The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson — My Latest for Splice Today

There would be no LGBTQ movement without Marsha P. Johnson. Together with Sylvia Rivera, she fought against the cops during the Stonewall riot, founded the Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries (STAR) to keep trans people off the streets, and was a prominent AIDS activist. The NYPD ruled her 1992 death as a suicide, but everyone who knew her suspected she was murdered. Her case was never solved, but fellow trans activist Victoria Cruz investigated it herself in the 2017 Netflix documentary The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson.

Directed by David France, the film opens with archival footage of the memorial walk for Johnson down Christopher St. in New York City shortly after her body was found in the Hudson River, and then switches to the present day where Cruz and several other activists with the Anti-Violence Project (AVP) discuss the death of 21-year-old Brooklyn trans woman Islan Nettles. Cruz is about to retire after working with the AVP since 1997, but not until she finds out what happened to Johnson first. The film follows Cruz as she talks to Johnson’s siblings, her former roommate Randy Wicker, several other LGBTQ activists who knew Johnson, and retired detectives gathering whatever information she can get ahold of that would provide some closure.

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I Wish I Had Learned LGBTQ History In School — My Latest for HuffPost

Growing up, I was fortunate to learn about the rich history of men and women who made a difference in the world throughout the centuries. My school made sure to teach us about extraordinary women like Sally Ride, Florence Nightingale and Eleanor Roosevelt. I lived in Prince George’s County, a predominantly black area of Maryland, so I was lucky to learn about inspiring figures like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Sojourner Truth and more in my formative years.

Unfortunately in the 1990s, when I grew up, American society was just starting to get the message that being gay was OK, so none of my teachers acknowledged LGBTQ history. It wasn’t until I was 16 years old, working part time at a public library and doing my own research that I found out writers like Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman and James Baldwin were gay. I had learned much about them in my English classes, but I guess my teachers decided to skip that detail.

LGBTQ people have existed throughout history and made tremendous contributions to American culture, yet no one talked about them in school, and there were hardly any books available highlighting the brave queer and trans people who paved the way for the rest of us. If I had known about them, I might not have suffered through years of alienation, confusion and self-hatred. I would have learned to love and embrace my true self sooner.

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Will the Blue Wave Hit Maryland? — My Latest for Splice Today

The only good thing that’s come from the Trump administration is that progressives are inspired to get more involved in politics. From Indivisible groups to progressives running for office, many on the left sense a “blue wave” will sweep across the nation in this year’s elections, and take back both the Senate and House from the current Republican majority. Maryland is generally a blue state, but given that Republicans Gov. Larry Hogan and 1st District Rep. Andy Harris both have the fate of their respective seats in the hands of voters this November, many wonder if the blue wave will hit Maryland next.

Both Hogan and Harris have plenty of competition. Six Democrats hope to replace Harris’ seat in Congress: Michael Brown, Jesse Colvin, Allison Galbraith, Erik Lane, Michael Pullen, and Steve Worton. Galbraith was the first to announce her candidacy after the presidential election. As a single mother who also owns a small business, she finally got the chance to meet him and talk about his vocal opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). When she asked Harris whether or not he’s opposed to rising health care costs for women, he replied, “I don’t think most people would mind if women paid a little more for health insurance.” Healthcare is a major focus in Galbraith’s campaign.

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Why There’s No Straight Pride Month — My Latest for Splice Today

It’s Pride Month. A time to celebrate all things queer and trans, remember those who lost their lives in the struggle for human rights, and explain—again—to straight people why there’s no Straight Pride Month. This false equivalency boils down to the common misconception that LGBTQ people like myself are celebrating something we didn’t achieve through hard work, like being born with a certain sexual orientation or gender identity. What people fail to realize is we’re celebrating something we achieved: all the accomplishments the LGBTQ rights movement has made so far, and that we choose to love ourselves in the face of bigotry.

It’s not as though there is any shortage of current anti-LGBTQ bigotry. President Trump signed a religious freedom executive order last month that would, according to him, “help ensure that faith-based organizations have equal access to government funding and equal right to exercise their deeply held beliefs.” Not only does it hurt church/state separation, but usually “right to exercise deeply/sincerely held religious beliefs” is code for “make it legal to deny services to LGBTQ people.” Case in point, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin recently signed such a bill into law that would permit faith-based adoption agencies to turn down same-sex couples seeking to adopt children, even though there’s no evidence that same-sex couples can’t be good parents.

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ContraPoints is the Hero We Need — My Latest for Splice Today

In a world where YouTube has been taken over by the Alt-Right and classical liberals who accuse everyone who disagrees with them of being postmodern neo-Marxists, one transgender woman rises above to bring reason and nuance to the marketplace of ideas.

ContraPoints, a YouTuber based in Baltimore, currently has over 110,000 subscribers and criticizes both the Intellectual Dark Web and modern-day Marxists. A former philosophy professor, Contra (real name Natalie Parrott) has a ability to dissect topics such as racism, cultural appropriation, capitalism, free speech, and Jordan Peterson with the perfect balance of humor and reason. Even Kinda Funny co-founder and outspoken libertarian Colin Moriarty gave her a mention on a recent episode of The Rubin Report.

