God’s Wicked City
By Kymberlie Adams Matthews
Once again, the blame lies
with me—with my kind. Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on
a day that was reserved to observe “Southern Decadence.” Over
100,000 queers were about to gather at this ‘Gay Mardi Gras’ and
commit unspeakable acts in the French Quarter. That’s right,
a myriad of scandalous events including an annual parade, dance parties
and a very creative costume contest. But, at long last—after
35 years of immoral tradition—God “punished” this
wicked city. He sent Katrina.
Wherever tragedy strikes, zealots of some order or breed are sure
to pop up. Whether they claim to represent God, Gaia or the ghost
of Elvis, they
all thrive on the pain and misfortune of others. With Katrina, the ever-present
pastor Fred Phelps—who runs the websites godhatesfags.com and godhatesamerica.com—led
the charge. According to the good preacher, “God is exacting his revenge
on the U.S. because of its tolerance of homosexuality. New Orleans, symbol
of America, is seen for what it is: a putrid, toxic, stinking cesspool of
fag fecal matter.” That Judgment Day verdict was echoed by the pastor
of New Covenant Fellowship, Rev. Bill Shanks, “New Orleans now is abortion
free. New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free. New Orleans now is free of Southern
Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion—it’s
free of all of those things now… God simply, I believe, in His mercy
purged all of that stuff out of there.”
Oh, Holy Water
Several days after Katrina hit, 20 year-old transgendered Arpollo Vicks swam
to safety as floodwaters engulfed her New Orleans home. She and her two teenage
nieces camped out on a highway overpass for two days before being bussed
to a shelter in Bryan, Texas, about 100 miles north of Houston. That’s
when Vicks endured yet another life-altering ordeal—she took a shower.
At the over-crowded Texas A&M University evacuee shelter, Arpollo informed
a volunteer that she was afraid to shower with men—she had begun post-operative
procedures—and was told to shower in the women’s room. Despite
the fact that it was the middle of the night, Vicks was alone and the stall
was curtained, another woman complained to authorities that it made her feel “uncomfortable.”
At a time when hell was literally at their doorstep, as thousands of evacuees
languished in uncertainty, fear and hunger, authorities found time to apprehend
Vicks as she stepped out of the shower. She was arrested and formally charged
with criminal trespassing, a class B misdemeanor. She was administered a
bail of $6,000 and transferred to the Brazos County Jail, where she was held
for six days in solitary confinement and told her case might not come before
a magistrate for six months to a year.
It was only by sheer luck that a reporter stumbled across her arrest record
and contacted the Montrose Counseling Center [see interview with Sally Huffer
in this issue]. Along with the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center
for Transgender Equality, and other human rights activists, they lobbied
the Texas emergency shelter until the charges were dropped and Vicks was
reunited with her family.
Jail was certainly not the safest place for Vicks but neither was the shelter.
Vicks is not the only LGBT person to claim harassment. In fact, reports of
physical abuse, property destruction, and gay bashing increased daily.
I Now Pronounce You… Inappropriate
It’s noble indeed that the red state of Louisiana holds true to their
own—but might I add dated—opinions. They do not have a state
law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. Basically, this
allows employers, landlords, medical personnel, adoption institutes, even
grocery stores to legally (and drastically) discriminate against the queer
If that surprises you, let me mention that only nine states: California,
Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey,
Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin have laws specifically prohibiting discrimination
against gays or lesbians; Connecticut, Minnesota and Rhode Island also protect
transgendered people. While only a handful of cities—Atlanta, Chicago,
Detroit, Miami, New York, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Seattle—have passed
laws making this type of discrimination illegal.
Furthermore, defying the national trend to overturn laws that criminalize
private consensual sexual acts between adults, the Louisiana Supreme Court
continues to uphold the state’s “crime against nature” statute,
which carries penalties of up to five years in prison. And just this past
year, the Louisiana legislature overwhelmingly approved a constitutional
amendment banning gay marriage which prevents the state from recognizing
any legal status for common-law relationships, domestic partnerships or civil
In the case of Katrina, the law directly impacts gay and lesbian families
where one partner has died. Should the family home be in the name of the
deceased partner, the survivor would have no rights. Any insurance payouts
could go to the estate of the deceased, and if there is no will, payouts
would go to the closest blood relative, not the partner. Even in cases where
one partner is hospitalized, the other partner would not be guaranteed visitation
rights or any say in medical care. If the deceased partner were the birth
or adoptive parent of the couple’s children, those children could be
removed from the care of the other parent and placed in foster care. Partners
could even be denied a say in funeral or burial decisions. Even couples who
have legal documents—such as living wills, powers of attorney or other
agreements that are valid in the states in which they were prepared and notarized—those
can be denied. Both Mississippi and Alabama, also hit hard by Katrina, have
defense of marriage acts. On top of that, the 1996 Federal Defense of Marriage
Act actually prevents FEMA from providing relief in the form of family benefits
to same-sex couples and their families.
But as the 700 Club reminds us, “When you see the rise of blatant open
homosexuality and lesbianism, when you see them fighting for the right to
marriage, what you also know is God has given a society up...and we’re
at the mercy of the elements, the mercy of war, the mercy of economic disaster.” Three
cheers for Christian charity.
