LOOP Magazine - January 2018

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January 2018 ISSUE 74


On the cover:

Free Agent’s Logan Schott as photographed by Merik Goma. Read Caitlin Coder’s interview with the innovative local entrepreneur on page 5. Photo Credit: Kevin Kuhn

Bruce Ader Fine Arts Buy & Sell - Appraise

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Editor’s Note:

They told me there would be tea.

Specializing in WNY Regional Artwork Original Art - Objet d’Art

PUBLISHERS Whizzboom Media Buffalo Public Media EXECUTIVE EDITOR Christopher John Treacy CONTRIBUTORS Michael Rizzo Adrienne C. Hill Caitlin Coder Tim Denesha Ron Ehmke SALES Caitlin Coder




Our shop is temporarily closed while we move To our new home at 65 Allen Street We’ll reopen on Friday, February 2nd during

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activism: Locals organize in support of LGBTQ detainees at nearby federal facility by Michael Rizzo

Postcards of support, recently collected and sent to detainees (photo courtesy of QFRJ)

It was late September when Dani Boris made the trek to Batavia on behalf of Queers For Racial Justice, a local advocacy group of which they are an active member. They were going to visit someone new, someone they had never met before, except for over a brief — and monitored — phone call. They arrived at Buffalo Federal Detention Facility and the process, as always, was a tedious and awkward one: Fill out paperwork. Surrender identification. Pass through metal detector. No cell phones. No pens. No paper. Follow armed escorts. Enter room. Enter booth. Engage through handset of spiral-corded rotary-style phone. Guards are supervising. Times up in 30 minutes. The name of the facility is arguably vague, but the environment is not. It’s a jail, one specifically for undocumented immigrants. Boris’ new friend hadn’t broken any laws since first coming to the United States for asylum from LGBTQ oppression in their home country, and although they had lived and worked in the United States now for years without incident, they found themselves in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers after being unable to produce requested identification documents at a nearby border. Boris was the first person “on the outside” they’d talked to since being detained there months earlier.

“I always sleep with one eye open here,” the person on the other side of the plexiglass told Boris. They also speak about their various health problems, and the added vulnerability they are suffering as a detainee because they identify as LGBTQ.

“It’s not a safe space for them. It’s rough,” Boris said. “Some days are really, really rough. LGBTQ people are often outed by fellow inmates and guards. Some days when we visit, people are more withdrawn. People start to lose hope. It seems that simply being there, sharing stories, making random jokes, finding common ground and just being a visible, living, breathing person whose presence reminds them that they are not alone is really powerful. Every time I visit, their smile gets bigger.” Boris is one member of a team within Queers For Racial Justice working with another local organizing group, Justice For Migrant Families, to provide support and companionship for undocumented, LGBTQ immigrants who find themselves in legal proceedings with federal immigration authorities. Boris’ and her team members have gone in twos for visits with this particular individual — who will remain unidentified for their protection — at least 15 times since September. They also have arranged for phone chats whenever schedules line up and the person can afford the minutes, and have facilitated a letter-writing initiative that garnered the person roughly 20 new pen-pals who have written more than 30 letters and greeting cards to the person cumulatively. “When someone is in detention, their resources are depleted,” said Jennifer Connor, cofounder of Justice For Migrant Families. “They are cut off from their support base, often across many states, and it is much harder to organize your support from within detention than if you are free to make appointments and talk to people.”

Connor’s organization, founded a year ago, provides support and accompaniment to detained LGBTQ immigrants who are trying to navigate the immigration system.

Detainees who identify as LGBTQ often face verbal and physical harassment from guards and fellow inmates, she said. While protections are in place for LGBTQ detainees, accessing them means risking exposure of one’s gender identity or sexual orientation, without any real guarantee that they’ll be dolled out. And LGBTQ detainees facing deportation are at higher risk being that they’ll likely be sent back to their home country under the same oppression they were seeking asylum from in the first place. “People don’t just leave their home country for no reason,” Connor said. “People have very compelling reasons that they have chosen to interrupt their lives and try to start new.”

Trans inmates are at even higher risk of harassment and discrimination, she said, noting instances when persons who identify as one gender are assigned to cells in a building for the opposite gender. These individuals are forced to live as a different person, especially if they were engaged in hormone therapy, which they lose access to while detained.

“In the current political climate, this work is even more important,” Connor said. “Under our current president, LGBTQ rights are under attack, and immigrant rights are under attack. And so anytime you have people who fall into both of those categories, you have to hustle and work quickly because rights are being stripped from these groups under this administration. These people are extremely vulnerable right now.” After that first visit, Boris has gone back fives to visit their new friend. After it took months to get a hearing, the decision was to deport. Although still without legal representation, they were able to file an appeal and hope to hear by the end of January what comes next in the process.

