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Darnell Moore on feeling this moment’s ‘storm within a storm’

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Presidents can set or erode national standards. Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction reversed freedoms for formerly enslaved people after the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Woodrow Wilson’s praise for D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” rejuvenated the Ku Klux Klan and legitimized terrorist white supremacy, Jim Crow laws, and lynching as the evil banality of systemic racism.

President Lyndon B. Johnson, on the other hand, refuted his southern cronies, signed two landmark civil rights bills and announced “We Shall Overcome” to a shocked Congress.

Today, there could not be a more profound moral and policy distinction between Donald Trump’s callous and cruel promotion of white supremacy and the fake machismo it inspires, and the smart, heartfelt vulnerabilities evinced by Barack Obama, who lifts up caring and empathy as character strengths to be shared communally.

Obama also thinks that inculcated toxic masculinity can be deadly in depriving Black men and boys of their human right to feel.

Eliciting Obama’s vulnerability during a virtual town hall was queer activist and intellect Darnell Moore, author of “No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black & Free in America,” a 2018  New York Times Notable Book. Acclaimed trans writer Janet Mock has said of him: “Darnell Moore is one of the most influential black writers and thinkers of our time.”

Moore, a writer-in-residence at the Center on African American Religion, Sexual Politics and Social Justice at Columbia University, facilitated the June 5 intergenerational conversation sponsored by the Obama Foundation’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance.

He urged the panel on “Mental Health and Wellness in a Racism Pandemic” —  which also included civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, Leon Ford, writer and survivor of police brutality Jr., and youth leader LeQuan Muhammad — to open up about the anguish of systemic racism felt by Black men and boys, especially in light of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and “the loss of far too many Black lives to list.”

“This conversation is meant to be intimate, communal and also a space for Black men, men of color to experience and model vulnerability,” Moore said. This moment is an “unprecedented time” of global pandemic and racial violence. “We are in what might be best described as a ‘storm within a storm.’ So many of us are not OK.”

Obama shared how he was bereft of words in 2015 after a white supremacist killed nine churchgoers during Bible study at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. He felt his words after other mass shootings, including Sandy Hook, had not made an impact. But when the churchgoers forgave “this misguided hateful young man,” Obama focused on their grace.

“It was their strength, not my strength that I was relying on. It was their grace that bathed me in grace,” Obama said.

“Usually, when I’m overwhelmed, discouraged angry, depressed, what has lifted me up is when I don’t feel alone and I can connect what is going on with me to what is going on with us,” he continued. “It is a profound thing when you are able to recognize that whatever is happening to you, whatever you’re going through, it’s not just about you. And you’re not the only one going through it and that usually ends up being a source of power and sometimes you can turn pain into joy as a consequence.”

Moore noted that “community healing requires community. Community requires all of us,” adding that “our idea of community has to be so wide, so expansive.”  And that means that “all Black lives matter, whether those Black folks show up as straight or LGBT.”

Lewis, who has been battling Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, said he’s been incredibly inspired by the young marchers.

Lewis was 25 on March 7, 1965, when he helped lead a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to commemorate Jimmie Lee Jackson, fatally shot 17 days earlier by a white state trooper as Jackson protected his mother during a civil rights protest.

On what became known as “Bloody Sunday,” white police charged the 600 demonstrators on horseback and on foot, wildly swinging their billy clubs. Police cracked Lewis’ skull during his beating, captured by TV news cameras.

“It’s all going to work out. But we must help it work out. We must continue to be bold, brave, courageous, push and pull, ’til we redeem the soul of America and move closer to a community at peace with itself,” Lewis, a longtime LGBTQ ally, told Moore and the panelists. “But no one, no one, will be left out or left behind because of race or color or nationality.”

Moore agrees. “I’m energized by the groundswell of people who are responding in this moment,” Moore told the Los Angeles Blade by phone on Sunday, June 7. “I’ve been describing it as a ‘storm within a storm.’ We are at once within the context of a pandemic that has devastated, in very real ways, people’s lives the way that we are typically a community.

“But also,” he continues, “I think it’s important to think about the ways the pandemic, particularly within the context of the US, revealed what had already been — and that is structural inequities like anti-Black racism, the class division, and also the impact of economic disparity on women of color and girls of color and trans folks.”

All the old structural inequities have been exacerbated.

“Even in a pandemic, we had Black and LatinX and Native American folk who were disproportionately testing positive and also dying,” he says. “And in the midst of all of that, we have continued forms of racial violence — both at the hands of law enforcement and at the hand of white vigilantes — that ended in the deaths of Black people, like Ahmaud Aubrey, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor,” (for whom they held a moment of silence on what would have been her 27th birthday).

Moore also feels the pressure of being LGBTQ.

“For me, to be Black and queer within the context of this moment is to really always be sort of out of breath,” Moore says. “To see people in this way, take to the streets, to speak back the power, to express themselves, to organize, both on the ground and virtually, to contend with all of the things that are not right, the racism that we breathe like air within the concept of the country, the white supremacist ideology. And not ideologies. But also laws and regulations and policies, and the way that we have resourced government instrumentalities, like law enforcement, in ways that have done harm to Black communities.

