I might have had a hard time with the novel writing lately (that’s a crazy post waiting to happen let me tell you) but CSI also premieres tomorrow. So ….
In addition to writing and being an overall crazy fangirl, I am also an activist. This week, I’ve donned that hat again. This is the outcome, as of this afternoon.
This letter was written and signed in response to the failed leadership of the Utah Pride Center in regard to community programs. This information is being delivered to the Pride Center tonight by community representatives. This letter is specific to Utah’s Bi Community and we do not speak for other groups in this letter.
November 13, 2013
To Whom It May Concern:
Over the past few years, the bi community has felt increasingly disenfranchised by the overall leadership of the Utah Pride Center. Specifically, by the culture surrounding the Center and the lack of concerted effort to connect to and assist bi community organizers with their processes.
While there are a lot of anecdotal frustrations that can be vented, the following points stick out:
1) Since the departure of Jennifer Nuttall, there has been a great deal of turnover with staff assigned to assist with coordination for the 1 to 5 Club. During this time, some staff were assigned to assist with the group but the group was also not a part of their grant. As a result, we were made a low priority and often flat out ignored in lieu of funded priorities. This is not to detract from the efforts made by current staff to reach out to the bi community and make sure that the community is connected. Danielle has kept in contact with the group and makes sure that referrals are directed. While the bi group itself has weathered some leadership issues over the last couple of years, part of those issues directly stem from a lack of connectedness to the Pride Center. Without engaged and passionate staff wanting to help bring light to a community that is as underserved as ours, there is only so much we can do.
2) When I first began working with the Utah Pride Center in regards to creating a bisexual presence at the Pride Festival, the 1 to 5 Club was offered extensive table space for meeting materials and information. We were also active volunteers with the festival, disseminating information on the Center along with our own group. This was a wonderful opportunity for us as our group is not able to afford a booth at Pride. During this time, the 1 to 5 Club was often the only Pride Center Group running the Pride Center Booth and yet over the years, the space allowed for Center activities has shrunk to the point where organizers have heard that the festival does not know where to put our information. Funded groups again received priority while media attention of the issues within the bi community is rising at an ever faster rate. Our lack of being able to afford a booth at Pride only led to less information being handed out and this proved to be a slap in the face for the group who proudly marched and stood with other community groups.
3) The Utah Pride Center was one of the first community centers in the country to devote a whole month of Bi Activities to the community. This was a wonderful chance to speak up and bring a sense of unity to an often invisible community. The month gave us a chance to wave our flag, both literally and figuratively, yet despite the Pride Center owning a Bi Pride Flag and promising to fly it during Bi Awareness Month, that promise never came to fruition. Worse, when that flag was found in the Pride Center offices, it was turned over to current 1 to 5 leadership, stating that “they didn’t know what to do with it.” As priorities at the center turned more to funded groups and away from the community groups, support for Bi Awareness Month dwindled. Again, leadership would like to thank Danielle for her work to support the 1 to 5 Club during this time, but her resources and availability are limited.
4) Over the course of the eight years the 1 to 5 Club has existed, it has been impossible to nail down regular meeting times and days. This is not due to Club leadership but instead to the Pride Center consistently moving our room availability around for more popular or time sensitive groups. We were bumped from Thursdays to Wednesdays to Tuesdays before choosing to settle on Mondays, where we were roped into a tight schedule that often did not allow for extended conversation and did not work with many people’s schedules. As a result of this, attendance at the meetings dwindled to group leadership only as it was impossible for people and media to keep up with the changing schedules. Currently, the group does not meet at the center although we would like to see the support structure in place to resume a regular set of meetings.
