June 2021 is Pride Month for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community. This year’s official theme is “The fight continues..”
Those who are heterosexual and cisgender (a shorthand way of saying you identify as, or know that you were created to be, the same gender you were assigned at birth), can show support by being allies to those who are LGBTQ. Here are just a few ways to show your support:
Recognize that in some parts of the world, and even in many communities in their own country, our LGBTQ friends and family members do not get to take their safety for granted as often as we do.
The first paragraph past the introduction of this article was intended to be a fun, lighthearted “here are some businesses you can support, since they support gay rights” list. When a search was performed for travel companies, the first results that came up were not a list of airlines with the most LGBTQ employees or extensive histories of donating to gay rights groups. The first results were links to gay owned travel companies, followed immediately by pages offering safety information for LGBTQ people who may wish to travel.
The travel website https://www.asherfergusson.com, offers a list of the 150 worst…and safest countries for LGBTQ people to visit. Published in 2021, the article warns against travel to Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Jamaica, Myanmar, and Barbados among others.
In the United States, nbc news was reporting that one in five hate crimes were anti-LGBTQ attacks as recently as 2018.
LGBTQ rights may have taken great strides in recent years, and society may have grown increasingly inclusive, but things are not completely equal yet.
Educate yourself on current threats to LGBTQ rights and take action when you can.
Another way to join the continuing fight is to keep aware of threats to LGBTQ rights throughout the country. The LGBTQ rights group The Human Rights Campaign offers a color coded map of the United States detailing which states have signed anti-LGBTQ bills into law, and which have introduced anti-LGBTQ bills. According to the map on June 2, 2021, threats to LGBTQ rights exist in forty-one states. Keep up to date and begin your research here: https://www.hrc.org/resources/state-maps/anti-lgbtq-bills-in-2021
When something comes up in your state, city, or county, take action. Attend meetings, marches, and information sessions. Vote for the bills and the candidates that support LGBTQ rights.
Respect individual comfort levels when curious about intimate details
Curiosity about people who differ from us in any way is normal and healthy. There is nothing wrong with wondering about things like surgeries and hormone therapies for transgender men and women, or how the private life of someone of a different orientation than you might unfold. But remember that just because someone is “out” about being gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, and/or transgender, that does not mean the person cares to divulge details about their medical history or intimate relationships.
We cisgender people are open about our gender identities. We present ourselves as we feel appropriate for our gender, refer to ourselves with the appropriate pronouns, and openly use bathrooms and other public spaces assigned to our gender. And heterosexual people never have to hide it that we’re attracted to members of the opposite sex. Yet our attitudes toward discussing body parts, intimate acts, and our medical history and needs varies from the person who will tell you all of that as casually as they’ll tell you if they prefer coffee or tea, to the person who keeps all of that strictly to themselves, and everywhere in between. Those in the LGBTQ community are no different. If you truly must know something, do some independent research.
Don’t engage in…or tolerate…snowflake behavior from the left or the right
Your LGBTQ family members and friends need you to understand that they may not feel…or be…safe going into neighborhoods where homophobic attacks have recently taken place, vote for candidates who will protect their rights, and respect their individuality when it comes to learning more about their lives. They don’t need you to scream at every other straight person who chuckled at a joke that played off a silly gay stereotype, or lecture everyone who purchases a Pride themed item that other peoples’ sexuality is not a marketing tool.
Demanding that all LGBTQ people adhere to the latest form of politically correct speech and behavior to avoid “participating in others’ oppression” is also unsupportive and unhelpful….to the LGBTQ individual and to everyone else.
This does not mean you should tolerate or ignore homophobia or transphobia. Just make sure to fight against policies and behaviors that truly impact others’ well-being rather than appointing yourself thought or speech police for everyone else.
The question “When’s my pride month?” is childish and self-centered. LGBTQ Pride month stems from the Stonewall riots, a time when patrons at a gay bar fought back against regular police raids on gay bars. This was just the last straw in a pattern of police and other attacks on people simply for being of a different orientation than the majority or being transgender. Instead of whining that you don’t have a pride month for being heterosexual and cisgender, try being thankful you don’t need one..…and thinking about those who do instead of yourself.
