Sunday, February 12, 2012

Gay Indians? Gay Football Players? Gay Punk Rock Fans?


When I started blogging, a friend told me not to write about sex. "Just announce you're gay, put it in a political context and shut up about all the sex," he insisted. I didn't ask him if that rule includes Sundays. In the late 70's I had returned from my wanderings across Asia and my life in Amsterdam and I was immersed in San Francisco's new punk rock movement. The Mabuhay Gardens-- and every other bar in town-- had just closed and I was driving home to the Mission down Van Ness. Except I wasn't exactly driving. Traffic wasn't moving more than a foot or two per minute. All those drunks getting out of their bars at the same time! And then suddenly-- OMG!-- a vision of beauty. I wish I had a photo to share with you, although, the photo above-- to help put this in context-- was taken of me right around this same time.

This awesome-looking guy, on foot, more or less, comes crashing into my car, obviously drunk. Not inside the car-- he fell onto the trunk. I got out to see if he was ok. He was laughing. I was smitten. I dragged him into the car and got off Van Ness as quick as I could and found an alternative way home. When we got home, something odd happened. Turns out he was ultra-closeted, a star player for the Stanford football team and he wouldn't have sex unless he was dressed like a woman. (He was perfect other than that.)

OK, it's 3AM, he's 6 and a half feet talk-- give or take an inch of two-- and weighs in at just over 220. Where are we going to find him a dress and some panties and makeup-- that was his bottom line-- at this time of the day? And then I remembered-- a totally cool Suquamish Indian friend of mine who was not only as large as the Stanford ball player but extremely kind, open-minded and likely to be up at this time of night... a singer in a band, as they say. Why, 30 years later, has this come rushing back into my consciousness and why did I decide to share it with my perfectly innocent readers?

Well... the Stanford football star hung around for about six months-- always came over and went right to his drawer and got into the polka dot dress-- and it eventually petered out and he went off and married the daughter of one of the richest (and most right-wing) families in the South Bay. Never heard from him again. Men, of course, weren't allowed to marry each other back then, so it isn't something that even crossed either of our minds. These days, however, I know so many guys who are married to each other. A wonderful couple just moved in across the street, a viola player and a screen writer... nicest house in the neighborhood, and they have a fabulous long-term house guest from Barcelona.

My Suquamish friend, by the way, is straight, as far as I know. I mean, she's married to a guy. She was from the Seattle area before she moved to San Francisco. And that's the connection that made me want to write about this today. Washington state, as you know, has just made marriage equality legal. This past Wednesday the House passed the bill 55-43 and the governor is eager to sign in.
[Gov.] Gregoire watched the vote in the wings with the bill's sponsor, Sen. Ed Murray, who is gay and has sponsored gay rights legislation for years. Murray said the vote marked "a day that will be remembered in the history of this state."

Gregoire issued a statement after the vote, saying it was "a major step toward completing a long and important journey to end discrimination based on sexual orientation."

Democratic Rep. Jamie Pedersen, a gay lawmaker from Seattle who also has sponsored gay rights bills for several years, said that he and his partner have been grateful for the rights that exist under the state's domestic partnership laws but such protections are "a pale and inadequate substitute for marriage."

But, I just learned, that this isn't the first time gay and lesbian couples could tie the knot in Washington state... thanks to... yes, the wonderful Suquamish Indians! Jon Roth told the whole inspiring story at Out this week:
[N]ear Seattle, tucked away off the Puget Sound, there’s a sovereign nation whose citizens can marry whoever they choose. They’re called the Suquamish, and they were there before Washington was a president, much less a state.

The Suquamish enjoy the right to same-sex marriage, thanks to Heather Purser, a 29-year-old lesbian tribal member who grew up near the reservation. She’d already tried to come out of the closet twice during her childhood, and retreated both times before she arrived at Western Washington University and started attending LGBT events. “I saw that I could be safe there,” she says. “I decided I wanted to have that feeling back home, too.”

