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Shuttering NEA would be attack on dissent

Artists, writers are the ones asking toughest questions



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(Photo by Andreas Praefcke via Wikimedia Commons)

Maybe you think that tree hugging, starving artists don’t play a role in your life. But if you go to the opera, dance at your fave bar, see movies or binge-watch TV, you’re proof that the arts are as woven into our lives as breathing. As is the case with breathing, you likely don’t think about it unless you’re becoming short of breath. President Donald Trump is threatening to make us breathless. His administration wants to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, various media outlets have recently reported. (The White House hasn’t confirmed or denied the reports.)

The NEA and the NEH each received $148 million, only 0.003 percent of the federal budget, during fiscal year 2016. Yet, though their funding is only a minute part of the federal budget, the support of these agencies has been crucial for artists, poets, musicians and small publishers and community groups nationwide. Why should we, especially the queer community, care that the NEA and NEH are at risk of being axed? Because the arts are what differentiate us from animals.  Historically, LGBT people have turned to the arts – for consolation, entertainment, illumination, protest and enlightenment – from Bette Davis in “All About Eve” to James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room” to Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck” to Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America.” Without the arts, the vital fabric of our life will be ripped to shreds.

Given the anti-gay, anti-immigration, misogynistic and racist views of many in the Trump administration, I can’t help but wonder if Trump’s wish to abolish the NEA and NEH isn’t politically motivated. Since spending on these agencies is a tiny percentage of the federal budget, it’s ludicrous to claim that eliminating them is a cost-cutting measure, Sarah Browning, executive director of Split This Rock, a D.C.-based national poetry organization that works for social change, emailed me. “Instead it’s a direct attack on dissent,” she said, “Artists and writers and librarians and museum staff these are the folks who raise questions, imagine alternatives to the unjust status quo and promote critical thinking.”

The organization received $40,000 from the NEA this year. A small sum, but a significant boost to its modest, non-profit budget, Browning said. The funding helped Split This Rock to provide writing and performance workshops for school students and to offer workshop and publication opportunities for adult poets. “These programs feed the soul,” she added, “they build our cultural democracy.”

The arts are as American as apple pie. It’s hard to imagine our cultural life without the arts.  As I write, it’s near halftime during the Super Bowl when Lady Gaga will perform. It’s hard to imagine stepping back from a national commitment to the NEA and NEH, Hiram Larew, a D.C.-area gay poet emailed me. “It would feel like we are repudiating our love of the arts celebrated in Mount Rushmore, the Lincoln Memorial, the Statue of Liberty and even our Star-Spangled Banner, said Larew, author of the poetry collection “Utmost.”

Arts are a hallmark of a civilized society. “The arts are the only record we have of human sensibilities since the beginning of time,” Grace Cavalieri, founder and producer of “The Poet and the Poem” for public radio, emailed me, “art distinguishes masses of people from what we now have as ‘civilization.’”

Without the arts there is no civilization, Cavalieri said, “Just a mass of living forms slugging through the daily mud of existence…ISIS has no funding for the arts.”

Though the NEA and NEH budgets are tiny, eliminating them would be devastating to many small arts groups from theaters to museums nationwide. As Clarinda Harriss, a poet and publisher of BrickHouse Books told the Blade, “ceasing to nurture our artists would be a sign of toxic cultural decay.”

President Trump, don’t eliminate the NEA and NEH. Let’s maintain our cultural democracy.

Kathi Wolfe, a poet and writer is a regular Blade contributor. Her collection ‘The Uppity Blind Girl Poems’ was published by BrickHouse books.

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  1. Clarinda Harriss

    February 10, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    My experience with NEA has been very positive. My pubishing company is now 45 years old, but it owes its initial years to NEA–and here’s my point: the thing that NEA liked best about the company was that it sponsored free readings and workshops in places ranging from downtown churches to neighborhood bars–for years. In fact, “Poetry at the Angel” (the angel being a tiny bar in Fells Point) ran every sunday for 3 years, poets and audience ranged from poets laureate to bag ladies and homeless folk. You might find Lucille Clifton and a recently released prison inmate reading their poetry on the same Sunday evening.

  2. Grace Cavalieri

    February 10, 2017 at 2:03 pm

    How I love our spokeswoman KATHI WOLFE. Not only for her powerful stance but her liquid language

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The future of lesbian bars

Resolve to support our queer spaces in 2022



lockdown zone, gay news, Washington Blade

This New Year, I hope you wish for more lesbian bars across the country. The story of lesbian bars in the U.S. has been slightly tragic of late: as of January 2021, there were only 15 clubs or bars dedicated to queer women across the country. 

