Sunday, December 25, 2011

One Liner of the Week Award: Kellee Terrell

It has been years since the same person has earned the One Liner of the Week Award twice in a row, but if you knew the crazy ass Negress that is Kellee Terrell, you would know that if anyone was going to do it, it would be her.

The last few weeks have been emotional as Hell for this here queer, and last night I dealt with a not so fun moment that often happens at holiday time with family. At the end of it, I basically ran into the guest bedroom at my ex-partner's house, started playing songs from Sister Act 2 and had myself a good cry.

I posted a status on Facebook that said, "Does anyone else get tired of crying?"

Kellee Terrell replied:

"No cause i dont cry that often...2 to 4 times a year..I do however get tired of cussing mofos out...i do that 2 to 4 times a day...the shit is chronic fatigue syndrome."

Now you can see why I love me some Kellee Terrell, and why that is the One Liner of the Week.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Great Expression Dental Denies HIV Discrimination Claim; I Deny Their Denial

Today I received word from Mr. James White that Great Expressions Dental has filed a defamation suit in federal court and a counterclaim saying that the EEOC finding of discrimination and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was erroneous in his employment discrimination case in Detroit where Great Expressions followed him around and sprayed down surfaces with Lysol after he disclosed his HIV status.

Shortly after receiving a personal email from Mr. White, I received, at my work address of all places, an email from Great Expressions Dental. There is one of those funny little disclaimers at the end of the email suggesting that the email I received is not necessarily public information.

I am the media and therefore I am reprinting this memo here, I love freedom of the press:

If you have any questions, please contact Michael Layne at 248-855-6777, or 248-320-6202.

December 21, 2011

A Statement from Todd Gustke,
Vice President of Human Resources
Great Expressions Dental Centers

Great Expressions takes pride in being an equal opportunity employer – not just in adherence to the law, but because we believe it makes us a better company. In order to provide equal employment and advancement opportunities to all individuals, employment decisions at Great Expressions Dental Centers are based on merit, qualifications and abilities.

Recently, numerous public and false allegations have been made in an online campaign seeking to paintGreat Expressions Dental Centers in a negative light. This malicious campaign has resulted in emails and harassing telephone calls to our employees and shareholders. We immediately petitioned the United States District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, seeking a declaration in the proper forum that we did not discriminate or otherwise violate the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. We are confident that the Court will find these accusations to be without merit.

It is our corporate policy to not comment on employees and former employees in the media or online, especially on issues related to employees' health status.

Great Expressions Dental Centers employs over 1900 people in 7 states. Our team reflects the community we serve, including individuals from the GLBTQ community.

This was my response:

Dear Ms. Cherry:

Thank you for your note. Unfortunately, I have reviewed the EEOC finding, and I support the work of the EEOC. Great Expressions Dental violated the ADA of 1990, and I am confident that Great Expressions will be made to pay substantive damages to Mr. White.

And the question at hand is not alleged discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Great Expressions Dental was found in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 for discrimination based on HIV status.

Your letter is misleading contains misinformation and is very much unappreciated. Thank you!


If you have questions or comments, please feel free to call Michael Layne at the numbers provided above. I am sure that Great Expressions would love to hear from any and all of you that believe that discrimination against people living with HIV is reprehensible.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Supporting the Homeless and Kicking Class! Support Queers for Economic Justice!

QEJ Close? Never.

Yet a year ago, the recession had QEJ by the throat. Facing a significant deficit, a leadership transition, and a diminished foundation base to help QEJ stabilize and move forward, QEJ confronted the very real possibility of closing.

A year later, QEJ is here -- growing, stabilized, and redefining what it means to do transformational economic justice, class, and poverty work through a queer and gender non-conforming lens. And we have you, our community, to thank for it.

You proved what QEJ has always believed; A community invested in the work of social change will be committed to funding that work. Our community understands that a recession created by the same systems that QEJ seeks to hold accountable (until they are dismantled), cannot be allowed to shut down the only queer economic justice organization in the United States.

QEJ is back in force. Actually, we never left.

In the last year, as QEJ faced its challenges and came through to the other side, we have had some truly significant successes. In the last twelve months, QEJ has been the queer social justice voice on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart , brought our queer economic analysis to Occupy Wall Street, been instrumental in helping organize LGBTQ community and union members to fight for a living wage in NYC and have begun to create a queerly classed and raced labor and workers anti-bullying campaign. In short, we have been redefining the way that economic justice, sexual orientation and gender identity activism happens.

We have expanded from working in four shelters to eight, and by the end of the year, we will be operating in ten shelters. Nationally, QEJ will again lead the economic justice institute at the Creating Change Conference in Baltimore, continuing to be the engine nationally that is defining the queer agenda thru class and race. In 2012, QEJ will launch Survival Economies, a radical new lens that centers queer immigrant, HIV positive, homeless, women, workers and elders in a innovative model, based in class, that outlines a fresh paradigm for radical justice work in the moment of a Great Recession.

Not all of our work has been uplifting. On October 1, a member of one of QEJ's support groups, Yvonne McNeil was murdered by the NYPD outside of the shelter in which she resided. QEJ has been working to help shelter residents grieve and heal from this murder while also working systemically to address the police violence that is real and present in the lives of homeless queer and gender non conforming people. Working in close partnership with the Coalition for the Homeless, the Center for Anti-Violence Education, The Anti-Violence Project, and the Audre Lorde Project, QEJ is pushing the district attorney's office to complete an independent investigation into the use of deadly force against Yvonne, as well as examine the mass raid and arrests in the same shelter a few weeks after Yvonne's murder.

Here's where you come in.

QEJ makes minor miracles with the resources that we have, but without support from our community, what we can do and how we can respond is limited. Your gift of $50, $100, $250 or $500 will help ensure that our work continues to grow and expand strategically.

We also understand that for some people, giving $500 in one lump sum is beyond their means. But, a gift of $45 a month translates into more than $500 a year. In fact, 22 monthly sustaining donors at QEJ, with an average gift of $40 a month, together give more than $5,000 a year to QEJ. Small gifts add up into big change; You can also join us by becoming a monthly sustaining member at
Also, for ANY NEW DONOR TO QEJ, any gift of $35 or more will be matched by a generous anonymous donor!

Together, we can center the most invisible and impacted in our work to create a just and vibrant world.


Brandon Lacy Campos
Development Director

PS Your support is what keeps us alive and strong, our year end appeal has already raised more than $11,000 from generous community members. Help us continue to grow by making your donation at

Friday, December 16, 2011

One Liner of the Week Award: Kellee Terrell

Last night, I went to the annual holiday party for I have a blog on The Body called Queer, Poz, and Colored: The Essentials, and I have said blog because two years ago, I was at a GLAAD event on the LES in Manhattan, and I met Kellee Terrell.

Kellee comes over to a group of folks I was with and says that she works for TheBody, and she is looking for bloggers to contribute to their Pride edition. I volunteered that I was both positive and a blogger, and her sassy eyes sparkled. It's been a deep love affair since then.

And when I found out that she not only loved but was basically the straight girlfriend of my beloved Kenyon Farrow, I just knew I was going to love this woman.

Sweet Jesus, I love her even if she is cray cray super cray.

So last night, we are at this holiday party, this woman, bless her heart, was finishing a grad school application, while drinking and talking smack (do you SEE why I love me some her).

Then we get to talking about the HIV....because...well....we are at, and I tell her that I am a nonprogressor (which means that my body keeps HIV in check by itself without medication).

This girl gonna look at me and say..."You are like a magical leprechaun. No. Wait. A unicorn. You are a unicorn. That's that white in you. Ain't nobody ever met a person of color nonprogressor. Unicorn"

My horn is big and long and hard.

Word up.

And that is the One Liner of the Week.

PS She is REAL bougie....

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Everyday Heroes: Natasha Johnson

Seven years ago, I came to New York City to visit my best friend RJ Thompson and his boyfriend at the time that we shall call Cray Cray. It was my first time in New York in years, and a number of my closest activist buddies from my days as a youth organizer had relocated to NYC. If you have ever been to New York, you know that this city is huge and depending on where you are located, it can take up to an hour and a half from one point in the city to another. So, when visiting on a limited time frame, it makes sense to try and arrange to see as many people as possible in one location at one time. RJ and Cray Cray knew that I had lots of people I loved that I would love to see so they threw me a party at their spot in West Harlem.

What if your friends threw you a party and none of your friends showed up (because they were all together at a house party in Brooklyn?). I almost friend divorced a few people that day (SAMER AND YK ARE YOU LISTENING!)

But never-the-less, the apartment was filled with awesome folks, none of whom I knew, but several of whom are now my friends and none closer or loved more dearly than Natasha Johnson.

Tasha walked in the door that night, and I was in love instantly. She was brilliant. Beautiful. Styling. Had a hot ass husband AND a fine ass girlfriend (the girlfriend wasn't there but I saw pictures later). I mean DAMN! You know you got magical pussy when you can hold down a black man as fine as John and a hot girl too.

