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Charles Blow is the James Baldwin of our time

NY Times writer delivers searing memoir on poverty, sexuality

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Charles M. Blow, gay news, Washington Blade

Charles M. Blow (Photo by Larry D. Moore; courtesy Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Every so often, a book comes along that hits your solar plexus so hard that it becomes a part of your DNA. That’s how it’s been for me since I read “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” the bestselling memoir by New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow.

In this searing, indescribably moving work, Blow writes of being a child and coming-of-age in rural, dirt-poor Louisiana. I’m not being metaphorical here. Blow, who is black, and his brothers lived in such poverty that, sometimes, they literally ate clay out of a ditch. In writing that is strikingly original, yet evocative of James Baldwin and Maya Angelou, Blow holds the reader spellbound with his stories. You hold onto his every word as he tells of his journey from his boyhood in Gibsland, La., where he attended schools still segregated 16 years after Brown v. Board of Education, to an Atlanta journalism jobs fair where he found employment with the New York Times in his 20s. Along the way, he struggles with the trauma of sexual abuse (at age seven, he was sexually abused by a male older cousin), his sexuality, and with societal ideas of masculinity.

From the moment I read the memoir’s opening sentences, “Tears flowed out of me from a walled-off place, from another time, from a little boy who couldn’t cry,” I couldn’t put “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” down.

When I was 10, I remember my Dad, a Jewish veterinarian in a small South Jersey town, telling me how he’d stayed up all night, glued to the page, reading James Baldwin.  “Everybody should listen to him,” he said, “he’s saying what needs to be said whether people want to hear it or not.”

Blow is the James Baldwin of our time. Using his gifts as a storyteller, he writes of poverty, race, bullying, gender and sexuality – the issues, struggles and process of self-discovery of our era. From an early age, Blow felt that he was different. Though he liked girls, Blow sometimes felt attracted to male images. As a youth, he was called “punk,” a local anti-gay slur. His mother worried that Blow didn’t run as a boy should run. One of his older cousins is tied to a bed, beaten and murdered because he dares to be openly gay. This hate crime against a black man, unlike Matthew Shepard’s murder, didn’t receive media attention.

“Black bodies…were not valued by society as much as others,” Blow told me in an interview when asked about growing up with racism and society’s stifling definition of masculinity. “On top of being black, being poor and from a rural situation…amplified the devaluation. Being different, not part of heterosexual normality…you had to be alert.”

We wouldn’t want to pretend that there’s been no improvement since the pre-Civil Rights era, Blow said, “but that said, there is still disenfranchisement, mass incarceration, inequities in terms of poverty and treatment by the criminal justice system.”

If you look at the sociological data, he added, this difference in treatment ranges all the way from preschool through adulthood. “In terms of worse treatment for black and brown people – in particular black and brown men,” he said.

Because a child’s mind isn’t completely formed, and because a kid is pre-sexual before he or she is sexually abused, Blow said, “you can understand how they can bring together ideas of abuse and attraction.”

The anti-gay forces would like for there to be an environmental cause of being gay because then there could be an environmental cure, he said.

“The better way to think about it,” Blow said, “is that children who will likely identify as different later in life may be more prone to be victims of sexual abuse.”

Often, we’ve been too rigid when we talk about sexual identity. “Human beings are sexual beings,” said Blow, who identifies as bisexual. “Sexuality expresses itself in myriad ways.  These ways are not hierarchical but part of a spectrum. Some people are fixed at…points along the spectrum and some are fluid.”

Wherever you are on this spectrum, check out Blow’s memoir. Its fire will burn through your bones.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Grace Cavalieri

    November 14, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    This is the most stunning of Kathi's stunning documenaries.

  2. KnutesNiche

    February 5, 2016 at 8:47 pm

    http://i.imgur.com/y52n01C.png

    https://www.facebook.com/CharlesMBlow/videos/10154454339404989/

    *Charles M. Blow On Drug Abuse and Mass Incarceration*

    In the late 60s I was a young Long Island suburban teen with access to virtually any drug available at the time, including heroin.

