Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Alfred C. Carey Prize in Spoken Word Poetry 2011 Winner: Roberto F. Santiago

To begin, Shut. Up. I know we are a quarter of the way into 2012, but due to the recession and personal poverty, I decided to postpone the announcement of the 2011 Carey Prize until I could actually afford to pay the winner the prize amount.

For months, I have been sitting on the knowledge of the winner of the prize. On Christmas Day 2011, I emailed Roberto F. Santiago (actually, to be fair, I responded to an email from him), letting him know that he had been selected as the second recipient, after inaugural winner Saymoukda Vongsay, of the Alfred C. Carey Prize in Spoken Word poetry.

I established this prize in 2010 as a way to honor and remember my amazing grandfather. My grandfather was a working class mixed race man from Northern Minnesota, a father of eight, and a loving husband. When the universe handed him an even more mixed race, "theatrical," eventually queer grandson....the man didn't blink...he opened up his heart that much wider and loved me fiercely. My grandpa left this world 15 years ago, almost to the day, and it is with so much pleasure that I share with you the winning poem of this year's Alfred C. Carey Prize in Spoken Word Poetry.

What Is Left When a Prayer is Answered

The ritual. Waking
in the middle of the night.
Sheets soaked.

The half empty matchbox.
Lit white glass cased candles
with ash lipped rims
and melted Santa Barbara stickers on the side.

The daily baths.
Agua Florida and cheap white
flowers that stick to your skin. The red string
of yarn tied around your waist
The wishes tied to your wrist.

The masses.
Tying laughter down
inside your cardigan.
But it’s always too late.
Your best friend started to laugh
and every myrrh scented second
becomes unbearably funny.
This is gonna cost whoever caused
the ruckus at least 20 Hail Mary's.
Sr. Theresa’s ruler raps the pew.

Or is it more like the time
you and your boyfriend
tried hard to hide
hardons in the centerfold
of your Daily Missal
in the front pew
while Father McIntye watches.

Or the visits to your grandfather’s friend.
The Santero would roll
a white shelled egg
over your naked
can't say no


With surgical precision he splits
the egg in the middle
of his hand
where the yolk runs
black. And he suggests a second egg.
You consent.

Or the visits from your friend’s teenage grandson.
His bright red underwear
your b l o o d i s r u s h i n g
loose, faded, blue overalls
Soft hairs
softer. CK Be.
Flavored skin.
An obelisk
of inexperience
pairs best with
the over-easy cracked in your hand.
The second egg,
more eager than the first.

Or the Sunday Morning visits to La Botanica.
The Rainmaker would sing into a woman’s rounded
belly about the dozen before
she collected, carried, tripped over and dropped.
Yolk and hope poured over
black candles.
shaped like a man
and a woman.
without sound.

Or the nights before anniversaries
you spent conjuring
excuses not to visit tombstones,
dead grass and wet mud.
You don't have boots. You don't have time.

Roberto F. Santiago

Roberto F. Santiago writes placing pen to paper and fingertips to QWERTY all as an act of translation. Within poetry, he has discovered a booming collective of voices and a rickety soapbox whereupon he can shout obscenities and prayers at the same time. Roberto received his BA from Sarah Lawrence College and is weeks away from receiving his MFA from Rutgers University. Currently, he is teaching English Composition to impressionable college freshman. Travel has also greatly influenced Roberto as a poet. Be it sitting on the grass at and staring into the sun at Dachau or the smell of rain in rural Québec, he has begun to rewrite his own passport. Roberto also writes and produces music, and has been known to dance until he rips his pants. His poetry has been published in such anthologies as Me No Habla With Acento El Museo/Rebel Satori Press (2011), -gape-seed- Uphook Press (2011). The Best of Panic: En Vivo From the East Village Rebel Satori Press (2010). Roberto lives in New York City with a Pomapoo and feminist Penguino.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Queers for Economic Justice Announces New Co- Executive Directors Amber Hollibaugh and W. Brandon Lacy Campos

New York City, March 26, 2012: The board of directors of Queers for Economic Justice (QEJ) is pleased to announce the selection of Amber Hollibaugh and W. Brandon Lacy Campos as co-executive directors of QEJ. The board chose the two as their leading candidates after a rigorous six month search.

Hollibaugh and Campos both have long histories with QEJ, including most recently having served as the interim executive director and development director respectively. Amber is a founding member and former board member of QEJ, and Brandon has worked with various QEJ initiatives for a number of years before joining the staff.

