Last week in Cleveland, activists from across the country came together for the Movement for Black Lives Convening. Panels and breakout groups talked about police violence, LGBTQ inclusivity, self-care, labor organization, and a full schedule of topics relevant to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Dr. Britney Cooper was there, and two incidents stand out in her mind: First, conveners were at a nightclub when one of them – a trans man – was forcibly removed from the men’s restroom. En masse, attendees exited the club in protest and solidarity. They stood outside the establishment chanting, singing freedom songs, and documenting the whole thing under #ShutItDown.
Then, on the last day of the conference, they witnessed a 14-year-old black boy being arrested for intoxication. Activists surrounded the police cruiser in protest, and some were pepper sprayed by a Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority police officer. After negotiation between organizers and officers, the young man was released into his mother’s custody instead of taken to jail.
Dr. Cooper joins us this week to talk about her experiences at the convening, and what she sees as some of the next steps for those working to put an end to police violence and lack of accountability.
We also talk about the indictment of University of Cincinnati Officer Ray Tensing, who is charged with murder for shooting Sam Dubose in the head during a routine traffic stop. Tensing had claimed he feared for his life after being dragged and nearly run over by Dubose’s car; his body camera later proved his account to be untrue. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters called the shooting “the most asinine act I’ve ever seen a police office make,” “totally unwarranted,” and “an absolute tragedy.”
And we also talk about the latest casting news in the live television version of The Wiz: Queen Latifah will play the title character, with Mary J. Blige in the role of Evillene.
Remember that whole Supreme Court marriage equality thing a couple weeks ago? It was kind of a big deal? Well one of the attorneys, Joe Dunman, joins us this week for a news roundup, and to give us the latest information on two Kentucky county clerks who have refused to issue marriage licenses.
Dunman, who is a civil rights attorney and co-host of the Parade of Horribles legal podcast, also weighs in on the death of Sandra Bland in police custody, and how police interactions are different for white people.
We also talk about the case of local prosecutor Karl Price, who lost his job after making racist remarks in legal documents and in court. Price was given a chance to apologize, and issued a classic faux-pology—which was not good enough for his employer, Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell.
Earlier this month, hip hop artist Tyga was publicly accused of cheating on his girlfriend, Kylie Jenner. Why is this even a story, outside of the gossip blogs? Because the person he was allegedly having an affair with was a transgender model named Mia Isabella.
The response was brutal and, sadly, predictable. One meme suggested that Kylie Jenner must really hate transgender people now (referring to the fact that her parent Caitlyn is trans). So we wondered, why does it still seem so scandalous to some people that a straight, cis man could be attracted to a trans woman? And why are people so affirming of Janet Mock and LaVerne Cox, but have no compunction about posting jokes that hinge on the othering of trans people?
To help us unpack all this, we called Preston Mitchum. Mitchum is an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies teaching Advanced Legal Research & Writing, and is a fierce advocate for trans rights.
Later in the show, we also talk about Serena Williams’ historical success, and what’s behind gender-based criticisms of her (Hint: more transphobia!).
Many of Louisville’s activist leaders got their start marching behind the same man: Reverend Louis Coleman. Now his life’s work is being portrayed in a brand-new musical called “Buster,” written by Larry Muhammad and directed by William P. Bradford II.
They both stopped by the studio this week to talk about the project, which opens this Thursday and runs through July 26.
In Juicy Fruit, we talk about the “Respond with Love” campaign, started by Muslim groups to raise money to rebuild Black Churches recently destroyed by fires in the South. The effort, spearheaded by the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative and the Arab American Association of New York, defies the widely-held idea of animosity between Muslims and Christians.
We also talk about recent data showing that Latino/as now outnumber white people in California.
And we almost can’t believe it, but Raven-Symone did something good this week. She went head-to-head with Candace Cameron Bure when The View discussed the bakery in Oregon who refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.
