For those of you who do not know, today is Holocaust Remembrance Day.
What is there to say? Millions of Jews, men, women, and children died in the holocaust, but it goes beyond that.
Sharing their fate were homosexuals, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, anyone who was different. Millions of innocent people who had done nothing wrong except be themselves were murdered. There are just no words and my words will fall short of conveying the scope and the pain of what happened to these people, these families, these friends, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers….children.
A lot of people are scared that under the current administration we are heading down the same path. It is not an over exaggeration, people are scared and they have good reason to be. Since the election hate crimes are on the rise. We have an administration that would rather give the people of this country ‘alternative facts’ and cut off a government agency’s communication to the people that they are suppose to be serving. We have an administration that is rallying against the free press and is playing ‘slight of hand’ with the truth. Then there is Russia. Russia with a leader so homophobic that you can’t even so much as have a rainbow bumper sticker, because if you do you might be arrested for spreading ‘homosexual propaganda.’ Russian President Vladimir Putin is not a friend to the LGBT Community and he has literally made people ‘disappear’ for criticizing his polices. With unsubstantiated rumors that the Russian Government interfered somehow with the election and the fact that there may indeed be a some information that can be used to blackmail the President of the United States of America, one would think that at this time our nation should keep a respectful distance from Russia until we can sort things out. No, not this administration, both Trump and Putin are supposed to speak over the phone any day now.
I digress, this was not supposed to be about the political climate of the 21st Century. This was supposed to be about the millions of people who were murdered, NOT died, murdered in the Holocaust. These ‘different’ human beings were murdered, tortured, and some were put through horrific experiments. They were taken from their homes, some in the middle of the night but, most disturbingly in broad daylight. With their ‘friends’ and neighbors, neighbors that Jewish families lived next door to for generations, neighbors that did not lift a finger to help them as German Soldiers shot them and they fell into mass graves one body on top of another, again in broad daylight. No one spoke up. Let that sink in.
Believe it or not Berlin had a thriving gay community in the 1930’s. When Hitler came to power that came to an end. Hitler had to blame someone for the sorry economic state Germany was in and it behooved him to blame the Jews, the gays, or anyone else that was not in the theological Christian norm. It behooved Hitler to view their differences not at diverse or as different people bringing the best of themselves to the table, but to use those very differences as a spring board to hate. He spread hate, misunderstanding and ‘alternative facts’ to achieve a climb to power that the world wold not see again until November 8, 2016. Hitler’s appeal to the disenfranchised common man was a strong and powerful tool, a tool he used to his full advantage. I mean if you think about it, Hitler was so popular that he could shot someone in the middle of Time Square and get away with it. All of this sounds so familiar, I was not alive in the 1930’s when Hitler came to power, yet I’m having the weirdest sense of de’ja’ vu.
Do I think that the Holocaust could happen again? Absolutely I do. Yet we have something the people did not have back then, we have better windows into the past. We can look at films, interviews with survivors, and by acknowledging the past we can make sure it does not happen again. Those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it, that’s a cliche’ I know, but it’s a true cliche’. We also have the internet, a way of communicating with each other and to the world. From our smart phones we can go ‘live’ and share things like the women’s march on Washington. People who actually work for the government can create new tweeter accounts and Facebook pages to let the public know what’s happening when the President orders a ‘media blackout’ of those agencies. We can hold a corrupt government accountable in real time. We can do all of these things, well until Donald J. Trump turns off the internet.
To the families, the men, women, and children who died scared and alone in the Holocaust, you are not forgotten, may your memories be a blessing.
And that my friends is my view from the other side of the Lake today, January 27th, 2017.
Donald Trump’s election has literately torn families apart in a way that hasn’t been seen since the Civil War. Maybe that’s a little extreme, but I certainly have never seen anything like this in my lifetime.
My family is no different. My younger brothers support Trump. My mom, my daughter, my husband and I disagree with them on a very fundamental level. There is no easy fix for this, it’s not something I can ‘just get over’ or even forgive, at least not now and maybe not ever. It goes beyond simple politics, it hits at the root of racism, misogyny, gullibility, and common sense. I love my family I especially love my bothers and I have always supported them, they have never done anything to ever make me ashamed or be disappointed in them, until now. Their support of a reality TV star, who is proud of the fact that he feels he can do whatever he wants to women because he is successful not only leaves me disillusioned with my brothers, but with half of this country. I accused one of my brothers of loving his addiction to ‘White Privilege.’ His response was “if working hard to raise a child and paying my bills is white privilege than yes I have white privilege.” After that statement, I simply asked him, “When was the last time you were pulled over for driving while Caucasian?”