    Lots of kids and young adults who grew up in safe, peaceful neighborhoods were experimenting with or regularly using alcohol, uppers, downers, man-made or natural psychedelics, weed. Toward the end of the 70s cocaine became a popular drug used by many of my neighbors.

    At that time heroin was not very popular, though a few knuckleheads who in my experience were raised in abusive and neglectful family environments did use this life-debilitating substance.

    Fortunately this widespread drug use did not result with the Quality of Life of entire communities being compromised by drug users running around neighborhoods using weapons, force and fear to obtain cash to purchase their favorite drug.

    Sadly, this was not the case for many of my peaceful neighbors of African descent who were struggling with Poverty, aka Child Abuse and Neglect, created by irresponsible parenting that often resulted with depressed and emotionally abused children maturing into angry, frustrated teens and adults lacking empathy, compassion and respect for their peaceful neighbors.

    Sadly, because many African American children were introduced to a life of hardships and struggles which far too often resulted with them resenting the painful lives they were forced to experience, many of these depressed teens and adults, unlike me and most of my neighbors who were raised with love, caring and affection, had little or no incentive to make sure they DID NOT disappoint their moms and dads. Why? Because they did not respect the primary caregivers who introduced them to a life of hardships, struggle and pain.

    There is a reason that today and for more than three decades many locally and nationally popular American recording artists of African descent demean and hate-on the MATERNAL HALF of our population, characterizing in their music art performances our moms, sisters, grandmas, daughters, aunts and nieces as less than human *itches and ^hores unworthy of respect.

    Sadly, kids like Tupac were deprived of being raised in a GENUINE loving, caring family environment that understandably caused them to become depressed or suicidal, lacking empathy, compassion and respect for their peaceful neighbors because their lives sucked, so why shouldn’t their neighbors lives suck too!

    Sadly, significant numbers of abused and/or emotionally neglected kids matured into depressed, angry teens and adults causing great harm to themselves, their peaceful neighbors and entire communities.

    I guess instead of arresting and removing depressed, angry, drug abusers (many who were victims of abusive and neglectful childhoods) from communities and isolating them in prison where they could not emotionally terrorize and cause great physical harm (or worse) to their peaceful neighbors, society could have ignored these depressed, emotionally disturbed people and sat by watching them destroy and OPPRESSING entire communities populated by mostly peaceful people entitled to be protected from the dangers often presented to them by depressed children who mature into angry, frustrated teens and adults peeved for being deprived of a SAFE, fairly happy ‘Average Joe and Josie’ American kid childhood Grammy winner and victim of horrific childhood trauma Kendrick Lamar repeatedly laments he, his siblings and numerous cousins were deprived of by their violent felon embracing family and community members.

    This is my theory explaining why far too many of our prisons and communities were and still are populated by depressed, angry, frustrated teens and adults.

    Sadly, the human ignorance we term as racism that for generations OPPRESSED and deprived countless loving, caring human beings from enjoying the respect and equality all Americans are entitled to has *largely* been replaced with a more current form of HUMAN OPPRESSION and indignities known as *Childhood Abuse and Neglect*, or what many so-called concerned, caring Americans characterize as Poverty.

    Before closing I should mention I spent twelve years of my life witnessing on a near-daily basis gun violence and other anti-social ‘people and community’ harming behaviors American recording artist Shawn Jay Z Carter joyously raps about inflicting on an entire Brooklyn community populated by mostly peaceful Americans just wanting to experience and enjoy a SAFE, peaceful life for them, their families and neighbors.

    Regarding society’s changing attitude (evolution) toward drug abusers, Charles Blow stated “It ticks me off to no end.”

