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  • Glenda Russell

Creating Culture in the LGBTQ+ Community

Guest post by Glenda Russell, LGBTQ+ historian and member of Rocky Mountain Equality’s Advocacy and Public Policy Committee.


The countdown has begun. We'll be having a presidential election in less than a year. That can be more than a bit daunting. It's important to avoid taking the polls too seriously at this point as there's a lot that will happen between now and Election Day. Some of what happens between now and then is out of our control. But some is definitely within our control.


It's easy to focus exclusively on the polls and campaign slogans and all of that. We do that at our peril. One of our most useful tools depends on no one outside of us and our community. It's the very culture we created and keep creating as queer and trans people. Building culture does not depend on fighting anyone or anything. It's about using our own connections and creativity to uncover and work to dismantle oppression. We build culture to generate new understandings, build mutual support, envision new possibilities, and — yes — have fun.


Fortunately, trans and queer people have always been exceptionally good at building culture. I can't help but recall the old (you can tell by her language) quote by queer photographer Annie Leibovitz: "If you removed all of the homosexuals and homosexual influence from what is generally regarded as American culture, you would pretty much be left with Let's Make a Deal."


Take a quick look at queer history in the Boulder area and you can see the truth underlying Leibovitz's admittedly hyperbolic observation. Out of many, many possibilities, here are just a few nuggets from our history.


In 1976, the United States was celebrating its bicentennial. The country was caught up in a year-long celebration. A group of Boulder women of many sexual orientations decided they needed to remind everyone not to ignore problems in the country. The women wore jeans and work shirts, and each donned a sandwich-board sign with front-and-back messages about specific marginalized groups in the country. They silently marched through picnics or stood as silent sentries as people left celebratory gatherings. The point was neither shame nor confrontation but rather a fuller picture of what the bicentennial meant to people in this country.


Members of that same group staged a humorous reaction to the 1986 U.S. Supreme Court's Bowers v. Hardwick decision, which upheld Georgia's statute outlawing sodomy. They became the Sodomy Patrol, descending on the Pearl Street Mall in T-shirts bearing that name. Armed with binoculars, they were on the lookout for people who might have engaged in such acts. "Have you seen anyone engaged in sodomy?" they inquired of passersby. Many pedestrians understood that the point of the question was to satirize the Supreme Court's decision to allow the government to invade people's private spaces and personal lives. Humor can be a potent political weapon. 


For well over a decade, members of the queer/trans community and allies exploited the power of surprise to remind bar-goers in Boulder of the need for practicing safer sex. Dressed in green vests and sometimes wearing condom hats, they appeared at bars and on cars at intersections, handing out free condoms along with instructions for their use. Most people responded positively to the surprise gifts.


Sometimes, we lead with other emotions in cultural activism. In 2004, amid the years-long conflict on marriage equality and on the first day Massachusetts issued licenses to same-sex couples in that state, 28 same-sex couples showed up at the Boulder County clerk's office requesting marriage licenses. They were turned away, as they knew they would be. Nonetheless, their actions demonstrated the power of all kinds of love. It also gave the county clerk, Linda Salas, the opportunity to say she would prefer to issue the licenses, but Colorado law prevented her from doing so.


Creating culture is not just something we did in days gone by. We're still doing it. This year's Boulder County AIDS Project (BCAP) champagne breakfast had Mrs. Eda Bagel as its emcee. Mrs. Eda Bagel entertained the breakfast-goers with a variety of ever-so-charming sartorial changes, a wonderful array of jokes from the silly to the subtle, and pitches to bid on BCAP's silent auction. But you've perhaps seen Mrs. Eda Bagel before. She has spent untold hours helping raise the spirits of queer-and-otherwise audiences at such events. In the process, she has helped to raise more than $2.5 million for a variety of nonprofits.


Laughter reigned at another recent LGBTQ+ event, this one hosted by Rocky Mountain Equality. The Colorado Queer Comedy Festival was a two-night event featuring local and out-of-town stand-up comics. The festival was more than just fun. As quoted in the Longmont Leader, Ren Dawe, the festival organizer, made this astute observation:  "Being out and proud — on a microphone, nonetheless — is a direct act of resistance to attitudes and policies that try to prohibit or extinguish queer and trans existence. The work is important, it's necessary, and it just so happens to bring joy and education to our community. Queer comedy is its own form of activism."


Creating culture is going to be fundamentally important to our community during the coming year as we encounter anti-LGBTQ+ politics and gear up for a presidential election. Creating culture is good for our bodies and our minds. It's good for individuals and the collective. It's serious and it's fun. Join in every chance you get.

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