Michael Bronski, Ann Pellegrini, and Michael Amico came to Boston last fall to read from their new book, “You Can Tell Just by Looking”: And 20 Other Myths about LGBT Life and People. The book confronts some of the most common myths and misunderstandings about LGBT life and people. Myths, such as “All Religions Condemn Homosexuality” and “Transgender People Are Mentally Ill,” have been used to justify discrimination and oppression of LGBT people. Others, such as “Homosexuals Are Born That Way,” have been embraced by LGBT communities and their allies. In discussing and dispelling these myths—including gay-positive ones—the authors challenge readers to question their own beliefs and to grapple with the complexities of what it means to be queer in the broadest social, political, and cultural sense.
While waiting for the event to start, we had the opportunity to ask the authors about some key myths affecting the cultural landscape of LGBT people, and about LGBT parents in particular, a demographic sure to rise given marriage equality’s gaining acceptance. As the authors say in the book, “The often bitter debate that swirls around LGBT families cloaks the larger discussion: how do we all create a culture that nurtures all children, in all kinds of families, to grow into happy, loving, successful adults?...Until we create new ways for parents and children to live healthily together, neither will grow and thrive, especially as families.”
I had the honor (and great pleasure) of working with her at Farrar, Straus and Giroux on her gutsy book about Bernie Goetz, Quiet Rage. She was uncompromising in her support of the disadvantaged, always, and so had no tolerance for fools like Goetz. Out on tour to promote the book, she walked into the studio of a right wing talk jock who was so enraged by her thoughtful and utter rejection of vigilantism that he chased her down the studio hall yelling. She found that story, typically, far more amusing than frightening.
J. D. McClatchy, Ben Klein, Stephen S. Mills, Essex Hemphill, and Adrienne Rich
I often feel that poetry gets the short end of the stick when celebrating LGBT literature. There are so many rich options that it can often be overwhelming to know where to begin. My first real brush with LGBT poetry was the Everyman’s Library Pocket Series anthology Love Speaks Its Name: Gay and Lesbian Love Poems, which gave me an introductory and historical look at the challenges and loves of LGBT poets within the last century. While thinking about books to recommend in honor of Pride this June, I wanted to offer some classic choices alongside brand new ones that might someday be part of the canon of celebrated LGBT poetry. These collections offer everything from lusty hookups to images of domestic bliss with a long-term partner to frustrations over the current state of LGBT rights. There’s even an image of gay icon “Little” Edie Beale of Grey Gardens. I hope you enjoy.
1974 file photo: white students in West Roxbury jeer black students arriving by bus
I first became manager of Coolidge Corner’s Paperback Booksmith (now the Brookline Booksmith) back in 1978, just four years after Judge W. Arthur Garrity’s historic decision to integrate the Boston School District through the “forced busing” of students, as it later became known. It was a time when the fallout over that decision was still shaking the communities of Boston, and a time I revisited when Beacon first published Michael Patrick MacDonald’s All Souls, a powerful account of what it was like to be a young man growing up in Southie during the time when busing came to that neighborhood.
One of my first acts as a new manager was to clean out the store, and I remember coming across several boxes of pamphlets of the Garrity Decision that the store’s owner Marshall Smith had evidently published. I was always intrigued that his idea of being a bookseller was broad enough to include such an activity. Marshall is an entrepreneur to the core, a legend in the bookselling business. The Paperback Booksmith chain that he founded grew to cover the entire New England region, and Marshall went on to found several other local business ventures, all while staying closely involved in the operations of his Brookline flagship store. As the 40th anniversary of the Garrity Decision approached, I decided to give Marshall a call and finally get the backstory on why he felt it necessary to publish the decision on his own.
I spoke to Marshall a few days before the anniversary, as Boston was once more revisiting the complicated, troubled legacy of Tallulah Morgan et al. v. James Hennigan, otherwise known as the Garrity Decision.
Dov Charney, founder and CEO of American Apparel, was ousted last week for “alleged misconduct.”
