As one of his first actions since assuming the reins of the National Rifle Association, Oliver North announced that the NRA is cooperating with the Human Rights Campaign to promote a line of rainbow guns in time for LGBTQQI Pride Month.
“This is historic,” said HRC president Mad Hunter McGuffin. “The formerly anti-gay NRA has taken an important step to show that they are #OpenToAll.” Muffin pointed out that in giving him the middle name, Hunter, his parents clearly intended for him to break this new ground for the queer community.
North unveiled the Rainbow RiflesTM at a press conference in the rotunda of San Francisco City Hall, just steps from the places where Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were gunned down in 1978. “Each of the seven assault rifles – one for each letter and color in the queer pantheon – comes complete with a bump stock and a clip bearing the equals sign,” said the beaming North. In response to a reporter’s comment that the rainbow flag has only six colors, North acknowledged that the L rifle is infrared – invisible to the human eye, “just like those L people.”
McGuffin responded awkwardly to a question about the massacre of 49 mostly Latinx gay people at the Pulse nightclub two years ago. “If there had been more rainbow rifles in that club that night, things might have gone differently,” he said. He declined to elaborate, asking instead if anyone would like to buy a snow globe featuring a tiny hunting scene labeled “#OpenSeasonForAll.”
North, who once likened the fight to prevent gay marriage to the movement to abolish slavery, said his views had “evolved.” “I changed my mind when I heard what HRC stood for,” he said. “I thought we were being asked to team up with Hillary Rodham Clinton.”
Hyejin is a queer korean feminist, an abolitionist with anti-war & anti-sexual violence roots, an organizer and cofounder of #survivedandpunished, and a member of HOBAK (Hella Organized Bay Area Koreans). This article was first published in Medium.com.
Did any of us think it would happen while we were still here? War outlived so many of us and became the backdrop for our lives and our families, the ways we understood ourselves, the ways we loved, our rites of passage, our imaginations and our dreams.
I first became politicized because of the legacy of intergenerational domestic violence in my family. As a young person, it was what drew me towards activism and organizing, and much of my participation back then was motivated by trying to make sense of my life and my family somehow. I knew that so much of the bleakness and rage of my family life had interconnected reasons and stories that were beyond just us as individuals. I had more questions than I knew what to do with, two languages to ask them in, and yet no words with which to begin those conversations.
When I went to Korea as an adult for the first time, I was twenty and it was the beginning of a hot, humid summer. One of my best friends and I had spent that spring compiling a zine of queer Korean stories; one of our first attempts to crack through the isolation we felt. I loved the cover of that zine: Sam had drawn a thick outline of the Korean peninsula, and within it were a few faces with soft, intimate expressions, words like genderqueer and han resting above them in block letters. I had packed a few of these zines into my suitcase, which my mother found while going through my things.
“What are these?”
I froze briefly, then swiftly tugged them out of her hands and shoved them out of her view, panicked that she’d seen too much. It was not yet the time for that conversation.
“What were those? You need to be careful what you take into Korea! You can get in trouble so you have to be careful. Korea’s not like the United States, you know.” I deflected and tried to change the subject, playing it cool, until she eventually dropped it. I was relieved when she left the room, and relieved when she didn’t bring it up again.
In retrospect, I think all she had time to glimpse that day was that bold, thick outline of the unified Korean peninsula. I was nervous that she’d interrogate me about my queerness, but now I wonder now if our suspicions about each other from that day were completely different. I didn’t yet know much of Korea’s reunification and democratization movements, and was still unaware of her visceral fear that I’d become an activist, radicalized by “pro-North” and anti-government views.
My last visit was in October. It was towards the tail end of Trump’s first year in office, and my friends and I had spent a large part of the year feeling completely overwhelmed and battered by not just the overall political conditions, but also by the undeniable escalation towards war. At that point, the favorite phrases of the Trump administration and media in regards to Korea included “preemptive strike,” “majority backs military action,” “North Korea will be destroyed,” “take them out,” and “bloody nose strategy”. Many of us were quietly terrified. We noted the eerie parallels between the buildup to the Iraq War and the ramping up of social and political hostility towards North Korea. And in late night conversations, when it was easier to be vulnerable with each other, we admitted that we were afraid.
It felt hard to tell what was real and what wasn’t. The news about everything was constantly disorienting. It was impossible to know what would happen, and so it felt impossible to know how to prepare. The US news media was at a fever pitch on the Korea issue, churning out take after catastrophic take about how war may be unavoidable. War could be the only option. We have the weapons and public approval to do it. Just take them out. A million dead there is better than a thousand dead here. South Korean news media, in contrast, was generally even-toned and measured. The difference was illustrative of both governments’ orientations towards war, and the US media consistently demonstrated, in no uncertain terms, its own hunger to write this war into existence.