If you are a member of a group who experienced prejudice and discrimination for some other reason, you probably do have a pride movement. If you don’t, and it upsets you, start one. You can do all that and still allow your LGBTQ friends and family members to have their Pride month.
Join in the celebrations for Pride 2021
As of the writing of this article, on June 2, 2021, there have not been any Pride 2021 parades publicized for Utica. But for those who can travel to the city, Pride will be returning to Manhattan this month. Visit the official website at https://www.nycpride.org/events to keep up to date on the parade and other Pride month events. Those who cannot make it into the city may want to consider a small purchase or donation.
You may also want to attend a smaller local event. Wisk Baking Company (formerly Bite Bakery) has announced a drag Pride Brunch, scheduled for June 27,2021. Tickets are $40 per person and include a full breakfast and unlimited beverages. Visit them on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/wiskbakingcompanyutica for details and updates.
Wisk Bakery is also selling rainbow cake slices in honor of Pride month.
Artist Cafe Utica would like to wish all of our readers in the LGBTQ community a Happy Pride 2021. We stand with you this month and always.
We all skipped the crowded offline parties last night, or at least we should have. Those of us who had to head back to work in the morning likely skipped the alcohol as well. This year, I’ve decided to continue this new tradition of skipping useless New Year’s Eve/Day traditions and forgo the typical resolutions too. Instead, I am setting goals.
The difference between a resolution and a goal is practicality, focus, and perspective. Resolutions are often unreachable. The whole “new year, new me” thing we all get tired of after the millionth corporation uses it in their advertising is a good example. Unless you’re going to fake your own death, flee to a place you’ve never been before, and create a new identity, you are not likely to be a completely different person at the end of the year than you are today. Resolutions are focused on self praise. They’re all about “Look at me! Hey everybody! Look what great I’m going to do! Be sure to cheer me on!” Goals are typically focused on parts of your life’s mission. Resolutions set us up to beat ourselves up. When we look back, we either “kept our resolution” or we “failed.” Goals allow for progress and changes as we’re led to different things.
If you would like to join me in setting goals instead of making resolutions this year, here is a pattern for creating strong goals.
Set specific goals.
Goals that are too vague become nothing more than a way to sidestep accountability for doing little to nothing. If I say I want “more clients” for my arts writing business, I get to congratulate myself and slack off as soon as one person sponsors a single post for $20 and then disappears. A more specific, stronger goal would be, “I want my freelance writing business to serve at least three clients each month.”
A strong goal requires a result you can measure in some way.
Setting goals you can’t measure is another way of letting yourself off much too easy. Deciding to “learn Italian and Greek” was my goal last year. I cannot speak either of those languages today, because I did not set a specific goal. Technically, I did meet the stated goal, because I did learn a few words in Italian, and I learned a little bit about how to study Greek. But that was not what I meant when I set that goal, and we all know it. A firmer goal is, “Be able to watch an episode of a tv show in Italian and understand most of it by the end of the year and record a video or audio file of myself speaking Italian for ten minutes.” or “Be able to order my food in Greek by the end of the year.” I can measure those. I either understand the tv show, or I have to turn on the English subtitles. I will make it through a ten minute talk or I won’t. I’ll either have a nice chat with the people at the Greek restaurant and get my food, or they’ll have to ask me to switch to English.
Goals that are not attainable set you up for failure.
While the first two measures are designed to prevent us being too easy on ourselves, this one stops us from being too hard on ourselves. It would be perfectly reasonable for me to set a goal of singing in front of an audience again by the end of 2021. I started singing country and pop songs when I was three years old. I wanted to be a professional singer for my entire childhood, and have loved singing ever since. Most people who hear me sing tell me I have a good voice. But my voice is not great, and I haven’t really sung unless it was in a deliberately silly voice for a joke in about five years. Setting a goal of making my own album, having someone hire me to sing for two hours at my own concert, or singing an opera aria when I have a Blues, Country, and Pop voice and no training would only set me up for guaranteed failure.
Make sure you actually want or need to reach the goal.
