Letters to the Editor
Love is tenacious
LGBTI people as LGBTI people have no homeland, we have no Jerusalem – our roots are everywhere and nowhere. The faint threads of our deep past – if carefully examined – hint at countless lives unbearable to imagine. I think of those roots of trees – the Junipers of the Sierra – whose roots twist and turn like nests of snakes to find some purchase on life in the granite – exploiting every crevice and crack, the tree hanging off a cliff, tenaciously willing itself to live. We are like that. Love doesn't always win, perhaps it hardly ever wins, but there is no end to the story and life goes on, and love is tenacious, and creates itself again and again, hanging on and falling and growing all at the same time.
What we tend to forget, or don't say often enough with sufficient amplitude to realize it fully, is that this has never happened before in human history. It has never happened before that transsexuals and lesbians and gays and intersex and all the other variations and permutations of our glorious expressions of love and our deep selves have claimed a place in societies across the globe – have claimed a place of equal dignity to the heteronormative majority. I think we forget sometimes what a stupendous thing this is that has come to pass. Stop and consider the literally millions of individual acts of bravery and sacrifice over the last hundred years and especially the last fifty years that have brought this about.
I wish every one of you living and dead could get a medal and award and a sash like the French would give for bravery and perseverance. We honor our heroes, both living and dead, but honestly – it took everybody, every one and kind of us who made those small or large decisions and sacrifices of safety and health and position, to assert your dignity into a hostile society in small and big ways to bring about this unprecedented shift in human society.
There is this feeling I get sometimes reading or hearing my brothers and sisters interact. It is hard to pin down. It is something perhaps rooted in this feeling of how things haven't turned out well or haven't measured up to the dream: that "community" is at best a useful fiction, that solidarity hardly outlasts the first sop of assimilation or wealth or position, that naive assumptions of commonality can't really bridge racial, national, and ethnic differences. And we watch as two generations die, businesses that were once vital fail, institutions falter or become corrupt – honestly the stuff of any society or the challenge of human life. And this underlying tone makes me think of our queer brother C.P. Cavafy's words from his poem "The City": "Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong/and my heart lies buried like something dead."
We have to step back and contemplate the true enormity of what has happened. The true enormity of what we, each in our own individual lives and loves, have unleashed upon the world. It has reached into every culture across the globe, waking our queer sisters and brothers up to what is possible. Please take 15 seconds and let that sink in. Each and every one of us has been responsible for it. Your life, no matter how difficult, or miserable, no matter how disappointing or makeshift, your life has mattered. Your life has mattered and matters now. Your life has turned a page in human history that has never been turned before. It cannot be turned back because this heart of ours – of all us together, no matter how buried or burned up or cut up or stomped on, this heart can now never die- it has become a root. If you were in front of me I would reach out and shake you by the shoulder till that sinks in.
Do us a favor, no more flavor
Cotton candy, bubble gum, and popcorn are all treats that kids enjoy. But did you know that tobacco companies put these flavors in their products to target youth? According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, most teen smokers start by being introduced to flavored tobacco products such as menthol cigarettes, chocolate hookah, and Swisher Sweets strawberry little cigars.
Tobacco companies are targeting our young people, especially youth of color and LGBT youth, with products that are flavored to taste like candy, mint, and fruit, and we have to do something to prevent it. These flavors make youth more likely to start smoking, and these products' candy-like packaging is directed at kids and teens. E-cigarettes particularly come in many flavors like "gummy bear," "horchata," "chicken and waffles," and "boba" that are aimed at youth, especially those in minority groups. Cheap pricing of these products targets youth further. A pack of cigarettes can cost $5 to $8, while a package of two packaged flavored cigars can be commonly sold throughout San Francisco for 50 cents – right at a teen's price point.
Flavored tobacco has similar negative health impacts as non-flavored tobacco, and can be more addictive than non-flavored tobacco. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smokers of menthol cigarettes are less likely to quit than smokers of non-flavored cigarettes. Also, widespread research shows that flavors are a key reason why teens start using e-cigarettes, and that non-smoking teens who start vaping are much more likely to be smoking regular cigarettes a year later.
We at Breathe California's Project E-NUFF surveyed 150 high school students in San Francisco. We found that two-thirds of the students who used blunts preferred flavored blunts, and that half of the students who used e-cigarettes preferred flavored e-cigarettes. The most common answer for why kids thought their peers used flavored tobacco was that "It tastes good." Almost 90 percent of the students who thought flavored tobacco products were harmful also thought stores in San Francisco should stop selling them. We also conducted a focus group of adults in the Bayview about flavored tobacco and youth, and one participant notably stated, "Young people using these products ... don't have to wait until they're 21. It's easy access."
Project E-NUFF wants San Francisco to adopt a policy that will protect youth by ending the sale of flavored tobacco in San Francisco. In 2009, Congress prohibited almost all flavors of cigarettes, but failed to end the sale of menthol cigarettes or flavors in other tobacco products. This policy would close that loophole in San Francisco and make sure that cigarette companies could not target kids with flavors in any tobacco products. It will reduce tobacco use among San Francisco youth, especially minority, disadvantaged, and low-income youth who are heavily targeted by the tobacco industry.
Nearby, Santa Clara County has already ended the sale of flavored tobacco for all of its unincorporated areas, and Oakland is now considering similar regulations. New York City; Chicago; Minneapolis; Providence, Rhode Island; and Berkeley, California have already passed laws strongly restricting it. San Francisco, a city known for effective health and social justice policies, should join these leading cities and counties in positively affecting the public's health by ending the sale of flavored tobacco.
Flavors mask the taste of tobacco, but not the negative health effects. Please join the cause and support Project E-NUFF's efforts at http://www.ggbreathe.org/enuff.
Christopher Schouest, Victoria Laleau, Athina Leyba,
Michelle Wu, Charles Ramilo, Randy Uang,
Annam Janjua, and Christelle Etienne