(i wrote this after i saw the news that a nyc hospital is setting up a temporary morgue in its parking lot. so many flashbacks. too many.)

Hey NYC, I hear the feds won’t help again & it’s like the 1970s all over again but with a pandemic

I moved away a while back because – because I couldn’t afford you anymore & because I was too jumpy to take the train & wasn’t rich enough to take cabs

But I love you, & my heart is in you, & I try very much to represent the best of what you are everywhere I go

It’s been sad watching the old places close and those new terrible people move in but I know you’ve got it & you’ll manage change like you manage a million subway rats

So here’s my love to you, you overeducated overly talkative upfront and confrontational people full of love, all of whom are a little bit irish a little bit jewish a little Italian and a little Puerto Rican, yah:

You all have done all the things before and you will do them again

Only in nyc do they ask doctors to come out of retirement and 1000 people show up overnight

Only in nyc do you have hurricanes and tornados and 9/11 and blackouts and people throw peaceful block parties and people dance in the street – to klezmer, salsa, whatever.

Only you guys understand what it’s like to not know anyone who lives on your block but who will do anything & everything for the bodega guy down the block from Bangladesh

Only you guys know what it means to live in too small a small space for too long a time and have nowhere to hoard motherfucking tp

Only you guys know why you look good even if you’re broke or depressed or feeling fabulous

Only in nyc do straight girls fall in love with gay men and become their best men or best ladies or their surrogates or their beards

Only in nyc are the people who die tony award winners and Oscar nominees and nobel prize mentions because holy shit y’all are talented

In nyc, where even bigots know the differences between the too numerous to mention versions of scarves worn on heads for religious/non religious reasons

You live cheek by jowl, asscheek to asscheek on the train, psychological space miles apart but always right there together

And I don’t know what went wrong but here’s what I know: everything you’re doing, everything you are, is what we all should be: tolerant of everyone but assholes.

I see Fauci and Cuomo trying to do the right thing but seriously and probably failing but still trying.

That is what you do best, nyc: try like nobody ever has before. That city is full of impossible things – just look at it.

I don’t know why it’s always you but it always is: over and over again you come back

But burn that shitty gold building in midtown to the ground already, wouldja? Fuck him.

#weseeyou (a note to trans land during quarantine)

I worry about young people a lot these days because I’ve worked with so many talented, awesome students at Lawrence where I work, and I’ve gotten a couple of notes from younger folks who were worried about going home to families who don’t accept them as they are. At LU, we allowed them to stay put, but it got me thinking about all the young people who are quarantined with families who don’t accept or acknowledge their genders.

So we made a video.

We’d love to see other people in transland borrow the #weseeyou hashtag and make their own video or send out their own message to those young folks, or to anyone, really, who needs to see and hear this.

Love to all you beautiful people.

Making This Up As We Go

A short piece I wrote for Facebook seems to have struck a chord so I thought I’d share it for a larger audience:

here’s a quick note just to say: you’ve got this.

i’ve lived through the AIDS crisis and 9/11, blackouts and hurricanes and a kidnapping and none of those things prepared me for this.

so this is just to say, to the younger people who are freaking out: no one is prepared for this. it’s not because you’re young. it’s because there is and was no plan in place.

be thankful, if you’re not, that you’re not carrying around trauma from other events. pay attention to your responses, to your body, to how you’re sleeping. give yourself room to be panicked at one moment and euphoric or calm in another. if you are post traumatic, go back to the beginnings of how you first got yourself through.

i pretty much drop any sense of humor, the hardcore introvert kicks in hard, & i tend to be up all night & sleep all day. i call it my nightwatchman response, and it’s all too familiar.

i am not the one who can lighten the mood by any means but i am here if you don’t want to freak other people out about how gloomy and despondent you are. you will not freak me out with your pessimism or fear. these are my normals.

a new normal will emerge, but these first days are a period of adjustment to change none of us wanted.

we’re all making this up as we go. your core of self reliance, your ability to appreciate beauty, your love of the small things – all of these are muscles and this will strengthen those. lean into the growth, even into the fear. you are more than you know.

