Four days of ornithology. Twenty of us took a boat to the uninhabited, unvisited Barren Islands. More photos here. The very best reference book on same-sex activity in nature is Bruce Bagemihl's Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity [Kindle]. A must own title.
For the many people who ask about gay life up here in Alaska: Meet 28 year-old David from Bethel. He's Athabaskan, Yupik, versatile, and an identical twin. David came out when he was 17, the same year his dad came out. David's twin just came out recently. Formerly a cook for 180 hungry dudes on an oil rig, David currently works at the B&B his dad and his dad's partner have owned for 10 years. Of Alaska he says, "It’s one of the best places on earth. There’s a lot to do here if you’re optimistic and okay with the weather. The winter is crazy. Last week, it was raining and forty-five degrees, this week it’s snowing." About the gay thing: "Honestly, I know some gay Alaska Native people. Back in the seventeenth century or so, the Russian Orthodox religion was introduced… They weren’t very keen on gay people, but things have changed."
More proof of how things have changed is coming later this month in the form of Navy Lt. Gary Ross, who turns 35 this year. On September 20, 2011, he and his partner Dan (16 years his senior) wed at midnight at the Moose Meadow Lodge in Duxbury, Vermont, to become the first same-sex military couple to legally marry in the US, with the official repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Now his ship, the aptly named USS Anchorage, is coming to town for its official commissioning ceremony and he's reaching out to the city's lgbt organization Identity Inc. to meet the local queer community. Details to follow. The 684' ship, which holds 360 sailors and has a surge capacity of 800, will be open to the public on April 26, 27, 29, and May 3. Gary has written about the pressures of trying to hide their relationship here. For starters, Dan had to create a fake email account and sign all his letters Danielle.
Alaska is still stuck in the Bronze Age of lgbt rights -- not even a city-wide non-discrimination clause; one of only two states that has never elected an openly lgbt politician at any level of government -- so this afternoon's United for Marriage demonstration in Anchorage was doubly thrilling. A robust crowd of 120 people waved signs at passing cars, and drivers very often waved back, flashed a thumbs up, or honked their support. In the entire hour, the total number of antigay comments shouted back to us was zero. Earlier today, longtime ally Sen. Mark Begich announced his support for marriage equality. That's a courageous stand for someone representing voters overwhelming against it.
Since September my neck of the woods has seen five suicides, including a 17 year-old boy who shot himself on a hiking trail, a 20 year-old man who shot himself in his car, and a 49 year-old man who killed himself on the path where I run. Troopers say three others have attempted suicide in the same period. Statistics vary widely year to year but Alaska consistently has among the highest suicide rates per capita. Nationwide, suicide is about twice as prevalent as homicide, occuring roughly every 14 minutes. The rate among veterans is exceptionally high. I didn't notice guns, murder, mental health, depression, or suicide as a campaign issue for either party.
On November 8 in Key West, Henry Hamilton, 64, a gay Republican who owned Tropical Tan, killed himself, widely reported as a reaction to Obama's victory. Less reported were his business troubles and his treatment for anxiety and schizophrenia. He had told his partner "if Barack gets re-elected, I'm not going to be around" and his suicide note was a terse "F--- Obama."
Nevertheless, Alaska still has plenty of this and this:
Today's edition of the Anchorage Daily News:
Searchers still looking for 66 year-old who disappeared while running the July 4 Mount Marathon challenge. It was the 85th annual 3.1 mile race, with a total elevation change of more than 6,000 feet (3,022' up + back down). FYI, the winning time was 44:07.
Firefighters rescue two men stuck on the mud flats as the tide comes in.
Idaho man, 70, dead, brother, 55, missing after canoe flips in Matanuska Lake.
Connecticut boy, 16, stripped by 50-foot fall into glacier cravasse. Stuck "skin on ice" for five hours, inducing severe hypothermia. Rescued and medevaced to hospital where he is in guarded condition.
Bad day. Although not all of yesterday's votes have been counted, and several polling places ran out of ballots, Anchoragites appear to have rejected Prop 5 which would have added lgbt people to the city's existing nondiscrimination laws. Why, you ask, are basic protections being put to a popularity contest? Because after the Anchorage Assembly passed a similar lgbt bill in 2009, Mayor Dan Sullivan vetoed it. Yesterday, Sullivan was re-elected in a landslide victory. (Sullivan's father was mayor decades ago and he too vetoed a gay rights measure.) Five other former mayors, including Sen. Mark Begich, urged voters to support Prop 5. Read more at the ADN, which claims with 90% of the votes counted 58% were against Prop 5, and the never-surrender queer blog Bent Alaska.
Wondering what Alaskans do for fun in winter? Two weeks ago 1,200 people jumped through the ice into the freezing water of Goose Lake to raise more than $300,000 for the Special Olympics. The numbers are hugely up from last year when 700 people took the annual Polar Plunge. The air temp was around 30, which is balmy compared to today's -6 and Tanana's -53. See these and many more photos by Marc Lester from the Anchorage Daily News.
The sun was out, perfect for a quick trip, but the afternoon high was 38, meaning the not insignificant ice hadn't melted. With effort, I crashed through it to open water but could not explore the frozen coves. Last night I saw a documentary about naturist Aldo Leopold. If you've never read his Midwestern classic A Sand County Almanac, get it now. As one interviewee pointed out, the great trifecta is Thoreau, Muir, and Leopold.