NO/AIDS Task Force

I just realized that I skipped right over the dedication page of the anthology I’m currently reviewing (Night Shadows: Queer Horror) as part of the Short Story 365 Project. The dedication says:

This is for all of our coworkers at the NO/AIDS Task Force.

The task force co-sponsors the annual Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans every year. Knowing that, while zooming around as a tourist I tried to stop in to say hi, and thank you, but the office was closed.

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From their Facebook page:

NO/AIDS Task Force is a community-based service organization that supports men, women and families affected by HIV/AIDS in Southeastern Louisiana.

 

 

 

Short Stories 365/222

“A Scent of Roses” by Catherine Lundoff So Fey: Queer Fairy Fiction by Lethe Press (2009). Edited by Steve Berman.

I am in love with the language of this story. Every sentence is constructed of the most gorgeous words imaginable, often strung together in unexpected ways. The end effect is that delightful phrases leap off the page again and again. This was truly a joy to read.

It was especially so after the midway point. Up until then it wasn’t clear if the desire the main character, Janet, felt for the Faerie Queen was genuine, or if she’d been bewitched. I want stories about people struggling to achieve their true heart’s desire. It doesn’t matter if they fight external forces or internalized ones, so long as they are fighting for what honestly moves them. Until it was actually spelled out that there was no glamour to blame, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. Afterward, I was all in. I even cried at the end, but then I have a real problem with change, even when it’s ultimately for the better.

Kentuckiana Pride 2014

2014 Pride parade_001
Last night was the Kentucky Pride Parade. Three hours before the event huge storms moved through the area, dumping a torrent of rain. Afterward it was overcast, threatening a repeat performance. As I headed downtown, equipped with a baseball cap, disposable rain poncho and umbrella, I wondered if other people would not show up because of the threat of rain, and I remembered the anti-KKK rally I attended here many years ago. It rained then, too, a steady downpour that lasted all through the event. The temperatures were frigid that day, and by the end of the rally I was soaked to the bone, shivering inside the McDonald’s at Broadway and Second, waiting for my ride to pick me up and certain that I was going to come down with pneumonia.

I did not.

Naturally, yesterday I wanted to park my car near the end of the parade route, conveniently the steps of the Kentucky Center for the Arts. I was running early (the parade wasn’t set to start until 8pm) so I circled the area, hoping for a metered space, then gave up and headed for a garage. The KCA garage was charging $7 for event parking, so I pulled in to the Muhammad Ali Center garage right across the street, because they only wanted $5. I figured everyone else would do the same, but when I got into the garage I found that there were only two other cars there. But I was early. I figured there would be plenty of other parade goers heading back the same way afterward. (Downtown garages are the scene of occasional attacks on women, a fact the city downplays but people who work downtown—as I did for 19 years—are warned about regularly.)

Walking through the garage in my black tee with big, bold lettering in white (FAIRNESS: No more. No less. ) and rainbow beads from Saints and Sinners 2013 was a little intimidating. I wondered what the two people working the Ali Center’s ticket booth thought of the Pride Parade.The nearest exit, though, turned out to be nowhere near the ticket booth.

As I expected there were no pedestrians and no cars on Sixth, which runs beside the KCA. As soon as I turned the corner, of course, there were tons of people awash in rainbow gear. I started walking the parade route in reverse, making my way to the meetup point for those of us walking with the Fairness Campaign, which I always do. If you read last year’s blog entry (aptly titled “Kentuckiana Pride Parade 2013”) you will know that this was not my first rodeo. What I didn’t share then was this photo of what actually was:
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Actually, I’m not totally sure that was my first Pride March. I seriously doubt that I brought a camera the first time. But it could be. Moxie, chutzpah, cajones, call it what you will, I got a pretty good dose of it. Still, that photo was taken a really, really long time ago.

For two blocks yesterday I was just another face in the rainbow clad throng. Then the crowd thinned, and thinned again. By Third Street I was alone. Crossing Main heading for Market, I was alone. For three or four blocks it was just me and the passing cars, before I caught up to some other parade goers who’d come from a different direction.

I’ll admit, for those few blocks I was nervous. What were the drivers thinking? Would they say something to me?  Do something? There could have been violence. It happened the other day at another Pride rally somewhere. I contemplated what it would be like to feel that way all the time. It would take a whole other level of moxie to survive that.

