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Homophobic incident in Va. brings teachable moment

Explaining subtle forms of bias to a straight ally



Terry Stone, gay news, Washington Blade

rainbow flag, gay news, Washington BladeTwo weeks ago, my straight neighbor Janet and I attended a gardening seminar at a Northern Virginia nursery. The speaker passed out PowerPoint slides of her presentation and began her demonstration. Slide 3 was the photo of a garden in a D.C. nightclub. As she began discussing it, the speaker dropped her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “This was a gay bar,” she hissed.  Continuing sotto voce, “Now I don’t want you to think I work in a gay bar.”

“What was that about?” I wondered. Was it a feeble attempt at a joke at my expense? I was more than mildly annoyed, knowing that I had just experienced homophobia in suburban Fairfax County.

Slide 33 was the photo of yet another nightclub garden she had landscaped. There was no mention of clientele or ownership. “So why had she singled out the gay nightclub,” I continued to wonder. “Why did she have to label it? Did she have a problem with working for a gay clientele?” There were no answers – yet.

On the drive home, Janet could not understand why I was offended. I had to explain that she chose to drop her voice when discussing her work at a gay nightclub; that she made some feeble attempt at humor by adding that she didn’t want us to think she worked at a gay club and that only the gay bar had been mentioned as having a specific clientele. Why single out just one club among the several where she had worked?  Slowly Janet started to get it. She was having a teachable moment about having just witnessed homophobia in action.

That evening I e-mailed the managers of the nightclub and the garden center repeating the speaker’s comments, stating I was offended by the latent homophobia on display that day. And then I slept soundly, the matter forgotten.

The nightclub manager e-mailed me the next morning.  He was equally surprised by the comments and thanked me for letting him know. From the garden center, silence.

That evening the phone rang. It was a Fairfax number. A representative from the garden center was on the line. He apologized profusely that I had been offended and stated that the garden was supportive of gay causes, and on and on. The only comment that missed when trying to establish his gay-friendly bona fides was, “And some of my best friends are gay.”

I cut to the chase, explaining that what I wanted was not an apology but for this woman to have a teachable moment, to ask herself why she had singled out the gay nightclub with a specific label but not the other establishments where she designed gardens.  The garden center representative assured me that she had learned that lesson – and had had a sleepless night, to boot, for the nightclub manager had phoned her to repeat her offensive remarks to her. Smug that I had struck a blow for gay consciousness, I forgot all about the matter.

One week later, Janet and I were driving through Wardensville, a town on the cusp of being trendy and chic in West Virginia’s Lost River Valley.

“What’s with all the rainbow flags” she asked? “Why do people fly them in front of their homes and stores?” I was stumped and mumbled something about signifying they were LGBT-friendly establishments.

The question remained in my mind, as did my poor answer. My father flew an American flag on the front of our family home as he was proud of being an American. Some in West Virginia fly Confederate battle flags on their homes because they are proud of their heritage. (That’s the way I rationalize it to myself, anyway.) When I walked across the road to Janet’s house the next day, I had my answer. We LGBT people are proud of who we are. The flag is a visible symbol of our pride. It’s just as simple as that. And that was my very own teachable moment.

Herb Treger is a retired Foreign Service Officer who divides his time between Alexandria and Lost River, W.Va. 

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  1. Count Dracula

    May 22, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    What normal person would want anyone thinking they work at a gay bar?

    • lnm3921

      May 22, 2017 at 9:54 pm

      What would you know about being normal? A natural freak obsessed with all things GLBT!

      By the way, looks like Bruce Majors is crushing on you! Two right-wing loons, a perfect pair!

      • Count Dracula

        May 23, 2017 at 9:08 am

        The kids are beyond the age where that could be an uncertainty. Thankfully they’re normal.

        How many times do I have to tell you, stop projecting your fantasies on to me. I’m sure you would love to imagine that (minus the wife part of course).

        • lnm3921

          May 23, 2017 at 9:17 pm

          “Age of Uncertainty”? What is that? People come out or transition late in life all the time. Caitlyn Jenner is case in point! Married and with kids! Karma dictates someone in your evil bloodline has to be exactly what you hate the most whether it be your kids or some other generation!

          You’re not normal, so how can you judge what that is?
          I’ve never had sexual fantasies about you. You’re toxic and delusional. You’re so conceited. You must think every woman wants you too. It’s Bruce Majors who expressed interest in you not me.

          As for the minus the wife part, that really depends on the person doesn’t it? Some people are bi and love three ways. Hetero men love three ways with two women.

  2. Cole Carter

    June 8, 2017 at 4:05 pm

    You sound like a professional victim. You can’t legislate everyone running to kiss and coddle you because you are gay. Perhaps, instead of running to your computer and shooting off e-mails to everyone, an aside with the speaker, being direct and transparent might have been a better road to take,.

