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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

A look back at my work with the LGBTQ community. I first became active in the gay rights movement in 1980 when I launched my LGBTQ jo...

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Is Trump TRYING to Lose?



Even with President Trump's failed and catastrophic response to COVID-19, the accompanying severe economic downturn, his numerous character flaws, his blatant racism, his corruption, lying, tweeting, psychopathic narcissism, misogyny, incompetence, grifting, lack of empathy, and the politicization of wearing masks, he was still in a competitive race with Joe Biden though trailing in all of the polls. If all of the Trump stars aligned, however, he still could pull it off.  #hocopolitics

What he lacks in skills and character, he makes up for it with bluster, self-confidence and hubris. Trump believes that he has the best political instincts (along with having hired the best people, attending the best schools and knowing the best words). Yet, recent self-inflicted miscues have called into question those instincts or leaving one to speculate if he is actually trying to lose.

For example:

Trump’s sabotaging of the Postal System: Our U.S. Postal Service, should never be considered a red or blue issue. It’s a red, white and blue institution, enshrined in our Constitution.  His newly installed Postmaster General GOP donor crony Louis DeJoy has begun the dismantling of the infrastructure of the postal system in several ways including removing and trashing high-speed canceling machines, rolling back overtime and removing outdoor mailboxes. These measures have resulted in significant delays in delivering mail and packages.

Clearly, DeJoy was under the direction of Trump to impair the handling of mail as the president has continually hammered away at mail-in ballots as being rife with fraud with not a shred of evidence to back it up. Under the guise of restoring fiscal solvency to the postal system, the timing of these moves less than three months away from the election is suspicious to say the least.

Trump publicly admitted such a strategy. “[Democrats] want $25 billion for the post office. Now they need that money in order to have the post office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. Now in the meantime they aren’t getting there. By the way, those are just two items, but if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting, because they’re not equipped to have it.”

All Americans regardless of political party rely on the mail. It is revered by society, and the institution boasts an approval rating north of 90%. People depend on receiving medications, checks, subscriptions and the like and do not want this vital service weakened. Disabled veterans as well as others need medications that are often received through the mail. And the postal service employs over 90,000 U.S. veterans. That veteran organizations haven’t expressed their collective outrage is astounding. Moreover, mail is particularly vital in rural areas where most of the folks are Trump supporters. People like to receive their mail on time. So do small businesses. They like the postal system. This has been a political fiasco.

Trying to flatten Goodyear tires: Trump made an ill-advised move urging people not to buy Goodyear tires because the company does not permit workers to wear political campaign garb including MAGA hats. Despite lecturing Democrats for having a cancellation culture, Trump decided his fragile ego needed workers to demonstrate their love for him with donning his famous red caps.

Joe Biden gets it and fired off the following statement in response: “Goodyear employs thousands of American workers, including in Ohio, where it is headquartered. To President Trump, those workers and their jobs aren’t a source of pride, just collateral damage in yet another one of his political attacks.”

Ohio is a key swing state, and Trump cannot win the election without Ohio. Those employees whom Trump is trying to put out of work and others similarly in the manufacturing sector have families, friends and neighbors who may not want to vote for Trump after this boondoggle.

Welcome QAnon! Donald Trump will embrace anyone who likes him. Whether it is the neo-Nazis, KKK or brutal dictators and tyrants, if you like Trump or say nice things about him that’s all that matters. Another political loser has been Trump’s welcoming QAnon into the fold. QAnon is a group that has been identified by the FBI as a domestic extremist group. They traffic in bizarre conspiracy theories including the doozy that Democrats are Satan-worshippers and children-devouring pedophiles.

Undaunted, Trump supported and congratulated congressional candidate Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene who won a primary in Georgia and is likely to enter the mainstream by being elected to Congress despite her QAnon devotion. For instance, she had suggested that Hillary Clinton murdered her political enemies and ruminated on whether mass shootings were orchestrated to dismantle the Second Amendment.

QAnon members have reportedly engaged in violence and kidnappings. Trump said he knew nothing about the group (of course) but that they like him and they love our country. He refused to disavow the group and when told about their conspiracy theories and that they see Trump as a hero and savior in the war against pedophiles (oh, the irony!), Trump replied, “Is that supposed to be a bad thing?”