5) In 2011, The San Francisco Human Rights Commission released a survey detailing the problems of the bisexual community at large. This survey discussed, among other things, higher depression and suicidal ideation rates among the bisexual community compared to the gay community. This survey was not only a list of statistics but a call to action among GLBT leadership to change the way we are treating our bisexual family. While I know the survey was disseminated among current staff at the center at the time and Executive Director Valerie Larabee stated there would be action taken for further education and work with the bi community. There was, however, no action taken despite pleas from the bi community to meet with the board and staff regarding the survey so that we could further encourage the Center’s partnership in making our community safe and healthy for everyone. (Note, the survey is available here: http://www.sf-hrc.org/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=989)
The list of anecdotal references is endless. I’ve had fellow leaders in the community tell me stories of being shunned at Pride events because they brought their differently-gendered partner. I’ve had times when I’ve sent countless emails to staff only to have none returned. I’ve listened to leadership for the Pride Festival erase the bisexual community from their language when discussing the festival. Also, the group was told by staff that staff was not allowed to attend community meetings. While there is no evidence to back that up regarding policy, I felt it was worth mentioning as it was one of the factors in the widening distance between the 1 to 5 Club and the Pride Center. But most of all, I have felt unwelcome in my own center. I’ve felt a growing distance that unless there is a financial motive to keep the bi community healthy and active, there is no need for the Pride Center to make us a priority.
No movement succeeds without allies. The bi community is in desperate need of support from the Pride Center.
Co-founder, Utah’s 1 to 5 Club
Erica Head, Current Leadership
Stephanie Novak, Current Leadership
Desi Clark, Former Leadership
Rachel Langshall, Former Leadership
Alexander Langshall, Former Leadership
Joni Weiss, Current Group Member; Former Leadership
Please note: there is more to this story and the 1 to 5 Club is hardly the only community group that has expressed displeasure over the situation at the Utah Pride Center. Visit GaySaltLake.com to read the reports of other community groups and their issues with Pride Center Leadership. Executive Director Valarie Larabee did tender her resignation this afternoon.
A few months ago I put together a one act play as an example of my writing talents and submitted it, and a spec script, to NBC’s Diverse Writer’s Initiative. Well, the sad part is that NBC didn’t want me. The good part is that I again have control of this script. There is a play writing contest deadline fast approaching here in Salt Lake, but I need to expand the play to a full length piece.
Of course, in doing so, I need to find a goal for the second act. The good news is that I have until January.
It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted, but honestly, I wasn’t sure what to write. What is there to say when you’re in the process of writing a novel other than “Hey look, there’s more writing here, more procrastinating there …” That’s the hard part with keeping a blog, you have to keep it interesting. Let’s face it – I’m not posting news of the weird or anything like that. I’m blogging about life as a queer writer. Specifically, life as a bi writer. But the thing is, the sexuality doesn’t come first for me. The writer does. That’s why you get pictures of my cats.
To the people who have chosen to follow this blog, I want to say thank you. You’re awesome and I wish I could give you more interesting updates. The fact of the matter is, keeping my brain in a place where I can figure out how to manage all of my online stuff is a bit much and it’s a hell of a lot easier to screw around on tumblr and reblog photos of Jorja Fox than it is to sit down and write a blog post once a week. Anyone who writes understands that idea.
But here I sit on a snowy night in Salt Lake City, thinking about my characters. Thinking about the world around me and the reality of the biphobia that exists everywhere. But I’m also thinking about the human elements in my story beyond the activism that leaps from the pages – the bi characters, the sexual harassment, the conversation about the racism and misogyny in Hollywood. Because Gina isn’t bisexual first. The acting comes first for her – that’s why you get thought processes about her pit bulls.
It’s not an “I don’t know” kind of night, but it’s a thoughtful one. I’ve got some story ideas prattling around inside the cobwebs of my brain and along the same line, I also have the desperate desire to actually keep up with this blog. To make it into something more. I’m not sure what that is, but I do know that I’m not really blogging about being a queer writer right now. That’s okay, but I think just like with me – there’s more than the pink purple and blue flag that is draped around my shoulders.
Thanks for reading the rambling. Hopefully you’ll get something more soon.
Things I did not accomplish tonight: the dishes and the laundry.
Things I did accomplish tonight: getting my ass kicked by a character.