    Charles, with all due respect, are you ticked off about children being conditioned from a young age to accept and embrace anti-social lifetyles that far too often OPPRESSED the lives of children and deprives many of our peaceful, responsible neighbors from enjoying a SAFE, fairly happy American life experience?

    In his 2015 Grammy award winning Rap Performance titled “I”, Kendrick Lamar writes, *”I’ve been dealing with depression ever since an adolescent.”*

    During a January 20, 2011 LAWeekly interview (Google search) Kendrick, born in 1987, the same year songwriter Suzanne Vega wrote a song about child abuse and *VICTIM DENIAL* that was nominated for a Grammy award, he told the interviewer:

    *”Lamar’s parents moved from Chicago to Compton in 1984 with all of $500 in their pockets. “My mom’s one of 13 [THIRTEEN] siblings, and they all got SIX kids, and till I was 13 everybody was in Compton,” he says.”*

    *”I’m 6 years old, seein’ my uncles playing with shotguns, sellin’ dope in front of the apartment.”*

    *”My moms and pops never said nothing, ’cause they were young and living wild, too. I got about 15 stories like ‘Average Joe.'”*

    Kendrick Lamar Talks About ‘u,’ His Depression & Suicidal Thoughts (Pt. 2) | MTV Video News April 2015

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hu4Pz9PjolI

    Peace.
    _________
    Doctors Ross and Dietz offer insights into how our Early Childhood Development plays a key role in determining the type of individual we mature into.

    Robert K. Ross, MD, President and CEO of The California Endowment, addressed inmates at Ironwood State Prison offering a compelling overview of the role that exposure to childhood trauma plays in the lives of *emotionally troubled* and chronically ill American teens and adults.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsCNuB_KBUw

    At 2:12:25 in this documentary about Mafia hitman and victim of Early Childhood Trauma/Abuse, Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski, Dr. Park Dietz explains why young Richard most likely developed into a emotionally disturbed, paranoid, cruel, heartless teen and man who did not give a frig about anyone else, including his wife and kids.

    https://youtu.be/QXgi72W2H7U?t=2h12m25s
    __________________________
    *(NY Times May 18, 2015 – Rise in Suicide by Black Children Surprises Researchers)*

    Black *(Children’s)* Lives Matter; Take Pride In Parenting; *End Our National Epidemic of Child Abuse and Neglect*; End Community Violence, Police Fear & Educator’s Frustrations

    TAGS: charles m. blow, new york times, author, journalist, mass incarceration, inequality, police misconduct, police anxiety, police aggression, child abuse, child neglect, child oppression, childhood depression, maternal responsibility, gangs, drug abuse, gun violence, community violence, teen depression, teen violence, teen suicide, adult depression, CRIMINALLY NEGLIGENT PARENTING, educator/teacher frustration, sadness, solutions?,

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McAuliffe YES, Trump NO, for governor of Va.

Youngkin is a stand-in for disgraced former president

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Terry McAuliffe, Equality Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Vote Terry McAuliffe for governor of Virginia because he will be a great governor. Reality is the alternative is Donald Trump who may be calling himself Glenn Youngkin in Virginia, but don’t be fooled, Youngkin is only a stand-in for Trump.

Virginians know and respect McAuliffe. He was a successful governor in his first term and is a decent and honorable man. Had Virginia law allowed him to run for a second consecutive term he would have won easily. He has a stellar record of moving the state forward on equal justice and equal opportunity, civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights. 

The first executive order McAuliffe issued upon taking office in 2014 banned anti-LGBTQ discrimination against state employees. He vetoed religious freedom bills, created Virginia’s LGBTQ tourism board, and became the first Virginia governor to declare June as Pride month. He was the first governor of a southern state to officiate a same-sex wedding.

He recently said, “As governor, I will fight my heart out to make Virginia the most open, welcoming and inclusive state in the nation, and break down the disparities that LGBTQ communities, and particularly communities of color, face in education, health care, the economy and more. Together, we’ll move Virginia forward into a better, brighter future for all.”

