by Naomi Ullian
Pride arrives in southern Vermont this year with a series of cultural events making visible the histories of our local queer communities.
Hosted by Green Mountain Crossroads in collaboration with Vermont Performance Lab (VPL) and Rockingham Arts & Museum Project, the festivities include the opening of the Andrew's Inn Oral History Project, Ain Gordon's Radicals in Miniature live performance, Cineslam -- Vermont’s LGBTQ shorts film festival, and an Andrew's Inn Dance Party.
The Andrew's Inn Oral History Project presents a cohesive narrative of a community space and LGBT disco located in Bellows Falls during the 1970s and 80s. Green Mountain Crossroads executive director HB Lozito will present audio and text from over 30 hours of interviews conducted in 2015 and 2016, accompanied by portraits by photographer Evie Lovett.
What's particularly important about this project, notes HB, is that queer histories are often lost, ignored, or invisibilized by dominant media and historians. While other students of history have investigated radical histories in southern Vermont, none of the information about the Andrew's Inn has been collected and made available in quite this way, not to mention celebrated by later generations through a queer historical lens.
"What we see is that queer people need to be the historians and tellers of our own stories," say HB, "Because often nobody else will do it."
Visibility, HB points out can create more structures of safety for marginalized folks, and many local folks have purposely avoided telling the stories of the Andrew's Inn and other queer aspects of local history from the 1950s through the 1980s.
HB first met Ain Gordon in January of 2015 at a day-long meeting on art and social practice in the local community hosted by VPL.
Long interested in oral histories as an accessible medium for artistic and social justice engagement, HB found they shared an emergent working style with Ain, himself a queer history researcher and performance artist, and with the support of VPL director Sara Coffey they discovered shared fertile ground and myriad ideas for incubation and inspiration -- oral histories, queer experiences, art and social practice, and the involvement of extant local communities.
Gordon's multimedia work stems from detailed archival research of hidden histories of LGBTQ communities in the United States, including a recent work at the Philadelphia Historical Society on Dr. Anonymous, the mask-wearing individual who approached the American Psychiatric Association in the 1972 in order to lobby for the removal of homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
In the fall of 2015, VPL and GMC collaborated with Marlboro College in offering a class for students on radical social movements in southern Vermont from 1960s-1980s. HB and Ain to taught alongside theater and performance professor Brenda Foley and American Studies professor Kate Ratcliff in covering topical social movements -- including the local women's movement, RFD magazine, and the genesis and development of local Radical Faerie sanctuaries -- as well as instruction in the ethical and technical practices of collective oral histories.
In addition to teaching, Ain and HB conducted research trips to interview local folks who had participated in rural queer community building, experiences including not only the Andrew's Inn but also Packer's Corner, Total Loss Farm, and the Liberation New Service. They learned details including that Ann Stokes, who donated the land currently open to the public as Madame Sherri Forest, was also an investor in the Andrew’s Inn.
The story of Andrew’s Inn and contemporary resurrection of its history is a story of general waves of queer habitation and vitality in southern Vermont. "Now, I have a lot of queer friends who are older than me," notes HB, "But I know that's not true for lots of younger queer people. The intergenerational nature of this project is really special."
Something that younger queer people in this rural area may note from learning the histories of Andrew’s Inn is the current lack of spaces that prioritize queer community-- no gay bars, no brick-and-mortar community or event spaces. This dearth became especially evident after the shootings in Orlando in 2016. Although drinking establishments might not necessarily be our top priority -- it might not be true that "we don't need gay bars any more." While GMC hosts queer pop-up spaces and events by collaborating with justice-focused spaces like The Root, the executive director of GMC thinks the local community would benefit from a permanent queer-dedicated community space, a space offering safety, refuge, and home.
"We still need spaces for queer people, places like Andrew’s Inn which prioritized safety and cultural space for queer people, and really where all people could come and explore identity, examine life through a queer lens, where folks can come think about and perform gender in the ways they want to," says HB.
Andrew’s Inn itself existed as much more than a disco party and bucolic country retreat. Musicians and performance artists debuted work on the stage, co-counseling and substance abuse counseling groups ran out of the basement, and lasting friendships and community organizing were born. The queer community in southern Vermont became vibrant, not only drawing folks from far-away cities like Montreal, Boston, and New York, but also establishing and supporting strong networks for local gay and lesbian community. At certain points, this vibrancy felt sufficiently threatening to homophobic community members that Andrew’s Inn experienced broken windows, bomb threats, requests that local officials do something about "those people," and marches of folks chanting "get the faggots out of town."