The check-in table for Fairness was not where it was last year. In fact, it wasn’t anywhere. I walked around the densely-packed parking lot where it was supposed to be; I walked over to the much larger parking lot next door where the parade goers were assembling and found the Fairness crew (easy to do because many were sporting the balloon backpacks Fairness has made their trademark for the parade). I asked a woman who looked like she knew such things, and was sent back over to the original parking lot.

Unsurprisingly, the check-in booth had not spontaneously materialized. It did occur to me that perhaps, because of the earlier downpour, they had chosen to set up inside the gay bar next door, so I followed the mixed-gender crowd shuffling in there. It was hard to see anything at all but I was reasonably sure that there was no Fairness table there, so I headed back out. On my way I asked the bouncer, who thought it was right outside, and was surprised when he looked out and saw that it was gone.

Outside, I asked another woman who looked like she was probably on top of things, and who was also wearing a balloon backpack, and she said they’d packed up early and headed over to the staging area. It wasn’t even half hour at that point. I headed back over.

Now, where do you choose to stand in a sea of squiggly balloons, when you don’t know anyone? I wandered around, hoping I’d see a familiar face. There wasn’t one that I saw but there was a light pole, and I decided that was a decent hangout. If nothing else, the balloon-wearing folk steered clear of it, and they are a bit hard to contend with. So I planted myself by the light pole and took out my phone to post an “I am here” notice to social media.

Several guys were hanging around the light pole as well. One of them turned around, saw me, exclaimed, “Thank you for being here again!” and gave me a hug. It was Chris Hartman, the director of the Fairness Campaign. You could have knocked me over with a feather at that point. I mean, it’s true that back in October I did craft a broom for Fairness as a favor to a friend who is a pagan and wanted to present a gift to Fairness on behalf of LGBT pagans, and that broom now hangs in the Fairness office, something I know from having seen pictures of it on Facebook. And it’s also true that when last year’s march ended I was standing in the perfect spot when they announced they wanted to take a group picture, so I accidentally ended up in the forefront of the shot. I was also the only one wearing the old black and white Fairness tee, too, so I kind of stand out. It wasn’t planned, honestly. I had no idea they were even going to take a picture. I was standing there wondering how on earth I was going to find a friend who’d marched with Third Lutheran Church. But, still. I didn’t expect him to recognize me. Color me flabbergasted.

BTW, I still call it a march. It’s a holdover from the old March for Justice. I think it goes better with the only chant that ever sticks during these things: “What do we want? FAIRNESS! When do we want it? NOW!”

So Chris gave me a hug, and one of the other guys handed me a card on which several chants including the one mentioned above were listed. I looked at Chris and said “No kazoos this year?” because last year they handed out kazoos and tried to get everyone to learn a tune. Turned out people needed remedial kazoo operating lessons. Now, I can’t carry a tune to save my life, but I worked in Theatre for Young Audiences for nearly twenty years; I can operate a kazoo. Still, the kazoo plan was dropped about five minutes into the endeavor, and when I mentioned it Chris arched a brow and said “We’re not going to talk about the kazoo incident.” So it was good.

The march itself went by very fast, and I didn’t process much that was happening during it. I always get very caught up belting out the message, so much so that I was getting hoarse by the end. I will say that “LGBT, we demand equality!” and “Racism, sexism, we say no! Ho-mo-pho-bia’s got to go!” were getting more traction by the end. At first no one seemed comfortable enough speaking those ones to really get behind them. The one that was basically “Yes we can!” in Spanish was a complete wash.

There was a really good crowd of onlookers around the Connection nightclub complex again, just like last year, but this time there wasn’t as much of a dearth of spectators between there and Main Street. There also seemed to be a lot more families in attendance. There were lots of older people and little kids cheering from the sidelines, which was really nice. And of course, I got emotional passing by Actors Theatre and the Humana building further down Main (not the iconic one at Sixth and Main), because my grandfather worked as an architect on that structure, which was originally the headquarters of Belknap Hardware.

All too soon we were at the steps of the KCA, assembling for the picture. I purposefully moved toward the back of the damned crowd, and was standing minding my own business when one of the megaphone-wielders came over and stood right beside me. I haven’t seen this year’s photo, but no doubt I am smack dab in the center of it, again in my old-school Fairness tee. Not my intention if it’s so.