When it comes to women’s rights McAuliffe staved off attacks by extreme Republicans who controlled the Virginia Legislature during his tenure. He fought for women’s health care rights and fought to keep open every women’s health clinic in the state. He vetoed legislation that would have harmed women, including a bill that would have defunded Planned Parenthood in Virginia. 

On civil rights he said one of his proudest accomplishments was being able to reverse a racist Jim Crow law disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of Virginians. McAuliffe restored the right to vote to more than 200,000 Virginians with felony convictions allowing them to fully participate in democracy after serving their time.

He was good for business and during his term as governor had a record of bringing more than 200,000 good paying jobs to the state and oversaw a lowered unemployment rate and an increase in personal income of over 13 percent. McAuliffe understands early investments in the state’s infrastructure helps the state to be a national leader in clean energy. 

These and so many other positive reasons are why Virginians should vote for Terry McAuliffe. 

But there are also many reasons to vote against Trump stand-in, Glenn ‘Trump’ Youngkin. The first is Trump saying, “he has my complete and total endorsement!” 

Youngkin continues to spread the Trump lie by still fighting the 2020 election and calling for an audit of Virginia election machines. He regularly speaks out of both sides of his mouth. He got caught on tape behind closed doors telling donors he won’t “go squishy” on banning abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood. He added, “As a campaign topic, sadly, that in fact won’t win my independent votes that I have to get.” Then he is still casting doubts on the COVID vaccine. He claims he is telling people to get vaccinated against COVID and then is recorded telling others it is their choice. He is against mandating vaccines for teachers and healthcare workers. His ads feature a teacher, who is a Trumper, endorsing his education program (a disaster) but who is opposed to mandating vaccines for teachers. They feature healthcare workers endorsing him who are against a vaccine mandate for healthcare workers.  Youngkin is trying to buy the Virginia election saying he would raise $75 million but most from his own vast fortune, actually trying to buy it for Trump. 

Virginia Democrats and right-thinking independents and Republicans must come out in large numbers to repudiate Donald Trump once-and-for-all by casting their votes for Terry McAuliffe. 

Let’s hope Trump voters in Virginia stay home this year. But McAuliffe can’t count on that to win. It will take Democrats in huge numbers to give McAuliffe the same big win Joe Biden had over Trump in Virginia in 2020. If that happens Democrats will also keep the House of Delegates and win the other statewide races. 

Remember, when you vote for McAuliffe you vote for the man named “Public Official of the Year” by Governing magazine in his last term. Virginians should give him a well-deserved second term.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Blogging my first overseas vacation since COVID

Chronicling life aboard Celebrity APEX

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I will be blogging a number of times during my two-week transatlantic cruise and sharing my thoughts and experiences. 

The first thing I found is boarding during a pandemic is a little different. People were given specific boarding times yet most arrived at the port when it was convenient for them as many had early check-out times from their hotel or Airbnb in Barcelona. Celebrity didn’t turn anyone away. There was no Wi-fi at the entrance to the terminal so things got a little complicated as many had the information needed on their iPhone Celebrity app. It worked out and when you got inside to the counter they shared a Wi-fi connection. 

I knew in advance from a Facebook connection, some childhood friends whom I hadn’t seen in 21 years were going to be onboard. We ended up arriving at the terminal at the same time and caught up for the next hour and a half as we progressed through the boarding process. We all had to take a Covid test and only those with negative results could board. Of the approximately 1,300 people boarding, less than half the possible number for a full ship, I didn’t hear of anyone getting a positive result. 

When my negative result came back I was allowed to board and went to find my stateroom on deck 11. The key was at the door with all my information on it. Celebrity was doing everything to limit crew-to-passenger contact. We were asked to keep masks on in all indoor spaces except when eating or drinking, which on a cruise is often, and the crew are all wearing masks. Luggage was delivered to the door. 

