Uproar at Americas Society Conference
Two weeks before the Margin/Center Conference, held at Americas Society on March 21-22, the directors of the Society first threatened to cancel the Conference, then decided to redesign the program in order to exclude the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies as a cosponsor of the event. The directors of the Americas Society shelved the original program and hastily printed a censored version. Their homophobic gesture gave particular urgency to an event whose goal had been to deal precisely with issues of power, marginalization and strategies of representation. The Conference, whose subtitle was “emergent discourses in Latin American and Latino literature and culture,” included three panels: Afro-Caribbean Literature, Womens Writing, and Gay and Lesbian Literature and Culture. Planning for the Conference began in the Fall of 1994, when Dan Shapiro, Head of Literature at Americas Society, invited CLAGS to cosponsor the Conference. For the next eighteen months, Elena Martinez and Oscar Montero planned the Conference along with Mr. Shapiro. CLAGS also contributed $2,000. toward the event. By late February 1996, the final program was printed. Several letters between CLAGS and the Americas Society state that the program must include all three cosponsors on its cover: CLAGS, Americas Society and the I nstituto Cervantes. The original program reflected th is agreement. However, less than three weeks before the Conference, Mr. Shapiro called the Conference organizers to tell them that the Conference could not be held at Americas Society because of CLAGS’s participation. In a compromise of his own making, Mr. Shapiro ultimately printed and mailed a program that completely omitted the cosponsorship of CLAGS. As Mr. Shapiro later admitted, Elizabeth Beim, director of cultural affairs at Americas Society and Everett Briggs, the Society’s president, had forbidden him from discussing the changes with CLAGS. When questioned by members of the press, who had by now been alerted of the situation , the directors of Americas Society falsely claimed that each sponsoring organization had done its own program – a mendacious attempt to cover up its homophobia. During the second day of the Conference, the censoring of the program was discussed by the participants. Oscar Montero presented a chronology of events that led to the censorship, and Elena Martinez chaired the discussion. It was a charged, often tense discussion. A town meeting on homosexual panic was not what CLAGS had envisioned when it decided to participate in this project. However, the discussion gave added resonance to many of the issues of oppression and representation that had been raised in the panels. Panelists and participants offered ways at the Conference to counteract Americas Society’s homophobia. Some of the suggestions were included in a letter asking Americas Society for an explanation and an apology. A copy of the letter, along with a chronology of events and a petition signed by over thirty Conference participants was sent to Americas Society, all Conference participants, the M LA and LASA lesbian and gay caucuses, the Rockefeller Foundation, backers of Americas Society, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and CLAGS board members. Americas Society’s actions only served to high light the importance of CLAGS. In the genteel setting of Americas Society, homophobia, with its attendant gestures of silencing, erasure and oppression, is alive and well. CLAGS refused to allow a business-as-usual cover-up of these events. We urge those supportive of CLAGS to express their disapproval of the censorship by writing Mr. Everett Briggs, Americas Society, 680 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10021, or by calling Mr. Dan Shapiro, Ms. Elizabeth Beim or Mr. Briggs at 212-249-8950, or fax 212-249-5868.
Lesbian and Gay History: Defining a Field
On October 6-7, the CUNY Graduate School PhD Program in History and CLAGS co-hosted a wide-ranging conference on “Lesbian and Gay History: Defining a Field.” The two day event brought together more than 40 panel discussants, and an audience exceeding 300 people, to explore new directions and continuing debates in the field of gay and lesbian history. Among the panel topics discussed were the “classic” debates surrounding the historiography of “Romantic Friendship” and “Gender and the Homosexual Role.” Discussants included Blanche Wiesen Cook, Lillian Faderman, Carroll SmithRosenberg, Randolph Trumbach, George Chauncey, Ramon Gutierrez, Martin Manalansan, Will Roscoe and Martha Vicinus. There were additional panels on the writing of biography, the ongoing efforts of archivists to preserve and make available the material record of bisexual, transgendered, gay and lesbian lives, the challenges of teaching lesbian and gay history both in and out of the university setting, and the work-in-progress of graduate students and independent scholars. Among the panelists were Jonathan Ned Katz, Lisa Duggan, Larry Gross, Vivien Ng, AngeiJ Bowen, John D’Emilio, Alice Echols, James Miller and Jeff Nunokawa. In addition, the film “Outrage 69” was shown on the first evening of the conference, followed by a roundtable discussion that included the film’s director Arthur Wong. The discussion was free-wheeling and sometimes contentious, involving basic questions about the ways in which lesbian and gay politics and history are represented in the media. The Rockefeller Foundation and the New York Council for the Humanities were sponsors of the conference.