I bet Tasha's coochie sparkles and gives birth to leprechauns. (Note, Tasha is single...taste the rainbow ya'll. TASTE THE RAIBOW).


Since 2004, Tasha and I have built a beautiful friendship. When I moved to New York in 2009, Tasha and her former partner Natalie (who I also love and adore)....were two of the first people that I made an explicit point to build more deeply with. And Tasha has become someone so very amazingly special to me. She is intentional. She is beautiful. She can weave a rainstorm into a pair of panties and three pieces of cat hair into a full length gown and make it look couture. She is a human rights lawyer that left us for a year to help stop sex trafficking in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean area. And she is kind. She is gentle. She is no bullshit. But all love.

For all of these reasons and so so so many more, Natasha is my Everyday Hero.

Love you boo.

Monday, December 12, 2011

HIV Positive Detroit Man Faces Massive Discrimination By Employer: The James White Story

At least once a day, I hear a piece of news that makes my blood boil and sends me into a nearly apoplectic rage. Usually it has something to do with injustice, hate, ignorance, willful stupidity, fear, and violence against the vulnerable.

Rarely do I have a personal connection to the story. Today, I do, and the story is so horrific that I am committed to supporting justice. No one attacks my community and gets to walk away from their acts of violence.

I have a friend named James White of Detroit, MI. James lives with HIV, as do I, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of the United States has found that James suffered overt and intentional acts of discrimination based on his HIV status by his former employer Great Expressions Dental Center. The EEOC attempted to mediate, after substantiating James' claims, and Great Expressions rejected the proposed settlement. The EEOC has now given James the right to sue, which he is doing, and it is my hope that Great Expressions is slapped with a judgment so harsh that James lives the rest of his life in comfort and that Great Expressions leaves such a devastating example to hatemongers that no one else in the United States will dare violate the equal opportunity employment rights guaranteed to HIV positive individuals by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Let me be clear, in an article at, James' lawyers say that this is the worst case of HIV related job discrimination that they have ever encountered. I agree.

After testing positive and disclosing his status to his immediate supervisor, and requesting that she keep it confidential, said supervisor informed the regional director. Soon afterwards, James was forced to deal with staff following him around and wiping down any surface he touched with Lysol, a ban against touching doorknobs, constant shifts in this work schedule at the last minute and then being written up for missing shifts if unable to make it, and finally facing hospitalization due to the stress and being diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.

In 2011, particularly in an urban environment, absolutely no one has any excuse for being unaware of the ways in which HIV is transmitted. Anyone that has ever had even rudimentary sexual health education knows that HIV is not spread by casual contact, including touch. And an employer has a moral and LEGAL obligation to protect its employees from discrimination, particularly vulnerable populations.

Great Expressions has willfully and actively violated it social, moral, and legal obligations to James White resulting in hurt, harm, and unwarranted damage. Ignorance, fear, prejudice, and overt and active discrimination based on his HIV status is the absolute root cause and it is not only unconscionable, it is unjust. I hope with all my heart that the federal court that hears James' case, finds in his favor, and Great Expressions and all those that participated are made to feel the full weight of the law.

There has been a petition started to let Great Expressions hear from the greater community about its actions. Greater Expressions has clinics in Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, Connecticut, Virginia and Massachusetts, and this business needs to know that the business of hate and discrimination costs, and costs big.

Please consider signing this petition and supporting a man that has suffered from the ignorance and hate of others.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

POEM: Just Breathe

Just Breathe
for him

If you let me
I would love you
Hold you
Tell you how to see
Beyond reality into dreams
Sweet fantasies
Babies and ever afters happily
Wedding bells that never stop ringing
Take you to the places
Inside of we glimpsed already
Those mornings when you pulled me
Back to you, into you, into me
In the sweet softness of midnight
That night has been replaying
Sustaining me in this in between
Where I can't see
You clearly enough to know
If I should let you go or hold tight to hope
Is it mercury in retrograde or a decision you have made
In this Christmas season reason says commercially
Belief is a commodity
But I'm here to tell you Santa Claus is real
If you want him to be if you
Just breathe
Believe in me
Not in bittersweet memories
Or best friend remedies
Just breathe
No need to go at hyper speed
Need you near me
Hear me
Hark the Herald Angels sing
Just breathe
I see your history sometimes crushing your chest
Hot mess compressing your blessings into stocking stuffers
Instead of massive presents covered in wrapping paper
Wait for a moment
Just breathe
Tear back the corner just a little
Peek at the golden center it's even better
When you open it slowly
Savoring each moment hold it
Don't fold it back over
It's golden
Just breathe
You deserve it
Earned it
Worked for it
Made the nice list
This is it
24k opportunity
Just breathe
I'll breathe with you
Just breathe.

-Brandon Lacy Campos
-New York, NY
-December 10, 2011

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Origin of Love

Generally, I am one of the first folks around to connect the dots between sometimes disparate experiences. I have a knack for drawing the lines between various points and pointing out how sometimes seemingly incongruous moments are actually directly connected.

In fact, I believe that unless you are able to pull certain points together, you can't really understand what is going on in the present. This is no less true about the political than it is for the personal.

This morning, I was listening to the song Origin of Love from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. And I had a moment of realization that hit me so hard that I gasped on the subway platform. The gay next to me looked up in alarm, and I pretended to cough and scrubbed angrily at my face at the tears that seem to have taken great liberties lately with coming and going as they please and often in very conspicuous places.

I repeat....Minnesotans do not do public displays of vulnerability...I have been gone from the cold, heartless homeland of my people for far too long.

This week has been good and hard and rough and difficult and a whole host of other adjectives. There have been some dramatic highs and some fucking terrible lows...but it has all been about growing (and loving) myself and someone else in the best absolute possible way, while holding on to my truth and his truth and a whole lot of not so easy but oh so good honesty. Oh yes Daddy....loving someone the right way can tear you up and put you back together and leave you breathless all at the same time. This one and I have done that to each other and for each other this week.

But there has been a fear sitting inside of me that goes way beyond what is actually happening right now. Right now, my insides tell me that he and I are in a good place with each other and at some point will be in a good place together. Not yet. Not now. But it is what I absolutely believe will be true. Or, as my coworker Jay said today, "From the first time you two saw each other, there was an instant attraction and affection. We all saw it when you two didn't. I believe in my heart that you two will be together."

Guess what? Me too. It's not possible quite yet. But I have faith..and faith is stronger than belief. It doesn't require proof. And I have plenty of proof. BAM!

So, if I am so sure about something that is still unsure, then where the Hell is this fear coming from. I finally figured it out. Let me tell you about the dots that I connected.

In 2006 was the last time I fell for someone anywhere nearly as intensely as this. I have loved people since. Read this blog to know that to be true. But this reminds me of that previous love. The kind that makes you cry for no damn reason when you see a toothbrush or when some stupid as song comes on. Or makes you wait for the first communication of the day like you are in high school or when you are far apart it makes you want to rush back home. That person's name was Chris Johnson, and I love him because he was just that damn amazing.

I need to own that this blog was fairly easy to write until I named Chris. And now a fear just settled on me has put a weakness into my hands.

Chris was amazing from the beginning. I met him in rehab. He had already completed inpatient and was in the transitional program. He was a Southern boy from Virginia. He was my SoCo, Southern Comfort. We dated for a short while and even though there was intense and powerful love present, Chris decided that he couldn't be in a relationship at that moment. And to justify it, he declared that he didn't love me as anything more than a friend.

I knew that motherfucker was lying from the gate. At least the man that I am in love with has owned his love for me, and though he cant really say it, he allows his eyes and body to do so. When he hugs me. When he looks at me. It's there. And, it has been acknowledged as best as he as able right now.

Chris' dumbass looked at me the same damn way and then tried to tell a story that his body gave the lie to.

When I decided to leave Minneapolis, Chris collapsed crying. He decided he was going to drive with me to Albuquerque. He actually drove me all the way to Albuquerque. I confronted him before we left and told him that I knew he was in love with me. He got angry. He denied it. So I let it go. And I did what I had to do to move on. I did the work to survive the longing. I did the work to survive the desire. I did the work to amputate the bleeding from a wound that was created when he walked away and that was slashed wide open when he denied that he loved me all the while acting like a partner would act minus the sex.

A year later, I moved back to Minneapolis. He had just gotten out of a relationship with an asshole. And, finally, he admitted that he had lied. That he loved me. That he still loved me.

Holy shit was I an angry human being in that moment. I resisted slapping the shit out of him. Instead, I simply told him that I knew that. But it was too late. I still loved Chris, but I was too afraid to open back up that ridiculous floodgate of desire and passion again. He hadn't been brave enough to at LEAST admit his love for me, so I couldn't trust him a second time. It just wasn't something I could risk. The first time had almost done me in. And I am survivor if nothing else. Once bitten....

Chris became one of my best friends. And all the love that had always been sat between us. It was there and continued to grow. And it was there the last time I talked to him. I was the last person he talked to the night before he shot himself. Not his boyfriend. Not his Mom and Dad. Me. And the last thing he said to me was that it was too painful to hear me voice, that he loved me, and then he hung up the phone. At least I got to tell him that I loved him before he had to leave. I still tell him that I love him, because I believe in Heaven, and I believe that good people go there. Chris was more than good. He was great.