As a typical Trump supporter he did not ‘get it’ nor will he ever because he and a lot of other Trump supporters, or should I say insecure white guys. Insecure white guys who want to go back in time and live in a world that never really existed. The idyllic world of post World War II 1950s where woman were women and men were men and there was not a person of color in sight and no one had ever heard of a same sex couple. They want a world where Bruce Jenner is still Bruce Jenner, where he’s on the cover of the Wheaties box and pees in the men’s room. They want a world that if a President of the United States visits Japan he would shake hands with Japanese Prime-minister. As is Japanese custom the Prime-minister would bow to a visiting dignitary. President Obama in showing respect to that countries people and culture while visiting Japan bowed to the Prime-minister. Angry white guys didn’t like that, “American’s bow to no one, especially the President!”
There is such a thing as ‘healthy fear’ and ‘healthy shame’. Healthy fear protects us and others from engaging in behavior that doesn’t get us or others hurt or killed. Healthy shame keeps us out of jail. You can find both of these qualities in leaders. Mind you I said leaders, NOT bosses. All leaders are bosses but not all bosses are leaders and right now Donald J. Trump is going to be sworn in NOT as America’s 45th President, but as America’s boss and anyone who does not follow the employee hand book is going to be written up, written off, and fired.
Donald Trump has never had to fear anything or feel ashamed of his behavior. I do not think that at his core he is able to feel or understand those concepts. That does not make him a strong leader, that makes him a dangerous leader. When leaders have no fear, shame, humility, and no conscience, people die. Real leaders set examples and earn respect. Bosses give orders and expect unquestioning blind obedience.
I want to believe President Obama with all of my heart when he said at his final press conference, that he believes we will all be okay. ‘It will be okay.’ That sounds suspiciously like something your Dad would say if you had to go to the hospital for surgery as a kid. You KNEW deep down it would be okay, but you also knew that recovery was going to hurt like hell.
Eight years ago at this time I felt hope. Eight years later hope has left the building, it left the building when intolerance and uncertainty showed up.
One of the last things my brother told me was that I was ‘everything that was wrong with this country.’ I’ll own that, and I’ll wear it on my sleeve like I do my heart and my attitude. In the mean time an ‘Amber Alert’ has been issued for ‘HOPE.’ I don’t think it will be missing for long, just long enough for us to miss it.
And that my friends is my view from the other side of the lake.
Convicted former U. S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning was released from federal prison today. Manning posted a Tweet commemorating her release. Chelsea Manning @xychelsea Manning said in a statement after her release, “I am looking forward to so much! Whatever is ahead of me is far more important than the past. I’m figuring things out right now – which is exciting, awkward, fun, and all new for me.” Manning remains on unpaid active duty with U. S. Army and will retain benefits such as healthcare.
January 18, 2017
As one of his last acts in office, President Barack Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning. The former Army intelligence analyst was found guilty in 2013 for violating The Espionage Act. Manning came out as transgender after she was sentenced to 35 years in prison without the possibility of parole. Manning had been serving her sentence in a men’s military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where she found it difficult to deal with the unique problems that comes with transitioning while incarcerated and has attempted suicide at least twice. After pressure from ACLU she was at least allowed to start hormone therapy and partly transition to life as a woman. A petition from Manning supporters that called for her release was sent to President Obama and had received over 100,000 signatures.
Manning, was convicted of leaking over 750,000 documents to Wikileaks which included diplomatic files from American embassies around the world along with other sensitive information. Included in the leaked files was a video of an American Helicopter attack in Baghdad, in which two journalists and other civilians were killed. Manning felt that if she were to release the documents it would open a “worldwide discussion, debates and reforms.” It was never proven that the information Manning leaked caused the death of any Americans or military personal.
The decision to grant Manning clemency has garnered President Obama both praise and scorn alike. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R) Called the decision “Outrageous,” and claimed that the President was setting a “dangerous precedent.” Glenn Greenwood, one of the journalists that Manning leaked documents too praised Obama and said via Twitter, “Beyond the whistle blowing, ponder Manning’s courage: she publicly announced her transition in a military prison.” Fellow whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted to Manning,“stay strong just a while longer.”
Manning is scheduled to be released from prison on May 17, 2017.
