I hope this note finds you well. I am writing this note on the Spring Equinox, imagining the life peeking out from under some of the snow we have here in Boston. I am glad to see the winter go, as my friend Tyrone said, “We survived our first of four winters under the Trump regime.” I am hoping that the life of spring gives even greater life to our growing resistance to policies of violence and oppression that keep coming out of Washington.
I wanted to spend most of my note this month reflecting on the recent tv special, When We Rise. This was a four-night special that played on ABC telling some of the story of the LGBTQ movement in the United States. The special focused on three primary characters living in San Francisco, Cleve Jones, Ken Jones (no relation), and Roma Guy. To be honest, I was quite resistant to the show and was not planning to watch it. After choosing not to watch it when it was on tv, I started receiving letters from some of you telling me about how much it meant to you. I then visited two members in a Boston jail who also told me that they had watched it, and said I should do the same. I was resistant because I did not want to be disappointed. I didn’t want to watch it because I knew they couldn’t cover everything, and I knew I would get upset. I didn’t want to watch it because I didn’t want to see Dustin Lance Black white wash the story. However, due to the letters I got from the inside and the jail visits I had, I decided I should watch the special.
Of course, like any mainstream story, there are deep flaws with When We Rise. One piece of the problem that many have been talking about is the absence of bisexual people and the only token inclusion of transgender women. I was disappointed that there was no attention to prisoners, though there was some important attention to police brutality and harassment of LGBT people. However, I was very moved by the series (I only watched the first 3 parts, up until 2006). It also didn’t hurt that there were lots of cute people in the cast (I swoon for Michael K. Williams). I appreciated seeing spaces in San Francisco that I am familiar with. I’ve walked down Castro street, cruising the guys. I’ve been to events at the Women’s Building. I’ve walked around the Mission. I appreciated seeing places that I know are important to our LGBTQ liberation story. While it was an incomplete picture, I am so glad that someone tried to tell this complicated story.
I was particularly moved by the stories around the early days of the AIDS crisis. I often think about how we lost such a huge part of our community to AIDS. According to another documentary I’ve seen, We Were Here, one half of all the gay men in San Francisco died during the first 10 years of AIDS. We do not talk enough about the community trauma we hold due to all that loss. We lost so many of the radical gay men mentors we should have had. We lost the feminist, anti-racist, sex-positive, anti-capitalist gay and bisexual men who were organizing and f*cking all across the country. As we were dying, one of the things When We Rise showed so well, was that it was lesbians who came to the aid of gay and bisexual men. It was these amazing sisters in the struggle who staffed the AIDS wards when no one else would. This story too often disappears. This care and solidarity should remind those of us who are men to be sure we are acting in solidarity with lesbian and bisexual women.
The LGBTQ movement has not ended. The stories told in When We Rise are far from the only stories that need to be told. One of the roles this magazine can play is to provide space for us to tell our own stories, stories of the past and stories of right now. The movement continues today, there is so much work to be done. I am thankful for those of you who told me to watch this ABC special, I appreciate your wise suggestions coming from behind the walls. We will keep telling our stories and writing down the walls knowing that once there were no prisons, that day will come again.
In loving solidarity,