The person that I have in my life now, is someone that I care about as much as I did Chris. If possible, more. More because the way it started had nothing to do with sex. It had everything to do with respect, politics, support, energy, and friendship. That is still the basis of it. We aren't together. But the similarities are enough that I finally realized today that I was sitting with an irrational fear related to Chris. I have learned that the people you love the most and best who are afraid to name their love...are the ones that leave...and leave a hole the size of an exit wound in your life.

This isn't the same as that. And just writing this blog has my spirit telling me that this is so very different. I listen to my spirit...and the fire that is now glowing inside of me. The work is different...there is still work to do...but damn if it doesn't feel like work that is about love and bravery.

Hey Chris. I still love you. Sleep well. Now, I can let you go.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

One Liner of the Week Award: Miss Major Griffin-Gracy

If you don't know who Miss Major is, you better ask somebody. This giant of a woman not only was at Stonewall and was the fabled tranny that took off and threw her shoe, but she was also at Attica (as an inmate) within days of the riots. It was at Stonewall and more so at Attica that Miss Major was politicized, and for 40 years she has been kicking ass and calling names all across the land.

I first met Miss Major a few years ago when she was honored by Queers for Economic Justice at QEJ's annual award reception during the Creating Change Conference. Last week, I was with Miss Major and about twenty five other individuals, representing 14 organizations, at the ROOTS meeting in Minneapolis. Over the course of the two days of meeting many witty and impactful zingers were let loose by the mostly people of color queer and trans folks in the room (we found out later that two of our favorite people in the room were actually straight....I was flabbergasted...but we love our straights doing the work as well). But at one point, Miss Major, when referring to opening her home from time to time to her "girls," when one of them finds themselves without shelter, she said,

"It's not that I don't have boundaries, it's just that the motherfuckers keep moving."

Having an elder both in age and in relationship to the movement let loose with that line made my everlasting life. And that trannies and gentleman, is the One Liner of the Week.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Conflict Isn't A Four Letter Word...Running Is

At this point in my life, I should really know better than to avoid my feelings. Actually, let me be clear. At this point in my life I should know that when I avoid owning my feelings, particularly when I am afraid of my feelings or afraid of how those feelings may be received, I tend to wild out and do some dumb shit.

I am hoping to avoid that this time around.

I believe that everything happens for a reason. Absolutely everything happens for a reason. I often get pissed off because I don't usually understand why certain shit happens when it does and in the circumstances when it does (I would be simple courtesy if the universe could give me a heads up when it is going to fuck with me and turn everything topsy turvy....perhaps a post it note on the fridge or a text message...GChat? Im? No? Okey dokey)....

For the last week, I have been in Minneapolis for two series of meetings. The first was the ROOTS Coalition meeting. ROOTS is a coalition of the 14 leading queer and trans people of color organizations in the U.S. (though the coalition is multi-racial and includes white led organizations, all of the groupings either center people of color in their work or are explicitly people of color organizations). Getting 14 organizations together to form an entity that can work together to push a new kind of LGBTQ organizing agenda by forming a strategy and education tank (StratTank) is hard work. Lots of the folks in the room have personal histories as well as organizational histories that are sometimes difficult.

Moments of difficulty and conflict are necessary for growth and lay the foundation for really being able to do tremendous work together.

This weekend, there came a point in our work when the entire body started to run from a potential conflict. I am no stranger to running from something that seems hard. I am no stranger of walking away from something that seems complicated. It's the fear of being hurt or being wounded or being rejected or being denied or being found wanting/unworthy that has always been behind my high stepping away from difficult moments.

This week I decided to force a confrontation by holding the group accountable to its attempt to run from a hard decision. I knew absolutely that I could come out the other side hurting. I risked being rejected by my peers and I was forcing myself into a confrontation that I absolutely understood was going to be difficult and could trigger some old and deep hurts. But I also knew that if this body of allies didn't stop running from the hard work, and if I couldn't, personally, face up to the piece of the hard work that was sitting in the room that was attached to a history that belonged, in part, to me, that the coalition was in deep fucking trouble.

Not only did the confrontation happen and it was difficult, the end result was so beautiful that it absolutely confirmed for me that it is beauty and healing that lays on the other side of bravery and risk.

By no means did I make it through the conflict on my own. Part of being willing to engage in healthy conflict is trusting that the folks that are in it with you are going to HOLD you if you come to the hard stuff with integrity. It's trusting that love is stronger than hate/anger/hurt/wounding/sadness/loss/fear. It is trusting that if you come to the moment with hope and care not just for yourself but for the process and with the small bravery of dreaming and wishing for something better and more beautiful to come the other side of the hard moments, that it WILL work out. For those of you to whom I reached out and reached back, thank you. To those that reached out on your own, thank you. And to the one who answered the phone a whole lot that day, thank you.

We can all think/fear/nightmare out the horrible possible outcomes of any situation. Particularly those of us that have been hurt and are still holding on to our hurts. The pain and fear tells us that this situation is going to be a repeat of the one before it and the one before that and the one before that. We lose sight of all of the happiness and beauty that we have experienced and the OVERWHELMING number of times that our families/communities/lovers/friends/comrades have held us. We forget about the times when we took a risk and it led to something transformative and beautiful.

Hurt screams while love whispers...but hurt eventually loses its voice while loves voice keeps steady and strengthens.

I won't run any longer. My hurt doesn't get to win and difficult moments do not get to derail potential. The work of living, the work of growing, and the work of justice demands more than that.

I love you all.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mr. Fix It

I have a problem. I like to fix shit. Actually, let me rephrase that...I like to fix problems...including things that aren't mine to fix, situations that don't need my interference, or folks that are able to manage themselves and their process without my personal divine intervention.

I get it. I know where it comes from. Growing up in a home of intense trauma and abuse, fixing situations and people is an act of survival. If you can make everything better, quickly, even those things are not directly related to you or anything that you have learn young that those same situations that may have nothing to do with you at all, could have direct, intense, and damaging consequences to you none the less. As a child, it often meant physical or emotional abuse. And, so, you learn to manage other people, direct or redirect their emotions away from danger zones, and involve yourself in moments and situations that are not yours to hold, handle, or resolve.

The problem is that those behaviors, which once served a direct survival purpose, translate as an adult, into an intense desire to step into places and spaces that aren't yours to hold..YET...and here is the kicker, at least where I am involved, I then internalize shit that actually has NOTHING to do with me.

For example...there is someone that is very important to me. This amazing human being is doing some intensive healing work, some of which touches on us because it involves a previous relationship. Now....let me be has NOTHING to do with me. It isn't ABOUT me. When things sort of occupy space between us that has been triggered by previous experiences with other folks...this beautiful human being generally tells me order that it remains really clear that it isn't about me and therefore not for me to internalize, over think, or own. And when there have been times in those triggered moments when their behavior has resulted in some hurt because it was handled in not the best way...I have been given the grace and space to say so and it has been acknowledged in a way that has allowed me to let it go.

So, you'd think having a clear realization that the shit ain't about me would let me go on about the business of living and dealing with my own caca'd think that wouldn't you? Wouldn't you?

Well....surprise surprise I still end up wanting to reach out and in and try to lift away truth...I have no real power to change and no right to try and take on or cut out. Folks gonna heal when they decide they want to heal. Folks are going to hold on to things until they are ready to let them go whether or not it is good or healthy. Folks are going to release and change their emotional well being when they decide that they are tired of spending all their time hurting and instead would rather do the work to let it go. And, here's the kicker, folks gonna reclaim their power from others including the power to let others hold their hurt sure is Hell not ok for me (or you or you or you) to try and take away the power that someone you know and love that is hurting is doing the hard work to reclaim for themselves.

To love someone is to commit oneself to ones own and another's spiritual growth (bell hooks' words). To love someone means sitting with your own discomfort, being present with yourself and your own work (because when we DO our own work and focus on our own work we are loving that other as best we can...because we are starting by loving ourselves (in his words) fiercely. And if we can sit with our own shit and discomfort, if we can keep our hands and feet and "fix it" tendencies to ourselves, it means that when the person we love that is hurting/struggling/working comes to us, on their own terms, we can be really present for them instead of being present in our own interests and based in our own selfishness or self-protective behaviors.

This consequently means that we also don't get to project our own work and struggles on others with the expectation that they are going to fix them for us. Asking for strategic advice in order to help us do our own work or reflecting with someone for clarity is one thing....offloading my/your/our shit onto someone else and then walking away from the work afterwards is so not cool and it is so not going to result in anything but pissing off the person that is now carrying your stuff as well as his or her own.

No bueno.

It's about damn time I took my own advice. So I am going to try and practice this a little bit better, particular with the people that are closest to me. This might mean a whole lot of things that I may not like to do, look at, admit, see or confess. But if it's about the work, and I am about the work, then I better work it.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Queer Argument for a Minimum Liveable Wage: QEJ Testimony to the NY City Council

(The following testimony was written by Brandon Lacy Campos and Amber Hollibaugh and presented during a hearing on a bill to establish a minimum liveable wage in New York City).

