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Stay Proud

Raising the Barr on divisive rhetoric.

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As far as I know, I've only been blocked twice on Twitter. One was by Richard Nixon. He's dead and he still blocked me. The other was by Roseanne Barr. She blocked me last year, or maybe the year before. I can't recall the date, but I do remember haranguing her for being so outlandishly double-faced. I couldn't understand how someone so aware of the historical mistreatment of Jews—and given the proximity of her own family to the more recent Jewish Holocaust when her parents helped holocaust survivors relocate to the United States—could be so blind to the equivalent maltreatment of other races or classes of people. I don't remember the exact trigger, but one day, zap! She blocked me.

I think it was for pointing out her hypocrisy, which I believe has no real bounds. In that way, she's much like our president, a person she loudly endorsed on Twitter, and who similarly uses the social platform to disparage others. By the looks of her getting canned by ABC for an over-the-top racist remark, describing a former Barack Obama aide as the love child of a Muslim and an ape, my scolding her did no good at all. But like I said, I'm blocked. No matter, she never meant anything to me anyway and I didn't like her show the first time around, either. She was an East High School brat as far as I was concerned, and always has been (all East High students of the 1970s were brats). She was raised early on as an Orthodox Jew, but at one point embraced the LDS faith, even rising to become head of a Mormon youth group. I have no sympathy at all for Barr, but even as I write this, I do somewhat understand that she grew up "conflicted." On that score, it appears to me that she, like Trump, is whatever she needs to be to whatever serves her best. Most people who grow up conflicted eventually grow up. She didn't.

Somewhere at the end of her high school years, she left Salt Lake City, later morphing into "Roseanne" the comedienne and star of her own hit TV series. I wouldn't have known she was from Salt Lake City if not for her brother, Ben Barr. At the same time this newspaper was starting up and finding its footing, Barr was emerging as the face of the local gay community before the LBT&Q were added, as an organizer with AIDS Project Utah, and later as Utah AIDS Foundation Director. Through the 1980s and '90s, Ben was front-and-center on all causes confronting LGBTQ individuals. People were quick to understand that the probability of two Jewish kids named Barr who attended East High also being kin was very likely. Yep, siblings.

In those early years, I met many people with varied positions or ties to LGBTQ issues, but I can't recall if I ever met Ben. I hope I did and I wish I had. Because of people like him, who pushed the limits of bravery despite all the obstacles Utah created for them, Utahns gradually came aboard to show solidarity with the gay community. When I was also our paper distributor, I'd sometimes have a beer at the old Sun Tavern. It was there that I learned about "gay bashing"—a disturbing fun night out for 1990s straight youth. I also learned the bashers were not always straight, instead often closeted, in denial and very angry. The bartender told me there wasn't much they could do; the bashers took baseball bats to cars and people, but weren't often caught. Instead, he said, they sometimes came back to the Sun years later to apologize, be forgiven and to find solace in the community they once scorned. "They became good customers," I was told. It became a cover story.

Even earlier, in 1989, one of our first "news" cover stories was about childhood AIDS. No one else was talking about it. That and other such verboten topics we covered, helped build strong friendships and alliances with the LGBTQ community. City Weekly was quick to join the annual Pride Parade—we started with walkers, but in the mid-'90s, we tied a few balloons to a distribution van and cruised slowly down State Street. Now look: Utah's Pride celebration rivals that of any in the country, and it's fair to say, few are so important given our society and where we've all been. City Weekly, with no reservation, supports the LGBTQ community. Yes on further HIV research. Yes on transgender issues. Yes on housing fairness issues. Yes on same-sex marriage. No on bakers who won't bake a cake for gay couples. We shop with and support our friends.

That brings us back to Roseanne. Is she our friend? Ben Barr is no matter if we've met him or not. But Roseanne? Geez, it's hard to be friends with someone so mean. About the same time her fame rainbow was ascending, she accused her father of sexual abuse and incest. She had a public falling out with her sister Geraldine, a lesbian and at one time Roseanne's manager. She humiliated her husband Tom Arnold.

In the current Twitter era, where racist and mean-spirited tweets dominate the news cycle, the damage is very real. God forbid, but if Twitter were around in the '90s, gay bashing would have become a spectator sport. It's not a stretch that but for the people at ABC who demanded her dismissal, not stopping the Roseanne's of the world can eventually imperil and end everything her own brother fought for. It's not that hard to imagine. Stay vigilant, my friends. And stay proud.

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