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Should we be scared of Omicron?

A reminder to stay vigilant against latest mutation



It’s Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend when I sit down to write this column. The craziness in the world continues but other than the scare of the new COVID mutation, which has been named Omicron, there isn’t one headline to grab attention. Instead, there are many, including some manufactured by the news media to gain viewers or sell papers. Some like the car rampaging through the Christmas parade is frightening but incidents like this seem to be happening all too often.  

The stock market went down 1,000 points on Friday because market players freaked out about the new COVID mutation coming out of South Africa. However that didn’t seem to stop people from spending their money on Black Friday. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) was again on the attack this time against fellow Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) accusing her of being a Muslim terrorist. She apologized, or pretended to, but again the Republican leadership wouldn’t condemn her statements. These things seemed to be grist for the news media with no one else unfortunately really voicing concern. 

Boebert’s comments were taken as old hat. They are disgusting, offensive, and dangerous, but as long as her constituents reelect her we will have to live with them. She is joined by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.),  Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), and Paul Gosar  (R-Wyo.) who represent the worst in Congress and the worst of the American people. Yet again until their constituents throw them out we have to live with their stupidity and the absurdity of their being where they are. 

The new COVID mutation out of South Africa is potentially a game changer. But it will be important for scientists to look at this carefully to determine how quickly it spreads and whether or not the current vaccines will offer any protection against it. Countries around the world, including the United States, have quickly instituted travel bans for South Africans and those in countries surrounding it. The World Health Organization at this time has suggested this should not be done as it will have limited impact on its spreading and could have severe and detrimental economic impact on countries whose people are being banned. One thing we must learn from this is how important it is to ensure everyone all over the world has access to vaccines as we know the more people who are inoculated the harder it is for the virus to mutate. It is not time to panic yet and by Sunday there was some reporting this new mutation may not be any more difficult to deal with than the current ones and not lead to any more severe illness. The takeaway from all this is we need to keep vigilant, get vaccinated and get booster shots, and make sure we vaccinate our children. Continue to wear masks indoors and wash our hands. 

Now the other interesting stories last weekend were about what will happen in the Senate in the weeks leading up to the Christmas holidays. Remember the House of Representatives passed President Biden’s Build Back Better bill as a reconciliation measure, which means it can pass the Senate with a simple majority. That would mean every Democratic senator and the vice president. The focus is on two senators: Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sinema (D-Ariz.). In reality we need to look at a number of others who will fight to either take out or put something into the bill the House passed. It is clear it will not pass in the current form and then it has to go back to the House again. 

Another issue that will be taken up is the debt ceiling. It may be a little easier than thought because as recently reported, “After taking a hard line and refusing to negotiate with Democrats during the last standoff over the debt limit, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is quietly looking for a way to get the issue resolved without another high-profile battle.” Then there is the budget and since none is passed Congress will have to pass another continuing resolution since the one they passed in September expires on Dec. 3. 

So for the next few weeks there will be a focus on the Senate to see what they do and how obstructionist Republicans want to be. Seems while things change, they somehow remain the same.

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

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It doesn’t take a miracle

Hanukkah a time for LGBTQ Jews to celebrate full identity



(Public domain photo)

For Jews around the world, Sunday night marked the beginning of Hanukkah. The story of Hanukkah celebrates the liberation of Jerusalem by the Maccabees, a small and poorly armed group of Jews who took on, and defeated, one of the world’s most powerful armies. 

Upon entering Jerusalem, the Maccabees saw that there was only enough oil to light the Temple’s eternal flame for one night. But the oil lasted eight nights — enough time for new oil to be prepared. The eternal flame remained lit, and light triumphed over darkness.

The story of Hanukkah was a miracle. While we celebrate and commemorate that miracle, we should also remember that it doesn’t take a miracle for one person to make a difference. 

The entire world is shaking beneath our feet. The climate is in crisis and our planet is in danger. A viral contagion has claimed the lives of millions, and there’s no clear end in sight. Creeping authoritarianism threatens the entire world, including here at home.

Sometimes it seems like it will take a miracle to solve even one of these problems. The reason these problems seem so overwhelming is because they are — no one person can fix it themselves.

Here in the LGBTQ community, we have made enormous strides, and we ought to be proud of them. But there is so much more work to be done.

Not everyone in our community is treated equally, and not everyone has the same access to opportunity. Black, brown and trans LGBTQ people face systemic and structural disadvantages and discrimination and are at increased risk of violence and suicide. It must stop.

These are big problems too, and the LGBTQ people as a collective can help make the changes we need so that light triumphs over darkness. But it doesn’t take a miracle for individuals to light the spark.

Our movement is being held back by the creeping and dangerous narrative that insists that we choose between our identities instead of embracing all of them. 

