As Natural as the City
I was born in Louisiana, New Orleans—lived there till I was almost 4, then moved to various places in Los Angeles suburbs. I loved nature—it was always a solace in terms of survival and how to feel not so weird. My mom took us backpacking and camping—that wasn’t common back in the 50s and 60s.
I know that nature has saved my life and made me as healthy a person as I am.
It was the 60s…
We wanted to make a revolution. All over the world, there were things happening. There were African nations coming into being. Vietnam, the right wing forces were defeated. In San Francisco there were bombings by underground movements. We worked in support of struggles around the world as well as for decent housing, an end to racism, and the draft here. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that? I felt very privileged to be even though I didn’t know that I would live to be 30, but I surely wanted to die trying to make things different for all life on this planet.
When I came out in the early 70’s, I was involved with the lesbian/gay liberation movement and with the left, anti-colonial, anti-imperialist politics. We never thought about getting married and being in the military. At the time I had a girlfriend who had a child. We went to a lot of political events, sometimes without space for kids... At American Indian activities, kids were always welcome. That really endeared me to that struggle and really grounded me with it. There are other struggles that I’ve been involved with from that same period: Palestine, the Women’s movement.
So I would say that the American Indian movement and various Native struggles were my first real environmental work and continue to be. I worked since the 70’s to stop Uranium mining and coal mining on Native lands. The vast majority of fossil fuels are on Indigenous land; they pay the price of being front line communities. Keep it in the ground.
I would go to lots of Dyke events, dances, and really enjoy that. Most of those people weren’t involved in Indigenous organizing. Sometimes in the Indigenous community there was an incredible amount of homophobia. And fighting for Palestine, it took a while for people for some people to be willing for us to carry a banner that said queers support Palestine liberation. All of those things and more; there were contradictions.
It was hard. But you found out who your friends were. There were people who had your back, and they became very precious. We recognize each other because there’s not that many of us who cross a lot of different lines and struggles.
What is Environmental? To End Colonialism
I want to, end colonialism. I’ve supported the Puerto Rico Independence struggle for decades, and I was in PR after Hurricane Maria doing medical work. Is that environmentalism? There was environmental devastation and the lack of response was definitely because of colonialism. All of those people didn’t have to die...about 4000 people dead. No FEMA response. When you move out all the people of color and poor people or have them living in tents because they no longer have homes, that’s an environmental concern to me. Displacing Puerto Ricans so wealthy white folks can take over the island.
About Indigenous rights, I think a lot more people have awareness of that. Standing Rock, a leading edge of the environmental movement, made a huge difference. We’re trying to save the West Berkeley Shellmound and now a lot more people know that there’s actually still Ohlone people living here in this area. A lot more people turn out for these things. I have this quote always in my head, “a true revolutionary never gives up hope.” Also, “there’s no hope without organizing.” I try to be hopeful but sometimes I get discouraged and I don’t know if people can pull it together enough to save our ability to life on the planet.
There’s a big climate march [Sept 2018]. I helped organize a contingent called Queers for Climate Justice with people I’ve worked alongside for decades. Idle No More is one of the main organizers and demanded that Indigenous folks lead the march. That was a struggle. I also work with activists and artists in the Bay Area Puerto Rican community; there’s going to be a Puerto Rican contingent. I know there are going to be Palestinians there, and QUIT (Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism) made stickers that say “Colonialism is not green. Free Palestine.” There’s going to be a “war is not green” banner. We’re trying to make connections so folks can think about these things in a different way. I still feel the problem is colonialism, capitalism, imperialism and we need to defeat them to have a beautiful sustainable earth. All the people who are working in these different directions are part of what’s going to make that happen.
I will go back to saying I don’t know much about the environmental movement… I think the environmental movement is non-diverse in many ways, so I would say part of being able to queer it is diversifying it. I’ve occasionally gone to some coalition meetings and honestly it’s all old white men who want to talk a lot. For a lot of my comrades, if we feel we have to make a presence there, we draw straws and whoever gets the short one has to go. That’s not good coalition building. I’m a white person, so generally one of the things I try to do is shut up and listen a lot. I think that’s an important thing I can do: show up, work and offer my support to people of color who have a vision of what is important. I’ve done that for decades.
Some people may not be able to show up for meetings because they have to take care of their kids or they’re working their second job. People who are part of NGOs are paid organizers. For those of us who aren’t paid organizers, we have a different time schedule and we can’t spend forever making decisions and come to endless meetings during the day. And language… is everything in English? Is all the outreach in English?
A Simple Connection
"I’m a dyke and I’m a part of this. That’s the connection. You look around and how many queers are standing up in any organization? We’re here. Whether you see us or not, we’re here."
I want queers to know that fighting colonialism and stopping climate chaos is important as is working on climate chaos. And I want greens and others there to know that queers are here, and we think that this is important. I feel the same thing about the Palestine… we should have queers for Palestinians rights or queers for environmental justice. Queers are involved in many, many movements for social justice. It’s important to name that. Certainly in any movement where I’m involved, people know who I am, that I am a dyke. In Indigenous culture, people would say, now we want all the women to come up, then all the men to come join. What about the rest of us? Now that is starting to change, to include gender diversity. I’m part of the Bay Area American Indian Two Spirit drum group as an ally. There’s been healing in the Indigenous community toward queer people.
"There's no guidebook for how to show up for queer ecology"
"I want queers to know that climate is important"