Shortly after entering my beautiful stateroom there was a knock at the door and my stateroom attendant, Lenie, had come to introduce herself. She didn’t come in but explained how I could reach her anytime and for safety she would only come into the room when I was out. We chatted for a few minutes and I found out she was from the Philippines, had three children, and had worked for Celebrity for 20 years. She was both charming and efficient. 

I then took a walk around the ship and was duly impressed. It is beautiful. I walked through the huge buffet where people were happily eating lunch and saw instead of serving yourself there were servers behind each station filling people’s plates. All passengers had on their masks when getting food, as did the crew serving them. It made for a very safe feeling. 

Instead of a group muster each passenger was asked to go to their assigned muster station where you were met by staff who explained emergency procedures. You also had to look at a video on the Celebrity app and were then logged in and confirmed you had done so. All efficiently and safely done. 

Then I headed to the sail-away party my travel agent, and friends, Scott Moster and his husband Dustin, were hosting in the Iconic suite. The suite has everything from a peloton cycle to a hot tub for eight. It is incredible. I had the chance to catch up with old friends I had sailed with before the pandemic. Then it was a quick tour of the spa and gym open twenty-four hours a day. A way to assuage guilt over all the food and drink. Then back to the stateroom to finish unpacking and change for dinner with good friends in one of the specialty restaurants, EDEN. That meant long pants and a shirt with a collar. That’s as formal as required on this cruise. 

The food was superb and we got to meet the chef, Nicholas. An interesting guy who I will interview during the cruise. The menu was a combination of fresh fish, lobster, to filet mignon, all interestingly prepared. 

After dinner it was a stop at the Martini bar where a large group of LGBTQ friends had gathered along with some who would become friends. I was surprised when a guy came over and gave me a hug. I didn’t recognize him with his mask on but turned out he was another friend from my past I hadn’t seen in years. It is clearly a small world and the gay world seems even smaller. 

Finally headed to my stateroom around midnight, where turndown service had been done, to get some sleep and prepare for day two, and our first stop, Alicante.  

Day two and three on the Celebrity APEX

Time flies when on a cruise; maybe it’s the endless food and drink. All passengers received a letter in their room telling us we would need to report for a Covid test on day 5 the first at-sea day before we get to the Canary Islands. I pre-scheduled mine just before what I planned as my first hour at the gym. I expect to go to the gym on all sea days and there will be eight of those.

Each morning I have had coffee, a bagel and orange juice delivered to the stateroom.  I always miss that knock on the door each morning when I am home but then I would miss my daily coffee at Java House so I guess it’s OK. 

On day two we stopped at our first port, Alicante, on Spain’s Costa Blanca. I was truly surprised at how beautiful the city is. I joined friends for what turned out to be a three and a half hour walk as we were allowed off the ship on our own without booking a tour. We visited churches and the main market in town. We strolled along the beach and the harbor with great walking and bicycle paths. Alicante is a wonderful mix of old-world charm and modern amenities. One friend ventured up to the castle, Castillo de Santa Barbara, but since the elevator (the easy way up) wasn’t working and it’s a very long, steep climb up the mountain I passed. We arrived back at the ship around 1 p.m. and headed to the Mast bar on deck 14 for burgers and fries. Then some time back in the stateroom before heading to the martini bar for a drink and then to the beautiful APEX theater to see the Shamrock Tenors, four Irish performers who are not only talented but cute to boot. 

We decided to try one of the regular restaurants, those not needing reservations and chose Normandy. The food was good and I had shrimp cocktail, rigatoni, and cherries jubilee for dessert. 

After dinner it was up to the Rooftop Garden for ‘Silent Disco’. That is where you get a set of headphones with a few channels of disco music, and you dance to the music only you can hear. It’s really fun but by 11:30 my knees gave out and it was off to bed. 

