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.
(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.
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.
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.)
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
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.
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.
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.
National Coming Out Day is celebrated annually on October 11th. This year, Nate Wolff and me and the City of Appleton decided to celebrate it in a big way because our community is feeling hurt and under attack. Deaths of trans women are epidemic, youth suicides are on the rise, and this week, the Supreme Court of the US is deciding on cases that could change our right to be who we are, to have a job, to exist with dignity.
Traditionally, National Coming Out Day is when LGBTQ+ people who are out already think about what it took to tell people they are LGBTQ+ and what it means to live their lives out of the closet. But more importantly, it’s a day for all the people who aren’t out, the invisible members of the LGBTQ+ community.
When you put up a pride flag, for National Coming Out Day or
in June for Pride Month, the most important message you are sending isn’t
necessarily to the adults who are out and have been out. It’s for:
the gay men who work in education who still face
religious people who know they would not be
welcome in their place of worship as themselves.
working class and poor people who can’t afford
to be out due to the risk of unemployment and housing discrimination.
parents who don’t want to be judged unfit
because of their own orientation.
transitioned trans people who are accepted as
the gender they are and who don’t want to be considered less of a man or a
woman because of how they were designated at birth.
those who are most marginalized by other aspects
of identity such as race and who face greater risks of violence and
people who don’t identify strongly ‘enough’ in
any identity to come out in one.
people who worry their families won’t accept
them, who worry about losing lifelong friends.
people who are in a heterosexual marriage or
relationship who don’t want to hurt the person they are with and are raising
trans people who can’t be out in the military.
people who don’t want to disappoint their
parents and families, no matter their age.
new immigrants who don’t want to lose the only
people in their community who share their culture and speak their language.
parents with adult children who adore them and
who they’re afraid of letting down.
people who use different pronouns at work than
they do in their private lives.
people sleeping in shelters terrified to lose a
place to sleep.
couples who never feel safe holding holds in
anyone whose access to medical services or
mental health care might be hindered.
those who are financially dependent on someone
But most importantly, your visible pride flag is for the
young people who are LGBTQ+, who can’t come out, or be out, because they have
so little autonomy in their lives, who don’t get to choose who their parents
are or what their religion is or even where they go to school. It’s for the
young people who are bullied because they are different and no one at their
school is helping. It’s for the young people who worry about disappointing
their mom or dad or grandma or uncle, who think it’s impossible to live a
happy, productive life as an LGBTQ+ person, or who believe there is something
wrong, or evil, about them because of who they are or who they love.
So often events like this feature the people who are out –
who are organizers, activists, small business owners: the people who have
already navigated coming out and being out and have found some happiness or
success in life. But this event is not about us and never has been. We come out
in order to tell our young people that they can be loved, feel safe, have a
job, be successful, have families. We come out so they know their elders are
out here loving them even when we don’t know who they are yet. We come out so
they know we’re here and that someone cares about them living their lives to
their fullest potential. We come out so that those young people live to be
adults because too many of them don’t.
We come out because we can and we know others who can’t,
won’t, shouldn’t – yet, or maybe ever.
That’s why you put up a rainbow: it is a promise to all the
invisible LGBTQ+ people that you understand they exist, that their lives are
not easy, and that they are loved and valued and celebrated.
My friend Rachel See of NCTE was in the courtroom today and wrote this compelling observation about what it was like.:
I don’t think I’ll be able to forget the look I saw from the bench. Near the start of the first case, Justice Kavanaugh looked up from whatever he was reading and seemed to stare straight at me. Straight through me. I met his gaze for a few moments, and then I realized that Aimee Stephens was sitting immediately behind me.
I don’t know what was running through Justice Kavanaugh’s mind. He asked a single question this morning, about whether the statute used the literal or the ordinary meaning of the word “sex”. I feel incapable of reading those tea leaves.
But in those few lingering moments, feeling his gaze upon me, I felt literally judged, as a trans woman, by a man in a position to affect the lives of me and my family and friends and the 1.4 million trans adults in America. A man with the power to declare, as Justice Sotomayor suggests the Court should say, that “invidious discrimination” against LGBT people must stop now, and that courts can and should use the broad language of Title VII to do so. But also a man with the power to declare, as our adversaries would have him say, that sex assigned at birth is destiny, and that an employer can dictate where you pee. And, by extension, someone with the power to declare that “invidious discrimination” against LGBT people will be permitted by the law, and even be encouraged in the name of “religious freedom”.
It is the most-uncomfortable I’ve ever felt in a courtroom. My heart goes out to Aimee Stephens, who felt the true focus of that gaze and the scrutiny of the Court and the media and all the vile hatred that we see on Twitter and “in the comments”. Aimee looked so tired this afternoon; who wouldn’t be tired, under all that scrutiny? I can’t imagine what she’s been through these past months, and I am in awe at her quiet strength and perseverance.
For all the discomfort I felt from Justice Kavanaugh’s scrutiny, the message I want to deliver to my trans and nonbinary friends is that you are seen by people who love you. You are seen by people who look upon you with friendship, with compassion, with love. By your chosen family, by allies, by people who will fight for all of us. In a few months we may very well lose at the Supreme Court; win or lose on these cases, the fight will continue. And we will not be alone, because we exist. We are seen. We are loved.