And we close out this week’s show with Jai’s own reflections on the legacy of Reverend Coleman. His first time getting a citation for protest was with Coleman, demonstrating against the lack of minority contractors building Slugger Field.
But it was only a few years later Jai was writing a column for the Courier-Journal against Coleman. JCPS was considering adding anti-discrimination protections for LGBT employees, which Rev. Coleman publicly opposed, saying, “I just don’t think policies should be put in place to protect habits or behaviors.”
Many of us know people like this: activists who are very dedicated to one social justice cause, but seem ignorant or just plain bigoted on another. No one knows how Rev. Coleman’s views on queer issues may have evolved had he lived into our current era of wider LGBT-acceptance. So for gay black folks, his legacy is a complicated one.
University of Richmond Professor Burt Ashe always saw himself as a sort of a renegade. Edgy. Bohemian. But no one else seemed to agree. “The way that I presented to the world was completely, just amazingly, conventional,” he says.
So he decided to change his look. “I thought maybe that me growing dreadlocks might be a kind of pathway to allow what was inside to be presented outside.”
In doing so, he learned about all the presumptions the world projects onto black people with ‘locked hair. Jai had ‘locks for 7 years, and like Ashe, he was often asked if he was Jamaican.
Ashe’s book, Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles, explores the history of dreadlocks, and details his own relationship with the look.
The natural hair movement continues to gain steam with black women, but what about men? Ashe says he got some interesting responses from them while working on the book. For example, “It’s just hair, man. You’re over-thinking this,” and, “Dude, your relationship with your hair is a little too….”
“It’s sort of a questioning of my masculinity,” he says, “because I decided to talk about my hair and to reveal the anxiety that comes along with ‘locking ones hair.”
But he says there’s a significance to black hair, regardless of gender—that we choose our hairstyles for a reason, whether or not we can put it into words. “I think it’s time we start thinking out loud about the cultural realities and personal realities of what we do with our hair means.”
In our Juicy Fruit segment this week, we talk about #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches, and the history of domestic and racist terrorism in the United States. On this Independence Day weekend, we wondered whether the founding ideals of our country—as a nation of immigrants, where you can be free from persecution—still hold true today.
At the same time we’re confronted with more racially-motivated violence, like the Charleston shooting and the burning of black churches, we’re also seeing some striking acts of civil disobedience. Bree Newsome becmse a household name after removing the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s statehouse. And someone in Boston painted “Black Lives Matter” and dumped red paint on a statue of Christopher Columbus.
On a lighter note, we also recap what we loved and hated about the BET Awards, and argue about which members of #TeamStrangeFruit cried last week in the County Clerk’s office, and which simply had allergies.
Friday was a historic day for the USA, and we spent it experiencing and documenting some of the sights and sounds of all the Decision Day activities here in Louisville!
On this week’s show, we share those sounds with you.
We started out at a press conference, where we heard first from attorneys Dan Canon and Laura Landenwich. Then plaintiff Luke Meade-Barlowe talked about how he met his husband, Jim, almost 48 years ago, and they got married in Iowa in 2009.
Meade-Barlowe struggled through tears as he reflected on how much things have changed. “We had never held hands in public. It was just not something that was done, You didn’t even think about gay people being married, let alone adopting children,” he explained. “Some people are not as smart as we are.” He answered some questions from the press, then concluded by saying, “Watch this!” and kissing his husband at the podium, amid applause.
Plaintiff Tim Love told the gathered crowd that he and his partner, Larry Ysunza, plan to get married on their anniversary in October. “Today we’re gonna see the end to a lot of very long engagements in the state of Kentucky,” he predicted. “I can’t tell you how happy we are. We never thought we’d see this day in our lifetime. 35 years is a long time to wait to have your relationship recognized.”
We also heard from friends to the show Michael Aldridge from the ACLU of Kentucky, and Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman. “As a gay man this affects me personally outside of my job,” Aldridge said. “I am overwhelmed with joy. I just want to go find my husband and hold him tight.”
