states that forbid gay couples to marry.” Last June’s US Supreme Court decision striking down Section 3 of the Clinton-era Defense Of Marriage Act has opened the floodgates.

Williams’s tally says 17 states permit same-sex marriage, 29 ban it under an amendment to the state constitution, and the remaining four ban it in state statute.

With cases in almost every state, and appeals in process in several circuits, “it seems a near certainty that the issue will be back at the US Supreme Court soon, either by the next term that begins in October or the year after,” Williams wrote.

Here, compiled primarily from pro-marriage groups Marriage Equality USA and Freedom to Marry, is a rundown of where all 50 states stand:

ALABAMA | A case was filed in December 2013 to overturn ban, and to force recognition of marriages performed in other states.

ALASKA | The state Supreme Court is considering a denial of survivor benefits as a result of constitutional and legal bans.

ARIZONA | Two cases, one in state court and another in federal court, are pending against the 2004 constitutional band; in January, the state asked for dismissal of the federal case.

ARKANSAS | In January, a class-action suit was filed seeking to overturn the state’s bans, a 1996 law and a 2004 constitutional amendment. That builds on a 2010 case seeking to preserve health benefits for state workers. They are getting benefits now, under current rulings, but the case just received class-action status covering all Arizona state workers with same-sex partners.


COLORADO | Four cases, all in state court, seek to overturn the 2004 constitutional amendment ban, which also created non-marriage civil unions.



FLORIDA | State and federal suits are pending, trying to overturn the 2008 constitutional amendment ban.

GEORGIA | no challenges


IDAHO | A federal case seeks to reverse the 2006 constitutional amendment ban, which is being defended by the state attorney general; in may, a judge will consider whether to skip the trial and just issue a ruling.


INDIANA | in early march, four couples sued in federal court seeking marriage rights and to overturn the state’s statutory ban.

IOWA | Legal

KANSAS | A December 2013 lawsuit asks permission for a same-sex couple married elsewhere (Kansas has a constitutional ban) to file joint income-tax returns.

KENTUCKY | On February 12, a federal judge ruled the state’s ban unconstitutional; if an appeals court does not issue a delay, same-sex couples will have full legal rights starting March 20. The state attorney general says he will not appeal the case, but the governor says he will. Also, marriages performed elsewhere are recognized.

LOUISIANA | Three cases seek to overturn statutory and constitutional bans; the state is defending those bans.

MAINE | Legal



MICHIGAN | Federal judge will rule in late March on challenge to 2004 voter-approved state ban.


MISSISSIPPI | A case seeks to force the state to recognize an out-of-state same-sex marriage for the purpose of granting a divorce; there is no active challenge yet to the state’s constitutional ban, but preparations are under way.

MISSOURI | There is not yet a case directly challenging the state’s constitutional ban, but two cases do seek to require recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages.

MONTANA | A case in state court now seeks “all of the benefits of marriage, other than marriage itself,” according to Marriage Equality USA.

NEBRASKA | no challenges

NEVADA | In 2012 a federal judge rejected a challenge to its 2002 constitutional ban; an appeal will be heard by the 9th circuit soon, but the state’s attorney general and governor are not supporting the ban.




NEW YORK | Legal

NORTH CAROLINA | Republican lawmakers are defending the statutory and constitutional bans; a county register of deeds has also said he will ask the state attorney general to decide whether marriage licenses can be issued to same-sex couples.

NORTH DAKOTA | no challenges

OHIO | In December 2013, a federal judge overturned the state’s 2004 constitutional ban; the attorney general has appealed the ruling to the 6th circuit.

OKLAHOMA | In January, a federal judge overturned the state’s constitutional ban; the state’s appeal will be heard in April in the 10th circuit.

OREGON | A federal suit challenges the state’s constitutional ban; arguments will be heard in april, but the state attorney general has said she will not defend it.

PENNSYLVANIA | Several state and federal cases oppose the statutory ban; the attorney general has said she will not defend it.


SOUTH CAROLINA | A federal suit was filed in August 2013 seeking to overturn the state’s constitutional and statutory bans.

SOUTH DAKOTA | no challenges

TENNESSEE | A federal suit asks a judge to overturn the statutory and constitutional bans.

TEXAS | Numerous state and federal cases challenge the constitutional ban and other statutory restrictions on equality, including an appeal before the 5th circuit of a February ruling striking down the bans.

UTAH | In December 2013, a federal judge struck down the state’s constitutional amendment; its appeal will be heard in April in the 10th circuit. another federal case seeks to protect about 1300 same-sex couples who were legally married in Utah after the December decision and before the US Supreme Court’s January stay of the ruling.


VIRGINIA | In February, a federal judge overturned the 2006 constitutional ban; the decision is stayed pending an appeal decision by the 4th circuit. the state attorney general has not defended the ban, and instead intends to join the plaintiffs seeking to have it struck down.


WEST VIRGINIA | A federal suit, which is opposed by the state attorney general, seeks to overturn the statutory ban.

WISCONSIN | A case before the state supreme court challenges the 2006 constitutional ban and a 2009 domestic-partnership law; a decision is expected this summer. a federal suit also challenges those bans, as well as a Wisconsin-only law banning same-sex couples from marrying elsewhere under penalty of fine and imprisonment.

WYOMING | In March a state lawsuit was filed seeking to strike down the statutory ban.


Equality Overseas
Same-sex marriage rights are an equally hot topic in other countries. The most attention has been given to Russian president Vladimir Putin, who continues to enforce his country’s sweepingly vague ban on “gay propaganda,” while his people overwhelmingly object to same-sex marriages.

In Africa, serious legal barriers are still being erected. (Only South Africa has legalized same-sex marriage.)

Uganda, the most aggressively anti-gay country on that continent, recently enacted a law that could sentence homosexuals to life imprisonment. Faced with Western objection to that law, president Yoweri Museveni complained about “social imperialism,” saying foreigners were trying to “impose social values” on his people.

The Uganda-based Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law recently released 20 guidelines for national and international allies on “how to offer support now that the anti-homosexuality law has been assented to.” among their suggestions:

-“call on multinational companies that have businesses in Uganda [such as Heneiken, British Airways, and Barclays Bank] to go public about their concerns [about] the act and their future economic engagements in Uganda.”

-“expand investment in funding for service delivery and advocacy in defiance of the law, targeting LGBT populations, to attempt to mitigate the harmful impact this law will have on access to services, and on human rights.”

-“call for your government to issue travel advisories on Uganda...alerting their own LGBT citizens to the risk of traveling in Uganda.”

-“draw international public attention to issues such as corruption, human, as well as the suppression of media freedom and civil society space... so that attention shifts to where it properly belongs: in the best interests of the country’s population as a whole.”

