For the next four issues, this column will be dedicated to a project I have been cultivating over the past couple of years. It’s a project that has required labor, humility, gratitude, and love. Love for a community that has always needed to fight for its visibility, and love for a community that will always need to fight for its rights.
What will always make this true is its sheer lack of numbers. Outside of queer meccas like Fire Island and Provincetown, the LGBTQ+ population throughout the world will never become a dominant number. You simply can’t knowingly breed more queer people into existence. We also can’t be created from a specific culture, race, or region, making us pervasively a minority worldwide. For this reason, I find our drumbeat to be very singular and yet forever persistent.
With this in mind, I began to question; how can we as a community work to recognize our chosen family ancestors if we don’t know them? Is this a type of diaspora with no tangible starting place? How can we own claim to those that have helped construct our identities through their actions and visibility when they unknowingly did so? Who allowed us out of our closets? Though I’ve never met Harvey Milk or Marsha P. Johnson, are they our chosen relatives? Like my great-great-grandfather who came to Ellis Island as a German immigrant in 1913, can I claim them for my ability to live my true life?
When I came out to my parents, did the words and visibility of my chosen uncle Elton John help ease the confusion for my parents when I came out to them? The lives of our chosen ancestors in this strange type of inheritance affect the ways in which we live out our LGBTQ+ lives, and I wanted to find a way in which we can recognize, honor, and appreciate these members of our communities that we may or may not know.
Over the next four columns, I will be sharing the journey of this project I’ve titled “Strange Inheritance” and discuss where I currently stand with its progress. The lessons I’ve learned along the way, how these questions were formed, and the different ways I’ve learned to disseminate them into action. Each article, along with its core agenda and story, will end with a dedication to a different queer pioneer that paved the way for future LGBTQ+ rights and visibility.
This one is dedicated to you Stewart Butler. You recently left us on this physical plane, but your actions and voice will live on in our lives, in our rights, and in our hearts. Thanks for being our “political animal”.
Stewart Butler, the self proclaimed “political animal”, dedicated his life to protect and build up the New Orleans queer community, keeping it the gay mecca it is. He was on the front lines to help pass the anti-discrimination ordinance for the LGBTQ+ community in 1991 by the New Orleans City Council and was one of the lucky survivors of the Upstairs Lounge Fire in 1973.
His life was dedicated to the progress of queer LGBTQ+ rights throughout the state and was honored with the “We’re Here” award for politics by the Louisiana Council for Human Rights. In the 90’s, he was instrumental in making sure PFLAG added transgender rights into its mission statement, making it a national commitment for the organization. He started the LGBTQ+ Archives project, and I am honored to say that “Strange Inheritance” received research and development funding from their grant program. Thank you Stewart for your dedication and perseverance in establishing our rights as Queer American citizens.