Long before the board of American Apparel decided to fire founder and CEO Dov Charney for ethical misconduct (involving nude photos, no less), Fran Hawthorne had come to the same conclusion, saying that Charney’s “cavalier (or worse) personal attitudes toward sex and women have set the tone of the workplace” and that “To earn a social-responsibility badge, American Apparel would have to take a major step: dump Charney.” In the following excerpt from her award-winning book Ethical Chic: The Inside Story of the Companies We Think We Love, Hawthorne profiles the problematic former head of American Apparel, and the long history of ethical lapses that provided the framework for his latest fall.
The tales have been repeated in news articles and lawsuits for years and to some degree even confirmed by Dov Charney. Allegedly, he walks around nearly nude in the office and has held business meetings in a similar state of undress, calls employees “sluts” and “whores,” favors staffers who sleep with him, hires young women on the basis of their looks, screams at employees, grabs their hair, describes graphic sex to them, and more. [A] Portfolio article talked about a half dozen male employees in their twenties who lived with Charney in his mansion, including one “loud, pear-shaped” PR apprentice who called the boss “Daddy.” New York Times Magazine consumer columnist Rob Walker wrote in his book that he was in the CEO’s office with one male and two female staffers while “Dov Charney was naked from the waist down”—but the punch line is that Charney was trying on prototypes of a new line of men’s underwear. He has certainly dated female staffers, at least three of them seriously. Most notoriously, writer Claudine Ko, in the June–July 2004 issue of Jane magazine, described a female employee presumably performing oral sex on Charney in a hotel room in front of Ko. A week afterward, the article continued, Ko was in a corporate apartment with Charney while the CEO masturbated and “we casually carry on our interview, discussing things like business models, hiring practices and the stupidity of focus groups.”
Nine female employees or ex-employees have filed lawsuits or legal complaints officially asserting sexual harassment. One was dropped, one was settled, and the rest were pending at the time of this book’s publication, one of them for years.
Michael Shelton wrote Family Pride: What LGBT Families Should Know about Navigating Home, School, and Safety in Their Neighborhoodsas a resource for queer parents, their families, and allies that emphasizes community safety. While the national focus remains on the mistreatment of LGBT people in schools, the reality is that LGBT families also face hostility in various settings—professional, recreational, and social. Drawing on his years as a dedicated community activist and on the experiences of LGBT parents, Shelton put together a few concrete strategies culled from his book that LGBT families can use to intervene in and resolve difficult community issues, teach their children resiliency skills, and find safe and respectful programs for them.
Buses arrive at South Boston High School, Jan. 8, 1975, as classes resume at the racially troubled institution. Police were on hand to provide protection as black students arrived. (AP)
Forty years ago this Saturday, on June 21, 1974, US District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity, Jr. found Boston’s schools to be unconstitutionally segregated, instituting a plan of forced busing between some of the city’s poorest (and most racially divided) schools. Far from correcting the racial imbalance in the Boston city schools, Garrity’s decision instead sparked wide protest, racial conflict, and riots throughout the city. Michael Patrick MacDonald was a young boy in South Boston—targeted as one of the first schools to be integrated—when news of the decision swept through this troubled, fiercly insular, mostly white and poor working-class enclave. In an excerpt from his powerful memoir All Souls: A Family Story from Southie, MacDonald writes about the firestorm of racial tension that spread throughout the neighborhood in the wake of Garrity’s decision, leading up to the tempestuous autumn when Garrity’s plan was set to begin.
