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Posts Tagged ‘labor movement literature’

This morning at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration (in Philadelphia) I did a reading from Maya Angelou’s poem “The Human Family” and a talk on “Difference” — the theme of this week’s service.

To see the reading and the reflection on YouTube, click here. (You can also view the YouTube video at the bottom of this post.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” — Dalai Lama 2 dala lamai petting cat compassion png

 

I am different, of course. We all are.  In my view that’s what makes life interesting. I would say I gravitate to difference.

I’m a lesbian-feminist who came of age in the early 1980s and I had the good fortune to hear and meet many of the icons and writers of that era — including Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich.

It was at the celebration of Audre Lorde’s life — the “I Am Your Sister” conference held in Boston in 1990 two years before she died of cancer at the age of 58 — when I went to one of the conference’s “Eye-to-Eye” sessions. There, I really began to understand difference.

The idea behind the “Eye-to-Eye” sessions is that you break into a smallish group of people from a similar background and have  a heart to heart discussion.  It was based on Audre Lorde’s philosophy that she writes about in Sister Outsider, a collection of her essays, that we cannot love each other until we love ourselves.

This is the same theory that RuPaul, the internationally known drag queen icon, says every week on his televised program Drag Race — if you don’t love yourself, how the [heck] are you gonna love anyone else?”

(RuPaul is one of my sources of spiritual inspiration.)audre-lorde-1062457_H130420_L

At the conference, I chose the white working class women Eye-to-Eye session. The other Eye-to-Eye group that I could have chosen was white lesbians — but lesbians tended to be everywhere in my world back then and it seemed more important for me to focus on class.

I still remember being in that room with the tall windows and high ceilings — sitting on the floor in a circle of women. It was like being back in my high school bathroom.  But this time we were honestly discussing our lives instead of masking our pain with drugs and alcohol.

As I recall, the discussion that we had in that room was liberating.

To make a long story short, I have absolutely no connection with anyone from my background — except that my partner and I are lucky enough to still have my 97 year old father.

But in this election year, I was reminded of my background, every time I turned on the television news.

I found the racism at the rallies — and I think you know which rallies — to be painful. I also find it painful — and appalling — that someone — some unnamed someone in power — is fanning the flames of fear and hatred.  But I also do not think  that all of the people in the white working class will be taken in to vote against their own interests.  I also strongly suspect that the media is just showing us a slice of white blue collar voters who are racist — etc. — and that most people have neighbors and co-workers of all races including African Americans, Muslim-Americans, and Mexican Americans.  And even if they don’t, white working class voters can think for themselves and realize that racism and xenophobia are wrong.

This election is getting under my skin. The stakes are high, and it feels personal.  When people tell me they are not planning to vote — educated people, who might feel more privileged than they are under the circumstances — it kind of makes me crazy.  Of course, this is not a good feeling.

I meditate almost every morning — and it came to me during my meditation that I need to be more compassionate.

I was watching the Discovering Buddhism series number 11 on You Tube, when Richard Gere talked about a practice that was so helpful to me that I thought I’d share it with you. Years ago, Gere started wishing every being — insect, animal, or human — that he encountered with the greeting: “I wish you happiness.”

“I wish you happiness.”

Gere talks about the fact that there are times that this is difficult, and that these are the times when this thought turns a destructive emotion into love.

I have just started this practice and don’t know where it will take me. I suspect, though, that it will make me even more aware of the fact that as Maya Angelou writes in “The Human Family” that we are more alike, than unalike.

“We are more alike, than unalike.”

 

 

Namaste

Oh, and remember to vote.

“I wish you happiness.”

 

 

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originally in The Huffington Post

When I woke up and heard the news that 50 people in a nightclub were murdered by a gunman in Orlando, Florida my heart sunk. Then I heard that the club was gay and that the murderer was of Arab-American descent and publicly declared his allegiance to ISIS and my heart kind of caved in.

What can be said about such senseless violence? This is the kind of hatred that usually engenders further hatred.

One of the first things I heard on the news was the father being quoted about his son’s intense homophobia and the fact that the killing spree “had nothing to do with religion.”

Being the kind of person I am — I immediately thought it had everything to do with religion.

“People in churches and mosques need to think about what they are teaching,” I said to my partner over breakfast. “It’s not that different,” I said, “Christians, Jews, and Moslems have the same common ancestor Abraham who is in the Hebrew Bible.”

