Category Archives: Blog

Kenyon on Alternet.com: Gay Marriage In New York: Progressive Victory or GOP Roadmap?

Thought I should post my article on my analysis of the same-sex marriage passing in New York State for Alternet. I likes.

From Alternet.com

Many people are celebrating what seems on the surface a huge win for gay rights, with the passage of a same-sex marriage bill in New York State last week, by a Republican-controlled state senate to boot. This marks a real sea change for LGBT equality in the US, and therefore a major win not only for LGBT people, but also because this has been a major cause for progressives.

But now that the pride parade is literally over, progressives should be asking themselves about the potential long-term impacts of this “win.”

What does it mean when so-called progressives celebrate a victory in large part won by GOP-supporting hedge fund managers, Tea Party funders and corporate conglomerates—the oft-spoken enemies of progressive causes? Furthermore, this new strategy could be the testing ground for Republicans to peel a gay base and donors away from the Democrats while keeping their Christian conservative base. Read the rest here.

Keynote Speech for Newark Pride Week

Remarks for Newark Pride Week City Hall Flag Raising Ceremony

Monday June 6th, 2011

Kenyon Farrow

First I want to thank the Newark LGBTQQ Advisory Commission, Newark-Essex Pride Coalition, Liberation in Truth Social Justice Center, and the African American Office of Gay Concerns.

When I first moved to the east coast from my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio in 1999, I moved to Jersey City. And like many people living in Northern New Jersey, I would spend a lot of time traveling on the PATH train into New York City, in the hopes of finding some safe space for a young Black gay man like myself, something called community.

I spent a lot of time on the Christopher Street piers in the West Village. Listening to the latest hip-hop, R&B, or house beats blaring from boom boxes, watching the next generation of ballroom legends perfect their best duckwalk, or butch realness runway—the broken slabs of concrete slung over the dark river that once upon a time, nobody else wanted, transformed into red carpet worthy of a Hollywood award ceremony. I would head into Two-Potato, a hole-in-the-wall dive bar just up the way, and catch the drag queens dart in and out of the flimsy curtain keeping their latest fashion creation mostly hidden from the audience until time for the big reveal. From there, the night might take me to Chi-Chiz, the bar that stood right next door to the PATH train, where I would sit at the bar, mostly getting drinks bought for me that I was to broke to afford, and in between the Anita Baker or Stephanie Mills oldies playing where the bar would seem to be singing in unison, I’d be talking to whomever was sitting next to me.

After some time, of spending many nights riding the rails underneath the Hudson River, I began to notice how many of us, mostly Black and Latino lesbians, gays, bisexual, queer and transgender folks were coming to and fro from Jersey City, Newark, and all parts of New Jersey in between, in search of community, a good time, or some place that felt safer than the homes, apartments, shelters, or street corners from which we were fleeing. I thought back on the many conversations I’d had at the pier, or on bar stools dotted along Christopher Street, where so many people who I’d socialized with in the West Village, NYC, were actually from New Jersey.

It made me think a lot about home, and even in my own work as an activist with FIERCE!, why we were fighting the gentrification and displacement happening to Black and Brown queer youth in the West Village, but had not yet stepped up to the task of working in the places where many of us actually lived.

Being from a city like Cleveland, which is the butt of many national jokes in the same way that Newark is, in that people blame the condition of the city on the people itself, and coming from such a place, means that you carry that stigma or mark. People carry the blame for a city’s condition, instead of understanding the way deindustrialization, the undermining of organized labor, the gutting of welfare and other safety net programs, education systems dependent on property taxes and the bloated policing and prison budgets as more responsible for the ways in which people have to live. In cities and communities like these, in the national conversations and media about the “gay community” it is almost as if LGBT people do not come from places like this.