It was on one of those days at the intersection in the spring of 1974 that we saw the headlights blinking and heard the honking and loudspeakers screaming something about the communists trying to take over South Boston. Everyone came running out of the project to line the streets. At first it was scary, like the end of the world was being announced. But then it seemed more like a parade. It was even along the same route as the St. Paddy’s Day parade. One neighbor said it was what they called a motorcade. The cars in the motorcade never seemed to stop coming. It went on for a good half hour. Irish flags waved out of car windows and one sign on a car read WELCOME TO MOSCOW AMERICA. Many more had RESIST or NEVER written on them. My favorite one was HELL NO SOUTHIE WON’T GO. That was a good one, I said. I started clapping with everyone else. But then I had to ask someone, “Where are we not going?” One of the mothers said, “They’re trying to send you to Roxbury with the niggers. To get a beatin’,” she added. Someone else told her not to say that word to the kids, that they were blacks, not niggers. “Well it’s no time to fight over that one,” someone else said. “It’s time now to stick together.” When I asked who was trying to send us, someone told me about Judge Garrity; that a bunch of rich people from the suburbs wanted to tell us where we had to send our kids to school; that they wanted us to mix with the blacks, but that their own kids wouldn’t have to mix with no one, because there were no blacks in the suburbs.
“Bulindi survivors” Sylvester and Keeta crossing the main road in Bulindi, Uganda
Nancy J. Merrick came to Boston recently to talk about her new book Among Chimpanzees: Field Notes from the Race to Save Our Endangered Relatives. Over lunch, she passed around a series of photographs taken by chimpanzee researcher Matthew McLennan. The photos were compelling, showing key members of a chimpanzee group in Bulindi, Uganda. In them, one could see all the intelligence, emotion, and wild beauty that first captivated a young Merrick in 1972, when she was a student of Jane Goodall’s at the famed Gombe Stream camp in Tanzania. Chimpanzees—as Goodall and the rest of the world would discover—can fashion tools, solve problems, and have complex societies and relationships. And they share 98% of our DNA, making chimps our closest relatives. The chimpanzees in the photographs seemed to have enough charisma to ignite the imaginations of anybody they encountered. But the photographs also showed a darker side: chimpanzees sharing a road with local villagers while the humans looked on, wary but not surprised.
Growing up queer and a heavy reader, I can’t help but envy today’s teens the ever-growing number of books written for their demographic that feature central LGBT characters and themes. When I delve into these titles, I devour them. I read them gluttonously, vicariously re-imagining the trajectory of my own coming-of-age had these characters and their voices been available to me at the time. Because of this, I can—unlike some—fault no one for avidly reading young adult literature on into adulthood. It’s uplifting to see that not only does “it get better” as you grow up, but the very process of growing up seems to be getting better, too. Young readers have more role models and better access than ever to proof that they are not alone, and that’s a wonderful thing.
So for June, for Pride Month, I’ve put together a short list of reading recommendations for LGBT youth, or those seeking some literary insight into their experience.
TIAA-CREF CEO Roger W. Ferguson, Jr. speaks at the Standard & Poor's 29th Annual Insurance Conference in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, June 5, 2013.
TIAA-CREF, the retirement plan of many university professors and administrators as well as others, has escaped much of the increasing criticism of 401(k)-type plans. A number of academics with TIAA-CREF are even unaware that it is a 401(k)-type plan, thinking that the growing criticisms of 401(k)s don’t apply to their situation.
TIAA-CREF has enjoyed relative immunity from criticism for two reasons. It is a nonprofit company that is presumed to operate exclusively in the best interests of its participants because it does not have shareholders. And precisely because it is the plan of so many highly-educated professors, it is presumed to be good because surely they must know what they are doing.
Yet TIAA-CREF participants fare no better in retirement income than 401(k)-type plan participants with other financial services industry companies such as ING, Vanguard, and Valic. That in turn means that they fare much worse than employees with traditional defined benefit pension plans.
As Father’s Day approaches, I’ve been thinking of books I’d recommend to my own father. I have fond memories from childhood of sitting with my father while he watched “his shows,” the science and nature and history programming on public televison channels that my other siblings would spurn as too educational to be entertaining. My father, a former Navyman who’d traveled the world in his youth, loved pointing out places he had been to, and I loved discovering a sense of the world through his eyes. Later, after we moved to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, we would go on hikes together and stand at the summits, taking in the vastness. Or we would go fishing together, which seemed mainly an excuse to sit in inflatable rafts and read, or listen as nature filled in the quietness between us. I don’t know if I inherited my curiosity of the world from him, or if I was drawn to that part of him that intersected with my own sensibilities. In a way, it doesn't matter. It’s the commonality one cherishes.