Day three dawned nice and sunny and we were docked in Cartagena, located in the autonomous of the region of Murcia. I had an 8:45 excursion and again had breakfast delivered to the room. We were instructed to head to the theater to meet the tour group and sign in for our ‘Journey to Murcia’. Murcia is a city in south-eastern Spain, the capital and most populous city of the Autonomous Community of the Region of Murcia, and the seventh largest city in the country, with a population of 447,182. It is about a forty-minute drive from the port. It is a fascinating city with an incredible history from the Romans to and Moorish influence. There is a beautiful cathedral, isn’t there one in every Spanish city? This being a national holiday in Spain most of the shops were closed saving some on the tour a lot of money. We strolled around the city with our guide giving us a running commentary on its history for about an hour and a half. She was a little hard to understand because not only did she have a heavy accent but she spoke really fast. But it was still fun and we did learn a lot. We made a second stop outside the city at another church where a wedding was being officiated. The bride was beautiful. Then we headed back to the ship for an early departure. Our tour was the last onboard and we sailed not more than thirty minutes after we got there. 

Then it was off to the captain’s reception. I had the chance to chat a few moments with the Captain Panagiotis Skylogiannis, who is as charming as are most Greek men. We also met the rest of the senior crew who run the ship. Many said they would be more than happy to sit and get a cup of coffee with me during our at-sea days so I can interview and write about them.

Then it was back to my stateroom again to prepare for another tough night of food and drinking. We went to see Andrew Derbyshire in the theater for the 7:30 show and then to dinner at Cyprus.   After dinner Celebrity hosted the first LGBTQ+ event of the cruise at the EDEN bar. A large crowd showed up, not all gay but they all knew where the fun people would be. The entertainers all showed up there as including the Shamrock Tenors, four talented Irish guys and Andrew Derbyshire, a British actor and singer. We chatted and I will meet him for coffee to do a column on him. 

Then about midnight it was back to the stateroom for what some of my friends on board called an early night. Morning would have us docking in Cadiz and we had a private tour planned for over 20 of the people who had booked the trip with Scott Moster, travel agent extraordinaire, taking us to the city of Seville.  

Days four and five on the Celebrity APEX

Day four dawned warm and partially sunny as we docked in the port of Cadiz. This was the day we had our private tour of Sevilla planned. The itinerary had been set by two of my friends, Rob Robertson and his husband Carlos Taylor. Carlos lived for a time in Sevilla as a child and has a big family still here. Celebrity, by agreement with our travel agent Scott Moster, made the planned itinerary a formally sponsored tour. 

At 8:45 our group of mostly gay and lesbian travelers left the ship for the hour and forty-five-minute bus ride to Sevilla. Our guide described the city and gave us its history as we traveled to our destination. Scott also had the foresight  to bring along a few bottles of champagne and orange juice and we were treated to mimosas along the way. 

Once in Sevilla were met by a second guide and given electronic devices and earphones so we could follow along as we took a two hour walk to see the sights which included the incredible Plaza de España in the Parque de María Luisa. It was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. It is a landmark example of Regionalism Architecture, mixing elements of the Baroque Revival, Renaissance Revival and Moorish Revival styles of Spanish architecture. Plaza de España has been used as a backdrop in a number of films including Starwars. It is very impressive. 

From there we headed to the Royal Palace and its beautiful gardens and then it was off to the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, better known as, Seville Cathedral. It was registered in 1987 by UNESCO as a world heritage site along with the adjoining Alcazar complex. It is the fourth largest church in the world as well as the largest Gothic church and is particularly ornate with over forty-five individual chapels and two huge organs. Christopher Columbus and his son Diego are buried in the cathedral. 

Because we spent so much time at these sites we were very late for lunch at the restaurant Carlos had chosen; one owned by friends of his family. They welcomed us with charcuterie and cheese plates, wine, beer and sangria. However, the rest of lunch ended up as takeout as we were really late and our ship was scheduled to leave port at 4:45 and we had been told to be on board no later than 4:30. We double-timed it back to our bus and headed for the port. All went well until we hit a traffic jam and sat for about fifteen minutes. It was increasingly clear we wouldn’t be on-time. Our guide was getting nervous and he called the ship and someone erroneously told him they would sail without us. 