Asia is another place with little-to-no recognition: the best status for same-sex marriage is in Israel, where marriages themselves are not allowed, but where the government recognizes them if legally performed elsewhere.

Nepal, Taiwan, and Vietnam are among the countries that do have active discussions under way. and the Dalai Lama recently became the first Buddhist leader to endorse same-sex marriage.

In the Pacific, Australia bans same-sex marriage; New Zealand allows it. Most of the island nations don’t recognize same-sex marriages; several also ban all homosexual activity.

In the Americas, Canada allows same-sex marriage; Mexico and several other Central American countries only recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. South America is fairly split, though powerhouses Brazil and Argentina (as well as smaller nation Uruguay) have same-sex marriage. Colombia and Ecuador have some legal rights for same-sex couples.

Most Western European countries (though not Italy) recognize same-sex marriages or offer some sort of government-registered partnership; Eastern European countries are uniform in not recognizing same-sex marriages, and several nations in that area have specific opposite-gender requirements for marriage.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Teaching police about trans people: Maine departments lack policies but have ready examples

Published in Out In Maine

 It’s easy for police officers to become defensive when asked about the rules governing their interactions with members of the public. That’s exactly the tack John Rogers took. He’s the director of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, which trains all law-enforcement officers at the local, county, and state levels in Maine, and when contacted by Out In Maine, was adamant that his organization trains officers to interact with transgender individuals exactly as they do with all other people.

“We train people to treat everybody the way they would like to be treated . . . Everybody should be treated equally.” He refused to even consider the idea that there should be any policies or guidelines for handling any individuals differently or ensuring that a group’s concerns be addressed. “It doesn’t matter to us.”

But another statement he made suggested he might, in fact, be in need of sensitivity training, even if he doesn’t know it: “I’m 57 years old and I don’t know if I’ve ever even seen a transgender person.”

That’s exactly the reasoning behind the Boston Police Department’s transgender policy, which took effect in June after years of development, research, and legal review.

“It’s trying to educate officers,” says Javier Pagan, a BPD office who also serves as his department’s liaison with the city’s LGBT communities. While all officers and policies strive to be respectful of individuals and their rights, it’s not safe to assume that everyone knows what respect looks like to certain people.

For example, Pagan says, the BPD has a policy about dealing with prisoners — with rules that apply to all interactions with people in police custody. But that policy also has a subsection about dealing with female prisoners, and another about juvenile prisoners, to ensure that the specific concerns of women and children — who represent a smaller population within the criminal-justice system — are considered and addressed by police.

Along the same lines, the BPD policy on transgender people acknowledges that some Boston officers might have fewer opportunities to interact with this demographic (while others might have many more, depending on where in the city they work).

The policy codifies things like what name to use for a transgender person, if their legal name differs from the one they use in daily life. Similarly, it specifies that officers should use the pronouns that refer to the person’s self-expressed gender identity, and even goes so far as to allow for ambiguity: “If officers are uncertain about which pronouns are appropriate, then officers will respectfully ask the individual.”

These practices are, of course, common sense, and even second nature, within the LGBT and allied communities, but not in law enforcement — yet.

“It’s not easy to change a culture,” says Pagan. As society changes, and as laws change, Pagan notes, it’s important for police practices to keep up. He notes that these practices and policies also protect police officers and agencies against claims of discrimination or prejudice.

Still early for Maine
Most Maine police departments have yet to even look toward making changes to promote transgender sensitivity. As Maine police academy head Rogers made clear, new officers are not taught anything specific about transgender issues and individuals.

The Maine State Police does not have a policy either in force or even in development, according to spokesman Steve McCausland.

The Maine Chiefs of Police Association, which develops model policies often adopted verbatim across the state, has no such policy regarding transgender people, according to Robert Schwartz, the group’s executive director and a former South Portland police chief.

“I would not be surprised if at some point we were to develop a model policy . . . but nothing has brought it to the forefront” to date, Schwartz says.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck says that while his agency lacks a written policy along the lines of Boston’s, “The rule has always been, if you refer to yourself as a male or a female, then that’s what we do in response.” He notes that the department does have an LGBT community liaison, Officer Alissa Poisson, and recognizes that “the city of Portland is an incredibly diverse place.”

Ian Grady, a spokesman for EqualityMaine, says the city’s inclusive and sensitive practices are “a great role model for other towns and cities in Maine,” and says the LGBT-rights group hasn’t heard of any problems arising in Maine law enforcement.

Starting in corrections
A more significant concern than on-the-street police encounters with transgender people is raised by Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross, who notes that while officers on patrol may have to question or search transgender people, bigger challenges arise when incarcerating them.

At the Penobscot County Jail, “it’s a policy that is developing.” Transgender inmates are not common there, but they do arrive from time to time. “We involve our medical department early on and appoint appropriate-sex officers to do pat-down searches,” Ross says, noting that it may involve two different officers patting down different areas of an inmate’s body.

“Not all of the rules are clearly defined,” Ross notes. Litigation still occurs, and much has not yet been decided either by policy or in court.

Where to house an inmate is determined in part by the medical staff, who may evaluate a person’s progress through a transition between genders, but also includes considering the gender self-identification of the inmate in question.

Ross’s staff works from a policy developed in Cumberland County, which has been in effect since 2009, according to Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce. Departments as far afield as Chicago, Denver, and San Francisco have used the county’s policy as a starting point for their own work.

Cumberland County’s policy includes an evaluation of an individual’s case by medical and security staff, who determine whether a transgender person will be housed with men or with women.

“We really pay particular attention to how they identify,” Joyce says. “It’s trying to balance the rights of the individual and the rights of the individuals they might be in a pod with.” While at any given time almost all inmates are in some need of mental-health care, Joyce’s policy also dictates transgender inmates’ access to medications and other treatments: The jail will provide those only if the person began those procedures before being incarcerated. If they decide to start a transition after arriving at the jail, the policy is to make the person wait until release to continue.

Joyce says some of his staff were reluctant or unconvinced at first, and needed training before being comfortable dealing with transgender inmates, but he knows it’s an important step. Observing that transgender people are a vulnerable population even before encountering police, he says, “We want to not make things worse.”

He says issues of transgender rights are ”becoming more and more prevalent” — recently Time magazine called him to talk about the situation with incarcerating Chelsea Manning, the male-to-female transgender person who, as US Army Private Bradley Manning, was convicted of releasing classified documents to the public. “You can’t duck it,” he says. So the question becomes, “How can you make it as respectable and responsible as possible and respect security and everybody’s rights?”

Promising learning opportunities
There’s a very good starting point to answering that question, which has been developed right here in Maine, though it’s available to police officers nationwide.

