This month in LGBTQ history: A poem to the continuing struggle

The month of June is LGBTQ Pride Month, and we inaugurate it with “One November Night” by North Carolina poet Janet Joyner.

One November Night

  After “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children”

  by Adrienne Rich

1. The phone startles me out of sleep, into a groggy reach for the receiver as my eye registers the clock’s 3:22 am while the ear detects heavy breathing, a pause. Then: “Is this the PFLAG number?”

    Neck hairs alert. With anger.
    Another crank caller. This is
    a big mistake. To let them
    publish my number.

2. “Ah, no, this is my private residence, but I work for PFLAG, actually for their youth group. It’s called YFLAG. Can you speak a little louder? I can barely hear you.”

3. “No Ma’am I can’t. See, I’m gay, and my parents might hear. Their room is next door. And they’re keeping me locked up, except for school.”

    Neck hairs stiffen. Brain in high gear.
    Running through the checklist.
    First job, keep her talking, keep
    her alive. Get help. Where? How?

4. What the retiring Director of School Counselors (quite possibly gay, which is why we got our foot in the door…after a year and a half of administrative obstruction, runarounds, passing the buck, months to return phone calls. Not kidding.) had agreed to was to let PFLAG present, once, to a meeting of school counselors (attendance optional) a pre-approved, verbatim script about our support group for students whose failed attempts at suicide had landed them in hospital. (Again, not kidding.) I know the sanctioned protocol.

    Neat dodge. Send them to us.
    And their hands are clean.
    They will have done something.
    For the sick. The damned.

5. “Well, first of all, know that it’s OK to be who you are, you are one of God’s creatures, not an abomination. And if your parents aren’t supportive, you should consult with your school counselor.”

   That was the agreement.
   With the brave Director.
   With the Assistant
   Superintendent who will
   be allowed to resign her post.
   No Savonarolas here.

6. “Well, Ma’am I already did that and she outed me to my parents. And they are Christians and can’t tolerate the sin in me. So now they allow me go to school, but nothing else. Then lock me in my room for the rest of the day and night. And I’m going crazy. I don’t know what I’m gonna do. A friend at school said he’d heard about this group for people like me that meets at some church here, and he let me borrow his cell, which is how I’m calling you now. I was thinking, maybe if it’s at a church, which he said it was, my parents will let me go, but I don’t have a license to drive. I don’t know what to do”…line goes dead.

7. Then: CLICK.

From Janet Joyner’s recently published collection Waterborne, the 2014 Holland Prize winner. The Holland Prize, named for Larry Holland, originated in 2005 to recognize the best unpublished book of poetry in American English. This volume is number nine. Reprinted by permission of the author. PFLAG is Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays.

Photo: Gay equality activist Barbara Gittings picketing Philadelphia’s Independence Hall in 1965.  |  Wikipedia (CC)



Special to People’s World
Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.