Alaska Pride Conference 2011: Welcome by Doug Frank
by Doug Frank
Doug Frank was a cofounder of the Alaska Pride Conference, first held in 1994, and is well-known for his decades of service to Alaska’s LGBTQA community. Doug provided Bent Alaska with a copy of the remarks with which he welcomed us to Alaska Pride Conference 2011, held this past Saturday at Alaska Pacific University. Thank you, Doug!
Welcome to the 17th annual Pride Conference.
From the beginning, the organizing committee was interested in creating a state-wide conference. I have always been thrilled to see a contingent of students and friends every year from Fairbanks and Juneau and other smaller communities.
In a remarkable testament of loving support, members of the Anchorage GLBT community, primarily, Identity and the Imperial Court, held a fundraiser this spring to provide scholarships to people from outlying communities. A rash of gay suicides in 2010 and 2011 have made national news. The statistics for suicide rates among gay and lesbian and transgender youth in small Alaska Native villages is tragically high. No one should ever feel alone without a support system as they explore the wonderful world of human sexuality and its many expressions.
This morning I’d like to briefly tell the story of how this conference came to be and its original purpose. In 1994, Rebecca Rogers, the former executive director of the Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association (Four A’s), solicited a grant from Pride Foundation to help heal the community after the 1993 political debate over whether to provide equal rights based on sexual orientation for municipal employees. Luckily we were successful in this effort thanks to the legal talent and energy of the Alaska ACLU. The first conference was an attempt to heal and strengthen the community after this public debate. The original grant was for $1,500 from Pride Foundation. Pride Foundation was started in 1985 by four committed individuals in the Seattle, who believed we needed our own philanthropic organizations. Over the years Pride Foundation has invested over $100,000 in 12 Alaskan organizations. The Pride Conference in 1994 was one of the first such investments. This past year they hired a representative for Alaska, Tiffany McClain. We owe a big debt of gratitude to the people at Pride Foundation.
After several years, the conference was handed over from the Four A’s to Identity and they have been the sponsor for many years. We also owe a huge debt of gratitude to Identity, their very competent board of directors and the many volunteers who donate their time at the community center and during events like Pridefest in June and this annual conference.
After receiving the Pride Foundation grant approval, Rebecca Rogers asked FKen Freedman and myself to create the first conference because we both knew most of the people in our community.
Because he was a founder of this conference and because he passed away April 30, 2010, I want to give you a small glimpse of the man. FKen was the editor, along with Ruth Mathis, of the Northview for many years and he was also the co-chair of the Identity board, a man of tremendous insights and vision and had a deep commitment to this community.
On Jan. 6 1990, (four years before the first conference) FKen, and an Inupiat man named Roy Agloinga and I went to a remote cabin for the weekend. In a playful moment, we decided to walk out into the field of snow in front of the cabin and place a candle in each footstep. Now I want to read what FKen wrote that same day.
Once upon a time, in a heart far away, a lost soul wandered by. Lost? Well seeking. Alaska gave me a safe haven, an anchor, real friends. The heart reached out, took risks, found a love that surpassed it own definition. Still there was another step.
Last night, Doug, you suggested, silly I thought, that you and Roy and I take candles from World AIDS Day Alaska, and plant them in scones we would script in the snow around the cabin windows. Of course, I did it (thinking I ‘d play along) and found myself at sacrosanct play. Once inside, we stared into the snow aflame with simple candles transformed into spirit guides.
With energy and strength I had never before known, I summoned the courage to look at my little boy self and bless him for hiding me until I could find a safe place to reemerge as my true power, the Healer. I bless Joan (my long dead sister) for sending her guides to protect me, and Marc who died just this past July 9th from AIDS, my lover and teacher and enigma. And then I forgave them, and then I breathed deeply and forgave myself, and committed to my calling, my power, a future free of encumbering self-pity, fear. I committed to my Receptor self, my receiving self, my loving self, my Healer, my mirror.