Setting goals to do things you neither need nor want to do is another way to set yourself up for failure. It may sound good on social media to announce you’re going to gain or lose weight this year, but if you’re healthy and perfectly content with your body the way that it is, you’ll lose focus the minute all the encouraging comments fade away. In years past, I’ve been pressured to learn how to drive. It is something I can’t do that most adults can, but I would have no use for the knowledge of how to drive a car. Eye doctors tell me I have no depth perception, and both eye doctors and a retired police officer have told me this would make driving unsafe for me. There would be no need to learn to do something only to be reminded I’m medically restricted from it when I go to take the driving test. I would wind up with a learner’s permit, driving someone else around empty parking lots.
There should be some sort of time limit.
Putting time limits on goals helps maintain focus and motivation to work toward the goal. “By the end of 2021, I want to be able to record myself speaking Italian and Greek for five minutes,” is a goal with a time limit. I am likely to work toward those goals, knowing I don’t have forever to meet them. “I’d like to be able to speak Italian and Greek for ten minutes,” is a strong goal in terms of being measurable, but adding a time limit prevents me from putting off the work needed to achieve it.
Goals that can be broken down into smaller goals, or steps, are much more likely to be reached.
My goal, “I would like to have three clients per month in 2021,” is specific, measurable, attainable, something I want to do, and limited by time. Business blogs use the acronym SMART for “specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely” to describe these guidelines. But I still run a strong risk of sitting around waiting for those clients to appear each month. My chances of success are much better if I break that down into, “Contact five potential clients each week,” or “complete a side hustle to raise the money to buy advertising by the end of the first week of each month.”
Remember Proverbs 16:3
The verse reads, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.” (NIV). This does not mean all of your goals have to be directly related to church, and it certainly doesn’t mean you need to make a list of goals that sound like they came out of a bad, preachy movie. It means to pray as you are setting your goals, and to pray throughout the year, to make sure you are setting and going after goals in keeping with God’s plan for you. We all have a different mission here on earth. We are all made unique. A great goal for your friend, or your daughter, or your spouse, or the guy you sit next to on the bus to work may not be a relevant goal for your life. And even those of us who start out with righteous, relevant goals need to remain reminded that no matter what your goal, it is never okay to reach it through cheating, stealing, lying, or causing deliberate harm to other people.
Utica is home to many talented and dedicated artists, and several of those artists can be found at Utica’s only local classic Hip Hop and more station, Phoenix Radio. The station features real DJs and program hosts, talk shows that discuss issues important to Utica, New York, and music that includes both classic favorites and local artists. Phoenix Radio is part of Phoenix Media, which includes The Utica Phoenix newspaper, available both in print and online.
Tune in today, and listen to some of their programming while unwrapping gifts, preparing your holiday meal, or just spending time with members of your household and making your holiday zoom calls.
You could even build your own Phoenix Radio themed Christmas playlist to enjoy today, through the end of the year, and next Christmas season.
This is by no means a complete list of Christmas songs in the genres heard on Phoenix Radio, and everyone will have their own favorites. But these six songs make a great starting point for putting together a unique Christmas playlist.
White Christmas: Diana Krall
This is the same Irving Berlin song we hear all the time, but Krall’s Jazz vocals make it sound like a completely different tune. The original, and most covers, have a bittersweet tone. The singer seems to be dreaming of a white Christmas, and pretty sure one is coming, but there’s usually that wistful quality that makes you think they might be singing the song while locked away alone in the desert for the holiday, writing cards to people they hope will send one back. Krall’s vocals make it sound like she can’t wait until yet another wonderful, white Christmas arrives.
Merry Christmas: Lightnin’ Hopkins
We associate the Blues with lyrics about life’s struggles, but any Blues fan knows that’s not always the case. Overcoming and powering through is also a common theme in the Blues, and Lightin’ Hopkins’ “Merry Christmas” is one of those songs. The narrator seems to have suffered a recent breakup or separation, but the song is about having a great Christmas this year, as the couple has reconciled. His woman is coming home on Christmas day.
Mary Did You Know: Mary J. Blige
Another Christmas classic, Mary Did You Know is always a beautiful song. It’s the vocals that make each version stand out. Mary J. Blige’s vocals on this 1999 recording of the Christmas classic are much softer than her usual style, but when she gets to portion of the lyrics where Jesus’ triumphs over illness and misfortune are detailed, her voice proclaims each one. The version ends with a softer than expected declaration that Jesus is the “Great I Am,” before fading out.