I read the Bible last year or so as research for a novel — and learned a few things about religion. I learned that modern culture is rife with biblical references. I also learned, to my surprise, that the Bible is not that anti-gay. I did find it to be extremely misogynist and violent, but I thought the anti gay parts were really taken out of context and greatly amplified. If you listen to Sarah Palin, for example, (who probably never read the actual Bible) you’d think the entire thing was an anti-gay tract.

My partner and I have been together for 31 years and you would think that there are no surprises, but I could tell she was impressed with my recently-acquired religious knowledge.

She is a deep thinker. “Of course it has to do with religion,” she replied. “Where do people learn about hate?”

Then I saw the photograph of the murderer (who was killed by authorities). To my mind, he looked gay. When I learned that he was married and had fathered a child or children, it still didn’t change my mind. There is a good chance that a man with that kind of rage inside him who specifically targeted a gay club and professed his repulsion at gay men holding hands and kissing on the street, was acting out in suppression of his deepest desires.

In full disclosure, I think far more people are gay who say they are gay. I have known more than a few gay men who specialize in straight married men. It works for these guys who don’t want to end up in a relationship. In fairness, I have known more gay men who are healthy enough to avoid men who identify as heterosexual. And through the years, I have rarely met lesbians who are interested in women who are married to men.

I’m not saying that all closeted gay people — or those who are bisexual and secretive — are gay bashers. But it is true that plenty of homophobic hate crimes, including murder, have been committed by men who can’t handle their own same-sex tendencies as was documented in American Honor Killings (2013, Akashic Books).

Granted there are also other issues at play here including gun control and the availability of automatic weapons colliding with mental health issues.

In the interest of not responding to hatred with hatred, I immediately thought of the fact that we are a human family. We have more in common than not and often there is considerable overlap between identities. I spent the day reading Guapa, a novel by Saleem Haddad (Other Press; New York; 2016).

In the novel, a man just under thirty living in an un-named middle eastern country, falls in love with another man and is walked in by his conservative grandmother with whom he lives.

The narrator is not from a religious family but he is grappling with homophobia in a deeply religious culture that includes check points, revolution, and a deep connection to family.

When the narrator reflects back on his adolescence, he gives voice to the same sentiments, unfortunately, that most young people feel regardless of their country of origin:

“I was different from everyone else.
I was doomed to be alone.
I was going to spend eternity rotting in hell.”

The narrator attends college in America — where he also grapples with homophobia and what he describes as his “Arabness” and all that that entails.

When he comes back to the Middle East and moves back in with his grandmother who raised him, he finally falls in love only to face more struggles. The narrator writes of his lover:

“He was right when he told me once that he had one foot in and one foot out. It was a balancing act, and he navigated it so effortlessly. But I was his one foot out, wasn’t I? In fact, he made sure I never met his mother. He introduced me to his father once, a few years ago at the wedding of his distant cousins. I remember being surprised at how tall his father was, but like Taymour he was very handsome.”

Judging from my reaction to the Orlando massacre, if I ever had any doubt, the LGBTQ community is home to me. I agree with President Obama when he said that gay clubs are meant to be safe spaces. I remember the days when gay clubs were not out in the open and when people of the same sex did not dare to hold hands in public.

It doesn’t matter that I haven’t been in a gay club in a good ten or fifteen years. It doesn’t matter if those murdered were all young people who I most likely would have never met. I grieve for them and their families.

The massacre is an American tragedy. It is a nightmare for the LGBTQ community. And it is a problem for people of faith. I was raised secular, but in recent years became a Unitarian Universalist — a faith that really does embrace all people, including those of us who are LGBTQ.

Being part of a religion occasionally puts me in contact with people from other religions who are not so welcoming. I usually don’t mind when I am the LGBTQ spokesperson — and I do understand that being myself and being out can change hearts and minds.

Religion is still evolving. I am sometimes astounded that traditional religions are changing at all — such as the time I drove by a church in my neighborhood and did a double take at a “Happy Pride” sign outside. But other times, I am appalled that many religions are not changing fast enough and the young people raised in them feel compelled to leave.

As we can see from the Orlando massacre, religion is not, in fact, changing fast enough for young people and their families who are found in all religions and denominations.

Where does hatred come from?

 

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Previously published in The Huffington Post

 

Around ten years ago, I stood on the sidewalk and watched then senator of New York, Hillary Clinton march down Fifth Avenue in the midst of the Gay Pride Parade. What I focused on at the time was that she was the only person in the parade wearing high heels. The lesbians certainly weren’t wearing heels. Even the drag queens that year had started wearing sneakers with their dresses. What I remember now, of course, is that Hillary was there — before marriage equality, before LGBT rights were known as human rights.

