A Dad’s Unexpected Advice To His Gay Son

When Sir Ian McKellen — co-founder of the UK charity, Stonewall — took to the stage on Trafalgar Square, introducing the headline act, Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst, as part of the Pride in London 2014 celebrations, he spoke about a 91 year old man in wheelchair who insisted on being at the parade… despite the rain. Sir Ian also mentioned a 78 year old man who specially came from Iceland to celebrate Pride with the rest of the 300,000+ supporters that showed up in London.

These are the pioneers of LGBT rights and there are plenty of them who are often forgotten — believers who never gave up in their fight for equality. These men and women have fantastic stories that serve as an inspiration and a source of wisdom for the younger LGBT generation enjoying so much more freedom, safety and acceptance than ever before in the history of the global LGBT community.

As part of the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots — the pivotal moment when the Gay Rights Movement was born , in 1969, when gay protesters clashed with police in New York — StoryCorps has launched an initiative, called OutLoud, to preserve the stories of LGBT people.

In the spirit of Pride and in the spirit of remembering the stories of the men and women who came before us, I want to share one of the stories StoryCorps recently archived:

During the 1950s Patrick Haggerty, now 70, lived as a teenager in rural Washington. Patrick decided to perform in a school play. On the day of the performance, Patrick’s brother took him to school. On their way there, he started covering his face with glitter — to his brother’s horror. Patrick’s brother dropped him off at school and then immediately called their father.

Dad, I think you better get up there,” his brother said. “This is not going to look good.

Charles Edward Haggerty, their father, who was a dairy farmer, showed up at the school in dirty farming jeans and boots. When Patrick saw his dad in the halls, he ran away to hide from him.

It wasn’t because of what I was wearing,” Patrick says. “It was because of what he was wearing.

After the play, in the car on their way home, Patrick’s father called him out on his attempt to hide: “I was walking down the hall this morning, and I saw a kid that looked a lot like you ducking around the hall to avoid his dad. But I know it wasn’t you, ’cause you would never do that to your dad.

Patrick wanted to melt way into the car seat out of embarrassment, but finally exclaimed: “Well, Dad, did you have to wear your cow-crap jeans to my assembly?

His father replied: “Look, everybody knows I’m a dairy farmer. This is who I am. Now, how ’bout you? When you’re an adult, who are you gonna go out with at night?

Now, I’m gonna tell you something today,” his father continued “and you might not know what to think of it now, but you’re gonna remember when you’re a full-grown man: Don’t sneak. Because if you sneak, like you did today, it means you think you’re doing the wrong thing. And if you run around spending your whole life thinking that you’re doing the wrong thing, then you’ll ruin your immortal soul.”

Recalling his father’s words, Patrick says that out of all the things a father in 1959 could have told his gay son, his father told him to be proud of who he was and not to sneak.

Patrick added: “He knew where I was headed. And he knew that making me feel bad about it in any way was the wrong thing to do. I had the patron saint of dads for sissies, and no, I didn’t know at the time, but I know it now.

**  The original story was published online by NPR. To listen to a recording or Patrick’s story, follow this link: **

Patrick Haggerty in 1959 © NPR, courtesy of Patrick Haggerty

Patrick Haggerty in 1959 © NPR, courtesy of Patrick Haggerty


Credits.
Images: Open Source Editorial & Francois Lubbe (Main article Image)
Text: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes


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Russian Oligarch Hosts Secret Anti-Gay Meeting In Vienna

“Humor brings insight and tolerance. Irony brings a deeper and less friendly understanding.”

~ Agnes Repplier ~

Earlier this year, at the Sochi Winter Olympics, in Russia, there was some poetic justice when the 5th and final snowflake-like Olympic Circle failed to open during the opening ceremony. For me and many of my LGBT friends it was a symbolic moment, highlighting the cry for help from the Russian LGBT community for international support against Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay propaganda law.

Since the introduction of this infamous anti-gay propaganda law in June 2013, the country has witnessed a sharp increase in the number of violent attacks (some resulting in torture and even death) on members of its LGBT community, while those protesting the legislation have found themselves often targeted by police brutality and arrest.

In the run up to the Winter Olympics, the LGBT activist group All Out called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to stop the Games from taking place in Sochi and to ensure that future Olympic host countries do not have similar discriminatory laws on their books.

