Birdsong greets the dawn in my friend’s back garden. No matter that clouds mask the rising sun. I’ve a party to get to, so I don’t have much time. It’s Tennessee William’s birthday and I’m celebrating in his “spiritual home” – New Orleans, that is – at the literary festival named in his honor. I don’t want to be late.
I attended the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival back in 2001, covering the event as a journalist for Radio Netherlands. It was my first visit to the city known as the Big Easy and I immediately fell under its spell, much like the young writer who arrived in 1938. Tennessee wrote his Mama: “I’m crazy about the city. I walk continually, there is so much to see.”
Photo: Frits de Ridder, 1986
In September 1986 I died of AIDS. That’s me – center in the photo – playing one last game of Scrabble. An hour later, handsome Tony in the white shirt died in the arms of Steve, who left the hospice soon after to spend his final days with his family. I passed quietly, offstage. Five nights a week, above a gay bar in Amsterdam.
The rainbow flags are out in Amsterdam today. No, we’re not celebrating Gay Pride early this year. It’s part of a citywide action to “welcome” Russian President Putin. The official reason for his visit is to celebrate 2013 Year of Friendship, marking 400 years of ties between the Netherlands and Russia. But as Putin dines with Queen Beatrix at the Maritime Museum on Monday April 8th, thousands of protestors are expected to gather outside to express strong disapproval of Russia’s proposed anti-gay legislation.
Back in January, the Russian State Duma voted 388-1 in support of a bill that will make “promotion of homosexuality” – particularly by providing information to minors – a punishable offence. More recently there are reports of plans to ban adoption of Russian children by foreign gay couples. The anti-propaganda law is already in force in St. Petersburg and has had a profound effect on the LGBT community there.
What a kerfuffle! A few days ago a story twittered through Blogville, most notably via HuffPost Gay Voices, about Philadelphia drag artist Martha Graham Cracker. She’d been invited by someone at a nearby New Jersey after-school program to delight the kids with stories by Dr. Seuss on his birthday, in celebration of Read Across America. But in a blink of the Grinch’s eye, the invitation was ever so rudely rescinded. Day-care officials deemed Miss Graham Cracker “inappropriate” to read for their children.
I’m from a generation when librarians raised a disapproving finger to their lips to shush even the quietest whispers. So it felt odd (but liberating) to sit with a group of some fifty people in the Amsterdam Public Library and be encouraged – by a teacher, no less – to raise our voices in a resounding chant. “Gender is like a banana! Gender is like a banana!” Continue reading