Fast forward to the current presidential election. I am having dinner with an older, less out, lesbian friend who gives me a look and says that gay people will have problems if a Republican wins the presidency. She is right, of course. The backlash to marriage equality is already underway.

It’s not only publicly out people who will suffer. Now that so many of us are married, we have government papers identifying us. Too many gains have been made, to go backwards. That is why I am supporting Hillary Clinton for president. She has the best background for the job. She is ready on day one. As a relatively recent member of a Unitarian Universalist church and a lay minister, I am technically open to all religious faiths in a way that I have not been before. But I have to admit that the white evangelical conservative Christians in the middle of the country scare me.

It is because of them that I am writing the following three Tweets outlining the reasons that I support Hillary:

Supreme Court justices decided in the nxt pres. term will decide our fate — including LGBT rights http://tinyurl.com/j3ujxlh #VoteHillary

Prez Obama first friend in white house to LGBT community — #VoteHillary continue the legacy http://tinyurl.com/ja38xw5 @HillaryClinton

African American support buoys #Hillary http://tinyurl.com/jtgjh9x Let’s take their lead. The last thing we need is a divided Democratic Party.

Of course, there are many other reasons to support a mainstream Democratic candidate. These include reproductive rights which are already being eroded and will be influenced by the Supreme Court. Bernie Sanders has some good points. But the candidate who defines himself as a “Socialist Democrat” and uses words such as “oligarchy” will not win over middle America. Chances are slim to none that he will win a general election.

No one wants to dash the idealism of young people — or those who stand with the young. But in pointing out the obvious, we are helping the young people avoid the decades long (or more) struggles that affect them too. Yes, LGBT rights can be rolled back. Reproductive rights can be taken away.

Hillary Clinton is tough and more than competent.

And speaking as a second generation feminist descended from the working class (something that I talk about in my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters), I am thrilled that a woman candidate has a good chance of securing the presidential nomination. I am voting not just for myself, but for the women who came before me.

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Yesterday, a the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia, I read a passage from my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mother’s and daughters as part of a service on ancestors that I presented.  Click here to see the reading on YouTube.  I’ll post the accompanying “Dharma Talk” and photographs tomorrow.

I am going to read an excerpt from my book Tea Leaves: a memoir of mothers and daughters.  This selection is taken from a meditation that I did with my mother toward the end of her life.

I look beyond my mother and grandmother to the other women standing higher on the hill. Their arms outstretched, faces beatific. I turn around and lay back in my grandmother’s arms. A warm breeze rustles through the grass, bending the long stalks into a green wave. My knees relax as I go limp. I am weightless in the air, held securely in the crook of my grandmother’s arms. I feel the firm grip of her hands. The broad fingers, that in her life were calloused and cracked, now cradle me with gentle strength. She speaks to me without words, telling me I am going back…back…to a place where I have come from but have never been…

As she passes me back to the woman standing behind her, I look up into a face I have seen only in old faded photographs. My own features mirrored back to me: the same square chin and full cheeks chiseled from the triangular lines. A flash of recognition passes between us, filial. Her features have changed from the few old photos I have seen. Fear has fallen from her face like a mask. Her strong hands cradle me, the resilience of a woman who knelt and scrubbed and, when she could do no more, kept on kneeling and scrubbing. The features of her face that were once tense and drawn have softened into wrinkles that fold easily in on themselves. Her face is lined with immeasurable wisdom. Dissolved in the cadences of time, transmuted between life and death, is the contempt she felt for her only daughter: my grandmother, abandoned by her husband, who raised two children on her own and was destined to live out the same fate as her mother. Staring into her blue gray eyes, I feel the tension in my shoulders dissolve. Tensions that I have never acknowledged, passed down to me from my mother, and to her by her mother, back to my great-grandmother and beyond.

More than a century of forgiving and forgiveness passes between us. I am safe, secure in her arms, feeling waves of compassion flow over me as she passes me back…

…..

I am passed back to great grandmothers and great great grandmothers before that. I go back before the rise of feudalism resting on its foundations built by the greed-driven church fathers, back to the green pastures lush with fruits of plenty growing next to clean waters. I think of my mother reciting the Twenty-third Psalm and suddenly understand her tears:

Yes, there was a time when we feared no evil.

