Friday, October 21, 2011

Waving the the (P)flag

I went to a P-FLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meeting last week. It wasn’t my first P-FLAG meeting, but it may as well have been. And not just because it was at a place I’ve never been (the Metropolitan Community Church) in Los Angeles, and nobody knew me when I made my entrance in my wheelchair, and I was asked, “And who are you?” (Yikes, but I’m delighted to say that I passed with flying colors - pun intended - with my speech device.)

I had learned a few days earlier that a friend of mine is involved with this group, and I decided to go out there on a whim. As I told the group, there used to be a P-FLAG meeting here in Claremont when I came out about ten years ago. Going to the meeting at that time was very helpful, and I missed it when it ceased to exist.

But I really didn’t remember. I forgot how powerful a P-FLAG meeting is. I forgot about the funny and wrenching coming-out stories, about how moving it is to hear a mother say all the horrible things she thought when her son told her that he’s gay, about how touching it is to see a father cry when telling how he rejected his lesbian daughter. Even more powerful is when, as in a couple cases at this meeting, both the child and parent are there.

I forgot how much I love having this community, even as it hurts me when I, as I also said at the meeting, wish my parents would attend a P-FLAG meeting (if not march in a gay pride parade as part of a P-FLAG contingent).

I also remembered the piece I wrote attending my first P-FLAG meeting. I was terrified - not only of announcing that I’m gay, but this was long before I had my speech device - and I was accompanied by my friends Alan and Jim, who all but held my hand. Unfortunately, I can’t find a hard copy of the piece, which was published in the chapter newsletter and which was lost, along with all my other writing, when my hard drive crashed two years ago. (Hard lesson learned: Always back up your files!)

Soon after attending the meeting last week, I got the idea of getting the Claremont P-FLAG meeting up and running again. I probably can’t, but I sure would like to. It is crazy that I have to drive to L.A and my P-FLAG-attends Claremont friends trek to Orange County.

There’s something more, though. It can be argued that the laying down of a P-FLAG meeting is a good thing, because it means that everything is okay for GLBT people. I don’t buy it. I don’t think P-FLAG is about or all about getting gay rights. Even if we queer folks get all the rights we need and want, it is still important to have places where we and our loved ones to go and have community and support.

P.S: Speaking of community, I went to Occupy L.A a couple days ago. What struck me most was how very, very organized it is. There are detailed guidelines on conducting business and reaching consensus, and there are general meetings, committees, workshops and affinity groups (including “GLBTQ”. (Sound familiar, fellow Quakers?)

However, that doesn’t mean that there are no problems and that everything is lovey-dovey. For example, I read yesterday that the people there are arguing over drugs. They need to nip this is the bud - pun definitely intended - and ban illegal drugs, or Occupy L.A will very soon be over. (I plan to post more about Occupy L.A soon.)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Oh, Claremont!

Here, in my latest column in the Claremont Courier, is an example of how my beloved hometown of Claremont, like with all that we most love, sometimes drives me crazy.

I’ll also note that this column coincidentally appeared during the same week that Ken Burns’ Prohibition was broadcast on PBS. The three-part documentary about the constitutional amendment banning the sale and purchasing of alcoholic beverages in the 1920's is a brilliant look at the folly of legislating morality. What started as a well-intentioned attempt to end a possibly dangerous and destructive behavior went terribly awry and ended up making the behavior not only more attractive but also even more dangerous and destructive.

I should also point out that Rancho Cucamonga is a town several miles east of Claremont.


Now, the picture, with its fine lines and exquisite details, can be seen. At last, the message, whether it be small and ever-so-discreet or big and out-there bold, can be exposed. Finally, the truth, either in simple black and white or in glorious color, is revealed for all to see.

After all this time, the Claremont Tattoo Parlor can now, finally, be in Claremont.

At least, technically.

The Claremont Tattoo Parlor? Yes. There has been a Claremont Tattoo Parlor - actually, Claremont Tattoo Studio - for years.

In Rancho Cucamonga.

Not in Claremont.

Because the Claremont Tattoo Studio, which is at 3086 Archibald Avenue in Rancho Cucamonga, couldn’t be in Claremont. It, along with all other tattoo parlors, was banned in Claremont.
The Claremont Tattoo Studio has been in Rancho Cucamonga for over 15 years since, in 1994, it tried to open up shop in the arcade in the Village and it was deemed necessary to outlaw tattoo parlors in Claremont.

That’s all of Claremont. Not just the Village. (I’ll get to why this is important later.)

Never mind that, at the time, most of the guys working at Some Crust Bakery, just down the street from the arcade in the Village on Yale Avenue, doling out our beloved croissants and cookies, were covered in tattoos. Not only did they have the standard tattoos on their upper arms, they had tattoos running down their arms. And down their legs, which the guys showed off in their shorts.

Yes, this was a big deal, a huge bruhaha. I got three columns out of it. Three consecutive columns. That’s about a month and a half that the controversy went on for.

