Dyke March 2019-A Rant!
Written by Belinda Carroll-Comedian, Performer, Producer, and long-time Portland queer activist!
I am pissed. I’ve written a little note about Dyke March every year for several years and mostly It’s all love and inclusion and rainbows and unicorns. Rah Rah Rah Portland!
And, we are lucky to call this place home, even you, transplant from Akron. Our local government is dedicated to diversity and when they are not, newly-elected City Council member Joann Hardesty will make sure that they are. (We love you Joann!) When abortion bans hit Alabama and Georgia; our progressive, smart, and openly bisexual Governor, Kate Brown moves to immediately to pass even stronger protections for people seeking birth-control in Oregon. Back when same-gender marriage was ruled on by the Supreme Court, the state threw us a party. We’ve had workplace protections as a state for LGBTQ people since 2008. Which, in and of itself, is shameful and a lot later than most people realize.
I was fired openly for being gay in 1998. I was 22. Ellen had come out on TV the year before, and I had a co-worker at an unnamed sales job who was a big toxic manly MAN-MAN and he used to bellow “FUCK ELLEN, We Got One Of Our Own!” and laugh and laugh while I stood there, awkwardly forced to go along with the joke. Outing me to everyone in the workplace over and over and over again because he thought it was funny. Customers, employees everyone. I went along with it, because he was my management and women were routinely shamed as ‘not being emotionally strong enough for a male environment’.
All the guys made fun of me constantly, and many of them asked me questions about lesbian sex, my sex, my sex life, what kind of dildo I liked to use, who is the man? Why is someone like me (femme) dating women? I jabbed back. We’re joking, we’re all friends, right?!
This is important to note for people who think, “I wouldn’t ever put up with that.” In a lot of cases, Queer people didn’t and don’t have a choice to be around tolerant, educated people. I came out around 1992 as a young teenager and my brothers, my family, and everyone straight I knew treated me the same way; as someone to pity for such a horrid fate as lesbianism, a freak who was choosing to be a weirdo or a pariah to be shunned. At 22, I thought this the way I was going to be treated.
Then, I was gay-bashed on the 17 bus. It was the month before Matthew Shepard was killed in Laramie, Wyoming in a vicious hate crime. I had a dude watch my ex-girlfriend Tammy and I hug goodbye; he then proceeded to say ‘you afraid of dick or something?’ while he began hitting and spitting on me. I’ll never forget how he was dressed. He was wearing blue jeans with blue suede patches, and a black mock turtleneck. He looked like a dude I’d be friends with. The driver wouldn’t call anyone, even when I ran to him screaming for him to help me.
Horrifyingly, ½ the bus applauded and then everyone got into an argument about if it was “ok to be a lesbian, according to the Bible”---they were split down the middle--- all while I was being bashed by this dude. No one did a thing, except one brave woman. This happened before cell phones, and she worked at Carl’s Jr. on S.W. 6th and Morrison. She rushed into her work to call the cops. I wish I knew who she was, right now, to thank her for that. She saved my faith in humanity.
To say I felt humiliated, is a vast understatement. Reliving it now, I realize that the origin of stand-up comedy probably started for me right there. You want to argue about the moral rightness of my queerness? Then allow me to start the conversation, asshole. Just the sheer callousness of everyone there was astounding, and a huge eye-opener.
And, I went to work the next day. I told them about what happened, while we smoked cigarettes out back. I was upset. I asked them to stop ‘joking’ about my sexuality. I was let go that same day when I had the utter GALL to request to not be asked about strap-ons and eating pussy. I was pulled into the office by a middle-aged straight cis male and told they ‘understood my “lifestyle choices” were difficult, but they couldn’t ‘cater to me anymore’’ and let me go. There was no catering. I wasn’t late, I had a high close rate, I was there every day.
And that was Portland. As a country, we’re losing our protections under the Orange administration. The current military transgender ban, the newest abortion bans in Alabama and Georgia that include jail time and zero exemptions for rape and incest, and Trump’s Justice Department ruling from the beginning of his “rein” in 2017 that flatly states that the civil rights act doesn’t include LGBTQ workplace protections. This administration is dangerous, bigoted and becoming more emboldened. We have to fight openly.
I’m sure that all of the people on that bus didn’t agree with my assault. I’m sure there were a few that would have said something, if only they weren’t afraid of what the consequences could have been. I’m sure that all of the men I worked with didn’t agree with how I was treated either. But no one stood up and this is what I know for sure, we have to fight for us.
It’s up to us as a community to get up and fight, even when we’re fucking tired of fighting, when we are bone weary and hate that we are infighting and hate that we have to fight each other too. To fight for us and our protections. People have a tendency to hide from conflict unless it directly affects them. We only have so much energy to do all of the things. We think life is complicated and hard and we can’t fight for everyone, that fight over there isn’t our fight.
For example, you may think that as a cis dyke, trans rights don’t apply to you. You’d be wrong. As they test the feasibility of the trans ban in the military, they are testing the waters to show you--- once and for all--- that you have no rights too. Because you don’t. Federally, there aren’t protections in place. 50 years after the Stonewall riots and we have zero federal workplace protections for LGBTQ people, you can still be fired outright and openly in 13 states. You as a Queer person are not free to live in any state without consequence. Think about that. 50 years after the Stonewall Riots and we are still not protected at the most basic levels.
My story is minor, short and inconsequential in the overall history of LGBTQ stories of assault. I went on, became a comedian and activist and I had to really stretch to think of their names today. I hardly know an openly LGBTQ person over 40 who doesn’t have at least one story just like it.
It’s Pride. It’s Dyke March. It’s Portland. But, you aren’t marching for yourself in Portland, Oregon. You are marching for Bobby Jean in Fayetteville, Arkansas who lost her cashier job at the Stop-n-Save because her girlfriend brought her a hand-picked rose and her boss saw it and figured out they were girlfriends. Or Mark in Lawton, Oklahoma who can’t admit he has a boyfriend to his Mom because he might lose his place and he lives on an army base with nowhere to go. Or Maria, a trans woman in St. Louis who still presents as a man, who can’t dress up and go out because she’d lose both her job and home as a home health aide.
Our ability to shout freely here in Oregon is to speak for people without voices elsewhere. Let’s be the scream. I hope to see you at Dyke March 2019!