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Tribute to beloved gay children’s book author

Thank you, Tomie dePaola, for comforting us during our Pearl Harbor

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Tomie dePaola, gay news, Washington Blade
Tomie dePaola (Screen capture via YouTube)

When we were four, many of us daydreamed about being a ballerina, astronaut or magician. But, mostly, we were clueless about what we’d be when we grew up.

That wasn’t the case with Thomas (a.k.a. Tomie) dePaola, the acclaimed, gay children’s author and illustrator, who died at age 85 in Lebanon, N.H., from complications from surgery after a fall. DePaola, whose award-winning work was beloved by children and adults, wrote and illustrated more than 270 books. If you’ve been spellbound by magical grandmas; bullied; eagerly awaited the arrival of a new baby brother or sister; or frightened by news that adults wouldn’t explain to you – you’ve found or will find a beautiful, comforting home in dePaola’s books.

DePaola knew what his life’s work would be before he started kindergarten. In an interview with readingrockets.org, he said, “I said, ‘Yes, I’m going to be an artist, and I’m going to write stories and draw pictures for books…I never, ever thought of considering any other profession.’”

From then on, dePaola never looked back. In second grade, dePaola told his art teacher “real artists don’t copy,” dePaola wrote in his series of memoirs about growing up in Meriden, Conn.

The teacher was so pleased with the picture the seven-year-old dePaola drew of her that she asked if she could keep it. “‘I told her, ‘Oh, no, no, no. I have to keep it. I might be able to sell it someday,’” he told readingrockets.org.

DePaola’s stories were often inspired by his memories of his family and childhood. “I’ve discovered that children most respond to books based on my own life,” he told The New York Times.

DePaola grew up in an Italian and Irish, Roman Catholic family. His early childhood was filled with Sunday dinners with his grandparents, dancing school recitals (he loved to dance like Fred Astaire!), Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the first years of World War II.

“Strega Nona,” one of his most beloved works is set in Calabria in Italy where his grandparents were from. It features a “grandma witch” who works magic with a pasta pot. DePaola received the distinguished Caldecott Medal for the book, which was banned by some libraries for daring to expose the young to magic.

Today, though much improvement is still needed in LGBTQ representation, a variety of children’s books — from “Heather Has Two Mommies” to “I Am Jazz” to “Harriet Gets Carried Away” — feature queer characters. This wasn’t so for kids’ book authors and illustrators of dePaola’s generation. Most children’s book writers couldn’t be openly queer then. “If it became known you were gay, you’d have a big red ‘G’ on your chest,” dePaola told T: The New York Times Style Magazine in 2019, “and schools wouldn’t buy your books anymore.”

DePaola’s work isn’t explicitly gay. Yet his picture books and chapter books have a particular resonance for queer readers. Though he didn’t come out until late in his life, his experience of being gay is reflected in some of his most seminal books.

“I was called a sissy in my young life,” dePaola said in a 1999 interview with the Times, “but instead of internalizing these painful experiences, I externalize them in my work.”

As a queer reader, I feel seen and heard as I read dePaola’s books. DePaola’s “Oliver Button Is a Sissy,” released in 1979, is the story of a young boy who’s bullied because he doesn’t like sports and wants to dance and dress in costume. It never says the word “gay,” but it’s queer quotient can’t be missed.

In his memoirs, dePaola writes of being a scared seven-year-old when Pearl Harbor was attacked and the United States entered World War II. He only knew that, as his mom said, “things will never be the same.”

Things won’t be the same after COVID-19. Thank you, Tomie dePaola for comforting us during our Pearl Harbor. R.I.P.

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

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Monkeypox is a gay thing — we must say it

Will there be stigma, judgments, and homophobia? Of course

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The mainstream media and public health officials are being so damn careful not to label monkeypox “a gay disease” that they’re doing a disservice to the gay men who most need important information about the outbreak – while misleading everybody else.

In a July 28 New York Times story of the excruciating symptoms and lack of care available for those with monkeypox in that city, the sexuality of the men profiled isn’t referenced until 11 paragraphs into the story, and even then it refers to them as “men who have sex with men,” which is technically correct but dodgy. Moreover, the article, which supposedly addresses barriers to care, ignores the fact that gay men routinely experience apathy and even judgment from health providers.

Other media stories, and statements from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have mentioned monkeypox cases in the context of “the LGBT community.” Really? Should lesbians be lining up for a monkeypox vaccine, whenever the heck they become widely available? This is happening to gay men. Say it.