He wrote more but I want to end with his last words that day. He repeats it twice for emphasis and I think it is as relevant today as then.
Be forever a warrior of the heart, my friend, Be forever a warrior of the heart.
FKen said that his lover Marc was an enigma. His last words are a bit of mystery also.
The heart is metaphor for feelings. What connects us in this room , our common denominator are issues of the heart. I have the ability to love someone of the same gender, similar to most of you here today. And that simple fact cause some people to come unhinged.
Feelings are complex. Telling the truth around our feelings is not something that our culture teaches us but is essential to our mental and emotional well-being. That is the meaning of the metaphor to come out of the closet- begin to tell the truth about our ability to love and live honestly. This has never been an easy process. I want to read excerpts from a poem by e.e. cummings. It involves the complexity of feelings. It is broader in its scope but I am going to look at just the parts on feelings.
Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.
To be nobody-but-yourself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time-and whenever we do it, we’re not poets.
If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed.
And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world-unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.
Does this sound dismal? It isn’t.
It’s the most wonderful life on earth.
Or so I feel.
(Reply to a letter from a high-school editor; published in Ottawa Hills (Grand Rapids, Mich.); from “A Poet’s Advice to Students” in e.e. cummings, A Miscellany (1958) and A Miscellany Revised (1965)]
Does this poem remind you of FKen’s admonition to be a warrior of the heart? — or that maybe a synonym for nobody-but-yourself might be the word queer — for many years a pejorative term but one that has been and is being reclaimed.
For far too long we were queer, perverts, faggots, witches. We were criminals, deviants, anti-family, promiscuous, outcasts. Those were the names they called us.
The first conference was a time to stop, take a breathe and ask the question, Who are we? We had allowed our opponents to define the debate and dialogue for too long. To reflect this shift, the theme of the first conference was “In Search of … A New Vision for Gays Lesbians and Bisexuals.” The initial question in the program was “ What would life be like, as an individual and as a community, if we lived in a land free of shame and full of pride? What if it gave us a strong and enduring sense of hope, inspiration and purpose? What if we felt totally connected to each other and the world around us?”
That first year, Ellen Ratner, a White House correspondent and talented lesbian, appearing on over 100 radio stations, was the keynote speaker. We signed a contract and advertised her appearance. It was amazing that she honored her commitment, because the President of the United States personally requested an interview by her the same week that she was to be our keynote speaker. The Presidential secretary asked Ellen, half jokingly, if her prior commitment in Alaska required her to speak to a group of gay men, lesbians and radical feminists. Her reply was an unequivocal, “Yes”. After the conference she was able to reschedule an interview with the President Bill Clinton and presented him with a poster from 4A’s and the people who attended the conference. The President immediately jumped up and came around the desk in the oval office and had his picture taken with the print. Do you see the significance of this gesture? For many years our love was the love that dare not speak its name. Shame kept us isolated and alone, unaware of our power and purpose. Here the president, the leader of this country and ostensibly of the free world, was recognizing us.
The purpose of the first conference was to strengthen our community. Community is about making and maintaining relationships and is an on-going process. There are people here this morning who are new to the Anchorage GLBT community. Please help to welcome them. And if you do not know people here, please don’t wait for someone else to start the conversation and don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to someone you might not normally meet.
During the 1994 conference closing ceremony, David Kanash, a Tlingit Indian from Sitka, walked to the podium and started drumming and singing in Tlingit. The translation was:
It is now time to open our containers of wisdom which we have been entrusted.
Today is a perfect day to start that journey. You are not alone but surrounded by many loving people who are here in this room and others, like FKen Freedman who are here in the ideas and love they shared in the past and seeds they planted in consciousness. Today, enjoy old friends, make a new friend, learn something new, let your mind expand and most important enjoy the process. They are the choices we can make today.Alaska Pride, Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association (Four A's), Doug Frank, e.e. cummings, FKen Freedman, Identity, Inc., LGBT History Month, Pride Conference, Pride Foundation, Rebecca Rogers