I worried obsessively about the future, about the lives of my friends and family in Korea, and about what to do if war broke out. It got worse as my trip drew closer, and this fog didn’t lift until I landed in Seoul, where we got to see our friends and loved ones, grasp their hands and hear their voices, break bread and celebrate being together. It was a relief to be there and not be keeping vigil from all the way across the Pacific. In the language and rhythms of everyday Korean life, war seemed so much further away. War was in the US, not in this place, in spite of location, and even in spite of the many American military bases occupying the country. It seemed simple and matter of fact in Korea: Koreans didn’t want war, so there wouldn’t be war. It was baffling how different it felt, and as a result I spoke of the anxieties I’d had to only one or two close friends there. It felt too dissonant otherwise.
In 2013, my mother pieced together that one of the trips I went on to Korea was related to the Jeju anti naval base struggle. She panicked, simultaneously interrogating me and admonishing me to mind my own business while breaking her own self-imposed silence on Korean politics.
“You live in America now, so why get involved in these things? We didn’t come here to go back to that. Who is getting you into all of this? You need to be careful. They are probably brainwashing you. You could get into a lot of trouble. South Korean politics are dirty. Don’t get involved… something very bad could happen do you. It’s dangerous. Stay out of it and be careful. You’ll get hurt. You live in America. Live your life here.”
She repeated the lines about “danger” and “they could hurt you” again and again, and when I interrupted her, pushing back and demanding to know who exactly I was being threatened by, she went quiet. After a long moment’s silence, she responded, “I don’t want to say over the phone. The Korean government can always be listening. Just stop and be careful. Okay?”
My mother hadn’t yet told me her own politicization story. She had always been the black sheep of the family, and in the Park Chung Hee era, she became involved in a church that often gave sanctuary to protestors fleeing from tear gas, beatings and arrest. With other members of her prayer group, she would help them and visit people in jail. The Catholic Church, she said, was one of the few entities that could more safely speak about things like the 1980 Gwangju Uprising (and ensuing massacre) because of its connections to the West. “I always felt so sorry to the people of Gwangju,” she quietly told me one night. “The whole country was silent as they were killed.”
The government had made it impossible to speak openly about Gwangju for almost a decade. Jeju Island, where I had stayed that month working as an interpreter, was marked by a similar tragedy that had disappeared a tenth of its population. On Jeju, in a sleepy village called Gangjeong, construction of a massive US/South Korean naval base was well underway. Gangjeong villagers fiercely opposed this base, connecting it to the militarized brutality they had suffered under 4.3. Both 5.18 and 4.3 began as uprisings against police violence and torture by South Korean military police. Both were met with brutal repression, rape and murder. Both massacres transpired with the active direction or approval the United States. Both uprisings were crushed and silenced by the government, with the justification that they were taking out Reds. Communists. North Korean sympathizers.
“Did you know,” my mother once said to me, “When I was younger, in the Park Chung Hee years, they’d play songs and announcements on the radio or over loudspeakers in the streets for us? The government was telling us to work hard and make Korea succeed. And they were also telling us that the North Koreans were monsters. They even said sometimes that they had horns growing out of their heads, like beasts. Can you believe that?”
Korea was divided. Korea was divided and this was no natural parting of ways. Korea was divided, post-WWII and post-Japanese occupation, by Americans. Two mid-level American officers were tasked with figuring out an appropriate border for occupation in Korea, and carved out a line on a National Geographic map that would let the US have Seoul. Since then, the “Demilitarized Zone”, or DMZ, has become one of the most militarized places in the world. However, division wasn’t only physical. Within South Korean borders, it was used to justify horrific levels of political repression and economic exploitation. Red-baiting and anti-North discourse were enforced through terror, and were used to consolidate political power for right-wing dictators. The National Security Law, a colonial holdover from Japan that evolved to criminalize being “pro-North” or “pro-Communist” legalized governmental impunity. The consequences for dissenting once included imprisonment, torture, death and the targeting of your entire family.
My mother was born right as the war ended, the youngest of six, into a landless, displaced and impoverished family that had sought refuge in the mountains during the war. Like many, they hid in caves to survive. “Once,” my mother told me, “Your uncle almost crawled out of the cave, and your keun-imo (eldest aunt) had to run and get him back inside because your grandmother was too scared to move! Everyone was afraid but her.” In classic Korean fashion, she laughed about it.