Jake Woodford for Appleton Mayor – #woodford4appleton

(I’m writing this as a private citizen. My views do not represent my employer or any other organization I work with or for. Also: being pro Jake does not make me anti Dana. Both are strong progressive candidates and I think we need to focus on getting progressive voters to the polls and not on infighting, please.)

I want Jake Woodford to be Appleton’s next mayor.

I didn’t know him as a student at Lawrence and he never took one of my classes. We are friendly but I wouldn’t say we’re friends, and honestly, I’m a little freaked out by how many people seem to be voting for someone because they know them. The good thing about being me is I pretty much know everyone so that’s not an issue.

When I heard Jake was thinking about running, I encouraged him to do so. I was excited at the prospect – as was my wife – for a couple of reasons. He was an extraordinary LUCC president during a complicated time in Lawrence’s history. He listened to understand where other people were coming from, listened to comprehend how different other people’s experiences of both Appleton and Lawrence were, and he read and researched and talked to just about everyone. The one thing I told him was that you can’t lead well if your ego is in it: this is about service to a community. I warned him that being mayor was going to be dealing with criticism every goddamn day.

But it’s his vision for the city that’s really the thing. I haven’t seen anything comparable from anyone else running. It’s got sections on neighborhoods, community, the economy, health and safety, and city management with multiple paragraphs breaking down those topics. Go read it if you haven’t.

He’s a civics dork, and there is no higher compliment I can pay a person. His vision for the city includes ideas about multi modal transit, cybercrime, environmental protections (both in terms of sustainability and response to environmental catastrophe), water quality, youth engagement, neighborhoods and community building.

But it was the fine print that really thrills me. Here’s the list of stuff he read to make decisions about his vision plan, and I have no doubt he actually read all of it:

Development of this document was supported by research and data from Imagine Fox Cities, the Fox Cities LIFE Study, the City of Appleton Comprehensive Plan, City of Appleton Housing Affordability Report, Downtown Appleton Mobility Plan, APA Policy Guide on Collaborative Neighborhood Planning, A Guide for Government Officials Seeking to Promote Productive Citizen Participation – Asset-Based Community Development Institute, AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities, This is Smart Growth – SGN, Valley Transit Draft Transit Development Plan, National League of Cities IYEF Authentic Youth Civic Engagement Report, and dozens of individual conversations and meetings with community leaders and citizens. I am grateful to the many people whose work has indirectly or directly shaped this vision.

I didn’t even know half of this existed, but he does, because this is the kind of stuff he reads for fun. Like I said, civics dork. It may seem boring to you, but to me it’s sexy as hell. I don’t want to have to read that stuff but I do want someone in charge who does and who will.

But the most important thing to me, as someone who is LGBTQ-identified, is that his vision statement was available in Spanish and Hmong and English. This is walking the walk: not just reiterating in a charming way that he plans to be inclusive; this is actually doing it – making sure people who have been marginalized in this very community he will lead know what’s going on.

I would feel safe with him as mayor – not just because I know he’s pro LGBTQ people – but because he does the work, knows and loves this community, knows and understands its problems, and is as concerned as I am about the future. Fact-based, well-researched, and bottom-up leadership is what we need. & That’s Jake Woodford.

Chad Doran is a Conservative.

As many of you know, Appleton’s first National Coming Out Day happened as the result of a disrespectful and inaccurate response to a simple query: why hasn’t Appleton done anything substantial for Pride month and the 50th anniversary of Stonewall?

Appleton City Hall: “there’s a “day’, a “week’, a “month’ for almost anything and everything. How should we pick and choose what we celebrate and what we don’t?

What you support might be something someone else doesn’t and vice versa. We can’t please everyone.”