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UU author/historian Mark Morrison- Reed comes to UUCR on Stenton Avenue and USG on Lincoln Drive in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia

RSVP for UUCR events by Friday,  April 10th — email Desi at  office@uurestoration.us

FRIDAY, APRIL 17TH –at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Mt. Airy 6900 Stenton Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19150

7:00pm – 9:00 Book Reading – Sanctuary

The Selma Awakening: How the Civil Rights Tested and Changed Unitarian Universalism

SATURDAY, APRIL 18TH — UUCR on Stenton Avenue

10:00am – 12:00pm

Morning workshop session – Fellowship Hall

We Are What We Sing: Diversity in UU

Hymnody

Singing our way through UU hymns from 1861 to today, we will make some interesting and telling discoveries about why we are who we are.

How Open the Door?

We will watch this DVD which surveys the history of race relations from the Abolitionists to Black Power. Following the DVD, we will explore Restoration’s history of becoming a multicultural congregation.

12:00 noon – 1:00pm     Catered luncheon:  $10.00

1:00pm – 3:00pm

Afternoon Workshop Session-Fellowship Hall

Eight Keys to Attracting People of Color to UU

Congregations

This DVD explores Davies Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church’s effort to become diverse.  After the DVD, we will explore what Davies and other congregations, like Restoration, have in common with one another.

The Nature of Racism

We will conclude our workshop with an examination of the nature of racism: how and why it impacts our efforts.

JAZZ APPRECIATION MONTH CONCERT WITH

MONETTE SUDLER AND LADIES NIGHT OUT

7:00- 9:00 Jazz Concert in the Sanctuary

$20.00 admission

(doors open at 6:30pm)

Monnette Sudler – guitar & vocals

NorikoKamo – organ

Luciana Padmore – drums and  Lynn Riley – saxophones and flute http://www.reverbnation.com/    monettesudlersladiesofjazz

Sunday morning  – April 19th – Mark Morrison-Reed will be giving the early sermon at 9:15 at the Unitarian Society of Germantown 6511 Lincoln Dr, Philadelphia, PA 19119

Sunday morning – April 19th – Mark Morrison-Reed will be presenting the sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Avenue:

11:00am  Worship

“Dragged Kicking and Screaming into  Heaven” Early in the 19th century Universalism swept across our young nation finding a popularity it never again achieved. It proclaimed a truly radical message. Is it time for us to return to the message that God’s love brooks no resistance? Universalism re-articulated for the 21st century.

12:15pm — UUCR on Stenton Avenue

Potluck Lunch/Book Signing – Fellowship Hall

Note:  The following is a reflection that I gave at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Avenue in  Philadelphia where I am a lay minister. Unitarian Universalism is a faith that encompasses all religious/spiritual backgrounds (including atheism, agnosticism and Buddhism) in a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning”.

In 1965, when events that were part of the voting rights struggle unfolded in Selma, I was six years old.  I must have seen parts of it on television.  I don’t remember.  But I do remember that I was influenced by the Civil Rights movement.

This weekend is the 50th anniversary of the historic march on Selma.  Today is also International Women’s Day, a global day of equality that was started in 1908  by the Socialist Party of America to demand better working conditions for female garment workers.

When I came out, I read a book on the nature of oppression and how it is all related and multilayered.  I see now, in retrospect, that the book just reaffirmed the experiences of my life.

The first in my family to graduate from college, I was  born to a feminist mother when she and my father where in their forties. In my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books, 2012), I relate a conversation that I had with my mother when she was dying.

“I’d feel better about this if you were fifty. I thought if I waited, I could bring you into a better world. I really thought things would be better and in some ways they were. No one talked about racial equality twenty years before you were born, there was no environmental movement.”

“And no women’s movement.” I met my mother’s unwavering gaze.

My mother was an excellent story teller. One of the stories that she told me was about Vera, a black lesbian she met in her licensed practical nurse training program. Vera was her own person, and she made quite an impression on my mother.

In telling me about Vera, my mother was telling me about her past and also about my future.

The Civil Rights movement and the movement for gay and lesbian rights were and are, in many ways, very different.  There was some homophobia in the Civil Rights movement and racism in the gay rights movement — despite considerable overlap.  For one thing, we have some common enemies as seen in the ongoing struggle over same sex marriage in Alabama.

I was heartened by the response of the young people — of all races — who responded to the hate speech of the protestors by yelling, “We love you.”

It is no coincidence that the country’s first African American President was also our first President to embrace same sex marriage. In President Obama’s last State of The Union address, I was proud to see the standing ovation at the President’s mention of same-sex marriage and that it was led by Representative John Lewis, the important Civil Rights activist. He was in the front of the march from Selma to Montgomery and was among those brutally beaten by the police on what became known as Bloody Sunday.