Several Republicans from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush to Representative Liz Chaney to strategist Karl Rove lambasted QAnon.

Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse saw the political danger of Trump’s embracing QAnon.

“If Democrats take the Senate, blow up the filibuster, and pack the Supreme Court — garbage like this will be a big part of why they won,” Sasse said. “Real leaders call conspiracy theories conspiracy theories.”

Lowering the bar on Joe: For the past several months Trump and his Republican cohorts could not successfully defend the president’s record so they attack their opponent Joe Biden. One of the avenues of attack is to paint Biden as a doddering old man who doesn’t know which side is up and cannot string two sentences together.

At the climax of the well-executed Democratic National Convention, Biden delivered arguably his best political speech, thus nullifying at least for now, Trump’s characterization of “Sleepy Joe” or “Slow Joe.” The contrast from expectation to actual was so stark, it made Biden extraordinary and Trump completely foolish.

These are examples of Trump’s political self-inflicted wounds, but with the Republican National Convention coming up, I imagine there will be a bunch more. It will beg the question, is he trying to lose?


Thursday, August 13, 2020

In Search of Elusive Peace


When a mob of unidentified mercenaries were recently unleashed on the citizens of Portland, Ore., it was reminiscent of the anti-war clashes during the Vietnam War era. Then as now, with many employing strong-arm tactics, military and law enforcement combatants attacked and arrested scores of peaceful unarmed protesters.

Amid the chaos of these demonstrations back in the day, a 17 year-old girl was photographed handing a chrysanthemum to a soldier with a menacing bayonet affixed to his rifle during a tense scene outside the Pentagon in 1967. This iconic photo taken by Marc Riboud was of Janrose Kasmir, and this image along with others became symbols of the burgeoning peace movement during the Vietnam War.

In a remarkably candid autobiography, The Girl With The Flower: The Journey is the Trip, Kasmir reveals details about her life that most people would be loathe to share especially in a published work. With graphic and sometimes raw details, Kasmir opens up about her personal struggles that have consumed much of her existence and her late-in-life determination to put those demons to rest.

The book cover and title might suggest that this monumental photograph is the centerpiece of her journey.  Yet, the book is less about the peace movement during that tumultuous period than Kasmir’s seemingly futile search to find her own inner peace.  Nonetheless, her story includes her clear opposition to our involvement in Vietnam and her joining the hippie movement to express her views.

Kasmir was inspired by then leader of the Black Panther Party, Eldridge Cleaver, whom she regarded as a hero. Quoting him, “You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.” She declared that this sentiment has guided her since the 1960s.

While that aspect of her life is not the dominant feature of the book, because of the historic significance of that famous photograph, I have included an excerpt in which Kasmir describes the event at the conclusion of this review.

The struggles of young Janrose Kasmir took off after the tragic and unexpected death of her sister and the eventual disintegration of her family. From her middle-class Jewish upbringing in Silver Spring, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C.,  Kasmir fought and lost many of her battles. She plunged into depression and drug addiction as well as multiple suicide attempts. Her behavior became more challenging and unacceptable to the adults in her life. She let them down, they let her down. As she put it, her “life was a fucked-up mess.”

Rebellious to the core, Janrose ran away from home on a number of occasions. She was sent to psychiatric institutions and then was in and out of foster families, which rarely worked out for her. Kasmir engaged in a considerable amount of sexual activity that led in some cases to more drug abuse and heroin addiction. She was hardly satisfied romantically adding more to her loneliness and despair. Ultimately, her lack of self-esteem brought on bulimia that plagued her for years.

While the reader will instinctively root for her as her life is peeled back through intensely dark episodes, Kasmir made a number of poor choices along her journey. In one case, she agreed to be blindfolded by two drug pushers in Washington, D.C. and was led on foot to their rooming house. There she was repeatedly raped, which understandably made her terrified of and adverse to male sexual aggression forever.  

In another instance, at the age of 25 Kasmir married a man she had first met at a bar because she
The author with daughter Lisa.
 Photo courtesy of Janrose Kasmir
believed she was supposed to get married at that point in her life. She didn’t love him, and on her honeymoon at a ski lodge in Quebec, not only did she avoid consummating the marriage during the honeymoon, but she cheated on her husband with two different guys.