That is, the communications manager failed, badly, at doing his job. That communications manager is Chad Doran, and he’s now running for mayor of Appleton.

Above and beyond his dismissal of LGBTQ people, however, is that he has used his position as communications manger to his advantage in his campaign. As a friend of mine note, “I had no idea what the guy looked like until he was running for mayor and now there have been pictures of him on What’s Your Question Wednesday.”

He’s also an instructor of Appleton’s Appy Academy – a hands on civics class for Appleton – in which, again, he represents the city and not himself, which has, in turn, misled some of those who have taken the class into believing he is more in alignment with Appleton and Mayor Hanna than he is.

He has a photo of himself with Mayor Tim Hanna on his campaign page when Hanna has not endorsed any candidate.

I am not the only one to see his actions as communications manager and Appy Academy instructor as a soft ethics violation – in spirit if not the letter of the law.

My complaint with Doran goes far beyond that, however. He has repeatedly stated that his personal politics have little to do with how he would govern Appleton.

To my mind, that is the most horseshit response I can imagine. So to be clear:

Chad Doran is a conservative.

I am not sure why he’s pretending to be more centrist than he is but here’s some of the evidence.

  1. His wife has told people they don’t believe in birth control – which is an extreme anti-choice stance. (Look up abortifacient if you don’t believe me.)
  2. When asked by a supporter on his campaign page whether he was for APD working with ICE, he said yes.
  3. When asked if he believed in arming teachers, he also said yes.
  4. He is against Appleton being a sanctuary city.
  5. Finally, Rep. Ron Tusler who is famously conservative, way out there right wing, maxxed out his donation to Doran’s campaign. This detail was reported in the Post Crescent.
  6. Anti vaxxers are bipartisan but they absolutely support Doran under the guise of “medical freedom”.

Again, I have no idea how he can so plainly express what are extreme positions and simultaneously argue that these views won’t influence how he’s going to govern Appleton.

There are three other candidates running who make no bones about their conservative views – Eric Beach, Mark Todd, and Jim Clemons – so I don’t know why Doran is pretending otherwise.

The only reasons I can imagine is that he’s trying to run as some kind of centrist. Maybe he thinks Appleton isn’t smart enough to work out how much his personal views will influence his role as mayor.

Chad Doran is not a centrist.

Chad Doran is a conservative in centrist clothing.

The days of a Tim Hanna and compassionate conservativism are over. I, for one, wish they weren’t, and hope for a day when the right wing is not so inundated with hate.

Instead, we are at a moment in time when federal protections and policies on behalf of our most marginalized are waning. LGBTQ people, immigrants, refugees, women, those with disabilities, Latinx/Hispanic people – are all struggling to live with dignity and we have to rely on our local governments – city and state – to provide what we’ve lost on the federal level.

Chad Doran is a conservative who has unethically taken advantage of his role in Appleton’s city government to woo voters while hiding or dismissing his values. Go ahead and vote for him if you’re a conservative, but if you’re anything else, please don’t.

(This message has been brought to you by Helen Boyd and only by Helen Boyd, as a private person. I speak for no one but myself in expressing these opinions.)

Conversion Therapy Ban Testimony 1.22.2020

We just got conversion therapy banned in Appleton. This is my testimony; others did more of the heavy lifting and this was the final public meeting about it. It was initially promoted by two council members – Katie Van Zeeland and Vered Meltzer – after which it went to the Board of Health twice, then went to Council this past week.

We won, and that’s fantastic. We celebrated.

What’s harder to talk about is that a few days later, after all the hullabaloo ends, the bad taste remains in your mouth: for four hours we were in a room, and for four hours LGBTQ+ people spoke, listened to each other, supported each other. But we also heard the side that wanted to keep conversion therapy – or at least not ban it outright – and while you know, in the moment, that people are saying ignorant and hateful things, dragging out every negative trope of gay life you can imagine – recruitment, disease, moral depravity, etc – you have to stay focused. You think about what you’re going to say. You hug people and thank people who are on your side.