The African American author, retired UU minister, and noted UU historian, Mark D. Morrison-Reed is coming to Restoration the weekend of April 17th.  In his book The Selma Awakening, How the Civil Rights Movement Tested and Changed Unitarian Universalism, (2014, Skinner House Books), Morrison-Reed examines the UU faith and finds it lacking in its concerns with Civil Rights before the events of the freedom march at Selma catalyzed it.

As a newish Unitarian, it was disheartening for me to read that the Unitarian Universalist faith, except for pockets of true progressiveness, was not that evolved even in the early days of the Civil Rights movement.  Yet, it was interesting to read how the emphasis on racial equality changed, especially after Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., called for people of faith to join the freedom march.

I am currently involved in Restoration’s Beloved Conversations which provides the space for us to examine our experiences of race and ethnicity. In reflecting on what Selma meant to me personally, I realized that I grew up in an era that taught me that injustice is intolerable.

I came out in my early twenties and fell in love with my partner Barbara, who first met many of you at the local Post Office.  She retired several years ago.  Barbara is modest, but she is also a wonderful drummer and early on in our relationship she was part of a racially diverse group of women drummers and that was an important part of our lives. This undoubtedly helped to shaped my experience along the way.  But the underlying fact is that I am more comfortable with diversity than sameness.

The Civil Rights movement gave birth to the women’s movement and the gay liberation movement.  It also opened the door for many others to be fully human.  There is a saying that we are more alike than we are different.  There is still much more work to be done for racial equality.  And as we work for justice, it’s important to realize that we are working to make a better world for all of our relations and for ourselves, too.

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Author Janet Mason read from her latest book, Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters, (Bella Books) at the Golden Slippery Author Series held at Adath Israel in Merion Station, PA.

“I’ve taught people of all ages throughout the years,” said Janet Mason, “and I’ve always recognized that the older students have the most interesting stories.  The people who attended the author event have lived long and interesting lives and they have important stories to tell.  It was an honor hearing their stories during the lively discussion we had.

Janet Mason (third from right) with members of the Golden Slipper Book Group.

Janet Mason (third from right) with members of the Golden Slipper Book Group.

Tea Leaves spans the lives of three generations of women. It is about my experience taking care of my mother when she was terminally ill. It is also includes my mother’s stories about my grandmother, a spinner in a Kensington Philadelphia textile mill, and a fair amount about my own life.

The following is an excerpt from Tea Leaves that I read at the Golden Slipper Author Series.