“I always try to keep things happy and lighthearted when I’m there, even though there always is this sense of impending doom,” Boris said. “We talk about our struggles, our passions, our mutual interests; thinks like books, and movies that we’ve seen. We spend a lot of time talking about our pets too. Anything we can that has nothing to do with their current situation. We do a lot of laughing too, believe it or not. Every so often an armed guard walks by, reminding me where where I am, but for the most part, I try to treat it just like I’m meeting an old friend and talking over coffee.”

Justice For Migrant Families and Queers For Racial Justice are seeking help from the community for their initiative in the areas of letter writing and card making, general research, and driving to and from Batavia for visits and court support. The groups also hope to find people to help with bonds and legal representation. Search “Queers For Racial Justice” on www.youcaring.com to learn more about financial donations to various aspects of their work, or for more information, email wnylgbtqasylum@gmail.com. LOOP - JANUARY 2018


‘Eastsiders’ heads West

Emmy nominated LGBTQ web series releases Season 3 on Netflix by Christopher John Treacy

Kit Williamson believes in monogamy.

As the creator and star of the darkly comic, two-time Emmy nominated LGBTQ serial show Eastsiders, Williamson saw an opportunity to experiment with our notions of monogamy and where we fall short of our own ideals. It’s a topic that served as the conceptual backbone of Eastsiders Season One, which began as a web series five years ago. Now, on the eve of releasing Eastsiders Season 3 via Netflix, Williamson is using it as a plot device yet again – amongst other things.

“I guess I chose infidelity because it’s morally cut and dry,” WIlliamson said over the phone, stuck in a snowy, Midwestern traffic jam. “There’s never really an okay excuse to cheat on someone. It’s incredibly selfish and unfair, and you’re potentially endangering someone else’s health… overall, it’s just a really rotten thing to do. I decided to give myself a challenge and see if I could write a story where it doesn’t end in one of the usual two ways. Most often, someone cheats and they either earn forgiveness by facing the evil of their ways and changing, or they get kicked out of the kingdom altogether. We see stories like that all the time, but ultimately, those are morality tales. I don’t want to tell people how to act or how to be, so the challenge was to find another way of resolving that dilemma – what grey area can exist in a relationship after this event has transpired?” Williamson’s handling of the topic — not to mention Eastsiders on the whole — has struck a chord. The show premiered on YouTube in mid-December 2012, and the two episodes released caused enough of a stir that the remainder of the first season was quickly funded via Kickstarter and ran weekly on Logo’s website. At the time, Williamson (along with his husband, Actor John Halbach, who plays Williamson’s bestie on the show) wasn’t sure what the best format for the show would be. At first the episodes were shorts, but two final cuts were made of Season One — the half-hour format, which seems to be the most well-received, and a longer movie format. Season Two, which aired via Vimeo’s On Demand service, was also funded through a Kickstarter campaign that raised $150,000 in just over a month. By partnering with Netflix for Season 3, Williamson and Co. have brought the past and present together, offering the entire series for binge-watching in one place. It also raises the show’s profile considerably, given that it will now show up in search results for folks that might know nothing about it, thus introducing it to a potentially huge new audience. “It’s amazing to know that there’s an audience waiting for it and excited about it that’s already binge watched the first two seasons on Netflix,” Williamson said. “Working as a web series means a smaller budget, but it allows us other freedoms. The new season is framed by a crosscountry road trip. We certainly wouldn’t be allowed to shoot on location in 16 states if we were affiliated with a studio or network — it’d cost millions of dollars to take a full network



production on the road like that. But by functioning more like an indie film crew, we can get to more places and try more things. From the beginning, Eastsiders has been praised for not using the sexual orientation of the main characters as a plot point in and of itself. Instead, the show goes a bit deeper, speaking to the ever-morphing state of LGBTQ lifestyles in real time. It’s groundbreaking.

“We do try and tackle subject matter that isn’t being addressed on most shows and represent LGBTQ characters more dynamically than they are elsewhere — complicated, flawed… complex,” he said. “Alongside, we have to make sure we’re not passing judgment on the characters. I’m looking to inspire empathy, more than anything else, and hope that people come away with a sense of understanding and a deeper relation to the characters which, let’s face it, are huge messes.”

Having spent a tumultuous year in New York, Season 3 finds central couple Cal (Williamson, who you might remember as Ed Gifford from the last two seasons of AMC’s Mad Men) and Thom (Van Hansis, As the World Turns) heading back to Los Angeles to resume what remains of their former lives there. Many of the secondary characters from previous seasons return, including Constance Wu as Kathy, Cal’s main gal-pal. Porn star Colby Keller plays a hot drifter that causes the couple to once again examine the parameters of their sexual fidelity to one another. “I knew I had to get the characters back to L.A. if the show was going to continue,” Williamson said. “After Season 2, I started thinking about ways to do that. I liked the idea of reclaiming the ‘great American road trip’ for gay people, especially amid the sense of disconnectedness running through so much of 2017, the idea of red and blue states… here we have this gay couple traveling between coasts, and while we’re often thought of as being concentrated in these very specific locations, the fact is that there are gay people everywhere.”

