by Mel Green | originally posted on Bent Alaska
James Crump came to Alaska to find himself, and stayed in Alaska to share himself with us. His death on June 25 at Anchorage’s Pride parade was a blow not only to his family & friends, but also to our whole community. But just what is our community — and where do we go from here?
A week ago Wednesday, June 29, I went to the Service of Remembrance held for James Crump at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. St. Mary’s has always been one of the really welcoming and inclusive churches in Anchorage. As its senior priest Father Michael Burke put that night, “All are welcome here — and all means ALL” — which seems to be a common saying at St. Mary’s. I’d first heard the phrase at St. Mary’s the previous Sunday (June 26) at the Pride ecumenical service, which, because of James’ death the day before at the start of Anchorage’s Pride parade, was in part a memorial to him. The ecumenical service was led by four local LGBT clergy from four different faith groups. One of them — Susan Halvor, a chaplain at Providence Hospital — led the June 29 Service of Remembrance.
There were a lot of people there: three members of James’ family up from the Lower 48; Elvi Gray-Jackson, who is my representative on the Anchorage Assembly and is one of our strongest allies in local government; James’ boss from the Municipality of Anchorage’s Department of Health & Human Services, where he was a nurse; some of James’ coworkers; fellow students and a faculty member from the University of Alaska Anchorage School of Nursing, where he’d gotten his nursing education; one of his patients, whom he had helped nurse to health; and lots of us from the LGBTQA community — most of whom were James’ friends, but some, like me, who had never known him.
I looked around, and I thought: I am so proud of my community.
It was a feeling like the one I had two years ago, after the introduction in the Anchorage Assembly of proposed ordinance AO-64. Under AO-64, sexual orientation and gender identity would have been added to the list of personal characteristics in Title 5, Anchorage’s equal rights code, that it’s prohibited to use as a basis for discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, and municipal practices.
The summer of 2009 in Anchorage featured a protracted period of public testimony at the Anchorage Assembly, with accompanying sign-waving and letter-writing both by ordinance supporters and those who opposed equal rights — led in particular by antigay pastor Jerry Prevo of the Anchorage Baptist Temple (ABT) who as usual made frequent use of hate-terms like perverted to describe LGBT people, and Jim Minnery, whose Alaska Family Council supplied red-shirted ordinance opponents with scores of red and white preprinted signs reading Truth is Not Hate and other begs-the-question slogans.
… (Of course truth is not hate. But the implicit claim: that these sign-wavers had the truth or that they were free of hate: not so self-evident. Three of them surrounded a friend of mine and told her she was going to hell. Is that love?)…
Lots of the the anti-ordinance sign-wavers weren’t even Anchorage residents, but had been bused and carpooled in from the Mat-Su (yet were permitted by Assembly Chair Debbie Ossiander to testify). Some of them weren’t even Alaskans: a group of teenage missionaries from Mississippi Avenue Baptist Church (MABT) of Aurora, Colorado, who were being hosted by ABT, spent several hours of their youth mission on two different days to wave signs on behalf of Prevo et al. urging the denial of equal protection under the law for citizens of a city and state not even their parents had right to vote in. Some of them were young kids, who just like Westboro Baptist Church kids, were used as billboards to carry their elders’ antigay messages.
Hence the name given the summer by one commentator: the Summer of Hate — a name Anchorage’s LGBT community has used about that time ever since.
The ordinance passed the Anchorage Assembly by a vote of 7 to 4 on August 11, 2009, but was vetoed six days later by Mayor Dan Sullivan. It was the third time in Anchorage history that equal protection under the law for at least some LGBTQ people in Anchorage was granted, only to be stripped away again. In fact, it was Mayor Dan’s dad, George Sullivan, who vetoed our first equal rights ordinance way back in 1975 — also backed by Jerry Prevo and his ABT followers.
But back to my point: pride in my community. Part of the Summer of Hate took place during Pride week that year. And outside the Loussac Library where the Assembly chambers are housed, the Loussac’s big green lawn facing the major thoroughfare of 36th Avenue had become part of our Pride celebration.