It was 1927, the latter years of the Roaring Twenties. My grandmother would have seen the cartoon images of the flapper, a woman with bobbed hair and a short skirt daringly showing her legs from the knees down. This was the image of the loose woman—heralded in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby—that came to represent the decade. But this lifestyle existed for only a few—those who belonged to the class of the decadent rich, their excesses based on the skyrocketing stock market that would soon come tumbling down. For the majority of women, especially working-class women like my grandmother, it was still scandalous to be divorced.
With her children in tow, she moved back to the city where they stayed with an old church friend in the Germantown section, the neighborhood I later moved to—which at that point had become a haven for artists, political activists and lesbians—when I moved away from my parents’ home in the suburbs. It was evident from the disappointed look on my mother’s face, even now, more than a half century later, that regardless of the large house they stayed in she would have much rather been back in the country.
“Even the yard wasn’t anything compared to the country. It was just a patch of grass with a wrought iron fence around it. There was a birdbath with a wrought iron bench next it that was painted white. Who sat on a bench?” I looked at my mother—her scrunched-up face framed by her short hair—and I could see the ten-year-old staring out of her seventy-four-year-old face. “My favorite thing about that yard was the elm tree. It had low branches, as low as my favorite climbing tree in the country. It was the closest thing to home that I could find.”
She shifted painfully in her chair. “Eventually Mama found a job at the mill, and we rented a row home nearby in North Philadelphia. Our backyard was tiny, a small square yard with a cement walkway between two patches overgrown with grass and weeds. There wasn’t a tree anywhere in sight. We moved around a lot. Once or twice we only moved two blocks from where we had lived before. I always thought my mother was hiding us from our father. If he couldn’t find us then he couldn’t come and take my sister and me away.”
My mother held her shoulder and her eyes narrowed as she spoke. “I was a latchkey child. This was before the Lighthouse started a program for the older kids as well as the younger ones. The Episcopal women started the Lighthouse as a daycare and after-school program for the children of single mothers. Do you remember when I took you to the old neighborhood when you were ten?”
I nodded, remembering it well. A new hospital stood on the site of the old Lighthouse, off Lehigh Avenue, in the heart of North Philadelphia. When my mother was growing up, the neighborhood was full of European immigrants. Now it was a mostly Spanish-speaking section known as the Barrio. My mother’s stories of the Lighthouse captured my young imagination. I pictured an island jutting from the ocean, a tall cylindrical building with a pulsing light, an actual lighthouse. My memories of visiting her old neighborhood were full of exotic tastes and smells—arroz con pollo, plantains, the greasy sizzle of fried tortillas at the Spanish restaurant where we ate.
My mother sat gazing out the front window, looking far away into her own past, full of a different set of tastes and smells. “Before I started going to the Lighthouse with my sister, I came home from school earlier than my mother and had to let myself in with the key I kept on a string around my neck.
“One day I lost the key. That was the time I was homeless. I was out in the freezing cold for hours. It seemed like days before my mother came home from the mill. There was a storefront next to our house, and there was a light in the window so I went and stood in front of it. The store was closed but there was a woman inside. I could see her folding the linens, her outstretched arms looked like a cross draped with a purple sash at Lent.”
“Why didn’t the woman in the store let you in?” I asked. We had moved from the dining room into the living room, and my mother sat in her gold velour chair. The ottoman, covered with the textile my grandmother brought home from the mill, sat in front of her.
My mother gave me a look of pure astonishment. “In those days children were to be seen and not heard. All my life I’ve been in the wrong place at the wrong time. First children weren’t listened to. Then when I was grown, Benjamin Spock came around and said parents should shut up and listen to their children.” My mother’s words were deliberate, not angry; precise, rather than resentful. As she spoke, I saw a skinny seven-year-old in a frayed cloth coat, shivering as she waited the long hours for her mother, her teeth chattering as she stood in the doorway.
“Usually, I would take Mama’s dinner to the mill. We had ice boxes in those days—every morning the ice man would come with a block of ice and by the end of the day the ice melted down into the tray. I still remember the drops of water beading up inside the wax paper that covered the pound cake. In those days we didn’t think about what a healthy dinner was. So we had cake, not for dessert but for the main course. No wonder my mother became a diabetic. I passed by all the factories and red brick warehouses along the way. You’d never know it was the same neighborhood today with all those vacant run-down warehouses and factories everywhere. I still know the names of the lace they displayed in a store window on the corner: Italian Milanese, French Chantilly, English Honiton, Bedfordshire, Antwerp, Point de Lille.”
My mother’s story entered my imagination and I saw her as an observant child, turning the corner to where the textile mill loomed in front of her, four stories of red brick. She would have passed the night watchman who greeted her by name, to enter the back door into the clanking, whirring factory, which like a large hungry animal blew its hot breath on her neck. As she scurried down the familiar hallway toward the cafeteria, the familiar gray walls weighed down on her as heavy as the flabby arm of an old woman.

Tea Leaves, published by Bella Books, is available in bookstores and online in book and eBook formats.

You can learn more about Tea Leaves here.  (  https://tealeavesamemoir.wordpress.com/tea-leaves-in-the-news/  )

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To tell you the truth, I wasn’t really paying attention to the recent decision by the Boy Scouts that it will no longer deny membership to openly gay youths “on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”

When I first heard the news, it seemed to me that continuing to discriminate against openly gay scout leaders while admitting openly gay members was sending a mixed message. But there was more to my apathy than that. A quick internet search confirmed my suspicion that the Boy Scouts is a training ground for the militarization of young men.

But last Friday when I was in my driveway, packing up the car to take a trip to the Catskills for the legal same sex wedding celebration of two close friends, I had the opportunity to listen to a program on the Boy Scout’s decision on a Christian radio station that my neighbor’s roofer was blasting. The radio announcer was firmly against the Boy Scouts’ decision, and surprisingly I found myself agreeing with some of his logic. He mentioned that openly gay Boy Scouts may be scapegoated. This had occurred to me, even before I heard the Conservative Warrior railing against the decision.

He also mentioned that he would under no circumstances send his 16 year old son camping in a pup tent with an openly gay Boy Scout. He said that hormonally charged teenage boys experiment and implied that the openly gay Scout may seduce his presumably straight son.

The fact is that pre-teen and teenage boys do experiment — with each other. When I was growing up, it was known around the neighborhood that straight teenage boys were experimenting with each other. A gay male friend once explained to me that straight teenage boys actually saw more action with one another — than gay teenage boys, because the gay teens were more inhibited due to a fear of being identified as gay. The parenting website, Baby Center, has the results of a poll about boys age 11 to 13 year old boys experimenting with each other.