Here are five titles that, like my father, share a deep interest in the world, or that tell the story of fatherhood itself, with all its memories and complexities and sometime revelations. If your father is anything like mine, I’m sure he would take any of these books, find a quiet place to sit, and then read every word.
Of all the problems the world confronts today, climate change undoubtedly affects more people, with more potentially dire consequences, than any other single issue.
Yet most people, looking at the EPA regulation that President Obama just proposed for cutting carbon emissions in order to combat climate change, are probably saying: “I don’t own a coal plant. This has nothing to do with me.”
In fact, the proposal has plenty to do with all of us. And there’s a whole list of things we can do to help make the carbon-cutting goals a reality.
(Of course, if you do happen to own a coal plant, or if you are a member of Congress or a state legislature, or an aide to a politician—well, there’s even more that you can do.)
We in Massachusetts have had an illustrious history of progressiveness, justice, and pride. It was the first individual state to write a constitution declaring universal rights; Horace Mann led education reform here; we have the Kennedys and the Red Sox and Emily Dickinson. And we were the first state, ten years ago last month, to legalize same-sex marriage.
This is the real reason I am proud to be from Massachusetts. Same-sex marriage is now legal in sixteen countries and nineteen US states, including all of New England. National support for marriage equality is at 59%, an all-time high. And we helped elect a president who vocally endorses same-sex marriage. It might be bold to say, but from the looks of it, our progressiveness and acceptance are making international rounds.
Maciej Ziembinski and the author (photo by Tomasz Cebulski)
My dear friend Maciej Ziembinski, a pioneering journalist and editor (and a central figure in my book The Crooked Mirror), recently passed away in Radomsko, in central Poland. Maciej was fiercely devoted to this little town, where my mother’s family lived for generations. When poet Adam Zagajewski wrote of those Poles imbued with “the ecstasy of the provinces,” he must have had Maciej in mind.
Before World War II, Jews made up approximately 40% of Radomsko’s population. Very few survived the war and most who did survive left the country. Under Communist rule, there was but one sanctioned narrative of the recent past—the patriotic war against the German Fascists. Discussion of the town’s vanished Jews, of local rescuers or those who betrayed—was taboo. Maciej’s father, who’d rescued a Jewish woman to whom he’d been secretly engaged, raised his son to have an open mind. Even as a young man, Maciej was determined that the history of Radomsko’s Jewish population must be told, too. He understood it was an essential part of the town’s story.
He carried on, he told me, “his own private war with town hall.” When Poland transitioned to democratic rule, he established Radomko’s first alternative weekly. Until then, newspapers were the mouthpiece of the state. He named his paper, most appropriately, Komu i Czemu (“For whom and what for?”). As its editor, he wrote and published over sixty articles about Radomsko’s Jewish history. He oversaw the translation of the Radomsko Yizkor, the Jewish memorial book, from Yiddish to Polish and published it in his paper. He was a principled man. A scrapper, a gadfly.
Richard Hoffman’s elegaic new memoir, Love & Fury, is a powerful investigation into the impacts of race and class, boyhood and fatherhood, family pressures and pain, and how the mistakes of the past can haunt the present. Hoffman writes beautifully of his upbringing in a working-class Pennsylvania town where abuse, racism, sexism, and other toxic values seemed his inheritance. Hoffman was, in his own words, “a boy made of coal and steel and violence and trucks and shame,” filled with a yearning to escape but also a longing to connect with and understand his enigmatic, difficult father. A father who, Hoffman would come to understand later, carried a different kind of class shame, as he reveals in this passage:
I had tripped a switch and plunged my father from the safety of his lyric, humorous, emblematic scene into deep shame and remembered desperation, the very emotions that his ritual telling, with its shrug and goofball smile, its cavalier “fuck ’em” attitude, was meant to exorcise. I was of course the one who didn’t get it, sitting there on my elbow with a shine-ola-eating grin on my face. I was not the one who had stood against a wall at six in the morning for the shape-up, hoping to get picked to work like a donkey for the next twelve hours. I was not the one who’d had to go down to the PP&L office with money made from cleaning out somebody’s suburban garage just to get the lights turned back on. I was not the one who felt humiliated the year our Christmas presents came from the Salvation Army, complete with tags that said, Boy, 6–8 years old. My father had taken all those years and all that shame and locked them in a little box of a story, and just when he was clicking it shut again, as he had so many times before, I propped the lid open a moment longer with my fatuous cleverness, and a monstrous cloud, a genie of shame, escaped.
