July 2011

Plea to Dolly Parton: Tell Dollywood What's Up!

Dollywood has been getting a lot of press lately for asking one member of a lesbian couple to turn her t-shirt inside out. The woman was visiting the park with her partner and a friend’s child and was asked to turn her t-shirt, which said “Marriage is so Gay” inside out by a park security official.  The lesbian couple, Olivier Odom and Jennifer Tipton, live in Knoxville, Tennessee--not far from the park, which is located in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. 

 

The pair was most offended, they say, because of the security guard’s reason for asking Odom to turn her shirt inside out. He said that Dollywood was a family park, implying that children should not be forced to know about gay marriage.

 

Dollywood is a huge park, named after country celebrity Dolly Parton.  It opened in 1986 and today more than 2.5 million people visit the park each year.  The park combines traditional theme park attractions, like roller coasters and water rides, with a musical stage and a craft area.  Parton herself and her family perform at the theme park often.  

 

Odom and Tipton’s story has been making the rounds of the press. Yesterday, the hosts of The Talk discussed the story, with Sharon Osbourne, Leah Remini and Holly Robinson-Peete saying that the park was right in their refusal to let Odom enter until she changed her t-shirt.  They said that parents shouldn’t have to explain gay marriage to their children at a place they went for fun. Openly-gay host Sarah Gilbert challenged their ideas, saying Odom’s t-shirt shouldn’t be seen as political. 

 

Because of all the media attention, the park seems to be working the PR angle pretty hard. Dollywood’s spokesperson Pete Owens says that the park’s policy is to ask anyone with offensive t-shirts or tattoos to cover them up before they are admitted to the park.  He says the couple’s complaint on July 9 has caused Dollywood officials to re-examine its dress code and possibly change it to be more inclusive.

Identity Dissonance in Queer Spaces

Recent incidents show it's not always easy to maintain dual identities

 

This past Sunday, a security guard kicked a lesbian couple out of a Gertrude Stein museum exhibit for holding hands. Seemingly unaware of the irony of enforcing strict heteronormativity at an exhibit celebrating one of the greatest lesbian writers in history, the privately-hired guard first asked the couple to stop the obscene display of joined hands, then asked them to leave when they wouldn't cooperate. The San Francisco Contemporary Jewish Museum has since apologized and asked the security company to reprimand the guard. 

It certainly seems ironic, especially considering how rife with sexuality Stein's work is. The lady goes far beyond hand-holding in her writing, I assure you. The security guard's move reinforces the consideration of any kind of homoromantic gesture as automatically more sexual than its heteroromantic counterpart. Straight people can hold hands because straight affection is just that--affection. But when gay folks show the same gesture, it crosses a line of decency for some. It belies a "deviant" sexuality, leading onlookers to the uncomfortable realization that yes, some people do it a little differently.

There's also an interesting friction of identities revealed in incidents like this one. You'd think a Gertrude Stein exhibit in San Francisco might be celebrating her as a lesbian historical figure, but the exhibit was at the Contemporary Jewish Museum--indicating that it was heralding her as a Jewish figure, not a lesbian one. The space of the exhibit was clearly not safe for openly queer visitors, which suggests it might have only focused on Stein's Jewishness and not her queerness--selecting one identity for a particular historical slant while omitting another. 

Indiana Blood Bank Rejects "Gay-Appearing" Donor

 

When you go in to share your precious bodily fluids with the people who need them more, you've got to meet a few qualifications. There's no good giving blood if it's diseased or too low on iron. You typically have to be at least a certain weight to ensure you're not parting with a significant fraction of your body's volume. You can't have gotten a tattoo or piercing within the past six months. And you can't be gay.

The "no gay blood" rule was enacted nearly 30 years ago in response to the AIDS epidemic that made the '80s a damn scary time to have sex. In order to keep transfusion recipients from contracting the virus, homosexual men were barred from donating. The rule is still in place now, even though most people--gay and straight--tend to practice safe sex and AIDS contraction rates are way down. Still, the fear of infected blood from gay men stands.

In Indiana, even being perceived as gay is evidently enough to keep you from donating blood. Aaron Pace went in to a Bio-Blood bank to donate, but was turned away by workers who were convinced of his homosexuality. They didn't trust the "no" box he had checked on his form; his demeanor was too effeminate. Pace protested his rejection. “I was humiliated and embarrassed," he said. "It’s not right that homeless people can give blood but homosexuals can’t. And I’m not even a homosexual.”

And even if he were, who are the blood bank workers to say they know the details of his sex life? Technically, the donor forms don't ask how you identify. They just get down to mechanics and ask that you reveal whether you've ever had sex with a man if you're male. So if you're gay but a virgin, or someone who's never had anal sex, you should be able to donate under the rule.

California Schools to Teach Gay and Lesbian History

New bill requires inclusion of queer narratives in history classrooms

 

California governor Jerry Brown has just signed a bill that will require the state's public schools to teach queer history in classrooms. By January, school districts will have to have introduced materials that supplement traditional history lessons with mentions of milestones in gay and lesbian history. Folks like Harvey Milk and events like Stonewall will soon appear in California's textbooks.

Queer narratives have long been omitted from this country's standard official history. Students might have gathered some knowledge of the history of queer identities, but that kind of teaching was usually restricted to topical history classes, like the history of gender or sexual identity. And many public schools don't offer such classes, leaving students on their own to learn about gay and lesbian history and activism. 

The bill comes as part of the state's struggle to eliminate bullying against gay students and those perceived to be gay. After a string of youth suicides in the state, California has begun to take action to prevent verbal violence against its gay and lesbian teens. This kind of legislation may help ease the classroom atmosphere for queer students more than any other kind of motion. Holding anti-bullying seminars in schools may help bring the issue to light, but in order to end fully the feeling of dehumanization for gay students, deeper structural changes will need to occur. It's not enough to instruct students not to bully. If discrimination against gays is written in to the curriculum, even just by omission, the idea that gay people are less human than straight people will linger. Representation of gay and lesbian history in lesson plans will certainly reduce the invisibility of queer kids struggling with their sexuality. After all, nothing leads to hopelessness like the sense that you don't--or shouldn't--exist. 

Defund Camp Bachmann

Michele Bachmann's husband receives public funding for anti-gay reparative therapy

I've been writing about Michele Bachmann a lot lately because it still boggles my mind that anyone packing that much crazy can seriously be considered as a presidential candidate. Turns out her husband Marcus is in on the madness--and has been using tax dollars to fund it. 

By madness, I mean evil and dangerous reparative therapy for gay people. You know, the kind of treatment they were pulling on kids back in the '60s and '70s? Ever since homosexuality was pulled from the mental disorder list, "fixing" it has been kind of a low priority for most healthcare practitioners. Unless they're bigots in power, in which case they're going ahead with encouraging treatment for anyone who doesn't conform to a heteronormative lifestyle.