Friday, November 7, 2008

Out of Step

I dropped off my rent money for the Q Center. There are 25 of us who pledged to pay $23 month to keep the Q Center open and I forgot. I feel so ashamed. But now it's fixed in my brain and every new year, I will send in my check for $276 and if I don't I hope my friend Carol Horne will thump me on the head again.

The Q Center is very important for us. It is part of the justice network of this town which grows stronger. A lot of work comes out of the Center. Gay Pride, an event which draws hundreds to Alton Baker every August is one. And this year, more than any other group, Basic Rights of Oregon, a coalition which formed to bring Domestic Partnership into law last January and bring about reform for equal protection within all State institutions for veterans and GLBTQ community played a major role in electing people and defeating bad measures. Some of the BRO people went down to California to help defeat Prop 8, an initiative which overturns the law which recognizes same sex marriages. BRO people came down I-5 to Eugene to help canvass and work for our mayoral race to re-elect incumbent Kitty Piercy who calls herself with pride "mayor of all Eugene" and means it. That race was very close, too close. It took a couple of days to become official. Were it not for BRO I think there would be no victory party locally.

So, today, as I dropped off my rent money, I am reminded that California may have been part of the great celebration which placed Barack Obama into presidency, but was very out of step when it came to equal protection under the law for all Californians. The initiative process turned ugly. There are forces who abuse and misuse the initiative process to roll back hard won civil rights legislation. The GLBTQ community and their allies, however, is a well organized, highly skilled political machine and they will not be stopped. I have learned the mobilizing power is in the alliances and that the alliances cross state lines.

I've been reading DisgrAsian and Angry Asian Man blog sites so I know that in my community the younger generations of Asians in California were working on their parents to change old attitudes and get them to vote NO. So many of our communities, communities of color, have so far to go. On the one hand, we are victimized by racism and exploited for our labor. On the other, fear and ignorance prevent us from recognizing the justice struggle wherever it may be. Until the late 60's, for example, we Asians were unable to inter-marry. We could not choose our mate. It was against the law. But our community cannot come together to make the connection that it is just as wrong that gay and lesbian partners cannot legally choose their mate. I am saddened that the huge turnout for Barack Obama partially led to the defeat of Prop. 8. That must be addressed by each one of us now that it is known. It was not just the Black vote that elected Obama; and it was not just the Black vote that passed Prop. 8. Read the numbers on DisgrAsian's blogsite on my favorite blogs and it's "mathed" out for us. Every community had a hand in the victory of President Elect Obama and the defeat regarding Prop 8 and we all have work to do.

So I join all my Asian brothers and sisters in doing the necessary work right at home with our families and communities.

I still remember back in the 80's when women of color and White Lesbian sisters had that hard conversation about racism. It was inspired by a visit by Audre Lourde who wrote about the double oppression felt by a woman of color -- with her lesbian white sisters, and within the community, in her case, the Black community. It was a tough conversation, everyone speaking the angry truth they've never spoken before. Lot of tears. Later that spring the film, "Gods Must be Crazy" from South Africa came, a big hit in the US. It was a deliberate ploy by the South African government to break the world boycott of South African goods -- a very successful boycott. We formed a boycott line in front of Eugene's only indie film theater, the Bijou, and saw many, many friends and neighbors cross the lines to buy a ticket and enjoy the show, the noble Bushmen who worship the coca cola bottle which dropped from the sky, the crazy revolutionaries who couldn't steer their jeep straight. I don't get the attraction but then I've never watched it. That's the thing about boycotts for me. Once I start, it's hard to break the habit. The Bijou held the film over, something out of the ordinary for them. The rains started. Rain, rain, rain. Needless to say our line became very small, and then one day, our lesbian sisters came with hoods and umbrellas and stayed. They stayed with us night after night as long as the film showed in Eugene. Something happened for those of us who stood on that line and it happened for life. Ok. Our Lesbian sisters took a stand on racism but what about our homophobia?

I remember some of the things I held on to, divisive semantics -- culture and race is different from sexual preference. Racism is different from homophobia. I don't know when I let it go. It's one of those step by step things. A big part of it, my students and our beloved daughter Josina freed me from it. One cannot teach long in a middle school without seeing that line drawn clearly between right and wrong. Homophobia sure as heck felt as ugly and violent and threatening and all pervasive as racism. Homophobia certainly cut off promise and success. One could not deny that suicide among gay youth or youth harassed for being gay was high. And the bonds between people who were Gay and Lesbian sure felt like culture. And isn't family part of culture? The bravest, wisest woman warrior in our family is Jo our daughter who is Lesbian undefinable, incorruptible and says it as it is.

The change came inperceptibly, touching the "mother bear" part and my "sister and family" parts of my heart and hooked up to the "think smarter" part of my brain. And I guess I just finally became integrated. I finally became whole. One day, I noticed that I had let go of useless things. My former protective attitude toward a sorry piece of cheese called "protected class status" no longer held any significance for me. It felt awkward and clumsy and worthless. How long can we afford to be brainwashed that some classes are protected and other oppressed groups are not. That status needs to be broadened until it becomes meaningless in the bright light of truth: we are all human beings and born with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of our own happiness -- which includes marriage and parenthood, and to be safe and free to grow up and learn and work without fear.

As part of DisOrient Asian American Film Festival, we discovered there was a renaissance of film made by independant filmmakers of our community -- and much to my excitement there was a huge number made by Gay and Lesbian filmmakers about being Gay or Lesbian. We sent out the call for entries. Just at that time an Oregon judge put an injunction on the Domestic Partnership law. We were feeling so low, and I wrote to the filmmakers to ask them once again to send the film and how important it was in light of the recent injunction to educate the public even more. Films can touch hearts. We were overwhelmed with their response!! Not only did the filmmakers say yes, but they said yes because they wanted to be part of our struggle. We reached out to Basic Rights of Oregon to see if we could make the films part of a larger program. Basic rights not only said yes, they rented a hall, got goodies together, provided a forum and became a sponsor. It was a great happening, probably the first time Gay, Lesbian and straight people of color could come together for a real conversation which builds relationships.

Our film festival director said, "You know, Misa, we may not be able to have a GLBTQ program every year, " and I nodded. But inside I was determined that our festival needs to take a leadership role in this. This summer, where I teach for a month young middle and high school Asian Pacific youth, and where the festival director teaches film, the one film which captured the Yuri Kochiyama Award for Courage was "My Life in Brown and Pink" when high school freshman Jazmin came out as a Lesbian to her family and filmed it, fifteen minutes of truth and love. Clearly, there will be a GLBTQ program in DisOrient this year, and I'm sure Jazmin will be a great curator of the program! The artists always have led the way in our community.

California's misstep will not be wasted. It has to be national to make sense anyway. Barack Obama's campaign showed it's not those in control of the media and the party machinery who will determine the outcome of an election. With work, we can be ready for the next campaign. Together, we can correct the injustice of CA's Prop 8 and go one more, ordinary people wherever we live and wherever we work. We just keep talking about it, keep pushing , keep building networks, and making families of one another. What a happy life, following the lead of brave youth and artists to lift up justice. I give a shout out to George Takei (and his partner), and to Maceo and tell him, time to come home to Oregon now. We're proud of you.

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"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

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Eugene, Oregon
I am a citizen of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. I am a Nikkei descendant sansei (third generation);retired teacher, involved in the Winnemem tribal responsibility to Water, Salmon, and our belief that the Sacred is our Teacher. Working locally for human rights and supporting youth leadership.