After the war, my grandmother helped feed her six children by selling food on the street, while my grandfather was too depressed and traumatized to work. She died when my mother was still a very young child, and my mom used to tell me that she believed that she had died of hardship. My mother would tell me her stories late at night as we drifted off to sleep. “I missed my mom so much, and even though I had a lot of siblings, I felt so alone. At night, I’d listen to the cicadas and frogs until I fell asleep to feel less sad… not having a mom is really lonely, you know. There’s no one to protect you or look out for you. You should know that having a mom is one of the best, most important things in the world… you can have a good life, with so much that I didn’t have. You’re my lovely daughter, my kind daughter, so you must live well. You will live well.”
I called her the day after the summit. I waited until my emotions settled a bit; until I had moved from confusion and overwhelm into a more manageable state of confusion and overwhelm.
“Eomma, you heard the news, right? They said they’ll end the war? What do you think?”
“Of course I heard! I watched it all and stayed up all night online looking at everything! Eomma is so happy she could die. Moon Jae-in did so wonderfully, and so did Kim Jong-un—he did so well, too! This is such good news… I’m so happy.”
“It is! It was so unreal to watch; I can’t believe it happened. And when they stepped over into both sides of Korea—”
“Koreans, we have been so brainwashed about each other for such a long time. All of us, we were told that the other side was the enemy even though we are the same people. Kim Jong-un, too, look at how they’ve talked about him. They made him out to be such a monster. You know, it’s not right and it’s finally time to end it. And for all of us to be better and come back to each other.”
I witnessed my mother’s joy, and I celebrated with her.
I witnessed my queer feminist friends’ reactions of feeling both deeply moved and painfully reminded of a place that doesn’t want them, war or no war. And I remembered how they were condemned by the entire South Korean left for demanding that Moon address his homophobia.
I also thought of friends and elders in Gangjeong village who spent the last ten years of their lives resisting the Jeju naval base, feeling now that their bodies and hearts had been wasted away in the trauma of that struggle. I am reminded of their sorrow and rage as I wonder what will happen next: if they, elders, farmers and haenyeo women, will see their village and sea returned to them in their lifetime.
Ending the war is a basic and necessary step towards healing and building lasting peace. It must be also followed with true demilitarization and an end to US occupation, from Jeju to Pyeongtaek to Soseong-ri. And this must happen also with the active uplift of conditions for queer and trans people, disabled people, women, and migrant workers, who continue to bear the brunt of societal and interpersonal violence even in this historic moment.
For the past seven decades, the logic of South Korean/North Korean, good Korean/bad Korean Korean, calcified into something as heavy and familiar as bone. It was used to determine, in many ways, who deserves to belong and who deserves to be excised or punished. It was also accompanied by the logics of misogyny, violence against queer/trans people, capitalism, ableism, exploitation and racism/xenophobia, all of which also often determine one’s worth as a Korean and thus, one’s level of exposure to violence and harm. I believe that peace should mean freedom from war and occupation as well as dignity and freedom from abuse and discrimination. So in other words, I believe that this is less of an end and more of a beginning.
When the war ends, what will we grow in its place?
War and division cost us too much, normalized all the worst impulses of humanity, and for South Koreans, created a world in which silence, political repression, exploitation and violence were the costs of “safety”. What we have now came at the cost of so many lives, and entire worlds of possibility. Watching Moon and Kim cross over this arbitrary, absurd thing called a border so easily made my heart constrict with emotion, thinking of all the senseless violence, pain and suffering that led us to this point, seven decades later. It doesn’t undo everything, and it’s still important. It doesn’t undo everything, and maybe that’s what hurts. I think of Han Kang’s poem in Human Acts, a retelling of the Gwangju Uprising from both ghosts and survivors, and as I let myself feel hopeful, I also allow myself the humanity of memory and grief.
After you died I could not hold a funeral,
And so my life became a funeral.
Oh, return to me.
Oh, return to me when I call your name.
Do not delay any longer. Return to me now.
After you died I couldn’t hold a funeral.
So these eyes that once beheld you became a shrine.
These ears that once heard your voice became a shrine.
These lungs that once inhaled your breath became a shrine.
The flowers that bloom in the spring, the willows, the raindrops and snowflakes become shrines.
The mornings ushering in each day, the evenings that daily darken, became shrines.
On behalf of Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism or QUIT!, it is hard to find words to express our horror at what is happening in Gaza, and in the rest of Palestine. We are here to support the Palestinians who are resisting, and being murdered, and in support of the right of return for all Palestinians.