All Out presented the IOC with a global petition signed by 322,000 members of the group and another 41,000 All Out members sent the IOC personal messages raising their concerns. Shortly after receiving the petition, the head of the IOC spoke out against Russia’s anti-gay law and assured the LGBT community that this new law will not impact fans and athletes attending the Games — which was not exactly the assurance All Out and the international LGBT community asked for.

Brian Ellner, a board member of Athlete Ally — a group working to end homophobia and transphobia in sports — commented at the time by saying: “Today’s IOC statements are troubling on many levels. First, despite continued ‘assurances’ from the Russians the IOC itself remains confused as to whether these anti-LGBT propaganda laws will be enforced against athletes and fans.”

He added that while the safety of athletes and fans was important “we are also seeking a clear condemnation of the propaganda laws from the IOC. After the games are long gone the Russian LGBT community will still be living under these cruel laws and it’s time for the IOC and the world to voice loud and clear condemnation as a matter of human rights and fundamental fairness.”

Olympic Circles Fail to Open at Sochi 2014. © Unknown

Olympic Circles Fail to Open at Sochi 2014. © Unknown

Responding to the petition and the IOC’s request for Russia to clarify its position in terms of implementing these laws, Dmitry Kozak, the Russian deputy prime minister who oversaw the Olympics said: “Please do not touch the kids,” echoing what Russian President Vladimir Putin simply said earlier: “Just leave kids alone, please”, implying that LGBT people are paedophiles.

We all know how that story ended… The Winter Olympics were hosted in Sochi regardless and the IOC has not yet clarified their position in terms of choosing future host countries having to no discriminatory laws including protecting all human rights…

As for Russia? Russian leaders maintain that the country is not homophobic, despite the fact that violence against Russian LGBT people are now at its worst with many seeking to leave the country in fear of their safety. They remain defiant, by claiming that their only goal with this draconian law is to safeguard youth, by prohibiting the airing of so-called ‘gay propaganda’ around minors…

History has taught us time and again that seemingly ‘innocent’ laws are usually just the beginning of backward political ideations hidden behind a diplomatic smokescreen sugar-coated hogwash… Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law is no exception.

Today, it transpired that despite Russia’s empty promises, this past weekend, a secret meeting was held in Vienna to discuss ways to rid Europe of the ‘satanic gay lobby’. The meeting was attended by a host of far-right MPs and ultra-conservative Eurasian ideologists and was held literally across the road from where the Life Ball — one of the biggest AIDS charity events in the world — was hosted inside Vienna City Hall the very same night.

This year, the winner of Eurovision 2014, Conchita Wurst stole the show at Life Ball when hoots of approval, applause and whistles greeted the Austrian bearded drag queen dressed in figure-hugging silver lame, as she belted out her winning torch song Rise Like a Phoenix.

I cannot help but to see the irony here: In the build-up to the Eurovision Song Contest’s Finale, activists from Eastern European countries, including Russia, Armenia and Belarus, have blasted Conchita as an example of the West’s ‘decadence’ and branded the Eurovision contest as a ‘hotbed of sodomy’.

After her Eurovision victory, when asked if she had anything to say to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Conchita said: “I don’t know if he is watching this now, but if so, I’ll say it: ‘We’re unstoppable.'”

Cochita Wurzt at Life Ball, 2014.  © Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images Europe

Cochita Wurzt at Life Ball, 2014. © Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images Europe

Yet, this weekend, while guests at the Life Ball celebrated life and raised money to support HIV/AIDS victims, on the other side of the street the Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeew and his Saint Basil the Great Charitable Foundation held an ominous meeting attended by nationalists and Christian fundamentalists from Russia and the West… I cannot imagine a greater contrast between two worlds. It’s like an invisible Berlin Wall divided the streets of Vienna.

The meeting was an invitation only and guests included the chief Russian ideologist of the Eurasian movement Alexander Dugin, the nationalist painter Ilja Glasunow, and MPs from far right parties including the Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache. A star guest was Alexander Dugin, a Russian political scientist and Eurasia ideologist who believes in Russian supremacy and authoritarianism, and wants to see a ‘conservative revolution’ across Europe.