He describes the business of Eastsiders as, “... a pop and pop operation,” that he and Halbach take very seriously, packing the Kickstarter packages themselves and running the related social media accounts. Their commitment is fueled by the ongoing positive response to the series, which he attributes to the way it speaks the truth about the maladjusted human condition. “The big secret is that everyone is fucked up,” he said. “We’re all able to pretend that we’re normal to varying degrees of success, but deep down, everyone has dark aspects to them. Gay people often feel added pressure to perform normalcy — to present this idea that we’re not only like straight people, but ideal and perfect in every way. It’s a massive overcompensation. I mean, maybe some people are… but certainly not these characters.”

(top left) Williamson and Hansis; (top right) Colby Keller; (bottom) Williamson and Hansis on the road. All images courtesy of Netflix.

urban spy caper: Logan Schott’s Free Agent is a covert shopping enterprise like none other Free Agent is an interactive spy-inspired clothing store in downtown Buffalo’s Theatre District founded by local designer and entrepreneur Logan Schott. Caitlin Coder sat down with him for a briefing on the store’s mission.

Caitlin Coder: Okay just a few first date questions before we talk about Free Agent… Where are you from? What were you doing before you opened the store? Logan Schott: I’m from West Seneca. I lived in Los Angeles for five years, where I managed a store on Skid Row and Peta Wilson’s lingerie flagship on Abbott Kinney. My background is definitely not lingerie, but I responded to the job listing because Peta was my favorite actress as a child. My mom and I used to watch her tv show weekly. She only hires Scorpios. Before and after that I worked for a fast fashion company off and on for years, it taught me a lot about how not to run a business. CC: Will you explain the spy concept of the store and how you came up with that?

LS: I loved the 90s tv show La Femme Nikita and I’ve always been inspired by the world of espionage, creating alter egos, minimal but sleek styling and thought it would be a translatable concept.

I wanted the store to be interactive. Every month we will follow a fictional lead protagonist, a secret agent. New inventory features styles inspired by that character – and always a woman of interest. My staff and frequent customers get codenames. We use special lingo… “dead drops” are orders, “flash missions” are sales, “burn notice” for sale items… Online shopping has changed the market, so brick and mortar stores have to change the way they engage customers. I’m not a boutique, I hate that word. The hope is to create an overall shopping and live action experience unknown to the retail market. CC: Who are your fashion icons?

LS: The whole punk movement — Adam Ant, Vivienne Westwood, Sid Vicious, and Nancy Spungen are probably my most direct influences. Also, Gwen Stefani. I grew up with her label, which is cool because now I carry it at the store. L.A.M.B. debuted in the early 2000s and mixed masculine and feminine elements. I love dualities and juxtapositions. CC: No Doubt’s Return of Saturn was a big part of my childhood.

LS: Rock Steady is what really did it for me! Then I started loving the earlier albums. CC: Do you have a New Years Resolution?

LS: Professionally, I want to grow with my customers, expand to new markets, and continue to find new designers. Personal resolution is to maintain strong friendships, but more importantly my ten day root touch up. You?

by Caitlin Coder Photo credit: Luke Copping

CC: Drink more water and be a better listener. What is your process for finding new designers and inventory?

LS: I launched the company without investors and just my personal financial backing, so I had to be creative and particular. I avoid fast fashion, wholesale markets, or mass-produced garments. Not only are they widely distributed and obtainable, they also don’t last. I mostly work with self-funded designers because they are passionate about their designs and the pieces are unique.

It’s exciting to watch these smaller designers break through. Ricky King made this corset out of a restructured cowboy boot, hand painted, extremely limited run. Free Agent had it, then Opening Ceremony had it, and Lady Gaga wore it in her “John Wayne” video. I brought that piece in to the store thinking it was more for me, but I’m always surprised by how quickly stuff like that sells. There’s always a fear that my personal style isn’t translatable to everyone. A lot of people are ready to leave their comfort zone and experiment a little with their wardrobe, they just need somewhere to start.

Shirley Manson from Garbage also reached out about an exclusive Scooter Laforge tee I have! CC: Can you describe your personal style?

LS: My boyfriend called me a Knight in Shining Latex. CC: Who should be shopping at Free Agent?