Classic Rap/Hip Hop
Christmas in Hollis: Run DMC
This song tells the story of a man who meets a scary guy and his dog in the dark on December 24th, only to realize it’s Santa and a reindeer. Once Santa flees, the narrator realizes he left his wallet behind, full of money. When the narrator gets home, planning to return Santa’s wallet, he finds a letter from Santa to him…an unexpected twist…and learns the wallet was meant for him. Of course, the rest of the song is about having a wonderful Christmas, but the focus switches to family traditions rather than going on about all the stuff that can be bought. The combination of Santa’s generosity, the narrator’s honesty, and the rest of the song being about Mom’s cooking and a world filled with cheer combine to create a heartwarming, clean Christmas rap.
Please Come Home for Christmas: James Brown
Christmas is not a joyous, peaceful time for many people, and the pressure to be happy and relaxed coupled with cultural pressure to spend money we may not have, can make things even worse. If Christmas is not a happy time for you, this is the Christmas song you want. Unlike Lightin’ Hopkins in Merry Christmas, the person the narrator is singing to in this song is most definitely not coming home. Not only is their love gone, the character in the song has no friends to celebrate the holidays with either.
God Speaking: Mandisa
Mandisa will forever be an example of true Christian treatment of others due to her start on American Idol. At the time of her appearance on the show, Mandisa was a beautiful, glamorous thick young woman. Judge Simon Cowell apparently does not find thick women attractive, because his mic picked up him muttering “Did we get a bigger stage?” in a snarky tone. Mandisa’s response was to treat Cowell with forgiveness and kindness.
This song beautifully reflects Mandisa’s character, with lyrics about God speaking to us through the unexpected or surprising in life, both good and bad. While the song does not directly mention Christmas, it is included on Gospel Christmas playlists, including this one, for so beautifully illustrating the true meaning of the season…the eternal and bottomless love of our creator.
The Little Drummer Boy: The Temptations
There are more versions of The Little Drummer Boy than most of us can keep track of, and while it is a timeless song about giving your talents and skills back to the Lord rather than focusing on material possessions, many versions of it can be a bit depressing. The tempo is slow, and the vocals sound more depressed that the little drummer boy has no expensive gift to bring than overjoyed at the opportunity to play for the Lord. The Temptations performed the song with upbeat vocals and a soft but catchy tempo that makes the little drummer boy and his drum sound triumphant and full of joy.
Be sure to tune in to 95.5 FM: The Heat: Phoenix Radio today for Christmas and throughout the season. To listen online, visit www.955theheat.com. You may hear one of these songs, or another favorite holiday tune. And don’t forget to keep tuning in during the upcoming year for the best in classic Hip-Hop, Rap, Gospel, Soul, R&B, Jazz, and Blues.
After the holidays, considering helping out Phoenix Media’s sister organization “For the Good, Inc,” a Utica non-profit organization.
Artist Cafe Utica would like to wish the staff, volunteers, and contractors of Phoenix Media/For the Good Inc, a very Merry Christmas. And Merry Christmas to all of our readers, and everyone in the Utica artist community.
This is not a sponsored post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Phoenix Media is a client of Artist Cafe Utica, publishing the monthly music column “The Heat Beat” and various features written by the owner of the Artist Cafe Utica website.
As artists, we probably know what it’s like to struggle financially. This can be especially true around the holidays, leading many of us to want to give to others who may also be struggling this year. Generosity is always something to cultivate in yourself. Never become so cynical or hardened that you simply refuse to give. Just take a moment to make sure you’re giving to someone or something that is truly going to help others.
Holiday season scams are nothing new. The ones you remember from past years are sure to be back. But here are the ones that seem especially active as the Christmas season officially begins.
Secret Santa/Secret Sisters
Secret Sisters, sometimes billed as “Secret Santa Sisters” or a similar name, is a new twist on the same old gift exchange pyramid scheme. The message or post invites you to combat the loneliness brought on by the fight against Covid-19 by adding your name to a gift exchange list. You buy a small, thoughtful gift for the person whose name you get, and everyone who gets your name will send you something in turn. But only the people who started it actually receive the gifts. These items can then be sold by the people running the pyramid scheme for a profit.