Meanwhile our trusty travel agent Scott was on the phone with his Celebrity contact who confirmed as this was an official tour they couldn’t leave without us. Once again we were the last people up the gangway and about five minutes after the last person was onboard the engines started up. The Captain had made an announcement to all the reason they may be leaving late was us. After that excitement it was a great evening with dinner at Cyprus and then a show. The hard life onboard ship continued.

Day five was our first sea-day. No tours and no rushing. For me it was early morning writing and coffee delivered to the room. Then my required covid test and off to the gym. The half hour on the Lifecyle was easy because I was looking out at the sea. The gym isn’t large and because of covid you could only use every other machine. But with only half the number of passengers on board that worked. The gym is open twenty-four hours a day. After my workout I met friends at the buffet for a lite lunch because of course it was crucial to gain back the few calories I may have lost working out. Then it was a lazy day, the kind I love when cruising. I had arranged coffee with Andrew Derbyshire, one of the talented entertainers onboard, to interview him for a column I will write. He is a really nice guy who will be getting off the ship in the Canary Islands; not being an American citizen, he wouldn’t be allowed into the US even though fully vaccinated until November 8th and we dock on October 24th. 

Evening began with a Celebrity scheduled  LGBTQ+ happy hour and then a nice dinner at the Rooftop Garden, another of the specialty restaurants. Then on to The Club, one of the entertainment venues, to hear Andrew sing. He had the whole room up and dancing, even me.  All-in-all another great day onboard Celebrity APEX.

Day Six begins my sea-days on the Celebrity APEX

I woke on day six to a hazy sky and our ship heading to dock in Tenerife. I had been there before and was sad that we were not going to be allowed to head out on our own. There were a number of tours scheduled but I decided to stay on the ship. It was a wonderful lazy day of writing, the gym, and just finding a nice place to sit and read. First though I would have a long lunch with Cheryl and Jeff in the Café, which is the buffet. They are my childhood friends who are onboard. We exchanged old pictures from our iPhones and talked about people we grew up with.  

The EDGE series of Celebrity ships, which includes the EDGE, the APEX which I am on, and the upcoming BEYOND scheduled to make its inaugural sail next April, have what is called the Magic Carpet. It is a lounge that can be moved up and down on the side of the ship. On day six it was on deck 14 and it was the perfect place to sit and read. This would be my life for the next seven days at sea. It is the part of the cruise I like the best.

Scott and Dustin invited us all to a sail-away party in their suite at 4:30 and we watched as our ship sailed out of Tenerife for the seven-day crossing to Ft. Lauderdale. Lazy days and fun nights ahead for all of us. On this day Celebrity had scheduled two LGBTQ+ events, one a meet and greet at 6 pm and a second LGBTQ+ PRIDE event at 10:30. Between the two there was a show in the Theater, UPTOWN, three talented young men dancing and singing to Motown and other music from groups who had sung in the famous New York,  Apollo theater. Then dinner at the Steak House, another specialty restaurant. 

At the evening LGBTQ+ event we met some of the new cast members of the shows replacing those who had to leave the ship in Tenerife.  I ran into another person on the ship I first met years ago in DC, Tareq Salahi, known at the time as part of the couple who crashed a White House dinner. His first wife was on the very short-lived series ‘The Housewives of Washington, DC. 