Journalist Benjamin Ryan, in his excellent Washington Post opinion piece, draws a hard line between attempts not to unnecessarily stigmatize gay men and the importance of telling the truth about monkeypox, writing that “public health officials cannot be expected to police the public’s reactions to epidemiological facts.”

Ryan lays out those facts plainly:

Here is what we can discern from data collected about monkeypox so far: This viral outbreak isn’t just mostly occurring among men who have sex with men. The confirmed cases, at least to date, have consistently almost entirely occurred among this demographic, which accounts for 96 percent or more of diagnoses where data are available.

Per capita, the few monkeypox cases in women and children remain minuscule compared with the rate among gay and bisexual men. Of course, substantial transmission could always occur among such other groups. But researchers at the WHO and elsewhere have speculated that the monkeypox reproduction rate will likely remain significantly lower in such demographics — meaning the virus will more likely hit transmission dead ends among them than among gay and bisexual men.

An uncomfortable truth, one documented in peer-reviewed papers, is that sexual behaviors and networks specific to gay and bisexual men have long made them more likely to acquire various sexually transmitted infections compared with heterosexual people. This includes not only HIV, but also syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis B and sexually transmitted hepatitis C.

Global public health experts agree that skin-to-skin contact in the context of sexual activity between men has been the principal driver of the monkeypox outbreak, at least thus far.

Such experts have also asserted that the risk of monkeypox to the broader population not having multiple sex partners remains low — even “very low.” This is hopeful news, and the wider public deserves to be reassured accordingly. Assuaging fears of contagion will help fight unhelpful hysteria and prevent gay and bisexual men from being subjected to even greater stigma should they be painted as culprits of the spread of virus to others.

Monkeypox didn’t begin with gay men, that much is true. As Yale infectious disease expert Gregg Gonsalves explained to the New York Times, “This is not a gay disease; it has been circulating in West and Central Africa for many years… What likely happened, in this case, is that somebody who had monkeypox had a lesion and showed up at a gay rave in Europe, and it spread to those in that social and sexual network.”

Whatever the origins, we’re now dealing with an outbreak almost entirely limited to gay men in the United States and Europe. And that is worth saying explicitly.

Why? Because identifying those at risk and getting information to them is a basic public health strategy for containing an outbreak. Gay men are getting monkeypox and suffering greatly. When gay men understand the threat, we are more likely to take precautions, get vaccinated, or be informed about treatment.

Will there be stigma and judgements and homophobia? Of course. And we’ll have to deal with that. But that doesn’t mean we bury crucial facts in vague, evasive messaging.

Monkeypox is a gay thing. That’s the truth.

Mark S. King is an award-winning blogger, author, speaker, and HIV/AIDS activist who has been involved in HIV causes since testing positive in 1985.

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Casa Ruby folds — was money stolen?

The community deserves answers and accountability

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Ruby Corado (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

It is both sad and frustrating when what was once considered a great organization folds for what appear to be questionable reasons. 

That is the case with Casa Ruby. It is sad for all the people who worked for and were served by the organization. It is my hope other organizations will take up the slack and the transgender community will continue to be well served in the District of Columbia.

Also sad are the questions people are asking about the founder of Casa Ruby, Ruby Corado. It has appeared for a while that she let her desire for publicity — and apparent desire for the good life — to lead her in a questionable direction. A number of years ago David Perruzza and I, both early supporters of Casa Ruby, met with Ruby for lunch. We talked with her about the apparent issues at Casa Ruby and urged her to take a good look at what she was doing. We asked her to remember the reason she founded Casa Ruby, and it wasn’t about her. Her goal she said had been to help others in the transgender community.

We met with her because we cared about her and the organization and it seemed her ego was being fed by all the honors the community was affording her. Recently Dito Sevilla posted on Facebook that an associate of his found who they assumed is Corado on Facebook, under the name Jada Wilkins, now living in San Salvador. That Facebook page is very sad to see. 

It is important for the District and any other grantors to Casa Ruby to do a forensic audit to see where all the money went. I am pleased, according to the Blade, that is now happening with the D.C. Attorney General investigating and filing lawsuits. The result of the first hearing on one of the two lawsuits filed by the AG is the judge granted the freezing of all Casa Ruby bank accounts as reported in the follow-up Blade article. As a community we should know if any money was stolen. Aside from all the grants, a lot of money was donated by well-meaning individuals. If some of it was stolen, which sadly could be the case, those who stole it should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. 