At the end of 2010, hard hit by the recession, QEJ faced the very real prospect of closing its doors. Amber agreed to step down from the board to serve as Interim Executive Director and in doing so brought a fresh vision and energy to QEJ along with economic stability. . Through her leadership and with the support of QEJ's first ever professional development staff person, Brandon, QEJ ended the year with an operating surplus, surpassing fundraising benchmarks for 2011. QEJ also strengthened and expanded the Shelter Program work led by Jay Toole, and laid the foundation for a new framework for radical queer and trans organizing: The Queer Survival Economies Initiative.

“This is an extraordinary moment to be at QEJ”, said new co-director, Amber Hollibaugh. “ I helped found QEJ and have been with it in one way or another through its entire history. To now be a part of the team placing QEJ’s voice at the center of the economic crisis facing LGBTQ people at this moment in history, is an honor. To do this work with Brandon Lacy Campos as my partner, is a gift”.

“ Amber carries a profound and transformative vision of the world, of bringing ourselves as full and flawed human beings to the work of justice and believing that every person is deserving of liberation and love. It is this abiding passion drawn from a life deeply lived that made me fall in love with Amber and her work. To have the opportunity to work with such an amazing organizer and visionary is a true gift. Now, during QEJ’s 10th anniversary year, I am honored to work with Amber to lead QEJ into its next phase,” enthused newly minted co-director, Brandon Lacy Campos.

Board co-chairs, Terry Boggis and Amanda Lugg, were elated about the appointment and said, “"We are tremendously excited. Amber and Brandon have robust activist histories in queer liberation work, unswerving commitment to QEJ's values and ideals, and achievable, cutting-edge ideas about what QEJ can and should become. They both understand movement intersections, and will ensure QEJ's work remains focused there. They are the ultimate queer left power couple, and we welcome them into this shared role."

Over the next year, QEJ will continue to expand it's shelter work, and launch its Resident Action Group project, a part of QEJ's Shelter Safety Campaign. In the Fall of 2012, QEJ is poised to roll out a bold initiative: Queer Survival Economies in broad community partnership with local labor, HIV organizers, immigrant groups, queer and trans people of color allied organizations, working poor, queer elder coalitions.

Amber Hollibaugh brings more than 40 years of organizing experience to her role at QEJ, and Brandon Lacy Campos has worked in the queer movement, beginning as a youth organizer, for 19 years. It is anticipated that with this new team of co-directors QEJ will emerge in the second decade of the 21st century, stable, productive and an innovative presence and voice in the LGBTQ movement.

About QEJ

Queers for Economic Justice is a progressive non-profit organization committed to promoting economic justice in a context of sexual and gender liberation. Our goal is to challenge and change the systems that create poverty and economic injustice in our communities, and to promote an economic system that embraces sexual and gender diversity. We are committed to the principle that access to social and economic resources is a fundamental right, and we work to create social and economic equity through grassroots organizing, public education, advocacy and research. We do this work because although poor queers have always been a part of both the gay rights and economic justice movements, they have been, and continue to be, largely invisible in both movements. This work will always be informed by the lived experiences and expressed needs of queer people in poverty. For more information:; 212564.3606

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Other Side of the Mirror

I have written about life as I experienced it growing up in a number of entries in this blog. For those that missed them, a short recap: I grew up loved, but also surrounded by intense and nearly constant physical abuse for a decade or more, watched my Mom go through a series of extremely physically and emotionally abusive relationships, grew up in intense poverty (near but never homeless at times), on public assistance, experienced chemical addiction at home (and have struggled with it myself), and also the joy of being queer and brown in a largely white rural family in Minnesota. I am saying this for a very specific point.

So many times in my life, folks have said to me to my face in a variety of circumstances: "I doubt YOU know what it is like to go without," or "you don't seem to have had to struggle much in your life," or "what do you know about poverty/violence/fear/etc," and on and on ad nauseum. The first time this was said point blank was when a former roommate of mine moved out of our apartment and stole a number of pieces of furniture that had come with the apartment. She'd left no forwarding address, and so the landlord came after me, believing I'd taken the items, and railing against me and the work he was doing to support low income people (and the flipside...I...a privileged boy should know better).