Yes, the redshirts were there — the Christianists with their red and white Truth is Not Hate signs. But so were we, wearing not only blue shirts, but ALL the colors of the rainbow. We were having a big damn happy Pride festival right out there: people with signs most of them handmade, people with rainbow flags, people with hula hoops, my nephew Miles who showed up with a couple of his friends, unasked, just because my fight was also their fight. Gay, straight, trans, nontrans — it wasn’t just us, embattled: it was our nongay friends, too — our families, our allies.
I remember walking across that lawn toward 36th seeing a woman in a long skirt blowing bubbles, adding to the color and joy of the moment even in the face of the Truth is Not hate that was having a barbecue on another part of the lawn. That’s when I felt it: I thought to myself, I’m so proud of my people; and I realized in that moment that who I thought of as my people no longer just consisted of LGBT people, but of my non-LGBT friends and family and allies too. Our friends, our families, our allies. I saw a glimpse, then, of what life is in a place where difference is not just tolerated or accepted, but is celebrated. Every. Damn. Day.
I caught that same glimpse at the Service of Remembrance. I saw my community — LGBT and non-LGBT alike, all means all, gathered together to mourn but also to celebrate the life of a remarkable well-loved man in the presence of his family. And his family — his father, one of his two sisters, one of his three brothers, others of his family who have checked in on the first post we wrote about James’ death: it’s clear how much they all love him, how important it was and is for all of them to know how James was known and loved here, in this, the place he chose —as his sister put it — to share himself with.
I am so proud of these my people, this my community, this my extended family, and how my family and James’ family met and became family to one another.
This is what we have become. What a beautiful what it is.
* * *
Not that it’s all lovely and hula-hooped and bubble-blowing acceptance here. Not that everyone in Anchorage or in Alaska has had something comforting or caring to say to James’ family and friends after his death. A lot of the same Truth is Not Haters who were here in 2009 are still here in 2011, after all. And so, on the first stories published on local media websites after James’ death, some comments went in a mode exactly opposite to the love, care, and compassion that anyone who has lost a son, brother, and friend is in need to hear.
Two of the comments posted June 25 at KTVA Channel 11’s story about James’ death —
Well that is what happen when you are at a dirty little Faggit event
Just another example that gay life style can be deadly
— just two of the ugly slurs and hateful comments compiled by Christopher Constant and brought to the attention of the Anchorage Assembly and Mayor Dan Sullivan when Christopher testified before the Assembly on June 28.
Majik Imaje, site owner of A blog of ICE — a blog normally devoted to Inupiat art — wrote a post titled “ALASKA GAY pride (CANCELED)” comprising mainly a quote of a June 25 Fox News story about James’ death. But Majik Imaje (an invented name made up from the names of his four sons) first prefaced the news story with a cheery graphic reading “Let the PARADE * begin * !” and went on to claim,
PROOF: GOD does indeed work in mysterious ways. Let this be a message to all !!
— the death of a loved son, brother, coworker, caregiver, and friend reduced to an object lesson from a murderous God, by a man who didn’t even know James’ name — only his own unexamined prejudice.
Note, 11 July 2011: I have corrected details about Majik Imaje’s name based on comments made by David Eves, his apparent real name, at both Henkimaa and Bent Alaska. See comments for details.
Comments got so vile at the Anchorage Daily News that ADN shut commenting down on virtually every story about James’ death or the investigation into how it happened. KTVA Channel 11, for its part, ran a story on June 28 called “How Tolerant is Anchorage of Homosexuality?” —
Some of the things that have happened since a Pridefest parade walker was accidentally killed have brought up the question of just how tolerant Anchorage is of homosexuality.
After several media organizations, including KTVA, posted the story over the weekend, many negative comments soon followed, and some of the anonymous postings were just plain hateful.
Some people said the man who was killed deserved to die because they believed he was gay. We spoke with one of the Pridefest organizers who told us she does not think the comments represent how most people in Anchorage feel.
“I have never experienced the kind of hatred you are seeing on the website or in response to the news stories,” says Anne Marie Moylan, co-chair of Identity Inc.
When published on the web, the story soon accrued its own collection of frequently ugly comments, leading one commenter to lament on her Facebook page,
Are we returning to another Summer of Hate in Anchorage, Alaska for who we are as a community?