It’s an online training class for law-enforcement officers entitled “Awareness of Transgender Issues,” and it was put together by one of Maine’s top cops: Noel March, the US Marshal for the District of Maine. He’s a former Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office chief deputy and former UMaine-Orono police chief who developed the online course while earning his master of arts degree in peace and reconciliation from UMaine.

“Hate crimes has been at the forefront of my interest for many years,” March says. He’s also a family friend of the Maineses, the state’s — possibly even the country’s — best-known family with a transgender member. They’ve been highlighted in reporting in the Portland Phoenix, the Boston Globe, and elsewhere.

When considering what he could contribute to the law-enforcement community during his studies, he thought about training possibilities. (Like many certified professionals, police officers have to do a certain amount of continuing education to keep their certifications current.) “I found that there was nothing relating to people who identified as transgender as victims, or witnesses, or complainants, or as coworkers,” March says.

In collaboration with Wayne Maines and a Maine-based security-training company led by Paul Plaisted, March put together the 40-minute course, even narrating it himself. “It really educated me,” he admits.

“Many members of the transgender community lack the comfort to interact with law enforcement,” March says, often because of issues not shared by gay, lesbian, or bisexual people. For example, if a driver is stopped for speeding, their driver’s license may show a different name, gender, and appearance than the person behind the wheel exhibits.

March says officers should do their jobs, determining the correct identity of the person in question, but shouldn’t “be so narrow-minded as to think that this person is someone who’s wearing a disguise. This may be a genuine case of someone in a transition.”

The online course covers basics of transgender terminology and etiquette as well as more specific issues of recognizing the potential for transgender people to be targets of violence, and working to protect them. It makes regular reminders of police officers’ sense of justice, equality, fair play, and duty to help people in need or in danger.

And that’s what March sees in his efforts to encourage police to improve their sensitivity to transgender people: “We need to understand the people who we encounter in our role as police officers.” 

Whence from victory? EqualityMaine looks at the next five years

Published in Out In Maine

Having secured marriage equality last year and bade farewell to longtime executive director Betsy Smith in September, the state’s oldest and largest LGBT political advocacy organization is at a point of serious transition. Smith, who had been active with EqualityMaine for more than two decades and led it since 2002, left the organization at a high point in its existence and in her career. The group’s staff and budget grew significantly during that time, and won important legal and legislative battles, including protecting LGBT Mainers from discrimination, establishing domestic-partnership rights, and winning on marriage twice (once in Augusta and the second time statewide), Smith has also left EQME with a five-year strategic plan, a set of projects the organization has already begun to tackle.

After years of primary attention on marriage, EQME staffers spent the months following last November’s victory thinking about the future. They interviewed dozens of people, got 700 responses to an online survey, and conducted multiple focus groups to determine what to accomplish next, says Ali Vander Zanden, the group’s political director and interim executive director. “People understand that we’re not done yet,” she says.

While there’s a lot yet to get going, Vander Zanden says those next steps are “starting to take shape.”

Moving forward, EQME will focus on four key demographics: young people, rural residents, elderly Mainers, and transgender people. The basic goal is clear: “We’re going to take the legal victories that we’ve won, and we’re putting those into people’s daily lives,” she says.

Starting young
A 2011 survey by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that “the vast majority of LGBT students in Maine regularly heard homophobic remarks, sexist remarks, and negative remarks about gender expression.” Specifically, 97 percent of students heard other students use the word “gay” negatively; 87 percent heard homophobic remarks (such as “fag” or “dyke”) regularly. The survey has a nine-point margin of error, but even with that caveat, the numbers are startling.

The survey goes on: “3 in 10 were physically harassed (e.g., pushed or shoved) based on their sexual orientation and 1 in 10 was physically assaulted (e.g. punched, kicked or injured
with a weapon) based on the way they expressed their gender.

And a great many students never reported those incidents: 46 percent never told school staff (of those who did, only 44 percent “said that reporting resulted in effective intervention by staff”) and even more — 58 percent — never told a family member.

The survey shows young LGBTQ Mainers are “living their lives in fear,” Vander Zanden says. (It’s worth noting here that while many nationwide polls suggest improving tolerance and understanding for LGBTQ people among young Americans, those polls most often involve people who are 18 and older; many school bullies are younger than that.)

Of course, she notes that not every kid is a perpetrator, but a few is enough — and often bystanders don’t step in to halt the abuse. Vander Zanden also observes that at least some of the kids bullying others are likely to be victims themselves, in other circumstances; they’re just passing along the behavior they’ve received. “Those children don’t know sometimes the harm that they’re doing,” she says.

The target of EQME’s efforts in this area include its longstanding support of school civil-rights teams, where young people can show leadership in a safe environment. There’s also a new element, of working more directly with school employees.

“We have this new anti-bullying law” in Maine, Vander Zanden says, which strengthens protections for students suffering bullying, and requires schools to train staff to prevent it, and actively address it when it happens. So EQME will be training school teachers and staff about LGBTQ bullying specifically, in a way that coordinates with other training sessions on bullying in general. Vander Zanden says the organization wants to ensure that schools have resources and know-how to follow the new law.

Beyond the cities
Organizing support for rural Mainers who identify as LGBTQ is another major initiative, which will build on the statewide marriage-equality victory in 2012.

In that effort, marriage supporters held as many as 250,000 personal conversations with friends, family members, and neighbors about the issues. As we’d all hope, what those conversations showed is that “people want to do the right thing,” Vander Zanden says, especially once they’ve made a personal connection. But also unsurprisingly, “there are a lot of people who have never thought about this from the perspective of an LGBTQ person.”

Vander Zanden, who grew up in Southwest Harbor and started her work with EQME as a rural organizer, acknowledges that the live-and-let-live ethos of New England rural life may lead some people to either ignore or be quiet about their support for LGBTQ neighbors, simply out of respect for their privacy, or a wish not to draw attention to something the LGBTQ individuals themselves may not be highlighting.

But that can still lead to situations where an LGBTQ relationship isn’t publicly acknowledged, such as a conversation at a local store in which a straight ally doesn’t ask about a lesbian friend’s partner in public. Vander Zanden says that can lead to the LGBTQ person feeling unsupported
in the community.

Nevertheless, “we’ve seen that people’s attitudes are changing,” she says, attributing that in part to the personal conversations aspect of the marriage campaign. Another effort, particularly in rural areas, has involved approaching community members and asking them to put their names in newspaper ads as public declarations of support for LGBT rights (and marriage equality in particular). Hundreds, even thousands, of rural Mainers have taken part.