What is there to say, five years after the tragic murder of Dr. George Tiller, about the legacy of this remarkable man? The polarization—around Tiller specifically, and abortion in general—that occurred in Kansas during his lifetime has in no way abated. The abortion situation in Kansas in the post-Tiller era can be best understood as a series of both skirmishes and high-profile battles between the two sides of the endless abortion war.
Why are prescription drug prices so high in the U.S.? Pfizer’s attempt to acquire the giant British drug company AstraZeneca—which finally collapsed in late May—pinpoints several reasons in a nutshell. (Or should I say, in a once-a-day pill?)
Not by coincidence, this would-be merger also reveals some of the ways pharmaceutical companies bend their ethics.
Pfizer, which was already the largest drug maker on the planet, had hoped to puff itself up even more by buying AstraZeneca, which ranks Number 2 in the U.K. Even when the bid reached $119 billion, AZ’s board had the gumption to refuse, and Pfizer gave in.
Such an attempt is hardly new for either Pfizer or the pharma industry: Over the past 15 years, a lot of premier names in the business have disappeared, several of them swallowed by Pfizer.
(Try to find a phone number for Wyeth, Pharmacia, Warner-Lambert, Schering-Plough, Genzyme, Hoechst, Ciba-Geigy, Burroughs Welcome, Sandoz, or Searle.)
The new UUA and Beacon Press headquarters at 24 Farnsworth.
Over the past few weeks, the usual hush of paper rustling quietly amidst the gentle tapping of keyboards—the standard soundtrack to publishing houses everywhere—has given way to a clattering of boxes being filled and emptied, filing cabinets being rifled through, furniture and other miscellany being taken off to better homes. After many happy years in our Beacon Hill location, Beacon Press, along with the rest of the Unitarian Universalist Association, moved last week into shiny new headquarters right in the heart of Boston’s Innovation District.
The move is fortuitous in a number of ways. Not only does it position Beacon Press alongside a host of other creative organizations and individuals—including publishing colleagues Da Capo Press and Cengage Learning—but the move afforded the UUA a terrific opportunity to design a new space from the ground up, incorporating the seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism into the design of the space itself. “Our goal,” said Rob Molla, UUA Director of Human Resources and chair of the new headquarters’ design team, “was to design a space that was elegant, efficient, modern, technological, but that was environmentally responsible.”
Prison cell block (by Bob Jagendorf via Wikimedia Commons)
Numbers are tricky. Studies are done. Reports are written. Statistics released. And then people take the numbers and run with them, waving them like protest placards claiming how the numbers prove or disprove some long held “truth.” The Right does it. The Left does it. We all do it. Maybe there’s a tiny toggle in the human genome that manipulates us to manipulate the numbers. That's why I've never liked numbers, never trusted them.
I saw this all play out in a recent Boston Globe Op-Ed piece about the high rates of recidivism in U.S. prisons. Using the most recent data from the Bureau of Statistics, the numbers roll out: Within six months of being freed 28 percent of former prisoners were arrested for a new crime; three years, 68 percent; five years, 77 percent. Twenty-nine percent of the returnees had been arrested for violent offenses; 38 percent for property crimes; 39 percent for drug offenses; 58 percent for public order crimes. I think everyone would agree that the numbers paint a pretty bleak picture.