When you think that Kasmir may have turned a corner, you’re hit with another gut punch adding another layer to the struggle.

So gripping is this extraordinary journey that the book is a fast read. Kasmir relates these episodes in a well-written matter-of-fact style, often sprinkled with salty language, which allows the reader to feel the pain and suffering she had to endure, some of it self-inflicted.

She follows a guiding principle of good writing: write as if you are speaking to the audience, and she speaks it loud and clear.  Her recollection of details appears authentic, and when she couldn’t remember specific things, she admits it, adding to her credibility.

The vast majority of the book is devoted to her journey as a young person. Her later years are covered by the final few chapters when her career as a massage therapist, her settling in at Hilton Head, S.C. and the birth and raising of her daughter Lisa as a single mom. Such ferocious turmoil through those early years has led to a more tranquil and stable existence.

The Girl With The Flower is an excellent chronicle of a person dealing with a turbulent life during turbulent times.  The flower young Janrose handed to that National Guardsman outside the Pentagon represented the calm before the storm that followed.
____________

Behind the Photograph

Janrose Kasmir: While I was holding the flower and looking at the soldiers, focusing on their young faces, in an instant it dawned on me. The rhetoric of the war machine and the baby killers completely melted away and suddenly I realized that these soldiers were just young boys. They could’ve been my brother, my cousin, my date. Sorrow swept right through me and I started to pity them. I held out the chrysanthemum in front of me. I held it with both hands, almost like a gesture of prayer. I became so very, very sad. These boys were just as much victims of this whole mess as anyone else. I became one with the soldiers. It was a moment of simpatico. At that very moment Marc Riboud’s camera clicked and I became a part of history. It was 21 October 1967.

That shot was the last shot of the last roll of film with the last light of the day and then it was all over as darkness rolled in and we all drifted away.

______________

The Girl With The Flower: The Journey is the Trip; Janrose Kasmir; Fortis Publishing; 2020; Paperback; 271 pages; $12.50 (Amazon); also available on Kindle ($8.99).



Sunday, August 02, 2020

No Rainbow Over the Kingdom

Spoiler Alert: If you plan on watching Kingdom currently streaming on Netflix or are in the midst of doing so and don’t want aspects of the plot divulged, read no further.
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Nick Jonas as Nate Kulina in 'Kingdom'
Over the years, gay people had been portrayed in movies as depressed, suicidal, addicted or other dark and gloomy individuals. Sometimes the opposite is presented as they are cast as buffoons or ultra-effeminate.  Many were killed off in some fashion or another. These negative stereotypes were captured in the 1995 film The Celluloid Closet that was based on Vito Russo’s 1981 book of the same title.

Of course, as gay acceptance began to increase in society and pressure on the entertainment industry was applied by such organizations as GLAAD, the portrayal of these characters had shifted to more positivity led by numerous changes in television. Ellen, Will & Grace and Modern Family helped paved the way for other shows like Shameless, Orange is the New Black, Riverdale, Schitt’s Creek, etc.

However, with the 40-episode Kingdom, the AT&T Original Series, which had run on DirecTV from 2014-2017 and is now streaming on Netflix, we took a step backwards when it comes to the outcomes of gay characters.

Kingdom is a gritty drama that centers on the lives, loves, victories and failures of a group of people connected to the Navy Street Gym and the world of Mixed Martial Arts in Venice, California. Far from glamorous, the series exposes society’s underbelly including drug addicts, alcoholics, sex offenders, sex workers and the like.  Battles in the ring are ferocious and thrilling; most are bloody.  The well-received 3-season, 40-episode series was created and produced by Byron Balasco who, along with his team, penned the episodes.

The singular main character in Kingdom who was gay wound up tragically shot to death during a violent altercation after coming out to his father. The killing, which was staged towards the end of the penultimate episode, was perpetrated by a bar bouncer in an attempt to break up the melee.  This is a further example of another gay character that writers saw fit to have perished. It could have and should have gone in another direction.

What makes this tragedy so heartbreaking is that this character, Nate Kulina, played sensitively and understated by hunky Nick Jonas of the boy band Jonas Brothers, was the one character who had his shit together, was clean, had no substance abuse issues, no baggage, and was not embroiled with any conflict other than his battles in the MMA cage and coming to terms with his sexual orientation.

