Gay Fresno - Opinion



  • Category: Opinion
  • Published: Tuesday, 28 August 2018 10:37
  • Written by Bryan T. Clark

brian treeAre we really past the half way point in 2018? Where the heck did that first part of the year go?

Last month I turned thirty; okay fifty…-three-ish! For the first time in many years, I spent my birthday with my family. My husband Brian barbequed and mom made my favorite cake, a homemade German Chocolate cake. She still makes her cakes from scratch. It was a relaxing day with the six of us hanging out in the pool and just talking.

The day was not all that different, (except for the pool) than when I was a kid. Coming from a large family, our weekends often turned into a party. The men took to the backyard to tend to the grill and drink beer while the women chatted and laughed in the kitchen as they prepared side dishes and desserts.

When I got bored with the stories the guys were telling over and over again, I would wander into the kitchen and spent a little time with the ladies. Their conversation was always better; no drama, just sharing the best gossip reserved for Sunday BBQ’s.

As a family, we all came together weekly to enjoy each other’s company. It was a tradition that I’m not so sure continues in people’s lives today. We are a nation of drifters and transients, moving our families where ever the jobs take us.

old carToday, my birth family is transcontinental; we are spread out from California to North Carolina, and everywhere in between. It is rare when we are all in the same room these days. Even with modern technology such as Facebook, Face Time, and any number of other apps that connect us, I often wonder are we truly, really connected anymore?

It seems that ‘family’ today is more by design then by birth. Children have aunts and uncles that are not blood related but love them every bit as hard. We gather just the same, in the parks, and back yards, friends welcoming friends.

diegos secretIn my novel Diego’s Secret, a romantic and heartfelt story, I explore the meaning of a modern family—blended by circumstances, not by choice—and how those complicated bonds add an unexpected richness to our lives. I have included a short excerpt from Diego’s Secret that relates to this issue. After reading the short excerpt, I would love to hear back from you in the comments section where you can tell me what your family looks like today.

Just past midnight, Diego was still awake. He lay across his bed staring at his phone, scrolling through pictures of his cousins in Mexico sent by his aunt. Though he had left Mexico at age seventeen, there wasn’t a day that Diego didn’t think of his small village of Mezcala in the state of Guerrero. Sure, life was better here, but that place held his family, his friends, and childhood memories of playing in the Atoyac River.
He smiled as he remembered fishing from the bridge of that river with his abuelo, just the two of them. It killed him that he hadn’t been able to see him one more time before he died. Knowing that the entire family had attended the funeral except for him and his brothers, he felt that he had never gotten closure. Maybe that was why he often thought of his abuelo as still alive. Diego would sometimes wonder what he was up to until the realization returned that he was gone.

The memory of his mother’s menudo, cooking on the stove all day, suddenly penetrated his nose, sending a calmness down his spine. Diego listened for sounds from the front room. The muffled noise of guns firing on television told him that Francisco was still up, watching one of his favorite cop shows. Mayra was most likely draped across his lap in a light sleep. Trying to shrug off his loneliness, Diego rolled over in hopes of going to sleep.

The “Uneven Symphony” of American History

  • Category: Opinion
  • Published: Wednesday, 04 July 2018 17:14
  • Written by Micah Escobedo

img 3374Since Donald Trump--the closest thing to an authoritarian leader the country has ever seen--became president, I have increasingly found comfort in the writings of historians and activists. When the current world of insane tweets and receding justice becomes overwhelming, I look back at how the United States handled times of disruption and upheaval.

Believe it or not, it helps a lot. It provides context and perspective that is sorely lacking in today's toxic, clickbait climate. Voting in EVERY presidential and midterm election, organizing and marching, calling your members of Congress, and staying tuned in to current events (from credible news sources) are all vitally important. But if you are looking for meaning and coherence in chaos, I highly recommend the look-back approach.

Read presidential histories. Read about how Americans overcame impossible odds. Read about the work done by generations of activists, work that often seemed to be done in vain.

One of my favorite quotes on the subject is an excerpt from Jon Meacham's new (and incredible book), The Soul of America. In this specific section of the book (Chapter 4: A New and Good Thing in the World), he uses the juxtaposition of the Progressive Era of the early 20th century to make a profound point:

And yet, and yet--there is always an "and yet" in American history. Taken all in all, Woodrow Wilson and his age are revealing examples of the battles between hope and fear. The era of the suffrage triumph, for instance, was also the age of segregation, of the suppression of free speech in wartime, of the Red Scare of 1919-20, and of the birth of a new Ku Klux Klan. The story of America is thus one of slow, often unsteady steps forward. If we expect the trumpets of a given era to sound unwavering notes, we will be disappointed, for the past tells us that politics is an uneven symphony.

