Queer and Present DangerIssue: Section:
The nature of change at middle-age was never more apparent than during the recent World Trade Center 10th anniversary ceremonies in which I participated on a site 98 miles south of my home in Ulster County, NY.
I live near the vast and now quite full Ashokan Reservoir, an enormously clever piece of engineering scrubbed out of the basins of the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York - the largest in the New York City water supply.
Shortly after September 11, 2001 the city closed off Reservoir Road dividing the two separate basins of water that comprise the 8300 acre basin – as deep as 60 feet with a capacity of 122.9 billion US gallons, plus or minus a quart or two.. The road was closed to prevent terrorists from driving through in their SUVs and dumping gallons of chemicals so easily into the great waters that flow down Esopus Creek and onward through miles and miles and miles of stone lined aqueduct to the Kensico Reservoir in the North Bronx. The aqueduct is crumbling, but perhaps another post on that in the future. Though Reservoir Road has been closed for a decade now, from the first I swore that if someone wanted to do something lethal to our drinking water it did not appear to be an impossible aspiration. Thankfully it has never happened.
Video by Marc Silag
Video by Jared Abramson
Though it still could – and that’s my epiphany. I am aware that it could still happen. They are building a new four lane roadway around the southern side of the reservoir – traffic through the water system will certainly increase. Robert Moses showed the taxpayers of New York that access equals congestion, and this is not a small project at all, but has the road in front of the NYC DEP labs torn up and rutted. The exposure to the public is undeniably about to change. It’s the ongoing change, the only constant aspect we can point to – that troubles us the most at first. From two lanes to four. From quiet country road to busy interchange for the local traffic pattern. Some of the locals still have not gotten over the change this reservoir rendered on their lives or the lives of their forebearers. I can hear (and support) the protests from the reservoir's detractors. (98 miles north of Time Square, we are equally a target. And have built new infrastructure to make it so.
Now out of occupational and patriotic duty I was employed to assist in the production of the 10th Anniversary Ceremonies at the world trade center site in lower Manhattan. We used to call it Ground Zero but no longer, as it is the site of the arresting National September 11 Memorial & Museum | World Trade Center.
Shortly after the ceremonies had begun that Sunday morning, I found myself listening and watching a group of despicable sounding people across the three lanes of Broadway remaining open to public traffic on the Sunday morning commemorating the day ten years before when so many things in our world changed – instantly. A Sunday morning locked down by the Secret Service, the NYPD and our own support staff of production professionals and various people regularly employed at the World Trade Center site.
The people demonstrating across the street were followers of a Baptist minister from Kansas whose agenda was vehemently anti gay and focused on the established institutions, like the military, and the new order in sexual liberties, politics and accepted behavior. The followers of this minister from Topeka Kansas numbered less than 75 people and had been written up by the New York tabloids. Already known for heinous indignities addressed to the families receiving the bodies of family killed in Iran and Afghanistan as their fallen were returned to the USA for final interment, it was not hard to dislike those assembled to harass the New York Fire Department and the recently passed Gay Marriage Bill in New York State. According to the pundits from Kansas, it’s all a big conspiracy against God’s will and their agenda.
But what was I really noticing listening to the Baptists?
Was I noticing a different turn in my evolving cynicism? Was I noticing a change in my adult life’s point of view?
A big change was occurring and I was aware of it that Sunday morning, watching the Baptists perform their schtick on Broadway. A change signifying things may not have turned out as our ideals might have hoped for, but regardless we are still here to reassess our reaction to the living truth. And the truth is not what we wanted or expected. Some of us accept this as natural order. The “Baptists” across Broadway obviously did not accept this premise of moral comportment.
I’d spent so many other Septembers in the past working with colleagues dedicated to the pursuit of great public presentation and commemoration that I simply was not prepared for the outlandish and absurd moral and political viewpoint I was now subjected to. All in the name of the Constitution and our inherent right to free speech.
I used it to protest Viet Nam as a teenager in 1969; I’ve lived believing it to be a birth right. Even as I grew older and went through my own changes along the path of life on the planet, I never felt the need to suppress the message of any who wanted to speak. That changed when I got word over the walkie talkie that Baptist protesters gathered on the corner of Broadway and Cedar Street that morning were screaming scathing hateful epithets at the members of New York’s fire department. These same men and women who are besieged by others in society intent on making them rock stars, were in fact fag lovers and tax dollars were supporting fag marriage, a crime against God’s good word.
It’s not easy being a democracy and now I know this first hand.
Aware of the changes from one time in history to another, and those yet to come, I do know each and every minute of each and every day means changes will come and the memories of another time would become more fleeting. And at the 10th Anniversary of the death of 3000 innocent people the change was manifested in these God forsaken Baptists across the street.
I was stunned it was not a joke.
I could feel my stomach churn, completely aware the first amendment was well in place. Here they could say and do what they wanted and nothing we could do or say would bring any dignity to our position regarding theirs. My associates and I stood across the street surrounded by bicycle rack barricade, with NYPD officers amidst our ranks – all of them silent but glaring at the visitors from out of town who were incesscent in their bigoted bleating.
“Ignore it” a cop said to me. I knew he was offering the best advice possible. But I’m still saddened I had to turn my back on people whose views must be tolerated so that mine may also endure. I feel I do not offer enough of my own voice - angry and spiteful in the face of the ignorance of their mindless ranting, filled with judgement and prejudice. When my ears are bludgeoned by the hate of ignorance and social myopia I am shocked because of my inbred tolerance for “whatever works.”
The ignorance of these Baptists did not look like bliss. It looked and sounded like hate I had not experienced in the flesh. Though it is often said “Change is good” I think we might work a little to see if we could change the level of hate that breeds such compromise in our own moral standard.
Back up in Ulster County, they’ve started to pave the road through the Water Lab’s “campus” south of New York’s drinking water. The locals for the most part are over the injustice many protested at the hands of manifest destiny in the Catskills and are just hopeful they get the roads finished before winter's arrival less than 90 days away. Many local residents are gay citizens drawn to the quietude of the mountains surrounding the City’s prized water shed. I think I can trust that the local and state law enforcement have the safety of the drinking water well in hand, and are not fearful the now revealed gay community will do any damage to the water supply, or anything else in Ulster County to speak of. It gives pause to wonder if there might be something in the water out in Kansas; maybe they could use some guidance.