Our cities are not places where life—certainly not fabulously queer life—can flourish, or so goes the logic. Most of are are not wealthy. Most of us do not have expendable incomes. Many of us have children—either our own, children of other family members we’re raising, or other people’s LGBT kids who’ve been kicked out. We, like most people around us, are a no more than 3 paychecks away from utter ruin. It feels cliché to say it, but the television images and sometimes advocacy organizations claiming to be speaking for us, don’t not only look like us, but aren’t speaking to the realities of what it means to be gay, black or latino, in a place like Newark. Race, class, gender and the community in which you grow up or live, all impact the way in which your life, and life choices are shaped. It is not that there can be no LGBT community in cities like Newark, but that it looks different, and sometimes in ways that are illegible to the so-called mainstream. In may ways, when primarily Black and Brown cities like Newark are discussed, especially in their proximity to being “LGBT friendly” is similar to the ways in which African countries are discussed, as “backward” where there are no local activists or communities of LGBT folk in those places who are working hard to challenge homophobia and transphobia, and are not waiting to be rescued by an American or European NGO.

Whether or not we are on the radar of the national LGBT movement as a legitimate set of organizations and coalitions with expertise in organizing in cities like Newark, is not important. It would be nice to be recognized. It would be nice to have some of those many millions of dollars in support from LGBT foundations coming in to support the work here.

But sometimes the best work happens in the places where there isn’t tons of support. With abandonment can come freedom—some sense of radical possibility. It is a place where innovation can occur, and where our community, or base constituents we are organizing, have the most opportunity to hold us accountable for the work we’re claiming to do in their name. And it is also important to me, that we do this work not just in the gayborhoods of America like the West Village & Chelsea, but that the work happens in Cleveland, Detroit, New Orleans, Bed-Stuy and East New York, Brooklyn, and Newark, NJ.

When the life of Sakia Gunn was taken in 2003, the question of where we do work became even more important to me. And although I knew there were organizations and activists already in place in Newark, like Liberation in Truth, AAOGC and longtime Newark activists like James Credle, I was impressed by the level of activism that took place here around her case, and a level of social justice work for the LGBT community here in Newark has only increased since. And Newark Pride Week, the possibility of public celebration of who we are, and our contributions to this city, is the fruit of all of the labor its taken since 2003 to build a better world for the LGBT community in Newark.

Though there have been other acts of violence, and other forms of targeting and bias that have occurred since, and sometimes challenging moments from members of the community who feel like having Pride Week or any LGBT recognition is an imposition, or a somehow in a city like Newark, separate from concerns about racial justice. To those people, I would offer that the work being done here by the coalition of grassroots organizations to make schools safe for students, to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic, to provide community activities locally for LGBT people is a benefit for any of us interested in reducing violence of any sort, of creating events and organizations that foster community and sense of belonging, and increasing the opportunities for supportive education environments for every student.

The fact that that we are here, celebrating PRIDE in Newark, because local organizations, local activists, decided to take care of home, is a testament to the strength, tenacity, intelligence and beauty of community organizing, the organizers who are here, many of whom have become close personal friends over the years. Struggle is never about arriving at some utopian destination, it is about the process of challenging what’s difficult, and continually building towards your vision of the world you want to live in.

So now the gentrification in NYC’s West Village is nearly complete—The Christopher Street Pier was redeveloped and privatized. The boom boxes have long been banned. A seemingly never-ending runway on which many a ballroom legendary icon trained, was paved over. With it, the numbers of yuppie baby carriages, joggers, and high-end retail shops have sprung from the ashes of Black and Latino LGBT bodies lost to concrete, their ghosts just visible in the shadows of the Hudson River. Some of their stories have been captured in history. On Christopher Street itself, Two Potato was shuttered around 2002, and that bar that sat right next to the PATH station, Chi-Chi’z, poured its last drink this past March. What stands in its place is a large fluorescent spotlight owned and operated by the New York Police Department, that probably cost several annual tuitions for a CUNY education, as a way to deter the young people from even stopping to hold a conversation.

So now that the NYC Christopher Street area has intentionally been made an inhospitable place for those of us who used to flock from Harlem, Bed-Stuy, East New York, Jersey City, and Newark night after night, I have to be thankful for the foresight of the LGBT community in Newark to be building community spaces right here, at home, for people to be able to organize, worship, receive needed services, and socialize.

So this year, we will celebrate Newark Pride with the usual mix of parties, marches, and festivities. We will raise this flag on Newark’s City Hall, which in many places is an act taken for granted. But I know that the celebrations are the result of struggle—a struggle that began long ago, has come along way, but has so very far to go!

Happy Pride, Newark!