“So, in some ways, I have been overwhelmed —overwhelmed by the incessant deaths that we are confronted with, murders and killings. Overwhelmed by having to watch videos of folk being killed by law enforcement or chased down by white vigilantes. Tired and exhausted, emotionally and psychically exhausted of having to see that. And also exhausted because it often takes videos, evidence for many folks who are not directly impacted — in this case, for a lot of white folks — to even see this as a reality that they should also be linking themselves to, fighting on behalf of.”

Darnell Moore (Photo by Paul Stewart Jr.

But, Moore says, “empathy has its limits. We should never have to list a litany of black deaths in order for people to feel.”

Moore feels energized but “I’m also feeling the complicated feelings of what it means to be in a moment that feels like a time loop. These iterations are part of a long struggle for black freedom that didn’t just start today. It didn’t start at Black Lives Matter, with the movement for Black lives of 2014. It didn’t start with Trayvon [Martin].

“It started the moment Black people were brought here as enslaved people — and that fight has been perpetual,” Moore says. “We shouldn’t have to fight so damn hard for a freedom that this country says it puts its belief in.”

Moore says he’s energized by people speaking up.

“And I’m energized by the folk who are committing to a process of self-reckoning — a practice of self-reflective analysis that is not only around analyzing all of the systems that we need to contend with, but folk who are saying, ‘Actually, let me take this mirror and turn it on itself as a white person. Let me examine the extent that I have put my face in whiteness. Let me think about the ways that I have —as non-queer people, right? — let me think about the ways that I have breathed this air of queer and homo antagonism and trans antagonism so cavalierly,’” he says.

“What I love to see is when people get galvanized and pulled into movements like this and are able to assess themselves and do the work on self as a part of also transforming our world,” says Moore.

“There’s a way, that in this country, to seem progressive, one of the formulas for that is to always be able to name whose feet are on our neck, right? We are good at naming the ways that we might be experiencing harm or impacted by oppression,” he continues.

“But the work in this moment is about naming the necks that our feet are on. And after having done that work, taking your feet off. That to me is what equity looks like,” says Moore.

Moore is now interested “in folk talking less, not pandering to the moment, not doing public relations stuff by putting up a Black Lives Matter tag or a black box in a Instagram post, or even naming it,” he says.

“We’ve got to go beyond the words. We need action. And that action is about changing systems — but it’s also changing a self. And when I can begin to see that, that’s when I think I can be a bit more hopeful.”

How would you see that manifested?

“I think there are a lot of ways that that can be manifested, right?

 

I would love to see white folk in conversation with other white folk. By the way, this happened. There are white folk who are anti-racist, who literally are in the work of undoing racism. And part of that work looked like not really putting the onus, putting the burden on the impacted person. That is, in this case, we’re talking about the matter of black lives.

 

Black folk shouldn’t have to do the work of educating white masses out of their racism, right? It means in the same way that it is not the work of queer and trans and nonbinary folk, LGBTQI folk, to do the work for straight folk. It is not our job to teach straight folk how not to be homophobic, right?

 

It’s not the job of women, whether they’re cisgender or transgender woman, to teach men how not to do the things to them that harm them. It is not the job of those groups, of those people, who are the directly impacted, who are impacted by structural and material inequity, right, and ideological biases and everything else, to do the work of teaching the other.

 

So that work, to me, looks like those who sit closest to the axis of power, to power, to begin to confront themselves and each other, to do that work.

 

And that, to me, it gets to this point — there’s work to happen at multiple levels. Yes, we need policy change. Absolutely, policy change, we need changes in law, we need changes in practices.

 

The movement for black lives has a call to confront police as part of its larger framework of abolitionism. I’m thinking about a scholar, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, who defined abolition as not just a removal of the bad things, structures, institutions, practices, instrumentalities, that don’t work. It’s not just about removing those things, it’s about imagining what needs to go in its place. Now, imagine if we took that framework and applied that to our ways of thinking, our ways of being in the world. Let’s apply to abolition that sort of framework to white supremacy.

 

It means that you absolutely have to work on systems of inequity, but it also means you’ve got to work on abolishing those thoughts, working on deconstructing those ideas that we hold on to, working on analyzing and thinking about how we, ourselves, might also be complicit in some of these various things that are harmful and impactful to the other.

 

I guess, a perfect way to give an example of that is: I am a black queer man. I am cisgender. Yet I name myself a pro feminist. I am in community and solidarity with feminists, with women, with girls, with nonbinary folk, with femmes. I’m in solidarity. It is my job to do the work of unlearning all that I have been taught to believe about maleness and masculinity and all of its feign and superiority.

 

I had to, every day, unlearn a lie that had been taught to me about who I am as a man, a cisgender man, in a world. That is my work. That type of work is mine. I have to do that on me. And I don’t have to rely on you, on a woman, to do that for me.

 

It’s the same work that white people can do with regard to white racial supremacy.

