From Stonewall to the South, Miss Major Brings Transgender Liberation to Little Rock

Published in the Little Rock Angle on Oct. 13, 2018

From the Stonewall riots to San Francisco, from gay liberation to transgender justice, Miss Major has seen it all. And this time, she’s left the city for the country.

78 year-old transgender civil rights leader Major Griffin-Gracy, often referred to as Miss Major, left the San Francisco Bay Area and moved to Little Rock two years ago after a lifetime of radical political and social activism that brought her literally coast to coast.

She had no ties to Arkansas, save for her experiences meeting other transgender women of color who moved to coastal or northern cities from the South. Transgender women of color are disproportionately targeted by violent crimes, but Miss Major saw that those who were unaccustomed to the city were at an even higher risk.

“So I figured if I came down here, maybe I could make it a little more comfortable for them and they wouldn’t have to leave here where they love living and go live in San Francisco and New York,” she says. “Because they’re not city girls, you know? They’re country girls, and they like being out and about, and there’s a freedom here that they don’t have in the cities and there’s also a danger in the cities because they’re so new and so fresh and open.”

In the 1970s, Major Griffin-Gracy was convicted of burglary and imprisoned in a male facility. While she was in jail, she met Frank Smith, an inmate who had participated in the largest prison rebellion in American history: the Attica Correctional Facility Riots of 1971. Smith respected Major’s gender identity and gave her valuable information on community organizing and resistance. She was released in 1974 with the motivation to apply her knowledge in grassroots activism. But the threat of violence that Miss Major faced in prison for her gender expression changed her. She still finds it difficult to feel safe in most places.

“Being an ex-prisoner, I don’t like to sit in places with my back exposed to people. And one of the odd things about being here was I went out twice and sat in the middle of the restaurant, and got back to my hotel and asked myself, what the fuck was my problem, why did I do that when I had never done that before?” she says.

A few years ago, Miss Major stayed in Little Rock temporarily to shoot for Major!, a 2015 documentary about her life and work. It was there that she felt a sense of comfort she hadn’t experienced in a long time.

“Some aura, something about the city, the powers that be, had me be comfortable enough to be relaxed here,” she says. “So I thought I would come back for a weekend to get to know the people.”

Miss Major’s close friend is Jose Gutierrez. He’s the director of Arkansas’s oldest LGBT nonprofit, the Center for Artistic Revolution. Ever since its inception in 2003, the Center for Artistic Revolution sticks to a tradition of intersectional, radical LGBT activism that rejects assimilation and respectability politics. It was a match made in heaven for Miss Major.

“I think she vibed with a lot of people at that brunch,” Gutierrez says, recalling a gathering for LGBT people of color that Miss Major hosted in Little Rock. “I think she really felt a connection with people here.”

Gutierrez says he felt deeply impacted by Miss Major’s passion for her community. He often seeks guidance from her and values her advice on grassroots organizing. Not only that, but he says he could see other members of the community felt the same way. But for the most part, he says, her presence here isn’t very well-known.

“A lot of people that knew her and knew her work and background were really thrilled and happy to have her here. But what’s challenging is that not a lot of our local people knew who she was,” he explains. “I remember being at Central Pride and the emcee for the festival was talking about Stonewall and how important Stonewall was and all this stuff, and Miss Major was sitting right there, but she was never acknowledged by the emcee. And that kind of led me to look around and see that people don’t really know our history, know our elders, and that’s very important.”

Major Griffin-Gracy has come a long way since that historic night at the Stonewall Inn that some have called the most important event of the 20th century gay liberation movement. In 1969, hundreds of transgender and gender nonconforming LGBT people rioted after a New York City bar was raided by police. Called the Stonewall Inn, this bar served as a meeting spot for members of the LGBT community who weren’t accepted in other gay bars, including many transgender, black, Latino, and homeless LGBT people. As a result, the bar was subject to excessive raids, where police officers arrested anyone dressed in what they considered “drag”. The Stonewall riots are often credited for galvanizing a nationwide movement for LGBT rights.

