Thursday, May 28, 2009

Proud Colors

Rainbow Pride (Marie-Josee Ferron: documentary; color; 60 mins.;2006)

San Francisco brings to mind many images, both pleasant and not so pleasant--cable cars, steep hills, the Golden Gate Bridge, Harvey Milk's assassination, the occasional earthquake. Add one more image to the mix--this one for the pleasant column--the rainbow flag, a symbol of gay pride and empowerment. It was created by Gilbert Baker, a self-described "drag queen from way back."
Baker's flag and its impact on gay culture is the subject of an hour-long documentary, Rainbow Pride, that was filmed mostly in San Francisco and Key West, Florida, and first aired on public television three years ago.
In 1977, when Baker was commissioned to design a flag to be hung from lampposts during that year's pride parade, no one could have imagined that one day its colors would become such an international symbol for the GLBT community (thanks to New York's "Stonewall 25" celebration that featured a mile-long version of the flag).
The hand-made flag originally had eight colors (each signifying a different theme). Two of them (hot pink and turquoise) were later dropped because, as one interviewee pointed out, those colors were not on the palette of flag makers.
Baker, who knew the late openly gay politician Harvey Milk, gives him credit for inspiring the flag. "Harvey's whole message, his whole life was all about gay people should be visible and that we should come out of the closet. So the flag really fit with that in terms of it being a visibility tool."
That visibility, however, can be a double-edged sword. For gays and lesbians, it becomes, as one man in the film pointed out, a "universal Red Cross" sign, a marker that says here is a safe haven when trouble arises. Homophobes also know what the colors symbolize; for them it becomes a red flag, a signal that here is a potential target for gay bashing.
Rainbow Pride, beautifully shot and edited, with an excellent musical soundtrack, tells the story of the flag's creation without voice-over narration. It relies solely on images (some of it archival) and the voices of those on-camera. The Stonewall Riots, Anita Bryant, Harvey Milk are seamlessly interwoven in the overall "narrative." These moments add significance to the rainbow flag because they are milestones in the evolution of gay pride and although the colors have been used in tacky ways--such as on key chains and license plates--their popularity arises from a need for an oppressed people to feel good about themselves and each other. Or as Ann Northrop, a longtime activist, says in the film, "It's still a brilliant signifier and connector and identifier of us as a special tribe of people."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hue-man Bookstore in Harlem Embraces Gay and Lesbian Literature

My late friend poet/playwright/musician Assotto Saint would've been delighted to see a black-owned bookstore that was not afraid to have a gay and lesbian section. Although the selections at the Hue-man Bookstore and Cafe in Harlem are very limited (I counted less than a dozen titles on the shelves), they should be applauded for acknowledging a much overlooked group by many in the black literary world. And when it is mentioned, more often than not the images are stereotypical or negative. For example, in Chester Himes's All Shot Up (part of his Harlem detective series) the men in a gay bar are referred to as "bitchy" and "girlish." Hue-man's inclusion of gay and lesbian literature shows there is some progress being made.
In 1991, I wrote an article in the Amsterdam News about a picket line that Assotto and Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD) were planning against the Harlem-based Liberation Bookstore because the owner refused to carry gay and lesbian books. She claimed that she didn't carry them because the books did not sell, not because she was homophobic. The only gay author whose books she did carry were those by James Baldwin. When the story ran, supporters of the bookstore expressed outrage about the proposed picketing. The picketing never took place, however. I don't know if it was because Assotto got cold feet or he saw it as a futile effort. Another friend of mine stated that when you have to start picketing or boycotting a bookstore to get them to carry gay books, it's time to start your own store.
Let's hope that Hue-man continues to thrive in this tough economy and won't meet the fate of a black-owned Washington, D.C.- area bookstore called Vertigo that closed its doors. According to an article that appeared on the Afrocentric website ("The Recessionary Arts," 05/13/09), it was "a paradise and meeting place for book lovers" and "the must-stop place" for authors such as Barack Obama, John Edgar Wideman, and Edwidge Danticat. Let's hope Hue-man will also continue to sell as well as stock more gay-oriented books.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Those Annoying Wraparound Ads

I know that the ads for TV shows and perfumes and department stores that are wrapped around the front page of some issues of amNew York and Metro New York brings these newspapers revenue but that doesn't make them any less annoying when you want to read the headline of the day. They remind me of those equally annoying pop-up ads that appear online when you're trying to read a story. I know I sound like Andy Rooney, the lovable curmudgeon on CBS' 60 Minutes, but, hey, that is my honest opinion.