Her latest video takes a critical look at Peterson’s claims, especially his “postmodern neo-Marxism is everywhere and ruining everything” line. She first explains the difference between modernism (using the Scientific Method to figure out everything, from the natural world to politics) and postmodernism (skepticism about being absolutely certain about everything), and then explains that technically Marxism is a metanarrative most postmodernists reject. As far as Peterson’s definition of postmodern neo-Marxism, Contra says it’s a nonsensical umbrella term for everything about the Left he doesn’t like. She points out that Marxists and identity politics activists tend to hate each other. I’ve seen many fights on Facebook about this.

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Even Humanists Can Be Racist — My Latest for Splice Today

Last week, a white Yale student named Sarah Braasch called the police on black student Lolade Siyonbola for falling asleep in the student dorm common room. Siyonbola broadcasted the entire incident live on Facebook, and the story quickly went viral. Reporters immediately started looking into Braasch’s background, and found something disturbing: although she’s a humanist, she has a history of racial insensitivity.

In 2010, Braasch wrote an article for The Humanist about how she was assigned to defend slavery for a middle school debate, and won after bringing up the fact that some slaves didn’t know what to do after being freed. “[I]n the land of the free,” she argued, “who are we to tell people that they can’t be slaves if they want to be? Who are we to tell someone that she has to be free? Who are we to tell someone that she has to be regarded as fully human? It doesn’t matter that the alternative to slavery, which would mean walking away from everything one had ever known to recreate life anew without any resources, was regarded as healthier and more dignified. It was still the individual’s choice to make.”

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Blasphemy Laws for Puny Gods — My Latest for Splice Today

Even though I’m pro-free speech, I don’t talk about it at campus debates for two reasons. The first is that it’s repetitive (although I do like Amanda Marcotte’s solution), and the second is that historically those with the most power and authority have always been the bigger threats to free speech. This is especially true in the Middle East where freethinkers are routinely executed under Islamic theocracies for blasphemy. For example, I recently came across the story of Ahmad Al-Shamri of Saudi Arabia who was sentenced to death in 2015 for expressing his criticisms of Islam on social media. According to the International Business Times, Al-Shamri pled insanity during his initial hearing, claiming that he was drunk and stoned at the time. Last year, Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court overruled his appeal.

I’d assume that an all-powerful god like Allah could handle criticism, but I guess not since many of his followers feel they need to kill everyone who hurts his feelings. In the words of the Incredible Hulk, “Puny god.”

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China’s Crackdown on LGBTQ Rights — My Latest for Splice Today

The debate about social justice and free speech in the United States burns on. Some argue that asking for more diverse representation is “identity politics,” while I argue that identity diversity often equals idea diversity. I recently came across a news story where social justice and free speech go hand-in-hand.

According to Brendon Hong of The Daily Beast, last week Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo reversed its decision to ban the hashtag #IAmGay from its site after worldwide condemnation. The hashtag ban was part of Sina Weibo’s plan to remove “illegal content” from the site, which included “videos with pornographic implications, promoting violence or (related to) homosexuality.” LGBTQ people and allies in China responded to the ban by using the hashtag even more, until finally Sina Weibo realized this was a battle they couldn’t win. What’s interesting to note is that, according to Hong, while China never outright outlawed homosexuality (except from 1979 to 1997 when it was “indirectly criminalized” under a law that lumped together with sexual assault), the existence of LGBTQ people is still virtually erased throughout the nation.

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Learning to Love Tommy — My Latest for Splice Today

I was 10 when I first discovered The Who’s Tommy. I rented the cassette tape of the 1975 movie soundtrack, and fell in love with the story of the deaf, dumb, and blind boy who could play a mean pinball. Four years later I watched the movie, and hated it. It was over-the-top and confusing. Luckily I bought the original 1969 Who album shortly after, which washed the awful taste of the movie out of my mouth. It’s still one of my all-time favorite albums.

Now almost 35, I’ve grown to appreciate director Ken Russell’s cinematic interpretation of Tommy. Not only did he bring Pete Townshend’s vision to life, but also added his own interpretation to the story. Tommy tells the story of a boy who becomes psychosomatically deaf, mute, and blind after watching his father kill his mother’s lover. He experiences the outside world through vibrations, and his parents subject him to the abuse of his Cousin Kevin, Uncle Ernie, and the Acid Queen. Despite his disability, Tommy becomes a pinball champion, and when he finally regains his senses he’s hailed as the new messiah. Unfortunately, he abuses his power, his followers disown him, and the story ends with Tommy realizing true enlightenment comes from within.

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When Monsters Invade Your Happy Place — My Latest for Splice Today

CW: Sexual abuse

When I was a child, I collected various pop culture icons to create an alternate reality for myself called the Happy Place. It was somewhere I could go whenever the real world became too much, which was frequent. Where the Wild Things AreThe Dark Crystal, Nirvana, The Beatles, TommySuper Mario Bros., The Maxx, and The Legend of Zelda were all pieces of media I used to build a fantasy world that made more sense than the real world.

I pretended I was in Hyrule fighting monsters in order to save the princess. I imagined I was in the Pac-Man maze walking through the halls of school on my way to class. I sat on the couch with my Ren and Stimpy plush dolls and pretended I was watching The Muddy Mudskipper Show with them. Living in the Happy Place was the only way I could make it through my grandmother’s violent temper and the kids bullying me daily at school.

As I got older, I realized many of the people who created the works that went into my Happy Place were extremely problematic. John Lennon was abusive to his first wife and eldest son. David Bowie had sex with a thirteen-year-old girl. More recently, I found out the creator of Ren and Stimpy, John Kricfalusi, is an alleged sexual predator.

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