Gay Fresno - Opinion


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.

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’

"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!



Community Letter about Responses to Casey Haggard

  • Category: Opinion
  • Published: Saturday, 10 February 2018 09:54
  • Written by Trans-e-Motion

TEMTo Our Beloved Community:

For those who have yet to hear the news: on February 5th, the Fresno Police Department announced that they had a suspect in custody for the murder of Casey Haggard. She was a newly out and becoming a part of the community,
slowly beginning to open up. She had waited all her life to finally be her real self, and that opportunity was stolen in the most vicious and cruel way.

For others who see representatives of Trans-E-Motion as splitting hairs for focusing on pronouns and the dignity of the deceased, we feel compelled to respond.

We are very disappointed that some of our supposed allies have missed the entire point of our movement and the work we do.

Being grateful for an arrest in a three year long case should not give way to complacency or failing to appreciate the progress that we still have to make. This doesn’t mean we should ignore how trans people are consistently
marginalized in everyday language and conversation.

It’s interesting that most of those who praise the Fresno Police Department or claim that this was not a hate crime have not attended a Trans-E-Motion event in the last two years, if at all. We would like the community to know that ever since Trans-E-Motion became aware of her death and misgendering by the police and media, we have done everything in our power to educate and enlighten the authorities involved in her case. There is a LGBTQ liaison to the police department, we have asked to help in cultural competency training, and we have given endless free workshops on transvocabulary, medical issues, and cultural impact. We are therefore appalled at these responses and how they imply that transgender people have no right to their own identities; that we should be grateful for every scrap of superficial acceptance that we get.

It’s great that the alleged murderer was caught but our work is not done. From the sounds of it, there’s much work to be done within our own community. We challenge you all to not downplay the pain of the transgender community, especially those who take on the mantle as “ally”. Give transgender people a right to their feelings and dignity (and please note that most of these conversations are NOT being had by transgender people and therefore have very little claim to reference).

To suggest that the larger LGB part of the community just needs time, or that the wishes of the family are somehow more valid than the truth of Casey’s authentic self is a thinly veiled attempt at policing the oppressed. Martin
Luther King Jr. said in his letter from Birmingham jail that they (the oppressors) will never be ready for progressive change, so there is no point in appeasing those who are offended by our requests for understanding and respect.
We understand the family has wishes of their own, yet we find that to be no excuse to not honor Casey as she would have wanted to be honored – because we in the trans community knew her no other way than as herself.

Zoyer Zyndel

Jess Fitzpatrick

Jordan Fitzpatrick