Please, Please, Mr. Postman, Reuse Those Rubber Bands

I thought I was the only one who noticed all of the rubber bands that letter carriers left behind on stoops, in lobbies, and on the street. Apparently not. Nancy Miller of Glendale, Queens was disturbed enough to write amNew York, the free daily, a letter-to-the-editor about this problem( "Little Things Count, Even Rubber Bands," 05/12/09), stating that "if the Postal Service didn't waste so much money on rubber bands, only to have them tossed on the street, then maybe they could save some money there."
I've made it a habit to pick up and reuse these rubber bands. I have two jars full of them. It's a safe bet that the Postal Service spends a fortune on rubber bands each year. And if they're wasteful with these items, what other items should we suspect are wasted? Paper clips? Ballpoint pens? Scotch tape? Paper?
Eliminating this problem alone will not get the Postal Service out of its current financial woes, but it will at least make it possible for the money saved to be used to improve service and thereby increase customer satisfaction.
If the rest of us are being encouraged to follow the three Rs--Reduce, Recycle, Reuse--then the Postal Service should be encouraged to do the same.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Just Asking

I have one question: while the NYPD are devoting time and manpower (and taxpayer dollars) randomly checking backpacks, handbags, and briefcases on the subways, buses, and commuter trains, in an attempt to keep us safe from terrorist attacks, what are they doing about the possibility of car bombs being used?

Here's One Way to Improve the Public Schools

The one thing I've noticed over the years while wading through the vast amount of campaign literature sent by various New York City Democratic candidates is the mantra regarding the improvement of the city's public schools: smaller classes, increased teacher pay, and more after-school programs. (No doubt this mantra will be repeated in this year's mayoral race.)
What all of them never talk about are innovative ways to teach the curricula. I believe it would go a long way toward turning the schools around and making the subjects more interesting and challenging to teachers and students alike. What good does it do to have a smaller class if the content and the manner of teaching a subject puts the students to sleep?

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Power of Ink

"Printers Ink is the Greater Explosive." (Written on a framed painting.)--from Ferlinghetti: The Artist in His Time by Barry Silesky (Warner Books, 1990) [Biography of Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.]

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Who Am I?

Question: His book became the first of its kind by an African American author. Who was he?

Answer: James Baldwin.
The book, Giovanni's Room, is the story of two male lovers--one is an American, the other is an Italian--living in post-war Paris. It's homosexual theme was so controversial that Baldwin was advised not to publish it for fear it would ruin his career. Baldwin ignored such sentiments and the book, published in 1956, has become not only a classic gay novel, but an American one as well.
Learn more about James Baldwin at your local library.

Monday, May 4, 2009

On Writers

"The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps."--Robert Benchley, American humorist.
From The Mammoth Book of Zingers, Quips, and One-Liners, edited by Geoff Tibballs (Carroll &
Graf, 2004).

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A "Turn of the Century" Problem

Here's a problem for William Safire or Richard Lederer or some other language-usage maven to solve--the proper use of the term "turn of the century." It either means the end of a century or the beginning of one. The writers quoted below clearly don't agree on its meaning:

"At the turn of the last century[that is, at its end], the dot-com collapse made e-commerce a dirty word among investors as headlines proclaimed the death of online business...."--Alvin and Heidi Toffler, Revolutionary Wealth (Knopf, 2006).

"At the turn of the twentieth century [that is, at its beginning], Long Beach [on Long Island in New York State] boasted the largest hotel in the world, a 1,100-foot long behemoth that promptly burned down."--Edward Kosner, It's News to Me (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2006).

"When [Hubert Harrison, the Afro-Caribbean orator and thinker] moved to New York City at the turn of the twentieth century, [he] brought a multicultural Crucian* background, reading and writing skills, intellectual curiosity, and a feeling of oneness with the downtrodden--all of which would be important in his future work."-- Jeffrey B. Perry, Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918 (Columbia University Press, 2009)

Which usage is correct?

*Harrison was born on the Caribbean island of St. Croix, in the Virgin Islands.