Yes, Anthony Kennedy's retirement in the age of Trump is a tragedy. It represents a blow to political progress that may take decades to overcome. I'm not naive to that fact. This is a setback of epic proportions that will impact millions of lives.

But it is definitely not the end of the country. All hope is not lost. Our lives have not ended. Keep moving forward. Stop posting defeatist "jokes" to social media for clicks. We owe it to the country, the future, those who blazed the trails before, and ourselves.

"Expression, Not Suppression" 2018 Hosted at Fresno High

  • Category: Opinion
  • Published: Friday, 08 June 2018 17:34
  • Written by Nathaniel Phillipps

ENS18jFresno Unified School District (FUSD) hosted the annual summit for LGBTQ students and their supporters in the beautiful neighborhood named after the oldest high school in greater Fresno. It marked the first official collaboration between the 5th largest school district in California and the statewide advocacy organization dedicated to parity in the LGBTQ student experience--GSA Network. I volunteered for several hours.

Many readers don’t need statistics to understand queer students’ reality; their personal histories are enough. In college, I co-chaired the Southern Nevada chapter of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), to advance safer schools in the Las Vegas region. GLSEN’s innovative research, The National School Climate Survey, has consistently found public schools to often be unsafe or harmful environments for queer students, yet in recent years markable improvements are found coast to coast. As of 2015, “most LGBTQ students in California had been victimized at school,” but our state is also leading the way for affirming schools.[1] FUSD acted with good intention, perhaps overzealously, in securitizing an already secure, gated campus with community resource officers--or school police--the day of the conference. That decision was twofold, as told to me by Erica Hasenbeck, Manager of Restorative Practices: in response to the arrest of a male teacher for sexual harassment of a male student the day before, and the reality that Fresno is no stranger to homophobic protests.

The conference, previously hosted in Fresno at affirming churches for some years, included useful and timely workshops and discussions between a morning keynote address by local drag queen Leilani Price, meals, a resource fair of local allied organizations, and a talent show/dance party in the courtyard to close out the long day. Simultaneous tracks provided youth-and-adult-specific spaces and topics along with open sessions led by valley experts, like “Racism in Our Schools” (Fresno resident and Californians for Justice staff, Grisanti Valencia): For instance, youth discussed “Political Activism in the Digital Age” (The kNOw Youth Media) and “Fight for Your Rights” (GSA Network); adults discussed advising/supporting Gay-Straight Alliance and other similar school clubs (Peggy Nemeth, Riverdale High), and “Fighting for Youth Rights” (Deion Jackson, GSA Network alumni).

District officials were on-site the entirety of the conference as helpful and intentional collaborators. Hasenbeck secured the partnership for the district and chose Fresno High as host in recognition of the school’s efforts at inclusion and the appeal of the neighborhood, she shared. School support staff were a very supportive presence as well, picking up a Saturday shift to welcome attending and visiting students from throughout the valley. While a great first partnership, future renditions provide ample opportunity for improvement.

Increased student and community attendance and involvement of regional GSA (gay-straight alliance) club advisors are two primary opportunities. Advisors criticized that the conference was not better communicated throughout FUSD, particularly to the very clubs for whom it was intended; Fresno High’s advisor told her club colleagues, frustratingly, of not being directly contacted by the district to be involved pre-conference which suggests a disconnect between central administrators and staff in schools. The security for the conference also compels reflection. It could be an unfortunate message inferred to queer students that for their congregating the presence of armed police officers or escorts are required--though the day concluded incident-free on campus. Unfortunately, the charm of the neighborhood that Hasenbeck referenced was dimmed by an occurrence that morning, Nemeth disclosed in conversation. Her club members were made uncomfortable when snubbed by staff at Kuppa Joy Coffee House, a Christian-owned and themed venue adjacent to campus:

“I feel so bad that despite coming to an event designed for them they had a negative experience just across the street getting coffee. However it happened, they felt slighted for being who they are, and that shouldn’t be happening, anywhere.”

In future summits, more volunteers could be recruited to monitor safety and deter potential homophobes, instead of police vehicles out front. Many LGBTQ people, especially folks of color, might feel uncomfortable with armed cops present due in part to historical and contemporary tensions between law enforcement and marginalized communities.

Expression, Not Suppression 2018 convened out-and-proud youngsters on April 21st, 2018. It was primarily coordinated by Marcus Navarro, Lead Fresno GSA Organizer of the Genders and Sexualities Alliance Network. A round of applause for a tremendous success!



I Love New York… food

  • Category: Opinion
  • Published: Monday, 18 June 2018 12:36
  • Written by Bryan T. Clark

brian nyThis month I waited until after my attendance at the 30th LAMBDA Literary Awards on June 4th, to write my blog. I wasn’t sure if I would write a congratulatory blog about winning ‘Best Gay Romance’ for my book Come to the Oaks; or writing about how just being a Lammy finalist was all that mattered. Home from the trip, without the Lammy award in hand, I’m sad I didn’t win, but I can say I had a great trip.