LS: Everyone! Like, I had a high school science teacher come in to buy a harness. I love that. The clientele is super diverse and open minded. CC: The first time I came to the store was for Dreamland’s Fundraiser, were community events always part of your vision for the store?

LS: Fuck no. Events are a ton of work! I ran a burlesque club in Hollywood and never thought I would do events like that again.

I like bringing creatives together and it was always my intention to make sure Free Agent was an inclusive space. But the store has proven to be a lightning rod for local artists to display their art, musicians to gig, burlesque troupes to perform. CC: What’s next?

LS: Dispatch Lab! It’s a monthly DIY workshop for young adults & kids to create and customize clothing. We have studs, spikes, fabric dye, patches and buttons designed by local artists… It’s like punk Build-a-Bear. I’m also developing the Free Agent brand further with an in-house label, an app with missions, and a docuseries. I’d tell you more but that’s top secret, need-to-know basis only.

Free Agent is located at 704 Main Street. (716) 331-6244 www.operationfreeagent.com



climate change:

Trivia Challenge 2018 - A Fond Look Back at a Remarkable Year by Ron Ehmke I have never been on board with the current obsession with dystopian fiction and film. For starters, daily life is already too depressing without constantly coming up with thrilling new ways the world may come to a horrible end. Besides, no one has yet trumped (if you will pardon the expression) 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Idiocracy, all of which look like Currier and Ives compared to the hellscape we now find ourselves in. Most importantly, though, it’s just too easy to come up with various bangs and whimpers that might end us all. I say we should all be putting our imaginations to work conjuring up utopias instead: Versions of the future that would actually be more fun to live in than the real world, not less. Dream up the world you want future generations to inherit, and then work toward making it happen. And so this month I have put my non-existent money where my never-shutting mouth is. I present to you a trivia quiz to be published a year from now.

1. When former President Donald J. Trump announced his resignation in a 5:30 A.M. tweet on January 21, 2018, how did he phrase the historic announcement?

a. “After months of anguished self-examination, I have come to the inescapable conclusion that I am incapable of holding this or any other political office. I realize now that I have caused grave damage to the nation and the world, and I am hereby retreating from the public sector for the rest of my life.” b. “I am leaving office to spend less time with my family.”

c. “Despite what Fake News is saying I am NOT resigning! I am the best & most popular POTUS in history! I will spend the rest of my term in Trump Tower & Mar-a-Lago because I am a famous germophobe & the White House is a dump. The one who SHOULD be resigning is Hillary. But you don’t hear the failing New York Times saying THAT. Sad! Also, covfefe.”

2. Trump’s successor, former President Mike Pence, served from noon on January 21 to 4:21 p.m. on February 14, 2018—besting William Henry Harrison’s record as the shortest-serving POTUS by five days. Why was his term so brief ?

a. He realized his new job would require him to be in closed-door meetings with Angela Merkel and Theresa May, and his wife would not allow him to do so. b. After receiving reports from the cleaning staff, FBI agents raided the Oval Office and discovered that Pence and Jeff Sessions had converted the room into a combination meth lab, opium den, and head shop.

c. On Valentine’s Day, following years of speculation, Pence tweeted: “As those closest to me know, in my life I have had relationships with both men and women. I have loved and had romantic encounters with men throughout my life, and I choose to live as a gay man. America is simply not ready for its first leather daddy president, but you haven’t heard the last of me.” 3. Although 2017 was full of precedent-shattering presidential behavior, no one was quite prepared for what happened when Pence left office: As we all now know, the traditional chain of succession was ignored, an emergency election was called, and—in a shocking upset—comedian Wanda Sykes was elected the forty-seventh president of the United States during a live television broadcast on July 4, 2018. How many of the following factors contributed to her victory?

a. The American people concluded that the System was indeed broken: The patriarchal structure that had for centuries favored wealthy heterosexual men of European descent under the guise of representative democracy, that is. Because the conventional chain of command consisted entirely of one rich straight white man after another, a popular petition that began on a high school student’s Facebook page quickly became a new Constitutional amendment. From this point forward, in order to guarantee greater voter participation, all elections would be held as Very Special Episodes of America’s Got Talent.

b. Presidents Reagan and Trump, Governors Schwarzenegger and Ventura, and Mayors Eastwood and Bono having long established that film and/or television stardom is now the single most important qualification for political office, voters were faced with an overwhelming number of famous people tossing their hat in the ring, including Kid Rock, Kanye West, Taylor Swift, the entire Kardashian family, the surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the homecoming queen of Babbling Brook High School in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Most of these novelty candidates cancelled each other out, and then a meme began circulating on Twitter and Instagram that suggested “If we have to have celebrities running the government, maybe we should try an intelligent celebrity who represents and articulates the values of our still-evolving nation in a coherent and convincing fashion.” This was a bold new concept for many people; inexplicably, the concept went viral and the zeitgeist changed overnight, reversing decades of American reverence for jaw-dropping stupidity.