Genocide is the basis of the establishment of the state of Israel. Although the early Zionists falsely claimed that Palestine was a “land without people for people without a land,” the Zionists have been constantly working to create a Palestine without Palestinians. This entire ethnic cleansing campaign could not exist without the decades of military, financial and political support from the US.
Lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people, and other queer identified people have been supporting Palestinian struggles since the beginning of LGBTQ liberation 50 years ago. We are inspired by the over 100 years of Palestinian resistance to European/US colonialism. We have long been part of the anti-zionist movement, including BDS campaigns. Although the Israeli government at times pretends to recognize some rights for Jewish Israeli queers, we are not fooled by Israel’s attempts to pinkwash their abominable actions, including their actions against Palestinian queers.
Too often, the world looks away from both the daily grind of exile, deprivation, torture, and incarceration of Palestinians, as well as the periodic mass murders. As queers, our solidarity with the Palestinian struggle is informed by the times our suffering has also often been made invisible to the world, as hundreds of thousands of people died, still die of AIDS, and as we are attacked and killed, outlawed and imprisoned. We understand that for queer Palestinians, the conditions of ethnic cleansing, exile and exclusion create yet additional barriers to existence.
So we are here as part of the world community, and the world’s queer communities, that say absolutely NO to Zionism and other forms of racism. We have been here, we will be here, until every Palestinian, is able to live in Palestine, or any other place they choose, in freedom. Free, Free Palestine.
Last UV had an article about the West Berkeley Shellmound development project which had launched a new attack under Scott Weiner sponsored SB35. The City of Berkeley, despite promises of a developer lawsuit, decided that the current developer proposal was not eligible for fast tracking under SB35. The Shellmound lawyer had submitted a 50 page document of reasons that the Shellmound was ineligible for SB 35 and the Ohlone had promised to sue Berkeley if they approved the fast track. This was a victory for the Ohlone people and their allies and for Native freedom of religion. 100s of people had packed City Hall meetings, the Landmark Board, and sent 100s of letters.
Among other reasons for denying the permit, Berkeley noted that there was no low-income housing in the 50% “affordable housing”. Also, the West Berkeley Shellmound is a city and state historical site and is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places which supersedes SB35. For thousands of years, the people of this original village on the East Bay shore thrived on the abundant resources of land and sea, developing a sophisticated maritime culture. Towering over the village was a great mound, estimated to have been at least 20 feet high and hundreds of feet long, one of the largest of the 425 shellmound funerary monuments that once lined the shores of San Francisco Bay. These mounds are older than the pyramids in Egypt and most of the major cities in the world.
Blake-Griggs, the developer, still has its first proposal on file to build the huge complex of housing and retail which would require the excavation of the entire 2.2 acres with the probability of disturbing burials and other cultural objects. Corrina Gould, Ohlone leader has a different idea of a natural open area; “We envision a living cultural space—revitalizing cultural traditions, like songs, language and dances.” The final victory for the preservation of the Shellmound is still to come and will continue to take a lot of resources, time, money for legal counsel, and protracted struggle.
The Ohlone struggle has support of many native folks as well as a diverse group of allies who have vowed to keep the project from being constructed. One indigenous activist said, “If they start to develop this land, it will be our Standing Rock .”
On March 30 tens of thousands of Palestinians were met with Israeli sniper fire, drones, gas and other weapons as they marched towards the Israeli border. The Great March of Return created an encampment more than 500 meters from the fence, well outside of the 300 meter no-go zone enforced by Israel.
None the less, the Israelis attacked. The march, organized by a coalition of grass roots groups in Gaza, responded with non-violent resistance, and in some cases with rocks or Molotov cocktails, according to the Israelis, who also claimed that Hamas had organized the march as cover for attacks. No Israeli soldier was injured that day. Fifteen Palestinians were killed, and thousands were wounded. The day before the March, Israeli forces killed a local farmer with artillery fire. During the following week several other people were killed, and many others wounded.
Thousands remained in the encampments, and each Friday, additional thousands would join the protest. April 6 was called the “Day of the Tire” because protesters set tires on fire to create a thick black smoke that would prevent snipers from being able to see their targets. Nine Palestinians were killed that day, and over 1000 were wounded. A 30-year old Palestinian journalist, Yaser Murtaja, was killed, despite wearing a jacket labeled press. Several other journalists were wounded. Israel condemned the smoke as an environmental threat.