As the press conference was wrapping up, word came through that Governor Beshear had ordered all county clerks in the commonwealth to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples as soon as they had the proper forms. Ysunza immediately dropped to one knee and proposed. We followed the throng of couples, lawyers, and media, to the County Clerk’s office.
There was some confusion at first, while deputy clerks there waited for new marriage license templates that would not say “bride” and “groom.” We waited in the hallway as more couples began showing up to get their licenses. Friends, family members, and supporters came in to celebrate. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer came in carrying bottles of chilled champagne for the engaged couples.
Eventually, new forms were sent over from the Kentucky Department of Libraries, and Love and Ysunza became the first same-sex couple to be issued a marriage license in Jefferson County.
Benjamin Moore and Tadd Roberts caused an audible reaction among the crowd when they walked in wearing tuxedos, followed by a minister in a long black robe. The couple, who have been together for more than a decade, filled out their paperwork, and the minister immediately began officiating a wedding ceremony in the middle of the County Clerk’s office.
WFPL’s Jacob Ryan was there with us, and produced an audio postcard of what’s believed to be the first legally-binding same-sex marriage in the state of Kentucky (we can’t promise that some of the sniffles you’ll hear in the background weren’t ours).
We close the show this week with the last passage of the Court’s opinion, which we predict will find its way into some wedding ceremonies before long:
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed. It is so ordered.”
It was an unforgettable day in Louisville, and #TeamStrangeFruit is so happy to be able to bring you an archive of it. We hope you feel like you were right there with us, witnessing history!
As we celebrate Juneteenth this weekend, it’s with the impossible-to-ignore knowledge of how much work the United States still has to do to achieve safety and true equality for all its citizens.
We recorded this show before a white supremacist named Dylann Roof opened fire on a bible study group at historically black Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC. It was before mainstream media assumed he was mentally ill. It was before Roof’s roommate said he’d been planning the attack for six months, but no one tried to stop him. It was before Roof was taken into custody, alive and unharmed. It was before a 5-year-old girl played dead to survive the massacre. It was before leaders publicly said we would probably never know the reason for the attack—despite the fact that Roof was very clear he had gone to the church “to kill black people.” It was before the US and state flags were lowered to half staff over the statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina… while the Confederate flag continues to fly high.
It was also before the president of Louisville’s Fraternal Order of Police wrote a menacing letter to “sensationalists, liars and race-baiters,” telling them (us, we guess?) to “Consider yourself on notice.”
We will come back to these topics next week, with as much clarity as we can achieve between now and then.
On this week’s show, we covered a story that seems downright frivolous by comparison, but still raises important questions about racism, identity, and taking up space: Rachel Dolezal.
Dr. Yaba Blay, scholar, and author of “(1)ne Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race,” joined us to try to make some sense of the story. Is there such a thing as transracial? And is it comparable to being transgender?
“Trans people are trying to be honored in their truth, ” Dr. Blay said. “They are coming out. And there are things that they have to risk in order to come out, and be taken for who they believe they are. Rachel Dolezal never came out. She got caught up. And if she didn’t get caught up, she would continue this lie. Her identity is seated in deception. And I think a lot of people presume that trans lives are seated in deception, and that’s why they’re making that comparison.”
We also learned a little this week about queer people’s place in the history of medical marijuana activism. The connection began when cannabis oil was found to have therapeutic benefits for patients with HIV. Whit Forrester is working on documenting that story in a project called “Affinity in the Tall Grasses of California: The Rainbow Roots of Medical Cannabis.”
And it’s not only Juneteenth, it’s also the Kentuckiana Pride Festival this weekend. We’ve been long-time supporters of KPF, and because we love them so much, we’d like to see them do a little better in terms of diversity and inclusiveness for people of color and gender non-conforming folks. We talk about why and how.
Fruitcakes, be as proud as you can this weekend, and celebrate Juneteenth, and if you need a break from the news, check out #BlackJoy on twitter. And check out this advice from friend to the show Ashlee Clark: “For my black folks: We can’t just survive. We must thrive in the face of domestic terrorism. We might be weary, but we are resilient, too. Centuries of struggle have taught us to keep pushing. We must succeed in spite of hate.”