Sex is sex to a hormonally charged adolescent boy -whether that sex is with another boy, a girl, or a blowup doll. Chances are that if this radio personality sends his 16-year-old son into a pup tent with anyone – even avowed heterosexual Boy Scouts–that he is running the risk that his son will experiment.

As a pre-adolescent, I was an overachieving Girl Scout with badges up both sides of my sash. I learned about camping and tying ropes (neither of which stayed with me) – but what I remember most was that I learned the definition of “jerk off” by asking my mother what this meant after another Girl Scout called me this. My practical nurse trained mother explained to me that jerking off is something that a man does to himself while pretending that he is with a woman. Mind you, this was close to a half century ago. As I recall, knowing the facts did make me feel a little intellectually smug when I went back to the next Scout troop meeting and told my taunter that it was, in fact, not possible for me to be a jerk off.

A year later I was smoking pot and drinking and beginning my slide into full-blown adolescent self-destruction so it could be deduced that the Scouts did not instill anything in me to prevent this. However, when I was eighteen I did attempt to join the military and this was directly linked to me trying to redeem myself. The military recruitment video showed young women who looked like they had been Girl Scouts. More precisely, the women in the boot camp recruitment video looked like lesbians and undoubtedly this is what hooked me. I wanted to be a photographer. In 1977, the occupation of Army photographer wasn’t open to females so, fortunately, I did not join the military.

There are alternatives in life to joining the military and also to being a Boy Scout or Girl Scout. In Philadelphia, there is Mountain Meadow Queer Camp Alliance for children, girls and boys aged 9 to17, of LGBT parents and there are other similar camps across the country.

The New York Times reported recently that the Boy Scouts membership has been dwindling for years. After listening to the Conservative Warrior, I got to thinking that if he and his ilk decide to keep their sons out of the Boy Scouts and we do too that the result could be revolutionary.

It’s time to teach our children that it’s okay to think and stay outside the box.

This piece was originally published in OpEdNews.com

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The Obama administration has declared May as Older Americans Month.

At the same time the Obama administration is proposing cuts in Social Security and Medicare. There seems to be a disconnect.

Recently, I have been visiting my old friend and literary colleague, Anita Cornwell, 89, who has dementia and is in a nursing home.

She has been several stages of care at the same nursing home and is now in hospice. Anita is one of the lucky ones. She is in an institution that describes itself as a non-profit, faith-based continuing care retirement community with dementia and Alzheimer’s Care. And she is fortunate to have a younger friend (in her late fifties) who sold her house in a gentrifying neighborhood for her and handled her finances.

Anita Cornwell is the author of the book Black Lesbian in White America published in 1983 by Naiad Press.

Anita is a pioneer. She came of age as a lesbian in the 1950s, and in her early writings — published in The Ladder and The Negro Digest — she was among the first to identify as a Black Lesbian in print. As she writes in Black Lesbian in White America, she was born in the Deep South at a time “when integration was a term seen only in the dictionary.” Anita writes of herself as a young woman hanging out in the Village, where “She was looking for some of them, but they were home in the closet growing shoe trees.” She writes of her involvement in the women’s movement when she was often one of the oldest women in the room as well as being one of the few Black women: “We of the fifties (and the forties and on back to when) not only had to operate from the closet but, worse yet, most of us seemed to exist in a vacuum.”

Anita entered the nursing home five years ago and remembers very little, if anything, about her former life. Her writings are on my website, so I hear from people who are interested in her work, but only very occasionally. But for the most part, Anita has been forgotten. She has had few visitors in the nursing home and the three Valentine’s Day cards on the bulletin board at the wall at the foot of her bed were not signed. Someone on the nursing home staff had hung blank cards for her.

When I talked to some old friends who knew her, I got a standard response. One woman told me that she is busy with her own mother who has Alzheimer’s and is in a home. Another woman told me that “I’m sure she doesn’t remember me,” to which I responded, “she doesn’t remember anyone.”

Denial is a strong defense mechanism (in this case, the subtext is that “I won’t get old and sick”) and I am not standing in judgment of anyone. As I was standing next to Anita’s bed in the nursing home with my partner, I was reminded of how excruciating it is to be with someone who is near death. I was reminded of being with my mother, who I took care of and wrote about in Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters and also of being with my aunt near the end of her life. Anita has been bedridden for some months, since she lost her memory of how to walk. More recently, she has lost her memory of how to swallow.

I had seen Anita two weeks earlier and she was declining fast. She had lost a substantial amount of weight and looked like a different person that the last time I had seen her. She was sleeping and her roommate told my partner and I that if we woke her up, she would talk to us for a little while. She did wake up, and when my partner was sitting closer to her bed, asked her if she could get her anything, she responded, “A couple of million.” When asked what she would buy, Anita responded that, “For starters, I would buy a car.” When we told her that we had known her for thirty years, Anita replied “that’s a long time” and then she went back to sleep.