Just like last year, that classic Fairness tee got several appreciative shout-outs from people. It’s the reason why it was with a little misgiving that today at the Pride Festival I plunked down a $20 donation to Fairness and picked out one of the tees with the new logo. Purple, of course. I’m not saying I’ll wear that one in next year’s march, mind you. Why mess with success?

After the parade people made their way en mass to The Belvedere, a public space overlooking the Ohio River. Lemming like, I followed, curious to see what was going on, despite my trepidation about being alone when I headed back to my car, and whether I would still be the only one parked in the Ali Center garage. As it turned out, about half of the booths up on the Belvedere were partially set-up and manned, with representatives of the various organizations passing out swag. I walked around looking for Third Lutheran Church, to say hi to the friends of my friend (who was out of town on business this year).

I didn’t find them, and got nervous about walking back to my car, so I left. At the entrance to the event there was a scaremongering preacher with a bullhorn trying to get a rise out of the crowd. I’d seen maybe six different churches represented in the parade; I decided I was not going to go over and try to engage this guy. There’s a purported Polish proverb going around Facebook right now that sort of summed up my feelings: Not my circus. Not my monkeys.

There was hardly anyone left on Main, and still no one at all on Sixth. Worse, the two attendants were gone from the Ali Center garage. There was no one in sight anywhere and the sky was just beginning to go to dusk. I thought about what I would do if I was confronted by someone, and those thoughts took a decidedly homophobic cast. I thought about taking off my beads. It seemed another good analogy, the fact that I can take off my beads, change my shirt, and melt back into hetero-normative anonymity. I left my beads on.

A car entered the garage as I reached the stairs. The windows were tinted. I have no idea what the driver looked like, or how many people were in the car. I’d parked my car right by the bottom of the staircase, so I hurried down it. Right before I turned the corner I heard two voices, male, and from the cadence of them in all likelihood not interested in harassing me. The fact that they turned out to look like they were no strangers to the gym was also a huge relief. I made a beeline for my car and got out of there. For the record there were only about six cars in the garage when I left. What’s up with that?

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So that, in a nutshell, is my Kentuckiana Pride Parade 2014 experience. It turns out that Third Lutheran’s Stephen Renner, one of the persons I was looking for up on the Belvedere, was stationed beside the fire-and-brimstone preacher providing counterpoint to his arguments. Good for him.

I’m happy to report that local news station WDRB, which has an hour-long broadcast and last year gave the parade what I termed “30 secs of dour-faced airtime in which they reported the facts”, this year had a whopping 1 minute and 45 seconds of enthusiastic coverage. WHAS, though, still gave it barely a mention. After 25 seconds about the locally-headquartered Presbyterian Church’s decision to begin allowing same-sex marriages, and the news that Louisville mayor Greg Fischer joined Mayors for the Freedom to Marry, there was this five second long mention of the parade: “Kentucky’s Pride month festivities began with a parade in downtown Louisville.” To be fair they also did a web-only piece about the Fairness Campaign interns constructing the balloon backpacks. What I said last year about the whole issue of media coverage, though, still stands. Most of the spectators had cameras out. Photos and footage of the event started going out via the net immediately, and every one of those connections comes with a face attached. A personal endorsement, if you will. Correct me if I’m wrong, but in marketing terms, isn’t that gold? Like last year, it makes me think of Harvey Milk encouraging people to come out, and that reminds me that the other day I was at the post office, mailing a copy of Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press) to the lucky blog reader who won it as the Hop Against Homophobia giveaway, and I asked if they had any Harvey Milk stamps. The teller said, “Yes, we do. They’ve been very popular.” He opened the drawer and took the sheet right off the top.

It gives me hope.

 

Short Stories 365/122

“Silver Pumps and a Loose Nut” by J.R. Greenwell from Saints and Sinners 2013: New Fiction from the Festival (Bold Strokes Books).

Full disclosure: I have a story in this anthology.

How can you not like a “drag queen avenger, out to conquer any evil or hostility that would threaten the peaceful world of the domestic gay man”? Stella has won competitions for years; she’s a legend. At the start of the story she’s in Daytona, Florida on a road trip to attend a competition at Club Diva. She’s accompanied by her boyfriend Sam and her protégé Daphne. While Stella is the one referred to above, it’s really Daphne’s story we’re being told.

Daphne idolizes Stella, who took first place in the Club Diva event. Daphne came in third and there were only four contestants. She’s feeling pretty low when she’s hit on by a guy named Chuck; because of this she agrees to go home with him. As you might expect things go from bad to worse. Even when she manages to get back to the motel things don’t improve, for she finds Stella getting into a sticky situation of her own. That’s when Daphne finds out what she’s really made of.