That was the first time I can remember having to use my history, rather awkwardly, as a very embarrassing shield. Yet, at the same time, it is MY history. I do not take some sort of noble poverty pride in it but neither am I ashamed of it. But, I also, as I have gotten older, had not been prepared for the level of legitimacy that history gives me in certain circumstances, except when it is taken away by someone that perceives me as distinct from or unable to have come from that particular historical narrative.

Let me be clear, because I am educated, because when I am in professional mode I tend to use rather impeccable upper-Midwest English, and because God at some point decided the fat kid from high school that couldn't get a date to save his life should have some sort of reprieve, day to day folks (read largely white folks) perceive that education/good English/confidence/achievement is anathema to poverty/violence/homelessness/mental health issues/welfare babies etc....EXCEPT...EXCEPT for those rare "exceptions" to the rule that still seem to carry a hint of the ghetto with them into their achievement or success....but since I carry no whiff of West Broadway and Lyndale in North Minneapolis, I must have a different story and come from a different more benevolent Minnesota...we call that place Edina.

I beat up kids from Edina for shits and giggles.

But here's a part of the story folks don't know. My Mom busted her ass to make sure we lived in neighborhoods with good schools. We often lived in the smallest apartment in the neighborhood, my brother and I shared a bed for a year in high school, or I had a two hour bus ride to school in the morning to get me to the school that afforded me the best options. I was surrounded in school by amazing teachers that, from the gate, in pre-school, saw something in me that they took pains to nurture. Even though I never thought of myself as anything extraordinary, my teachers pushed, pulled, and sometimes shoved me into roles and places that opened up my natural abilities and talents, and as a result I was surrounded by a community of caring adults that wanted and demanded that I succeed. Hell, the advisor to the Minneapolis Citywide Student Government, Pam Olson, on one day's notice, drove me from Minnesota to North Carolina when my Father was unable to do so in order to get me to college on time. THAT'S the type of love and support that I had to counterbalance the violence and poverty. And if there is one thing that I learned and learned young...take every fucking opportunity offered. If you don't like can always walk away from it, but if someone opens a door for you, walk through and see what's on the other side.

Now, though, and I swear to God I am not complaining, I have been experiencing a whole new level of prejudgment, along the same lines as before...but this connected directly to my body.

I wrote a blog not too long ago about an instance where an older gentleman made a comment about my biceps being bigger than my brain. Since then, as I have gotten closer to having the body that I have always wanted, a new phenomena has occurred. Now I have had folks assuming that 1) I have always looked like this (they tend to give me side eye when I tell them that these abs weren't here at the end of December), and 2) that having always looked like this I am used to getting what I want, am self centered, have no concern for others, and expect that everything will revolve around me because I happen to look the way I do.

Now, on a couple of occasions, I have had the opportunity to fully explain my Sexy Positive Bodies project, roll out all the pictures from the last year, and show, clearly, that not only is this body new but it was intentional and connected to fighting my own body dysmorphism. In fact, I was hanging out with someone recently, and I mentioned that this body was new. I received a curious text message some hours later asking me to explain. I did. He was astounded and admitted that he had made a number of assumptions based solely on my physical appearance.

While I am not complaining, I think it is curious that I am not taken less seriously on first viewing by strangers because of my body than I would have otherwise. I have been called Chelsea Boy, Gym Rat, Gym Bunny, and all other sorts of exercise rodents. I can't argue with the rodents, but I do take exception at the Chelsea Boy thing....that is just wrong.

In the end, folks are hard wired to make assumptions based on their past experiences and what they perceive in an individual based on outward markers. This body may be gone six months from now. My history, from this moment backwards, is what it is, but I can be cognizant about the assumptions and first impression judgments I make of others, particularly as I have this new heightened awareness of the way my appearance creates/or inhibits others from seeing me.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hunter College Research Study Needs LGBT Immigrants!

Researchers from Hunter College School of Social Work are conducting a research study examining the social service needs and community supports of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Gender Non-conforming (LGBTQGNC) immigrants. The purpose of this research study is to explore the experiences of LGBTQGNC immigrants in order to better understand how their sexuality/gender-identity and immigrant identities impact their experiences with social service agencies. Information this study gathers will begin to provide data necessary to better address professional training needs, as well as to help begin establish a deeper understanding of the role of social work with LGTBQGNC immigrant communities.

Anyone who identifies as a LGBTQGNC immigrant and who has had some interaction with a social service provider, whether formal or informal, is welcome to participate in the study. The study includes a 30 minute face-to-face interview. Anyone who participates will not be compensated for their time, nor will participants receive any direct benefit from the study. However, it is the hope of the research team that social service providers will be better equipped to address the needs of LGBTQGNC immigrants as a result of this study.