She says the effects are measurable. In 2009, marriage equality lost 73 percent to 27 percent in Aroostook County, for example. In 2012, the citizen’s initiative did better; it still lost, but the margin was better: 66 percent to 33 percent.

Vander Zanden calls that “encouraging supporters to come out as supporters,” and describes it as “just good old community organizing.” The group will expand its push in this direction with a new position just created for rural organizing.

An aging population
Maine is the state with the oldest average age in the nation (42.7 years old, according 2010 Census figures), and LGBTQ people face some common aging issues, as well as a fair number of quandaries straight elders don’t.

They still have to sort out choices about retirement communities, assisted-living facilities, and finding new or additional health-care providers to address changing health conditions. But at every turn, LGBTQ elders have to navigate the coming-out process all over again. One concern Vander Zanden highlights is about home health-care workers who might not be supportive of their patients’ LGBTQ identities. To get the care they need and still feel safe in their own homes, “some people are actually having to choose to go back into the closet,” Vander Zanden says.

Another aspect of helping aging LGBTQ Mainers involves ensuring that health workers are asking the right questions and doing the right screenings — as when dealing with HIV-positive people, who are now living much longer (as long as 30 to 50 years post-diagnosis, with aggressive therapy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

In fact, CDC projects that by 2015 “more than half of all HIV-infected Americans will be over 50 years old.” The organization also notes that 17 percent of new HIV diagnoses are in people 50 and older.

(Also working to address these issues is a Maine chapter of Services and Advocates for GLBT Elders, which was founded earlier this year; see “When I’m Sixty-Four,” by Deirdre Fulton, Summer 2013.)

Still working: transgender rights
Transgender issues remind us all that “we haven’t won everything there is to win,” Vander Zanden says. For example, many insurance plans don’t cover medical services related to people’s self-identification as transgender. Some private employers do carry insurance that offers surgery, hormones, and gender-identity mental-health counseling, but it’s not required by law.

EQME will help people understand what rights transgender people have under Maine law, as well as training trans allies (in connection with Maine Trans Net; see “Trans Explosion” by Lisa Bunker, Fall 2013). “We all need to become better allies,” Vander Zanden says.

In that vein, EqualityMaine will continue to support the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which will at some point come under consideration by the full US Senate, having been approved 15-7 by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions back in July. This proposed law specifically includes protection for trans people as well as gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, from being fired (or not hired in the first place) simply for their gender identity or sexual orientation. And it will fight for LGBTQ interests in Augusta, including fighting a proposal by state Senator David Burns, a Whiting Republican, that would dramatically expand people’s, and companies’, ability to discriminate or otherwise exempt themselves from many state laws, simply by claiming the law violates their freedom to
practice religion.

In the short term, Vander Zanden will lead the organization and the search for its new executive director, expected to be hired in January — just in time for EQME’s 30th anniversary. Even that many decades in, and with as much progress as LGBTQ Mainers have seen, there’s more to do. “We’re still having the conversation about what’s next,” Vander Zanden says.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Equality drive continues: Workplace rights fight heats up

Published in Out In Maine

While much has — rightly — been made of progress toward marriage equality for LGBT Americans, another, possibly even bigger, hurdle remains: workplace equality.

In 29 states, people can still be fired simply for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Fortunately, Maine isn’t one of them — it’s one of the 21 states that protect LGBT individuals from workplace discrimination; a further 16 states protect LGB people, but not workers who identify as transgender, says Tico Almeida, founder and executive director of Freedom To Work, a national organization promoting employment equality.

To provide national uniformity, and include being L, G, B, or T on a long list of federally protected elements of identity that cannot be discriminated against in employment (with race, gender, ethnicity, religion, and disability, among others) comes the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, re-introduced in Congress in April. All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation are co-sponsors; Republican Susan Collins is a lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate.

Despite having 172 co-sponsors in the House and 48 in the Senate, it faces an uncertain future, though perhaps its best chance in many years.

For Maine’s delegation, it’s a pretty straightforward issue: As Independent Senator Angus King said in a statement from his office, “No one should suffer employment discrimination for any reason, including on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Simply put, it’s entirely unacceptable and shouldn’t be tolerated. When it comes to the workplace, all that should matter is a person’s skills and their ability to perform the job.”

And it’s not exactly a controversial issue outside the Capitol. In a November 2011 poll done by the Human Rights Campaign, 87 percent of Americans thought discrimination against LGBT workers was already outlawed by federal statute; 78 percent thought it was illegal in their own state, including 75 percent of people in states that actually lack anti-discrimination laws. (The survey’s margin of error is 3.46 percent.)

Further, 77 percent of Americans support protecting LGBT people from employment discrimination, including 70 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of people who identified themselves as conservative. Heck, groups usually thought to really oppose gay rights were strong backers: 69 percent of people over 65, 68 percent of people with a high school degree or less, 77 percent of observant Christians, 74 percent of born-again Christians, and 72 percent of residents of the Deep South, the poll says.

But in Congress, it’s a hot potato, 1st District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree says in an interview: “The Republican House leadership is extremely conservative. There’s just no way they would bring it up.” As a strong supporter, she’s trying to be optimistic: “I’m hoping Congress will catch up” with the wider public, she says.

With some major donors starting to withhold money from the Democratic Party because of their failure to act to protect LGBT individuals, whether through the executive order or through the killing of sponsorship for non-citizen same-sex spouses in the immigration reform package, the pressure is on President Barack Obama and the Democrats to force something to happen.

Senate action
Congressional progress has been long delayed — ENDA and other bills with similar protections have been introduced repeatedly since 1974. Supporters had hoped for a Senate committee hearing in June, but may yet get one sometime in mid-July, if Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who co-sponsored the bill in the Senate, keeps his promise to discuss the bill after the July 4 holiday break. (With the Supreme Court expected to rule on the Defense of Marriage Act by the end of June, the July timing also provides an opportunity to revise the ENDA bill’s language to preserve protections in response to whatever is contained in that ruling.)

Harkin’s announcement of committee hearings gives supporters heart; so does the recent announcement by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, that he has a lesbian niece, and that he does not think she should lose her job because of her sexual identity. He has floated the possbility that the bill might come up for a full Senate vote this year, perhaps in September or October.

If that happens, and if it succeeds, as Almeida expects, it will likely be due to Collins’s hard work behind the scenes, convincing her colleagues, both Democrat and Republican, to support fairness and equality in employment.

“I think Democrats have been going too slowly on ENDA,” Almeida says, adding that Collins appears to agree, because she is pushing Dems in the Senate to keep their promises of support for gay rights. And she is convincing her Republican colleagues that ENDA is a safe, bipartisan bill that deserves their support too.