Noor Salman, the wife of Omar Mateen the man who murdered 49 people and injured 53 others at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in June, 2016 has been arrested. Salman was taken into custody on the charges of obstructing Justice and aiding and abetting by providing material support to a terrorist organization. Charges Salman, and her attorney’s have denied.
Noor Salman has stood by claims that she was an abused wife and mother and that her husband would beat her regularly. Salman also claimed that her husband would use the code word ‘Shar’ in public, which is Arbic for whore, if she acted in a way or said something he did not like. The F.B.I. disagrees and believes that Salman “acted of her own free will and knowingly took steps to obstruct the investigation in the massacre” and she has given conflicting accounts about what she knew of her husbands plans. By her own admission, Salman had went with her husband at least once to buy ammunition at Walmart and ‘feared’ her husband was plotting some sort of attack.
Professor Jacquelyn Campbell, of Johns Hopkins University, who has done studies on domestic violence evaluated Noor Salman’s case at the request of her attorneys. Professor Campbell claims that if she was as severely abused and she claimed, her number one goal would be survival. In trying to survive Noor Salman would be totally oblivious to any clues that Omar Mateen had been planning anything.
Professor Mia Bloom of Georgia State University has conducted studies on the role of women and children in terrorist groups. Professor Bloom has found that in 64% of the cases that involve terrorism relatives and friends are aware of the alleged terrorist intent.
How aware Noor Salman was that her husband was going to murder 49 people and injure 53 others in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history remains to be seen. Salman is due to be arraigned in court on Tuesday.
We seem to be at a cross roads in the gay community, with marriage equality becoming the law of the land and positive roll models, major celebrities, and even athletes coming out, our lives, like it or not, have become main stream. Straight families seem to be moving into our ‘gayborhoods’ and living and working side by side with us. For most of us, but not all, our friends and families have accepted us and some of us are starting our own families. As more and more of us come out that line that divided us seems to be getting thinner and thinner, so thin in fact you almost can’t see it anymore. It seems that when you gain more than what you had, you end up giving up ‘something’ or that ‘something’ becomes less and less relevant. The ‘something’ I’m talking about in this instance is your friendly neighborhood gay bar.
Here in North West Indiana and most specifically in Michigan City, we’ve lost the majority of our gay bars. As we are welcomed into more all inclusive establishments our community is split on whether we even need one. In the past, gay bars were a refuge from the main stream that we were not welcome in. For to many years it was not was not safe for a lot of people to come out, they would risk getting fired from their jobs or endure any number of negative reactions to living a life that was authentic to them. The gay bar was the outlet in which we could be ourselves, talk with other like minded people, see entertainment unique to our community, laugh with our friends or help them through their drama, and maybe find that companion to spend the rest of the evening with or in some cases a life. My memories of these places are bittersweet, I’ve had some good times some not so good times. I’ve had a lot of laughs in these places and yes my share of ‘hook ups.’ I was even introduced to my husband in a gay bar. It seems we’ve been together ever since.
There are a lot of different opinions why we don’t need a gay bar, but the most prevalent one seems to be the most obvious of reasons, we don’t need one because it’s so easy to ‘hook up’ these days. In an age where instant gratification enables us to ‘order’ a companion on-line as easily as you would order a Domino’s Pizza, you can have a (hopefully) hot guy over to your house in 30 minutes or less, and hopefully they are using a current profile pick. Grab your phone and hit the icon for your favorite ‘hook up’ app of choice, GRINDR, SCRUFF, ADAM 4 ADAM or the inevitable PENIS TRACKER app. and you can get that awkward, sexual hook up delivered right to your door, and if you are already having cocktails at home you are exercising good judgment by not driving, you don’t even have to leave the house to lose your self-esteem.
For those of you who don’t think we need gay bars anymore for that reason, I respectfully disagree. When you turn 21 it’s a right of passage to go into a bar for the first time, it seems even more so for that 21 year old gay man, going to see his first drag show, maybe locking eyes with that hot guy across the bar. Wrestling with the dilemma of going home with said hot guy or staying with your best straight girl friend the rest of the evening, I guess it would depend on who drove. Gay bars are needed for that one guy, we all know one. He was in a very long term relationship and managed to get through a bitter break-up. After 3 weeks of self imposed exile his friends drag him out to the bar, maybe on stripper night. He has a few drinks, someone pays for a lap dance and all the sudden he finds the strength to laugh again at least for the moment, he can go back to being depressed tomorrow. When you needed to dance, or wanted to dance. If you couldn’t dance the liquid courage would take over, you find that your body is not only following the rhythm of the music, but the rhythm of the person’s body who is suddenly grinding up against you. The older generation, the guys that were around when Stonewall happened, the start of the modern gay rights movement. Lot’s of these gentlemen are not on line, and that’s okay, but like lot’s of people they still need companionship. Sometimes just a conversation or a ‘how have you been?’ is enough, sometimes its enough because it will help another human being be less lonely for awhile.
