Monday, April 09, 2018

Baby Dykes in Danger: The School to Prison Pipeline

By Kelly Cogswell

I'm trying to remember what school was like. Having to beg permission to pee. Grades that seemed almost arbitrary. Hallways where boys regularly grabbed or pinched my ass. I didn't know if they did that to all the girls, or just me, because I never told anyone, or even think about it. Why would you? I was taught girls were always in danger. Always prey. Don't wear short skirts or make-up. Don't call attention to yourself.

I didn't, but walking home from high school, white guys from the neighborhood would still inch along behind me in their cars. Sometimes they'd say something, sometimes they'd just lurk. That's when I started to walk like the black guys, with a confident, "don't fuck with me" stride.

My classmates, anyway, were okay. I wasn't actually bullied for being a dyke, which was good, because I didn't know I was one yet. That was in the Seventies and Eighties, and I had no role models. Not one student or teacher was out-- though rumors burned hot. He's a faggot. She's a lezzzzzz.

I didn't see myself in the hiss, but try to imagine myself in school now that things have changed, kind of. Having a woman teacher I know for a fact is a dyke. Wondering whether or not to go to a meeting of the Gay and Straight Alliance. A 2015 study found that LGBT youth were 91 percent more likely to be bullied than kids perceived as straight. I wonder if it was always like that, or if the problem is worse now that kids like me can put a name to their difference—and so can the other kids. I don't think I would have dared. It would have gotten back to my mother whom I can't imagine as anything other than a panicky homophobe even in her dementia, afraid someone might think she is gay, because she used the word girlfriend.

We don't talk enough about how vulnerable young queers still are. We especially don't talk about lesbian and bi girls. Earlier this year, Joel Mittleman, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at Princeton crunched the numbers in their ongoing "Fragile Families and Childhood Wellbeing Study," and discovered that LGBT teens were 29 percent more likely to be suspended or expelled than their straight peers. But when he broke it down by sex, he found that there was almost no additional risk for boys. It was queer girls who skewed the numbers, being 95, NINETY-FIVE! percent more likely to be disciplined at school than their straight peers.

I don't know how to fathom that. Not just that it happens, but that I didn't know. Or that the school to prison pipeline isn't just for young black men. Mittleman noted that “…sexual minority girls are dramatically overrepresented in the juvenile justice system in a way that sexual minority boys are not.” Become known as a "disciplinary" problem, pretty soon they just call the cops. No matter that half the times young dykes get in fights it's because they finally decided to fight back against their tormenting bullies.

I'd known that dykes were overrepresented in prison, but I thought it happened during sentencing. Didn't realize it went as far back as this. And that our lost lives were in the hands of teachers and administrators who destroyed our futures just for liking other girls. Or for being a little masculine, a little butch.

Mittleman blamed them for 62 percent of the cases, noting that parents reported behavioral problems for 38 percent of the other girls. I'm suspicious of that figure, suspicious that some of those parents were like my Southern Baptist mother who, if I had come out, or been caught with a girl, would have drug me to the preacher, then the shrink. Maybe I would have ended up in one of those conversion camps. I would certainly have rebelled. Been labeled a "disciplinary problem." All for kissing a girl, refusing to giggle coyly at the sight of pimply faced boys.

Why didn't we know? Does anybody care?

These are not idle questions. The fact is we almost never hear about the problems of young lesbians, and bi girls. Even queers, even lesbians, who rage against the prison industrial complex which gobbles up black men by the millions are largely mute when it comes to the dykes of all races that represent almost 42 percent of the rapidly expanding population of women's prison. Feminists are silent, too.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Dykes to the Front: In Brazil, Ukraine, U.S.

By Kelly Cogswell

Lesbians have always been part of every social change movement, and in 2018, we are finally out of the shadows. For better and for worse. People hate women so much. Add a touch of dykeness and our bodies/our lives are red flags to the patriarchal bull which likes to leave us gored and bleeding in the sand.