 

I think it’s just as important as structural change. People are the ones who create policies, right? We are the ones that are creating law, we are the ones creating communal practices. And, if we’re going to create a better world, a more liberatory world, it requires that the person who’s doing that creating free themselves first, free their minds and their spirits first, so that they can then go out there and do the work, the structural work in a world…

Solidarities are critical. We live in a world where part of my own growth was, because I was in community with black lesbian feminists, like Cheryl Clark, as one example, poet and activist and scholar, who through our friendship, I learned so much about not only her lived experience as a black woman, who is also a lesbian, who came up in a very hyper-patriarchal type of movement. But in that, I was also learning about myself.

 

So the thing is, we can be in community with folk who are “other” without putting the responsibility on them to teach us, partly because look, I read books. Let’s start there, right?…

 

The second book that I’m working on is tentatively titled, “Unbecoming: Visions Beyond the Limits of Manhood.”…I think the way that you get free is unbecoming, unlearning.

 

It isn’t that I need to become a better man, right, I need to actually fail at, give the middle finger to, not acquiesce to, all of the things that society has told me that I need to be in order to be seen and understood as a man.

 

For me, it’s not even me becoming a better man, what would it mean for me to become a better human person?… Humanity has been a category that has been denied to black people within the concepts of the US. This is a country, within a very short history, that has literally documented that black folk were three-fifths of a human person, that they were property.  So it makes sense that folks would want to hold on tightly to the category of manhood.

 

But if we took these categories away, what does it mean to be a person who is living justly and just community with people, a person who is open to equity and making sure that equitable practices are part of our everyday life?  Those are questions that any of us can ask. And it doesn’t require someone who is impacted by the thing that we might be complicit in to teach them about that.

 

I remember going to a protest when I was living in New York City. And it was a protest in response to, I don’t know, there’ve been so many black local men killed at the hands of police. I can’t even remember the particular protest I was going to…. I’m on the A train and I’m walking by people going to this protest to say ‘Black Lives Matter’ and I remember having this moment where I’m thinking, ‘How radical is it that I’m walking to a protest to proclaim Black Lives Matter, to lift my fist up — and I haven’t stopped to speak, to look into the eye, to offer a gesture of love and care, to any of the people that I came upon before I got to the protest?’

 

And for me, that illuminates the disconnect between what we understand to be performative radical action and the everyday ways of life. It is not just enough for me to be out there with my fist up if I have not put into practice love, right, like community?

 

So, what did that look like? It looks like yesterday, my neighbor who came by, who is white, from Israel. Sat out on my porch and we talked for three hours. It looks like his wife saying, ‘How are y’all doing?’ Recognizing that it’s a lot going… I was also really, really hyped because they were like, ‘I love what’s happening. Burn it down.’ But that idea of them not waiting for us, my partner and I, my black partner — they came to us and asked how we’re doing, instigated a conversation that wasn’t centering themselves, but really was seeking to understand.

 

Let’s just speak. If you’re white and we’re protesting in this moment, I love that. But if your friendship circle is still homogenous with people that look just like you, if you’re at workplaces and you’re sitting down at lunch or Zooms or whatever, and you look at the grid and see that they’re all white faces there — if we are not responding to those types of everyday mundane, common ways of being, then the protests fall short.

 

It becomes something other than radical. It becomes performative because you have to embody the practice every single day. Every single day. It looks like me getting on the call with coworkers, like last week in the middle of all of the energy and the emotions that were present, and coworkers saying, ‘Hey, before we go forward, do you have the capacity to do this meeting right now? We can cancel if you need to.’

 

When I meant leaning into our humanity, that’s what that looks like. Yeah, the grand gestures are fine, your Black Lives Matter poster, fine. All of this stuff is totally fine. We’re having this conversation in the middle of Pride month. And I said to some folks, when the AME shooting, Dylan Roof, murdered those nine parishioners and stuff, in South Carolina, I remember it was really hard for me to do any Pride-related activities.

 

Well, let’s be clear: if I’m going to say LGBT, but often as the case, it’s really a lot of men, gay men and mainstream organizations, gay white men, there was a silence present within the Pride, pride.com space.

 

And I feel the same way now where it’s like, even as a black, queer person, I am always black and queer always, at once. And we lift up the Pride flag of radicalism. One, a pride that comes off the heels of radical movement. But lift that up without attending to the reality that some among the LGBTQI are also black, then we do ourselves a disservice. So even in a moment like this, for Pride, I’m like Pride?

 

This is an opportunity for queer and trans and LGBTQI folk to be in solidarity, to decentral whiteness within the Pride movement and say, ‘We understand the radical roots of LGBTQI movement, right? We’re going to use this as an opportunity to flip things on its head and tend to the folk who need their voices elevated in this moment.

 

I mean, there are everyday ways of being, that each of us, as individuals, can engage with one another as neighbors. And by neighbors, I don’t just mean the people that you live next door to, right, but as human persons. And then there are also ways that we can do this structurally within our movement spaces that challenge us to make sure that we are always leaning into empathy, not the type of empathy that comes and goes after the next news cycle, but the type of empathy that says, ‘We see you, we care, and we’re going to show up for the folks that are being directly impacted by structural violence in this moment.’