According to Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger, who confirmed the event took place from two independent sources, the meeting was hosted at Vienna’s Palais Liechtenstein under conditions of extreme secrecy.

The newspaper’s sources said that as well as discussing the ‘gay lobby’ the topic of fighting liberalism in Europe was also high on the agenda at the secret meeting. However, the official theme of the event was to mark the historic Vienna congress, which settled issues following the Napoleonic Wars and French revolutionary wars, 200 years ago.

Russian oligarchy, far-right politicians, secret meetings, the ‘gay lobby’ (what does that even mean?)… Do we have reason to be concerned?

Sadly, I think we do.

I for one don’t like scaremongering, but I also detest the inconvenience and irritation of ‘hindsight’.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if anything, the fact that the IOC allowed the Winter Olympics to continue in Sochi this year — despite Putin’s blatant homophobic and human rights abuses — carried startling (if not frightening) resemblances to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which took place amidst Hitler’s crackdown on the European Jewish community…

Back then, the world turned a blind eye and in the horrifying aftermath of the Holocaust said ‘We did not know.’

LGBT people are the only minority group in the world who find themselves in the awful juxtaposition that rights that are given to us with one hand are taken away by another… This leaves all of us in a treacherous position… one we may not want to think about, but nonetheless one we cannot ignore.

The only way we can prevent history from repeating itself is by reminding the world — those who still scoff at us and those who don’t want to believe us — how complacency, ignorance and inaction often (if not always) have dire consequences…

…something to think about as we gear up to celebrate Gay Pride this year…

LGBT Russian Youth After Being Attacked By Anti-Gay Militants  ©

LGBT Russian Youth After Being Attacked By Anti-Gay Militants ©

The Conchita Effect…

7

The only thing that probably rubbed off on me properly, since I moved to Britain ten years ago, is that I now also love the underdog. So when Austria’s gender-bending bearded drag artist, Conchita Wurst (aka Thomas Neuwirth) won the Eurovision Song Contest on 12 May, I was more than pleased. It’s always great when someone from our side wins.

Even more so after the uproar and division her entry to the semi-finals caused between Europe’s progressive liberal side and the traditional values and nationalist rhetoric of countries on the ‘other side of the fence’: Russia (who introduced a law last year prohibiting so-called gay propaganda), Armenia and Belarus blasted Conchita Wurst as an example of the West’s ‘decadence’ and branded the Eurovision contest as a ‘hotbed of sodomy’.

Some bigoted Armenian protestors launched a Facebook petition demanding Conchita’s removal from the contest. Activists in Belarus had even urged the country’s state television network to bypass the live broadcasting rules by editing Conchita’s performance out of its Eurovision transmission.

Conchita won nonetheless with her song Rise Like A Phoenix, which include the lyrics: Waking in the rubble, Walking over glass, Neighbours say we’re trouble, Well that time has passed… You were warned, Once I’m transformed, Once I’m reborn, I rise up to the sky, You threw me down but I’m gonna fly. Not the most poetic song (or singing voice… let’s be honest). Still, it sent a strong and clear message of hope to LGBT people and our supporters throughout Europe.

Later, when I asked a friend what he thought about her victory, he said: “Well, it’s okay. But I’m not interested in all the glitter and the ‘show’. What I want to know is: Will this start a conversation? Will her being on the stage and winning begin a conversation between a gay child and his or her parents?”

There was a smidgen of cynicism in what my friend said, but he had a point because Conchita Wurst represents social change. But how effective will she be? To answer my friend’s question, I reflect on my own coming out:

I grew up in South Africa during the stifling conservative and racist Apartheid era, in the 1980s. During this time, a phenomenal drag artist emerged, called Pieter Dirk Uys. He began his career as a serious playwright but switched to one-man cabaret-style shows at the height of the Apartheid era.

Pieter Dirk Uys as Evita Bezuidenhoud

Pieter Dirk Uys as Evita Bezuidenhoud

Pieter Dirk Uys’ alter ego, Evita Bezuidenhout (also known as Tannie Evita) — a white Afrikaner socialite and self-proclaimed political activist — was highly controversial, to say the least. Not only because Uys was a man who dressed up as a woman (a no-go for the white, righteous-religious Afrikaners), but also because he used Evita Bezuidenhout to criticise and expose the absurdity of the South African government’s racial policies. With her satirical comedy and uncanny humour, Evita Bezuidenhout lampooned the South African regime and its leaders, as well as the sometimes hypocritical attitudes of white liberals.

