hen it comes to the LGBTQ+ community, this past year has been just as controversial as this issue’s theme — “A Year of Queer” — might seem. Like our title, the past year challenged societal norms and opinions about traditionally unknown or taboo subjects. For the queer community, it has been a year of progress.
Queer visibility in the media and the government is unprecedented. Last June began with actress and activist Laverne Cox as the first transgender woman on the cover of Time. The year has come full circle with one of the greatest Olympic athletes of all time, Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce), gracing the cover of Vanity Fair. President Obama was the first president in history to say the word “transgender” in a State of the Union address, support an initiative to ban LGBTQ+ conversion therapy and declare June LGBT Pride Month. The Supreme Court of the United States will soon vote on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Indiana, a decision that will affect all 50 states and change not only the future of the same-sex marriage movement, but the future of every movement and/or initiative within the queer community. Everyone has an opinion, and that is good. Reflecting back on how far the LGBTQ+ community has come in the past 10, five and even two years is remarkable.
“On a national level, [queer culture] is becoming much more accepted,” says local drag queen and activist Brooklyn Steele-Tate (Michael Cottrell). “Locally, I don’t think [Cincinnati] is as conservative as some people say or as it used to be.”
The 43-year-old performer says she has never experienced issues of discrimination in Cincinnati. In and out of drag as an African-American gay man, she sites her age and knowledge of her surroundings for that. When she isn’t performing at Below Zero’s The Cabaret, Brooklyn is the president of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Cincinnati and vice president of the Imperial Sovereign Queen City Court of the Buckeye Empire (ISQCCBE), an organization supporting drag queens, kings and any performer who wants to get involved. But it is her role as head of volunteers and entertainment for Cincinnati Pride that keeps her busy all year.
CityBeat: What does Pride mean to you?
Brooklyn Steele-Tate: “Work! No, I’m just kidding. When I’m standing up there on that stage for 12 hours — literally, 12 hours in heels — and I see the kids smiling and the face painting and the families around, that, probably to me, is the most joyous part because I know those people are enjoying what I worked my ass off and my committee has worked their asses off to get done. When I get emails or feedback or a trans kid comes up and says, ‘My parents are coming out this year. They are coming with me.’ That’s what it’s all about. And the stress, the fighting, the arguing, the looking for money and all that stuff behind the scenes is worth it because of this one person who just comes in and says, ‘I’m finally able to do what I want to do.’ ”
This year, Brooklyn and the Pride board had a tough decision to face: A local anti-queer church organization wanted to be in the Pride Parade. When discussing the request with executives, Brooklyn was at a crossroads, but she and the board allowed them to attend if the group agreed not to throw things, use a bullhorn, etc. Brooklyn foresees more families and non-queer individuals attending Pride this year and hopes they can use this example of hate as an educational tool for their children. She also mentioned other church groups involved in Pride that believe God is all about love and support the LGBTQ+ community. Knowing this, Brooklyn does not believe in judging or ostracizing a group for their opinions just because they do not align with hers. She views the queer community as a representation of love and acceptance yearning to be acknowledged and treated fairly in mainstream society. If someone is going to send hate her way, they might as well be paying to do it versus doing it for free on the side of the street.
“I’m not looking for equality amongst gay people,” she says. “I’m looking for equality for everybody. They are paying $200 to be in my parade to tell me I’m going to hell. OK, I’m OK with that.”
Another Pride executive board member is 63-year-old Michael Chanak, better known around Cincinnati as Mother Goose, a queer individual (who prefers “Goose” over any pronouns) whose name is derived from the nursery-rhyme character. As a journalist and queer commentator, Goose has ties rooted in Cincinnati and is known for questioning the norm.
CityBeat: How has queer culture and Cincinnati Pride evolved throughout your lifetime?
Mother Goose: “[Cincinnati Pride] used to be called a ‘march.’ Now it’s a ‘parade.’ It used to be political. Now it’s extremely commercial. Those things are not inherently bad. They’re a sign of progress and the increasing acceptance and that things are accepted that were once very edgy. We think that going to fancy parties and paying for expensive attorneys is going to get us equality. And, you know, you can’t have one without the other — you also need people on the streets. It isn’t like the old days. I look at my generation, and we did a hell of a lot of work, and I don’t want to say [the young generation does] it for stardom, but it wasn’t this instant Facebook gratification. If you’re really going to change things, you have to enjoy the work. I’m seeing people enjoy the attention. Don’t just go to events. Go to meetings. Investigate.”
Goose sees Pride as “a remembrance of who we’ve been, a celebration of who we are and what is possible.” But Goose questions the future of Pride as queer culture becomes more mainstream — will there be the same need for it in the future? As generations begin to grow up in more accepting or at least knowledgeable environments, will the youth understand the meaning of Pride, what it represents and the pioneers, spoken and unspoken, that made it possible? Will it become more general, like the Taste of Cincinnati or Oktoberfest? Will it lose its meaning?
Time will reveal answers to those questions, but there is certainly still a need for queer-friendly environments. A progressive year of queer is exactly that — progressive. It’s a step in the right direction, but far from a leap over the finish line. Queer issues are at the forefront of society, but the work is far from over. The past year has seen countless examples of queer bullying, deaths and new anti-queer legislation.
“Stuff that’s been coming up in the media recently as far as trans issues and the number of trans people that’s been killed this year, it just feels a little inappropriate to be celebratory,” says 35-year-old Erin Ledingham. Erin and her wife Kristen Ledingham, 31, are nursing students at the University of Cincinnati. In 2012, they got married in Iowa, but their marriage is still not recognized in Ohio. The impending SCOTUS decision will determine their whole future — their residence status in Cincinnati and the possibility of raising children and starting a family.
They see Pride as a positive thing and a great option for people, but they are more concerned with the events of the past year.
CityBeat: After a year of unprecedented progress, where do we need to direct our focus? What should we be thinking about this Pride season?
Erin Ledingham: “I would like to see civil rights for people. I feel like there are a lot of different movements going on right now in this country that are very fractured, and I would like to see people seeing the connections between racism and sexism and violence against women, violence against queer people, violence against brown and black people — to see the connections between the culture that we have built and why all of these things exist. I think it would be amazing just to live in a mindful, thoughtful culture, but I don’t think that’s going to happen in my lifetime in this country. People can’t be queer but leave other troubles at the door. People can’t just take pieces and parts of their identity and decide to be queer this day and then black this day and whatever. It doesn’t work that way.”
The stress on intersectionality, diversity and justice for the transgender community was a concern echoed by all three interviewees. In the first eight weeks of 2015, seven transgender women of color died tragic deaths in relation to their gender identity, and that does not include the numerous trans folks before and after that time who died too soon. It is a state of emergency.
Pride is important, but the representation, visibility and possibilities seen in the media this year — which Pride represents — need to start translating from the screen and one week a year to everyday, mainstream local society, big cities and small towns. As this country and city become more and more diverse, issues and events need to start reflecting that shift.
It might have been a year of queer, not the Year of Queer. The future holds more movements, protests and actions toward queer injustice like eliminating employment discrimination and the death rate of trans individuals. Here’s looking forward to not only queer equality, but also human equality.
Have a happy Pride, whatever that means to you. Reflect. Take action. And most importantly, give some love to your fellow humans. ©