Especially if we fight back. Marielle Franco was not only a feminist and lesbian, but the only black woman on Rio de Janeiro's 51-member city council. Known for denouncing racism, homophobia, the epidemic of murdered women, police brutality, and the assassination of young black men in the favelas, she was shot dead on March 14, probably by the same far-right militias that she frequently attacked.

She must have known it was coming. Inconvenient people have a way of disappearing in Brazil, especially when they come from the slums. So do women of all races. It must have shocked her murderers to discover that this particular brown woman didn't fade into insignificance, and instead became a martyr, galvanizing enormous marches throughout the world.

A few days earlier, and a world away in Ukraine, Olena Shevchenko, director of the feminist LGBTQI rights organization Insight, was a main organizer of the International Women's Day march in Kiev, where they took to the streets chanting, "Women's rights are human rights!" and "Liberty, Equality, Women’s' Solidarity!" For their trouble, 200 far-right nationalist thugs attacked them with sticks, paint and tear gas.

That must have been expected, too. Ukraine is no defender of women's rights, dragging their feet on ratifying the 2011 Istanbul Convention on violence against women. In fact, citing its Soviet-imposed origins, they've decided to drop Women's Day from their list of official holidays, making this the last official celebration of March 8. Add in the fact that homophobic bashings in Ukraine have risen in tandem with the virulent anti-gay propaganda coming out of Moscow, their arch-enemy and former ruler, and that all feminists are dismissed as man-hating dykes, then attacking the march was a no-brainer for the brainless Ukrainian ultranationalists, who miss the irony of it all.

Several people were injured, but instead of investigating their attackers, the cops charged Shevchenko with “violation of the procedure for conducting peaceful assemblies” and for allowing marchers to display a banner which “offended national symbols of Ukraine.” It portrayed a women's body being attacked a cross, a coat hanger, a coin, a rope and a trident, the symbol of a far-right group, which closely resembles the official coat of arms of Ukraine.

When Shevchenko appeared for her hearing on March 12th, the courtroom was packed with far-right thugs insulting and threatening her, and she and her lawyer were forced to hide. Even the presiding judge encouraged her to sneak out the back. The cops didn't help, and Shevchenko and her lawyer had to call a private security firm to get them out. A couple of days later, the charges were dropped, and she celebrated in a Facebook post, declaring, "Freedom of Assembly and human rights won!" No matter that the death threats continue.

I worry for Olena Shevchenko’s safety. I worry about Emma Gonz├ílez, too, a student leader of the new U.S. movement for gun control. Yes, we are still more of a democracy than Brazil, more of a democracy than Ukraine-- at least for the moment. But there are just so many fucking guns here. So many men willing to use them.

And there she is, this young queer leading the charge as the most visible survivor of the Parkland, Florida attack. And as such the flashpoint for the crowd of right-wing politicians and media stars who've been suckling the poisonous NRA teat their entire careers.

Leslie Gibson, a local Republican candidate in Maine sneered at her as a "skinhead lesbian." Fox news has ridiculed her and her co-organizers, accusing the massacre survivors of enjoying the attention. Somebody photo-shopped an image of her ripping apart a paper target, replacing it with the Constitution to inflame patriotic hate.

So far, she's taking it in stride. The young, bi, Cuban American cut her activist teeth as president of her school's Gay-Straight alliance, and told Yahoo lifestyle that her latest inspiration was trans activist Sylvia Rivera who persisted in spite of attacks, even from the LGBT community. "…there will always be people that hate you, and that they’re always going to be wrong. So it’s good to use that, and remember that whatever you’re doing, if it’s making people that mad, then it’s probably a good thing.”

She doesn't even seem particularly phased by the possibility that this anger could lead to violence. Maybe she's been reading Audre Lorde, too. "When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak."

Monday, February 12, 2018

Lezzie at Large: Revolting Lesbian Jo Macellaro

By Kelly Cogswell

A young Special Ed teacher, Jo Macellaro knew she had to do something when Trump was elected and her students came to class in tears, afraid Trump would deport or even kill them. So she joined the mostly queer Rise and Resist, kicking off her trouble-making career with a direct action focused on immigration, "No ban, no wall, no raids."