 

The reason why we’re even able to be in the streets right now and to call for a type of justice, however people imagine that to be, in response to George Floyd, there was video evidence, right? It’s possible — and we know this is true — that because of the lack of video evidence, people have been murdered. And in the case of the law enforcement, law enforcement has gotten off with impunity. So, video evidence is important.

 

And also, because of that, I think it’s important for the purposes of correcting, or at least responding to, historical amnesia within the concept of the US where we like to not be honest about the violence of racism that has impacted black people, indigenous people, in this country and many others.

 

Those archival…it’s our private pain, really, are so critically important. But the rub and I think it’s important to name it is the fact that we have to have this archive in the first place for folks to understand or to believe is itself part of the problem.

 

The archive is not necessarily the problem. It’s the fact that you need it. It’s the fact that we had to literally show George Floyd’s last breath on video, and possibly over and over again, because somebody might be looking in to figure out, ‘Well, did he do something wrong here?’

We saw Emmett Till’s photo, and we know that that photo did not stop folks from buying into white supremacy. We saw, ‘I can’t breath’ happen with Eric Garner. And still, with that archive, we have people going out there saying, ‘Well, what did he do to deserve that?’

 

So the archive is important and that evidence is important. And it’s also important to remind folk that the fact that we’ve got to give you this over and over and over again, that’s the problem.

 

And the refusal to believe when it’s right in front of our face.

Top Darnell Moore photo by Paul Stewart

Here’s Moore moderating the Obama Foundation panel, followed by a video of Moore discussing this theory of abolition.

 

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History

50 years ago Atlanta’s nascent gay rights movement marched

“It was mostly about feeling good,” said Phil Lambert. “That we’re not a bunch of sick people. That we’re not the problem.”

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Screenshot from Atlanta Journal-Constitution YouTube

ATLANTA, Ga. – This Sunday, exactly fifty years ago to the day on a bright Sunday morning, about a hundred brave gay and lesbian Atlantans from the Georgia Gay Liberation Front, unfurled a lavender colored banner made from a bedsheet with the intertwined symbols representing male + male, female + female with the a raised fist of defiance and the words ‘Gay Power’ emblazoned on it and they marched.

The group inched its way up Peachtree Street to a soundtrack of chants, kazoos and a tambourine.

Mindful that stepping off the sidewalks could get them arrested — the city of Atlanta had turned down their request for a permit and the police were closely watching for jay-walkers — the marchers stopped at every corner until they were given the crossing signal, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the average estimated crowds in attendance at Atlanta Pride is upwards of 300,000 plus. But at the time the Journal-Constitution noted, even in the city that had just birthed the civil rights movement and was home to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., LGBTQ rights was considered a radical issue that the Georgian liberal political establishment, including many Atlanta progressives, wanted to stay away from. At that time, gay sex was still illegal under state law, and the American Psychiatric Association characterized homosexuality as a mental illness.

For those GAGLF Atlantans who participated in that first pride march on June 27, 1971, the event was a turning point, a moment when, for the first time, they could publicly celebrate a part of themselves that society had long demanded they keep hidden.

“It was mostly about feeling good,” said Phil Lambert, a Vietnam veteran who was in attendance. “That we’re not a bunch of sick people. That we’re not the problem.”

Read the entire fascinating story: 50 years ago, Atlanta’s gay rights push took to street for first time

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History

LGBTQ rainbow flag was born in San Francisco, but its history is disputed

On that day in June 1978, it felt as if the rainbow had always been a symbol for the LGBTQ community, it just hadn’t revealed itself yet

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New York City Pride 2019 (Photo by Andrew Nasonov)

By August Bernadicou (with additional text and research by Chris Coats) | NEW YORK – Many enduring symbols that establish an instant understanding and define a diverse community are intrinsically linked with controversy, confusion, and ill-informed backstories dictated by vested interests and those who told the story loudest. The LGBTQ rainbow flag is no different.

While it was the work of many, the people who deserve credit the most have been minimized if not erased. Gilbert Baker, the self-titled “Creator,” screamed the story and now has a powerful estate behind his legacy. Before his death in 2017, Baker established himself as the complete authority on the LGBTQ rainbow flag. It was his story which he lived and became.

While there are disputed accounts on the flag’s origins, one thing that is not disputed is that the LGBTQ rainbow flag was born in San Francisco and made for the Gay Freedom Day Parade on June 25, 1978. 

For all of human history, rainbows have mystified and inspired. A greeting of light and serenity after the darkness and chaos of a storm. They have symbolized hope, peace, and the mysteries of existence. For a moment, we can see the invisible structure, the “body” of light, made visible. A secret revealed, then hidden again.

Though it may seem like a modern phenomenon, rainbow flags have waved throughout history.  Their origin can be traced to at least the 15th Century. The German theologian, Thomas Müntzer, used a rainbow flag for his reformist preachings. In the 18th Century, the English-American revolutionary and author, Thomas Paine, advocated adopting the rainbow flag as a universal symbol for identifying neutral ships at sea.

