The Daily Agenda for Wednesday, July 16
July 16th, 2014
Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Calabria, Italy; Pride Charlotte, NC (Black Pride); Colorado Springs, CO; Demming, NM; Frankfurt, Germany; Glasgow, Scotland; Kitsap, WA; Leipzig, Germany; Munich, Germany; Reading, PA; Rochester, MN; Rochester, NY; San Diego, CA.
Other Events This Weekend: Sand Blast Weekend, Asbury Park, NJ; Outfest Film Festival, Los Angeles, CA; Miami Beach Bruthaz, Miami Beach, FL; Pink Dot Rally, Okinawa, Japan (Monday only); Bear Week, Provincetown, MA; Roze Maandag (Pink Monday), Tilburg, Netherlands (Monday only); Tokyo International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, Tokyo, Japan; AIDS Walk, San Francisco, CA.
TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:
Houston’s Different Drum, often known simply as the Drum, started out in the early 1970s as an early leather/levi bar called the Locker. Before that, the building housed a dry cleaning business. In the late 1980s, the bar was known as Chutes, and was one of three bars raided by Houston police as their way of kicking off Pride week in 1987. The location today is home to Empire Cafe.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
► CDC Identifies Haitians, People with Hemophilia as Being at Risk for AIDS: 1982. A little more than a year had passed since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had issued its first alerts on a new syndrome affecting the immune systems of gay men on the East and West Coasts (see Jun 5, Jul 3). The syndrome still didn’t have an official name, but the popular press was beginning to call it Gay-Related Immune Deficinecy (GRID) or more simply as the “gay cancer,” for the rare form of skin cancer that often stalked people with this puzzling condition. The CDC, for its part, simply referred to the two main opportunistic infections that afflected those with this immune deficiency: the hitherto rare Pneumocystis carinii Pneumonia (PCP) and that “gay cancer, Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS). By the end of the year, the CDC noticed similar conditions among intravenous drug users. This relegated the disease to two “guilty” groups: gays and drug addicts.
But that would change. On July 9, the CDC issued a report identifying CDC and KAS among recent Haitian immigrants in the U.S. The report described twenty patients ranging from twenty-two to forty-three years old, three of them women. They had all been born in Haiti and living in the Miami-Dade area for anywhere from one month to seven years. Ten more patients from Haiti were found in Brooklyn, and three others were in California, Georgia and New Jersey. “None of the 23 Haitian males questioned reported homosexual activity, and only 1 of 26 gave a history of IV drug abuse — substantially lower than the prevalence reported for heterosexual patients of other racial/ethnic groups who had Kaposi’s sarcoma or opportunistic infections. … It is not clear whether this outbreak is related to similar outbreaks among homosexual males, IV drug abusers, and others, but the clinical and immunologic pictures appear quite similar. CDC is currently collaborating with local investigators to define this problem and identify risk factors.” By the end of the year, Haiti’s growing tourism industry would collapse.
So now the at-risk populations were homosexuals, drug users, and Haitian immigrants — three marginalized groups which most people found difficult to identify with. (French researchers were finding the syndrome among a much more diverse group of paitents, including African immigrants and residents, but that news hadn’t made it to the New World yet.) Meanwhile the ink was barely dry on that CDC report when, just a week later, the CDC issued another report identifying the same syndrome among three people with Hemophilia A who were being treated with Factor VIII, a blood-clotting protein that was extracted from donated blood plasma. This gave the CDC its first solid clue about how the new syndrome might be transmitted:
The clinical and immunologic features these three patients share are strikingly similar to those recently observed among certain individuals from the following groups: homosexual males, heterosexuals who abuse IV drugs, and Haitians who recently entered the United States.(1-3) Although the cause of the severe immune dysfunction is unknown, the occurrence among the three hemophiliac cases suggests the possible transmission of an agent through blood products.
That clue would be reinforced five months later when the CDC, having adopted the “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome” as the official name for the condition just a few months earlier, reported on a 20-month-old infant who experienced an immune deficiency following a transfusion. It would also mark AIDS’ transition from being a disease contracted solely by suspect groups to one that ordinary “innocent” Americans could get.
► Reinaldo Arenas: 1943-1990. His background would have made him tailor-made for Fidel Castro’s revolutionary Cuba. Arenas was born to a destitute family in the rural Oriente province, Castro’s native province and the cradle of the revolution that Arenas joined as a teenager. Arenas moved to Havana in 1961, and became a researcher at the José Martí National Library from 1963 to 1966. His 1965 semi-autobiographical novel, Singing from the Well, was the first novel of his five-part Pentagonia (The Five Agonies) series, which he described as “the secret history of Cuba.” Singing From the Well was awarded a first honorable mention by a committee of Cuban writers, and the Prix Medici in France four years later.