In R&R she met a lot of experienced lesbian activists, veterans of ACT UP and the Lesbian Avengers. They’d hang out after meetings and talk about the predictable joys of working with guys who interrupted them regularly, and took credit for their ideas, when they weren't actually silencing them. They jokingly called themselves “revolting lesbians.”

After a particularly frustrating episode, they decided to start their own direct action group, embracing the joke as their new name, Revolting Lesbians. Their purpose, "following the money, exposing the right-wing agenda, and taking back power."

Their first public appearance was at the January 20th Women's March in New York City. They hadn't planned on doing anything until they heard how four black lesbians [Kaladaa Crowell, Brandi Mells, Shanta Myers and Kerrice Lewis] and three of their children had been brutally murdered in the space of a week.

"We're Revolting Lesbians. We're a lesbian group. We felt like we had to do something about this... Friends of some of the women who were murdered were saying that it really hurt them that one of them was burned alive in the trunk of a car and the [mainstream] media didn't even really cover it."

They also wanted a stronger lesbian presence at this year’s march. Some of them had marched the year before in New York, others in Washington. And they’d found it was mostly straight, white women. The response to the Revolting Lesbians was amazing. "We had people write to us who weren't there thanking us for doing it. We had people at other women's marches print out our signs and have their own #SayHerName contingents."

Their current mission is to remove Rebecca Mercer from the board of New York’s American Museum of Natural History. Those who had been in Rise and Resist were tired of just reacting to Trump. Every day he and his Republican administration were responsible for a new atrocity. Every week they'd take to the streets in response. They wanted to do something more strategic, and achievable, and began researching the money behind Trump. Soon they discovered how the Mercer family stepped in and bankrolled Trump's presidential campaign when it was faltering, and that Rebecca Mercer conveniently lived and conducted a lot of her business in New York.

What shocked the Revolting Lesbians most, was that she sat on the board of the Museum of Natural History. Jo tracked down the Mercer family foundation tax returns for 2009-2015, and discovered she donated almost 43 million dollars to groups promoting climate change denial. This included several millions to the Heartland Foundation, which claims responsibility for convincing Trump that climate change is fake.

"Climate change affects everybody," Jo said. Lesbians included.

The group decided that getting Mercer off the board of the Museum of Natural History was a fight that they could actually win. They drew an enthusiastic crowd to their first demo, even though it was held the day after the Women's March. And eager tourists snapped pictures of one dyke dressed as a raptor with Mercer's face, and someone else as her, but holding a bloody earth. They also got a lot of media attention. Maybe because the Museum’s security panicked and called the cops.

While the press used photos of their action, and quoted their research, most of the outlets didn't mention the name, Revolting Lesbians. They preferred to cite the group of scientists who wrote their own letter denouncing Mercer, even though the scientists were spurred into action by, and used the research of, the Revolting Lesbians. This didn't surprise members that had been Lesbian Avengers.

Then as now, people are afraid of using the word lesbian. "When I was making our Facebook page for Revolting Lesbians I had to change the name in our url. Because Facebook doesn't let you use the word "lesbian" in a url." Though weirdly, dyke was accepted.

Jo explained that it was important for the name Revolting Lesbians to appear, even in something focused on climate change, because lesbians and queer women, women in general, have made huge contributions to every social movement, but almost never gotten credit.

So far their results about Mercer are mixed. They've succeeded in calling attention to the issue, but the Museum of Natural History has so far refused to remove Mercer from their board, claiming that she doesn't influence their programming. The Revolting Lesbians are determined to keep up the pressure, and are optimistic that the board will change their position, or Mercer herself will resign because she shies away from the media. "If you look her up online there are only three pictures of her. So, we'll see. With all this attention, hopefully, she will want to back off."

