This June: Name Check

Jun 18, 2017 by Pauline on The Nickelodeon Blog

As we prepare to screen John Scagliotti’s documentary, After Stonewall, on June 20, Luke Hodges discusses the importance of remembering the history of the LGBTQ movement’s triumphs and struggles as a way to inform empowerment, action, and community.

For a few years now, I’ve been obsessed with this pre-show ritual among jazz musicians–something I once heard the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis refer to as a “roll call.” Essentially, members of a jazz band gather together before they go onstage, and each person calls out the names of those artists who, through the sheer power of their creations, drew them to the genre in the first place.

Roll calls like this are especially important, I’d argue, not only in approaching questions of queer art, but in questions of queer history–both of which are inextricable from one another.

Larry Kramer–channeling his glorious, sanctified rage through his onstage alter ego Ned Weeks in The Normal Heart–once wrote, “The only way we’ll have real pride is when we demand recognition of a culture that isn’t just sexual…. [A]ll through history we’ve been there; but we have to claim it, and identify who was in it, and articulate what’s in our minds and hearts and all our creative contributions to this earth.”

June is our month for righteous name calling, different than the kind we’ve grown accustomed to–it’s the time we set aside to honor those who made us possible, and to commemorate the lives we lost and continue to lose to these all-too persistent plagues of intolerance and indifference. It’s our opportunity to correct the record, to ensure that the Bayard Rustins and the Sylvia Riveras and the Marsha P. Johnsons of our movement are no longer dismissed, erased, or forgotten, for there are still too many names as yet unwritten in the annals of our collective struggle for liberation.

I’ve always been gay, but I didn’t become queer until I encountered the works of Dorothy Allison, Pedro Almodovar, James Baldwin, Zal Batmanglij, Alison Bechdel, Elizabeth Bishop, Leigh Bowery, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Lisa Cholodenko, Jimmy DeSana, Xavier Dolan, Nikky Finney, Nan Goldin, Peter Hujar, George Kuchar, Tony Kushner, Federico Garcia Lorca, Audre Lorde, Taylor Mac, Harvey Milk, Peter Staley, Sebastian Silva, Andrew Solomon, Jill Soloway, Lilly and Lana Wachowski, Walt Whitman, Tennessee Williams, David Wojnarowicz, and the countless other artists and activists who woke me up to the pain of people other than myself, who made me recognize the urgency and the necessity of speaking out and acting up, of leveraging what power or privilege I may have to advance the causes of equity and decency.

Whose name will you call this month? Who will you honor? Who will you remember? You’re alive and you have a voice, so say their names out loud.

Written by Luke Hodges