c. Wanda Sykes, an extremely bright, only moderately famous person with a sharp sense of humor and a working knowledge of civics and current events, let alone the ability to form complete sentences conveying meaningful information, far outshone all the other contenders. The fact that she was an African-American lesbian only furthered her appeal among everyone who had ever felt invisible, irrelevant, forgotten, or ignored—which is to say, everyone—and thus she won by a landslide. 4. President Sykes’s first and most universally acclaimed symbolic gesture was declaring a new national color: light purple. Which of the following was NOT a factor in that choice?

a. Voters finally grew weary of having their uniqueness and the moral and socio-political complexities of modern life reduced to whether they happened to live in a “Red” or “Blue” state. Vast numbers of people suddenly realized this false dichotomy (introduced by TV journalist and Buffalo native Tim Russert) was in fact a radical oversimplification and they symbolically rejected it by declaring the true State of the Union to be something more along the lines of lavender. b. When you combine red, white, and blue—melting them together in the big pot of diverse influences that has characterized America since its inception—you get light purple, a more fashionforward choice with lots of potential for coordinating with other colors.

c. Everybody just got tired of arguing about which colors Matter and which ones don’t. In the words of Vice President Larry David (Sykes’s Curb Your Enthusiasm castmate and a convincing Bernie Sanders stand-in for nostalgic millennials) during the administration’s combined Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, and Solstice/Yule celebration, “We’re all purple under the skin.” d. Purple is So Gay.

the disconnect From Genesis to Revelation? Not. by Michael Rizzo “In the beginning …” Later adapted to be “once upon a time,” it’s the classic phrase that begins all good fairy tales: the stories of mythical creatures with supernatural powers causing all kinds of mischief, and in turn teaching us — mere humans — our grandest lessons. Ever wonder, what if no one’s watching?

Lamentations: It was 2002. I was 17. I sat in a conference room at my Kingdom Hall, alone with three other men, elders in my congregation, their average age about 60. I was a Jehovah’s Witness, and the body of elders had brought me up on judicial charges of porneia, a Greek word that means “fornication.” This was a hearing. We prayed, and then the questioning began. I wasn’t able to respond. I could only cry and sob horrifically. Soon, I was off my chair and on the ground. I locked myself into fetal position and wept at their feet. I beat the ground and crawled into the corner. I wallowed. Wretched and miserable. Guilty. The Sodomites: We can thank Genesis 18:1 - 19:22 for the modern terminology used to describe an act that everyday couples — both gay and straight — make part of their regular sexual routine: sodomy. God destroyed the ancient city of Sodom, the legend goes, due to rampant homosexual activity. Some modern religious conservatives contend this was also the reason God ravaged the city of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. He is, after all, a deity of precedent. But an honest Hebrew fairy tale translator would not disagree that it’s possible God destroyed Sodom because its people were haughtily inhospitable, not overtly sexual. Hebrew-to-English translations aren’t the easiest, especially when the Hebrew word “yadha,” as it’s used in this account, can mean either “to engage in coitus” or “to get acquainted with” — depending on the whim of the writer (and eventually, the translator).

Judges: My interrogation with the elders lasted two hours. When I think about it long enough, I can remember it like it was yesterday. It was 16 years ago, next month. They wanted to know whether I had ever masturbated, how often, when I started, where I did it, the details of my fantasies. They were disappointed, I think, that I was still a virgin — it made things much less cut and dry. But still, my confession was masochistically honest, and there was no question of my guilt. I told them fear had kept me from confessing earlier, but that for five years I had spent countless hours in prayer, buried in the Bible, reading church material, engaging in the door-to-door field ministry and attending church. All I ever wanted to do was fight it. I still loved God, and I was sorry. I told them more than once. Then I left the room, and they decided my fate. The Mosaic Law: Leviticus 20:13 — “When a man lies down with a male the same as one lies down 6


with a woman, both of them have done a detestable thing. They should be put to death without fail. Their own blood is upon them.” In the surrounding verses, God also hands out death to any man who has sex with a woman on the rag or with another guy’s baby’s mama. Elsewhere, the laws of the Old Testament condemn men who shave (“trim the extremity of the beard”), take blood transfusions (“eat blood”), play football (“touch a dead pig”), or wear cotton/ polyester blends (“put on a garment of two threads”). At least hell won’t be lonely. See you there.

Exodus: While the elders deliberated, I sat in an adjacent meeting room and reflected on what I had just done. My shoulders loosened and my mind became weightless. I wasn’t pinching every muscle in my torso anymore, and I was able to breathe, deeply. I prayed to God, and I thanked him. I thanked him for helping me to come clean and tell the truth, and for being my friend, no matter what. Now I would get the help I needed, and I’d be able to fix everything, I told him. Then the elders called me back in the conference room.