If you or anyone you know would like to participate in this study please contact JT Mikulka at 845.544.0227 or, or Jill Nawrocki at 917.370.7330 or

You can also address questions to Dr. Marina Lalayants, faculty advisor at Hunter College School of Social Work, at 212.369.7550 or

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The 99% Spring: A Skeptic Speaks

You know, I am just learning about the 99% Spring....and I am having some mixed feelings. I know a number of the letter signers, and I trust them (for example, Sarita Gupta--Jobs with Justice--and I were student organizers involved with USSA together in the mid-90s, and Rashad Robinson and I go way back). I do, however, have some issues with how organized labor centric the push is considered how few folks are actually part of organized labor at this point. Now, I believe that organized labor should be a central component of any organizing related to economic justice, but immediately, on looking at the signers and the labor focus, my first instinct was to say...this isn't about me....which is deep on a number of levels, right...both on the level of why don't I see myself as an inheritor of the right to organized labor but also it has clearly to do with the racism, homophobia, and lack of ability of organized labor to speak to me and my experience as a nonprofit worker. Aka...those of us that have spent the bulk of our lives agitating for change have largely done so within the non-profit industrial complex, which organized labor has ignored or been unable to crack (I am being clear that there have been widely divergent reasons and what is true on the national stage regarding energy and willingness does not often match up with local labor organizing).

Now...the prominent role of organized labor in calling for the 99% Spring is NOT why I am skeptical. I want to be clear. I am a lover of organized labor...but I do feel it necessary to call out that it did make me feel uncomfortable and made me question who was calling this week long event and if/did/didn't they do their work to make sure that the signers/callers were broad and deep enough to not elicit such a reaction. If I am having this reaction and I KNOW some of the folks calling for the action, I am clear that folks that have no direct connection to the list of folks behind the call will have even less impetus to connect this work to their own lives.

But on another gut...after thoroughly reading the 99% Spring website has an even bigger, more troublesome question: SO WHAT?

So what we have a week of actions/trainings/teach-ins...that will, if successful, raise visibility...but to what end? What happens on April 16th? What will the 100,000 folks be doing on April 17th? How will the energy be sustained? What are the next step goals? What are m the outcomes that this is helping to push forward? What's the next strategy to reach an end goal or benchmark and how does this push us there? How does this build infrastructure? How does this build movement instead of continuing our silo-ed, largely uncoordinated/and sometimes at odds work? How does this create a broader and deeper more unified political understanding of the moment and the long term politic in effect? How does this change the dialogue? Who gets to participate in these direct actions? Who does this leave out? Specifically what does this mean for the formally incarcerated? Immigrants, documented or otherwise, and those that can't afford to miss work to participate in actions that could have them facing jail time? What else is there that can be done that is more sustainable, achieves the same visibility goals, and allows disenfranchised folks to continue to advocate on their own behalf without putting themselves at undue risk of incarceration, deportation, or further economic marginalization?

I actually believe that folks in their communities already KNOW the tactics that are going to lead to their own victories in narrow ways. Farm workers organizing in the Upper Midwest have the example of farm workers in the Southwest to draw on. What I want is to know and strategize with those farm workers and connect their liberation directly to mine as I do economic justice work with queer/trans/elderly/HIV positive/people of color/homeless folks in New York City. I want to build a coherent framework that connects our liberation struggles into a real movement and not a bifurcated exercise that still fails to address the inherent oppressions at play in the Occupy movement that this 99% Spring, as imagined, seems to be on the verge of replicating.

I am not saying don't do it. Nor will I stand in the way of it. But as it stands, as a co-executive director, I would not push for the involvement of my organization in the 99% Spring (PLEASE NOTE THIS IS MY PERSONAL OPINION AND IS LIKELY TO NOT BE SHARED BY ALL OF MY COLLEAGUES OR MOST OF MY FRIENDS FOR THAT MATTER). It is beyond time that we grow up as social justice movement(s), and understand the difference between tactics and strategies, and it is super beyond time that we figure out how to define successes and start setting benchmarks that we can reach, together...distinctly and directly investing in each others liberation across the silos in which we find ourselves. My liberation is directly connected to all of yours. It's time to create real strategies that get us to that liberated space....which...we will only a starting point.