New(ish) on Medium: Philadelphia’s Pride Flag Matters

Over at Medium, I published an op-ed that I actually submitted to the Philadelphia Inquirer a year ago, in midst of backlash to their then recently unveiled version of the pride flag, which includes a black and brown stripe. In it, I use some of the research I did for my forthcoming book on African American AIDS activism alongside the Gayborhood’s ongoing problems with racism (and specifically anti-Blackness) to defend the redesign as a long-overdue symbol of the kind of queer community we should be working toward.

In any case, I found it while going through some files, and put it up on Medium. Think Queerly, a publication on the platform, offered to run it for their followers as well. Click through the image below or the link above to read it.

The redesigned Philadelphia 2017 Pride Flag. Source: Philadelphia Magazine

View at


Historical Society of Pennsylvania: Anonymous No More

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s digital exhibit Anonymous No More, about the life and times of gay psychiatrist John Fryer, is now live! I contributed the essay “HIV/AIDS, Gay Communities, and the Struggle for Gay Rights” and the exhibit also features excellent work by Christina LaroccoTimothy Stewart-WinterRebecca Alpert, and Jack Drescher.

John Fryer in disguise as “Dr. Anonymous” at the 1972 meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. Source: Wikipedia.

At the 1972 meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), Fryer delivered a speech in disguise as “Dr. Anonymous,” in which he disclosed his own sexuality as a gay man and urged his colleagues to treat their gay and lesbian patients with sympathy and understanding. At the time, the APA classified homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder—that would change the following year, thanks in part to Fryer’s activism. Anonymous No More is part of a broader series of public engagements exploring his life and legacy.

Grover Cleveland and the Era of Unremarkable Presidents

"The Trust Giant's Point of View: 'What a funny little government!'"
“The Trust Giant’s Point of View: ‘What a funny little government!'”

When I teach the second half of the U.S. history survey, I often gloss the period between Reconstruction and the Spanish-American War as one in which industrialists ruled the country, and presidents did little other than stay out of big business’ way. Simplistic? Yes, but when you have thirty years to cover in three hours, sometimes you paint in broad brushstrokes. However, a post by Heather Cox Richardson on Grover Cleveland over at The Historical Society has made me think differently about how I’ll teach the early Progressive Era in the future. She describes how Cleveland’s anti-tariff stance threatened the robber barons, who bankrolled Benjamin Harrison’s campaign to turn the president out of office, only to have him return four years later on a wave of populist fury. Hence, Grover Cleveland became the only president to serve non-consecutive terms. It’s a good way to connect the historical trivia that some students love to larger political and economic shifts, and Cleveland’s 1888 State of the Union, in which he warned, “corporations . . . are fast becoming the people’s masters,” would be a great primary source for teaching.

Summer Writes: Week 9

Week 9 is upon us! Sorry to have been delinquent in adding my own goals to last week’s wrap-up post–I’m actually still trying to meet my goal for last week, which was my goal for the previous week, which is… a tad depressing. Don’t we all wish we were more like Anthony Grafton, cranking out 3,500 words in a morning? (h/t to Melanie) If competition is your thing, consider throwing your hat in the ring with one graduate student’s friendly contest to see if he can finish his dissertation before Grafton finishes his next book project. Tenured Radical (aka Claire Potter) is doing it–and so can you! The principle is not unlike the one that governs our twelve weeks–just set a goal and stick to it. And if you decide to partake of #graftonline, do be sure to let us know.

As always, here are your weekly goals:

Melanie: Write four lectures, work through newspapers, spend a day processing research–all building toward the goal of having a chapter draft by the end of summer.

Dan: Eighteen pomodoros Monday, sixteen Tuesday, twenty Wednesday, twelve Thursday, Friday open due to travel. Draft outline of chapter four, clear stuff from basement and pack non-essential clothing and kitchenware for upcoming move (!!!) to New York.

Carly: Spend Friday at Senate Library. Remember to care about legislative history. Transcribe a bit. Go through Cameroonian newspapers. Plan Tamiment Library research trip.

Tell us you goals for the week in the comments and I’ll add them to the post. Happy writing!