“It’s clear you are ashamed of your actions,” they said, “but you have not repented from your sins.” They excommunicated me. Contrary to Nature: Romans 1:26, 27 — “God gave them up to disgraceful sexual appetites, for even the males left the natural use of the female and became violently inflamed in their lust toward one another, males with males, working what is obscene.”

Grab a National Geographic: Male bonobos engage in homosexual intercourse regularly as a public display of conflict reconciliation. Male flamingo couples have mated for life and even built nests to raise foster chicks. Two male penguins who used to be housed at New York’s Central Park Zoo once had a healthy sex life together, despite plenty of access to potential female partners. Beetles, sheep, fruit bats, dolphins, orangutans, ostriches, Japanese macaques — they all do it, and God don’t make no junk. Revelation: The destruction of New Orleans was not God’s plan to purge the gays. Unequivocal adherence to the Mosaic Law is like saluting a bunch of outdated superstitions. And no act of consensual sex can rightfully be considered unnatural. Too many people who read the Bible develop an irrational loyalty to its words — a loyalty that allows them to justify vilifying an entire orientation of people. But what if no one’s watching? All I know is that this is the last year I’ll be able to say I spent most of my life devoted to God, and yet, every time I’ve looked behind me, there was only one set of footprints in the sand, and I assure you, they were my own.

to oz and back: A lesbian couple in Australia celebrates the hard-won recognition of a marriage consecrated in Buffalo by Adrienne C. Hill Chrissy moved to Melbourne in May 2010 to build a new life with Kerry. At the time, neither Australia nor the United States recognized same-sex marriage, but Australia was more hospitable toward Kerry and Chrissy’s relationship. Australian immigration law recognizes a separate category of relationships, called de facto relationships. Under this law, Kerry was able to sponsor Chrissy for permanent residency after they had lived together for a year, even without a marriage certificate.

“Personally, I think the battle for marriage equality in Australia was hampered by the fact that same-sex couples were afforded the same rights as heterosexual de facto couples,” Kerry explained. “Weird, but that gave opponents the argument that we already had the same rights.” At the time, though, the broad range of rights Australia gave to de facto couples coincided with some of the strictest anti-same-sex marriage laws in the world. The most severe antisame-sex marriage laws were directed at transgender people: in most of Australia, married transgender people were required to divorce their spouses in order to change their gender on their birth certificates—a law that the United Nations called a breach of the international covenant on civil rights. Although Kerry and Chrissy were able to make a life together in Australia without the legal benefits of marriage, getting married still held deep personal importance to both women. “We found each other at a decent age—mid to late 50s—and this is it. We are going to be together forever,” Kerry said. “We wanted to celebrate that with the people we love where it was possible. To say vows in front of those we love, and who love us.”

And celebrate they did. The couple traveled to Buffalo, Chrissy’s hometown, for a big gay Polish-American wedding. Kerry recalled: “We are members of the Uniting Church of Australia. We wanted a religious wedding, but the only comparable USA church, the Episcopalians, required classes, which wasn’t practical. Chrissy found [our officiant], Carol Speser. We communicated by email, and she just got us. “All the Polish-American relatives turned up, and my parents attended by Skype. We decorated the venue in bright orange and rainbow, and each seating had a little koala holding an Australian flag.”

The long path toward marriage equality in Australia began in 2015, when then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott began to promise that the Australian government would hold a national vote to settle the matter. Both Abbott and his successor, current PM Malcolm Turnbull, petitioned Parliament for the funding to hold a national vote on same-sex marriage, but the Senate blocked funding for the election.

In order to uphold his promise to stage a national vote for same-sex marriage despite the Senate’s refusal to fund one, Turnbull chose to use a postal survey, asking Australians whether they believed same-sex marriage should be legal. Because the survey was administered by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, it did not require parliamentary funding. The survey was essentially a nationwide opinion poll, however, and not recognized as an actual election. While participation in elections is compulsory in Australia, participation in the postal survey was voluntary. Furthermore, because a postal survey is not an election, the Australian government would be under no obligation to pass marriage equality laws that aligned with public opinion.

For these and other reasons, most LGBTQ Australians were opposed to the postal survey. Kerry’s explained further: “The postal vote was a cowardly decision by a Prime Minister trying to remain in leadership. We didn’t have a survey for aboriginal land rights or anti-discrimination legislation, yet we needed one for marriage equality. It gave homophobes carte blanche to say what they liked, and some of their comments on social media were just scary.” Australian LGBTQ activists were so opposed to the postal vote that a group of them sued the government in an attempt to prevent the survey from happening. But Australia’s High Court made a unanimous decision to dismiss their case, and the postal survey began on September 12.