Rainbow flags were flown by Buddhists in Sri Lanka in the late 19th Century as a unifying emblem of their faith. They also represent the Peruvian city of Cusco, are flown by Indians on January 31st to commemorate the passing of the spiritual leader Meher Baba, and since 1961, have represented members of international peace movements. 

Now, the rainbow flag has become the symbol for the LGBTQ community, a community of different colors, backgrounds, and orientations united together, bringing light and joy to the world. A forever symbol of where they started, where they have come, and where they need to go. When many LGBTQ people see a rainbow flag flowing in the wind, they know they are safe and free. 

Modern version of the Rainbow Pride flag designed by Daniel Quasar in 2018 to include LGBTQ people of color and the Trans community. (Image graphic via Them magazine.)

While the upper class and tech interests rule the city now, in the 1960s and 70s, San Francisco was a wonderland for low and no-income artists. The counterculture’s mecca. By the mid-1970s, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood that had once been a psychedelic playground of hippie art, culture, and music had fallen into disarray. Hard, dangerous drugs like heroin had replaced mind-expanding psychedelics. Young queers and artists needed a new home, and they found it in the Castro.

Lee Mentley (1948-2020) arrived in San Francisco in 1972 and quickly fell in with the oddball artist and performers in the Castro neighborhood, donning flamboyant, gender-fucked clothes, performing avant-garde theater, and creating their own clubhouses. He was on the Pride Planning Committee in 1978 and ran the Top Floor Gallery on the top floor of 330 Grove, which served as an early Gay Center in San Francisco. 

Lynn Segerblom (Faerie Argyle Rainbow) was originally from the North Shore of Hawaii and moved to San Francisco where she attended art school at the Academy of Art. Her life changed when she found a new passion in tie-dye and rainbows in the early 1970s. Entrenched in the free-loving technicolor world of San Francisco, in 1976, Lynn legally changed her name to Faerie Argyle Rainbow. She joined the Angels of Light, a “free” performance art troupe where the members had to return to an alternative, hippie lifestyle and deny credit for their work. 

Lynn Segerblom by James McNamara, 1978

Shortly after the original rainbow flags were flown for the last time, both Lynn and Lee moved out of San Francisco. Lee moved to Hawaii and Lynn moved to Japan. When they returned, they were shocked to see how their contribution to history was becoming a universal symbol. They remain passionate about defending their legacies and giving a voice to the mute.

——–

LEE MENTLEY: “One day in 1978, Lynn came to 330 Grove with a couple of her friends, James McNamara and Robert Guttman, and said we should make rainbow flags for Gay Day to brighten up San Francisco City Hall and Civic Center because it’s all gray and cold in June. We thought that it sounded like a great idea.”

To get over the first hurdle, money, the young artists went to Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the history of San Francisco, California, for help. 

LEE: “There was no actual funding for it. We contacted Harvey Milk and another supervisor, and they asked the city if we could get a little funding. They found some leftover funds from the previous year’s hotel tax, and we got $1,000.” 

LYNN SEGERBLOM: “I remember having a meeting where I presented the idea of making rainbow flags. I had some sketches. At that meeting, there was just a handful of us there, and I remember, and even my friend assured me, that Gilbert Baker was not at that meeting. I don’t know where he was, I didn’t keep track of him, but he was not at the meeting where I suggested rainbow flags. We decided, yes, rainbow flags sounded great.”

The committee approved the rainbow imagery and made the decision to make two massive 40’ x 60’ foot rainbow flags to be flown at the Civic Center along with 18 smaller rainbow flags designed by different, local artists, to line the reflecting pool putting rainbows into the grey sky.

For the two large flags, one would be an eight-color rainbow starting with pink and including turquoise and indigo in place of blue, and the other a re-envisioning of the American flag with rainbow stripes which became known as Faerie’s flag.

——

Gilbert Baker’s name on his memoir, Rainbow Warrior, it says “CREATOR OF THE RAINBOW FLAG,” leaving little debate that Gilbert claimed full ownership for the concept and design of the legendary symbol. He never denied Lynn or James MacNamara’s involvement in the flags’ construction and speaks briefly and fondly of them and their talents in that same book. 

LEE: “We didn’t need one person saving our ass, and it certainly wouldn’t have been Gilbert Baker. He was no Betsy Ross. He was a very good promoter, and I give him all the credit in the world for making the rainbow flag go international. He did a great service, and he was a very talented, creative man, but he could never have done all of the work by himself; no one could have.

Lynn Segerblom with volunteers readying the flag by James McNamara, 1978

We never considered ownership. There was never this big ownership debate until Gilbert started it. Because AIDS hit us so fast after this, most of our leadership either went into HIV activism or died.”

LYNN: “The story is that a white gay man did all of this by himself, but, in fact, that is not true at all. He just promoted it. For that, though, he should be given great love.”

————

Making the two original rainbow flags was no easy feat. With a limited budget and limited resources, the group had to improvise and figure it out as they went along. While Lynn had dabbled in flags before, a project of this scope and importance was far beyond her comfort zone.