LIVING WAGE Hearings in NY City Council
Queers for Economic Justice Statement
October 22nd, 2011

In a time of economic crisis such as the one now happening in the United States, the need for a living wage just to be able to survive, is critical. This Living Wage bill begins to frame crucial and basic economic standards which would generate a salary that allows people to not remain in poverty even as they work to maintain a living.

Too often invisible in this mix of vulnerable workers needing a living wage are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender workers. In the popular media framing about LGBTQ communities, we are too often presented as very affluent, with high disposal incomes and as a community largely unimpacted by the current recession. Yet the reality is that a majority of LGBT people are workers who are LGBT and immigrant, LGBT and HIV+, LGBT and older, LGBT and homeless, LGBT and working class. Also missing in the way we are presented is the reality that as workers, we have our own biological and chosen families to try and support. That is simply left outside of the discourse altogether, so that the need to care for our children, our parents, our partners, our extended chosen or biological family members remains hidden. And while there has been heartbreaking analysis of the enormous economic setbacks suffered by Black and Latino communities from this recession, which agrees that Blacks and Latinos have seen their communal assets and joblessness revert to almost to pre-Civil Rights era levels, the devastating impact on queer and trans communities who are often a part of these communities of color, has largely gone unnoticed and undocumented and as such, there have been few remedies proposed to alleviate the economic burden on this group of overly impacted workers and their families.

In a 2010 report documenting adult LGBT homelessness by The Center for American Progress, it states, “Besides disporportunate rates of homelessness as youth, a root cause of lower incomes and poverty among adult gay and transgender Americans is the high rate of workplace discrimination they face. This discrimination includes unequal pay, barriers to health insurance, unfair hiring and promotion practices, and verbal and sexual harrassment that create hostile and unsafe working enviroments. Studies show that 16 percent to 68 percent of gay and transgender individuals experience this type of discrimination at some point in their lives”. This forces LGBT workers to take any job that is available, regardless of its pay or protections. To be very clear, LGBTQ families are uniformly less well off than their straight counterparts and LGBTQ individuals are more likely to work in non-unionized and unprotected classes of labor due to the extensive stigma and discrimination that remains regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. A similar study as quoted above by the Williams Institute in 2009, clearly outlines not only the economic reality of queer families but the impact of poverty on LGBTQ communities. According to the Williams Institute report, it states “the misleading myth of affluence steers policymakers, community organizations, service providers, and the media away from fully understanding poverty among LGBT people or even imagining that poor LGBT people exist.” Add to this reality that LGBTQ workers are often found working in jobs that are “tip” labor, entry level retail, home care workers, as sex workers, or involved in other street economies, all of which are unprotected as a class of workers who are either explicitly excluded from the right to organize or are effectively excluded by the nature of the work, and you are left with an inherently unstable economic base that is absolutely beholden to minor shifts in the economy and which have been eviscerated by the current economic climate.

Finally, New York City is home to a large consumer economy rooted in LGBTQ and marginalized communities. A network of bars, cafés, restaurants, clothing stores, personal services, boutiques, salons and sex work businesses services the city’s middle and upper class gays. These businesses employ thousands of working class queer and trans people, and many are people of color and immigrants. They are almost invariably nonunionized, with few labor protections. As many of these staff face racism, poverty, homophobia and transphobia, employees are often forced to stay at low-wage, low-security workplaces with poor conditions and abusive treatment. Similarly, many working class queer people of color are employed in the city’s HIV service sector. These low- and moderate-income queer people at gay businesses and service nonprofits have been particular vulnerable through the financial crisis, the rising anti-immigrant hysteria and the constriction of New York’s consumer businesses and nonprofit sector. These working poor LGBTQ people are often without strong employment alternatives, or access to adequate social safety net services. They are instead left vulnerable to homelessness, HIV and AIDS, and violence.

Without the structural support of worker collectives, such as unions who support and advocate for LGBTQ workers rights, LGBTQ workers cannot rely on legal remedies to mangae fairly any resulting labor disputes. The means to advocate as a worker remains effectively out of reach and impossible for many LGBTQ workers. The result is that many LGBTQ low wage workers cannot afford challenging unfair labor practices, low wages or hostile work environments for fear of losing their jobs altogether.

We punish people in this country for being poor and we punish homosexuality and gender non-conformity. When both are combined, it does more than double the effect: it twists and deepens it, gives it sharper edges, and heightens an LGBT workers’ inability to duck and cover or slide through to a safer place. It often forces LGBT workers to live more permanently outside a stable economic reality than either condition dictates.

One notable exception has been a recent program created by the Office of the Mayor of Washington, DC that recognizes that poverty and unemployment rates have reached such devastating levels in the transgender community that direct government intervention has become necessary. The Mayor created the first ever job training and placement program for transgender individuals. Unemployment and poverty rates in NYC are no better than those in DC, and when adjusting for race, they are worse.

A liveable minimum wage is the first step towards truly undermining unfair labor practices that rely on a combination of fear and underpayment to maintain a pliable underclass of workers that neither have the resources nor space to address or redress workplace human rights violations, including intimidation and firing for organizing for better work environments including a just wage.

By enacting a minimum liveable wage for all New Yorkers, the New York City Council would be providing significant support to LGBTQ individuals and families, create fairer work environments, and alleviate the effects of the recession on a hard hit population. In an atmosphere that is actively hostile to collective bargaining and the recognition of the human right to organize labor unions, this is a positive, pro-active, and just step towards supporting the queer and trans community.

Monday, November 21, 2011

When Things Feel Easy, You are Doing Right

(This blog is dedicated to JT Mikulka, Amber Hollibaugh, Jay Toole, Reina Gossett, Carlos Blanco, Doyin Ola, and Felix Gardon...thanks for doing the work with me and helping me do my own)

Let me tell you a little bit about something I know a whole lot about: A HARD HEAD MAKES MORE A SOFT BEHIND

To translate that from Country Negro into High Whitey: if you keep doing the things that you know are going to get you in trouble, you end up getting your ass kicked. That phrase was one that was used quite often by my Mom and step-Dad when I was growing up. My Mom is blonde as one of those little evil children from the Village of the Damned, but she speaks fluent Negro and several dialects of Country and Ghetto, so she easily adopted this saying early in my life.

What this has meant for me as an adult is that when I am doing something that I am not supposed to be doing, or even less actively fucking up but still doing what I WANT to be doing instead of what I really SHOULD be doing, things get unnecessarily hard, complicated and eventually painful. When I go on ahead and do the things that I might not, perhaps, like to be doing in that moment but are the things that I was meant to be doing or should be doing or agreed to do or are in my best mental, physical, spiritual and everything in it seems to run as smoothly as a river running downhill.

Lately...I have been doing my damndest to do what I believe is right as opposed to what I believe is in my best interest or...even better...what would benefit me as opposed to those around me, WHILE, at the same time, taking the time, space, place, and interest in myself enough to make hard choices, hard decisions that have ultimately played out to be the absolutely right choices to have made (even with some less than healthy detours).

Delayed gratification has become a source of ULTIMATE satisfaction in my life lately. Some of you know of what I speak.

Lately, I have learned that by being present, firm, steadfast, honest, vulnerable, scared, hopeful, and showing up as best I can and being transparent about the outer limits of what that means has lead me to some amazing insight and brought me into some truly humble and uplifting spaces. It has also deepened my relationships with old community and new community...and there have been such moments of unexpected care and joy, silliness and happiness, depth and celebration that I truly am feeling blessed right now today.

This doesn't mean shit has been easy. In the last six weeks, I have gone through a hard and damaging break up. I have made dumb choices. I have had to check my own instincts and desires around folks in my life that I care about. I have had to ask hard questions and sit with uncomfortable answers. I have had to let others around me have their own process without trying to control it or myself, and I have had to hear the word no, not now, and not yet in times and places when I have wanted to kick my feet and scream like a wee little bizatch.

Temper tantrums were so much easier when I didn't weigh 185 pounds and stand at six feet tall.

In the end, this business of growing up is not just about acting right (or acting as right as you can as best you can) but it is about welcoming blessings into life and accepting them as yours. I am blessed...I am way blessed...and when I can get up the gumption to get the Hell out of my own way...those blessings flow and surge like the River Nile flooding its banks and bringing life giving sediment to the surrounding landscape. Flood on Mama landscape is ready.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Oh What a Night: Healing, Faith, and Love

My Mama used to say to me, on days when I was especially high energy and bouncy, "Who put a quarter in you?"

Friday, if you'd walked into my office, you'd have thought that someone took an entire roll of quarters and had started plugging any staff they could find until their pupils came up dollar signs. The energy in our office was out of control.