Mellerski and Shearer on their big day

Last month, Australia became the 25th nation in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. For one Buffalonian, this new law represents a newfound stability for a relationship that has spanned eight years and thousands of miles. Chrissy Mellerski, a former Buffalo resident and technician at ECMC, met her wife, Kerry Shearer, on the dating website Tango Wire in early 2009. Then as now, Kerry lived in Melbourne, Australia, but as Kerry recalls, “We fell in love with each other’s minds over the first months online and Skyped constantly.” The couple got a chance to finally meet in person later that year, when Kerry, an emergency management professional, visited Toronto to give a conference paper. “Chrissy showed up with a carload of snacks,” Kerry said, remembering their first meeting. “I had carried a life-sized stuffed Blue Heeler [dog] all the way from Melbourne as carry-on luggage. I know I said to her that she was shorter than I thought. However, she was gorgeous.”

Over the next two weeks, the two women explored Toronto, then traveled together to Barcelona. Later in the year, for Kerry’s birthday, Chrissy traveled to Australia to meet Kerry’s friends and family, and it became apparent that the couple needed to find a way to live together.

Because Kerry is an only child with elderly parents, and because Chrissy wanted a career change, they decided that Chrissy would move to Melbourne on a student visa, to study for a new career in elder care.

The survey ran until November 7, and just as many LGBTQ Australians feared, it gave heterosexist and transphobic commentators a public forum for hate speech. “One of our conservative politicians said that once [same-sex marriage was] legalized, people could marry the Sydney Harbour Bridge,” Kerry remembered. The Coalition for Marriage, who ran the No campaign, presented a vision of Australia’s future that united fears about marriage equality with caricatures of transgender Australians. Their ads described marriage equality as a “radical sex and gender program” that promoted “state-approved gender fluidity.” The Yes campaign, by contrast, took its cues from Ireland’s successful 2015 campaign for marriage equality. Its ads framed voting as a community-building exercise, depicting crowds of Australians taking to the mailbox in order to affirm the rights and relationships of their family members, friends, and partners.

In the end, this strategy proved successful: on November 15, the Australian Bureau of Statistics announced that 61.6% of participants in the survey had voted for marriage equality. Although the survey was not legally binding, successful votes in both of Australia’s houses of Parliament quickly followed, and on December 7, Australia officially legalized same-sex marriage.

Under the new law, Kerry and Chrissy will immediately be considered married by the Australian government, on the basis of their marriage in Buffalo. However, Kerry pointed out that while the new law closes a chapter on her personal struggle for equality, the fight is not over: “Watch this space. After failing to get the ability to discriminate against same-sex couples in the legislation, the religious right will be seeking to influence where they can. In an attempt to assuage his party’s religious fanatics, the Prime Minister has ordered a parliamentary inquiry into religious freedom. Fortunately, he selected some sound minds to apply themselves to it.” For Kerry, marriage equality is just one of many battles that must be fought in order for true social justice to be achieved in her home country. In particular, she sees immigrant rights as a crucial, unsolved issue: “Australia needs to turn its mind to its disgraceful treatment of refugees, who are essentially in prison off shore. Maybe we can swap Prime Ministers with Canada… a true liberal democracy.” LOOP - JANUARY 2018


backward glance: Fifth Freedom’s Tim Denesha offers a glimpse into the past through a local newspaper article published forty years ago

Original article and Fifth Freedom logo reprinted courtesy of SUNY Buffalo State _Courier-Express_ and Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Collections, respectively.

Editor’s Note: Last month, Tim Denesha sent me a copy of the reprinted article below as well as the introduction that precedes it. I would’ve likely used it whether or not it spoke to me personally, but I found it remarkable how we can see so clearly how much has changed (the author’s reluctant, gingerly tone) and, simultaneously, how much hasn’t (those *in* the bar scene, those outside of it, activism vs. complacency, etc.). It’s a curious dichotomy. - CJT Early in 1978, a staff reporter from the now-defunct Buffalo Courier Express daily newspaper approached the Fifth Freedom, Buffalo’s pioneering gay monthly, with an unusual request. The reporter, Patricia Ward Biederman, had been asked by her editor to write a low-key, informational article on gay life in Buffalo.

This was actually rather revolutionary. Media portrayals of gay men (as we called ourselves then)at that time were uniformly negative, focusing on alleged criminal or immoral behavior, bar raids and other police actions. The editor wanted the piece to be neutral in tone, and to center on a single gay man who would be willing to use his complete real name. That last requirement was also unusual; back then, gay men, if they had a choice, used pseudonyms or were anonymous in dealing with media. Buffalo was a two newspaper town in 1978, with the Courier being the liberal/left-leaning/Democratic paper; it’s not surprising that the Courier undertook this path-breaking gesture toward humanizing gay men. I was editing Fifth Freedom then, and agreed to be the subject of the piece.