She got people thinking. She got me thinking.

When Evita Bezuidenhout came on the scene, I was 11 years old. Already questioning my sexuality, Evita was a spark of hope at a time when I thought there was nobody else on this earth that was like me.

It was a very lonely place to be.

When I found a black and white caricature drawing of her in a Sunday newspaper, I stuck it on my bedroom wall, right next to my pillow where I could look at it every night before I went to sleep.

My aunt and uncle (who were my guardians) noticed the picture on my wall, but said nothing at first. However, when I started to mimic Evita Bezuidenhout, making no secret of my adoration for this flamboyant character, my uncle came to my room one evening and sat on the side of my bed…

Tell me about this picture,” he said.

It’s Evita Bezuidenhoud,” I answered, excited that he showed an interest in something I liked.

What do you like about her?

She’s funny…” I also wanted to tell him how outrageous I thought she was and that I admired Pieter Dirk Uys for being so brave, but my uncle interrupted me.

You know it’s not really a woman? It’s a man dressed up as a woman.

I know.

Don’t you think there is something wrong with that?

No. That’s part of what I like about it.

But you realise it’s not right. It’s not the type of thing men do.

I don’t see anything wrong it.

Well, be that as it may, your aunt and I would like you to take the picture down.

There was no way I was going to hide the picture of my heroine. In fact, I blatantly refused his request. As a result, my bedroom door got shut whenever we had guests at home, because “what will the people say?

Evita and the late president Nelson Mandela

Evita and the late president Nelson Mandela

Evita Bezuidenhout will always be a significant figure in my life. She played a big part in me coming out to myself. In a way she was the fairy godmother who prompted me to begin a conversation in my head with myself, which enabled me to acknowledge, for the first time, that ‘thing’ inside me that was yearning to come out — the ‘secret’ aching to be told.

Since Evita, it has taken me years to finally admit to the world that I am gay — 14 years to be precise (I came out when I was 25 years old). It was a painful and prolonged process, which started with a picture of a drag artist on my wall and that awkward conversation with my uncle.

I’m almost 40 years old, and that conversation is still ongoing… mostly in silence. But enough has been said (and kept quiet) for me to know that there is no acceptance to be found with him and my aunt… In their house my bedroom door will always be closed to stop the the world from seeing who I am… but that is their closet, not mine and I don’t have to live in it. I have also learned that in any conversation it’s best not to be fixed to an outcome, but instead to stand firm in the  truth of your own story.

Since her victory, the ‘Conchita Effect’ (as I like to call it) has been remarkable. She has not only raised the profile of LGBT people, but also lifted the lid on how archaic mainstream society’s perception of gender is. The day after she won, I remember seeing a few mainstream newspapers referring to her as transgender, when in fact “She” is actually a 25 year old boy, called Thomas Neuwirth. So the first lesson from Mizz Wurst was: as a drag artist, as soon as those luscious lashes are stuck on, we use female pronouns. But when they come off, we’re back to male pronouns…

Gender fluidity! Who had ever thought?

Truth be told, radical feminists claim that they’ve been trying to dismantle gender for the past 40-or-so years, but I’m yet to see evidence of their success… the gender box is still on almost every application or online registration form. Conchita knows no such box — and she won’t let radicals, Russians or right-wingers tell her who she is supposed to be… a bearded Beyoncé perhaps? Who cares.

Worrying whether she is ‘one of us’ will be a waste of time because, if anything, she is an ambassador for diversity. She is also a beacon of light, especially for LGBT people in countries where gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are disowned by their families, often to be beaten, humiliated, persecuted and locked away by society.

Conchita’s victory is far from novelty nonsense. In fact, I suspect since she’s graced our television screens quite a number of young teenagers have started a conversation in their own heads about how they identify with themselves… and that’s really all that counts, because the journey towards acceptance has to start somewhere.

Conchita Wurst as Tom Neuwirth

Conchita Wurst as Tom Neuwirth