At one point, during staff meeting, my colleague JT and I were being sassy with each other (ahhhhh sweet repository of intense tension), when Doyin and Reina push back from the table where Doyin starts to rock and Reina starts summoning up a safe zone to envelope him. We all fall out laughing, and in unison, Doyin and Reina spin around in their wheely chairs and pull back up to the table. They are basically those two crotchety old Muppets that are always talking smack during the Muppet Show.

Things calmed down a bit while we all shoved Cuban food into our faces like a bunch of wild hogs at a slop trough.

And then more volunteers descended on the space, including the indomitable Yejin Lee from the Anti-Violence Project, to begin prepping meals for QEJ's vigil in honor of our member, Yvonne McNeil, who was murdered by the police in early October. All that manic energy translated into packing sixty lunches in a time that would have made the winner of the NY City Marathon blush and clap. It was organized chaos with a PB&J heart.

With the office mostly empty, JT, Amber, and I were sitting waiting to catch any last minute folks that straggled in before leaving for the site of the vigil. At one point, we were all sitting near each other, and we had a Lefty Confessional and Rite of Absolution with Amber, and then we all headed across the island to a small park near New Providence Shelter.

The vigil was powerful. It was silent, and it was comprised largely of folks that work in the queer community and around issues of violence. At the last minute, residents of five different shelters decided not to attend the vigil. It was not unexpected. It's one thing to want to honor one of your own that has fallen to violence from the system, and it is another to face the reality of that violence and understand that it could have been anyone, including yourself. Therefore but by the Grace of God go all of us.

So, those of us that have the privilege to live outside of the shelter system, along with a few residents of New Providence, showed up to honor the memory of Yvonne McNeil. As Amber Hollibaugh, my colleague and friend, said, "Not a single one of us, including our homeless, will go unremembered." There are times when we show up because others simply can't. That's revolutionary and love.

The Audre Lorde Project showed up in force to act as our allies and our security for the vigil as did folks from the Sylvia River Law Project. And it was lovely to have lawyerly support from Streetwise and Safe! I can't say enough how much it meant to me and the rest of us at QEJ to see how our people show up for each other in a time of need. That, too, is revolutionary.

That night, I hung out with JT and his sister, and it was wonderful to sort of let some of the sadness go and enjoy time out and about in the world celebrating life in the face of violence. In fact, I think when we celebrate the ways in which we continue to grow despite the reality of living in a police state, we are doing the work of defiance and healing. And we can't heal matter what the wound. In fact, the systems that be would have us believe that isolation is the way to heal are in fact trying to keep us hurting...isolation is simply another way to keep us wounded and bleeding...slowly. I will gather my loves around me. That's good medicine.

This weekend has been about celebration, healing, getting back to self, cooking, reading, playing, loving, and being brave in the face of hurt and hope. Actually, I believe being brave in the face of hope is infinitely harder than just about any other act of believe that your hurt can be less than your healing and that the love that is offered and present is greater than your loss, is terrifying. But leaps of faith have always been the greatest and most frightening acts we have undertaken. And the greatest human achievements have always come from those that have opened their eyes wide and jumped. I believe I will be caught...I have been every time I have ever had the courage to leap.

Friday, November 11, 2011

This Pozitive Life

Last night, I read my poem H-I-ME for the second time in public. The last time was a year ago, the day that I wrote it, and after completely breaking down and sobbing my way through that performance, I set it aside. Over the last year, I have either chosen to face or been force to face some of the realities of living with HIV. I have made good choices and bad choices, and I have had to sit with some very hard moments. Last night, when I read the poem, I didn't break down. Let's be real, by the end of the poem by entire body was shaking, I felt exposed and vulnerable, and I wanted to bolt from the room. Instead, I had to pull up a chair and face a half an hour of questions and comments from the audience during a facilitated panel.

And the panel moderator, my friend Collete Carter, Co-Director of the Audre Lorde Project, ain't no joke.

I felt myself, sitting underneath the lights, sweating, trying to make my body as absolutely small as possible. There were folks in the room that knew me intimately and had lived with me through some of my hardest moments. There were folks in the room that I didn't know at all, and there was a person in the room that I have just begun to know--and let me say that with this particular person....there are rarely any frivolous I sat there...feeling stripped down, trying my best to continue to answer the questions posed with honesty, while all the while wanting to run hard and fast.

The problem is that you can't run from yourself.

HIV is a part of my life. It is a part of my reality. I am in great health. I am a non-progressor. I have a T-Cell count of a "normie," (1000+) my viral load is never above 3,000 (you have to be at least at 100,000 replications before medication is recommended). I am likely to die an incontinent mean ass old man pinching the asses of orderlies that aren't even born yet. Yet, the stigma, shame, and all around shit show that this world puts on people living with HIV, combined with all the messages we (I) lay on ourselves makes living with this disease about as fun as putting your penis in a blender and hitting puree.

In general, I am ok with my status. When I am not feeling ok with it...I write about it. But sometimes, life throws you a moment, that straight up knocks the wind right out of you.

Last night, after the show, I was hanging out with someone important to me. As we were talking as we are wont to do, after I made a comment about an unrelated subject, he stopped the conversation and said, "I think I am angry with you."

It was so out of the blue, that I kind of giggled and asked why. When his face changed, I knew something was coming that I probably wasn't going to enjoy. I knew it was would be honest. I knew it would be challenging. I knew it would be truthful. And I was fairly certain I was going to hate whatever he said next.

Call my ass Miss Cleo, because I was right. Call me now!

He said to me, "I think I am angry with you because you are HIV positive."

I could feel my pupils dilating as he was speaking. It was direct. It was real. And I had no idea what to do with it.

And then the coup de grace came. "And I am mad at you for hurting yourself like that."

Entre the tears.

Nothing he said was designed to hurt. There was more to the conversation but that isn't for this blog. And what he said did hurt. It was the truth. And it hurt like Hell. I did hurt myself. I have never blamed anyone else for my HIV status, but nor had I really looked at my myself and said...hey did this to yourself. I did. I have all kinds of reasons why I went searching for love and validation in the form of a dick. I was looking for something that was missing or taken from me growing up. Instead, what I found, like so many others find, is this fucking disease. And I realized that not only did I hurt myself, but once I tested positive there was a sense of satisfaction. It was confirmation of everything that I believe(d) about myself. I was unlovable. I was untouchable. I was unworthy of love. And having HIV was very simply the confirmation of all the things that I knew to be true about myself.

I LOVE to be right. And my positive diagnosis was the ultimate confirmation of just how right I was about myself. And until my friend told me last night that he was angry with me, I had never been forced to actually look at it in this way. Nor have I ever articulated it.

Damn. Just damn. damn. damn. damn. damn.

Last night when Collette asked us the question what is the truth about ourselves that hurts. When it got to me, I said out loud that my truth that hurts is that I have believed and still sometimes believe that I am unworthy of the amazing love and devotion and care that I have been blessed to have in my life. To fight that, I actively seek out that love and give it back when I can. I actively look for people to be in my life, like my friend last night, who will tell me the truths that may not feel great but are the things that I need to hear.

I am so grateful to have these people in my love me when it is be my truth tellers...and to let me have the pain without getting lost in it.

I am worthy of love. HIV doesn't determine who I am or how I move through the world, and I will continue to take these truths in, let them hurt until the hurt goes away, and then keep on living. Too many people have invested too much into my life and my well being for me to do any less.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Minneapolis to NYC: Thank You, Love You, Peace

Minnesota has my heart, but my heart has another lover, New York. To my heart I give home, to my lover I come. Home is forever, while my love waits ephemeral, though home be distant and lover close, it is home that has what the lover has but on loan. -BLC, NYC, 11.7.11

The beginning of last week was a shit show extraordinaire. I was in full flight from dealing with some heavy emotional stuff that had gone down over the previous two weeks. To sum it up, I officially ended a relationship with someone for whom I still care but it is not possible for us to be together. In the meantime there are other highly emotional (mostly good yet still complicated) situations going on (I am being WAY cryptic here...which is all for the best)...and all of that combined to make me flee and hide out in some rather unhealthy ways last weekend.

Luckily thanks to the support of an acquaintance, I was provided with the time, space, and solitude to pull myself, my thoughts, and my courage together. It was the best gift that I have gotten in a very long time.

Last Monday and Tuesday were rough. My emotions were on an internal Great America theme park adventure, the people around me were super loving, and I finally, with the love of community, pulled myself together. In fact, despite the ending of my relationship and the accompanying heartache that entailed, my life is good. I am employed. I have a home. I have a Mimzy. I have a powerful family of choice and of blood, and frankly I have a book that is doing really well. Since October 1, I have been in Atlanta to celebrate the wedding of Paulina and Ashe, in Albany to co-keynote the national queer people of color health conference, at Davidson College in North Carolina to do a reading and give a series of lectures in partnership with the amazing photographer Sophia Wallace, and I just returned home from Minneapolis where I not only got to spend time with my Betty and Sarah and family, but I got to hold my godson as he was baptized, share in the wedding vow renewal of Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria and Nubia Esparza, and I had a jam packed Minneapolis book launch party at the fantastic Cafe SouthSide!