Hot, Heavy & Bad Release ‘Undercover': Free Mixtape of Funky Futuristic Throwbacks of Classic Jams

In anticipation of the release of their first studio collaboration, Devon Lee & Joi have released a FREE downloadable mixtape called Undercover.

I happened to catch 2 shows of the duo in the last year where they focused on covering classic funk, rock, reggae and soul classics in only the way they know how–extra-funky. Once in 2010 I was in ATL at their show at Pal’s Lounge called Futuristic Throwbacks, and then recently at the Apollo Theater here in NYC, where they covered everyone from Bob Marley to Stevie Wonder, Billie Holiday to Teena Marie (in fact, it was Joi’s vocals on Square Biz that was the crowd favorite and evening show-stopper).

This Undercover mixtape features covers of Heart, The Beatles, Hair: The Musical, Johnny Cash, Edith Piaf, Three Degrees, Pink Floyd, War, & Kansas.

Joi and Devon Lee clearly know their music, and you should check out Undercover. Go to the Joilicious-Online.org to download. Check out this video of them doing Pink Floyd’s The Wall in concert in Brooklyn last fall (you might see me giving school boy swag in the bottom right corner of the screen.). Also, Joi recently spoke to AfroPunk.com about this project, so read the interview.

New Study Shows Black Gay Men Think Masculine Men are Less Likely to Have HIV

Are we the kind of boys/men we want?

According to a new study by  John’s Hopkins University, the answer is no.

The new study, conducted as a series of interviews with 35 young/teen Black men who have sex with men ages 18-24 shows that they:

  1. Almost exclusively prefer romantic and sexual partners they perceive to be masculine.
  2. Reluctant to allow a man they consider to be feminine to “top” them during sex.
  3. Allow men they perceive to be more masculine to control the terms of what kind of sex happens, including condom use.
  4. Consider masculine men to be less likely to have HIV, and feminine men to be more at risk.

According to the CDC’s last published incidence data from 2006, “among all black MSM, there were more new HIV infections (52%) among young black MSM (aged 13–29 years) than any other racial or ethnic age group of MSM in 2006. The number of new infections among young black MSM was nearly twice that of young white MSM and more than twice that of young Hispanic/Latino MSM.”

This study, while a very small sample, is interesting for several reasons. First, this study, unfortunately, speaks to the ways in which misogyny is very present in Black gay men’s spaces. Anyone who’s ever seen Black Gay Chat or Adam4Adam or any of the other outlets where Black gay men frequent for dating or sex, these notions about masculinity are abound. People still frequently post requirements about “must be masculine” or “no fats no femmes.” I am always curious about what does masculine mean? 50 Cent?

Michelangelo Signorille wrote a book many years ago called Life Outside, which dealt with the muscle and “straight acting” obsession in white gay male culture–and the ways in which muscle culture was used to also signify healthy and not having HIV, whether that was true or not, and I would say Phillip Brian Harper’s book Are We Not Men? is one of the closest Black gay books dealing with this issue. It was a reaction to AIDS and the more femme and androgynous aesthetic of the 1980s (like Boy George and George Michael for white gays, Sylvester, Prince and Jermaine Stewart for Black gays).

For white gay men, they often use sports imagery like “athletic” or “jock” to connote the kind of hypermasculinity most desirable. For Black and Latino gay men, that same hypermasculinity is expressed in hip-hop terms– the “thug” and “downlow (not necessarily as bisexual but as able to pass as heterosexual to other black people in public).” Most other kinds of black queer male aesthetics (afro-punks–as in punk rock, afro-centric, bohememians/neo-soul, Buppies, etc) are always trumped by hip-hop notions of masculinity.

But this study also points to the ways in which womanhood, or in this case, femininity, or one’s proximity to it, marks one as the vector of disease, as promiscuous, having dangerous sexual desires, and more deceptive of their partners. It’s similar to the ways in which women are most often blamed, and sometimes killed for the spread of HIV when straight men contract the virus.

This study points to a need to go beyond individual behavior models for preventing HIV, but undoing structures that impact people’s vulnerability or the contexts under which people are making decisions. We have to really have to find ways of confronting and challenging misogyny in our society (across sexuality and gender identities) that disempower those who see themselves or are labeled as woman, femme, or feminine.