Casa Ruby is not the first organization this has happened to and it will not be the last. The LGBTQ community, which is a very generous community, must always be careful to ensure organizations we donate to, and support with our volunteer time, are well run. We should insist those organizations are not about any one person, because if they are they are more likely to fail. A solid organization is never built around one person, which is what seemed to happen at Casa Ruby. 

I know the District requires financial reports for the grants they give and there was an accounting firm involved in looking at the financial functions of Casa Ruby. That accounting firm needs to be involved in looking at what happened to the money. There were 990s filed, but were they accurate? Again, I hope the AG will find all that out and if they find illegal activity will forward that to the DOJ for prosecution. The community needs to know what happened.  

Again, if there was fraud and money stolen, the law and the community must hold the people responsible for the demise of this once valued organization, accountable. If by any chance, and I pray it’s not the case, Ruby Corado is found to have participated in stealing money from the organization, people and organizations must take the time to publicly rescind the awards and honors she was given over the years. Again, I hope that is not the case. But if it is, then we owe that to the transgender community, which will suffer because Casa Ruby is closing. 

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

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Joe Manchin: enigma to some, hated by others

New bill proves you can’t always get what you want

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The headlines in the New York Times and Washington Post screamed: “Manchin and Majority Leader Schumer agree to compromise on reconciliation bill.” 

The bill is a 725-page, $739 billion proposal, called the “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.” Now they must get every Democrat in the Senate to vote for it with Vice President Harris breaking the anticipated tie, when every Republican will vote no. Then Speaker Pelosi must rally the Democratic votes in the House. If and when this bill passes it’s a huge victory for President Biden, Democrats, and the people. 

This bill was negotiated in secret and that in itself is amazing in this day and age. By keeping it secret Democrats were also able to first garner enough Senate Republican votes for the CHIPS-plus bill funding both computer chips and science. The House then passed the $280 billion ‘Chips and Science Act’ that would subsidize domestic semiconductor manufacturing and invest billions in science and technology innovation. It’s now on the president’s desk to sign.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is someone progressives love to hate. He has thwarted numerous efforts to move forward the Democratic agenda. In the last two weeks he has shown not only can he compromise, but is way better than if we had a Republican from West Virginia, which we would have without him. First there was the announcement of an agreement between him and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on a bill to update the 1887 law that governs how Congress counts Electoral College votes. Then the Wednesday announced agreement on the climate bill. 

It has been reported that bill does a lot of things Democrats have said they wanted for years. One is allowing Medicare to negotiate some prescription drug prices. “This could save the federal government some $288 billion over the 10-year budget window. With those savings they could lower costs for seniors on their medications.” It has been reported the bill also includes a $2,000 out-of-pocket cap for older adults buying prescriptions from pharmacies, and free vaccinations. The bill “would invest $369 billion over the decade in climate change-fighting strategies including investments in renewable energy production and tax rebates for consumers to buy new or used electric vehicles.” 

Bloomberg reports some of the other details. “The bill includes $4,000 tax credits for lower and middle income buyers to use to purchase used electric vehicles, and up to $7,500 tax credit for new vehicles. The plan has $60 billion of incentives to bring clean energy manufacturing into the U.S. … The plan also includes $9 billion for home energy rebate programs for low-income consumers to make their homes more energy efficient and $1 billion in grants for affordable housing energy upgrades. The plan would also extend to 2025 an expansion in Affordable Care Act premium subsidies that’s currently set to end at year-end. This will lower prices for millions of Americans, according to a summary of the deal.”

All this would be paid for with what some call tax increases, and Manchin calls closing loopholes. “The proposal would raise an estimated $739 billion, with the revenues going to fund climate and health initiatives, as well as to reduce the budget deficit. The Internal Revenue Service would get $80 billion to add auditors, improve customer service and modernize technology. Democrats hope to pull in $124 billion in tax revenue from cracking down on tax cheats and increasing compliance by rebuilding the IRS.” There would also be a minimum 15% tax on corporations with over $1 billion in revenue. 

When this bill passes, President Biden will be able to go to voters and tell them he did what he promised — make the rich pay more, cut healthcare costs for all, and make the biggest investments ever in fighting climate change. When I asked a friend who is one of the world’s top environmentalists what she thought of the Manchin/Schumer bill she responded by quoting the Rolling Stones: “No, you can’t always get what you want, You can’t always get what you want, You can’t always get what you want, But if you try sometime you find, You get what you need.”

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

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