Friday, February 6, 2015

From the Archives: The Optimist Within - An Interview with Lady Clover Honey

From the Archives: The Optimist Within - An Interview with Lady Clover Honey

The Optimist Within: An Interview with Lady Clover Honey
[Originally published in Out IN Jersey Magazine]

She is the first openly transgender correspondent to appear on a national TV show—Under the Pink Carpet, an LGBT news and entertainment show. She has performed on stage and on screen, in large and small production films. She has her own gossip column—Gossip Girl—and curated art shows like Strike A Pose - Gender Id in 2008, hosted by SoHo’s Leslie-Lohman gallery. She is Lady Clover Honey, a fixture in New York City social and entertainment life and in the city’s annual Gay Pride Parade.

“I think I was born with a feminine spirit,” Lady Clover Honey (a.k.a. Clover Welsh) describes herself. “I have a man’s body, which is fine with me, and I have a female spirit, so that I can express myself sometimes as a man and sometimes as a woman.”

Born in Totowa, New Jersey, Lady Clover Honey recalls always being different growing up. “I don’t know what it’s like to be normal,” she comments. As a kid, she never fit in. Other kids used to call her names, but she didn’t care because she was mature enough not to care. She has always been out, never in the closet. She’s also been lucky to have parents who accepted her the way she was.

Right after graduating from college, Clover moved to New York City where she started writing poetry and became involved in a neo-pagan movement that accepted those living on the fringes of normal, and also accepted women as divinity. That’s how Clover discovered the Radical Faeries, a spiritual movement started by Harry Hay in 1979. While most of the members of this spiritual movement are usually gay and feminine, they vary from one region of the country to another. Clover joined the Radical Faeries community in Brooklyn, where she lived at the time. She describes them as wearing beautiful blouses and broaches, not necessarily dressing as women, but starting to create the image of a woman, reaching for God (or Goddess) and the spirit.

Lady Clover Honey at the Gay Expo 2014, in New York City. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Lady Clover Honey at the Gay Expo 2014, in New York City. Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

“It’s always been my fantasy to be a beautiful woman, like Marilyn Monroe,” Lady Clover Honey confesses. A decade ago, when she started being a drag queen, she got her first wig on sale on 14th street. “I thought anybody can be a blonde or a brunette, but I’d rather be a purple, actually more of a maroon.” When three photographers for the Radical Faeries wanted to take her picture, she was happy to model—the photo appeared in Time Out NY. Today Clover is on the Board of Directors for Fresh Fruit Festival. She believes that drag queens are interesting, and that gender expression makes such a visual art that she decided to put together a show for them in Strike A Pose, celebrating gender identification in our contemporary society.

Recently, Clover had a small, yet poignant role in Lovari’s directorial debut, Shore Thing, a film taking a fresh look at possible shark attacks in the New York waters. In Shore Thing, Clover plays a librarian—a woman usually not perceived as good looking. And, with the fine artistry we are used to, by now, Lady Clover Honey shows that all women, even librarians, can be glamorous. As with everything else she does, Lady Clover Honey uses her Shore Thing character to continue breaking taboos.

Today, drag queens are still on the fringe of what society considers “normal.” Drag queens are also different images of God. “I think God is a force,” Clover explains. “It’s important to have a spiritual connection to the universe. It helps us to be strong. [I] hope that the universe, God (or Goddess), loves me as well.”

Lady Clover Honey cherishes her connection with the universe, and also wants to do her part and help others here, on earth. Therefore, she reaches out to the person who is afraid to go out dressed as a woman because people would throw stuff at him. She reaches out to all individuals and encourages them to be who they truly are, to come out of the closets of their lives. While she is very aware that coming out is not always easy or safe, she hopes that “We all have to respect one another, because we’re all children of God, with different ways to express ourselves.”

She’s always been an optimist, especially when it comes to gay rights, when she believes that we make progress every year. “I do have hope,” Lady Clover Honey concludes. “We’ve come a long way in 40 years. We have a long way more to go.”

