Monday, April 26, 2010

Bad Fences Make Bad Neighbors


Poet Robert Frost, playwright August Wilson and novelist Mark Twain got literary mileage out of fences. Now instead of writing about a fence, Chris Trumbull has written ON a fence. He didn't create literature; he created graffiti.

Or it would be graffiti if he'd written on someone else's fence. Trumbull wrote on his own fence, so it's protected speech. Ugly, but protected.

On the outside of his fence, Trumbull, of Casper, Wyo., spray-painted "Leviticus 20:13, To be gay = death." I support free speech. But as a home beautification project, his sign bites.

"I put it up because society is not looking at the truth," Trumbull told the Casper Star-Tribune. "They're not my words, they're the Lord's."

Actually, that Leviticus passage reads, "If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads."

Trumbull shorthanded the passage. He edited God.

The Wyomingite said he's generally disappointed in society, and no specific event induced him to paint his sign.

"I'm not doing it to be spiteful. Gay people are bashing themselves," said Trumbull. "My fence seems like the proper setting [to express an opinion]."

Why stop with the fence? He could paint a message on his roof, warning planes and ducks not to be gay.

Trumbull's property sits on the route between Roosevelt High School and the Boys & Girls Club. Over 100 students walk by it every day, getting an education of sorts.

The city asked Trumbull to remove the sign, but he refused. More than that Casper cannot do, said the city code enforcement supervisor. Freedom of speech means Trumbull is free to be rude, obnoxious, holier-than-thou, incendiary and a thorn in the side of the Wyoming tourism department.

While Trumbull's fence raises questions about protected speech, a different issue stands out to me: What is it with Wyoming and fences?

The stories I read about the Trumbull case didn't mention Matthew Shepard, but he leaped to my mind anyway. Wyoming. A fence. Loathing of gays. If I hadn't made that connection, I'd worry that my synapses have walked off the job.

They have, Wyomingites might reply. Trumbull didn't kill anybody. He just made his fence into Martha Stewart's worst nightmare.

True. But Trumbull has undeniably contributed to a poisonous atmosphere for gays. In Wyoming. Using a fence.

Who can forget that ranch fence Shepard was tied to after being savagely beaten and left to die in 1998 on the outskirts of Laramie? It's no longer there, by the way.

Many wish Trumbull's sign was no longer there, perhaps hoping a modern-day Tom Sawyer would find a way to give it a good whitewashing.

According to Towleroad, something similar happened. A person or persons changed the words to "Religion = War." The message was then changed back, presumably by Trumbull. It's the Great Graffiti War.

Trumbull is obstinate and Casper's city officials say their hands are tied. So unless Trumbull's opposition plans to perform a drive-by editing every night, it's up to the community to handle this in a positive manner.

Marty Wood, safe schools coordinator for the Natrona County School District, said teachers could make something out of Trumbull's creation. "I'd use it as a big learning piece about free speech and constitutional rights," he said. "We live in a free country, so how do you handle disputes and differences of opinion?"

If the students learn that lesson, maybe a future Matthew Shepard will be avoided. Chris Trumbull will have accidentally paved the way to understanding. I hope he can live with the shame.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Gay News That's Fit to Print

“I’m doing your research for you.”

Anne was all smiles, but her words had made me all nervous. Someone choosing a topic for me to write about is often as welcome as someone choosing my clothes for the day. I could wind up in paisley.

My partner’s enthusiasm was undeniable. Each time she finished a section of The Sunday New York Times she uttered something between an exclamation and a squeak. We were on vacation in Florida, so for the first time in ages she’d been able to read the whole paper.

“There is something gay in every section,” she announced. “A plethora of poofters in the paper!”

That did it. I was hooked. Paisley here I come.

Anne pointed to the lead story in “Arts & Leisure” about Ellen DeGeneres holding her own as the newest judge on “American Idol.” Ellen’s efforts on the nation’s most popular program, according to the story, show “how determined she is to be openly but unthreateningly gay.”

In the same section Anne spotted something threateningly gay. The headline for a round up of new albums read “Country Grief, Soulful Gospel and Gay Lust.” The latter referred to the group Hunx and His Punx and its man-obsessed lyrics. This is not your father’s New York Times. It’s not even your older brother’s New York Times.

“Sunday Styles” led with a piece on Alexander McQueen, the gay British designer who recently took his own life. The section also examined Ricky Martin’s coming out on his Web site rather than in a magazine like People. On the local gala page, a third of the photos came from the Imperial Court of New York’s benefit drag ball. And in the wedding pages, a couple of fellas got hitched.

The only thing that would’ve made the section gayer was rainbow-colored ink.

Okay, I said to Anne, but that’s all the arty, styly stuff. You expect to find us there. Anne, giddy with gayness, declared there was more ahead.

She highlighted the “Week in Review” story about President Obama building on the legacy of President Clinton. DADT figured prominently. She pointed to the front page of the paper and the news that a sequel to “The Official Preppy Handbook” is forthcoming, this time with an essay by Edmund White on gay prepsters.

Your evidence is getting thinner, I warned. She heaved a sigh, muttered something rude about my ceaseless need for proof, and waved The New York Times Magazine in my face.

On the cover sat two bunnies and the words “They Gay?” I now owe Anne dinner.

The cover story with the marvelous title “The Love that Dare not Squawk its Name” tackled how scientifically and socially complicated same-sex animal couplings are.

Anne hadn’t read the rest of the paper. “Shall we see if we show up in the ‘Book Review?’” she asked very rhetorically. She spotted a novel about a bisexual young woman, and on the next page a history of disco, which, the reviewer said, traces “how disco helped groom and commercialize a formidable new gay identity.”

Now Anne was possessed. She even combed the “Sunday Business” section. Her eureka moment came when she saw that an essay on sabbaticals had been written by a professor working on a book about Oscar Wilde. “Close enough,” she pronounced.

She looked through the sports but couldn’t find anything gay. “You’re in here! We just don’t know it yet!”

I pried what little of the paper remained from her hands. After she calmed down, Anne said, “I don’t know if this is just our week, or we’ve actually become mainstream.”

We won’t know till our next vacation, when if The Times has a repeat performance, so will she.