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Crowdfunding

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Crowdfunding

I have a guest post up today at Tenured Radical about crowdfunding in the humanities. Really, it’s just a narrative of what I did to get the Kickstarter page up, running, and promoted, but hopefully it helps get a conversation about academic crowdfunding started. I’m also a big fan of TR, so it’s exciting to have something up there!

Frankly missing the point.

Read this now: Maya Rupert’s criticism of Barney Frank for using of the phrase “Uncle Tom” in his rebuke of openly gay Republicans’ continued support of a party that seems increasingly retrograde on just about everything, but especially on social issues, like, I don’t know, gay marriage.

I share much of Frank’s confusion as to precisely why members of the Log Cabin Republicans and GOProud stay in a party that clearly does not seem to like them very much. My best guess is that they’re relatively affluent, as white gay men and lesbians tend to be, and their party membership reflects their pocketbook politics. More broadly, perhaps their support for the GOP comes out of a dissatisfaction with the liberal welfare state and those perceived to be its “undeserving” beneficiaries. Indeed, this feeling reverberates across both sides of the aisle in post-industrial America, from Reagan’s attacks on phantasmic “welfare queens” to Clinton’s welfare “reform” to the everyday stigma that attaches to folks receiving food stamps or Section 8 vouchers.

Contempt for the “undeserving poor” has the kind of political currency that it does in part because it’s very hard to confront one’s own privilege, whether it owes to skin color, gender, heterosexuality, class, or any number of other factors. To begin with, our national mythology is premised on the notion that we are always already free and fundamentally equal. On top of that, the African American civil rights movement effectively removed the legal architecture maintaining forced inequality in the Jim Crow South. Without laws on the books banning interracial marriage or mandating “separate but equal” public facilities, it’s much harder for many Americans to grasp the myriad reasons for persistent racial inequality, from vastly disparate public school funding to the mass(ively disproportionate) incarceration of people of color to straight-up unconscious individual prejudice.

This is a very roundabout way of suggesting an uncomfortable symmetry between Frank and the “Uncle Toms” on the other side of this political war of words–all are, in spite of their political differences, more or less blind to their own privilege. As Rupert points out, Frank’s comments suggest that all forms of marginalization are essentially the same, which is admittedly different from minimalizing them or arguing that the federal government should have no role in mitigating them. But Frank’s use of “Uncle Tom” (not to mention Dan Savage’s similar use of the phrase “house faggots”) shows a remarkable disregard for both the past and present of black people in this country. The fact that he defended his comments in Huffington Post without any mention of their racial dimension underscores his blindness.

While drawing strong parallels between the black freedom struggle and the gay rights movement may be tempting and at times politically opportune, it’s a problematic move that (again, pace Rupert) flattens differences between the ways that racism and homophobia operate in American society, and puts black LGBT people in a strange liminal position between camps commonly–and errantly–understood as being totally separate. To boot, it (along with the very name of the popular gay rights blog The New Civil Rights Movement) also consigns the Civil Rights Movement–and along with it, racial oppression in this country–to the past. To say that we can have a new civil rights movement suggests that the old one is over. Complete. This is simply not true.

There’s no doubt in my mind that between the Democratic and Republican parties, Barney Frank represents the one whose vision will do the greatest good (or even just the least bad) for people of color in the United States, but that doesn’t give Frank license to throw around racially charged epithets like this one. As Avenue Q reminds us, everyone’s a little bit racist.

(apologies for the scratchiness of the audio)

How to Survive a Plague

The ACT UP/TAG documentary How to Survive a Plague, which has a theatrical release set for September 22, has an official trailer…

…as well as a tumblr of ACT UP images that also invites users to submit their own artwork about current issues. 25 years later, the posters that ACT UP and the associated art collective Gran Fury put together are not only arresting, but sadly still relevant.

