Sunday, August 30, 2009

An Actor Prepares and an Activist Persists - National Equality March is Coming

Dear Reader,

Some may say I am a bit on the Debbie Downer side with my writing. Well, yeah, OK I guess I embrace that. There is part of me that ends up with the 'feel good' sensation when I share poignant stories and information about the struggles of marginalized groups and their fight for equality. In the sharing I hope all my readers can be inspired to do what they can to continue bridging divides and forging forward towards a level playing field for all. So, for me sharing the bad does make me feel good.

As promised, this blog not only serves as a clearinghouse of stories, but as a place to explore the power of performance and performance material to change lives and minds. Below is a monologue I am working on for an audition next week. It fits right in with the goals of this blog and is a reminder of what it took during the height of the AIDS crisis for people to wake up and make change a reality. The monologue comes from Larry Kramer's play The Normal Heart. Kramer is a role model of mine. It is his integration of playwrighting, activism and other writing that is an inspiration to the work I do.

And more specifically, I share Kramer's approach towards fighting for LGBT equal rights. Kramer is quoted in this month's article Hope and History by Michael Joseph Gross. Kramer says about the fight for LGBT equal rights, "We are not here to make friends. “We are here to get our rights. And these two statements do not join together to blend into one happy halo."

While embracing Kramer's sentiments, I do hold to my original goals of this blog. I do want to hear dissenting voices - and understand them. I do want to attract various perspectives to this debate. But, I would be doing a disservice to the LGBT and supportive community if I did not continue hammering home the gravity of what this fight is up against. That is why I choose to continue exposing the uncomfortable stories that shape LGBT discrimination and hate - being a Debbie Downer. Though the dialogue will always remain open here, we all must realize that as in any fight for equality it is the gritty persistence that doesn't allow us to keep looking away. And like all fights for civil rights in this country, everyone must accept at some point the heat will rise to uncomfortable levels for all Americans until rights are granted for the marginalized group.

I believe we are on that cusp now in regard to LGBT equality. With movements like the upcoming National Equality March we are about to see what the LGBT and supportive community is made of - really made of. You don't have to be a political science expert to know that the pendulum of power in this country perpetually swings and the rest of 2009 is prime time to go after LGBT equal rights. I think there are enough smart people out there on both sides of this fight to know this fall brings with it a consuming fire that can only be extinguished by 100% equal rights for all LGBT Americans in all matters civil and criminal.

Supporters of LGBT equality like me will always do what we can to engage in the conversations that help change hearts and minds. But the time has come when the slow progress of niceties must be usurped for a while by bold action to claim the prize. Then, in the aftermath we can see who was there in the fight, who was beside the fight, who fought against equality and lost, who still fights against equal rights after the victory and who carries shame for not doing their part to be on the right side of history.

What will get each of us off our asses to get to the National Equality March? What will cause us to say now is the time to get real and realize LGBT and supportive Americans are in for the fight of our lives?

The following monologue reflects the public attitudes of the 1980's at the beginning of the AIDS crisis. In the 1980's and 90's LGBT people had a lot of motivation to get out there and Act Up. Gay men were dying from AIDS in droves and our governments were turning a blind eye while large swaths of our community were annihilated. The grief, anger and fear got LGBT people out there making lots of noise - and things changed. Governments started taking the AIDS crisis seriously.

Never forget, LGBT people die every day around the world - for no other reason than they are LGBT. Maybe this monologue will be a cold reminder of how the 80's were not too long ago - and how hate towards LGBT people is a constant today. We should all take the time to get outside our comfort zones and realize each LGBT person who is beaten, killed or otherwise discriminated against is one person a degree closer to each LGBT person and their loved ones. A bit closer to you. A bit closer to me.

Whether real stories or representations through art - I hope my continued sharing help minimize the margins for an equal future.

From The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer

"Bruce's partner has died of AIDS at a time when people did not understand the condition properly, and no successful treatment had yet been found. He is visiting Ned, an activist in getting society to accept and understand what is happening in the gay community" (Tucker, P and Ozanne, C. (2007). Award Monologues for Men. New York: Routledge).

"Bruce: He's been dead a week.
Ned: I didn't know he was so close.
Bruce: No one did. He wouldn't tell anyone. Do you know why? Because of me. Because he knows I'm so scared I'm some sort of carrier. This makes three people I've been with who are dead. I went to Emma and I begged her: please test me somehow, please tell me if I'm giving this to people. And she said she couldn’t, there isn't any way they can find out anything because they still don't know what they're looking for. Albert, I think I loved him best of all, and he went so fast. His mother wanted him back in Phoenix before he died, this was last week when it was obvious, so I get permission from Emma and bundle him all up and take him to the plane in an ambulance. The pilot wouldn't take off and I refused to leave the plane - you would have been proud of me - so finally they got another pilot. Then, after we take off, Albert loses his mind, not recognizing me, not knowing where he is or that he's going home, and then, right there on the plane, he becomes . . . incontinent. He starts doing it in his pants and all over the seat; shit, piss, everything. I pulled down my suitcase and yanked out whatever clothes were in there and I start mopping him up as best I can, and all these people are staring at us and moving away in droves and . . . I ram all these clothes back in the suitcase and I sit there holding his hand, saying, 'Albert, please, no more, hold it in, man, I beg you, just for us, for Bruce and Albert.' And when we got to Phoenix, there's a police van waiting for us and all the police are in complete protective rubber clothing, they looked like fucking astronauts, and by the time we got to the hospital where his mother had fixed up his room real nice, Albert was dead. (Ned starts toward him.) Wait, it gets worse. The hospital doctors refused to examine him to put a cause of death on the death certificate, and without a death certificate the undertakers wouldn't take him away, and neither would the police. Finally, some orderly comes in and stuffs Albert in a heavy-duty Glad Bag and motions us with his finder to follow and he puts him out in the back alley with the garbage. He says, 'Hey, man. See what a big favor I've done for you, I got him out, I want fifty bucks.' I paid him and then his mother and I carried the bag to her car and we finally found a black undertaker who cremated him for a thousand dollars, no questions asked.

Would you and Felix mind if I spent the night on your sofa? Just one night. I don't want to go home."

Thanks for reading.

Alan L. Bounville