It’s not exactly what I hoped for on June 25, as I walked down H Street to the Park Strip praying, in part,
I pray that those who hate us open their hearts so far as not to use this death, this loss, as another avenue of hate. I know that’s asking a lot, but I pray for it anyway.
* * *
Think about how parts of the larger Anchorage community have stepped up to help James’ friends, family, and community in the wake of his death.
Identity, Inc. Identity is, of course, the organization that organizes our Pride week. In one part its board, staff, and volunteers have been reeling from the impact James’ death has had on them both as an organization and individually as people; but in another part they’ve also worked hard and tirelessly to ensure that everyone who’s been most seriously affected — witnesses of the accident and of James’ death, especially — are being helped and cared for. Thank you, Identity, for all the work you do, and for the hard work you’re doing now, in the face of your own grief. Please let us know how we can help.
University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA). Three different UAA entities (the Psychological Services Center, the student health center, & the Dean of Students office) have offered free counseling both short term and long-term for those affected. As a UAA staff member myself, I can’t say how proud I am of how the University has stepped up to help us in our time of need. Thank you, UAA, and all the psychologists who are giving of your time to help us in our grief.
The faith community. Rev. Susan Halvor is acting as the central contact person for people in need of spiritual counseling, working with other local clergy both LGBT and non-LGBT. Thank you, Susan, and all the other clergy who are helping us to grapple with our loss.
Our local government. The Anchorage Assembly had its regular meeting on Tuesday night, June 28, just three nights after James’ death, and honored him there in the presence of his family. My Assembly representative Elvi Gray-Jackson and another of our Assembly friends, Harriet Drummond, had been banner-carriers in the Pride parade not far behind where James was walking when he was accidentally killed on June 25 — I’m not sure, but I believe they may have been witnesses. They introduced a resolution to honor and remember James Crump, who of course was an Anchorage municipal employee. According to the paperwork, the resolution was submitted by ALL the Assembly members — including the normally antigay ones — along with Mayor Sullivan, who two years ago vetoed AO-64. Harriet Drummond read the resolution, and it passed unanimously. Thank you, Elvi and Harriet, and all the members of the Assembly, and Mayor Sullivan, for giving honor to the memory of a man who so richly deserved it.
Resolution AR NO. 2011-183 honors James’ work as a nurse working with tuberculosis patients for the Municipality of Anchorage’s Department of Health and Social Services and as a loved member of the Anchorage LGBT community.
Loved indeed. Though I never knew James, I’ve learned of him by way of the Pride ecumenical service on June 26; the Anchorage Assembly meeting on June 28 where he was honored; the Service of Remembrance at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on June 29; the Circle of Support organized by Amber DoAll LaChores Sawyer at UAA. And last Friday a comment on the YouTube video I made of his honoring at the Assembly put me in touch with Michael Smith, who had been James’ partner for four years in the early 2000s. Michael had just learned that morning of James’ death, and he was desperate to talk with people who knew James, or at least knew what had happened. I talked with him for an hour. (People who would like to be put in touch with Michael can contact me at email@example.com.)
I leaned that James Crump was a person —
- who as a boy preferred National Geographic Magazine to the erector sets and slot cars enjoyed by his brothers because he liked reading about animals;
- who was such a good cook;
- who was a long-time member of Metropolitan Community Church of Anchorage;
- who wanted to be a nurse all his life, and finally realized that dream in 2009 at UAA with the help of four scholarships from a scholarship program of the Imperial Court of All Alaska;
- who had a cat he regarded as his son, named Fraidy, who died of cancer just a day before the Pride parade;
- who was very, very, very proud of his “man purse” and showed it off to his coworkers at HHS;
- who, even back when he worked at Fedex, made kick-ass cupcakes;
- who was hit hard by his mother’s death from cancer in 2000;
- who knew how to make friends, and did;
- who really really knew how to cook (there’s a theme here);
- who was there for his TB patients when they woke up, and helped them to get better;
- who could explain things to fellow students in ways that Nursing faculty never could;
- who loved to swim, and not only because of the lifeguards;
- who was always accepted and loved by his family, without regard to issues about sexual orientation;
- who one day told a Nursing professor that it was his birthday, and he wanted to see a baby born, and circumstances intervened to grant him his wish just 3 months ago (the baby’s name is Max);
- who brought joy to everyone he came in contact with;
- who used to speak with his family members about the community here he was part of, and his eyes would light up as he did so;
- who, by word of his sister, came to Alaska to find himself, and stayed in Alaska to share himself with us, because he loved us so much.