Besides the actions focused on Rebecca Mercer, they are planning to do more to bring visibility to lesbians who have been the victims of violence. The best way to reach them is through Facebook at or twitter at @RevoltLesbians

(The quotes used in this article have been edited for clarity and length.)

Monday, January 29, 2018

Ten Ways I Aspire to Resist that Sniveling Bastard Trump and his Evil Republican Minions

By Kelly Cogswell

I try not to think about Trump. He's there in the White House, of course, but he's like the golden retriever with its head stuck out the car window grinning and drooling while the humanoids in charge careen down the highway scattering ink-stained bills from their latest heist.

I've seen the movie, and it's never ends well for anybody. Not for the insatiable thieves who are not only indifferent to their immediate victims, but leave a vast swathe of collateral damage, this time the U.S. economy, our justice system, democracy, even our literal environment where each Republican gesture opens the floodgates to poisons, pollution, exploitation.

In this flick, I imagine queer activists as that cop who imagined he was on the verge of retirement, and is bound to get tragically shot before the final scene, and either buried in a shallow grave, or drawn back into the fight to prevent the impending apocalypse bearing down yet again. The usual victims: the poor, people of color, immigrants, women. And of course LGBT people, queers that this Republican administration (and plenty of Democrats) would like to see disappear altogether.

It is tempting to give up, replace the rainbow flags with the white ones of defeat. But there are things I aspire to do, even if I'm not quite ready to build the barricades. Some are self-evident. Some not. At any rate, I...

1. Take to the streets. Demos are not only an expression of our collective anger (or joy) they help me remember that I'm not alone. They're also an important aerobic exercise for our rapidly eroding democracy. Whose streets? Our streets!

2. Take to the couch. On the days when it's a victory just to get out of bed, I celebrate the moment I venture past the bathroom, and actually get to the couch! Depression is real. Especially if you follow the news.

3. Reject Hate. Hate is easy. And I know from long experience that its cousin outrage is an effective tool to mobilize people. But when I indulge in those self-righteous rants a little too often I find myself becoming the thing I hate. Which is not a good look. But it also means I miss the chances that present themselves on a regular basis. Even the most monstrous bigot can be flipped.

4. Say thank you. To my friends, and enemies. To that very out queer. To the dyke organizing the resistance who could probably also use a beer or slice. Or a really loud whistle to get the attention of her troops.

5. Fly my freak flag high. Mike Pence and the rest of the degenerate Republicans (and Democrats) wish we'd just go away. It is our job to go out in the world more dykily, faggily, trannily than ever before. My hair is shorter than it's been in twenty years. My Docs are back on my old school feet. I'm also game for the occasional unexpected sequins, a giant new wig.

6. Support community businesses. It's better to give your dollars to embattled neighborhood queers, people of color, or immigrant businesses instead of giant conglomerates who are already making money hand over fist from the Trumpian kleptocracy. Though there's no way I’m walking to Fourteenth Street just to buy a farm stand apple. Seriously.

7. Lend a hand to community and alternative media. Placing an article with us isn't as sexy --or profitable--as the New York Times, but the truth is we cover stories others don't. For the last several weeks, it is queer sites that have been keeping murdered dykes in the headlines, that cover the deaths of trans women. While between 1.6 and 2.5 million people participated in women's marches around the world a couple weeks ago, Sunday's top five political talk shows gave them only seven seconds of coverage. Mainstream print media sucked, too.

8. Resist censorship from anybody. It's an addictive habit and double-edged sword. Language changes so rapidly even our allies are bound to screw up. So chill out, and pay more attention to what people do than what they say. Allow artists to take you to dark places. David Wojnarowicz transformed his rage by exploring it, knocked a hole in an airless room where we were suffocating.

9. Laugh. With my friends and lover. At my enemies, who sometimes shrink to a manageable size when we brandish a very small unthreatening object like a finger and shout "Riddikulus," in our best British accents.

10. Embrace Love. As friendship and sex. Kindness. Activism on my own behalf, and for us all.

What do you do?