Those who truly want to bless a stranger this holiday season should instead contact local non-profit organizations, or speak to someone at their place of worship about participating in an “angel tree” or similar program. These types of programs allow those in need to sign up to receive gifts for themselves, their elderly relatives, or their children this Christmas. Those who would like to give gifts can receive information such as gender, age, clothing sizes, wish lists, and favorite colors, and purchase an appropriate gift for the recipient.
Help Me Help Others
The scam starts out as a social media challenge. The scammer claims they are raising funds to bless others. One post seen around social media asked people to send money to a personal Cashapp account so that the account owner could give servers and bartenders hundreds of dollars in tips. Another asked friends and family to send them money to buy products from a multilevel marketing company they sold for, with the promise that they would use the cash to order children’s products from their company and distribute them at a hospital. Of course, there is no guarantee the recipient of your funds will use them in the way they claim, and if they’re soliciting cash donations from strangers, it is likely they will not. The honest way to do this would be to get an online group together, set a goal, and challenge everyone to give enough directly to the people they are blessing to meet that goal. There is absolutely no reason why you should have to filter your cash donation through an individual.
Anyone who wants to give servers especially large tips can give the extra cash directly to the server or delivery person of their choice. People who feel called to make a cash donation to help kids in a hospital can just as easily contact an area hospital and arrange to make a donation as give it to a random person and hope that person isn’t planning to pocket the money.
Social Media Coupons and Deals
Getting your holiday shopping going while browsing your social media may be tempting. It is especially enticing when the ad that just popped up offers you such an amazing deal on a product at a famous retailer. Never click on these, no matter how much a loved one would like the item pictured, how good the deal, or how busy you are right now. These ads are almost always scams, with links that take you to sites designed to be mistaken for the web page of a well-known, legitimate retail establishment. Amazon and Target are just two pages scammers have basically cloned.
Online holiday shopping should always begin and end directly on the known, trusted site of your favorite store. Any coupons or deals they offer will be on their site. If you see a deal on another site, contact the store’s customer service department from the known and trusted site and ask them if the offer is genuine.
Pet adoption scams surged during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, as scammers realized an increase in isolation and loneliness would lead to an increase in the demand for pets. As we face a holiday season destined to feature a lot more time alone or with a very small group than we had anticipated or hoped for, pet adoption scammers are back at it, targeting lonely people, animal lovers, and parents and grandparents hoping to brighten Christmas for the chidlren in their family. Adorable puppies or kittens are for sale from what looks like the Facebook or Instagram page of a reputable breeder. Or someone’s pet has unexpectedly given birth, and the babies are available for a “rehoming fee.” Sometimes, the pet is presented as a rescue in need of a home.
The safest way to adopt a pet is through your local animal rescue organization. If you feel called to adopt a pet from an individual, never part with any cash until your new pet is with you, offline and in person. Stealing other peoples’ pet photos, including photos of new litters, is as easy as stealing any other type of photo online. And never settle for a meeting via Zoom or other in person but online environment. The person could still claim your pet ran away or passed away between the day you sent them your money and the day you were scheduled to receive the pet.
MLM Sales Pitches Disguised as Need
This one pops up in groups intended to get and receive help. Someone will create a post inviting members to announce something they need, in the hope that another member will be able to help them out. Most of the responses will address legitimate needs. Of course, some people may talk about things many of us would consider a “want,” but everyone is doing what they are invited to do, mention something they would purchase if they only had the funds. Some post about needing a job.
Then there are posts with pleas such as “To do well with my business so I can have a better life.” Responses to questions about the business always consist of “PM’d you” or “sent you a message” instead of an answer in public online space. Responding to these messages will get you nothing more than a sales pitch from someone who has signed up to sell for an MLM, or multilevel marketing company. The person may even try to convince you to pay to sign up to sell the products under them.
Always pay close attention to who you are communicating with online, and never agree to or sign anything simply because someone seems desperate for you to do so. It is up to each of us who we wish to help out, but make sure you are helping someone you genuinely wish to help, and are not being manipulated or pressured into something you do not support.
Never let the presence of these scams discourage you from blessing others. Just take an extra minute to step back and make sure things are as they seem.