On day seven I woke up to a hazy day at sea, calm waters which we can only hope will be replicated for our whole Atlantic crossing. I started my day going to a talk given by Melinda Bates, who had written a book on the Clinton Administration where she served eight years in the visitor’s office of the White House. I had met her on a previous cruise and had lunch with her so really went just to say hello.  Then it was going to be what I looked forward to; gym, writing, reading, eating and drinking, and just being lazy in luxurious surroundings with fun people. What more can anyone ask for.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ clouds Powell’s legacy

A final act of redemption

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Former Secretary of State Colin Powell (Photo by Susan Montgomery via Bigstock)

The legacy of General Colin Powell is complicated for those in the LGBTQ community. On the one hand, we celebrate that Powell was the first African-American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State. On the other, he is also the person who disobeyed the strategic choice of his Commander in Chief, Bill Clinton, on gays in the military. 

Powell stood on the steps of the Pentagon reporting how many calls had been received opposing lifting the ban. He testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the service of openly gay troops would harm unit cohesion. He argued that race was a “benign characteristic” and being gay was not. Congress codified into statute what had been a regulatory ban on gays in the military, making the law that much harder to change. Almost 14,000 lesbian, gay and bisexual service members were dismissed under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a rate of two-four service members every day. Some were subjects of witch hunts. Others faced criminal charges. Many endured harassment, assault and threats. Private First Class Barry Winchell was murdered.

Michelle Benecke and I knew when we founded Servicemembers Legal Defense Network that for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to be repealed, we would have to either win the support or neutralize the opposition of Powell, one of the previously undisclosed strategies described in my new book, “Mission Possible.” Michelle and I first met him at the Arlington, Va., headquarters of America’s Promise. We offered to brief him on the ban’s implementation as he was being asked on the Sunday shows about the law’s efficacy. He agreed to see us.

The question was whether we could find common ground on which to build a new consensus. My theory was that Powell genuinely believed that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a better policy than the one before it. After all, he had testified before the Senate, “We will not ask, we will not witch-hunt, we will not seek to learn orientation.” 

“General Powell,” I said, “we have received nearly a thousand calls from service members who have been impacted by ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ We have documented that most are being asked point blank about their sexual orientation in contravention of ‘Don’t Ask.’” 

“That’s not supposed to happen,” he said.

That was our first conversation. We might have been able to better enforce some of the meager gains under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” if we had been able to prevail upon Powell to help us, but he wasn’t ready. 

In 2003, he told Teen Ink magazine that while discrimination is wrong, “I think it’s a different matter with respect to the military, because you’re essentially told who you’re going to live with, who you’re going to sleep next to.”

Four years later, he called me, prompted by an opinion essay in The New York Times that I had sent him. “Second Thoughts on Gays in the Military”—written by retired Army General John Shalikashvili, Powell’s successor as chairman of the Joint Chiefs—called for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Powell and I spoke for 45 minutes. “I agree with General Shalikashvili that America has changed and is ready for gays to serve openly,” he said. My heart leapt. “I am not convinced, however, that military commanders are ready for that change.” My heart sunk.

It was clear to me, though, that he was moving in the right direction.  I put it on the line. “Sir, you will be a critical voice on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ when it comes up for debate again. I need you to support repeal if we are going to win. Do you know that?”

“Yes,” he said.

Finally, on Feb. 5, 2010, 10 months before final repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and days after Admiral Mike Mullen had testified before the Senate that he supported repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Powell released a statement. “If the chiefs and commanders are comfortable with moving to change the policy, then I support it. Attitudes and circumstances have changed. Society is reflected in the military. It’s where we get our soldiers from.” The stage was set for final repeal.

We too often look for heroes and villains when the record can be complicated. Powell deserves opprobrium for defying Clinton, rallying opposition, and allowing 60,000 troops under his command to suffer the indignity of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He deserves credit, though, for changing his mind. I admired his willingness to speak with me over nearly two decades. I find that the best leaders engage in a lifelong process of learning and challenging assumptions. Powell will receive deserved accolades for his service to our nation, but for us, his legacy includes a profound betrayal with a final act of redemption.

C. Dixon Osburn is author of ‘Mission Possible: The Story of Repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’’

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