The presentation of this false choice has fallen especially hard on LGBTQ Jews, many of whom feel a genuine connection to and support for Israel. They feel marginalized when asked to sideline their identity by being told that the world’s only Jewish state shouldn’t even have a place on the map. And they feel attacked when asked about the Israeli government’s policies during a conflict, as if they have some obligation to condemn them and take a stand simply because of their faith.

One of the ways we can shine our light is to fight for an LGBTQ community that is truly inclusive.

This holiday season, pledge to celebrate all aspects of your identity and the rights of LGBTQ people to define their own identities and choose their own paths. If you feel the pressure to keep any part of your identity in the closet, stand up to it and refuse to choose. 

In the face of enormous challenges that require collective action, we must not give up on our power as individuals to do what’s right. It doesn’t take a miracle to do that.

The tradition of lighting the menorah each night represents ensuring the continuity of that eternal flame. One of the reasons the Hanukkah menorah is displayed prominently in the windows of homes and in public squares is because the light isn’t meant to be confined to the Jewish home. The light is for everyone — and a reminder that we can share it with the world every day to try to make it better.

As long as we keep fighting for justice, we don’t need to perform miracles. But we do need to do our part so that light triumphs over darkness.

It is up to each of us to map out what we can contribute to create a truly inclusive LGBTQ community. This holiday season, be the light. If you can, donate to a group that helps lift LGBTQ youth in crisis. Volunteer your time to fight for the rights and the lives of trans people. And be kind to one another.

Whether you are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or of no faith at all, take this opportunity to share your light with the world. It doesn’t take a miracle to do that.

Ethan Felson is the executive director of A Wider Bridge.

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Trend of banning books threatens our freedom

‘History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas’



National Book Festival, gay news, Washington Blade

I knew Helen Keller was a DeafBlind activist. But, until recently, I didn’t know that some of her books were torched.

Nearly 90 years ago, in 1933 Germany, the Nazis added “How I Became a Socialist,” by Keller to a list of “degenerate” books. Keller’s book, along with works by authors from H.G. Wells to Einstein were burned. 

The Nazi book burnings were horrific, you might think, but what does this have to do with the queer community now?

I speak of this because a nano-sec of the news tells us that book censorship, if not from literal fires, but from the removal from school libraries, is alive and well. Nationwide, in small towns and suburbs, school boards, reacting to pressure from parents and politicians, are removing books from school libraries. Many of these books are by queer authors and feature LGBTQ+ characters.

Until recently, I didn’t worry that much about books being banned. My ears have pricked up, every year, in September when Banned Books Week is observed. Growing up, my parents instilled in me their belief that reading was one of life’s great pleasures as well as a chance to learn about new ideas – especially, those we disagreed with. The freedom to read what we choose is vital to democracy, my folks taught me. 

“I don’t care if it’s ‘Mein Kampf,’” my Dad who was Jewish told me, “I’ll defend to my death against its being banned.”

“Teachers should be allowed to teach it,” he added, “so kids can learn what a monster Hitler was.”

In this country, there have always been people who wanted to ban books from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by writer and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe to gay poet Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl.”

In the 1920s, in the Scopes trial, a Tennessee science teacher was fined $100 for teaching evolution. (The law against teaching evolution in Tennessee was later repealed.)

But, these folks, generally, seemed to be on “the fringe” of society. We didn’t expect that book banning would be endorsed by mainstream politicians.

Until lately.

Take just one example of the uptake in book-banning: In September, the Blade reported, Fairfax County, Virginia public school officials said at a school board meeting that two books had been removed from school libraries to “reassess their suitability for high school students.”

Both books – “Lawn Boy” a novel by Jonathan Evison and “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by non-binary author Maia Koabe feature queer characters and themes, along with graphic descriptions of sex.

Opponents of the books say the books contain descriptions of pedophilia. But, many book reviewers and LGBTQ students as well as the American Library Association dispute this false claim.

The American Library Association honored both books with its Alex Award, the Associated Press reported. The award recognizes the year’s “10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18.”

Given how things have changed for us queers in recent years – from marriage equality to Pete Buttigieg running for president – it’s not surprising that there’s been a backlash. As part of the blowback, books by queer authors with LGBTQ+ characters have become a flashpoint in the culture wars.

As a writer, it’s easy for me to joke that book banning is fabulous for writers. Nothing improves sales more than censorship.

Yet, there’s nothing funny about this for queer youth. My friend Penny has a queer son. “LGBTQ kids need to read about people like themselves,” she told me. “It’s horrible if queer kids can’t find these books. They could become depressed or even suicidal.”

If we allow books to be banned, our freedom to think and learn will be erased.

“History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas,” Keller wrote in a letter to students in Nazi Germany.

Anti-queer officials may remove LGBTQ books from school libraries. But, our thoughts will not be unshelved.

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

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