To stand in front of an audience, with my godson present, my amazing step-mom Melanie, my nephew Jason Jr., the Scooby Gang, my high school art teacher Mrs. Mary Simon-Casati, high school friends, Facebook folks that I had yet to meet but am so glad I did, and with the powerful presence of other writers and performers particularly Harry Waters, Jr., Kevin Kaoz Moore, Kyle "Guante" Myhre, Teresa Ortiz and the aforementioned Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria, was to stand in front of a room full of blessings. And anytime I can look up and see the loving, gentle, and powerful face of Susan Raffo, co-director of Minnesota's LGBTQ foundation PFUND, it is a good and blessed day.

I am so thankful for the gift of community. I am grateful for those that show up again and again to share their love and to let me reflect back to them the light and love that they give to me. To be mirrors for each and to reflect back the light that each of us was given brighten the way for those around us, is what I believe we were all put on this planet to do.

Today, I landed back in New York, and as sad as I was to leave behind my friends and family back in Minneapolis, I was jumping up and down to get home to my people here. First it was a reunion with Mimzy...and I spent a good 15 minutes wrapping her up and holding her and burying my face in her fur while she tried desperately to lick all of the sweat she could from my head. It's her job. Don't judge. And then it was a quick shower and to the QEJ office where I was greeted with a shout and love by my co-conspirator and beloved Amber Hollibaugh, the elfin soft show of Naomi, the giggles of Gykyira and of course the sun-shaming smile of JT Mikulka.

There was sadness today. I don't want to downplay or undervalue the sadness that existed today as well. That isn't a story I want to share here, now. But I learned a long time ago that it is not an oxymoron or a conflict to hold great joy and great sadness in your belly at the same time. In fact, on a day to day basis, those two seemingly conflicting emotions often show up, together, to remind us that the sweet tastes sweet because we know bitter as well.

To all my friends and family, I wish you nothing but the greatest blessings. Thank you for being in the world and being a light that helps me see where I am going when I am most likely to bang around in the dark, bruising myself, and crashing into the folks that showed up to help me. Love to you all.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Guest Blog Post: JT Mikulka Wouldn't Take the Pill aka Check Your Privilege!

Today's blog post is a guest post from JT Milkuka, a graduate student in the Social Work program at Hunter College in New York. JT also works with Queers for Economic Justice.

The original post to which JT is responding can be found here. It was originally posted on Towleroad.

I just watched Randy Phillip's latest video you just posted and while I agreed with his general message I'd like to comment on his introduction; specifically, his hypothetical desire to change his sexuality if that was possible. I'd like to offer a different viewpoint.

We live in a society that loves to put people in boxes and categories. If society can't categorize someone, it tries to wipe them out instead. Mr. Phillip's comment implies that there are only a few ways of being sexual: gay, straight, (and I'll assume he'd imply bisexuality, since it's been socially accepted, if only barely). However, the fact is that human sexuality is complex and messy. It ebbs and flows and fluctuates through out our lives. I'd like to applaud Mr. Phillip's for his recent coming out and for being a huge means of support for many LGBTQGNC folks who have been following his videos. I'd also like to remind him, and his followers, that we don't have to feel constrained by the roles society tells us we must play based on one identity or another. But that we can decide for ourselves what these identities mean for us and how we would like to enact them (or not) and on what spectrum of human existence we would like to live.

Further, as a gay man who identifies occasionally as gay and occasionally as queer, I'd like to also state that I am so thankful that I am gay and would never wish for my sexuality to be any other way. It's true, growing up gay has not always been easy. Like many of the young gay, queer, and trans people out there, growing up was a struggle and I did not always feel connected to the people around me. I continue to struggle with these issues of belonging and connectedness to this day. Unfortunately, I have also walked through various streets of this world unable to hold my boyfriends hand for fear of being attacked, because my sexual identity may threaten another persons sense of self. However, it is precisely these struggles that have allowed me to see beyond the white, middle class world that I was raised in and see the rampant homophobia, racism, classism, and sexism that exists in this world and this country. It has allowed me to join with communities and friends in the fight for equality and liberation in an attempt to fully realize my human potential and help others fully realize theirs along side me. I view this fight as both my duty and my privilege. I am thankful every day that I am more aware of the ways in which people of color are discriminated against. I am thankful that I am aware of the ways women are abused and harassed by men. I am thankful that I have been given a lens to view the world differently and work towards undoing the systems that have allowed these acts of hate and violence to continue.

No, I would not take that magic little pill to turn me in to just another straight white man. I encourage Mr. Phillips, and the many LGBTQGNC youth and non-youth a like to view their non-majority identities as a gift they can share with the world and with those around them who love them. Not everyone will listen or be kind. People are often scared of change and by ideas that threaten their identities. I am not saying this struggle is an easy one. But there is a vast community of love and support to tap in to. A community that will stand by you in the struggle and lift you up. A community I feel lucky to be part of.

Read more:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Poetry at the Heart of Revolution: Working at the Intersection of Feminism, Queerness and Social Change


This week, I have had the amazing opportunity to spend the bulk of my time at Davidson College in Davidson, NC. I was invited to visit the school by Dr. Shante Smalls, and for the last three days I have had the privilege of sitting and thinking and building with some truly great students and some amazing professors. Last night, I gave my first formal public lecture at a college. Though I have done a number of classroom lectures over the last seven or eight years, this was my first all eyes on me (actually us...I shared the evening and the week with the stunningly amazing, beautiful and transformational Sophia Wallace...I am SO in love with her and her work and her--did I mention she is amazing) scholarly conversation on why I do the work I do and how I do it.

I have decided to publish my remarks here. Each section of the discussion was paired with a poem from my collection, It Ain't Truth If It Doesn't Hurt, which you can purchase by here.

Davidson College Remarks
Queer Communities/Queer Critiques

Given at the College on October 25, 2011 at the invitation of Dr. Shante Smalls and in dialogue with visual artist Sophia Wallace

Owning the Space We're In

Poetry: Stump Speech

I want to thank Davidson College, Professor Shante Smalls, Dean Ross, Sophia Wallace, the English Department support staff, and the students of Davidson for having me here to share some time and thoughts with you. And I am particularly pleased to be back in North Carolina. I will forgive all ya'll for deciding to go to Davidson when you could have gone to Warren Wilson, my alma mater, just up the road in Swansong.

To have the opportunity and space to sit in dialogue across disciplines, within academia, while connecting the practice and function of artistic form to grassroots revolutionary change is a privilege that most people do not have nor get to have. It is a privilege that most practicing artists of whatever genre or medium are never privileged to have, and so I want to acknowledge, sitting in this space, the presence of folks doing the work of radical social change, public critic and power building using art are many, varied, and often doing their work outside of they academy, and sometimes, in opposition to it—not from any particular hatred of academia but often because of the particular role that academia plays in propping up certain forms of oppression and the role academia has often played in determining which art forms are valid, valuable and respected. Page poetry versus spoken word, oil on canvas versus spray paint on a train trestle, museum art versus mail art, pop art (aka the art of the people) versus high art. As a spoken word artist, I have felt distinctly that disconnect, and so this conversation today, with two practicing artists that have connections to the academy but work outside of it, is important not only for the content of our work but also for creating intentional relationships within a system that has, traditionally, undervalued our work or tokenized it, relegating it to classes and studies that are themsleves marginalized within the academy (raise your hand if you are only able to encounter significant subject matter of value to communities of color within the context of “ethnic” studies department or have submitted an idea for a paper or project and been told that it doesn't have enough “theory” in it.)

Theory is oftentimes academic speak for bullshit. Don't get it twisted, the ghetto is alive and well behind the ivory walls. But I digress. I am supposed to be here talking about poetry and politics, queerness and feminism, gender fucking and fucking in general, the personal as political as political as personal.

So let's talk about that for a minute. I don't mind getting real personal with all y'all.

I came to my life as a writer very personally. Poetry was how I survived the self-awareness process that is the phenomena of coming out of the closet. All through high school I wrote terrible poetry about tear drops falling and lighting and broken hearts and the moon. In fact, a good friend of mine still has all the poems I wrote to her, and I have told her that she had better be buried with those poems as I never want to see them again. Poetry and other forms of writing that I practice, very simply, is how I see, feel, and process the world. Whether I am talking about love, a break up, a one night stand, going to war, racism, addiction, or living with HIV, my poetry is very personal yet to walk in this world as a queer man, a positive man, a descendant of slaves, a survivor of abuse, a child of the Ojibwe Nation, light skinned, college educated, from a family full of immigrants, is to understand that everything I do at all times is influenced by and takes part, actively or passively in fundamental political systems and systems of privilege and oppression.

Poetry: Big Sam

Poetry As An Act of Feminist Resistance

Beyond the fact that I know and love and have organized and worked with Dr. Smalls for over a decade, there is another reason that I am sitting here instead of a queer woman of color doing the same work. I now have the privilege of having published a book, and being a male with other male friends that have benefitted from male privilege, I was able to circumvent the normal publishing process, take my work straight to the publisher and here I sit. I didn't think about any of that at the time but just because I didn't think about it doesn't make it any less real or any less connected to real political systems that are foundational to who gets to make, create, and publish art. And so I'd like to honor and bring into this space that I am grateful to be here but I am here not entirely because of my own work but because of work that is done before I even wake up in the morning by a system that maintains a reserve of privilege for the male body in which I move.