It’s a charming take on the student becoming the master. It also brought to mind a short story I read many years ago, in which—in a Stonewall-esque scene—some homophobic cretins lay siege to a gay bar and learn very quickly that you should never attack drag queens. I loved that story and I love this one. Go Daphne, go.

The author also has a story in this year’s Saints and Sinners anthology. Look for those reviews beginning Monday.

Short Stories 365/118

“In a Chamber of My Heart” by Sandra Gail Lambert from Saints and Sinners 2013: New Fiction from the Festival (Bold Strokes Books). Contest winner.

Full disclosure: I have a story in this anthology.

I told myself that this time I wasn’t going to cry at the end of this story. I thought about the fact that the main character has lived a very long life. I kept in mind that she has been blessed with true love. And yet, I cried at the end.  

This is the amazing story of an old woman, dying of cancer, who tells the key points of her life to another woman there as part of a project to chronicle just such experiences.  For posterity. And out of a sense of Christian duty. Except the main character isn’t someone whose life story the religious woman wants to hear, and the main character is aware of her shifting and squirming, searching for a face-saving escape. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. I’m reminded of the Bob Dylan song “Blowin’ in the Wind”, which contains the lyric:

 

How many times can a man turn his head

And pretend he just doesn’t see?

 

The old woman isn’t a murderess, a thief, someone who left ruined lives in her wake. She fell in love with another woman, longed to be happy, experienced loss, found love again, and honored that love for decades. Dying, she still wants what should be the simplest of things, for a stranger to acknowledge that there is nothing monstrous about her.

It’s moving, often funny (she has, literally, nothing left to lose, so she can be feisty and forthright), and it has great, descriptive passages. It’s no wonder it was the contest winner. No wonder at all.    

Short Stories 365/116

“Bruno’s Last Supper” by Jeff Lindemann from Saints and Sinners 2013: New Fiction from the Festival (Bold Strokes Books).

Full disclosure: I have a story in this anthology.

I’ll admit that when I first read this I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. “Over the top” doesn’t even begin to describe it. But then I got to hear the author read a selection from it at the book launch party, and I was sold. Re-reading it, I could still clearly hear his voice, and it all fell into place. Reading his story in this year’s anthology, I was immediately enchanted. Yeah, sure, it’s over the top. It’s also funny as hell. They both are. They’re both pretty dark, too, the newer one more so.

I can’t even begin to describe the colorful nature of all the characters and places in this story. It would pale in comparison. You’ll simply have to read it. Let’s just say Bruno is a young man recently released from a “repartive therapy” institution run by a sadistic madman, as all such places are. He has returned to his mother’s house but it’s clear right away that the “treatments” he endured while away did nothing but piss him off. He immediately sets off to make his own way in the world…and drives to the bar that used to be his hangout—and he’s all of eighteen—where he meets and instantly connects with a guy named Nathaniel. From there the story goes into hyperdrive, with a traveling preacher, his blind daughter, and the life-sized wax sculpture of DaVinci’s The Last Supper they tote around in a Gulfstream trailer. No, really. Funny as hell. Check it out.

Short Stories 365/105

“Captain of the World” by Alex Jeffers from Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up (Bold Strokes Books, 2011).

It says something that I read and enjoyed every word of this story, when large parts of it are a play-by-play of a soccer match. To say that I am not into sports would be an understatement. I have attended maybe three or four baseball games in my life, I have never watched a basketball game (despite living in Chicago during the reign of Michael Jordan), and in high school (or was that college?) I went to half of a football game. Yes, half. It was more than enough.

The author fired a shot across the bow by introducing his main character, an American of Turkish descent, and then ending the first paragraph by calling attention to the fact that someone has perpetrated a hate crime against him by writing a racial slur on his car. The next sentence is “My heart went bang-bang.” Yeah, well, it’s not the only one that did. So Raki Burak is the captain of a soccer team and this story is going to take place with that as a backdrop? Well, okay then. Tell me more.

He does. Raki’s gay and not out except to his sister, and only then because she confronted him about it. He’s not out to Paul, the guy he wants to be his boyfriend, who acts as if the feeling is mutual. What I’m trying to say is that this story is rife with conflict, things at stake, and definite good guys and bad guys.

No wonder I couldn’t put it down.