Miss Major is identified as one of the leaders in the Stonewall riots, where she witnessed dozens of her fellow transgender and gender nonconforming peers get arrested or assaulted.

But if you asked her, she would want to talk about something else.

“The important thing to talk about is if it [the Stonewall riots] would have worked in 1969, we would have a better life in 2018. We’re going through the same bullshit that we were going through back then,” she says. “Those motherfuckers are still giving us hell, they’re still acting as if we’re not a part of that little alphabet soup shit that they have, and it doesn’t make any sense to me that we all love each other on pray day, then on Monday they don’t give a shit about us.”

It’s clear from the conversation that Miss Major doesn’t believe in the nearly mythicized status of the Stonewall riots that tends to come up in contemporary LGBT discourse. It’s even entered the mainstream recently, with movies like the 2015 film Stonewall drawing criticism for its lack of diversity and accuracy. The question of who “threw the first brick” during the riots have been debated within the LGBT community to the point of being parodied. Miss Major believes this discussion distracts from the real issue: that transgender people were left out of the supposed “success” of the Stonewall riots, and that more privileged members of the LGBT community capitalized on that historic event.

Decades after the Stonewall riots, transgender women of color still face disproportionate rates of poverty and unemployment. Many have little choice but to do sex work to make a living, which further compounds their risk of being assaulted or murdered. Major Griffin-Gracy’s goal is to help give the transgender community, particularly transgender women of color, the tools to improve their lives and the lives of their peers. One way she’s accomplishing this is with her nonprofit, House of GG’s.

“House of GG’s is a dream of mine to unite my community and to provide us with the abilities and the skills to negotiate through straight society, or cis society,” she explains. “This isn’t the time that my community, that my trans girls or trans guys, need to hide or run away. Now we need to be more visible than ever, because out of sight means out of mind. And if we run and hide now, they’re gonna make sure that we stay hidden.”

It seems that Miss Major firmly faces forward, not out of scorn for the past, but out of necessity. Even during the African American civil rights movement, she remembers, black transgender women like herself were excluded. From her experience, progress for the LGBT community has been decidedly uneven. The most marginalized continue to remain the most marginalized. But the fight isn’t over for her yet.

“I’m going to keep fighting as long as I can breathe. And if they need to be cussed out, cuss ‘em out and keep on going,” she says with her usual, uncensored self, nodding the whole time. “I got my girls to protect. They don’t have a voice, I’ll have a voice for them. They can’t get something done, I’ll do my damnedest to get it done for them.”

Miss Major nods again to herself. “Keep ‘em going, keep ‘em strong, keep ‘em safe.”

2 UA Little Rock Greek Orgs Face Disciplinary Action After Singing Racial Slurs in Viral Video

It’s not often that members of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Student Government Association find themselves voting on the impeachment of a fellow officer, and even less common are discussions about acts of racism. However, both become the topic of focus in last week’s SGA meeting on Monday, Apr. 23, after a member of the Student Government Association reposted a video that received over 7,000 views and has caught local media attention.

“We, as concerned students as well as members of the Student Government Association at UA Little Rock, hereby bring up impeachment charges on Chief Justice Makell Swinney on grounds of conduct detrimental to the organization. Chief Justice Swinney’s recent actions surrounding the elections are unacceptable by the organization. As members of SGA, it is imperative that when situations arise on campus that members represent the organization and the students at UA Little Rock in a respectful manner. Chief Justice Swinney’s actions following the election did not represent SGA or the students of UA Little Rock in a positive light.”

— SGA Senator and President Pro Tempore of the Executive Oversight Committee, UALR student Larry Dicus

Makell Swinney is a political science major at UA Little Rock and Chief Justice of the Student Government Association. Recently, Swinney and his running mate, Senator Paige Topping, ran in student government elections for president and vice-president. The results from this election was the first topic on the table.