I also want to talk to you a little bit about why I identify as a feminist and do my work through a feminist lens. Listen closely because I am about to lay something on you. I firmly believe that women have a choice of whether or not they wish to move in the world as feminists. While I would thoroughly want to shake my little sisters until they looked like bobble heads if they came home talking about submitting to their husbands and birthing babies and the like, I would resist the urge and instead make a bee line for her intended to let him know that if he ever asked her to submit, I would submit my foot to the back of his head.

Men, you have no choice. You are required to be feminist if you ever want this world to even begin to consider dismantling systemic oppression. Like racism and classism, sexism is the third leg of the stool that is the fundamental and foundational underpinning of the capitalist system and like those two other legs of oppression, sexism is combined and recombined to create other forms of oppression such as heterosexism, transmisogyny, feminist racism (I wish that were an oxymoron), etc. Just as white power and privilege is propped up through the vehicle of racism, male power and privilege is propped up through sexism and committing oneself as a man to feminist principles, action, and living means to be not only staunchly anti-sexist but proactively pro-woman and to use the power, privilege, and opportunity you have been given by virtue of being born with a penis, or the ability to pass (for the trans men that may be in the audience), to smash oppression as it impacts women, batter down the glass ceilings and, wait for it, step away from advancement and opportunity at times when it would be more effective, meaningful, and powerful for the work to be done by a woman.

Now I am not talking about turning down a job to feed your family, but I am talking about making sure that you are actively opening up space in your student groups, in your classrooms, in your daily life and actively asking the question of yourself AND other men, “What can I personally do and SYSTEMICALLY support to ensure that the voices of women are centered in the world and in the spaces to which I have been given access.”

Without women, and specifically radical feminist women of color—queer and straight—I would not be a poet today. In 2003, I attended a International Women's Day spoken word performance at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, MN. It was called Women Holding Up Half the Sky. Poets Juliana Hu Pegues, Sha Cage, and Coya Hope White Hat Artichoker gave spoken word performances. That evening changed my life. That night I wrote my first spoken word poem. Unfortunately, due to a combination of electronic misfortune and a brain malfunction that poem is lost forever. What remains is a commitment to using poetry as a way to challenge misogyny and heterosexism and male privilege.

Poetry: Stolen

Racism/Classism/Poetry Oh My!

I'd like to share another poem with you now. And though my friends often refer to me as an I.R.A—I require attention, I am going to prove them slightly wrong by reading to you an excerpt from another poet. I am not going to tell you who this poet is, in fact, I am going to ask you to tell me who this person is once I have read to you this excerpt, please note that in order to keep from handing you the answer any more than the piece already does, I will be omitting a couple of lines from the work:

...if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, "Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?" I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God's children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn't stop there.

I would move on by Greece and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon. And I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality. But I wouldn't stop there.

I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn't stop there.

I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and aesthetic life of man. But I wouldn't stop there.

I would even go by the way that the man for whom I am named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church of Wittenberg. But I wouldn't stop there.

I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating President by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn't stop there.

I would even come up to the early thirties, and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but "fear itself." But I wouldn't stop there.

This is an excerpt from Martin Luther King's speech, “I've Been to the Mountaintop,” which he gave the night before his assassination in Memphis, TN. This speech was given in support of the sanitation workers strike in Memphis. It is pure spoken word. It was also part of a larger rallying cry to make sure that by marching for racial justice we did not forget or were not divided from a movement for economic justice.

Dr. King understood that one of the ways that capitalism was maintained and that slavery had been maintained and Jim Crow had been maintained was a systemic division of poor black and poor whites from one another. He understood and colonialists understood that poor whites and poor blacks had more in common simply by being poor than they had in a difference created by skin color. It was thus that race based oppression was systematically created in this country as a way to do two things at the same time: maintain a system of control by intrinsically linking working class whites to slaves while also keeping them from seeing each other as allies and create a permanent basis of low wage and free labor.

Though folks like Bayard Rustin and Ralph Abernathy and others had, a generation before, tried to bridge the race/class divide by organizing within the union and labor movements of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s (through intentional work in both the north and south especially in places like the Highlander Center), Dr. King understood, and built upon the work of and worked in partnership with Abernathy and Rustin, that in order to bridge the race/class divide you first had to break down ENOUGH of the racist inculcation of working class whites and blacks for them to be able to stand side by side and see the humanity each other. Once those cracks were hammered into the side of racism, you could blow the basis of the entire system wide open when black folks, using the power and momentum built up by the Civil Rights movement, inserted themselves into the working class white/black struggle around economics as evidenced by the sanitation workers strike in Memphis.

Dr. King wasn't murdered because he had played a role in breaking down certain racial barriers/norms/mores that were already falling apart on their own due to the natural pressures of competition within a capitalist system, he was murdered because using the poetry of his words, he was attacking the fundament of capitalism itself, and it was working.

J. Edgar Hoover wasn't having any of that.

Poetry: These Streets

Poetry at the Heart of Revolution(aries)

There was a time in the American experience when poetry and politics went absolutely hand in hand. We listen still to Martin Luther King' Jr's speeches specifically because they are spoken word. And this is not some coincidence, it is not a rare phenomena in the black experience, in fact, this oral poetic history is a thousands of years old West African tradition tied to the griots. Politics and loss, weddings and death, regime changes and life changes were told as poetry from town to town by griots—poets of the people that created art out of the every day life and its circumstances. The griots work was not distinct from the needs, wants, and desires of the community. The griot reflected back and outward to a broader audience the goings on of the moment while also tying those same happenings to the history of the community. The griot and the poet were one and the same and art was inimically tied to the people and reached its peak at a time when, for example, the university at Timbuktu was the most respected place of learning in the Western world, where Europeans were considered too limited in their education to instruct students, and any notion of divorcing poetry from the people would have earned you side eye from just about everyone.

We are seeing a distinct resurgence of the art politic in grassroots communities and most definitely it is an integral part in much of the anti-racist, anti-police brutality, anti-corporate organizing happening in communities across the country. Spoken word is one of the rare art forms that the corporate state hasn't found a way to co-opt and market (beyond a short run of Def Poetry Jam) and as such it remains a distinct vox populi in a way that hip-hop has struggled to maintain and that mainstream rap ceased to be 20 years ago. In this commercial, corporate oligarchy with tendencies towards democracy when it suits the purposes of power, folks would have you believe that art has always been something for consumption by the idle as opposed to a tool for social change. Too many texts would have you study Diego Rivera divorced from his Marxist-Leninist ideology, Frida Kahlo from her first wave of feminism roots, Emily Dickinson's poetry is desexualized and denies the revolutionary content of her work on claiming women's sexuality and would have you study her as an asexual spinster pining for a missed love.

Every generation and every movement for social change has had artists as intellectuals as revolutionaries at its heart and is the reason why reactionary governments target artists first. A people without artists as prophets are doomed to wander in the desert until they can reclaim the artistic expression that gives articulation and purpose to their outrage. And we aren't just talking about Stalinist pogroms against the intelligentsia in some far off place, we are talking about cuts to the National Endowment of the Arts by GOP administrations (Robert Mapplethorpe almost gave several US Senators an apoplectic fit), and the subsuming of the creation of art inside of the nonprofit industrial complex where artists are often times required to tie their art to specified predetermined outcomes that naturally limit the scope and content of their work. They exchange their true voice for the right to eat or, more specifically, from the fear of going hungry. And this, frankly, is the curse of social movements no matter how they are devised and why Occupy Wall Street and its love children are scaring the beejus out of folks. OWS is a movement outside of the reigns of the nonprofit industrial complex, untied to the carefully crafted systems of control devised during the advent of the Great Society programs and large enough that it can easily push back against the relatively weak administrative attempts (permit denials and “park clean ups”) to mitigate its impact.

I am fairly certain that it was one of Karl Rove's ancestors that created the myth of the starving artist. Just as revolutionary movements in the 60s organized to provide support and sustenance for their members--Black Panther food kitchens and the like--so too do artists have a long history of self organizing to sustain each other. This was and has been and continues to be so that they could create without relying on the very systems that piss them off to the point of doing art in the first place. And, of course, those self-same revolutionary movements (anti-war, black panther, brown power, women's movement, queer movement) had artists at their core and spawned and continue to inspire artistic expression generations later. That is truly revolutionary. Revolution is the essence of creation and is a requirement of the creative process, anything else is mass production...the art is there but it is so distant from the original as to be a glossy two dimensional distraction removed from the grit of its original intention.