LEE: “The community donated the sewing machines we used. We asked people at the Center if anyone would like to volunteer. All sorts of people from all over the country helped us with the flags, over 100 people, which, to me, is an amazing story. That’s where it came from. It came from regular artists who wanted to have fun and make something pretty for gay people.”

LYNN: “The Rainbows Flags were hand-dyed cotton and eight colors. I made two different types. The one with just the stripes and then the American flag one, which I designed myself. There was a group of us that made them, James McNamara, Gilbert Baker, and myself. Originally they were my designs. I was a dyer by trade, and I had a dying studio at the Gay Community Center at 330 Grove Street.”

LEE: “People would come and help as long as they could. Then, somebody else would come and help as long as they could. We opened up the second floor of 330 Grove to people who came to be in the Parade and march. People came in and made posters, banners and did art stuff.”

LYNN: “We made the flags on the roof because there was a drain up there. There was a wooden ladder that led up to the roof. The hot water had to be carried up to the roof because we didn’t have hot water up there. We heated it up on the stove in pots. We put the hot water in trash cans on the roof.”

LEE: “We had trash cans and two by fours, and we had to keep agitating the fabrics in the dye. Since they were in hot water, they had to be poked and agitated for hours.”  

LYNN: “We had to constantly move the fabric in the dye, so the dye penetrated the fibers that weren’t clamped tight. We had to make sure there would be blue, and it wouldn’t just be white on white or white with a very murky, pale blue.

After they were washed and dyed, they went through the washer and dryer. Then, we ironed them. If the fabric stays out too long, once you take it out of the water, if it sits on itself even for just a few minutes, it starts to make shapes.”

—-

LEE: “Lynn’s flag, the new American flag, was a similar rainbow, but it had stars in the corner. I have photographs of that flag flying at gay events in San Francisco at City Hall and Oakland.” 

LYNN: “I always liked the American flag. I thought, oh, wouldn’t that be nice? I knew with some luck I could make it.” 

James McNamara, Lynn Segerblom, Faerie Rainbow Argyle, Lee Mentley, Gay Pride 1978, Orignal Rainbow Flag, Gilbert Baker, LGBTQ Flag, Gay Flag, Creator of the Gay Flag, 330 Grove,
Gilbert Baker, Lynn Segerblom, Robert Guttman and unknown by James McNamara, 1978

LEE: “I thought the one with the stars was more interesting because it symbolized a new flag for the United States.”

LYNN: “For my American flag, I decided to flip the order of the colors, so pink was at the bottom and purple was at the top in an eight-color spectrum. That was intentional. I wanted them to be different. 

​I made the stars with wood blocks and clamps. I got the white fabric and washed it, and folded it a different way. When I was making it, it looked like a big sandwich. The bread would be the woodblocks, and the fabric was in between. We immersed the whole flag in dye and swished it around. I wasn’t sure if it would come out right because it was the first time I did that fold. I was lucky. It worked.

I sewed lamé stars into one stripe with leftover stars from my Angels of Light costumes. On one side of the blue stripe, there was a star with silver lamé, and on the other side, there was a star with gold lamé. 

I got all these ideas because I worked with these mediums on a daily basis: paint, dye, fabric, and glitter.”

LEE: “We worked for weeks dying fabric, shrinking fabric, and sewing fabric.” 

LYNN: “We worked on them for seven weeks. I was worried that we weren’t going to finish on time. We worked hard and long hours. Towards the end, we decided we didn’t have time to go to the laundromat, so we started rinsing them on the roof and wringing them dry. We also ran out of quarters. We draped them off of the Top Floor Gallery’s rafters, and they drip-dried. They looked great. They were beautiful.”

Until that day, the pink triangle, used by the Nazis to label homosexuals in their genocidal campaign, was the most commonly used symbol for the LGBTQ movement, a symbol in solidarity with our fallen ancestors. But the triangle came from a place of trauma, it was a reminder of the storm while the rainbow was the hope that came after. The promise of brighter days ahead.

On that day in June 1978, it felt as if the rainbow had always been a symbol for the LGBTQ community, it just hadn’t revealed itself yet.

LEE: “We went out, flew the flags, and blew everybody’s fucking minds. People were blown away. The flags were so beautiful. They were waving warriors. The biggest ones were 40’ by 60’ feet. The Parade marched through the flags to get to Civic Center. We instantly proclaimed that this was our symbol. It wasn’t planned. It was organic.”

LYNN: “It was just what I wanted: a touch of magic, a touch of glitter, and a little bit of Angels of Light.”

LEE: “We weren’t creating this huge symbol. We were decorating Civic Center. We weren’t thinking of marketing our entire futures. It was an art project.”

LYNN: “We looked at the rainbow flags as a work of art, and we wanted them to be beautiful and unique. After the Gay Parade, the flags were a big hit. People loved them. Everybody loved them.”

—-

In the pre-technology world, people and property could just disappear. There were no surveillance cameras.  Lynn didn’t even have a phone.

Even though no one could have known the flag would become an eternal symbol for a worldwide community, it was clear even then that they were a piece of history to be coveted.

