Category Archives: Sexual Diversity

Thanks to Hank

With some reluctance, I should say that my next big project will be a documentary movie about the life of Hank Wilson.

I usually don’t speak of my projects until they are done, but most of my projects have required no money. This has been fundamental for me: make art that costs no money. The large majority of my music CDs were produced with a budget of zero dollars. If you can make your art for nothing, you are free of the obligation to sell it.

But movies cost money, and even if we make this movie using every possible community resource, and cutting every possible corner, it will still require more money than the production cost of all of my two dozen CDs added together. So I have to raise money. So I have to talk about it.

Hank Wilson was a kind of a gay saint. I know that sounds ridiculous but there is truth to it. He founded many of the queer organizations that populate today’s LGBT landscape in San Francisco. He organized the first gay film festival and the first gay cabaret, the first gay liberation organization and the first AIDS activist groups. But even though his contributions to queer culture and politics were second to none, he spent most of his life serving the homeless. For 20 years he ran a 150-room SRO hotel for the indigent, with an all-queer staff and no budget, making it pay for itself yet providing services beyond those provided by funded organizations. When AIDS arrived he turned an entire floor of the hotel into an AIDS hospice for the indigent. He was also my dear friend, my mentor, and briefly my lover.

He was also beyond modest: a big talent and a small ego. Very few people know of his work. In this era when most queer activism has mostly focused getting stuff for “us” (the right for us to marry, for us to serve in the imperial army, for us to get access to medical care we think we need), I profoundly miss his commitment to a much broader vision of justice, but always from a gay perspective. This is what I would like to share through this movie.

I have never made a movie, but I am going to make this one. I have partnered with Joan Grossman, a wonderful film maker I am looking forward to working with. And we are bringing in Leo Herrera, a young gay film of enormous talent.

And yes, we need money, and are accepting donations, no matter how big or small. We have a a Facebook group for those who want to follow the progress of the film  here,  and web site for the film where you can give us money here. If you are an American citizen, your donation will be tax-deductible through the fiscal sponsorship of the GLBT Historical Society.

To learn more about Hank, here is the Hank Wilson obituary I wrote on The Huffington Post. 

Thank you.



Lonely and Scary Times for Sexual Diversity in Indonesia

A recent New York Times editorial decried new laws against nongovernmental organizations that promote human rights and democracy in China, India, Egypt and elsewhere. In China, the new law comes as part of a broader package of restrictions which have essentially shut down the vibrant experimental music scene which I visited and performed in last October. The venues at the center of the scene just a short while ago are now closed. The organizer of my tour has decided that the current political climate makes it impossible for him to book shows. There is no question in the minds of young Chinese musicians that even though this law deals specifically with NGOs, it targets social freedoms of all kinds, like the freedom to make music.

After China I went to Indonesia, where the state soon launched an orchestrated and vicious campaign of homophobia.The Vice President instructed the United Nations Development Program to cut funding to LGBT-rights education programs. TV and radio programs that portray queer lives as “normal” were banned. There were calls for LGBT people to be barred from employment, from university, and even killed. The Minister of Defense called the LGBT community “a form of proxy war” more dangerous than nuclear warfare. And so on.

This campaign is the Indonesian manifestation of the same drive to control civil society that led to the laws in China and elsewhere decried by the New York Times. Indonesia has used not laws but state-incited violence to maintain their desired level of social control. The current campaign against the queer community falls squarely within this tradition.

Queers in Indonesia have a rational basis for fearing for their lives. In the recent past, similar state-run efforts to incite violence erupted into mass violence against religious and ethnic minorities in which thousands were killed. And it was only fifty years ago that a military government directed a wave of mass murder that killed somewhere between five hundred thousand and two million people. So things like making hiding places and evacuation plans are on the to-do list of queer Indonesian activists.

Sadly, none of the musicians and artists I met in Indonesia felt any sense of connection to the plight of their queer compatriots. To the contrary, musicians would repeat the talking points of the homophobia campaign almost verbatim: this was all the fault of the queer community itself: asking for too much too fast; being too militant; pushing for gay marriage; and not respecting traditional Indonesian values. Certainly the musicians and artists saw little connection between sexual diversity rights and, for example, the relatively new social space they themselves were claiming as young people making art and music far outside the bounds of what is commonly understood to be traditional in Indonesian, and living defiantly non-mainstream lifestyles in a country vexed by an increasingly aggressive religious conservatism.

In fact, sexual diversity activists have not pushed for gay marriage in Indonesia. What they have tried to do more than anything is exist. Most of their activism goes into supporting each other in some way or other, in this poor and marginal country within which they are even poorer and more marginal than most.

As for traditional Indonesian values, Indonesia has one of the longest and best documented traditions of sexual diversity in the world. In just the island of Sulawesi, pre-Islamic culture recognized five genders, not two. The novelty of what the state and conservative Islamic groups claim to be traditional Indonesian values was thrown into sharp relief in a recent incident involving Facebook. A government minister demanded that social media platforms remove any emojis “that smack of LGBT.” Facebook then censored the account of a young Indonesian woman who posted old photographs of topless Indonesian women. Facebook claimed to have acted to protect traditional Indonesian values, but the account holder found the photos by searching on Google for historical photos of Indonesian women. The campaign to protect “Indonesian values” has succeeding in protecting Indonesians from their own history.

The fact that young Indonesian artists and musicians sitting in coffee houses late into the night talking art and politics feel angry and threatened about the attempt to eradicate memory of the fact that many Indonesian women recently went topless, yet dismiss as unimportant the attempt to eradicate all memory of sex, love, and gender in Indonesia that strayed from what is acceptable to today’s conservative Islam – this fact is a reflection of how thoroughly the state controls the sexuality narrative in Indonesia. Indonesia’s queers are left on their own. Their rights and their plight is not part of the discussion of the defense of civil society in Asia – not among the power elite like the New York Times, and not among their natural local allies in Indonesia.

It is a lonely place to be.

There is a CAMPAIGN TO RAISE FUNDS FOR THE INDONESIAN QUEER COMMUNITY HERE. If you live in a place where ¡queers can live comfortable and easy lives, you might think about sending some money.


With Vinolia Wakijo, Sexual Diversity hero of Yogyakarta