The current president, Brian Gregory, read off the results: Mat Wheeler and Caddo Lowry, members of the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity and Chi Omega Women’s Fraternity respectively, received the most votes.

When SGA members were asked whether or not these results should be certified, a student brought up a recent incident involving the organizations that UA Little Rock’s president-elect and vice president are members of. Members of these two majority-white Greek organizations, Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity and Chi Omega Women’s Fraternity, were seen singing racial slurs on a public bus in a video on Facebook.

More specifically, the students were singing a verse from the song “Freaky Friday” by Lil Dicky and Chris Brown. The song itself has a controversial history: the lyrics describe Lil Dicky, who is white, switching bodies with Chris Brown, who is black, and involves the white rapper gleefully using racial slurs with the justification that he’s “allowed to” because he’s in a black person’s body.

A similar story made headlines last year, when white members of a women’s sports team at Virginia Tech caused controversy after a video of them singing the exact same verse from this same song surfaced on social media.

SGA’s Chief Justice Makell Swinney saw the video on social media and reposted it on Facebook, calling the incident “atrocious”.

“I hope all of you who attend UALR, who work at UALR, are happy because the President Elect and Vice President Elect of the Student Government Association, are members of the two organizations that were caught in the video. This is who you all voted for. I’ve had several people (white people might I add) already tell me to pipe down, to not play into this. And it’s not been the first time I’ve been told to pipe down on racial injustices at UALR, either.

— Makell Swinney

However, current SGA president Brian Gregory explained to the members of SGA that the president-elect and vice president-elect did not “technically” break any of the election guidelines or fail to uphold the Student Government Association constitution and bylaws. As a result, the election results were certified.

“The Student Government Association at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock is deeply disturbed by the actions of two Greek organizations, Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity and Chi Omega Women’s Fraternity, this past weekend. We stand firm with our university and our student body condemning their actions.”

— UA Little Rock Student Government Association Facebook Page

On the other hand, a group of students in SGA did feel that Swinney failed to uphold the constitution when he reposted the video on Facebook and tied it to the student government election results. As a result, Makell was held on trial by the Executive Oversight Committee, a sub-group within the Student Government Association. This committee, led by UALR student and President Pro Tempore Larry Dicus, indicted Makell for misconduct.

SGA members had to call to extend discussion time three times before voting. Several of the students questioned the charges on the document, including the implication that Swinney is responsible for “false accusations”. In fact, as one senator pointed out, Swinney had not made any direct accusations against the president-elect and vice president-elect besides pointing out their membership in the organizations pictured in the video.

In the end, the overwhelming majority voted NOT to impeach Swinney. When SGA president Brian Gregory was asked about the status of the organizations pictured in the video, he simply stated that they are going through the disciplinary process.

“We always have to be careful of what we say, especially in emotional moments. And it was a highly emotional moment,” says Gregory. “What happened in the video was uncalled for, it was unacceptable. But as SGA president and representative of the organization, and one of the ones helping out with the election: we felt it wasn’t the best judgment […] as SGA we’re supposed to remain neutral.”

Mat Wheeler and Caddo Lowry, UA Little Rock’s president-elect and vice president-elect, are members of the Greek organizations that were involved in the racist incident that went viral. Though the two individuals were not pictured in the video, their election win is now receiving backlash from many members of the campus community who feel that their associations to those organizations are significant.

Credit: UA Little Rock Student Government Association

Racism in Greek life organizations is historically well-documented. White Greek Life Organizations (WGLOs) were originally formed by upper-class white students to segregate themselves from an increasingly diverse student body.

These foundations still impact students today — in fact, just four years ago, a critically-acclaimed film called Dear White People explored this same topic in a comedy-drama. Meanwhile, Cal Polytechnic State University completely suspended all Greek Life last week after multiple racist incidents.