Gran Fury poster from 1988. Source: How to Survive a Plague
Gran Fury poster from 1987. Source: How to Survive a Plague

All signs point to this film being an out-and-out tearjerker; the trailer alone made me cry. But the larger point seems to be not just to elegize a movement and the millions lost to AIDS, but to inspire a new generation of activists to address their own social justice concerns. In his review, Frank Bruni testifies to the film’s sense of hope for the potential of mass action to effect real change. Indeed, last year’s Occupy movement seemed to echo ACT UP in its tactics and targets, if not in the precision of its message, and the two groups collaborated on an action in April and one over the Fourth of July, and members of ACT UP Philly helped train Philadelphia Occupiers in direct action methods when the encampment was in place late last year. While ACT UP has largely faded outside of a few strongholds in the urban mid-Atlantic (ACT UP Philadelphia being the only continuously active chapter, by their own claim) the growing economic inequality in the United States coupled with the energy of Occupy protesters has some hoping that a new truly progressive politics might be possible in this country. Whether it will materialize, and whether it will in the end look anything like ACT UP or Occupy remains to be seen.

Incidentally, my goal in undertaking the African American AIDS Activism Oral History Project and African American AIDS History Project is also to inspire, as well as to inform. Of course, the interviews that I conduct are a critical piece of the research for my dissertation. But beyond that, by recording voices that have been left out of many popular and academic accounts of U.S. AIDS activism and collecting digital copies of materials through the African American AIDS History Project site, we’re creating a repository of materials that will not only be available to scholars, but will hopefully inspire people to get involved with important issues at a grassroots level.

Cross-posted at the African American AIDS Activism Oral History Project.

FRONTLINE–Endgame: AIDS in Black America

Last night, PBS aired Endgame: AIDS in Black America, the latest installment of its documentary series FRONTLINE. Viewers unaware of just how prevalent HIV and AIDS are in black communities may be shocked to learn that today half of new HIV cases in the United States, including two-thirds of those among women and 70% of those among youth, occur among African Americans, who make up only about 13% of the national population. These numbers are nothing new. As filmmaker Renata Simone makes clear, when doctors initially identified AIDS among gay men in 1981, they built a case definition for the new disease around the opportunistic infections presented by those first patients, inadvertently precluding many women, who suffered from different ailments, from receiving AIDS diagnoses. By the time that the Centers for Disease Control added female-specific infections to the case definition in 1993, the severity of the AIDS crisis among women had been undercounted for twelve years. Given that black women account for the majority of women with HIV and AIDS in the United States, the underrepresentation of women with AIDS led epidemiologists to underestimate the severity of the disease among African Americans as well. Moreover, as white gay men became the public face of AIDS in popular media accounts of the epidemic, many African Americans came to see the epidemic as one that would never affect them personally.

In Endgame, this sense of insulation from AIDS comes across most poignantly in the firsthand stories of women contracted HIV through unprotected sex with boyfriends or husbands who either did not know or did not disclose their own HIV positivity. However, Simone also gives voice to a wide range of experiences of AIDS among African Americans. Viewers hear from HIV positive gay men, a social worker illegally distributing clean syringes in Atlanta, young adults who contracted the virus in utero and now are coming of sexual age, as well as a host of public health experts, doctors, preachers, and activists.

Simone connects these individual stories to broader the broader social, cultural, and political forces driving the AIDS epidemic in black communities. For example, viewers see Alabama educators discuss their commitment to the state’s abstinence-only sexual health curriculum and then meet Marvalene, a young HIV-positive woman who explains that the textbook for her wellness class in high school showed only pictures of an African child and an emaciated white gay man in its discussion of AIDS. Viewers also hear from HIV-positive black gay men of different ages who trace their drug use and risky sexual choices to the various degrees of homophobic rejection they faced at home, school, and church. Failed education and homophobia represent only two nodes in a dense web of interrelated factors that underpins the racial disparity in HIV/AIDS in the United States, which Simone ably elucidates through interviews with longtime researchers and activists such as Robert Fullilove of Columbia University, Phill Wilson of the Black AIDS Institute, and Dázon Dixon Diallo of Sisterlove, Inc.