To sustain ourselves as artists/organizers/change-makers requires that we actively disbelieve the notion that there is a limited supply of nourishment in the world. We know, for a fact, that the food produced in the U.S. ALONE is enough to feed the entire planet, and for those of us that grew up in poverty, we understand, to paraphrase that fantastic writer and friend Aurora Levins Morales, that sustenance can be created from empty calories. And I am, of course, not speaking solely of food when I speak of nourishment. I am speaking about love, affection, joy, peace, accountability, safety, creativity, attention, celebration, and liberation. So we have to make a choice to reject the “slice of the pie” that is served to us and learn to not only believe that we deserve a bigger, fatter, juicer slice but also, in fact, we need a pie baked the right way with the right intentions so that there is enough for every single person that has hunger. No one is going to feed us but us. It's beyond time that we start building a kitchen, with a house around it, that can feed, house, and hold us all.

Poetry: Resuscitation by Any Means Necessary

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Stop Violence Against Queer Homeless Folks

Support QEJ and the Shelter Safety Campaign!

On October 1, 2011, QEJ lost a member of our family, Yvonne McNeal, to police violence.
Yvonne was a member of QEJ's Shelter Support Group. She was openly queer, living in the New York shelter system, 57 years old, a woman of color, walked with a cane, and her life was taken by the police. Once again the police chose to use lethal violence in a situation that could have ended without loss of life or physical harm to anyone involved.

Once more the life of a poor, queer, butch identified, person of color was discounted and discarded by an act of violence. Both inside and outside the New York shelters, the lives of the most vulnerable are also plagued by violence, often from the people tasked with keeping us safe. Poor bodies, queer bodies, women's bodies, transgender bodies, immigrant bodies and homeless bodies are too often the targets of violence. These are lives and people with stories and the right to live free from harm, in safe and nurturing environments, and with the right to walk the streets without fear. This is our community.

QEJ's Shelter Safety Campaign was created in June 2011 as a direct response to the violence found in and around the New York City homeless shelters. Through direct action organizing, shelter support groups, and off shelter site programming, QEJ works in partnership with shelter residents to address the issues that impact their lives and provide the skills, training, and support needed so shelter residents can create accountability amongst themselves and within the shelters to provide greater safety.

In the wake of Yvonne's murder, QEJ created an offsite space for shelter residents to enjoy a meal and have the time and space to talk about Yvonne's loss while also sharing their hopes and fears around responses to this act of violence. The reality of living in the shelters is that systemic violence often goes unreported or unaddressed because of fear of retribution by the police or shelter staff. Homelessness is not a moral failing. Living in a shelter should not be dehumanizing.

QEJ, working with shelter residents, is creating a response to Yvonne's murder that will address the tragedy without amplifying resident's fear of reprisal. As part of a long term strategy, QEJ is using this horrific event to raise awareness and create a coalition of allied organizations to address the violence survived daily by our queer and trans family in the NYC Shelter System.

But doing this work comes at a cost, and QEJ relies on our community to support our work, hold oppressive systems accountable and create systemic change that radically alters power relationships. Justice is a fundamental human right but in a capitalistic system, it doesn't come freely.

Help us end the targeting of our communities. Your one time gift of $25, $50, $100, or $250 will change lives; for example, $25 will pay for one shelter group session, and $100 will pay metro fare and dinner for a Know Your Rights training at QEJ's office.

Or, partner with us long term, and become a monthly sustaining donor. A monthly gift of $15, $25, $50, or $75 over the course of the year may cost you a couple of trips to Starbucks but will give us the chance to fight to keep from losing another member of our family to systemic violence.

To make a gift, go to

We are making the tools that will dismantle the master's house and build us all a safe, just, and powerful home in which to live.

With love and passion,

W. Brandon Lacy Campos
Development Director
Queers for Economic Justice

PS Again, you can donate at

Thursday, October 13, 2011

POETRY: Four Little Black Girls

Today, I had the privilege of hanging out with Mr. JT Mikulka, who is an amazing human being and a member of an NGO committee that supports and promotes the work of UNICEF and specifically the Conventions on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The CRC is an international treaty signed by every single nation on Earth EXCEPT for Somalia and the United States. The current transitional cabinet of the Somali government has signaled its intent to ratify the treaty leaving the United Nations as the sole nation on Earth not to recognize these otherwise universally recognizes protections of children.

This year marks the 21st Anniversary of the Ratification of the Conventions and the 52nd anniversary of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. A few weeks ago, JT asked me if I would be interested in reading poetry at the UN celebration of the conventions, and I, of course, was overwhelmed and said yes. Today, I had an "audition" with the committee that throws the festival. After reading the poem that I am going to publish below, they asked me to read another. It was an amazing experience, and, according to a text from JT, the good people on the committee loved the poetry.

The festival is November 17th here in NYC, and if you are going to be in town, please come out and see me. Until then, here is a first draft of the new poem that I read today for the committee.

Four Little Black Girls

They died
On the church steps
Four little black girls
Lifted to Heaven
On wings with third degree burns
Bombs beneath the stairs
Blew open Heavens gates
Shrapnel in the halo of St. Pete
Racist landmines
Claiming the lives of lives barely lived
Livid lines of resistance poetry
Spread from Birmingham to the Dead Sea
There, the starving prayers
Offered up to four black angels
Little girls from Alabama
sent scrambling
trying to dry tears of those children
Caught in their parents wars

From Gaza to Giza
Oaxaca to Kigali
Rangoon to Detroit

pleas fall from throats scorched
By UN resolutions
paper shields used as kindling
To keep the war fires burning
Like their empty bellies
They open eyes wide
Seen to much, heard too much
Fed too little
They settle at their parents feet
Tell me a story of a far away place
Where people have enough to eat, water to drink
Tell us about New Orleans before Katrina
When  Voodoo Mamas conjured mana and loaves and fishes fell from Heaven
Then tell us about roads paved with high school diplomas
Where Papas tuck babies in a night
Frighten away fatigue wearing boogeymen
Never sleep again with one eye open
No more Fathers and brothers sent home in body bags
In wars fought for theology
While kids got aching tummies
Their dinner fed to the corporate war machine
Occupy Wall Street?
Occupy the Universe
Wrap it up
And give it to the least of us
They can (re) teach us
How to be human
Share your toys
Clean up after ourselves
Put your things away
Leave the room just the way you found it
This isn't rocket science
It's they key to our survival

Suffer the young ones to come to us
So we can come back to our senses
Before the final chapter
Remember the four black angels
That went to Heaven
are sitting up there with their fingers crossed
that no more little angels
go to Heaven on wings
with third degree burns.

-Brandon Lacy Campos
-New York, NY
-October 13, 2011

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Volunteer Positive: Changing Lives in Chiang Mai

For those of you that have had a chance to pick up a copy of my book, It Ain't Truth If It Doesn't Hurt (available in paperback or e-book), then you will have had a chance to see the amazing artwork of David Berube.

David is a working artist
in New York that received his training from the Columbus College of Art and Design, and is a fantastic printmaking and illustrator. He also has a passion for international travel and has spent significant time traveling and creating art in Southeast Asia.

After returning from his latest trip through China, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand, David reminded me of a program that had come to my attention a few months ago called Volunteer Positive. Volunteer Positive brings together HIV positive volunteers around the globe to work in communities impacted by HIV and AIDS. The program is designed to provide HIV positive and allied individuals with a chance to do meaningful international volunteer work.

The Volunteer Positive program states as its purpose:

Volunteer Positive seeks to create a world where people living with HIV can openly serve as international volunteers promoting a global culture of understanding and acceptance through person to person diplomacy.

Volunteer Positive seeks to fight stigma by highlighting the power and efficacy of the HIV affected community.

Volunteer Positive seeks to provide a strong and vibrant image of empowered and self-sustaining HIV long term survivors using their health, passion, and compassion to transform the lives of others.

Volunteer Positive seeks to work with other international volunteer sending organizations to expand awareness of the contributions of people living with HIV.

David will be traveling to Chiang Mai, Thailand where he will be working with a variety of projects including:

the most recognized and respected NGO's in the region. These include and HIV education groups run by Buddhist Monks, a program for HIV orphaned Thai children, LGBT advocacy groups, Arts organizations, refugees from neighboring Burma, HIV+ community support networks, primary and secondary schools, sex worker education facilities, 3rd gender communities, and public health facilities that serve those living with the virus. Each volunteer will be matched with a specific placement, and in addition will also participate in group service work as many different NGO's come together for the benefit of the community.

In addition, every volunteer will receive cultural training that highlights language, culture and current issues in HIV impacting the region. This is an amazing opportunity, but it doesn't come without a cost.

David has already raised 2/3rds of the roughly $4,000 in costs associated with the program, and he has about $1,000 left to go. He is relying on our community to support him in doing this work, which, in his own admission, is a big and transformational step in his own life and work. It is amazing, frightening, and exciting. Let's all help make sure that David can do this work, which is as important for him as it will be for the lives with which he will have a chance to interact.

You can make a personal contribution to David's trip and work through Paypal by sending a donation directly to his account at You can also mail him a check directly by check. And, to sweeten the pot, David will be sending artwork to those that are able to contribute to his trip.

Please consider supporting David and his Volunteer Positive trip...$20 may be a single meal out for you, but it would mean the world to him.