The continual protests built to May 14, the day the US officially opened its embassy in Jerusalem, and the seventieth anniversary of the declaration of the state of Israel. On May 14, tens of thousands of peaceful protesters assembled, and the Israeli troops opened fire. At the end of the day, at least 60 Palestinians were dead. Among those killed and injured by snipers were people clearly identified as medics who was trying to help the wounded. It is estimated that during the six weeks of protest, over 20,000 Palestinians were wounded. On June 1, a nurse, clearly identified as a medic was killed by a sniper. Reportedly one Israeli soldier sustained minor wounds from a thrown rock.
The March declared May 15 to be a day of mourning in Gaza. May 15 is also the day on which the Nakba (catastrophe) is commemorated. It refers to the campaign of terror conducted by zionist paramilitary groups including the Irgun, Haganah, and Lehi, prior to and immediately after the establishment of Israel in 1948. According to Al Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, during the Nakba period Israeli forces killed an estimated 13,000 Palestinians and forcibly evicted 737,166 Palestinians from their homes and land. Five hundred and thirty-one Palestinian villages were entirely depopulated and destroyed. These original refugees and their descendants, now 7 million people, have never been allowed to return. 4.3 million are registered for humanitarian assistance by the UN. Additional refugees were created by the 1967 occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. More Palestinians have been displaced over the years by the building of Israeli settlements, home demolitions, the construction of the border wall in the West Bank, and other land grabs.
Following the establishment of the 1967 occupation, 21 settlements were constructed for about 9,000 Israelis. In 2005, unable to stop the ongoing Palestinian resistance, Israel moved settlers from Gaza, announcing that it had “withdrawn.” Although the Palestinian Authority was supposed to have control of Gaza, in 2007, Israel established a strangling blockade of Gaza, which has created an open-air prison (particularly open air since Israeli bombardments have destroyed thousands of buildings). The land border with Egypt is mostly closed, as is the land border with Israel. Israel blockades the sea and the air. In Gaza there are continued critical shortages of medical supplies, food, fuel for electricity, building materials, and pretty much everything else. Oxfam international estimates that over 1000 people in Gaza have died as a result of the blockade. As we write this, the protests, and Israeli killings, continue at the site near the border.
There have been international actions in solidarity with Gaza throughout this period, including in San Francisco where several emergency demonstrations were held in March and April. The Palestine Action Network (PAN) organized a series of events to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (Nakba 70) and support for Gaza. On Saturday, May 12, over 150 people attended a cultural event, 70 Years of Palestinian Resistance and Resilience. On May 15, several hundred people rallied in front of the Israeli consulate and then marched to the federal building. On May 16, when former prime minister Ehud Barak was scheduled to speak at the Jewish Community Center, over 150 demonstrated outside while over 20 people disrupted the speech inside, resulting in 18 arrests. Kate, Deni and Matthew from QUIT! were among the arrested.
A Win at SF School Board
On May 22, the SF Bored of Ed approved, after a 3-year delay, a memorandum of understanding with the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC) for the Arabic Language Pathways, a struggle which QUIT! and Gay Shame have been supporting. Once again, the “Jewish Community Relations Council” lobbied the bored to turn down the MOU, as they had for the past 3 years. Aware of the likely approval, the JCRC turned out a small group to allege that AROC was a hate group, or a terrorist group, or both. Fortunately, the over 60 people from dozens of community groups who had turned out for the previous meeting to demand the MOU be placed on the agenda and approved, also turned out for this meeting. At the meeting. Jewish Voice for Peace condemned the JCRC as racist, and pointed out that they don’t speak for all Jews. Deeg spoke for QUIT!:
“Almost 30 years ago I participated as part of ACT-UP and other queer organizations when we asked the school board to create a district wide program to support LGBTQ students. It was important to us then, as it is now, to have community organizations participate with the school district to develop and implement relevant programming.
“This experience informed the decision by groups in the LGBTQ communities, including QUIT!, LAGAI, the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, and Gay Shame to support the Board’s resolution three years ago to develop an Arabic language Pathway, that included the involvement of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC). AROC for many years has been going into the schools to support Arab students, and, as part of that work, has been supporting LGBTQ students of all ethnicities. I am Jewish, but this isn’t about Jews and Arabs, it’s about how the district will support Arab students. It should not have taken three years, but we commend the district for finally bringing this MOU to the Board, and we strongly urge the Board to adopt it.”
In March, the alameda county board of supervisors voted 4-1 to end Urban Shield after 2018. It is the world’s largest militarized SWAT training and weapons expo, financed by the u.s. department of homeland security and hosted by the alameda county sheriff’s department. It attracts law enforcement from around the world and has been opposed for years by community members and organizations including the Stop Urban Shield Coalition. There was a huge demonstration in 2017 that members of LAGAI participated in, blocking entrances and marching through the Alameda Fairgrounds.