Singing From the Well would be Arenas’s only novel to be published in Cuba, and it would never be reprinted there beyond its initial printing of 2,000 copies because of Arenas’s open homosexuality. Cuba’s benefactor, the Soviet Union, saw homosexuality as a product of a decadent capitalist society, ideas which easily took root in Cuba which already had its own entrenched homophobic qualities. Castro regarded regarded homosexuality as a bourgeois decadence (“In the country, there are no homosexuals,” he once said), and declared that “we would never come to believe that a homosexual could embody the conditions and requirements of conduct that would enable us to consider him a true Revolutionary, a true Communist militant.” New laws were passed and concentration camps were opened to house Cuba’s homosexuals, particularly effeminate men, who were believed to have violated the ideal of Cuba’s “new man.” Those prison camps were supposed to turn these men into the New Man through forced labor, scarce food, shaved heads, and physical mistreatment.
Arenas avoided that fate and managed to find work as a journalist and editor for the literary magazine La Caceta de Cuba, although he was prohibited from publishing abroad while the government refused to publish his books at home. His second novel, Hallucinations, published abroad in 1968, violated that ban. In 1970, Arenas was officially branded a “social misfit” and sentenced to a labor camp to cut sugar cane. When he still managed to get his works smuggled out of Cuba and published abroad, the Cuban government sent him to the notorious El Morro Prison from 1974 to 1976 for being a “counterrevolutionary.” Arenas continued writing, both in and out of prison. He wrote Farewell to the Sea three times because the authorities kept confiscating it. He dedicated his epic poem, El Central, to “my dear friend R., who made me a present of 87 sheets of blank paper.” He tried to escape Cuba, but the attempt ending in failure and more imprisonment. He was finally able to escape during the 1980 Mariel boatlift thanks to a bureaucratic snafu.
On arriving in the United States, he settled to New York and launched a frenzied period of writing: novels, short stories, poetry, essays, and newspaper articles. The two decade saw the publication of the rest of Pentagonia, with The Palace of the White Skunks (1982), Farewell to the Sea (1987), The Color of Summer, (1990), and The Assault (1992). The last major work he wrote was his autobiography, Before Night Falls, which was posthumously published in 1992. Mario Vargas Llosa, the Nobel Prize-winning Peruvian author, praised Before Night Falls and Arena’s uncompromisingly frank — some may say explicit — depiction of his homosexuality in defiance of the homophobia of his Spanish-speaking audience: “This is one of the most moving testimonies that has ever been written in our language about oppression and rebellion, but few will dare to acknowledge this fact since the book, although one reads it with an uncontrollable appetite, has the perverse power of leaving its readers uncomfortable”
Weak with AIDS, without health insurance and living in poverty ever since leaving Cuba, Arenas killed himself in his Hell’s Kitchen apartment on December 7, 1990. He titled his final poem Self-Epitaph:
A bad poet in love with the moon,
he counted terror as his only fortune:
and it was enough because, being no saint,
he knew that life is risk or abstinence,
that every great ambition is great insanity
and the most sordid horror has its charm.
He lived for life’s sake, which means seeing death
as a daily occurrence on which we wager
a splendid body or our entire lot.
He knew the best things are those we abandon
— precisely because we are leaving.
The everyday becomes’ hateful,
there’ s just one place to live, the impossible.
He knew imprisonment offenses
typical of human baseness;
but was always escorted by a certain stoicism
that helped him walk the tightrope
or enjoy the morning’s glory,
And when he tottered, a window would appear
for him to jump toward infinity.
He wanted no ceremony, speech, mourning or cry,
no sandy mound where his skeleton be laid to rest
(not even after death he wished to live in peace).
He ordered that his ashes be scattered at sea
where they would be in constant flow.
He hasn’t lost the habit of dreaming:
he hopes some adolescent will plunge into his waters.
► Tony Kushner: 1956. He is most acclaimed for his Pulitzer prize-winning play, Angels In America, the seven-hour epic about the AIDS crises in the Ed Koch-era of New York. Kushner wrote the play for eight actors, but stipulated that each of the actors was to play multiple roles (including multiple genders) throughout the production. When he adapted the play for an HBO miniseries starring Meryl Streep and Al Pacino, the same construct was applied. In addition to the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Kushner won the Tony Awards for Best Play in 1993 and 1994 (Angels In America is actually in two parts, Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, each having its own separate Broadway debut.)
After the turn of the new millennium, Kushner began writing for film, co-writing the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s Munich. Most recently, he was the screenwriter for Spielberg’s Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, for which Kushner won an Academy Award, Golden Globe, BAFTA, and a Writers Guild award for best adapted screenplay. In 2013, Kushner was one of twenty-four recipients for the National Medal of Arts and Humanities from President Barack Obama.
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