Will the re-emergence of Black queer men in popular media change how young black queer men view gender and desire?

I think Yolo Akili’s short video and poem “Are We the Kinds of Boys/Men We Want?” are the kinds of interventions we need for Black gay youth and for public health researchers which explores these issues of power, desire and gender for Black queer men to interrogate our desires.

“Hyphy” Style Rapper Lil B Announces “I’m Gay” Album at Coachella

I hate to say I was right and I told you so, but, I WAS RIGHT!!! I TOLD YOU SO!!!

Two weeks ago I wrote an opinion piece for Colorlines.com about the fact that the hip-hop industry was going to change its tune around the place of queer artists within it, but that change, as 50 Cent noted, would likely be due to market forces of declining record sales and the way the gay consumer has become increasingly important market niche in global capitalism.

So last night at the famous Coachella Music Festival, up-and-coming hip-hop artist Lil B from Berkeley, California announced that he’s calling his upcoming album I’m Gay during his set. He stated (you can also watch in the video below):

“I’m gonna do the most controversial thing in hip-hop. Ya’ll heard it first. And I’mma just show you that words don’t mean s**t. I’mma make an album called ‘I’m Gay,’ right. Now I’mma tell you why I’m the first person to do it in hip-hop and why you’re the first people to know my reasons. I’m just gonna tell you. So many people be worried about what people mean and definitions of words and s**t… Now I like women, I love women, you feel me. But within yourselves, no matter what you do, it doesn’t matter, it’s like live life. You’ve only got one life to live. Be happy.”

Is Lil B coming out? Or is he using this as a way of tapping the gay market, and letting straight people know he’s not a homophobe? It’s worth noting he has a song called “Ellen Defgeners” where he’s rhyming about being famous and on television like Ellen Degeneres–no real mention of her sexuality but naming this white lesbian TV host as the standard of celebrity. Coachella is a great venue to do so, and get tons of publicity. The music festival has become an increasingly important venue for underground artists (so much so that mainstream artists like Prince, Kanye West and Rihanna have now all played there) to break into the mainstream, much like South By Southwest, if not bigger.

Now the question I have is when is the sexism and misogyny gonna go away in hip-hop? Will there ever be a reason, market forces or otherwise? Here’s a music video from Lil B…and if these 2009 lyrics are any indication (and I want to say I don’t mind overtly sexual lyrics or cursing in music, I wish I saw more straight men artist figure out how to rap about sex without being misogynist)…we have a long way to go…

UPDATE: Via Colorlines: Another article about Lil B.

Kenyon on Colorlines.com: 50 Cent’s New Pocketbook Values: Anti-Gay Won’t Pay, Even for Hip Hop

Just published a new piece on Colorlines.com about the Mister Cee from Hot 97 sex scandal:

The arrest last week of Hot 97 DJ and hip-hop legend Mister Cee for allegedly having commercial sex with a 20-year-old transgender woman has sparked another hip-hop “war,” this time between Cee’s Hot 97 colleague Funkmaster Flex and rival DJ Charlamagne tha God. Since Cee’s arrest, Flex and Charlamange, a former Wendy Williams sidekick, have been going at one another over the role of queer people within hip-hop, spurring a debate that’s sprawled from Twitter to the blogosphere and that’s been filled with a good bit of the expected homophobia and transphobia.

But a surprising voice has stepped into the forefront to defend Mister Cee: 50 Cent, one hip-hop’s favorite homophobes (and a friend to Mister Cee). Fifty could care less about queer folks, of course. But he does care about the Benjamins, and to him hip-hop’s pro-gay era needs to begin for one simple reason: Homophobia isn’t good for business anymore. Continued…

 

Morgan Freeman to Black People: “Get Over That Sh*t” Called Racism

Academy Award winning actor Morgan Freeman recently sat for an interview with BET.com. In it, he asserts that Black people complain too much about racism and white supremacy in Hollywood (and should follow the lead of the Chinese–his words, whom he asserts do no not complain about the lack of roles or racists depictions, which of course is not true. And even if it was, is shutting up about racism a model to be followed?), and that he does not consider the political impact on Blacks when he accepts different roles.