Read the entire piece on The Huffington Post

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International Women’s Day at the Mt. Airy Art Garage — and the celebration goes on — join us Saturday nite and Sunday afternoon

Victoria Peurifoy -- remembers Shirley Chisolm and herself!

Victoria Peurifoy — remembers Shirley Chisolm and herself!

Two of a kind!

Two of a kind!

Yolanda Wisher reads ALOUD!

Yolanda Wisher reads ALOUD!

Sister Cities Girlschoir!

Sister Cities Girlschoir!

Sister Cities Girlchoir!

Sister Cities Girlchoir!

old friends!

old friends!

TS Hawkins shares her powerful poetry!

TS Hawkins shares her powerful poetry!

International-Womens-Day-One
Comments overheard:

“That was just like the old days!”
“Let’s get together and strategize about how to take over the world!”
“Unemployment is a great thing!”

Remember, Anynomous was a woman.

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Like many LGBT Americans, I was profoundly moved by President Obama’s recognition of gays and lesbians in his inaugural speech. Even my straight-talking retired postal worker partner who usually has something to say about everything (when it comes to gay rights, her usual comment is “it’s about time”) sat quietly in front of the television taking it all in. It is about time and it is still amazing.

There were quite a few historic firsts at the inaugural ceremony, but the highlight for me was the inaugural poem by Richard Blanco, the first Hispanic and the first openly gay poet to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration. For me a poem is a slowing down of time, an opening, and a good poem always presents a teaching moment, that is once in a while life-altering, and leaves you experiencing the world differently.

There were two such moments within Blanco’s poem, “One Today,” and with the help of thecamera panning the immediate crowd, we can see the immediacy of those moments on the listeners. The first was when, Blanco recited the words “…. on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives– to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did for twenty years, so I could write this poem.”

The camera panned to Michelle Obama who looked up from her poetic reverie and opened her eyes when Blanco mentioned his mother. The look in her eyes was solemn, one that appeared to be based in compassion and identification.

The second teaching moment occurred closer to the end of the poem when Blanco was reading the words, “Hear: the doors we open for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom, buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días in the language my mother taught me…” And then the camera panned to Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor. Shortly after the phrase “buenos dias,” he twitched. In all fairness, Cantor may have been twitching all day — it was cold and he couldn’t simply sit in his warm home and turn off the television like so many other Republicans undoubtedly did. And it could have been worse. If Blanco had read a poem with explicitly gay content, Rep. Cantor might have done more than twitch.

I had been wondering, how Cantor and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) could stand there and listen to Blanco’s poem and not be moved by it. I was profoundly moved. I was the first in my family to go to college and I was close to my mother. When I began to write my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books 2012), I was primarily a poet. And even though I haven’t written poetry in years, I still have poetic sensibilities.

I wrote Tea Leaves to make some sense of losing my mother to cancer and being, along with my father, one of her primary caretakers. I also explore my working class background in this book, in particular writing about grandmother’s life who was a spinner in a textile mill in Philadelphia.

It is because of my class consciousness that Blanco’s poem resonated so strongly with me. Many immigrants have taken jobs that others would not do and whether it was picking fruit, packing meat, bagging groceries, or taking care of other people’s children they provide the services that this country could not do without. Then if they are “illegal,” they are deported or at least must always live in fear of deportation. Don’t we owe it to them to provide them with citizenship?

This week, both parties plan to introduce overhauled immigration legislation and they have the opportunity to do the right thing. Cantor, predictably, is solidly against immigration reform. His record speaks for itself. In 2007, he voted to declare English as the official language of the United States. In 2006, he voted yes on building a fence along the Mexican border.

More recently, Cantor was consistent in his conservative views in voting against enforcing anti-gay hate crimes in 2009, and in 2012 stated that taxpayer money should never be used to “kill innocent life” and in 2011 he voted in favor of banning federal health coverage that includes abortion.

There has been much talk about how Republicans lost the Hispanic and female vote in the Presidential election — and how they have to appeal to these groups of voters if they want to have a future as a viable party. While I have found these discussions interesting, I am not personally invested in the Republicans improving their lot.

But I do think that Republicans should do the right thing on immigration reform.

And if they do, then maybe some credit can be given Richard Blanco’s poetic moment.

In short, we are more alike than different. And if you doubt that, remember Blanco’s one word sentence,

Breathe.

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