I am sometimes embarrassed to tell a woman the name of my blog, usually resorting to, “It's Boy Culture ... but we love girls, too!”
I've never felt less attached to the name than when I was watching the new documentary Southwest of Salem, which details the heartbreaking case of four Latinas from San Antonio, Texas, whose lesbianism almost certainly led to their being imprisoned for heinous crimes they did not commit; their story was almost certainly made possible by good ol' boy culture.
The four women with their lawyer (Image & video by Matthew Rettenmund)
The San Antonio Four—Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera and Anna Vasquez—were a tight-knit group of friends who found themselves accused, in 1994, of gang-raping Ramirez's two young nieces. The girls told a wild tale of drug-fueled, Satanic-driven group sex, an expert testified that the girls' hymens were damaged and that's all their community and the local media needed to hear.
Convicted, Ramirez pulled over 37 years and her friends each received 16. Only problem is, they didn't do it, and the crime for which they were convicted almost beyond a doubt never happened in the first place.
When one of the girls accusing the women grew up and found she could not remember anything negative happening at all, she confronted her father, a man with plenty of reason to have an ax to grind when it came to his sister-in-law. He allegedly threatened her with taking her children away if she refused to stay silent. She went on the record anyway, and he did try, unsuccessfully, to meddle with her custody.
Her admission led to Vasquez's parole, and Vasquez made it her mission to help her fellow accused. Their long, torturous struggle makes up Southwest of Salem.
Director Deborah S. Esquenazi has turned in a sobering, no-frills documentary that painstakingly details the case, which has yet to fully resolve; the women are currently free, but as the film shows, they are still fighting for justice.
Esquenazi documents how the expert testimony in the original case was not only flimsy, but later disavowed by the same expert who gave it; how the police seemed all too eager to lump the crime in with the last gasp of the now totally debunked Satanic ritual abuse epidemic (the film's only arty flourish is a sequence of footage from the Silent Era that eerily communicates the accusers' over-the-top fabulism); and how the legal system is set up to keep admissions of error extremely hard to solicit, let alone receive.
Most impressively, the director accomplishes this while telling the very human stories of the women, and of the accuser who set out to make things right years later.
She also deftly touches on the role (or lack thereof) of the nascent San Antonio gay community back in the '90s when the case first achieved notoriety, and on the roles of Catholicism and family in the women's lives.
Portions of the Q&A from the screening I attended:
There are many deeply moving sequences in Southwest of Salem—which has no shortage of parallels from which to draw in comparing the Massachusetts witch hunts of the 1600s with the way POC and LGBTQ people are still routinely treated by the U.S. justice system—including scenes of despair and of joy long withheld. For me, the most compelling scene is when an elderly, white, male, Texan judge is tasked with deciding whether a case he himself presided over may have gotten it wrong. One question he asks will chill you to the bone, and should lead any right-minded citizen to ask a dozen more questions about the efficacy of our system.
Racial tensions are thick in Philadelphia's so-called Gayborhood following the anonymous release of audio capturing a white bar owner using slurs while slamming POC for being the only ones to ever ask for free drink tickets.
Oner of ICandy Darryl DePiano has copped to making the remarks, but apologized, writing on Facebook in September:
As many of you know me and know that I am always striving for diversity, and always willing to listen, learn and grown myself, my business and my team. This was an EXTREMELY Poor Choice I made on my own many years ago and I definitely learned and continue to learn each day. I SINCERELY and Truthfully Apologize to all my Friends, Valued Customers, and Everyone that I Hurt and Offended.
I don't really buy that; he was not saying something politically incorrect, it was not a slip of the tongue, he was arguing a point back on the premise that black people are cheap and a pain in his ass—that's deeper than an off-color remark. Listen to the audio at the top of that post—that's a man very comfortable with being a racist pig.
The story on NBC News about the tensions quotes many about the oppressive atmosphere in the Gayborhood, which I imagine is a similar feeling in lots of spaces gay POC seek out.
Even the mayor has chimed in, releasing a statement that reads, in part:
There is no denying that racism and discrimination is an issue within the LGBT community. The Gayborhood should be a sanctuary for all in the LGBT community, but sadly not everyone is welcome at some of its institutions.
This racist or racially exclusionary vibe (black patrons report being carded more frequently and say some establishments ban things like Timberland boots (why???) and hooded sweatshirts (why???) in an effort to weed them out) is something white gay people have to admit exists and have to be open to talking about. We have enough enmity coming at us from Trump's anti-gay, anti-POC, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-woman insurrectionists without adding to the problem by pretending it doesn't exist.
The second presidential debate is over, a debate that gave us the spectacle of Donald Trump threatening Hillary Clinton with prison and parading three of Bill Clinton's sex-assault accusers before the nation.
In my opinion, there was no question that Hillary stood firm, projected calm and earnestness, and was able to take his harshest attacks with grace.
(Image via New York Daily News)
Trump's best zinger was about how Hillary is no Honest Abe, but he frequently interrupted her and came off as backseat-driver sarcastic (sniffling all the while). More distractingly, he paced like a madman, appeared to do mini-pushups on the back of his chair and hovered right behind Hillary as she spoke (the latter phenomenon seems to have taken off on Twitter).
(Image via Twitter)
Trump showed zero remorse for his leaked tapes in which he brags about sexually assaulting women, a major mistake. He also directly contradicted his own running mate, Mike Pence, another huge gaffe that just telegraphs chaos.
Bernie Sanders just gave a wildly accurate speech regarding Donald Trump's innate racism and lack of fitness for office while stumping for Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire.
He said, among other things:
Candidates who run for office can disagree. That’s fine. But there has got to be at least a minimal threshold of decency before we take a candidate seriously, and that threshold has got to be that you are not a bigot trying to divide us up.