Thanks for stopping by!

Feel free to check out my new website(s) I'm still working on:

Art, AIDS & Others

Alina Oswald

Author of JOURNEYS THROUGH DARKNESS: A BIOGRAPHY of AIDS with Photographs by award-winning photographer Kurt Weston 

From the Archives: Learning the ABCs of Civil Rights

From the Archives: Learning the ABCs of Civil Rights

Learning the ABCs of Civil Rights
An Interview with Frank Musumici, Investigator with the Office of Civil Rights of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

[Article originally published in Out IN Jersey Magazine]

Do you know your civil rights?

Do you understand these rights?

Do you know where to ask for help if your civil rights are violated? 

The Hope Principle. Bauhaus Rendering. Image by Alina Oswald.
The Hope Principle. Image by Alina Oswald.

A safe place to start, especially for those living with HIV/AIDS, is to call Frank Musumici, Investigator with the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A Hoboken native, Musumici has worked with the local HIV community for many years. Before joining the OCR team in 2004, he was a regional health administrator. His job enabled him to get to know the local HIV community while giving presentations to help provide funding for several small HIV organizations. It was during one of these presentations that the enthusiasm and passion with which he talked to the audience caught the attention of Michael Carter, OCR Regional Manager for Region 2 (representing New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands). Soon afterwards, Musumici became part of the OCR team.

The OCR enforces the laws that prohibit discrimination against race, disability, color, age, religion, national origin and sex. It protects individuals from discrimination in health and social services programs (from hospitals and Medicaid/Medicare to nursing homes and nutrition programs) that receive money or assistance from the DHHS. Although the OCR deals with denied or delayed services because of disability (HIV is considered disability) many people call in with various types of complaints. In this case, the calls are redirected to investigators who can best be of help. The OCR investigators work with complaints that are less than 180 days old. Musumici focuses on HIV-related issues, but the department deals with a variety of issues, from quality of services (which are redirected to the Department of Health) and immigration, to translations. Most OCR investigators are attorneys. Many of them are bi- or multi-lingual, which comes in handy when dealing with individuals who know little or no English. Investigators call these cases LEP, or Limited English Prevalence, cases.

Musumici encourages people to call if they need help, regardless of the type of their complaint. To make sure of that, he provides his phone number-a direct line-because he wants people to know that if they have questions they have someone on their side, an agent whose job is to assist them and protect their rights. That's why, upon his becoming an OCR investigator, Musumici helped start an outreach plan that enables investigators to go out and inform the community about the services HHS/OCR provides. "I'd like to put a physical face to our agency," he explains, "so that [individuals who need OCR's help] will know that they can come to us."

Individuals can contact HHS/OCR by phone, in writing or online. The website provides a complaint form which can be completed and mailed in. The complaint form requires basic information about the complaint: what, when, where and how it happened and why does the applicant think it happened. Once the OCR department receives it, the complaint goes to the department managers from where it is assigned to one of the investigators. Within 30 days from receiving the complaint form, OCR investigators follow-up for more information regarding the incident. In the same time, the facilities where the incident took place are directly interested in solving the problem because they receive funds from the DHHS. "In my experience," Musumici says, "ten out of ten times when we call, [the facilities] are very responsive. They do everything possible to make sure that [the incident] doesn't happen again."

Through his outreach program, Musumici emphasizes the importance of knowing the "ABCs" of civil rights. "If [individuals] know that they have somewhere to go in terms of discussing an act of discrimination against them, I think it empowers them to be strong and go on. We need people to know that [the information they provide] helps investigators help others." When someone contacts an OCR investigator with a complaint, that individual enables the investigator to follow through. As a result, the hospital where the complaint originates takes all possible measures to sustain and solve the problem so that it will never happen again. The process empowers that someone to assist many others who will be going into that hospital. "I want people to know," Musumici concludes, "that this is a great opportunity to empower themselves to do good."

Thanks for stopping by!

Alina Oswald