Some say, ‘you’re only as good as the company you keep’. Others say ‘there is no sincerer love than the love of food’. Well, this trip I experienced both, great company and delicious food. I’ve never been to New York, so I had both landmarks, and food on the agenda of things that were important.

In three days, my husband, his parents, and my mother covered a lot of ground and ate our way from Manhattan to Harlem. Since Central Park was a must, our first day we walked the fifteen blocks from the hotel to the park. Along the way, we visited the ‘Top of the Rock’ for a view of the city before arriving in Central Park. The park was bigger than I imagined with ponds, lakes, bike trails, sprawling lawns and luscious foliage.

My agenda was not the park at all, but the hot dog. From the moment we landed in New York, I had been seeing hot dog carts, and heard a New York hot dog was like no other dog. It took about a half hour in the park before I found the perfect hot dog stand. One hundred percent beef and eleven inches… well what’s not to like about that. From the first bite, I realized it was just another dog. Disappointed, I didn’t let it steal the fact I was sitting in Central Park eating a wiener.
That night, all dolled up, we had dinner at the Cock and Bull restaurant before taking in our Broadway show, The Lion King. And wow was that a show.

The next day, by seven-thirty-a.m. we were ready to hit the subway for our nine-a.m. tour of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island… Unfortunately, the tour started at eight and left without us. No worries though, we caught the ferry and did the self-guided tour.

Every bit as grand as in the movies, our Lady Liberty commanded your attention as the ferry drew closer to her. (Just between you and me, I imagined her to be a little taller.) This was a full day, which included a slice of the world-famous New York-style pizza they call pie. LOVED IT! I folded it in half and devoured it.
From there it was on to Ground Zero for an emotional tour, ending at the reflecting pools. This was a powerful experience that invoked a wide range of emotions.

High on the bucket list was our next stop that evening for dinner. Sylvia’s, the Queen of Soul Food in Harlem was just a twenty-five-dollar Uber ride from Manhattan. As soon as you walk into the dining room, you know your experience will be good. The dining room was buzzing with people from all walks of life; from the African American older ladies in big church hats, to the Jewish young man on a date with a strikingly beautiful Asian woman. With Home Style Fried Chicken with Collard Greens & Mac and Cheese, this was not the time to people watch. Damn that chicken was crispy and juicy, and the cornbread made my toes curl.

The next day started with a fresh air walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, stretching across from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Afterwards, lunch at the Rockefeller center, and a taste from a five-pound slice of New York cheesecake. Nope, I’ve never had cheese cake that scrumptious.

As evening fell upon us, at last, the event in which we were in the city for, had arrived, the 30th LAMBDA Literary Awards. Well because we already know how that turned out, let’s move on to after the ceremony.

For three days, I had been eyeing an Ice Cream truck parked down from the hotel. The side of the truck in big letters said New York Style Ice Cream. I was running out of time and since losing the award hours earlier, I needed comfort, real comfort. Still in my tux, Brian and I headed to Times Square in search of the truck. Brian ordered a chocolate sundae, and I had a Vanilla ice cream with Oreo cookies and chopped peanuts. The cost of this fix was a whopping twenty-three dollars, and yes it made me feel better.

In three days, we saw everything on my bucket list and then some. It was a trip that was as exciting as my vacations in Greece, Thailand, or the Amalfi coast. The rich texture of people, buildings, and food is like nothing else in the United States. For those of you that are on the fence about seeing New York, go. I promise you won’t be sorry.

Now it’s time to lose the three pounds I gained and return to work and get this next book finished for you. With a week’s worth of mail and emails to catch up on, Escaping Camp Roosevelt may have to wait until next week.

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Looking Back at My Own ‘Ray of Light’

  • Category: Opinion
  • Published: Thursday, 15 March 2018 12:27
  • Written by Micah Escobedo

ray of lightTwenty years ago today, Madonna's seventh studio album, Ray of Light, debuted and was instantly praised as her best work to date. Spiritual, reflective, and nurturing, three words the world had never really associated with the Queen of Pop prior to the album, were the most common points made by media critics and fans alike. It broke the mold, brought electronic music into mainstream pop, and produced truly great works of music-video art.

But this post isn't really about the history and impact of the album as a whole. For that, I highly recommend the following posts:

No, this post is about how this gem influenced me. As I've written before, I love Madonna. You might even call me a student of Madonnaology. I love studying the context in which albums and videos were released, how her sound has evolved, etc. Since day one, she's been in charge of her image and sound and is intimately involved in every aspect of production. Every step of the way, she's rubbed traditionalists the wrong way and sparked discussions on sexuality, censorship, and what it means to be famous in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. In short, she's a badass.

Read more: Looking Back at My Own ‘Ray of Light’