Friday, December 4, 2009

Onward and Upward

It has been brought to my attention that the Blag is both out of date and horribly depressing at the moment. Since I've managed to avoid blagging World AIDS Day and the NY State Senate marriage debate, I should be able to find some happy to post! Or at least bittersweet, if not totally happy.

There will soon be the now-standard post of "Music my students have chosen to write about," but I am too lazy at the moment to actually pick up and leaf through the stack of papers, so I will put that off until next week. For today, instead, I want to talk about two things: Ruth Hassell-Thompson and my upcoming life change.

Ruth Hassell-Thompson is a state senator from Mount Vernon, NY. She is an elderly Black woman, one of ten children of her preacher mother, including a sister who became her mother's successor. And including a brother who was gay, and who had to spend his life in France because New York was not a safe place for him to be a gay Black man, and his family of ministers certainly wasn't welcoming. Senator Hassell-Thompson outed her brother on the floor of the NY Senate, in one of the most moving speeches I've heard on the topic of marriage equality, linked above.

Let me explain why this is moving to me, if I can. It's not just that I always cry when I hear straight people express unconditional support for my right to exist, though that is true. It's not just that I expected the NY Senate to be devoid of any honesty, emotion, or human dignity, though that is also true. And it's not just that it was another story of an LGBT person who tragically lost his family to bigotry, though that, if you see the pattern, is also true.

What moved me even more about Senator Hassell-Thompson's speech was the little details. 50% of her constituency, she says, called her and asked her to support marriage equality. Her district is mostly Black, with some Puerto Rican areas, and includes some very, very poor parts of the Bronx. People who would make racialized claims about who supports rights for gay people would do well to look long and hard at Senator Hassell-Thompson's district and at the state of Maine.

Senator Hassell-Thompson's eldest brother was gay, but she had never acknowledged that in public before speaking in the Senate on Wednesday. For an elderly, Black, religious woman to speak about a gay relative in a non-condemning way is still far too rare. I have had many conversations with religious Black women here in LA about marriage for gay and lesbian couples, and the results are often disheartening. This is not to undercut my previous point, but simply to acknowledge that churches of all stripes (or rather, most stripes; thanks, Unitarians!) have played a huge role in drumming up homophobia wherever they can, and that in heavily religious communities we often do extremely poorly.

"There have been very few decisions that I've had to make in my life that I've spent as much time contemplating as this particular issue." That's how the good senator opens her speech, and it's crucial. Rational thought and human emotion are our allies in our ongoing struggle, and we need more people to spend time contemplating, like Hassell-Thomspon. If everyone thought about it, and if everyone saw the emotions of those in their lives who are suffering, we would win instantly.

But enough about her speech. Go watch it; it's at that link in her name. Cry a little. Remember that after that speech, 38 of her colleagues in that room voted against her. Get them out of jobs and looking for work. Now, on to my promised second topic.

I will be moving to New York within the year. I am hoping to move gradually in June-September 2010, but it may happen more suddenly or more quickly, depending on circumstances. While the circumstances are shitty in the extreme, I am doing a not-so-depressing post and won't talk about them. The good thing is that I will end up in The City! I am so very excited to finally get to live there, as I have wanted for most of my life. Subways that go places! Buildings with multiple stories! Taxis that exist solely for the purpose of terrorizing pedestrians! Jaywalking!

I could go on about the things that make NY exciting to me, but the more I write the greater the chance that nobody will finish reading this entry, so I think I will cut it off here. Get ready, Empire State! I'm a-comin'.


Ian said...

Yeah, I was a fan of the excerpts from Hassell-Thompson's speech that I read, although I hadn't seen the full thing.

I just can't figure out why Diaz was the only opponent to speak; they're usually not ashamed of their vote on stuff like this. I could see NYC senators (like mine, unfortunately) trying to sweep it under the table, but I would have thought some of the upstaters would feel that their constituents opposed it. Hopefully not, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Ha! I have influenced Sam to update his blog... mmmyeeees... I am much more powerful than I knew myself to be...

New York, huh? If it's not a secret, what's prompting the big move?