The holidays can be a great time for artists and their fur family members. But sometimes, the pets can feel neglected in the swarm of holiday party gigs, extra projects created for gifts or shows, extra side jobs to finance Christmas shopping, and all the potlucks and parties and dinners out of the home we all have coming up. Making pets feel like part of the festivities can help keep things fun for all of us.
Take a yearly holiday photo with your pet.
Sometime after Thanksgiving each year, my fiance helps me put up and decorate the Christmas tree. Each year, I make sure to pause all the chaos to take a picture of him holding Callie. She gets played with and held, and reminded that we love her when we just moved her bed to the other side of the living room and dragged a bunch of weird scents from the storage closet all over her home. We get a great holiday keepsake. And it costs us all of ten minutes and zero dollars.
Buy a stocking for your pet to hold a gift or two each Christmas.
Giving your pet a little gift or two helps them feel included, and it’s so sweet to see them happy to receive something. Some bigger dogs can help open their wrapped gifts, or even get the paper off themselves. Cats typically don’t see the need to bother to try. Presenting them with things that interest them is your job. Smaller dogs may have trouble getting paper from presents. Invest anywhere from $1.00 to $50.00 in getting your pet the best stocking you can afford instead. Lay it under the tree when you decorate each year, and tuck a toy and a treat in there for your pet to find on Christmas morning.
Add an ornament to your tree, mantle, or shelf each year. Choose something that reflects your year. Include your pet.
My tree is decorated in traditional Christmas tree style with multicolored lights. I don’t do themes or stick to one or two colors. My changes come when I add one ornament that reflects the year each holiday season. If the chosen ornament only reminds us of something that happened to the humans in the family, then Callie gets her own ornament added to the tree. Our first Christmas tree in New York featured an “S” ornament. I got officially engaged on Christmas Eve 2017, and added that since my last initial will never change. A little dog that looks like Callie was added as well. Our 2018 ornament is a Holy Spirit symbol, a dove. I chose it because 2018 was the year I was baptized. Our tree also included an ornament made from a ribbon with “Callie” spelled out in scrabble tiles. The name ornament was a beautiful gift from her groomer. She has a little bone with her name on it in red from her groomer waiting for us when we put up our 2019 tree.
Buy a gift, or make a donation, to help a pet in need.
If your holiday traditions include donating to a food pantry or shelter, consider adding some pet items to your list. Those with very limited financial resources may need dry or canned pet food, clean bowls, harnesses, leashes, blankets, potty pads, toys, or safety gates for their animals. You may also want to consider a donation to the “angel fund” of your vet’s office, to help those who cannot afford needed healthcare for their beloved pets.
Add your pet’s name and personality to gifts, or give small gifts from your pet to those who know him or her.
Gifts to my parents are always from all of us, including Callie. Sometimes Callie even gives a little gift by herself. Most gifts that include treats are from Callie, since nobody knows treats better than she does. Of course, your cat or dog does not know they are being included, but it usually brings fun memories of your pet to the gift recipient.
If you and a friend or family member share a love for a particular breed of cat or dog, consider giving a gift with that theme. Coaster sets, mugs, socks, earrings, ornaments, candles, calendars, shirts, bags, and even games are available featuring various breeds of cats and dogs.
Pause to remember those pets celebrating in heaven this year.
Tell a funny story, buy an ornament, or eat a favorite food that reminds you of those forever pets that have gone on before us. Make sure to leave something out if you need to temporarily pack up a pet’s urn, toys, pictures or other mementos to make room for holiday decorations. Your pet would not want you to be sad this time of year, or to dwell on them being gone, but it is always good to remember the joy they brought to your life and the lives of the other pets they lived with in your home.
Include pets who would enjoy it in community holiday activities.
Look around social media and the traditional newspaper for announcements about pet related activities this holiday season. You might find pet portraits, pet struts or fairs, or pet related activities available throughout the community. Check carefully to make sure the event is meant to include you and your pet, and make sure it’s something your pet would enjoy first, but if if works out, make it a yearly thing.
Callie wishes all the pets and pet parents out there a great start to the holiday season!
Callie’s Corner is sponsored by Larry Szabo in support of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Donate or learn more at www.stjude.org