The article appeared later that year, buried in the middle of a back page of a midweek edition. This was done so as not to engender too much controversy the first time out. Pat explained to me later that that the somewhat negative headline was also intentionally chosen to deflect possible criticism of the piece’s even-handed tone. That’s how it had to be done in those dark ages 40 years ago.

So, it was a bit historic: first neutral article, first gay man using his real name. Interestingly, there wasn’t much response to it, either way. People either didn’t see it, weren’t bothered by it, or were uneasy about praising it. Anyway, it happened. In one way, it seems like a long time ago, sociologically; in another way, maybe it’s not long enough ago… here’s the piece, you can judge for yourself. —Tim Denesha, Buffalo, December 2017.

Gays Chided for Letting Noisy Bars Dominate Life by Patricia Ward Biederman

Bearded, blue-jeaned Tim Denesha is a baker.

During the week, he spands his days mixing up aromatic batches of carrot cake and whole-wheat bread in a collectively-run bakery on the West Side. Tim has an avocation as well. He is the co-editor of the Fifth Freedom, a monthly newspaper published by the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier.

Unlike Tim, some of the other contributors to the paper use pseudonyms or first names only. The reason? The Fifth Freedom is is a publication for an by Western New York’s homosexuals or gay community, many of whom feel that “gay pride” is admirable, but so is keeping your job.

The Fifth Freedom, Denesha explains, began in late 1970 as a mimeographed newsletter. Today. the paper, distributed free in gay bars and elsewhere, has a press run of 3,000 and sufficient advertising to keep it in the black. President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke of “four freedoms:” Freedom of speech, religious freedom, freedom from want and freedom from fear. The fifth freedom of the paper’s nameplate refers to the “freedom to love,” says Denesha, one traditionally denied to gays 8


by legislation on the books in most states.

No one knows for sure how large a gay community the Fifth Freedom reaches, although no one doubts that it’s considerably larger than the 110 dues-paying members of the Mattachine Society, granddaddy of gay rights groups.

Whatever its exact numbers, the gay community in Western New York is sufficiently large to support both a gay chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous and at least five downtown gay bars and discos, bars where the music is generally loud and the orange juice is strictly from California. “I became interested in the Fifth Freedom as a way of coming out,” says Denesha, 32, who worked on the student paper at Buffalo State while an undergraduate.

“I was looking for way of interacting with gay people that was familiar and comfortable for me.” Besides carrying ads for local businesses that cater to gays, the Fifth Freedom attempts to keep the ,ocal community apprised of national and local news of interest, stories as diverse as plans for a gay retirement home in Los Angeles to the latest blast from Anita Bryant’s Miami crusade against gay rights. A typical issue of the paper contains everything from raunchy ‘personals’ of the kind that have long been the best read sections of the underground press, to serious considerations of issues troubling this minority community. One recent issue, for example, carried a number of letters charging that several local gay bars have blatant though unwritten policies of discriminating against blacks and women.

Another serious concern reflected in the tabloid is the possible conflict of interest between the burgeoning local bar scene and those members of the gay community who feel that the money and energy spent at the various discos could be better spent winning rights for homosexuals. Some observers, including Denesha, think that the rise of the bars contributed to the closing six months ago of the Gay Community Services Center at Main and Utica. That event seriously hampered non-bar-oriented activities among gays, he believes.

One activity to suffer was the Fifth Freedom, which had been housed in the center. Now run out of someone’s home, the paper no longer benefits from a steady flow of center users who could sometimes be corralled into typing or doing other newspaper chores. As Denesha, who would like to see another gay community center open here, argues, “Even for those of us who are already out (that is, not hiding their homosexuality), the quality of the interaction that takes place in a bar is very limited. “If you’re out for a night of fun and dancing, it’s okay, but if you want to talk about some of the serious issues involved in being gay, a bar is just not the place to do it.

“It’s just too noise for one thing,” adds Denesha, who feels that the gay bar scene has virtually the same attractions and limitations as the singles scene among straights. Denesha thinks that, in recent years, many gays have been lulled into complacency by the fact that they are tolerated, if not officially accepted, in some cities. Anita Bryant changed all that, and some gays are glad she did.

“The impact of the controversy was to make gay people realize that they’ve become too complacent about acceptance,” Denesha says. “Some gay people think Anita Bryant did a lot of good because she reminded us there’s a long way to go yet.” After all, Denesha observes, “although there’s a liberal segment in America that’s become very comfortable with gay people, there’s another very large segment that’s anything but.”

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