October 13, 2011
Columbus Day the Gay Way, by Aram Jibilian
This past Monday, in “honour” of Christopher Columbus “discovering” America, I took part in an action at Columbus Circle in Manhattan. The action was orchestrated by Queerocracy and was lead by Carlos Motta and Camilo Godoy. Upon arriving at the meeting spot, Merchant’s Gate in Central Park, I was immediately handed a newsprint created by Carlos and Camilo. On the cover was a large photo of the Columbus statue engulfed by a purple circle. On the other side was a very comprehensive “Timeline of Queer Immigration.” The timeline begins in 1492, on Columbus’ famed “discovery”, and ends in 2011, listing the recent tough immigration law passed in Alabama, and how only 16 countries in the world provide immigration benefits and sponsorship to same sex couples. We were asked to choose a date from the timeline that we would read aloud in the middle of Columbus Circle, surrounded by the tourists and autumn sunbathers. I chose “1990 – Homosexual ban disappears in the US”. Openly gay senator Barney Frank played a pivotal role in creating the 1990 Immigration Act, which reformed the previous immigration law that allowed persons to be excluded for a sexual deviance, i.e. homosexuality.
The action began with a single file line procession in which the 20 members walked around Columbus Circle holding up the newsprint so that people could see the cover image. Many people we passed unabashedly asked what this was all about. When some members answered ‘Queer immigration”, I heard a couple inquisitors respond with a “What?!” It seemed as if they had never heard either word uttered before, or perhaps this compound term sounded, for lack of a better word, queer.
Once in the circle, a white rope was passed around until each member was holding onto it. We then walked up to the steps of the monument and stood in a two row choral formation as we each shouted our date and event from the timeline. The other members created a human mic, a la the famed technique now being used at Occupy Wall Street, by repeating everything that was said. I knew that this was going to happen. I knew that I was going to be a part of it. But I had no idea how this would make me feel. As we all stood there shouting the dates and events, a new type of anger arose in me. It felt like the events were happening for the first time. And seeing the people’s faces who were listening, it looked like they were hearing it for the first time. Hearing and shouting the sum of these discriminatory events felt immense and volcanic. The injustice that has been done, and that continues, is overwhelming. In the face of this, there have always been those who stood up and made a true change, like Senator Frank. This information also settled over us as we shouted over the rushing traffic and the gushing fountain that seemed louder than it should be.
After the timeline had been read, we grabbed onto the rope again, one end of which had been tied to Columbus’ head immortalized in a frieze on the side of the monument. We all began to pull, as if trying to remove him from his place in history, but alas we fell to the ground under the weight of such a monumental undertaking. Camilo then shouted the word “love”, and we all rose and embraced one another, the final act. At first it felt like this might be a moment where we were flashing our queerness in the face of unsuspecting spectators, but instead the result was a true feeling of comforting one another and offering the strength of connection, community, openness, being un-silenced.
Children will continue to learn that in “1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” but they will be kept ignorant of the atrocities that were unleashed on the native and “undesirable” people of this country. But we, as adults, know better now. And it is time that we took a refresher course on our history. And not just the American History and Western Civilization that we learned in junior high, but the untold histories from the silent groups who have had to bear this ignorance for centuries.
As we were exiting the circle, a woman who had been listening joined our procession. I think we all felt a sense of incredible hope.
Posted by aram jibilian at 7:46 PM