That’s right—only 15. Across all 50 states. 

In Washington, D.C., my hometown, A League of Her Own stands out as the only lesbian bar in the city, dedicated to queer women. Located in Adams Morgan, A League of Her Own, also known as ALOHO, is a small mecca for queer ladies to pass through, socialize, and flirt. ALOHO is a chic gathering point for all queer folk, with posters of softball players dotting the walls and gender neutral signs lying about. 

Several years ago, another lesbian bar called Phase 1 existed in Southeast, where queer women could slam eight balls in pool games and engage in raunchy yet ever-so-hot jello wrestling competitions. 

Unfortunately, Phase 1 shut its doors in 2016. 

So what explains the closure of so many lesbian bars, while bars for gay men continue to flourish? Perhaps many queer women view gay bars as a space for their own as well, whereas gay men view lesbian bars as less of a place for them to socialize. 

Either way, we need to give support to lesbian bars now more than ever. Tokens of support can take many forms. 

For one, make sure to socialize in spaces dedicated to queer ladies. There are three lesbian bars in New York City: Cubbyhole (281 W. 12th St.), Gingers in Brooklyn (363 5th Ave.), and Henrietta Hudson (438 Hudson St.). Next time you visit the Big Apple, make sure to give these three spots some love. Maybe drag your experimenting bi friend to these locations. Or your pansexual roommate. 

Back in D.C., you can buy unisex shirts in A League of Her Own’s merchandise store, available online. 

Proceeds will go toward funding the bar, and making sure it stays afloat, especially during this COVID economy. 

Most of all, I hope you encourage your queer lady friends to keep on frequenting queer lady destinations. After all, there is only one thing that will keep lesbian bars afloat—and that is attendance. 

I, for one, will be frequenting many lesbian destinations this new year.  

Isaac Amend is a Yale graduate and participated in National Geographic’s ‘Gender Revolution’ documentary. He also is a member of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia, and contributes regularly to the Blade. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @isaacamend.

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Breaking barriers as an out trans ‘Jeopardy’ champion

Amy Schneider’s run inspires us all



Amy Schneider (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Television)

“When was the last time anybody said ‘wow!’” a friend asked me.

I couldn’t remember the last time anyone I know (including me) had any “Wow!” moments. Until I heard about trans woman and software engineering manager Amy Schneider’s 29-game winning streak on “Jeopardy.”

You wouldn’t think anything could dispel our COVID exhaustion and political divisiveness. Yet, news about a champion on “Jeopardy,” a quiz show that has been on TV since 1964, has broken through our gloom.

In our culture, there are few things that everyone loves. But, “Jeopardy” is beloved by many, from theater geeks to 80-year-old sports nuts. A progressive friend was over the moon when his brother was a “Jeopardy” contestant. A buddy, a hetero (non-Trump) Republican, is a “Jeopardy” fanatic and a gay librarian pal is a “Jeopardy” freak.

Many of us daydream about being on “Jeopardy.” But we know that we wouldn’t have a chance on this legendary quiz show with its deceptively simple format: You give the answer to the (often incredibly hard) clues in the form of a question. You have to have a strategic military commander’s and a world-class athlete’s coordination: so you can press the buzzer to answer the clue.

The game’s categories run the gamut from opera to mountain ranges. Most of us, mere mortals, would be lucky to know even one category in the first round of the game. Let alone in the “Double Jeopardy” round or the “Final Jeopardy” clue. I might jump on clues about Katharine Hepburn movies or M&Ms. But that would be it for me.

It’s exciting to watch a “Jeopardy” contestant become a long-running champion. You marvel at the player’s intelligence, endurance, and nerve. It’s thrilling when the contestant on a winning-streak is part of your community.

Many of us LGBTQ “Jeopardy” fans are thrilled by Schneider’s record-setting winning streak. As I write this, Schneider has won more than $1 million in 29 games of “Jeopardy.” She is the fifth millionaire in “Jeopardy” history, and only the fourth player to reach this milestone in the regular season. She has won more than any other female “Jeopardy” contestant.

Schneider, like so many of us, doesn’t want to be defined by her gender identity or sexuality. Schneider’s life is multi-faceted; she has many interests. Schneider lives with her girlfriend Genevieve. They have a cat named Meep.

Yet, Schneider doesn’t want to hide that she’s trans. On “Jeopardy,” Schneider brilliantly dealt with this dilemma. She didn’t make a big deal about being out. She just wore the trans Pride flag pin.