In his memoir, Baker hypothesizes that the Rainbow American flag was stolen shortly after it was hung up on the front of the Gay Community Center for Gay Freedom Day in 1979. He suggests it might have been a construction crew working on the new symphony across the street and in a homophobic act, stole the flag and buried it in cement.

LEE: “Later in 1979 or 1980, you can find it somewhere in the minutes for a Pride Foundation meeting, Gilbert came to us and asked to borrow the two large flags, and we agreed. We never saw them again.”

LYNN: “I went to work one day at 330 Grove, and Gilbert came in and said that the two 40’ by 60’ flags had been stolen.” 

Images published in the San Francisco Chronicle, videos of the march, and other widely distributed photographs only add to the mystery. They show both the classic rainbow flag of eight stripes and the American revision flying at the Civic Center on June 24, 1979 and not at the Gay Community Center.

As for the original eight-stripe flag, there are even fewer answers. In his memoir, Baker says that while they were taking down the flags from Civic Center, he was hit on the head on knocked out. “When I came to on the muddy ground,” he says “I saw people all around me hitting each other and screaming obscenities. They were fighting over the rainbow flags, pulling on them like a game of tug-of-war, tearing them.” 

LYNN: “It would have taken more than one person to carry the flags. It took three people to carry one folded-up flag for the Parade, and we needed a van. They weighed a lot, and 330 Grove did not have an elevator. Whoever stole them had help—one person could not do it on their own.”

—-

LYNN: “Before the rainbow flag missing, Gilbert came to one of my workshops. He wanted to watch me dying fabric all day and see how I did everything. 

I was like, oh yeah, I’ll show you, come in.

I said, here, put some gloves on and do it with me. 

He was like, oh, no, no, I don’t want to get my hands dirty.

​He was only trying to figure out how I did the dying.”

—-

LEE: “Gilbert went to these places like MoMa and told them these outrageous stories about how he made the rainbow flag all by himself. He said this about the flag he donated. When you look at it, you can tell that it was bought at a craft fair. It flat out wasn’t one of our flags. It was polyester.”

​LYNN: “It was polyester, it wasn’t the same size, and it wasn’t hand-dyed. My flags were different. The rainbow flag at MoMa was a beautiful flag inside a frame, but it wasn’t an original, not from 1978, not even a piece from 1978. I was hoping, oh, my God, maybe this is a piece of it.”

LEE: “It wasn’t even the original colors. MoMa said they were original flags, but they weren’t. It was a commercially produced rainbow flag with a primary color rainbow. The plaque cited Gilbert donating it as an original flag.” 

Lee Mentley, Lynn Segerblom and Camille O’Grady, 2017

—-

LYNN: “I read online that Gilbert Baker said he named me “Faerie Argyle Rainbow,” a complete lie. Bethany the Princess of Argyle named me. I chose the name Rainbow because I was known as a rainbow artist.”

​LEE: “Even Lynn’s driver’s license said her name was “Faerie Argyle Rainbow.””

LYNN: “In 1976, I filled out a form at the DMV, and my name became Faerie Argyle Rainbow. Back then, they didn’t ask you for a birth certificate. The employee just said, “This is your name now,” and gave me a driver’s license that said Faerie Argyle Rainbow. 

​It all sounds crazy now, but back then, it wasn’t.”

—–

LEE: “I had my arguments and fights with Gilbert Baker because he claims he came up with the rainbow flag. If you go through all of his different interviews, you see that his story changes over and over and over again. He even said Harvey Milk came to him and asked him to create a symbol for the movement. No—I read that, and no such thing happened.” 

LYNN: “Just look at his interviews. His takes on what the colors in the rainbow flag mean are all in his head. The rainbow represents everyone, no matter what gender or race you are; that’s how I looked at it. Rainbows are in nature and beautiful. People love them, and I love them. I knew they would be great color healing.

Gilbert assigning meaning to each color is ridiculous. I think anyone could make up what each color means. If I wanted to, I could do the same. It wasn’t what I was thinking. I was thinking that rainbows encompass everybody, the whole group, unity.”

LEE: “I have tried to convince people that the rainbow flags were made with tax-payer dollars. We made them as a non-profit. 

Not even Gilbert owns them. I have always thought that anyone who sells anything rainbow should give a portion of the profits to homeless gay youth. We need to take care of our own kind because no one does. The whole concept of taking care of gay people has disappeared.” 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Chris-Coats-600x600.jpg

August Bernadicou is a 27-year-old gay historian and the President of the LGBTQ History Project Inc. Chris Coats is an editor and producer.

Together, they produce the QueerCore Podcast and will shortly be releasing an episode that is the definitive story on the rainbow flag featuring Lee Mentley, Lynn Segerblom, and Adrian Brooks. 