Putting the epidemic in historical context, Fullilove testifies to the economic dislocation that many black communities faced in the 1970s and 1980s, which fueled a growing drug trade as a source of income for black men who couldn’t find jobs in the licit economy. The explosion of crack in particular during the 1980s left many infected, as users (particularly women) hard up for a fix turned to sex work to satisfy their habits. Blaming crack for urban crime rates, lawmakers passed harsh sentencing laws for possession and distribution of the super-addictive drug, landing many black men in prison, where sex among inmates is common but condoms nearly absent. Upon release, they return to communities experiencing gender imbalance due to the disproportionate incarceration of black men, in which women feel disempowered when it comes to negotiating monogamy and safe sex, in part because there are so many fewer men than women. Two interviewees from late in the documentary hit the nail on the head. Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick argues that the structural factors driving the epidemic demand structural solutions, while another interviewee describes AIDS as a “string” running through the fabric of black communities, highlighting the lingering racial inequalities in American society.

Both women are right, although like the statistics on AIDS in black America, their arguments are nothing new. For much of the epidemic, AIDS activists of color in particular have used AIDS as a means by which to draw attention to persistent issues of inequality in their communities, often putting issues like access to housing, education, and basic medical care at the forefront of their efforts. As Jennifer Brier has argued, they sometimes couched their work in an international context, advocating for global justice in the epidemic by addressing the structural inequalities faced by African Americans and people throughout the global south alike. As Bambi Gaddist of the South Carolina AIDS Coalition tells Simone (though in a different context), “I’m in Africa right now. As a state, I’m there. Sometimes, my staff feels like we’re there. Every time we test another young person positive, we’re there.”

Though Simone spends a great deal of time and care laying out the context for the disproportionate impact of AIDS on black America, in the film she gives very little attention to the political response of African Americans to the epidemic. In an early oral history for my own dissertation on the political culture of black AIDS activism, an informant lamented that to read what has been written on AIDS politics, one would think African Americans let the disease “steamroll over” their communities, and to some extent Endgame reinforces that myth. However, the supporting materials, including an excellent timeline, on the FRONTLINE website begin to flesh out that history of activism.

Also absent from Endgame are the voices of HIV-positive straight black men, save for Magic Johnson and the “bornies” who contracted the virus before birth. Otherwise, they appear (or rather do not appear) as duplicitous off-screen figures who fail to protect their female partners, or in the case of incarcerated men, as possible vectors of infection once they re-enter their home communities. Even the inmates who do appear on screen are shown speaking only to a doctor, who in turn addresses the camera in discussing their potential for spreading the epidemic further. Representations like this arguably do more harm than good. Making a serious dent in AIDS numbers means empowering everyone who is affected to openly talk and engage in safer sex, and that means straight men as well as women and gay men.

Altogether though, Endgame is a thoughtful and emotionally powerful examination of AIDS among African Americans that does justice to the complexity of the epidemic and the challenges that lie ahead in the fight to stop it. For a crisis that, thirty years on, is all too rarely discussed, that’s no small thing.

UPDATE: Kenyon Farrow also has a more critical review of Endgame on his personal site. For some reason Gawker (they are a gossip site, after all) is putting up cash to find out who gave HIV to Magic Johnson. Not to overuse a tired phrase, but if that’s the big question you took away from this film, you’re doing it wrong.


Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to use this blog more as a professional mouthpiece as I prepare to go on the job market in the fall, and less as a dumping ground for music videos and mastermixes that I love. With that in mind, from here on out I’m using my Tumblr to post media and other brief content, saving this space for longer pieces that relate more directly to my research and teaching interests.

Speaking of changes, at the end of June I’ll be leaving Philadelphia. I made the decision last August that no matter what happened in terms of funding, I would move away at the end of my current lease as I embarked on my final year of writing. For January, February, March, and the beginning of April, it looked like I would be taking out loans to move back to San Francisco, a prospect with which I was pretty comfortable–it was always the most likely option anyway. I obsessively checked my e-mail during the week, always conscious that a new message in my inbox could bring word that I had been awarded a fellowship. So I was pretty shocked when I got an e-mail from the Center for Historical Research at the (can’t forget the definite article) Ohio State University offering me a dissertation fellowship for 2012–13. I screamed, jumped three feet back in my chair, and sprinted up the stairs to shout the good news to my roommate, who obliged me by jumping up and down and screaming right along with me. So starting in August I’ll be living in Columbus while I bop around the job and postdoc market, and finish writing the dissertation. In the meantime, I’m going to spend the second half of the summer in San Francisco, writing, hanging out, and spending time with some of my favorite people. I’m really, really excited.