Purser began speaking with her tribe about same-sex marriage in 2007. A year later, she addressed the tribal council, which cautiously encouraged her cause. She did her research: contacting a tribe that had recently passed a similar law, requesting copies of their ordinance, reviewing it with an attorney, and translating it into Suquamish. After three years, she put her petition to a vote at a council meeting. “Everyone said, ‘If you do that, it’ll kill your dream. We have to do this slowly,’ ” she says. Purser demanded a vote anyway. In a room of 300 people, not one dissented. In August of 2011, her dream became law.

This isn’t the first victory for queer Native Americans. In 2006, the First Nations Two Spirit Collective formed, creating a political platform for LGBT native people. In 2008, the Coquille tribe of North Bend, Ore., became the first to allow same-sex marriage. This summer, the Suquamish became the second. Two months later, the Oglala Sioux tribe of Pine Ridge, S.D., issued a proclamation in support of LGBT equality, declaring it “time to ignite the civil rights movement of the 21st century.”

This may sound progressive, but Native Americans’ recognition of queer people predates Columbus. The Navajo call them nadleeh, the Lakota say winkte, the Plains Cree use iskwekan-- there are almost as many terms as native languages. One word you probably won’t hear is berdache, a pejorative (something between a catamite and a male prostitute) introduced by early French colonists. In 1990, a queer Native American caucus settled on “two spirit” as an umbrella term to describe indigenous people of alternative gender or sexuality.

“In traditional communities, ‘gay’ wasn’t even a category,” says Dr. Karina Walters, an out member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and Director of Washington University’s Indigenous Wellness Research Institute. “Quite often there were third gender statuses, sometimes up to seven,” Walters notes. “These relationships weren’t homosexual, they were heterogendered.” Two spirits often inhabited the in-between spaces, working as medicine people and mediators between rival factions, living on the outer ring of camp to serve as buffers from outsiders. Some two spirits were even present in Washington, D.C., during treaty negotiations. At best, they were revered. At worst, they were tolerated, sometimes teased.

Like smallpox and whiskey, homophobia was a Western import, codified once the U.S. and Canada became nations. Government-run boarding schools spearheaded this reeducation: Students were given Western names, clothes, and haircuts, along with a set of foreign values. Dylan Rose, 24, who describes himself as a mix of Plains Cree, Scottish, Irish, and French, deeply resents the lasting cultural impact of those schools, which flourished through the 1970s. “They taught us not to be Indian,” he says. “We’re devalued because of same-sex relationships now, and that’s not how it used to be.”

Generations of ingrained homophobia and sexism have led to high rates of assault, depression, and suicide among two-spirit youth. They often leave reservations to seek refuge in cities, though cities don’t ensure safety. “I know of two-spirit people who end up homeless in cities because they had to leave the incredible bullying in their home communities,” Walters says. Rose, who spent his youth traveling through reservations in Saskatchewan, now makes his home in Saskatoon. Purser met her girlfriend in Seattle, where she now lives.

...This resurgence reclaims traditional values, but also recognizes that, more than five centuries since colonization, there is no room in the Native American community for discrimination. More than a gay rights victory, the Suquamish decision sends a strong message that everyone deserves recognition. Purser trusted that when she put her petition to a vote. “We’re a community that supports its own,” she says. “I knew that people would have my back.”

Presumably the Mormons missed this battle entirely and never mobilized against the Native Americans the way they did against the LGBT community in California. Of course, if they manage to elect their president, he's promised to turn back the clock on LGBT rights.

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At 7:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As it should be ... Natives are so wise...

At 1:54 PM, Anonymous bill mahr said...

The absolute freakiest thing to me are gay Republicans. it's like Jews for Naziism.

At least Google put Santorum in the absolutely correct place. The internet provides surprises in ways you might least expect.

I kid the Rick.


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