But on Sunday, a few days later, you can still taste all the bile the other side spewed. Most are smart enough these days not to say that they hate gay people outright – they feel sorry for gay people instead, etc. – but the effect is the same: you leave knowing there are people in the world who think LGBTQ+ people are wrong, bad, needing fixing.

It won’t stick, and I know that. I’m writing this mostly to check in on all the other people who were there Wednesday night, who are hearing similar things in their cities and counties, who go online and read about whatever new transgender ban is out there. As you’ll hear in my own testimony, it’s not like you can miss it: these messages are everywhere.

I’m glad to have done my little part in removing this thread from young people’s lives. I am happy I’m able to find something to say to a group of elected officials that they might take to heart. I’m perhaps most pleased that I can channel my rage long enough to say something, anything, at least.

What I’ve learned to do is this: do what you can when you can and then try to do a little more.

To my elders: Listening to the haters here – who use the word “homosexual” as if it causes them physical pain even to say it – made it feel like 1965, or 1975, or even 1985. I can’t imagine what it was like for you when there was no friendly side, when there were no allies, when we were dying of ignorance. Thank you for finding some magical way to believe in yourselves and in the future.

To the kids: so many of us will do whatever we can, whenever we can, to make sure you find that person, that relative or friend or stranger on the internet, who will tell you that you are loved, you are worthy, you are awesome.

To my fellow activists: keep on. Hold tight. Rest and recharge and live to fight another day.

Rachel Crowl, Trailblazing Actress

I was, as you might imagine, super cautious about this piece even happening, but it was done with dignity and respect, and hey, I even get quoted as saying “all right, let’s see where this goes.”

Also important is that Rachel points out why most other trans women would not be willing to do this kind of work, and why she can and does.

Waking Up (Excerpt)

A new piece I’m pleased with for now:

I haven’t thought of that room, that apartment, that period in my life for a long time, but the other day for whatever reason Sinead O’Connor came up and I found myself watching the video for “Mandinka” and was so overwhelmed by how incredibly sad it made me not to be young anymore.

It’s been happening a lot. I don’t think I’m sad about getting older; that’s just what’s what and I’m honestly kind of pleased and surprised to still be alive at 50 having used up too many of the ‘god watches over fools and drunks’ passes allotted me. 

But my 20s were spectacular.

NCOD Thoughts

Photo by Quentin Washington / Nate Wolff and me outside City Hall under the pride flag.

The idea to celebrate National Coming Out Day came from a couple of places: the sense, first of all, that it was long overdue that this city, which is generally welcoming, make that apparent. I’ve been here for a decade and although there are always jerks – everywhere & not just here – the majority of people here have wanted to learn more about LGBTQ lives.

Plus there’s a lot of us here.

I’d just been in NYC in the week leading up to the 50th annviersary of Stonewall when the city, via an innocent interactive “What’s Your Question Wednesday” Facebook post, mentioned “Selfie Day” – a day of civic engagement nationwide, when people come take selfies next to City Hall. My friend Nate Wolff asked, “Why hasn’t Appleton ever done anything for pride?” and the answer we got was dismissive and condescending. I posted in response about the importance of pride as did quite a few others, and what became clear was that the person doing the communicating for the city and the mayor was not up to speed on the city’s policies or the mayor’s emphasis on creating a welcoming, inclusive city. The city had done things; we just hadn’t heard much about them.

So there were meetings with Mayor Hanna and with the city’s diversity coordinator, Karen Nelson, who promised they would do better for the next Pride month. But a lot of LGBTQ people were upset and wanted the communication guy’s job, to be honest, so I suggested that they maybe had to do something sooner. A lot of universities do things in October precisely because most schools are out in June, so I thought that might work. It would be a day, not even a month, and it would be a good trial run for the next Pride month.