The gay bar is and should be still be that place where we go. It should support our community just at the community supports it. To many gay bars took from the community and never gave back. I think in this age of gay centered Television shows, Campbell’s soup commercials, and marriage equality the thing that should not disappear from our collective conscience is THAT place, our place. The place with the pool table, the dart board, the place where your best friend knocked over that flaming shot of rum and almost set the table on fire. That place were the Gay Pride Flag flew proudly. That place were you would meet your friends after work.
“So when you get off later just get there. We’re all going to be there and first drink is on me, oh and I heard from a pretty credible source that guy you like is gonna be there too. Maybe you will finally ask him to dance. Anyway, we are waiting on you.” I know I’ve been waiting for my gay bar to make a come back, I have a feeling I’m waiting in vain.
…and that my friends is my view from the other side of the lake.
Porter Novelli was hired by Indiana after national outrage over the state’s anti-LGBT Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence.
According reports that were released last week from Indiana Economic Development Corporation, there was no real reason given as to why taxpayers were stuck with a $365,000 bill from New York-based public relations giant.
The record totaling 1,100 pages gave little to no information what was exactly gained by the hiring of the firm, or how the Hoosier State benefited from it, or why Pence terminated the contract just weeks after retaining them.
Porter Novelli did provide the state with a monitoring radar and daily reports on what was being said about the state in traditional media and social media.
This tracking system kept tabs on influential social media users like Republican pollster Christine Matthews, political strategist Donna Brazile, and Huffington Post senior political reporter Amanda Terkel.
An Apr. 15, 2015 report said that “a number of opinion writers and LGBT community leaders believe spending $2 million in taxpayer money is unnecessary, and that the state should instead pass non-discrimination laws.”
Indiana has so far failed to pass such laws during the current legislative session.
Chris Cotterill, general counsel for the IEDC, spins the hiring of Porter Novelli as nothing to do with RFRA. He explained, “The reason [to hire the firm] was there before. It’s not to make up for something.”
According to a press release that was scrapped just hours before it was sent out, Indiana Commerce Secretary Victor Smith said, “We must acknowledge the recent political controversy surrounding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has damaged our reputation.”
The release went on to mention RFRA several times.
According to the report, IEDC officials and Porter Novelli edited out any mention of RFRA and the quote attributed to Secretary Smith.
When asked why this version of the release was not used, IEDC Spokeswoman Abby Gras said, “Various word choices were considered in the development of this particular release. All of our press releases at the IEDC go through several rounds of edits; this is pretty standard.”
The documents provided by the IEDC were only released because of a formal complaint issued to Public Access Counselor Luke Britt. He argued that the IEDC had violated the states’ public records law by not releasing the records after they were requested eight months earlier.
John Zody, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, submitted a public records request to Pence in July of 2015, seeking all documents and e-mails from Porter Novelli.
According to Zody, “Pence wasn’t being transparent with Hoosiers when he terminated the taxpayer funded contract with Porter Novelli the day before a long holiday weekend. Hoosiers need to know their tax dollars are being managed properly.”
According to Indiana law, public records requests need to rereleased to the requesting parties in a “reasonable” amount of time.
“Simply put, a reasonable period of time has long since elapsed,” Brit wrote in his opinion against the IEDC.
When the IEDC finally complied with the request, what it provided was a document that had either partially, or completely redacted, pages.
Fifty other documents were completely withheld.
According to Cotterill, the reason so much of the report was not made available was to keep top-secret marketing strategies out of the hands of other states.
“If, for example, the IEDC had to reveal all it’s marketing plans, then other states that are competing with Indiana for jobs would have Indiana’s playbook,” Cotterill said. “More than that, they would have the underlying opinions and analyses that lead to the development of our ‘plays’”.
Even after the $365,000 price tag, the RFRA law is still in place. Advocates say that the only damage control the state needed to do was pass LGBT non-discrimination laws, a solution that would have been much less costly both in finical terms and in terms of reputation.