“Those two are a representation of the school and students, so they are representing us. No one is accusing them or assuming that they are just like those in the video, however, birds of a feather flock together.”

— UALR student LaDarius Doaks in a Facebook comment on the video

Chief Justice Makell Swinney could not be reached for comment.

The Student Government Association meets weekly in the Donaghey Student Center Leadership Lounge. Meetings are open to all members of UA Little Rock’s campus community.

There is also a public forum on UA Little Rock’s campus in the Donaghey Student Center (Ledbetter Hall B) at 2 PM on Tuesday, May 1 “regarding the university’s ongoing commitment to increasing diversity and inclusion.”

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5 Arkansas Grassroots Nonprofits Doing Work Where It’s Needed Most

With the current administration’s policies on immigration and border control, immigrant communities across the country are in a state of extreme concern. And it isn’t just immigrants—other marginalized communities, including LGBT communities and low-income and rural communities, are all struggling to overcome the obstacles put in place by our current government leaders and supporters. In response, many of us are redirecting our time and energy in order to aid our communities in this ongoing crisis. However, in our efforts to help marginalized communities, we may overlook the small grassroots organizations in our local areas that are often the most involved in direct action and work the most closely with the affected communities.

Resources for LGBT+ individuals and people of color in the rural South tend to be few and far inbetween, and here in Arkansas (the second poorest state in the US), poverty and homelessness are rampantly affecting the most vulnerable members of society.

The responsibility to uplift and emancipate these individuals usually fall to these small-scale organizations, ranging from LGBT and racial justice organizations to immigrant resource centers to mobile food banks.

Small, independently-run local nonprofits are often underfunded and running on extremely limited resources. If you have the means to donate, then one of the most effective ways to make your dollars count is to donate it to local organizations that are participating in direct action and are being led by or collaborating with affected marginalized individuals.

If not, then YOU are your best resource! Donating your time, energy, and mental/physical labor is another way of helping out those who need the help. Volunteer with these groups or come to their events to assist and show support.

1. Center for Artistic Revolution

“DYSC is a safe space for me to be who I am and to grow as a responsible activist. I am able to contribute genuine work towards a common goal with others and not feel alone.” –Carmen, a local youth organizer.

The Center for Artistic Revolution is currently running out of a church basement–a space that has become a safe haven for many of Little Rock’s LGBT youth.

Diverse Youth for Social Change (DYSC) provides these youth with a place to openly express their identities while also learning how to get involved in their communities. These kids, teens, and young adults regularly participate in efforts to promote racial, social, and LGBT justice. DYSC youth gather in weekly meetings and receive free education on social issues and social justice advocacy, have the freedom to socialize with other members of their communities, and have access to resources such as LGBT literature, pamphlets and writings by social advocacy organizations, and a closet full of clothes for transgender and gender nonconforming youth who may have difficulty acquiring attire that fits their gender presentation.

The youth of DYSC have written their legislators, attended rallies, assisted in lobbying, and many have grown up to become fully developed activists and organizers in their own right.

In addition to DYSC, the Center for Artistic Revolution is also home to Latinxs Revolución LGBTQ, a program that intends to provide the Latin American community of Arkansas sorely-needed safe spaces, events, and resources.

“There is a truth and a reality we often forget about or is put in the back burner, shadowed by victories such as same-sex marriage. The reality is that if you don’t fit the new norm, then you are still left wondering where you belong. Our mission, as has been for D.Y.S.C — CAR’s LGBTQIA Youth and Young Adult Program, is to break boundaries and the status quo. To provide those still left in the margins a space to be heard and a chance to find the strength in their own stories and voices.”

Among the various other resources and programs provided by CAR are training workshops for educators on cultural competency and anti-bullying workshops that address the needs of LGBT students and co-workers.

The Center of Artistic Revolution and affiliated programs have also come out, time and time again, in efforts to lobby for and against legislation to meet the needs of LGBT individuals and particularly LGBT individuals of color.

