COMMUNITY NEWS Volume 1, Number 5 February 1994
A Newsletter for the lesbian, bisexual, and gay community and supporters at Columbia University and Affiliates
AIDS AT COLUMBIA: WAR AND REMEMBRANCE
There are frequent reminders that AIDS has touched many lives within our community at Columbia--and continues to do so. But several responses to the pandemic are also evident, from research underway within the medical school to the information, counseling, and support groups offered by the Columbia Gay Health Advocacy Project (GHAP). In keeping with its mission to arm us with knowledge as we wage this war against the AIDS pandemic, GHAP, along with the Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC), will sponsor a community discussion: "Oral Sex and Possible HIV Transmission." The discussion, which takes place on Sunday, February 6, from 2 to 5 pm in Miller Theater (Broadway and 116th St.), will feature prominent HIV experts. Like it or not, many of us are fast becoming more "expert" than we ever imagined. As Conor Kennedy recently noted: "The sense of emptiness I, a 19-year-old, feel as I scan the obituaries is something no teen-ager, no 20, 30 and 40-something should have to endure. People aren't supposed to die before they've graduated from college, before they've found a lover, before their first mid-life crisis." Kennedy was one of several speakers at a memorial service held on the eve of World AIDS Day. Rabbi Michael Paley, the director of the Earl Hall Center, spoke of Steven, a friend since they were high school students: "When Steven called to tell me he had AIDS, I went to see him and once again began to learn and find meaning in new and unexpected ways. When I sit in his apartment I realize that I am in the presence of a person whose lifelong task has been to make meaning from chaos. I noticed that his life has acquired an unsettling velocity. I am exhausted by it, and yet I can see that it yields a kind of incandescent wisdom.... I would rather have reconnected with Steven as we reached mutual mid-life crises. It would have been good to chat about career moves and receding hairlines. But we will not have that luxury. So now I sit with an elder who is startlingly my own age...." E. R. Shipp, a graduate student in history, recalled a brother, an uncle, classmates, friends, and professional colleagues who have died, but especially a friend named Jay: "I recall the day in 1989 when he gave me a novel, in French, and pointed out a passage. It was as beautiful as it was foreboding. The English translation of that passage from "Memoirs of Hadrian" is this: 'Shall I be carried off by the tenth of these crises, or the hundredth? That is the only question. Like a traveler sailing the Archipelago, who sees the luminous mists lift toward evening, and little by little makes out the shore, I begin to discern the profile of my death.' Jay used those words as the opening lines of his will. We said goodbye to Jay in September 1989. One more young casualty in a war that the nation still is not committed to winning any time soon." Kennedy, the co-chair of LBGC, called for action: "Combatting AIDS is about awareness and education. It's about knowing that ignorance can kill you. We have seen so many of our friends, our colleagues, our families die. I urge every one of you to help stop this tide. We all need to be out there on the streets as well as in our homes yelling, screaming. We all need to keep on the government and the NIH to find a cure, to urge our brothers and sisters to protect themselves, to be at the side of those who are already sick. Stopping AIDS is more than a battle; it's a war. And, as always, it's our war. No one is going to win it for us. In some ways, it's so simple. It's a matter of life and death, and only if we all look out for each other--queer, straight, male, female, black, white, whatever--can we emerge to a world without this plague." Plans are now underway for some sort of permanent memorial to Columbians who have died of HIV-related illnesses. - E. R. Shipp COLUMBIA PEOPLE WHO HAVE DIED OF AIDS Source: Computer Newspaper Search, 1992-present Anderson, Larz F., 2nd Kwalick, Barry Bennett, Richard Lida, Mark Berger, Ira Manford, Morty Brookner, Howard Martin, John L. Brown, Jacob Mayerson, Robert Bucholtz, Jeffrey Monroe, Ronald B. Cassidy, Tom Oppenheim, Philip Chenitz-Manley, Carole Peduto, Stephen Cohen, David H. Perkins, Anthony Cohn, Roy Post, Rick Contini, Alan Preston, Erwin Dawson, Kenneth L. Rango, Nicholas Diaz Alejandro, Carlos Revson, James Dixon, Melvin Rozeli, Ron Ferri, Roger Schmalz, Jeffrey Friedman, Lewis M. Schutz, Prescott Gardner, James Gingell, Barry Towlen, Gary Gottesman, Edward H. Van Ryzin, John Greenspan, Stuart Ward, Matthew Kadet, Sandford
A CALL TO WOMEN-ORIENTED WOMEN
A MESSAGE TO OUR COMMUNITY
A year ago very few of us would have seen anything resembling a lesbigay community at Columbia. But thankfully, Jim Hoover, the Law Librarian, and several other visionaries looked upon the same landscape and saw the potential for much more. So they called a meeting. Remember all those fliers around campus inviting people to a community meeting? Even Hoover and company did not anticipate the overflow crowd of more than 100 people--students, staffers, faculty members--who showed up. That was the beginning, one year ago this month, of an effort to build a community for lesbians, gays and bisexuals at this University. We have much for which to congratulate ourselves, but to cite a few accomplishments: the formation of GABLES-CU and, through its auspices, the creation of numerous committees and task forces; the launching of various campus groups that reflect our great diversity; the creation of the electronic bulletin board called Lesbigay Notesfile; the publication of "CALIPSO, the Columbia Almanac of Information Pertaining to Sexual Orientation;" the successful Bisexual Gay and Lesbian Awareness Days celebration in October; the attainment of domestic partner benefits and a strong commitment from University officials to deal with homophobic incidents on campus; and last, but by no means least, the monthly publication of this newsletter. Can we hear some applause? Of course, we still have a long way to go to meet the challenge posed by one of our members, John Higgins, who on Coming Out Day last October, called for the development of a community that goes beyond meeting to achieve common social and political objectives. He envisioned "a community of direct, interpersonal contact, direct concern for each other's happiness, celebration of each other as distinct reflections of life." We also have far to go to make that more women and all persons of color at Columbia and Barnard feel welcome. (See Annie Barry's article on women.) As we congratulate ourselves on the strides made in one year, let's commit ourselves to actively participate with one of the many organizations around. We can certainly use more writers for "Community News." And there's always a need for volunteers to plan the monthly community meetings. Let us hear from you! - The "Community News" staff