Happy Pride Month, Fruitcakes!
This week we speak with mixed media artists Rahel and SCZ, who are part of a collective called Mother Tongue Techniques. Their group is in San Francisco this weekend presenting “Y’all Come Back: Stories of Queer Southern Migration.”
They talk about their work, and why it’s important to lift up the stories of queer folks and people of color in the south.
The actions of (former) Officer Eric Casebolt at a pool party in McKinney, Texas have raised conversations all over the country about who is presumed to be a criminal. Casebolt has since resigned, but questions remain about why the police were called in the first place, why he reacted the way he did to teenagers who weren’t resisting, and the long legacy of segregation in swimming pools.
Also this week, we talk about a new show Jaison loves called The Prancing Elites Project. The Oxygen Network’s docu-series follows an African-American, gay and non-gender conforming dance team. They perform within the tradition of J-Setting – a style that originated at southern HBCUs in the 1970s.
Oxygen’s website says the Elites are “challenging societal norms while overcoming several obstacles with passion and humor on their journey to be their authentic selves.”
We also talk a bit about the troubled relationship of WNBA stars Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson. Griner announced she had filed to annul their marriage just a day after Johnson announced they were expecting a baby. Their arrest for domestic violence shortly before their wedding raised questions about how violence is viewed within queer relationships.
This week, like every week, you count on Strange Fruit to bring you musings on politics, pop culture and black gay life. We do our best to make you laugh, and make you think. Our show is a labor of love for Jai and Doc, so please consider becoming a supporter through our crowdfunding page on Patreon! You can make a monthly pledge (as little as a dollar a month) towards the work we do here.
Big thanks to fruitcakes Jessica Musselwhite and Erin Fitzgerald (host of Crescent Hill Radio’s Keep Hearing Voices) for being our first official patrons!
We’ll see you on the airwaves next week, and at the Kentuckiana Pride Parade on Friday, June 19th. Look for #TeamStrangeFruit in a red convertible, and be sure to wave and blow us a kiss!
A battle of the generations broke out when, on a recent episode, we talked about Janet Jackson’s upcoming album and tour!
Flyy Sexuality TV‘s Kendra Elise Anderson called said the singer was all washed up, scandalizing Jaison, and our other guest, actor Billy Flood. We thought we were going to have to get out the smelling salts.
This funny segment didn’t make the final cut of the show, but we couldn’t resist sharing it as a slice of bonus fruit! What do you think, Fruitcakes?
More info on the album & tour here.
Click here to support Strange Fruit!
Performing as DJ Syimone, Victoria Syimone Taylor spends a lot of time in gay and gay-friendly bars. She joins us this week to talk about racism in queer spaces – including a recent incident in a local bar, and the community’s response.
Taylor was celebrating her birthday in a crowded local bar when a patron got angry about where her bag was. He repeatedly called her the n-word. She says she felt victimized for a second time when some people in the community minimized her experience, and encouraged her not to make a fuss about the incident. Taylor describes “being pulled into a corner and then being told by certain people, ‘Just ignore that. […] Don’t let that bother you.'”
Taylor says she was shocked, in the moment, and didn’t know how to respond. “It happened so fast. I couldn’t even process it,” she says. “It’s like being in a movie.”
She also says the issue is bigger than just her recent experience. “We know this goes on at every gay bar, anywhere.” She hopes that by telling her story, she’ll encourage more people to have difficult but necessary conversations about race. “I need people to understand that they need to really dig deep within themselves and understand how to approach race. How to talk about it. How to not be uncomfortable with it.”
Our own Jaison and Kaila share similar experiences with being called the n-word in spaces they believed to be safe for them, as queer people.
And in our Juicy Fruit segment, we talk about Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out, her Vanity Fair photo shoot, and the role she plays in the trans movement and in trans visibility.