On February 8-9, CLAGS held its first conference organized by political scientists, “Identity/Space/Power: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Politics.” The conference steering committee, chaired by Mark Blasius and Paisley Currah of CUNY, included community-based activists, faculty, and graduate students from the metropolitan area. The conference began with a panel “Conceptualizing the Political, Creating an Agenda” that included a paper by Hector Carrillo on his fieldwork studying AI OS activism in Mexico, Cathy Cohen’s critique of queer theory’s absence of class- and race-based analysis, Paul Hagland’s overview of international and human rights theory’s contribution to LGBT politics, Amanda U dis-Kessler on bisexuality’s destabilization of tradition political claims of lesbian and gay identity, and Riki Anne Wilch in’s transgendered “performativeanalysis” of gender revolution as a basis for rethinking what LGBT politics is about. A second panel addressed an overflow crowd about “Constituencies, Organizing, and Political Formations.” Participants included Urvashi Vaid, Larry Kramer, David Rayside, Ellen Andersen and Donald Suggs. The second day of the conference, even more than the first, brought together academic analysts, elected officials, pol icy makers, and community activists. A panel entitled “Sexual Identity and Pol itical Space” applied the topics of the first day onto neighborhood, national, hemispheric, and transitional levels of analysis. Participants included Jacqui Alexander, Martin Manalansan, Robert Bailey, Juanita Ramos Diaz and Dennis Altman. A three-hour Town Meeting took place on Friday afternoon. The format brought in, following CLAGS’s mandate, diverse components of the LGBT community. Workshops and t heir leadership highlights included: LGBT Health Issues (Terry McGovern of the H IV Law Project and Javid Syed of Asian and Pacific Islander Coalition of HIV/AIDS; learning from our defeats (Karen Burstein); the Left and LGBT politics (Melanie Kay/ Kantrowitz); candidacy development (Eileen Rakower, judicial candidate); youth and education issues (school board and Hetrick-Martin representatives); and responses to all workshops by elected officials Tom Duane and Deborah Glick. A final panel on “Strategies” included a report from the Beijing Women’s Conference by Jean Grossholtz, a comparison of judicial , legislative, and electoral strategies by Rebecca Mae Salokar, a discussion of the utility of “think tanks” for LGBT politics by Lee Badgett, and an assessment of Republican and Democratic party politics on the eve of the presidential campaign season by Rich Tafel. The conference was concluded with remarks by Mark Blasius, who summarized its overall themes. Lastly, as a political event of both thought and practice, the conference participants (led by CLAGS board member Kendall Thomas) raised almost $1 ,000 to support the work of South Africa’s National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality to keep LGBT protections in that country’s draft constitution, the first in the world to do so.
Trans/Forming Knowledge: Street Smarts, Social Activism, and the Power of Expertise
On Thursday, May 2 CLAGS presented a one day conference which staged a series of conversations exploring the relationship between vernacular knowledge created during the course of community organizing, and expert knowledge generated by professionals, academics, and bureaucrats. “Trans/Forming Knowledge” explored the dynamics of these different forms of knowledge and especially their significance for H IV transmission and prevention, transgender narrative and political organ izing. The conference opened with opening remarks by Martin Duberman, Director of CLAGS, Carmen Vazquez, Director of Policy at the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, New York, and Jeffrey Escoffier, NYC Office of Gay and Lesbian Health. KAREN NAKAMURA, JAMES GREEN, JESSICA MEREDITH XAVIER, KIKI WHITLOCK, BEN SINGER Each session was structured to allow for extensive discussion between panelists and members of the audience. The first conversation, entitled “HIV/AIDS: Transmission, Activism and Expertise,” explored the dynamics between street smarts and expert knowledge dealing with the controversies around oral sex and lesbians with HIV. Panelists included Amber Hollibaugh, Director of Lesbian AIDS Project, GMHC; Ki Namaste, Transgender HIV activist, Montreal, Quebec; Ana Olivera, Director of Clinical Programs, Samaritan Village; Colin Robinson, Director of HIV Prevention, GMHC; and David Roman, University of Southern California. The moderators were George Bellinger, Gay Men of African Descent, and Marj Plumb, NYC Office of Gay and Lesbian Health. The second conversation, entitled “Narrative Trans/Formations,” included writer, activist, and founder of FTM International James Green; Karen Nakamura, Yale Univers[ty; Ben Singer, Rutgers University; Kiki Whitlock, Transgender Task Force of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, and transgender activist Jessica Meredith Xavier. The moderators were Nan Alamilla Boyd, 1995-1996 Rockefeller Fellow at CLAGS, and Henry Rubin of Harvard University.
The third session, entitled “Community Matters: Knowledge in Progress,” consisted of a series of work groups about the production of knowledge and provided feedback on projects undertaken by community and professional groups. Sandy Stone of the Advanced Communications Technology Laboratory, University of Texas at Austin and the author of The Empire Strikes Back: The Posttranssexual Manifesto and The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age concluded the conference with a performance piece.