REVIEW: RANDY SHILTS'S "CONDUCT UNBECOMING"
Now that the uproar surrounding President Clinton's compromise on gays and lesbians in the military has died down (and we at last can be spared retired generals on Sunday morning talk shows using code words like "cohesion"), it might be a good time to pick up Randy Shilts's exhaustive history of homosexuality in the armed forces. "Conduct Unbecoming" stands out by virtue of its moving reconstruction of the discrimination, harassment, and official neglect suffered by dozens of gay and lesbian people in the military, most within the last 25 years, but a few cases going back as far as the Revolutionary War. As we see Lt. Gottbold Enslin drummed out of Washington's encampment at Valley Forge, we really have to wonder how much attitudes about homosexuality have changed in the last 215 years. But vastly more disturbing than the numbing succession of discharges outlined in the book is its expose of the highly coercive, frequently illegal techniques employed by the various investigative branches of the services as they pursue charges of homosexual activity. Illegally obtained, personal articles are repeatedly held up in discharge hearings as suitable evidence; confessions obtained on false pretenses are allowed to stand; witnesses who admit to having perjured themselves are believed by their superiors. As the services come under increasing pressure from the courts, the media, and activists, the rate of investigations actually increases and the regulations grow tougher. Only when the military is desperate for able-bodied soldiers (particularly during the Vietnam War) does homosexuality suddenly become tolerable. Not everyone, we learn, was as lucky as Chevy Chase, who managed to escape the draft by claiming homosexuality. Many open homosexuals were retained by the service only to be discharged less than honorably years later for what their commanders knew all along. (One such soldier, Perry Watkins, whose drag performances are called "a boost to unit morale" by his commanding officer, was recently awarded several years of back pay after such a discharge.) More than anything, "Conduct Unbecoming" is a study of the intransigence of the military in the face of social change. It also has a lot to say about the military's reluctance to integrate African Americans and women. It can be a disturbing read, but it is essential to anyone interested in the future of the cases now being litigated. And, it may finally answer that question so commonly asked: Why do so many gay and lesbian people want to belong to the armed forces in the first place? For many, it's because of simple patriotism--patriotism that has in large part been denied homosexuals in this often intolerant society. But more of us are coming to realize that if we can have the word "queer" back, we can have the flag back, too. "Conduct Unbecoming" is published by St. Martin's Press and carries a list price of $27.95 hardcover. 770 pages. - Jason Marsden
REVIEW: "A PLACE AT THE TABLE"
Oh, no, it's not that Bruce Bawer is ashamed of who he is: a conservative queer who (at least according to the book jacket) is "one of our most highly regarded cultural critics." It's just that he's put off by what he considers to be the illogical, bizarre, and reactionary "lifestyle" of too many gays and lesbians. Bawer's new book, "A Place at the Table: The Gay Individual in American Society," has raised eyebrows and controversy since it was published in the fall. Bawer, who has written for "The Wall Street Journal," "The New York Times" and "The American Spectator," seems to have convinced people that he has a unique perspective just by virtue of his existence as "a monogamous churchgoing Christian" and social conservative while at the same time... HE'S GAY! He must have found at least 500 uses of the term "subculturally- oriented gays" (a new one on me). Just to enlighten: According to Bawer, "to be a subculture-oriented gay is to center one's identity on one's homosexuality." Having defined this phenomenon, he goes on to depict it as a radical, separatist, reactionary move on the part of gays and lesbians to reject wholly mainstream society and all of its trappings. "A Place at the Table" angered me in a lot of ways. At the top of my list would be Bawer's tone of voice and attitude. The press release claims: "Public discussions of [homosexuality] tend to be dominated on both sides by extremist demagogues whose mutual antagonism and distortions of the truth have perpetuated unnecessary misunderstandings and confrontation. This closely reasoned meditation on homosexuality is Bawer's attempt to set things right." Clearly "A Place at the Table" was written for people like my parents who are looking for a nonchallenging gay point of view that comforts them while assuring them that homosexuality doesn't have to be queer. Bawer's main premise is that gays and lesbians need to censor their behavior (which, according to him, boils down to childish rebellion anyway) and exclude those elements of our community that give ammunition to Pat Robertson and his ilk. This book could have been written 30 years ago for the lack of insight it offers on current culture and its lack of understanding of gay identity and queer theory. At one point Bawer quotes Allen Ginsberg, the poet, asking: "Is Bruce Bawer homophobic?" Nope, Allen, he's just oppressive, narrow-minded, and judgmental. From my perspective, instead of suggesting the sacrifices that the lesbigay community could make to gain full acceptance in a flawed, intolerant straight culture, we should aim to change the way in which issues of sexuality and gender are treated. When we succeed at that, ours will be a freer world for all to enjoy. "A Place at the Table: The Gay Individual in American Society" is published by Poseidon Press and carries a list price of $21. - Conor Kennedy
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