Thursday, May 17, 2012

International Day Against Homophobia + Donna Summer Passes

Today is International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), the global day set aside to battle homophobia, one of the persistent and pernicious forms of oppression affecting US and every other society across the globe. As the late Barbara Smith wrote in her essay "Homophobia: Why Bring It Up?" (The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, New York: Routledge, 1993), "Homophobia may well be the last oppression to go, but it will go. It will go a lot faster if people who are opposed to every form of subjugation work in coalition to make it happen."

I've posted several times over the years about this important day, its origins, and even interviewed the person, Francophone (Martinican) author, scholar and activist Dr. Louis-Georges Tin, who played a key role in helping to establish it. In light of the recent anti-civil rights vote in North Carolina, the denial of judgeship to a gay man, the murder of a transwoman in New York, the countless cases of bullying and abuse of lgbtq children, teenagers, and adults, and the continuing furor that has followed President Barack Obama's and Vice President Joseph Biden's positive comments about same-sex marriage, it's quite clear than in the US, at least, though we have come very far indeed, we still have a ways to go, and at the root of all the examples I lay out above are what Barbara Smith and many others for decades have identified as a foundational form of oppression: homophobia.

But homophobia (and its attendent kin, heterosexism and heteronormativity) aren't problems just in the US. All across the globe, often in the face of state and popular opposition and worse, people are battling homophobia, often inscribed as religious dogma or cultural norms or traditional values, even though in many cases these "traditions" are as much the result of historical and political formations, and in places like sub-Saharan Africa or Latin America, of colonial discourse and policies, as the "homosexuality" the reactionaries are fomenting against and labeling as alien.  So today and at various points throughout the year, visit the IDAHO site or affiliated sites, read up on the causes and effects of homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism, and do what you can toward eliminating these forms of subjugation and oppression. They destroy not just lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people, but ultimately the lives of everyone.


Taking a tip from the ever-on-it Reggie H., and after my longish tributes yesterday to Carlos Fuentes and Christine Brooke-Rose, I'm going to link to his great blog, Noctuary, which features a post on IDAHO and on Donna Summer, who died today of cancer at age 63. She was without a doubt the Queen of Disco, a trailblazer in a musical genre that played an important role in the emergent post-Stonewall gay and lesbian cultures, while also serving as one of the soundtracks for 1970s African-American and urban Latino and working-class White folks more broadly.  Summer, a native of Boston, received five Grammy Awards, and had a string of hits, including "Love to Love You, Baby," "Winter Melody," "I Feel Love," "Heaven Knows," "Hot Stuff," "Bad Girls," "Dim All the Lights," "On the Radio," "The Wanderer," and the unforgettable "Last Dance," from the corny movie (that I loved), Thank God It's Friday. As Reggie H. says, she and other disco artists were the forerunners of a number of other subsequent musical genres, and despite the public backlash against disco (which did not exist in my house, where we listened to her and Chaka Khan and Tavares and the Bee Gees and everything else from R&B and soul to jazz and fusion), disco's and Summer's influences are still thankfully with us.

At her peak Summer was an icon, with a powerful voice that could pack ten different emotions into a melody, a public persona that embodied desire and possibility, and a figure who seemed to function both within the world of her songs as well as outside them and the limits of the society around her.  I was too young to go to discos during her heyday, but I can vividly remember skidding around a roller-skating rink as her songs boomed from the loud-speakers. In her post-disco fame religious conversion stage, which coincided with the eruption of the AIDS pandemic, she openly espoused homophobia, turning on one of the very communities that had brought her to fame. It was a horrible shift, which ultimately damaged her career as well, but she eventually apologized for what she'd said and done. One of the things I always consider with someone like Summer is that her behavior should remind us that homophobia can exist inside all of us, even in those who have been friends and allies, even in those of us who are queer, and so today, let's remember Summer and raise a skate (or a toast) in her memory, but also let's vow to bury homophobia once and for all. One of my favorite Donna Summer songs, "MacArthur Park"-"I don't think that I can take it/cause it took so long to make it/and I'll never have that recipe again/Oh noooo" (how true those words were for her, though she never really did lose the recipe, even posting a chart topper in 2010 with "To Paris With Love"):

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