Christian Berle, FTW’s new legislative director, who was born on Cliff Island and grew up in Portland and Cumberland, calls Collins’s support for gay rights “a matter of compassion and support for common human decency.” He should know: not only a former deputy director of the Log Cabin Republicans, he has known Collins for 17 years, including interning on her 1996 campaign and twice in her DC office.

Almeida projects the bill will pass out of the Harkin-led Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee with every Democrat in support and “one to three Republicans” in favor as well, which should set it up for a good vote in the full Senate, if Reid keeps his word. “I think we can get go 60 votes and even a little bit more,” Almeida says.

House inaction
Speaker of the House “John Boehner is a roadblock to ENDA — and many other things that would benefit the American people,” Almeida says. And John Kline, a Minnesota Republican who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee, is also “ultra-conservative, anti-gay,” Almeida says. “His intention is to bottle up ENDA in committee and never have it see the light of day.”

So the normal legislative process in the House may need a kick in the pants.

Happily, there is a method for doing that. It’s called a “discharge petition,” through which, with the support of at least half the House, a bill can be pulled out of committee and directly to a vote on the House floor. With more than 170 House members already signed on as co-sponsors, that leaves between 40 and 50 more members needed to support bringing it to a vote.

Almeida says the full number may not be needed; the last time this method was used successfully was with the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform bill, in 2002 — when the number of House members supporting the discharge petition got close to the 218 target, the House leadership reluctantly started working the bill through the committee process. Almeida projects a similar situation may happen with ENDA, so Boehner can avoid looking like he is losing control of the flow of legislation.

Pingree says such a petition would likely be more strategic and symbolic than directly effective, but she supports any effort to bring ENDA up for a vote, even in a House led by hostile opponents.

Executive action
Even before Congressional movement, there is more that can be done: President Barack Obama could issue an executive order offering similar protection to more American workers.

Employees of the federal government are already protected by ENDA-like rules, created initially by an executive order from President Bill Clinton for LGB people, and expanded by Obama to include transgender people.

The next target for an executive order is federal contractors — private companies that get government contracts and are paid in taxpayer dollars. While campaigning in 2008, Obama said he supported such a move; five years later he has yet to act on it.

It is true that most major federal contractors have protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, and that more such companies are adopting such policies all the time. But discrimination remains widespread: Williams Institute studies show that between 15 and 43 percent of GLB people have been subjected to sexual-orientation-related discrimination or harassment in the workplace, and 90 percent of transgender people report “some form of harassment or mistreatment on the job or report having taken some action such as hiding who they are to avoid it.”

It is indeed is worth celebrating the fact that at least 61 percent of federal-contractor employees “are already covered by laws or private policies protecting against sexual orientation discrimination,” and “at least 41 percent . . . are already covered . . . against gender-identity discrimination.”

But that means a stunning 11 million people — 39 percent of people working for companies that receive taxpayer dollars — are vulnerable to being fired (or passed over for promotions, or otherwise discriminated against) simply for being gay, lesbian, or bisexual — and 16.5 million — 59 percent of those workers — if they are transgender, face similar perils.

Williams Institute research says 91 percent of Americans, including 86 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of Independents, and 61 percent of Republicans support Obama issuing the executive order. With all this momentum, ENDA has its best chance in years. 

A possible pitfall
A common objection to gay-rights legislation — and an excuse for stalling, revising, or outright gutting protections — is that it somehow interferes with people’s religious freedom.

But this draft of ENDA goes so far toward protecting religious liberties that even the ACLU — which is primarily concerned about constitutional rights — says it is too broad. While the ACLU does support the overall bill, and its underlying principles, “we do have really serious concerns with the religious exemptions,” says Rachel Healy, communications and education director of the ACLU of Maine. Counterintuitively, the rules could “provide . . . cover to discriminate against LGBT employees,” by exempting a very broad range of religious-affiliated organizations from the law.

Churches and other houses of worship would be exempt, as expected (the law couldn’t tell the Catholic Church it had to hire, or could not fire, a priest who did not conform to the Pope’s rules). But so would hospitals and universities affiliated with religious groups. And they would be allowed to discriminate in employment positions that are not at all related to religious doctrine or practice — such as cleaning staff and office workers. That level of discrimination is “a sweeping exemption that is broader than anything that’s ever been okayed before,” including for exemptions about discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or disability, Healy says.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Money Talks: After the campaign: paying off debt

Published in the Portland Phoenix and Out In Maine

The final days before the November 6 vote on same-sex marriage saw a crazy amount of spending from political-action committees on both sides of the question, which has led both PACs to seek post-election contributions to pay off lingering debt.
In reports filed with the Maine Ethics Commission on October 26, both PACs — Protect Marriage Maine (opposed to marriage equality) and Mainers United for Marriage (in favor) — laid out their pre-election financial positions. At that time, PMM had $535,012.97 in ready cash and $96,006.75 in outstanding debt; MUM had $99,756.50 in cash, and unpaid debts of $139,827.62.
As far as yearly totals, MUM was by far the big spender, with 2012 outlays of $4,214,648.07 million by October 26, compared with total spending of $843,353.35 by PMM as of that date.
Both groups spent even more in the final days, with PMM buying so much advertising that the group ran through all its ready cash and more — ending with roughly $80,000 in unpaid debt, according to group treasurer Penelope Morrell.
While MUM went into the immediate election period with a net $40,000 deficit, MUM spokesman David Farmer says he does not know exactly how much his group needs to raise now. He estimated "it's in the tens of thousands," and not more than $100,000.
How well the groups do in their fundraising now that the battle is over will first become apparent on December 18, which is the next deadline for PAC reports.
If they don't raise the money by then, Matt Marett, who handles PAC registration for the Maine Ethics Commission, says the groups can simply remain active as PACs, and "collect contributions and continue to spend money for whatever they do in the future." They do have to continue reporting according to the commission's schedule, until whenever they decide to terminate operations, Marett says. (A PAC can dissolve itself with debts still on the books; "that's between them and their creditors," Marett says.)
Either group — or both — could also decide to continue to exist, and even change the registration paperwork on file with the commission to allow them to raise and spend money in the future to back candidates or other causes, or even become a standing lobbying organization seeking to influence legislators.
And WHAT HAPPENS IF A PAC DOES END UP WITH A SURPLUS after an election? "There really are not restrictions" on how the money could be spent, Marett says. It could be given to candidates, other PACs, charities, or to organizations that supported them (such as the Christian Civic League in PMM's case, or EqualityMaine in MUM's case).
They could even spend it on a party to thank supporters, or for travel to hear an issue-related speaker, he says, though in response to a hypothetical question about using surplus money at a casino, Marett allows "we may raise a red flag about that."

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Church on Marriage: Over two thousand years, an argument against same-sex matrimony has been built. We break it down.