CAR, and more specifically Revolución, has publicly marched in solidarity with the Little Rock chapter of Black Lives Matter. In addition, CAR has backed recent efforts by local organizers like Rae Nelson and Zachary Miller in lobbying against various bills proposed by Arkansas legislators targeting the transgender community and participated in action against this legislation.

Donate to the Center for Artistic Revolution


2. Lucie’s Place

“I was kicked out for being gay. They let me know they didn’t want me there because I made the other girls uncomfortable.” –Quenisha McGee, a 24-year old Lonoke native who sought help from Lucie’s Place after being kicked out of a homeless shelter for being a lesbian.

Lucie’s Place is a nonprofit organization based out of central Arkansas that focuses on providing housing and resources to homeless LGBT+ young adults from the ages of 18 to 25. In the often religious and conservative south, particularly in rural areas, many LGBT+ identified youth face being kicked out of their own homes or experiencing harassment and abuse from their family members due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In addition, finding steady employment and housing as a homeless individual becomes even more difficult in a state that has virtually no legislation protecting same-gender-attracted and transgender/gender-nonconforming individuals from discrimination.

“It is estimated that up to 40% of homeless young adults identify as LGBT; nearly 6 times higher than the general population. The need for LGBT-specific homeless programs and housing in the Natural State is immense because many LGBT people often struggle to find shelters that will accept their sexual orientation and/or gender identity,” says a press release from Lucie’s Place.

In addition to offering housing whenever space is available, Lucie’s Place also provides food, clothing, toiletries, STD tests, bus passes for transportation, free to use bathrooms, and cell phones, all of which makes a huge difference to individuals without access to these resources who are attempting to survive on the street. Not only does Lucie’s Place seek to meet immediate needs, but the organization also intends to help LGBT+ youth with the transition process from life on the streets to a permanent home by offering assistance with education, employment, and counseling.

“Residents of the home will develop the skills that we all take for granted. How to wash clothes, budget money, pay bills, obtain and maintain employment, keep an orderly living environment, and so on. Homeless LGBT young adults often do not know how to perform these and other basic tasks because they grew up in unstable, and often abusive, family situations. For many, this home will be the first stable, accepting environment in which they have ever lived,” says Penelope Poppers, the director of Lucie’s Place.

Donate to Lucie’s Place


3. Arkansas Transgender Equality Coalition

“The Arkansas transgender community is a community in crisis. The state’s known transgender population has grown substantially due to the local and national advancements on transgender rights, but Arkansas does not have enough legal, medical and other resources to meet their needs. There are transgender persons who live outside of Little Rock and Fayetteville who travel up to two hours to find medical services.” –Andrea Zekis, co-founder of ArTEC.

The first (and only) statewide trans-led organization in Arkansas, the Arkansas Transgender Equality Coalition was founded in response to the severe lack of resources for transgender individuals in the state, in addition to an already hostile environment for trans people here in Arkansas. Since its beginnings in February of 2014, ArTEC has become a major force in efforts to lobby against anti-trans and anti-LGBT legislation, educating businesses and institutions on trans-inclusiveness, improving resources for trans individuals in rural areas, and expanding access to adequate healthcare for trans people.

In 2015, ArTEC received a $15,000 grant from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute in Washington D.C, and partnered with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) to improve the quality of healthcare for the transgender community in Arkansas.

However, as the visibility of the trans community grows, so does legislative opposition and institutional discrimination. Though ArTEC has become a major provider of resources and education to trans individuals throughout the state, state legislators have largely ignored the struggles of the trans community or have outright targeted them, such as the bathroom bill that recently hit the Arkansas legislature, often making it more difficult for trans-advocacy organizations to do their work. Most positive changes to laws that affect trans individuals in Arkansas tend to come from the federal legislature.