August Bernadicou is presenting a Pride event in NYC this year that all folks are cordially invited to attend- its virtual;

Here is the link for the event: https://www.lgbtqhp.org/pride-protest

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History

Anti-LGBTQ activist Judith Reisman dies at age 86

There was the time she appeared on the Liberty Counsel’s radio show to declare that all gays are inherent pedophiles

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Screenshot via JoeMyGod

Editor’s note: Judith Ann Reisman was a vocal opponent of women’s reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights and known for her criticism and condemnation of the work in sexual studies of Dr. Alfred Kinsey. Reisman, a prominent conservative, has been referred to as the “founder of the modern anti-Kinsey movement.”  New York-based LGBTQ journalist, activist and blogger Joe Jervis covered her for over a decade on his widely popular blogsite Joe.My.God.

By Joe Jervis | Longtime JMG readers will recall Reisman’s anti-LGBT claims as a regular feature here going back a decade or so. There was the time she appeared on the Liberty Counsel’s radio show to declare that all gays are inherent pedophiles:

We know that pedophilia, which was the original Greek they say it’s ‘love of’ but of course it isn’t, it’s ‘lust for’ boys. And there’s a strong, clear, cross-cultural, historical reality, people don’t want to do deal with, but the propaganda has been loud and strong to deny the fact, the aim of homosexual males and now increasingly females is not to have sex with other old guys and get married but to obtain sex with as many boys as possible. That’s the reality.

There was the time she called for a class action suit against groups that advocate for safer sex:

The reality is that condoms are manufactured and approved every day for natural, vaginal sex, not anal “sex.” They are not effectively designed to protect from disease those people who engage in sodomy. Such a lawsuit should target the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Planned Parenthood and a myriad of teachers and school systems, too many to count, that have taught that anal “sex” (traditionally termed “sodomy” or “buggery” under British-based legal codes) as not so different than natural coitus. Due to the lies that have told, people who practiced sodomy are under the tragically mistaken notion that a condom is effective protection from disease.

There was the time she went to Jamaica to advocate for keeping homosexuality criminalized:

American Religious Right leaders Mat Staver and Judith Reisman are scheduled to be featured speakers at a conference in Jamaica this weekend hosted by a group that has been working to preserve the country’s criminal ban on consensual gay sex. The annual conference, hosted by the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society, will focus on how “[c]ontemporary society has become increasingly hostile to the traditional definitions of marriage and family” and Staver.

There was the time she blamed the demise of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on a rise in reported sexual assaults in the military:

Why is the best-kept military secret that most soldierly sexual assaults are now definitively homo, not heterosexual, male-on-male sexual exploitation? While men are statistically more loathe to report their sexual victimization than are women, 10,700 male soldiers, sailors and airmen in 2010 actually reported their sexual assaults. What this means is not totally clear, since men are cannot technically be raped, despite the term being regularly used in the recent hearings on the matter.

There was the time she compared activists against school bullying to Hitler Youth:

Both the GLSEN youth and the Hitler Youth were trained to be revolutionary leaders of the brave new world order. GLSEN school clubs and their teacher sponsor/trainers are now funded by major corporations and by some state funds. GLESN’s Day of Silence and “GAY ALLY!” pledge cards for kindergartners and other children (left) are direct assaults on traditional parental, American values. German children’s literature historians document Hitler’s pioneering ban of both the Ten Commandments and biblical stories from Nazi school texts in favor of coarse and violent tales that ridiculed religious believers and their values.

There was the time she was condemned by the Anti-Defamation League:

Holocaust analogies generate headlines and get attention, they do little in the service of truth, history or memory. When [Peter] LaBarbera and Reisman suggest that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are “demonizing [Christians] like the Nazis used to do to the Jews,” they undermine the historical truth of the Holocaust as a singular event in human history that led to the murder of six million Jews and millions of others. Holocaust comparisons are deeply offensive and trivialize and distort the history and meaning of the Holocaust.

And let’s close with this notation from Rational Wiki:

Reisman is a supporter of Scott Lively and his completely insane screed, The Pink Swastika. She has claimed that she believes that a homosexual movement in Germany gave rise to the Nazi Party and the Holocaust. She enthusiastically and unconditionally endorses criminalization of homosexuality, despite the fact that homosexuals were were one of the Nazis’ target groups for annihilation. Reisman has claimed that the homosexuals employ recruitment techniques that rival those of the United States Marine Corps to transform innocent children into raving homosexuals.

Reisman, passed away on Friday, April 9, 2021, two days before her 86th birthday. From the magazine of the far-right John Birch Society:

Like Judith the Biblical heroine, Dr. Reisman was fearless and stood against the great powers of the world in our time. When her countrymen were ready to surrender to the mighty Assyrian army, the Biblical Judith, trusting in God, walked into the enemy camp — and walked out with the head of Holofernes, the Assyrian general, thus saving her people. Likewise, Judith Reisman repeatedly, over the past several decades, strode into many hostile enemy camps around the world — colleges, universities, legislative bodies, media outlets — to speak truth to power and to expose vile works of darkness.

Joseph “Joe” Jervis  is an American blogger and writer based out of New York City. He is the author of Joe.My.God., a personal blog which, since he first posted on April 27, 2004, has primarily covered LGBT news and opinion.

The preceding article was originally published at Joe.My.God and republished by permission.

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