“Washington, D.C. – President Barack Obama declared to the nation today that “in the face of hatred, we will love one another,” claiming solidarity with the people of Orlando and especially the LGBT community.
The President, speaking from the White House Press Room, said, in part:
“This is an especially heartbreaking day for all our friends — our fellow Americans — who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live. The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub — it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.
So this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American — regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation — is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country. And no act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans.”
The President also alluded to the type of firearms used by the attacker, Omar Mateen, whom the President called “a person filled with hatred.” With the mass shootings of Sandy Hook, Aurora, Colorado, and a Sikh Temple in the background of his remarks, he said:
“Today marks the most deadly shooting in American history. The shooter was apparently armed with a handgun and a powerful assault rifle. This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.”
Further, the President pledged the full power and authority of the United States government as this investigation proceeds. He ordered that flags be flown at half-staff in honor of the dead in Orlando, and as an act of national mourning.
Washington, D.C. – The long-awaited Harvey Milk commemorative postage stamp is now a reality, according to Linn’s Stamp News. A black-and-white photo image of Harvey Milk will be the central feature of this non-denominated U.S. Postage “Forever” Stamp. The stamp design includes the colors of the Rainbow Flag in six differently colored squares stacked vertically in the upper left corner. First day of issue is planned to be May 22, 2014, Harvey Milk Day, to celebrate the San Francisco gay politician, activist, and city supervisor. Cities likely to be chosen as first issue sites are Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, California.
Milk, who is recognized throughout the world as a hero and martyr of the LGBTQ and human rights struggle, was a U.S. Navy veteran, and one of the earliest openly gay elected officials in the United States, winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of City Supervisors in 1977. Though gay rights was a major emphasis of his political career, Milk also championed affordable housing, city sanitation, expanded child care, and public transportation. He was shot to death in his City Hall office on November 27, 1978 by Dan White, his one-time colleague who blamed his actions on momentary insanity and disorientation from eating too many sugary desserts. White also shot and killed San Francisco Mayor George Moscone the same day. The appearance of this commemorative stamp marks the first time a gay hate crimes murder victim has been publicly honored in this way.
EDGE on the Net reports that The stamp, likely to be issued in a pane of 20, will be used to mail a one-ounce letter regardless of when the stamp is purchased or used and no matter how future prices fluctuate. The current value of the stamp is 49 cents.
According to SF Gate, the U.S. Postal Service selects only 20 persons per year to be honored with a commemorative stamp, out of the thousands nominated by people all over the globe, and vetted by a citizens’ advisory committee. Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle in October 2013 at the announcement of the Postal Service’s decision to develop and issue the stamp, Milk’s nephew and co-founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation, Stuart Milk said, “We’re excited. We think this will represent my uncle’s message, which is hope and courage and authenticity, very well.”
Washington, D.C. – Richard Blanco delivered his poem at the Second Inaugural Swearing-in Ceremony of President Barack Obama on the threshold of a new era for the descendants of the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. Gay people make a great stride forward today with our poet leading the way: the youngest Inaugural Poet in the nation’s history, a Cuban-American, and an openly gay man. With this groundbreaking cultural and literary event, Richard Blanco, at the behest of President Obama, has inaugurated a new dignity and impetus for LGBTQ Americans, and ushers us along the path to becoming a People: diverse, empowered, graced, and maturing into the full equality of national citizenship. This is one step in a long journey, and no one must be fooled into a sense of ease or rest on a bed of laurels. But nonetheless we have lived to hear the voice of Our People ring out openly and unhindered across the great mall of the National City, and we have every right and reason to be proud. Gracias, querido Richard! Muchísimas gracias!
Here is the poem in its entirety (video of Blanco’s delivery of the poem available here):
Washington, D.C. – The 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee has announced that poet Richard Blanco is President Obama’s choice for his Second Inauguration–a gay of Cuban extraction who was shamed by his own family for being gay. In one historic move, President Obama has chosen the first gay man, the first Latino, and the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. According to Huffington Post, Blanco will recite a poem at the presidential swearing-in ceremony on the U.S. Capitol steps on January 21.
“I’m beside myself, bestowed with this great honor, brimming over with excitement, awe, and gratitude,” Blanco responded to the announcement. “In many ways, this is the very ‘stuff’ of the American Dream, which underlies so much of my work and my life’s story—America’s story, really. I am thrilled by the thought of coming together during this great occasion to celebrate our country and its people through the power of poetry.”