Northwest Indiana is having a drought of sorts—but not for lack of water. Its gay bars have evaporated and left a barren desert when it comes to the traditional gathering places for gays to meet, socialize, and maybe hookup.
Eleven years ago, the popular Helen’s, in Michigan City, closed its doors for the last time. Just a few years ago, Encompass, in Lake Station, shut its doors, too.
If Chicago’s Boystown bars and clubs had a hard time keeping up with the Great Recession, imagine how much harder Northwest Indiana’s gay watering holes suffered. With their shuttering, Hoosiers who didn’t want to drive to the Windy City’s major gayborhood had very few options.
According to the Williams Institute, Michigan City—an hour from Chicago—ranks fourth in Indiana for highest percentage of same-sex couples. Hundreds in the area identify as LGBT. But for many of them, going to “straight bars” to socialize just isn’t the same—leaving many wanting more from the experience.
Gone, too, are the drag shows—a still popular form of entertainment in the greater LGBT community.
Welcome to the Other Side
There is a group of performers that have stepped up to fill the void that bars like Helen’s left. They call themselves, “Welcome to the Other Side.”
WTTOS is a troupe of drag queens and kings, traveling once a month to bars and venues all over Northwest Indiana to entertain, interact, and inspire local LGBT persons. The group managed to endear themselves to hundreds—their devoted fan base.
Once a month, these devout fans travel from wherever they are to places like Shenanigans pub in Portage, or Crossroads in Westville—what some would call a biker bar. There’s a bar attached to a Michigan City bowling alley, called Mug Shots.
While a pub, biker bar, and bowling alley aren’t places one would normally find a drag show, WTTOS have sold out the venues to capacity. Their most recent show was in the reception hall of Michigan City’s Clarion Inn. It brought in around 100 people—each paying $10 to get in.
Wilma Fingerdo is a self-described “football player in a dress.” She stands at 6’4”, without heels, and weighs 250 pounds. She is hard to miss in the crowd.
Wilma is mistress of ceremonies for the show—even called the “Mrs. Garrett” figure in the group, taking care of promotions, public relations, and books the gigs.
Talking with Wilma Fingerdo, Jayda Pill, Dena Richards
Wilma spotted us when we walked in, giving a wave and warm smile. It was two hours before the show even started, and she was working the room with her partner (in business and in life), in drag, Jayda Pill.
I caught local drag legend Dena Richards as she entered the room, and then shortly thereafter, E.J. Marx and Kane Richards—the two resident drag kings.
After trying all week, I’m finally able to get the very busy cast together in one spot to talk to Opus News about the business of doing drag in the Midwest, and how they are more like a family, than just performers who work together.
This evening’s event is a celebration of sorts. May 16 marks the third anniversary of WTTOS being asked to perform at The Warehouse in South Haven.
Jayda, who at over six-feet tall, is sporting a cat-suit with a pattern of Quaaludes and other assorted pills. She’s accessorized her look with high heels, pearls, and a bright orange wig. She towers over me as I start to ask her questions about that first performance.
She seems to remember it like yesterday.
“There was like 300 people. It was over 300. It was a little crazy because I remember being up there doing a number, and I’m forgetting my words almost, because I’m looking at a sea of people,” Jayda said. “They would have to get a bouncer to help get us to the stage for us to do it.”
After that performance, things took off, she explained.
“We thought there’s a need here. So we said, ‘Let’s just do it.’ Bar owners started coming to these shows and started asking us to perform at their bars, like we were doing out in Westville.”
Owners of “straight bars” saw that these shows brought hundreds of new people to their establishments—people who normally wouldn’t come in. Of course, they’re bringing their wallets with them.
What did the regular patrons think about a drag show invading their local watering hole?
Wilma explained that they didn’t seem to mind.
“Even at the Crossroads in Westville! Not to use the terms in a derogatory fashion, but they had a lot of bikers and truckers,” she said. “If we were doing a show and they were to come in, the bartender would explain to them what kind of a show it was. And they would hang around. They almost always had fun.”
How much of an influence do reality shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race have on those bar-goers who stayed for the show—or the general public, for that matter?
Dena—a fixture in Chicago, especially Atmosphere ion Clark Street in Andersonville—chimed in.
“Thank God for RuPaul and his show, because he brought drag to the entire nation,” she said. “Now everybody in Westville has an idea what happens, and how it goes. They were seeing it on their television on a weekly basis so they knew we were out there. They just had to make the connection to see who was out there.”