I knew that SCOTUS would be hearing arguments about LGBTQ employment discrimination the same week and I figured we would either all be very, very worried or maybe feeling relieved, so it might be a good day for LGBTQ people to feel the support of local businesses and to celebrate ourselves.

It feels like we’ve reach Mach 1, broken the sound barrier. As I said, the city has long been affirming of LGBTQ rights: we have a great NDO that includes gender identity & expression, big employers like KC and Goodwill who employ LGBTQ people, and a few colleges and nearby cities that are affirming. What we didn’t have was visibility.

Do you have a flag? Eddie Izzard once asked, and it turns out, most businesses didn’t. So I told the city I’d fundraise the money to buy them; I’d fundraise to pay people to canvas businesses; I’d fundraise to pay someone to design a logo, and the rest is history.

It’s hard to explain how big a deal it was and how big a deal it really wasn’t. The impact was tremendous. The excitement and enthusiasm of local businesses and business owners was tangible. It took an unusual alignment of bad communication, timing, anger, and impatience. It took a diversity coordinator – an office of one – who very much wanted to do something, and a mayor who backed her.

It was a lot of work, a lot of administration, a lot of emails, a lot of willpower. I was lucky to have a co organizer who owns a car because I don’t.

It took, to no small degree, the loss of a former student who both me and Nate loved and respected tremendously. Zac Presberg’s memory is what kept our fire lit. We did it with him in mind every minute, and made sure we added voter registration to the work, in his honor. We both miss him, very much.

Walking from Lawrence to City Center on Friday afternoon was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced here. I’ve been here 10 years and I’d never seen a pride flag up anywhere other than the local gay bar; in Brooklyn, nearly every bar has a rainbow decal or flag up somewhere. And I’ve known so many students at LU who needed to see them, so many adults who needed to, so many young people. Too many. This area has lost far too many young people to suicide due to bullying; one of the first times I was called on to do some education for local leaders was because a young person had taken their own life.

Some days there is way too much pain and way too much loss and way too much worry about the future. I have been worrying about gay people since I was very very young and people only assumed I was queer because of my gender. I have been married to a trans woman for nearly two decades and in that time things have gotten better but lately they are getting worse – a lot worse, and too fast.

Activism can be lonely work. We’re not normal people. But I have had so many people in Appleton and elsewhere who have said the right thing at the right time or posted the right meme at the right minute. So walking down College Ave, the main drag in Appleton, to see shop after shop after shop with a flag up felt like a homecoming for this activist. Appleton has never quite felt like home to me, and New York always will be, but for those few minutes, walking down that avenue, remembering all the people who were excited to receive their flag and who asked if they could put it up early and if they could keep it so they could put it up in June made me realize that I am more of this place than I ever thought.

I’m guessing that other LGBTQ people felt the same way. In fact I know they did. Even some who aren’t here, the Appleton queer people who grew up here but left told me they were moved that their hometown had done this, finally. The person who watched a friend get gay bashed posted that her same friend would have been happy to see it. Former students told me. Older lesbians told me. It’s difficult to put into words how a simple gesture like a flag can suddenly make you realize that there are people who care, there are people who know how hard it is, there are people who don’t know but want to help however they can.

It’s not legislation. It’s not a cure. It’s not an end to the violence. But it is meaningful, and it is comforting. While I was walking that avenue with tears in my eyes it was perfect.

Thank you so much to so many people who helped, encouraged, volunteered, celebrated. Thank you to Tim Hanna and Karen Nelson, of course. But Nate Wolff (Team HellWolf is now a thing), Kathy Flores, Nick Ross, Vered Meltzer, Reiko Ramos, Nik Shier, Cory Chisel & Ade Denae, the good folks at Rainbow Over Wisconsin and their board, & everyone who donated time or money or just sheer fucking enthusiasm: it was so easy to ask and so hard to imagine but here we are, through the sound barrier, and now we figure out what next.

Love to you, Appleton, and your shitty cold weather and warmer hearts: you did good.