Blanco is the son of Cuban exiles who fled to Madrid, where he was born. The family moved first to New York City, but then settled eventually in Miami, where Blanco was reared and educated. He now lives in Bethel, Maine with his life partner. Politico tells the story of the price he paid as a gay person in Latino culture–even in his own family. Cross currents of cultural identity–Cuban-American and gay–threatened to sweep him into depression or worse. Politico highlights Blanco’s essay, “Afternoons with Endora,” that appeared in the 2009 anthology, “My Diva: 65 Gay Men on the Women Who Inspire Them,” where Blanco describes himself as “a boy who hated being a boy.” As a child, Blanco says he retreated from playing sports to his notebooks, writing and drawing; that he much preferred women’s Tupperware Parties to Clint Eastwood movies.
His grandmother lashed out at Blanco for being gay, calling her own grandson “the shame of the family,” and “little faggot.”
“According to her,” Blanco wrote, “I was a no-good sissy — un mariconcito — the queer shame of the family. And she let me know it all the time: ‘Why don’t we just sign you up for ballet lessons? Everyone thinks you’re a girl on the phone — can’t you talk like a man? I’d rather have a granddaughter who’s a whore than a grandson who is a faggot like you.’”
“Her constant attacks made me an extremely self-conscious and quiet child,” Blanco wrote of his grandmother. “But it also made me a keen observer of the world around me, because my interior world was far too painful. This inadvertently led me to become a writer, a recorder of images and details.” Seeking refuge from his family’s harsh, anti-gay nagging, young Blanco would secretly dress up in his own room as Endora, the magical character from the hit television show Bewitched, and pretend he lived in a world without queer shame. “I wanted to be as powerful as [Endora], and for a little while every afternoon I was,” he wrote. “I could conjure up thunderstorms so I wouldn’t have to go to baseball practice…I could concoct love potions that would make me like girls instead of boys and make my grandmother love me.”
It is a testimony to Blanco’s strength of character and web of supportive friends that he rose above queer shame to become one of the premier poets of this era, a rise that caught the attention of President Barack Obama. The President said, “I’m honored that Richard Blanco will join me and Vice President Biden at our second Inaugural. His contributions to the fields of poetry and the arts have already paved a path forward for future generations of writers. Richard’s writing will be wonderfully fitting for an Inaugural that will celebrate the strength of the American people and our nation’s great diversity.”
Achy Obejas, a commentator for WBEZ.org, reflects on the significance of Blanco’s selection as Inaugural Poet, and upon his reasons for crying for joy when he heard of the pick: “The President of the United States, the most powerful man on earth, has chosen a guy you know — a fag, a cubiche who likes to joke that he was made in the U.S. with Cuban parts, with whom you codeswitch about Miyami and lechón and our mamis — to consecrate this moment in history with his — our — words.
“And you nod and grin through your stupid tears because you know — you really know — that damn arch really does bend, it really does indeed point to a shinier day.”
Blanco has had a distinguished teaching career at Georgetown, American, and Central Connecticut State universities. His award-winning books of poetry include City of a Hundred Fires, which won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh, and Directions to The Beach of the Dead, which won the PEN American Center Beyond Margins Award.
When Richard Blanco mounts the podium on Inauguration Day with the whole world watching, they will see a cubiche, no longer un mariconcito–but a spokesperson for all LGBTQ people whose longings are rising above the challenges of discrimination to the heights of full citizenship. “Felicidades, querido Richard,” indeed!
Washington, D.C. – Yelling anti-gay slurs, a U.S. Marine stabbed another Marine to death after seeing him embrace his male friend outside a popular Barracks Row pub in the nation’s capital. The Washington Post reports that Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Liebman confirmed that his office is proceeding with anti-gay hate crime charges against Michael Poth, 20, who stabbed Lance Corporal Philip M. Bushong, 23, on April 21. “This was a hate crime,” Liebman said. “The victim and his friend were embracing outside.” The Post goes on to say that a DC Metro Police homicide detective reported that the crime took place because Poth believed the two men hugging were both gay. In fact, while his friend is out and gay, Bushong was heterosexual.
The story confirms what hate crimes activists have seen time and again in fatalities like this: even the assumption that a person is gay or lesbian can be deadly.
Video surveillance of the area shows Bushong lifting his shirt after the attack with a startled look on his face, and then collapsing to the pavement. His assailant had stabbed him once in the chest with a pocket knife. When Poth heard that Bushong had been transported to a hospital to deal with the stab wound, he was heard shouting, “Good! I hope he dies!” Prior to the attack, Poth was heard threatening the two men he saw socializing outside the pub, “I’m going to stab someone and cut their lungs out.” Poth, who had already received a “less-than-honorable discharge” from the Marines according to court testimony, had been under investigation by the Marine Corps since last November for altercations with other Marines, and for drug offenses.
Poth has been charged with second degree murder. His attorney, who claims his client was defending himself from Bushong, unsuccessfully attempted to get the charge lowered to manslaughter. In the altercation, Bushong was heard calling Poth a “boot,” which in Marine slang suggests that Poth was a substandard soldier.