But why did he love us so much?
Here’s what I think. I think he saw the same thing that I saw as I sat in St. Mary’s at the Service of Remembrance. The same thing I saw when I walked across the Loussac Library lawn and saw a Pride celebration just elbows over from Truth is Not Hate, and saw a woman blowing bubbles, and thought, I’m so proud of my people. And knew that my people is not just an equation of “LGBT people + A for Allies”: but all my people, the people who not only love, but also fight for what they love, which includes justice and fairness and equality — which includes each other, everyone, all means all.
* * *
On June 25, I walked all over Delaney Park Strip, where Pridefest was held, taking photos as I had already been taking photos that morning before the parade began, before James died. At Pridefest: people who had known James, people who had not: people going on with their lives, celebrating what James would have been there to celebrate if he could. I wasn’t anywhere near the stage a lot of the time. At some point, I am told, someone on stage got on the mic and asked, Who here is not LGBT? And about half the crowd raised their hands.
Think about that. It’s not just “us” that is “our community.” Straight people like hanging out with us too. Straight people — more and more of them every passing year, every passing day — have an investment in equal rights for all (means ALL). My nephew Miles, my other nephew Jesse. Your niece. Our fathers and mothers and children and sisters and brothers. Our coworkers. Our bosses. People who love us and respect us just as much as James Crump’s family and friends and coworkers loved and respected him.
Think about that. Think about the fact that, of the 9 people nearest to James Crump when he died, all of them celebrants in the Pride parade —
— at least four are partners in marriages recognized by the State of Alaska — i.e., heterosexual marriages, “between one man and one woman,” as dictated by a 1998 amendment to the Alaska Constitution — and a fifth has also been identified as a “straight ally.” Think about the fact that all of these 9 human beings whether LGBT or non-LGBT wanted to be there, in that parade, and believed in its message of Pride, of “Step Up and Step Out”; that all of them, whether non-LGBT or LGBT, were shaken and shattered. Loss has nothing to do with sexual orientation or gender identity.
Nor does compassion. Think about the fact that Steve, the man who held James as he died is married, is “straight,” is a… well, please. Tell me. Is he an “A = Ally”? Or is he, simply, a human being who sees in you and me human beings with inherent worth and dignity? A human being who, at great cost to his own emotional equilibrium (there are no words for this) saw James, a human being, and gave him the gift of his love and presence and touch, so that James should not be alone in the moment of his death.
Yes. This is community. This is “my people.” This is what Truth is Not Hate fails to see, but which we all need to see, and to act upon, and fight for. John Aronno wrote it the other day:
Anchorage is a beautiful place to live, filled with the most amazing people I have been privileged to call as friends. But there remain rigid divisions that we need to man up and address. It’s easy to sit at home and make fun of the brazen idiocy of how politics works. But policy is different than politics, and politicians are different than statesmen. It’s time we demanded one over the other, in every category.
What happens if we stand up together? The future is ours. We just have to start showing up and claiming it.
If you are wondering, I think this is what it is all about: Everything we do should pave the way for a better world beyond the reach of our lives. As they say, your reach exceeds your grasp. Any confusion or obfuscation of our mission as a community just evaporated.
Watch. We will recommit ourselves as individuals and as a community. We will fight harder, organize better, and love more. We will have more fun. We will reach more people who don’t understand the nature of our community. We will shine our light to dispel fear and darkness and to illuminate understanding.
Gay/lesbian, bi, straight, trans, nontrans, all means all: we are already the community that can do this, if we choose to. We’re the community James chose to share himself with. And we’re worthy of what he shared.
This one for you, James Crump.
If you or someone you know has been affected by the tragedy at the Pride parade in Anchorage, please be reminded that generous support has been offered by our allies in the community. You can get more information by calling the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Anchorage at (907) 929-GLBT, (907) 929-4528. Or you can call the Psychological Services Center at UAA (907) 786-1795.