HOUSTON VOICE • DECEMBER 31, 1999
VOICES AND ECHOES
Only baby steps forward for lesbians in 1999
by JENNIFER VANASCO
The last year of the
decade wasn't a banner
one for lesbians and bisexual women. It came with no major breakthroughs-no lesbians declaring a run for
the presidency, no laws passed that
would unambiguously make our lives
easier, no major public figure coming out
and changing the world.
Yet change is often brought about in
small ways, and this year highlighted
many individual women and organizations slowly pushing the lives of lesbians
and bisexual women forward-or backwards, as in the case of Donna Brazile.
Academy-Award winning documentary producer Debra Chasnoff crossed a
major hurdle this year. Her 1996 documentary "It's Elementary: Talking About
Gay Issues in Schools," was aired on 100
of the 347 total PBS stations nationwide,
despite demonstrations and a write-in
campaign from opposition groups.
"It's Elementary" has also been distributed to 2,000 educational institutions
and, thanks to a $10,000 grant from tennis
legend Billie Jean King, was made available to every principal in the Chicago
public school system.
NOW Lesbian Rights Summit
Eleven years after the last one, NOW
hosted a Lesbian Rights Summit in
Washington, D.C. Speakers included
Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin,
Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the
Human Rights Campaign, NOW
President Patricia Ireland and Urvashi
Vaid of the National Gay & Lesbian Task
Force. Though the April gathering
garnered little press coverage, the
conference reminds us all that lesbians
gather to talk about our rights all
Lesbian Herstory Archives
One of our community's best sources
of history, the Lesbian Herstory
Archives, based in Brooklyn, N.Y., celebrated its 25th anniversary in October.
What began with an armful of books
from the personal collection of Joan
Nestle and Deborah Edel has grown to
20,000 books, 12,000 photographs, miles
of film and video footage and hundreds
of artifacts. There's no better place to
soak in the weight of our history.
Battles over parental rights were
fought on several fronts this year. In the
case of J.A.L. vs. E.P.H., a Pennsylvania
lesbian sued the birth-mother of their
child for visitation rights-and lost. The
family court judge, Allan L. Tereshko,
said his ruling was not anti-gay, but
based on the limited amount of full-time
parenting J.A.L. had done.
This was different from a Colorado
ruling, in which the court ordered Kelly
Cunningham and Leanne Bueker to split
custody of their 9-year-old daughter,
even though they now reside in
separate states. The non-biological mom
in a New Jersey divorcing lesbian couple, meanwhile, won visitation rights
but not joint custody.
In Boulder, Colo., a judge was the first
to give lesbians full rights over their
children when he awarded full parental
rights to both members of a lesbian
couple, including the right to both
be named on the birth certificate,
even though one had no biological ties
to the child.
And, in a move that affected both gay
male and lesbian parents. New Hampshire lifted that state's anti-gay adoption
ban, leaving only Florida with a law prohibiting gay adoption. But then Utah and
Arkansas went the opposite way, adopting a policy to ban unmarried couples
from providing foster care.
After a long, four-year wait, our
favorite lesbian rocker Melissa Etheridge
released a new album, "Breakdown,"
which features a heart-wrenching song
called "Scarecrow" about the hate murder of Matthew Shepard. Etheridge is
more than a musical role model; her
long-term relationship with Julie Cypher
and her commitment to her two sons
make her a light within our community.
formerly on the
board of the
March and chosen in October
as Al Gore's
campaign manager, has continually sidestepped the
issue of whether she is a lesbian or
bisexual. "If I had a personal life,
I'd have a sexual orientation," she told
the Washington Post. Gore seems proud
of the fact that she's an African-
American, so why shouldn't he be highlighting her (presumably gay) sexual orientation, too? We can only hope that
Brazile's silence is not used as the model
for lesbian political appointees of the
World Cup Soccer
Women's sports had never seen anything like the hoopla surrounding the
U.S. women's World Cup champions.
More than 650,000 people attended the
32 games, according to Sports Illustrated
for Women, making the tournament
the largest women's sporting event
All the attention, though, brought lesbians some internal conflict. Sure, the
women on the team weren't being dismissed as "dykes," as so many female
athletes have been in the past. But was it
worth it, when they were sold as "babes"
or "soccer mammas" instead?
"Life Versus the Paperback Romance,"
by 17-year-old lesbian Samantha Geller,
was selected as one of the five best plays
submitted for the Charlotte Young
Playwrights Festival. What a shock it
must have been to Geller, then, when
her play was banned from production by
the North Carolina festival due to "inappropriate" lesbian content—a kiss, as it
Happily, the Great Aunt Stella Center
staged the production. Geller's experience serves as a reminder that even in
more "liberal" fields like theater, we still
can be silenced.
On a more hopeful note, we can be
proud that a 17-year-old lesbian would
feel enough self-confidence to write a
play about lesbians for a state contest. If
any event this year showed we should
have faith in the future, this was it.
Jennifer Vanasco is a Chicago-based
freelance writer and can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or in care of
Transphobic code speak
To the Editor:
Michael Alvear is fooling no one ("Log
Cabin Republicans play the civil rights
doormat," Dec. 17). "Perpetual victimhood
over incremental victory" is just more code
speak for transphobia by a known trans-
phobe. Alvear needs to go join Log Cabin
Republicans—he has more in common with
them than he thinks.
To the Editor:
I read the article on the arrest of so many
gay men in the parks in San Antonio
("Weapon of Homophobia?" Dec. 17). and
thought it was an insult to the general gay
population. My first thought was,"Give me
a break." Every time a gay man does some
thing that he shouldn't and gets into trouble,
there is an outcry of injustice. Please.
There are places that gay men can go to if
they want to exhibit that kind of behavior. But
that place is not in a public park, where children and families are present. Take it someplace else guys.
To the Editor:
Michael Alvear's column was based on the
premise that the Georgia Log Cabin
Republicans are unprincipled ("Log Cabin
Republicans play the civil rights doormat,"
Dec. 17). This is totally unfounded. We do
hold Republican candidates, elected and party
officials, accountable on the gay issues
our members support and have done so
repeatedly, publicly. First we seek to educate
them, privately. Where we cannot agree,
Georgia LCR states so for the record.
We are neither apologists nor cheerleaders
for the GOP, but we are a partisan political
group. Our role and approach are different
from a community activist organization.
What Alvear apparently fails to realize is
that our agenda is not that of the gay left, of
other state or local LCR clubs, nor even of the
LCR national office. Generally, Republicans
choose the rights of individuals over the rights
of groups. We will not be coerced by anyone
to take positions deemed correct by the collective gay community. It is a diverse community, even in political matters.
Finally, Alvear's characterization of the
September fund-raiser chaired by me for Gov.
George W. Bush's presidential campaign and
attended by Senator Paul Coverdell, a national co-chairman of Bush's campaign, as a Log
Cabin event is also wrong. No more than five
of the 80-plus attendees are now or ever have
been LCR members. This event was held prior
to George W. Bush's foolishness regarding
gays and LCR. He is wrong now to say that
he will not appoint openly gay people to
his administration and wrong not to meet
log Cabin Republicans Georgia
Let us know what you think
Send the editor your letters (400 words maximum)
or op-ed submissions (800 words maximum).
Names may be withheld upon request, but submissions
must include a name and phone number for verification.
Houston Voice, 500 Lovett, Suite 200,
Houston, TX 77006
fax: 713-529-9531 • e-mail: email@example.com