Published in Out In Maine

It may surprise you to know that the Catholic Church teaches that marriage isn’t actually about the two people who are “joined in holy matrimony” on their wedding day.

Nope — it’s about their offspring. This is perhaps some of the common ground the Church has found with theological apostates (evangelical Protestants and Mormons) with which it has allied in the past decade, spending immense amounts of capital — moral, political, and financial — to block the incoming tide of same-sex marriage.

Nevertheless, it’s worth exploring the reasoning behind the Church’s objections to same-sex marriage. Partly this may count as what political operatives call “opposition research” — a Sun Tzu-inspired attempt to truly understand the opponent, the more easily to emerge victorious. But more than that, the Catholic Church has been talking about marriage longer than just about anyone. Its arguments have been ground by the ages, sharpened by insights of thousands of scholars, and honed into a fine edge by experience. Let’s see what that effort has produced.

Appealing to tradition
Brian Souchet, director of the Office for the Protection and Defense of Marriage with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland (which covers the entire state of Maine) opens what will become a nearly two-hour interview by enumerating the social ills that the Church sees in the modern world: high cohabitation without marriage, single parenting, kids without involved fathers, kids born out of wedlock. He calls these all “results of a breakdown in marriage,” by which he means the modern American societal tendency to “ignore the fact as men and women that [marriage is] not just about us men and women.”

In one sense he’s right. Despite Church teachings to the contrary, the divorce rate is as high as ever; couplehood, pregnancy, and childrearing are happening outside married male-female couples all the time.
Beyond the possibly self-evident reason that not everyone believes what the Church teaches, not even all Catholics do, it turns out.

“If the faithful don’t understand the significance of marriage . . . that’s where we need to start,” Souchet says, beginning to lay out the history of the Church’s teachings on marriage. In sum, they are that “love and commitment is necessary but not sufficient” for marriage. What’s required are a man and a woman together permanently, with “openness to bringing new life into the world,” he says.

He correctly observes that Catholic teaching has expressed this view since almost the very beginning, and refers me to Pope Pius XI’s 1930 encyclical Casti Connubii — which itself refers to an 1880 encyclical by Pope Leo XIII, a 1789 letter of Pope Pius VI, the decisions of the 16th-century Council of Trent, and to Saint Augustine’s writings in the fourth and fifth centuries.

The contribution of Souchet’s own employer, Bishop Richard Malone, to this 1600-plus-year history is a pastoral letter entitled “Marriage: Yesterday — Today — Always” in which Malone argues that marriage is defined in the universal “natural law” as between a man and a woman, and expresses concern that people are trying to change that.

“We can look throughout antiquity and see marriage as between a man and a woman,” Souchet says — and he’s right. Here again, though, he — and Catholic doctrine — chooses not to observe the same-sex relationships that were present “throughout antiquity,” though admittedly those couplehoods may have lacked the specific label of “marriage.”

Following the thread
Souchet claims that “the true test” of same-sex marriage is: “Can this new notion of marriage . . . stand up on its own without being forced on people by the law?” Same-sex attractions and relationships have endured and recurred through the ages, despite being outlawed for most of the last two millennia. The answer to his question is “Yes.”

Bishop Malone’s pastoral letter also asserts that marriage has always been about children. He cites as evidence “the writings of the third-century jurist of the Roman Empire, Modestinus, who captured the common understanding of marriage with the following definition: ‘Marriage is the union of a man and a woman, a consortium for the whole of life involving the communication of divine and human rights.’ ” No mention of children there.

Then Malone cherry-picks United Nations proclamations to his advantage. He cites the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to support his claim that children are “meant to have a mother and a father.” (In fact, the Convention mentions only “parents.”)

Malone goes on to claim that marriage “is not a ‘right’ that can be given or denied.” That ignores another UN document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states clearly: “Men and women . . . have the right to marry.” (The Declaration says nothing about same-sex marriage, but its inclusive intent is obvious, since it confers the marriage right “without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion.”)

Malone also formally declares what most people already know — that biological ability to procreate is not, in fact, a precondition for marriage. This is in keeping with longtime Church teachings, but undermines the notion that a marriage can only be between two partners whose sexual intercourse can fertilize an egg. “An infertile couple continues to manifest” the full blessings of marriage, he writes, including being able to care for children by adoption or volunteering.

Why does the Church care this much about marriage? There is a worldly reason in addition to the holy ones, and it’s self-perpetuation of the Church itself. Pope Pius XI makes this clear in Casti Connubii:

“God wishes men to be born not only that they should live and fill the earth, but much more that they may be worshippers of God,” he writes, going on to say that children are “a talent committed to [parents] by God . . . to be restored to God with interest on the day of reckoning.” (It’s worth noting that Casti Connubii also puts the Church squarely in support of a living wage, redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor, and government programs to help the needy.)

Idealism versus realism
Beyond its logical failings, though, the fundamental flaw in the argument espoused by the Church (and Souchet) is that their ideal of marriage is substantially different from how marriage is actually entered into, carried out, and experienced in the world today.

For example, Souchet says, offering a quaint picture unreflective of an America in which even a large majority of Catholic women use some form of birth control, “given enough time, a male-female relationship will produce children.”

Certainly the Church is entitled to teach that its followers adhere to a certain standard, real, ideal, or otherwise — and to deny membership to dissenters.

The problems arise when that standard is applied to civil law. The Church is well aware that this distinction exists, and hasn’t objected though (to choose an example relating to marriage) civil law lets non-Catholics be just as married as Catholics, despite Church teaching to the contrary.

In writing about Church law and civil law, Malone writes that both descend — independently — from what philosophers have long called “natural law,” the unwritten Way Things Actually Are. He says our best clues about what natural law truly is are in Church law and civil law, noting that both have evolved — separately — toward what their respective leaders have come to believe are more perfect reflections of universal truths.

That’s when he gets his wires crossed. While the Church hierarchy gets to set policy in its realm, the people of a democracy are where that system’s power lies.

A reader can almost hear Malone thundering as he winds down his letter: “Those who would attempt to redefine marriage to include or be made analogous with any other kind of human relationship are suggesting that the permanent union of husband and wife, the unique pattern of spousal and familial love, and the generation of new life are now only of relative importance rather than being fundamental to the existence and well-being of society as a whole.”

In reality, society has the power to, and may well in November, decide at the ballot box that there are, in fact, other relationships that are of equal significance to marriages recognized by the Catholic Church.
Souchet argues that such a decision would move Maine law farther away from natural law. So I ask: Did the Church — and civil law — get the natural law wrong?