This oral history project is only the first iteration of this research, and HB happily acknowledges its place in Green Mountain Crossroads’ political, social, and cultural trajectory. "This project directly expresses our mission of building community, visibility, knowledge, and power of rural LGBTQ people," they emphasize. "Collecting and creating cohesive accounts of our histories helps build collective memory and a location for our current communities to build upon, to continue to carve out space for ourselves. Queers have lived here, do live here, and movement work does and has happened here."
It's important for us to remember, they add, that queer people are not outsiders to rural community, but that we've always been here, and that being active and engaged often comes the processes of waking up, an experience catalyzed for many by moving through the world as queer.
Only six of over a dozen interviews will be presented at the upcoming opening of the Andrew’s Inn Oral History Project, and more interviews are lined up for this coming summer. HB encourages folks to get in touch if they have stories to share, acknowledging that there are so many more artifacts, stories, and lessons to convey. Audio clips will be available on the GMC website, along with Evie Lovett's portraits, and future tours of the projects at libraries and rural New England community centers are in the works.
To learn more and participate in the performances and festivities June 15-17, please visit www.greenmountaincrossroads.org
-by Naomi Ullian-
When the rain let up and a balmy spring day offered gusty breezes and fresh sun, I wandered over to Guilford, VT, to visit with farmers Justin Nye and Amy Frost of Circle Mountain Farm about the upcoming Earth Gay Vermont! celebration that they will be co-hosting with Green Mountain Crossroads on May 21st.
The event's third year at Circle Mountain, the farmers expressed the hope that folks will come out to celebrate local food systems and queer-run agriculture whether or not participants are excited or able to help with whatever work projects will be happening.
"If you don't want to work, or can't, just come hang out and be part of the crew," says Amy.
In past years, projects have included making big compost piles and fertilizing the hoophouse tomatoes.
"Part of what I love about this partnership is that I never know what exactly it is that we'll be doing!" says GMC executive director HB Lozito. "I trust Amy & Justin to come up with the projects knowing that they'll find a magic combination between what needs to get done on the farm and what will be fun for a big group."
Kneeling in the dirt rows as I helped to harvest the tender spinach, Amy and Justin weighed in on the subjects of queerness, farming, land stewardship, and how to build queer rural community.
In considering what it meant to be queer and farmers in this rural community, Amy and Justin agreed that "the queer community has been really supportive of us as farmers, and it feels good to provide food for other queer people that we maybe share experiences with."
Work projects such as the event at Earth Gay is one way that queer people can build relationships in rural areas, where geography, the economy, and small populations can make it feel hard to connect. Some of our longest friendships, we all agreed, have ignited while doing work -- setting out tasks, accomplishing goals, and building together.
"Its pretty empowering to get shit done together," observes Amy. In rural areas, Amy notes, it’s especially important to prioritize connection, and working together and feeding each other is fundamentally a rural value that queers can get down with.
Farming and the production of food is one way that queer folks are often able to connect to their bodies, to invest and build confidence and care in their physical capacities in a world that often encouraged everyone and especially queer people to dissociate or feel alienated from their bodies, desires, and genders.
HB notes about Earth Gay, "There is a personal sustainability piece around using our bodies together to do good work. So often as LGBTQ people we feel alienated from our bodies. I find for myself that getting outside and having a positive experience accomplishing physical tasks together as a group with other LGBTQ folks and allies helps me reconnect to my own body and what it is capable of. "
In the labors of farming, the body becomes a hard-working participant along with microbes and chickens and brassicas, and many folks who farm find power, agency, and peacefulness in choosing work that allows them to show up as themselves, to accomplish tasks that provide for their community, and to find the quiet and realness and sanity that comes from working with your hands.
"Earth Gay is one of the times during the year that we dig in (ha) to what environmental justice, food access, sustainability, and community organizing look like in our rural community," says HB. "We know that climate change will increasingly affect us, and that one way to build powerful, resilient communities is to support local farms and farmers."
Farmers serve as intermediaries between human communities and the plant and animal worlds. By choosing small-scale and sustainable cultivation practices, farmers both help humans meet needs for nourishment as well as steward the land and protect it from degradation. Many queer individuals and communities challenge and embody subversion of the binary or dualistic perspectives which capitalism thrives on. Interacting with land through a queer lens can help farmers to challenge the way that monocropping and agribusiness objectify the land as a non-living entity that exists solely for human benefit and disposal. The experience of land stewardship through sustainable agriculture puts queer farmers and participants in sustainable food ways at a political opportunity to protect land from binary extractive relationships with human communities, and queer farmers can serve to lead the interventions and disruption of the capitalist relationship humans have developed with farmland, instead encouraging human communities to understand the collaboration with the many moving and sentient beings -- animals, plants, fungi, minerals -- that join forces to produce food that humans can gratefully benefit from.