I am the moderator of the Salt Lake City Writer’s Group. There are about 80 of us on the email list, 30 or so on the forum board, a bunch on the facebook page, and I can’t remember how many followers there are on tumblr or twitter. But we’re out there. We aren’t the only writing group in Salt Lake but we’re one of the better ones. I inherited the group from a former moderator and when I’m ready it will pass to someone else.
Mondays are our critiquing days. We gather at a local coffee establishment (currently it is Mestizo’s Coffeehouse) and spend three hours gently picking each other apart. The thing I love about this group is that all of us are friends but we can leave that at the door while critiquing each other’s work.
Why am I rambling about this right now?
Because I have a bunch of reading still to do for tonight and I’m nowhere near ready. I have a choice – I can write or I can read. Lately, I just don’t have time for both. So, in the grand writer tradition …
I went through a phase where I thought about posting every rejection letter I received and then I realized just how cut and paste they are. The posts would get boring.
I hate saying that I actually appreciate getting rejection letters, but I do. It gets me out of limbo and lets me know that I can move on. It also reminds me what agents and publishing companies that I’ve submitted to.
One down. A zillion to go.
And yes, I’m also seriously looking into self-publishing.
First, you choose a medium.
Then, you keep writing.
And then you procrastinate. The best way is to drive to pretty places and take pictures of really, really, really, really, really old writing. See, it isn’t just procrastination, it’s inspiration. After all, they wrote on rock. What’s my excuse?
Then, when ready, you print out your first draft and start editing.
There is a lot of scribbling.
And fighting with the cat for control of the paper.
And breaks for coffee.
And more fighting with the cat.
And more scribbling.
And a break for some football.
But then … more scribbling …
And then …
Despite going to college in Austin, I’ve never been much into the open mic or the slam scene. Put me in a drama class and I was okay to perform because there was a script and they weren’t my words. I wanted my writing read by people, but performed ….? And god help me, I’m really not a poet. No really, I’m not.
But about three years ago, something changed in my world. A woman who was, at the time a friend of mine (and whom I have now been dating for almost 3 years) came up with this idea. This crazy, strange, “what do you mean this isn’t being done already?!” idea. She created a safe space for women to speak their minds nut not just in poetry. At her open mic, the voices of women could come together to read their stories, share their experiences, perform poetry, and sing songs. How amazing is that, really? To have a space where women aren’t competing with men for time at the mic, but sharing the space with them.
I’ll admit, at first it seems like a strange idea to wrap one’s head around. Especially in an art community where it is assumed that things are gender-equal. Why do women need a safe space? The answer is simple: because we are still looking for it, especially in a state like Utah.
When She Speaks I Hear the Revolution doesn’t exclude anyone, but it is a place where women can stand up and say “wait a minute, this is why my voice matters.” It’s a place that doesn’t have the pressure of so many of the open mics out there. For someone like me, who spends all her free time writing but is never sure how her words sound aloud, it is freeing. I can stand up and read that short story or that passage from the book and not be worried that people are checking their watches.
I got thinking about this today because September is an important month for those of us who are writers. This month we celebrate those books that have, in clear violation of the power of the First Amendment, been banned or challenged. How often do we see open mics do that? At this event, there are banned books everywhere, books you often didn’t realize had been banned or challenged. At this open mic, those words are celebrated, read out loud, and people get to stand up and read their own words that someday could be banned.
No, I wasn’t asked to write this post. But it’s been circulating in my brain, this idea of the importance of celebrating those words that are just not heard or read. We still celebrate male voices over female ones but at a tiny little open mic in Salt Lake, the ground is made equal. As a queer woman who writes, that equality matters. When She Speaks is one of the few places where I can read my bisexual characters and I don’t see people rolling their eyes when I talk about the biphobia and discrimination. Instead, I see acceptance and hear questions asked. And that matters.
So yes! September is Banned Books Month and When She Speaks is planning on celebrating.
What are you going to do?
When She Speaks …
The Fourth Saturday of the month (September 28th.)
Jitterbug Coffeehop (1855 S 700 E Salt Lake City, UT)