Nate, in his early 20’s, was the younger brother of Jay Kulina who, was played brilliantly by Jonathan Tucker.  Both are fighters. Their father Alvey Kulina (played exceptionally well and convincingly by Frank Grillo) was the co-owner of Navy Street where he, as a former fighter, trains others in the bloody, violent, highly competitive world of MMA.

Nate’s journey towards discovering his sexual orientation gradually came to light during the second season.  His declining interest in a girl he was seeing was apparent, and then Nate’s attention was directed towards a hook-up app where photos of various guys were displayed as he pondered his next steps. 

So, for the viewing audience, the cat was out of the bag. But Nate needed to maintain this secret, and he tried desperately to do so.

Nate met a British man named Will through another contact. Will sought to bring the two closer together, but Nate’s being in the closet was a daunting barrier.  Will handed him a business card with a handwritten message suggesting a dinner date at some point when he was ready.
Jonathan Tucker (Jay), Nick Jonas (Nate) and Frank Grillo (Alvey)

Jay, Nate’s brother, discovered the card and unbeknownst to Nate, examined his phone in which he uncovered a text thread between Nate and Will. He used the phone to lure Will to a bar and proceeded to the location to confirm his growing suspicions. Jay promptly left after a cordial exchange with Will but never mentioned any connection to Nate. 

Shortly after, Nate received a phone call from Will inquiring as to when he will be showing up for the rendezvous. He didn’t know what Will was talking about.

Nate noticed the card among Jay’s belongings as the older brother was hospitalized after a fight in the cage. He checked his phone only to detect the bogus messaging and felt anguish that his true sexual identity has been discovered.

One would characterize Jay as a badass with mountaintop highs and deep valley lows, earnest and talented, volatile and violent that is fueled by alcohol and drugs but also caring and devoted. He’s a complex man, a good fighter and devoutly loyal to his brother and his drug addicted mother. His relationship with his father Alvey had been tense.

In an extremely positive scene, Nate comes out to Jay when he acknowledged that Jay learned of his situation. You may view the edited clip of how this unfolded here.

Jay encouraged Nate to tell their father conceding that Alvey most likely wouldn’t be too cool with it. In the meantime, whispers and rumors were spreading among the MMA community about Nate’s sexual orientation, which could be detrimental in this close physical contact sport.

While the coming out scene with Jay could not have been better, the one with Alvey could not have been worse. Alvey is a troubled man who besides the pressures of running the gym and training an assortment of characters, he had a failed marriage and several girlfriends who had left him. Despite his heavy, and I do mean heavy drinking, at around age 50 Alvey’s body (actually it’s Frank Grillo’s) is shredded. He is also volatile and short-tempered and facing a potential diagnosis for a neurological disease as he was preparing for a comeback fight in a legends tournament. For good measure, Alvey’s estranged mother attempted suicide, and he and his sons went to Tucson, Arizona where she was hospitalized.

It was at a cowboy bar in Tucson where the fateful scene took place. The manual on the best way to come out to a parent was thrown away during this scene. Both Nate and Alvey were drinking. Alvey’s mother had attempted suicide, which weighed heavily on his mind. He stressed about his possible illness and his upcoming fight. Plus, Alvey’s personality suggested that he wouldn’t accept his son as both gay and a MMA fighter.
Part of the cast of 'Kingdom'
“I’m gay,” Nate muttered softly a couple of times. “Your son’s gay.” Alvey exploded and asking, “You’re gonna tell me you’re a fucking faggot?”

Clearly, these were not the right conditions for this conversation to take place.  Yet, it happened, and you can view that tragic scene here . 

Alvey was obviously shaken over this tragedy and saw his role in it. He lost a dear son and for that he was broken. Prior to the legends fight in the final episode, Jay presented a touching and dramatic eulogy to Nate in the ring. You can view it here . 

In the hyped up machismo and testosterone-laden world of MMA where close body contact is intrinsic to the sport, Balasco deserves credit for weaving in a gay storyline in such an environment. And keep in mind this was only one of numerous plotlines and a minor one at that in the very well-acted and photographed Kingdom.

But with so many other characters with self-destructive tendencies and baggage, the one he chose to be killed was the gay character that everyone was rooting for. It was supremely disappointing, if not maddening, as yet another gay character was deemed expendable.