And it was weird. Just as weird as it sounds, with a bunch of tattooed bakers a block down the street. Just as weird as the Claremont Tattoo Studio being in Rancho Cucamonga.

The City, backed by the City Council, kept coming up with problems that a tattoo parlor in the Village would present. There were concerns about the instruments being kept sanitized. There were concerns about the tattooing being screened off.

It was argued that there were not enough or strong enough state and county regulations pertaining to these and the many other such issues that the City came up with. That other towns which had tattoo parlors also didn’t have all these health regulations didn’t matter.

The thing was that the City had no rules regarding tattoo parlors, and here it had the Claremont Tattoo Studio wanting to set up shop. The City, backed by the City Council, deemed it best to ban tattoo parlors.

Of course, the sanitizing and the screening and all that weren’t the issue. But they were easier for the City to say than something like, “We don’t want these seedy joints and the kind of folks they attract here.”

It was even easier just to outlaw tattoo parlors.

Like I said, it was weird. Because look at the folks Some Crust was attracting. And - oh, yeah - what about Rhino Records?

But it gets weirder. Or, really, it gets logical and makes sense.

Flash forward twenty years, and the brilliant colors are filled in on this puppy.

Because, now, after all this time since the Claremont Tattoo Studio was told that it and its fellow establishments weren’t welcome here, tattoo parlors are allowed in Claremont.

And that’s because it turns out, these twenty years later, that banning tattoo parlors may well be unconstitutional.

It turns out that Claremont can’t ban “these seedy joints and the kind of folks they attract.” Even when these folks are already here.

Like I said, brilliant.

It turns out that a tattoo artist tried to set up shop in Hermosa Beach and was stopped because of a ban similar to Claremont’s. The tattoo artist appealed, and, last year, the U.S 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ban violates the First Amendment, with its guarantee of free expression. Especially with the state and county health officials beefing up their inspections in the last decade, there was no escaping this conclusion.

And there was no escaping for Claremont. The City realized that its ban is a no-go and that it too could be sued.

Brian Desatnik, director of community development, couldn’t have said it better. “Banning tattooing is unconstitutional. Changes needed to be made in order to be in compliant with the law.”

So, in order to be legal, in order to be constitutional, Claremont now allows tattoo parlors.

But not in the Village.

It’s still weird but not as weird.

Along with lifting the ban, the City Council approved restrictions on where tattoo parlors can locate within Claremont. In addition to not being able to set up shop less than 200 feet from any residential district, religious institutions, school or public park and 250 feet from another tattoo parlor, tattoo parlors are only allowed in business/industrial areas just above Foothill Boulevard and just above Arrow Highway.

The Village is out - no question.

Mayor Pro Temp Larry Shroeder assures that the City will have “the ability to place those businesses in the appropriate space and not necessarily right in our Village.”

Of course. Not “those businesses.”

Like sex offenders.

It doesn’t matter that, while tattoos aren’t for everybody, an awful lot of people under about 35 have them, and more and more don’t hide them. It doesn’t matter that, yes, gang-bangers and ex-cons have tattoos, but so do office workers, teachers, computer technicians, postal workers, waiters - all kinds of people - and don’t forget bakers and record store clerks. It doesn’t matter that all these people, with all their tattoos, frequent the Village, and some also work in the Village.

Speaking of frequenting the Village, I always hear it lamented that not enough of the college students, as well as others, go to the Village. Well, if there was a tattoo parlor in the Village, more students would definitely be in the Village.

Or maybe we don’t want those kinds of people.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

And, furthermore...

For worse and for better, when it comes to two issues I wrote about earlier this year, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

*I wrote about how crazy it was that Jared Loughner, the alleged gunman in January’s Tuscon massacre, was being forcibly medicated so that he can stand trial and be convicted. According to recent news, things are still crazy, if not crazier.

Last week, U.S District Judge Larry Burns, who ruled in May that Loughner was mentally unfit to stand trial, extended Loughner’s treatment, including forced medication presumably, at a federal prison hospital in Missouri by four months, declaring that “measurable progress towards restoration has been made.” It was noted that, although his lawyers say that he is so disabled that he has been on suicide watch since July and continues to be psychotic despite medication, Loughner no longer smears feces on his bed, is less likely to speak in a confusing “word salad” and has expressed remorse. Loughner has also spoken of his dogs and turtles with affectation, and one expert said, “His humanity is coming back.”

Good. That means, hopefully, he can be put to death.

*Last week, I went to a talk at Pomona College by Carlos Motta, a queer artist and activist. He talked about his on-line project,, featuring interviews with dozens of queer activists, and I was reminded of a transgender performance artist and comedian I wrote about seeing at Pomona College in the Spring saying that while gay people want to be like everyone else (marriage, military service, etc.), queer people want everyone else to be like them.

This wasn’t just a joke, and I feel this way more and more. As Motta pointed out in his talk last week, rather than celebrate the end of don’t-ask-don’t-tell as in the gay community, queer people ignore or reject it, in that it promotes the fighting of war and the destruction of humanity.