What’s your take on what’s been dubbed as the Black men blackout, i.e. the lack of African-American actors on stage, at this year’s Oscars?
I think we need to get over that s–t. How many Chinese do you see? You don’t see them out marching and s–t. Oh God please. I think … We need to get over it, that’s all.

Have you ever felt pressure to represent your people in a certain way in any of your films?
I don’t have any “my people.” I never had to deal with that part of my thing. Once, I straightened my hair when I was doing The Electric Company, and this woman comes up to me and says, “You…you… shouldn’t!” And I said, “Hold it. You don’t dictate my image. Get away from me.” And another one said, “But you’re a black man!” And I said, “Oh? Do tell!” After I played the president in Deep Impact, somebody said to me, “How does it feel to play a Black president?” And I was like, “Whoa, whoa. I didn’t play a ‘Black’ president. I played the president.” I don’t have to play Black.


And yet you’ve never shied away from controversial film portrayals of Black men like the pimp in Street Smart or the driver in Driving Miss Daisy. Has there been a special blueprint you’ve followed throughout your career?

I’m not shaped by anything at all except if it’s a good story and [has] an interesting character. I don’t have to worry about my image. My image has to do with my work. I’m not John Wayne. I’m an actor. I want to do anything that tells a good meaningful story. The part I play in it is just a part of that story.

Well I guess that helps explain why he wouldn’t cringe at playing Hoke in Driving Miss Daisy, and the Black side-kick in dozens of other films, giving him an estimated net worth of $90 million.

Wikipedia.com has an entire section on Freeman’s page called “Comments on Race.” It reads:

Freeman has publicly criticized the celebration of Black History Month and does not participate in any related events, saying, “I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history.”[14] He says the only way to end racism is to stop talking about it, and he notes that there is no “white history month”.[15] Freeman once said on an interview with 60 MinutesMike Wallace: “I am going to stop calling you a white man and I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man.”[14] Freeman supported the defeated proposal to change the Mississippi state flag, which contains the Confederate battle flag.[16][17]

I guess Wikipedia can add this BET interview to this section of his sketchy biography.

Stunt Queen of the Week: Oprah Winfrey Gets the Last Laugh on Barbara Wa-Wa

I just heard about this, and chile, it is the read of all reads.

Oprah has pulled the biggest stunt on Barbara Walters. And I love O for it.

Rosie O’Donnell announced yesterday on her blog that she was moving to Chicago to host a new talk show in the 4pm time slot after Oprah goes off the air, to be produced out of Harpo Studios for the OWN Network. Oprah is also going to produce this show.

Why is this such a fierce stunt? I think Oprah has no love for Barbara Walters.

Iyanla Vanzant recently wrote in her book, Peace from Broken Pieces (which I highly recommend) that it was Barbara Walters and her team that first lured her from her bi-monthly spot on the Oprah Show year’s ago, and then treated her like shit. Oprah had told  Iyanla at the time if anyone tries to steal you from us, please let me know who it is. Oprah only learned it was Walters months after Iyanla left Harpo (who had been developing Iyanla for her own show). When Iyanla recently appeared on Oprah to patch up their relationship after tthe split, Iyanla said her time working on her solo show, under the direction of Walters and View producer Bill Geddie, she was treated like “Chicken George and Kizzy” –a reference to two slaves from the book and film Roots. Iyanla noted that on her show, which had a multi-million dollar budget, she did not even have an office.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAipTDaClf4

Iyanla on Oprah

Everyone knows about the split between Walters and Rosie O’Donnell which was very public, and pretty brutal. What’s the best way to have revenge if you’re Oprah? GIVE YOUR PRIZED 4PM SPOT TO BARBARA’S ARCH NEMESIS!!! AND PUT YOUR NAME AND RESOURCES INTO SUPPORTING IT!!!! LMAO!!!!

That, my straight friends, is what the queer kids call a stunt! And Oprah Winfrey pulled the biggest stunt of all!

About Iyanla? Never you fret, she tweeted last week that after the Oprah show her book went to #1 on the NY Times Bestseller’s list, and that she has been offered a chance to come back to television. Might this be on the Oprah Winfrey Network? Time will tell.

Congrats Rosie. Congrats Iyanla. And Oprah, you better work! LOL!!!