And Eve Bit the Apple
‘Save the semen’ fanatics are storming around with disdain and, frankly,
they give me a headache. In apparent contempt of the self-professed devout, Planned
Parenthood has offered female Katrina survivors one free cycle of birth control
or one free emergency contraception kit, while the National Abortion Federation
is providing free or reduced-cost abortions to women in need. And all this just
as soon as New Orleans has become abortion free…
In protest, a group calling itself Columbia Christians for Life has revealed
to the world a satellite image of Hurricane Katrina as it hit the Gulf Coast.
They claim the image has a striking resemblance to an eight week-old fetus. “Louisiana
has 10 child-murder-by-abortion centers,” the groups says, and “five
are in New Orleans. God sent this hurricane.” Call me crazy, I thought
the reasons for the disaster were clear: a hurricane hit, the levee broke,
there was no preparation by local and state officials, and the Bush administration
were busy on vacation…fighting a war.
What is wrong with people? What part of this picture are they not seeing?
When we talk about contraception, when we talk about abortion, we are really
talking about women—women whose lives were not only disrupted by Katrina,
but are now left facing gender-specific vulnerabilities in her wake. When
it comes to natural disaster, women are more likely to lack mobility and
resources, as well as dealing with the burden of care-taking responsibilities,
all making it more difficult for them to flee. Almost 54 percent of the New
Orleans population is female—25 percent are single mothers. When the
dead are finally all accounted for, I’ll wager that more women and
children have died than men.
And let’s not forget the considerably increased chance of sexual assault,
particularly for those who relocated to shelters to escape the storm. Rape
and violence against women in the aftermath of disasters is no new problem.
We know that economic uncertainty, increased stress, powerlessness and the
lack of basic provisions contribute to the risks confronting women.
But we also need to address the issue of who in our social order is at most
risk. Those who could afford to get away or those left behind? INCITE! Women
of Color Against Violence have portrayed the situation succinctly, “These
people have the fewest resources, were unable to evacuate New Orleans because
of poverty, who were…trapped without food, water, and medical attention.
Because of racism and classism, these people are also overwhelming folks
of color, and because of sexism, they are overwhelmingly women of color.”
Rev. Toby Nelson of First Presbyterian Church of Hayward in Castro Valley,
California, told his local newspaper, The Union, that rapes did occur, “There
were so many rape victims, and we had to turn (most) of them away because
they had life-damaging, but not life-threatening, wounds.”
Rape victim Charmaine Neville, daughter of Charles Neville of the famous
Neville Brothers rock and soul band, describes her ordeal while seeking shelter
in an abandoned school: “I found some police officers. I told them
that a lot of us women had been raped…by guys who had come into…the
neighborhood where we were. They…started raping women…and killing
them. I don’t know who these people were. But what I want people to
understand is that if we had not been left down there like the animals that
they were treating us like, all of those things wouldn’t have happened.”
Would the invisible man in the sky really deny these woman emergency contraception?
The right to a low cost abortion? Would he deny anyone the right to protect
their body from unwanted pregnancy or disease?
Women have the right to protect themselves, whatever the reason, plain and
The media is running in circles over the number of accountable rapes, even
the most diligent among us are left shaking our heads in confusion. The collapse
of law enforcement and service agencies like rape crisis centers intensify
the problem. Only at the end of September did major evacuation sites like
the Houston Astrodome start accepting reports of rape in New Orleans.
While motivated by legitimate concerns about media racism, such questions
may leave women of color even more vulnerable to rape and less likely to
receive support when they report rape. As Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual
Assault (LFASA) director Judy Benitez is quoted in Women’s e-News, “we
know that post-hurricane rapes have been perpetrated in shelters and around
New Orleans because the survivors have reported them. But only now are police
in major evacuation sites accepting reports of rape…after weeks of
simply taking the accounts for safekeeping until authorities in the proper
jurisdictions are prepared to deal with them. We are really trying to stress
to police that just because a rape hasn’t been reported, doesn’t
mean it didn’t happen. Meanwhile, the sexual assault crisis centers
that make up LFASA struggle to provide basic rape relief services to the
deluge of survivors who have come forward since the storm.”
Even so, what does the term accountable rape mean? Rape is already underreported.
Add to the mix a chaotic evacuation for a second hurricane, I doubt we will
ever really know how many women were raped. But even without an exact number
of documented police reports, we know it happened, and that alone is bad
The Days of Noah
The story of Genesis leads people to believe that nature (in all its lush
and tempting diversity) is profane and dangerous while only the father in
the sky is sacred. Remember Noah? He alone was awake while the rest were
asleep. Only Noah and his family were spared when God judged the earth and
let the waters come. These are the same vengeful, anti-nature attitudes and
practices that led to Katrina and its aftermath. And they are the same attitudes
that lead to the hatred of the natural diversity that underlies homophobia,
racism, sexual repression, etc. Until we fix that, we’re lost.
Being the crime against nature that I am, I know an abomination when I see
one. More frequent and severe hurricanes are Mother Nature’s way of
telling us that pollution-caused climate change wasn’t such a good
idea after all. Floods are the wetlands’ revenge for the hate crimes
committed against them.
Genesis told George Bush to approach nature with fear and loathing and to
do everything in his power to control and dominate it. Appointed by God to
husband the resources of our great nation, Bush smites the Clean Air Act
with one hand while passing out faith-based reconstruction grants with the
But the cowboy President and his religious rodeo can’t break nature.
Ducks and dolphins and 300 other kinds of animals, ranging from insects to
the bats who eat them, will continue to turn to same-sex partners for non-reproductive
sexual fun. Women will keep on controlling their own bodies. Trees will breathe
and, one day, the waters will recede.
But Arpollo Vicks will still need a safe place to take a shower.