Farming, queers understand, is about relationships, and tending to them.
Amy and Justin say, of Circle Mountain Farm, that they also hope for the farm to feel like a refuge or retreat, a place folks can come to recharge and feel safe.
Even in small liberal towns, farming can feel dominated by hetero and cisgender family units, rendering less visible the hardworking LGBTQ folks growing food for rural communities. Says HB, "Especially in a state like Vermont that projects a strong agricultural history and future, we are saying, ‘LGBTQ people are, and have always been, a part of the strong ag traditions and future here in our state’."
-By Naomi Ullian-
Rural homos, we're calling you! Whatever our reclusive tendencies and however lukewarm we may at times feel about Facebook, sometimes the social media really benefits us. Like when Green Mountain Crossroads executive director came across the Facebook page of the documentary MAJOR!, which is now coming to a theater near you.
The "Major to the People" campaign has been offering queer and especially POC-led queer organizations an opportunity to screen this glorious documentary in their communities for free.. When HB pounced on the opportunity via a short application, the warm communications from the film's director/producers included, "We are so excited for you to bring the film to rural Vermont!" In the tradition of Miss Major herself, the screening of this film in Brattleboro will be a collaboration between Green Mountain Crossroads and Lost River Racial Justice (LRRJ) as part of LRRJ’s racial justice film series.
Here are just a few reasons you should join us for a free screening of this highly acclaimed film on April 29th at 4:00 pm at the Latchis theater in downtown Brattleboro.
In 2016 MAJOR! was screened at over 60 film festivals globally and won 19 awards for best documentary. A story of resilience, community, and liberation, MAJOR! chronicles the life and organizing of the fierce queer elder Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a Black transgender woman and veteran of the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion who served for many years as the executive director of the Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), a Bay Area grassroots organization led by trans women of color advocating for the rights and wellbeing of trans women of color inside and outside of prison.
In the face of national headlines which often feel like a reduction of queer struggles and triumphs to mainstream gay rights and marriage equality, GMC is so happy for the opportunity to support and help make more visible the work and victories of marginalized members of queer communities. We understand this documentation of Miss Major's life not only as one person's individual journey but as community history and the transformative and revolutionary imperatives of caring for one another.
In partnership with LRRJ, the screening of MAJOR! is a part of a racial justice film series which includes the recent screening of a documentary about the life and work of the Black Civil Rights Movement leader Bayard Rustin, whose queerness is often left out of history books, not to mention the obscuring of his life and work in dominant narratives of Civil Rights in many school curricula. For rural queers people, whose lives often exist at many margins, making LGBTQ organizing visibile is necessary acknowledgement and inspiration in moving us toward collective and collaborative liberation.
As queer elders move away from income-generating work and health needs increase, the work of queer communities is to create networks of care and gratitude, which support the comfort of elders as well as their capacity to continue to contribute their experiences and knowledge to younger generations and organizers. At the screening, GMC will be collecting donations to be shared with Miss Major’s Circle of Care as well as Green Mountain Crossroads, and The Root Social Justice Center.
Official trailer and more information at missmajorfilm.com.
MAJOR! April 29 | 4PM | At The Latchis Theater, Brattleboro | FREE!
Approximately 75-100 people joined Green Mountain Crossroads on the steps of the Brattleboro Municipal Center for a rally last week, in response to the Trump Administration's rollback of guidance in support of trans students. It was inspiring to gather such a large and diverse crowd having only put the word out a few hours before we rallied.
Full coverage was on the front page of last week's Commons newspaper. Read the online version of their story here.
Below are some of chants we spoke together last week (some written by HB) and a couple other good ones that didn't quite make it into the rotation. Unfortunately, I'm sure we'll have many more reasons to be voicing public support for trans people in the coming years. So perhaps these chants will be of use to other folks too. Feel free to use and/or adapt as you need and/or add your own in the comments! See you in the streets!
When trans people are under attack, what do we do? STAND UP, FIGHT BACK!
Hey Betsy, what do ya say? Trans kids were born this way!
Hey Jeff what do ya say? Trans people are here to stay!
What do we want?
When do we want it?
We’re here, we’re queer
We’re fabulous, don’t mess with us!
Trans rights are human rights!
No hate, no fear! Trans students are welcome here!
Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho
Transphobia has got to go!
Dear Betsy, this won’t fly! Title Nine still applies!
Out of the closets and into the streets!
Out of the classrooms, and into the streets!
Back up! Back up! (fast tempo!)
We want freedom! freedom!
Tell the transphobes
We don't need 'em, need 'em!
Hey hey hey there DeVos! (repeat)
We got our eye on you! (repeat)
And what we like most of all (repeat)
is liberation for all! (repeat)