Dena has been performing in Northwest Indiana for 30 years. We’re told by Wilma that her age is a “highly classified secret.”
“After the bars closed, we had to do something! So, there were little house parties and a couple little venues that were letting us do things on the side, and banquet rooms and stuff like that,” Dena explained. “Then, when they found out we were willing to fill a place that would hold 300 to 400 people, word got around. Next thing you know, everybody wants a piece of that pie.”
Does Northwest Indiana need gay bars?
Most of the audience members I caught up with at the anniversary show said they’re regulars.
Did they think the area needed a gay bar, or had the community outgrown them?
One gentleman answered with an enthusiastic, “Yes!”
Another said, “No.”
The person that said no also said that he felt that a weekly drag performance would be too much exposure for WTTOS. If you only see them once month, then the excitement builds as you wait to see the next one, he explained.
Jayda thought the disappearing gay bars might be part of a generational shift.
“[We’re] in a different generation now…with the Grindr app, and Guy Spy, and all those different ones. This is how kids are meeting each other. They’re not going out and having a social experience.”
So, they’re ordering in, as it were?
“Yes, that’s what it is,” Jayda said. “It’s sad to see that. The physical connection of meeting someone [at a gathering place like this]—that’s very important.”
Wilma, like the others at WTTOS, agree and put a lot of value in face-to-face interaction that they can’t get on an app.
“We always come out an hour early to take photographs,” Wilma said. “Everybody wants a picture for Facebook and all that. We B.S., have a cocktail chat with the people that are there.”
“We always try to make sure we are approachable and friendly to the folks—the folks who’ve come out that we’ve known for years, and those folks who’ve come out for the first time.”
Drag kings E.J. Marx and Kane Richards
E.J. Marx and Kane Richards are drag kings with a following of their own—many of whom are straight women in the audience.
“You feel like a superstar,” E.J. explained his experience with WTTOS. “Like, these people follow you everywhere you go, and it’s amazing. They come and pay the money to get in the door, and they want to see your entertainment. They know you for the songs you do, and when they come up to you after the show, and they’re like, ‘Can I get a picture with you’ or ‘Can I get your autograph?’ I’m like, ‘Really? Are you serious? Absolutely!”
For Kane Richards, a trans man, the anniversary show was doubly meaningful.
“Today is my one year on testosterone,” he said. “I call it my maniversary.”
Kane grew up in a small Midwestern town that was sorely lacking in positive role models for anyone in the LGBT community. He explained coming to terms with who he is, after high school.
“You go through college, and you do all these things, and you find yourself,” he shared. “I found myself, but it wasn’t quite right. I never felt like this is how I was supposed to be.”
Kane said that drag helped him confirm his identity.
“When I put on the fake facial hair, and I see a beard on my face, and I bind my chest—the first time you I looked at the reflection in the mirror, I saw happiness. It was like, ‘This! This is right.’ It was like this light bulb came on and it was a wave of emotions. It was like no words can explain it.”
Both E.J. and Kane got the itch to perform after seeing drag queens perform.
E.J. said a drag queen cousin was an inspiration. After watching her perform, E.J. started to hang out and run in their circle.
“I was like, ‘You know what? I think I can do that. I want to be on stage.’ So they gave me an opportunity. My cousin did my makeup. I picked a number and they introduced me for just one number, one show, and I took it from there.”
Seeing drag for the first time was just as intoxicating for Kane.
“I saw a show and I was like, ‘I can do that. I need to do that. I want to do that. And I started messaging the queens and talking to them,” Kane said. “I did a duet with Dena, but it just kind of spiraled into a duet with me. ‘Do a spotlight with me’ finally became ‘Okay, come join the group.”
We are family
E.J. and Kane have very different acts with unique styles. But they refer to themselves as brothers. In fact, all the members of WTTOS find such closeness to each other. They support each other.
“We are just a big, weird dysfunctional family,” Kane declared.
WTTOS travels with its own disc jockey, DJ Mark Renicker. Like Dena, he was also displaced after Helen’s closed.
The troupe has professional lighting effects, backup dancers for the drag kings, and multiple costume changes.
The show has a lot of raw energy, sharpened wit and sexually charged teases.
How long do they think they can do this?
“It’s fun for me to go up and host a show—and make fun of those people who are my friends,” Wilma explains.