“We sure had a long time to get it right,” Souchet laughs. He pauses. “If we did, we’ve been getting the natural law wrong for millennia.”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Finding - and preserving - unheard voices: Speaking with Howard Solomon about his years of LGBT research

Published in Out In Maine

When Howard Solomon's name was submitted as a nominee for the Catalyst for Change Award, the highest honor given by the Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine at the University of Southern Maine, the center's board agreed very easily to bestow it upon the well-known LGBT historian.
"He has an outstanding record in Maine," says Susie Bock, the center's director, who has worked with Solomon for many years preserving papers, records, and items shedding light on Maine's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities. (The Sampson Center also has significant holdings on the history of Maine's Jewish and African-American populations.)
"He has played a part in educating people in Maine since he moved here" in 1987, Bock says, writing essays to accompany numerous exhibitions, speaking with school and non-profit groups, as well as teaching LGBT history classes at USM.
Solomon, a longtime history professor at Tufts University outside Boston, first moved to Maine as a result of his relationship with Ron Clark, who worked in Portland. "We moved to Kittery, which was equidistant, and so we were both miserable," Solomon recalls with his characteristic wry humor. Shortly thereafter, Clark was diagnosed with AIDS; the couple bought a home in Gray and lived there together until Clark died in January 1989. Solomon lost his partner, but found a home, welcomed by the Quaker community (Solomon, a Jew, and the Methodist Clark were pleasantly surprised by that)
Solomon also got involved with groups giving diversity workshops around Maine, and so he stayed, commuting to Tufts and doing a lot of organizing and activism here. Out In Maine spoke with him about the evolution of his career and life's work, and the importance of preserving records of ordinary people's lives for future generations.
I WANTED TO FIND OUT HOW YOUR HISTORICAL INTERESTS EVOLVED; YOU STARTED LOOKING AT SOCIAL HISTORY IN FRANCE AND THEN SHIFTED INTO GENDER AND SEXUALITY STUDIES. When I went into 16th, 17th, 18th century French history, one of the things that fascinated me from the very outset of that research was not what was happening in the throne rooms and among the diplomats but what was happening among the people who were silent in the historical record, i.e., the people in the kitchen, the people in the stables, the people in the gutters, the people in the streets. Which also coincided with an interest in France in that period, in the late '60s, which then of course exploded in the 1968 student revolution — what the French were referring to asmarginalit√© et pouvoir, "marginality and power," looking at the relationship between the center and the periphery. When I came to Tufts in the early '70s, I was doing as it were, the "straight French history" — but I was really more and more interested in, what in those days was called, either "marginality and power," which is a loaded term; or, even more loaded, "social deviants," i.e., women, the poor, children . . .
THE USE OF THE WORD "DEVIANT" OF COURSE BEING USED TO DESCRIBE THE VAST MAJORITY OF PEOPLE . . . Exactly! All the losers. All throughout history, it's about the winners — what we used to call "maps and chaps," white men on white horses. My own intellectual development coincided with what was happening in the historical profession, but there was a way in which my own personal journey was animating my teaching and research. I was struggling at that time, late '60s-early '70s, trying to understand who I was as somebody who was not heterosexual. I didn't even know the other words, "homosexual," "gay," "queer" — I didn't know what they meant; no one really knew. I taught those courses — the social deviants, the margin — it was all the same course but increasingly, the whole issue of sexual minorities was becoming larger and larger. I left teaching for a few years and went into administration. I took a sabbatical in 1981-'82, and I came back to the university and came out. Before that, I was out to friends but not publicly. I came out in my classroom, I came out to my colleagues, I came out in my writing. I then spun off, from the sort of generic social deviants/marginality courses, to specific courses on what today we would call queer history.
That also coincided, the early '80s, '81, '82, '83, with the emergence of AIDS. I had even from the beginning, in addition to the French history, a parallel interest in the history of community public health. I’d written my dissertation on health issues in early modern Europe.
When AIDS exploded in the early ’80s,  I was doing an awful lot of teaching, both in the classroom and increasingly out of the classroom, on the history of AIDS, the history of disease, the way in which again it's about power and language. Who controls the dictionary, who controls access. Every physician uses diagnoses, but it's also a dictionary game of how things are labeled and who gets the money and who gets the treatment, and who controls the dialogue.
When I think of what I tried to do in teaching, and certainly up to and through my work with the Sampson Collection, it's about listening to the voices, finding the voices that have been systematically silenced. That's what the LGBT Collection is about, finding a place where previously unheard voices can be heard, by collecting everything that is and has been a part of LGBTQ life. Ranging from the obvious public documents of legislation, and the papers of important people, to what archivists call "ephemera." I love that word. The "unimportant," insignificant stuff of our lives like T-shirts and bumper stickers, buttons and ticket stubs, and love letters, the "flotsam and jetsam" of daily life, which, when they're put into a context, tell a story which otherwise cannot or otherwise is not heard.
I’m a recovering historian. The real passion of my life right now is art. In the last four years I’ve been doing found-object sculpture. It’s taken over my life and I’m realizing that I’ve been a Dumpster diver all my life; I was Dumpster diving for subjects in the late ’60s and ’70s, looking into as it were the gutters and garbage for subjects and then I was doing that in a sense with the collection. Going through people’s attics and basements and now I’m the king of yard sales and recycling barns, so it’s all of a piece.
It really is about finding the ephemera, the forgotten, the otherwise dispossessed and rejected. “Discarded” is a better word, and putting into a context and once it’s put into a context, into a frame, it has extraordinary meaning. Things have meaning only when they’re put into a context and if the only context is of the traditional “winners,” straight versus gay, men versus women, the powerful versus the powerless, those stories never never never can be told.
That brings us up to the present. In ’93, ’94, when the first conversations were happening about setting up what was then being called a “gay archive” at USM, I was involved with those conversations from the beginning, along with others.
AND THEN BEGAN THE SECOND PART OF THE DUMPSTER DIVING. Yeah, rural Dumpster diving, right. In 2001, ’02 I took an early retirement from Tufts. I was at an annual meeting of the advisory group for what was then the Gay-Lesbian Archive. USM Provost Joe Wood had just introduced Susie Bock, she had just come to Maine. Joe was saying we’ve got great stuff going here, but we need somebody to help.
All of a sudden it hit me, I could do that. In fall ’02 Joe appointed me scholar-in-residence of the collection, and an adjunct professor of history.