“It was something that I wanted to get out there and to show my pride in while not making it the focus of what I was doing there,” Schneider told the New York Times. “Because I was just there to answer trivia questions and win money.”

As a cisgender lesbian, I can’t speak to how Schneider’s record-setting “Jeopardy” streak feels to transgender people.

But, as a trans ally, I’m cheering for Schneider. Kudos for her bravery! At a time when many states are passing anti-trans laws, it takes guts to be out on TV and the Internet.

Few things are as mainstream as “Jeopardy.” I bet that many “Jeopardy” viewers who are frightened at the idea of trans people, will become more comfortable with transgender people after watching Schneider on the popular quiz show. Because folks on TV come into our living and bedrooms and we feel as if we know them after watching them for a while.

“Amy looks like everybody else,” my neighbor said when I told her Schneider was trans. “She doesn’t act odd. She’s not strange.”

Transgender people encounter violence and discrimination in everything from housing to health care to employment.

I know Schneider’s “Jeopardy” triumph won’t end transphobia. But her winning streak will go a long way toward jumpstarting a change in hearts and minds.

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

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SCARY: Tucker Carlson now the conscience of GOP

Cruz bows down, kisses ring of Fox host



Tucker Carlson (Screen capture via Fox on YouTube)

The Republican Party has sunk to a new low, hard to do, when a sleazebag like Tucker Carlson is now their conscience. Seeing Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) groveling before him is laughable, disgusting, and frightening all at the same time. 

As reported in Rolling Stone, Cruz said, “We are approaching a solemn anniversary this week. It is an anniversary of a violent terrorist attack on the Capitol where we saw the men and women of law enforcement demonstrate incredible courage, incredible bravery, risk their lives to defend the men and women who serve in this Capitol.” Then “Cruz was lambasted by Tucker Carlson that night, prompting him to hop on Carlson’s show Thursday and beg for forgiveness. “The way I phrased things yesterday, it was sloppy and it was frankly dumb,” Cruz said before Carlson cut him off and said he didn’t believe him. Cruz took it up a notch, stammering through an absurd bit about how he wasn’t talking about the “patriots across the country supporting President Trump,” only those who assaulted police officers, and that he’s always described anyone who assaults a cop as a terrorist.

Carlson has made a career of being a pompous commentator. Interestingly he worked at CNN, PBS, and MSNBC, before finally landing at Fox in 2009. According to his Wikipedia page he went to Trinity College where he earned a bachelor’s degree and Carlson’s Trinity yearbook describes him as a member of the “Dan White Society,” an apparent reference to the American political assassin who murdered San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. After college, Carlson tried to join the CIA, but his application was denied, after which he decided to pursue a career in journalism with the encouragement of his father, who advised him that “they’ll take anybody.” Reading this clearly raised my opinion of the CIA and based on what we see in some media today I agree with Carlson’s father on his view of journalism. 

When you have a moment of silence in the House of Representatives to honor those who lost their lives on Jan. 6 and only two Republicans show up, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and her father Dick Cheney, the former vice president, one understands the influence Carlson has on the GOP. The rest were afraid of being criticized on-air by him or lambasted by Trump. 

Dick Cheney remarked on the GOP, “It’s not a leadership that resembles any of the folks I knew when I was here for 10 years.” He spoke to ABC News saying, “I’m deeply disappointed we don’t have better leadership in the Republican Party to restore the Constitution.” 

There is a leadership void in the Republican Party today. Their so-called leaders are afraid to say what they think if it differs in any way from Trumpism or Carlson’s view of the world, which requires total fealty to Trump. He found a home on Fox where he can lie with impunity and have millions believe his lies. 

President Biden said, in what many think was the best speech of his presidency so far, these people are “holding a dagger to the neck of democracy.” He went on to say, “For the first time in our history, a president not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol.” 

Tucker Carlson and his ilk have never bothered to answer a question the president threw at them, which is how they can accept all their down ballot victories, governors, and members of Congress, which occurred on the same ballots, cast by the same people, on the same day, as those for president. Of course, Carlson has no need to make sense, tell the truth, or speak rationally because of his platform on Fox, which doesn’t require that.

My question is whether Carlson is as dumb as he makes himself sound or is he brilliant and this is all a big act? Either way the acolytes that follow Trump don’t seem to care and are bowing down to Carlson’s big audience. It’s as if he can tell any Republican senator or congressperson, or Republican candidate for those jobs, to just ‘bend over and take it’ and they do. All we can do is mourn for the GOP of Lincoln and Eisenhower. Non-Trumpers will have to work hard and speak out if they ever want to resurrect a GOP that can be respected.

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

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