“It’s no different than us hanging out on a Saturday night and making fun of each other, bullshitting and having cocktails. So, I don’t know. As with anything else, it’ll runs its course. I think we will do this as long as we can, as long as it’s fun, and as long as it’s professional.”
“It is a lot of fun. We enjoy each other’s company, and we enjoy our crowds.”
THE SNYDER-HILLS, SOLDIERING FOR CHANGE, EMPOWER LGBT VOICES
ARMED WITH ANGER AND CONCERN, THE HOPE AND WANT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS, THEY GATHER AROUND THE SOLDIERS’ AND SAILORS’ MONUMENT CALLING FOR EQUAL PROTECTION UNDER THE LAW.
JOHN LIVELSBERGER — APRIL 8, 2015
It’s a cool spring Saturday in Indianapolis, Ind. The NCAA Final Four is in town and legions of college basketball fans have descended on Indy to show support for their favorite teams. It’s also a perfect day for a protest march by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Hoosiers, and their supporters.
They’re still revved up against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—signed into law by Republican Gov. Mike Pence. They’re also unhappy about a subsequent “fix” to the bill that only offers limited LGBT protections to cities and towns that already have LGBT non-discrimination policies on the books.
Armed with anger and concern, the hope and want for civil rights, they gather around the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument on Monument Circle calling for equal protection under the law. The gathering’s starting point is appropriate. It will be led by a famous soldier and LGBT activist, Army Maj. Stephen Snyder-Hill—along with fellow veterans of the U.S. armed forces.
The march will take the protesters to Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Final Four. There, the protesters will stop to hear the soldier and his husband, Joshua Snyder-Hill. Other LGBT activists will speak to the already fired-up crowd.
In 2012, as an Army captain, Steve hit the national stage after being booed during a Republican presidential debate. He was still an active combat solider in Iraq when Steve submitted a question via YouTube for the presidential candidates to answer. He asked them if they would reinstate the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell ban on openly lesbian and gay members of the military.
In years since, Steve has become a vocal LGBT activist. He wrote the book, Solider of Change: From the Closet to the Forefront of the Gay Rights Movement. But most important to him, he’s settled into the role of husband.
After the march, with the protest chant “No hate in our state!” still ringing in my own ears, I caught up with the Snyder-Hills.
On first meeting them, they come across as humble, yet passionate and driven. They want to make sure that the LGBT community, in every state, archives civil rights and marriage equality.
The Snyder-Hills knew about the civil rights march in Indianapolis—named “Stop the Madness”—only days before. Just the weekend before, the couple was in California. After the stop in Indy, they will find themselves in Tennessee on the weekend of Apr. 10.
I asked if they saw themselves as gay superheroes, who drop everything at a moment’s notice to run to a cause in need.
“You know, the thing is, I think each one of us can become a superhero,” Steve said. “Harvey Milk, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr.—all of them used the power of their voices, and it means so much for us to come out. Sometimes it is a lot of going across the country, and when you hear people yelling ‘No hate in our state!’ then you just think, it’s not just our state. It’s all states, and we really need to be out there for everybody, no matter if it’s our state or somebody else’s.”
Just like going off to Iraq to fight for the freedoms of all Americans, Steve and Josh with Macho the dog, just along for the ride, do not think twice about driving over two hours from their home to help give voice to embattled Hoosiers. In the last two weeks, Indiana residents have taken a beating from the rest of the nation, elected officials, social media, and late night comedians.
Part of their drive and passion could, in part, be the fact that the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals chose to uphold same-sex marriage bans in Michigan, Tennessee, Kentucky and their own home state of Ohio.
I mentioned to Steve I had read somewhere that he said his husband has more rights on a military base than in their home state of Ohio.
How are they dealing with that frustration?
“I mean, it is really frustrating knowing that I fought for 26 years in the army, fighting for everybody’s rights, and I always felt I was fighting for everybody else’s except for mine,” Steve said. “And now, we’re kind of at a point where we kind of feel the same way as a couple—where all the things we’ve been fighting for is great, federally, for our protection, and our state does not grant us those things. So, we are going to keep fighting.”
Fight, they do, all over the country—whether it’s on the street, in news rooms, or in-studio on shows like The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule later this Spring on state same-sex marriage bans, once and for all states. And many like the Snyder-Hills are hopeful they will rule in favor of marriage equality.
I asked Steve and Josh what they thought the most important cause for the LGBT community would be if that goal is achieved.