WHAT WAS THE STATE OF THE COLLECTION IN 2002 WHEN YOU JOINED THE CENTER AS SCHOLAR-IN-RESIDENCE? The story I like to tell is I had a colleague at Tufts who taught Chinese history, and whenever we'd have these long conversations making a proposal or curriculum and getting more and more complicated, she would suck on her cigarette and in Mandarin say something. And we'd say, 'What the hell is that?' She'd say, 'Old Chinese expression: A sparrow is a very small animal, but all its parts are there.' In '02 there were the elements of what had the potential to be a really exciting collection. The first issue was the space that was the library then — the university had just bought that old bakery building, and there were absolutely inadequate facilities. So number one we needed facilities, which eventually happened. They're really state of the art now, Library of Congress standards in terms of all the things that are important.
Number two, I — with the help of an advisory board and others — was able to do a more concentrated project of talking to LGBT activists, organizations, allies, on the importance of creating a really vibrant archive. Not only for our community, but for the benefit of the quality of life in Maine in general. So we did that.
Number three, as more people within the community became aware of what archiving is about and why a community needs to have a history, more and more people have given their materials and understood that even the most mundane pile of old T-shirts and bumper stickers and love letters has a real historical value.
Then fourthly, and Susie's been great at this, we did an increasing amount of public programming and partnering with other organizations. Key in that, in 2004 we did a 20th anniversary retrospective of Charlie Howard's death. Charlie died in 1984, so we did a three-day-long conference. We also put together a traveling exhibition, which is still traveling through the state, so literally thousands and thousands of people have seen it.
In the last couple of years, organizations like the Rainbow Business and Professional Organization and Down East Pride Alliance and obviously EqualityMaine and so on are partnering with the collection all the time. Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network is really, really, really using the resources. Susie brings in school groups regularly; she's doing great work.
It’s a collection that must integrate its work with the work of the other two major pieces of the Sampson Center, the Judaica collection and the African-American collection, so they are of a piece.
THEY CERTAINLY ARE VOICES THAT HAVE GONE UNHEARD AND FOR A LONG TIME, DESPITE THEIR NUMBERS. GLBT PEOPLE, OR JEWISH PEOPLE, OR AFRICAN AMERICANS AREN'T ACTUALLY MAJORITIES IN MAINE, BUT THEY'RE VERY SIZABLE MINORITIES. When you're away from Maine, people say 'What, they've got gay people in Maine?' Part of the real contribution of the LGBT collection is regionally and nationally. There are and have been LGBT archives in New York, San Francisco, San Diego, Minneapolis, the big cities. Part of the stereotype which was also ingrained among scholars, many of whom were LGBT scholars, was that the whole LGBT thing is fundamentally an urban phenomenon. What we have shown in the collection, what makes it a national treasure, is that it documents and celebrates a rural statewide phenomenon. There were LGBT groups organizing and active in rural Maine in the late '60s and early '70s; we have the documents of that. That's part of the history. That's a real contribution.
It helps break down the urban-rural thing; it also helps break down the gay-straight issue, because much of the collection is about the ways in which LGBT issues have been and are inextricable from larger issues of community formation, identity politics, politics and spirituality in Maine.
Let’s talk a bit about the use of the collection as a historical record. Susie and I were just talking about the trans and bi communities; we need more of their documents and history in the collection. We have it, but we need more. It’s about not only the content of our lives, but how we, and others, understand and describe those lives.
The thing you have to do is to say, ‘I want to hear them,’ and then you’ve got to devise questions which enable you to find those places where their voices can be heard and if you don’t do either of those, they’re never going to be heard. For us, even asking those two questions has been the luxury of privilege. People in places of privilege, whether they’re historians, or prime ministers, or white, WASP males, have the privilege of not having to ask.
IN MY OWN READING ABOUT 17TH-CENTURY ENGLISH HISTORY, I OBSERVE WHAT I SOMETIMES CALL THE PEPYS PROBLEM, WHERE ENGLISH DIARIST SAMUEL PEPYS IS REALLY THE ONLY VOICE HISTORIANS HAVE OF “REGULAR PEOPLE” OF THE TIME. IN THE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS HE SPEAKS FOR ALL WHITE MALE LONDONERS; IN THE WORST, HE SPEAKS FOR ALL BRITONS, OR FOR ALL EUROPEANS, AND IT REALLY BECOMES A PROBLEM BECAUSE THERE’S SUCH A LIMITED ARCHIVE FROM WHICH TO DRAW. It’s part of the takeaway that I always try to leave, whatever presentation I make, is that there are documents out there which are vulnerable to disappearing. There are flooded basements and mice in the attics and moving companies which every day are destroying materials that need to be preserved. We take for granted that the Gutenberg Bible is going to be taken care of, but the handouts that we get on Monument Square at some demonstration, or the ordinary photographs that we have in a shoebox in our basement about the Fourth of July picnic 20 years ago — the LGBT archive can protect those and enable them to speak 50, 100, 200 years from now. We have those in the collection and they speak volumes.
ONE OF THE THINGS I'VE ALWAYS LIKED ABOUT HISTORY IS SEEING, IN SOME CASES, HOW LITTLE HAS CHANGED, BUT IN OTHER CASES HOW MUCH HAS CHANGED. In the media 20 years ago, let alone the 50 or 60 years ago when I was coming up as a younger person, the presence of LGBT issues was — there was no presence. Or if there were presence, it was the most painful, inaccurate, frightening, pathologic presence one could imagine. When I was 12, 13 years old — I was born in '42 so that is '53, '54 — there were no queer presences on TV other than Milton Berle in drag. There was a nationwide, Senator Joseph McCarthy purge of liberals and homosexuals in all areas of the government. That was filtering down to a 12- or 13-year-old kid in western Pennsylvania. It was on the radio.
I remember I hung out in the school library looking around, making sure nobody was looking at me as I looked in the big dictionary under the word "homosexual," and saw that it was described as a pathology. It's still a tough world and people are being bashed. Andthere has been progress. I would like to think that the collection is a piece of that.
When the Charlie Howard collection is going around the state, we'd set up in a school and you'd see the civics class come in and the history class, and they'd look at it. It would be 20 or 30 students. Then an hour later, maybe during a break or in between class, you'd see two or three students come in and look at it more closely. Those were the ones that really touched me. It's tough enough being a gay teenager. But their awareness perhaps that somewhere else in the state of Maine there were some other gay people, and there were resources and possibilities and promises for us today that may not have been there before, and I am not alone.
RIGHT, AND HERE ARE PEOPLE YOU CAN TALK TO, AND THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO WILL HELP. AND THAT'S A REALLY POWERFUL THING. Had there been a gay-straight alliance in Bangor High School, Charlie might still be alive. When Susie has the school groups and provides resources to teachers, that trumps just about everything in my mind. How do you measure the benefit of something as amorphous as a library? You can count the number of people coming in the door, count the number of people who show up at a presentation. But one has to trust that's what culture is about. One trusts that the preservation and publication of documents in their broadest extent is an act of faith, an investment in the future.