“Our next big thing will be our transgender community, because our own LGB community hasn’t been as accepting as we need to be for our transgender brothers and sisters.” —Army Maj. Stephen Snyder-Hill
“I think that [the need for LGBT to speak out] is never going to stop. There are people that are hateful everywhere. Marriage equality is inevitable, and it’s one step,” Steve explained. “I mean, in the mid ’60s, interracial marriage was illegal, but today African-American people still suffer from discrimination. Our own president has been treated so horribly by people, and I think we are always going to have a challenge. But our next big thing will be our transgender community, because our own LGB community hasn’t been as accepting as we need to be for our transgender brothers and sisters.”
I asked Steve if he thought shows like Transparent were giving a much needed voice to the transgender community.
“Anything that causes visibility to anyone can give them a voice,” he said. “I think that speaking up and telling your story gives people a voice and that’s what that community needs to do. You know I’m not transgender and I don’t know what it’s like to be transgender, but I ask every day for people to understand what it’s like for me to be gay. I ask them to accept me and to understand what I go through, so I need to do the same thing for my transgender community.”
Throughout our conversation, Josh is content to let Steve take the lead. But make no mistake, Josh is a formidable LGBT activist in his own right.
Joshua started fighting for LGBT civil rights while Steve was still deployed in Iraq. In the book Soldier of Change, Steve notes that Josh’s eyes “had changed” in the year Steve was deployed. Josh stopped being an “armchair activist,” got up, and got out to fight for equality.
I asked how the couple’s activism and certain amount of celebrity affect their families in Columbus, Ohio. Like a pro, Josh answered with the sincere, infectious smile that he has worn all day.
“Our families have been amazing. They’ve been really supportive,” he explained. “Steve’s mom texts us that Steve is going to be speaking at a library in Sandusky, and they are just so proud and supportive. They’ve been nothing but champions; they’ve come to our speeches. Steve’s parents came to a Ted Talk where he spoke. My parents came to Youngstown University. They have been nothing but huge advocates. Even our little nieces are big supporters.”
Steve was worried about a word I used.
“I hate that word celebrity, because I don’t ever want to feel like it’s about us. It’s not,” he insisted. “It’s about every one of us. We are all in this together, and our story is not Josh and my story—it’s all of our stories.”
Despite all the forward momentum that the modern LGBT movement gained, there are still many people that want to take away everything fought for, and earned, since the Stonewall Riots. Some of them are conservative elected officials—and some of those elected officials are also military service members.
I asked Steve how he felt about elected officials who don’t feel that same-sex couples have the right to marry, or should have access to spousal benefits, and would like to see existing benefits be stripped away. I used the example of Republican Indiana state Sen. Mike Delph, a staunch social conservative, who has been at odds with his own party about the way marriage equality was handled in the Hoosier State. Like Steve, he was a service member.
“He got to that position of power because people elected him,” Steve explained. “Probably the most discouraging thing is when I see that people don’t go out and vote, and then people make laws like [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act].”
The very law that was being protested in Indianapolis that day is the perfect example.
“You know this shirt that I’m wearing?” Steve points to his blue t-shirt.
Across the front of the shirt, it says “Veteran” but the “V” has been replaced with a pink triangle. The pink triangle memorializes the gay men in Germany and occupied Europe who, in World War II, were placed in concentration camps like Auschwitz. Gay men were made to wear a pink triangle instead of the Star of David that Jewish prisoners were forced to wear.
“The pink triangle means so much to me because, at one time, it was not only legal that people persecute and kill gay people—it was encouraged by that whole society in World War II,” Steve said. “I think that we need to not ever forget that, just like this logo says.”
Steve points to another logo on his shirt that says, “Silence equals Death.”
“We need to make sure we never forget where we come from and that it’s always possible for hateful people to get into positions of power. We need to remember that we have the power not to put them there,” he said.
Because of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Steve’s voice was forced into muted silence. Now that he can speak, he does and he does not hold back.
He empowers others to stand up and speak, to tell their stories. It’s the last thing Steve said to me as we ended our conversation.
“Always trust the power of your voice.”
The voices were loud in Indianapolis—and resonated with power. The Snyder-Hills helped see to that.
ARMYDADTDEFENSE OF MARRIAGE ACTDON’T ASK DON’T TELLGAY SOLDIERINDIANAINDIANAPOLISJOSHUA SNYDER-HILLLGBT SOLDIERRELIGIOUS FREEDOM RESTORATION ACTSOLDIERSTEPHEN SNYDER-HILLU.S. ARMYU.S. SOLDIER
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