“The state level varies from state to state, so a state like California which has a much larger and heavily funded LGBT movement and often more supportive lawmakers can get more done for the transgender community than a state like Arkansas,” explains Andrea Zekis. “Here, the transgender community has had mild success in coalition with other groups, only to see the many of those wins wiped out by oppositional forces. Lawmakers want to limit our ability to get protections written into the law in this state.

The recent bathroom bill targeting the transgender community in Arkansas was dropped by Senator Linda Collins-Smith, the lawmaker who first proposed the bill, after opposition from many groups including LGBT organizations and the transgender community, tourism groups, and even the governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, who notably encouraged Arkansas schools to disregard President Obama’s guidance on ensuring transgender students are protected from sex discrimination.

Many of the individuals that protested and lobbied against these bills include members/volunteers of the Center for Artistic Revolution and other LGBT justice organizations. A local organizer for racial and LGBT justice, Rae Nelson used the bathroom bill as a stepping-off point to address the broader racial and patriarchal oppression that has resulted in a high rate of violence against black and brown transgender women. She and organizer Zachary Nelson is working with the Center of Artistic Revolution to host a march for uplifting black and brown transgender women on Transgender Day of Visibility.

Donate to the Arkansas Transgender Equality Coalition


4. El Zócalo Immigrant Resource Center

“I moved to the United States of America and married my husband. It was very hard with communication and two different cultures, it is still and maybe forever. One of my friends died. She was special to me. Because of her, I reflect on my life. I try to understand others, also care about different ethnicities. I realize that everything is connected to each other. I would like to support others and the community.” -Ji Yeon, a visitor at El Zocalo Immigrant Resource Center and a migrant from South Korea.

Seeking to improve the quality of life for all immigrants in Arkansas, El Zócalo Immigrant Resource Center provides resources and education to address the issues of poverty, legal vulnerability, and lack of access due to language and cultural barriers in Arkansas’ immigrant communities, with a focus on Latin American immigrants. The center also seeks to form connections with other nonprofits and educate non-immigrant populations to aid in protecting and empowering Arkansas’ immigrant communities.

El Zócalo provides basic assistance to low-income families with workshops on health, wellness, and life skills, and a food and clothing pantry that includes fresh produce from local community gardens. In addition, the center works with the Dee Brown Public Library to provide free weekly English as a Second Language classes that are open to the community. El Zócalo Immigrant Center has also hosted events such as film screenings and art showings that communicate stories about immigrants and marginalized communities to the public. Currently, there is a virtual exhibit of stories on the El Zócalo website told by members of Arkansas’ immigrant communities.

El Zócalo List of Resources for Immigrant Communities

Donate to El Zócalo Immigrant Resource Center


5. The One, Inc

“I heard the vehicle pull up. I peeked out my tent, and I didn’t think anything, but then once I heard his voice, I knew who it was. I had nowhere to go. [The Van] came right on time.” –Jimmy Treece, a 61 year old Arkansas native and a member of Little Rock’s homeless population.

Originally just one determined person with a vehicle, The One started after the success of Aaron Reddin’s first endeavour to help the homeless of Little Rock, called simply “The Van”. Reddin (and now other volunteers) would drive around the central Arkansas area to distribute resources like food, clothing, water, and toiletries to homeless individuals directly.

After the success of his venture, The One, Inc was formed to offer other services for people who are living on the streets, such as mobile showers, Kathryn’s House (a shelter for homeless women), and The Field, an independently managed farm that offers unsheltered individuals a chance to make a day’s’ wage and enjoy fresh produce.

Many volunteers with The One are able to establish friendships with the people they help, meeting more than just their immediate needs. One of the original goals of The Van was to help the homeless and unsheltered of Little Rock in the most direct ways possible, and this focus appears throughout The One’s various programs and visions. Every penny of donations are used in direct measures to provide for and protect the homeless.

“Though Little Rock’s homeless numbers pale in comparison to cities like New York and San Francisco, the National Coalition for the Homeless named Little Rock America’s “meanest city” toward the homeless in 2012 — police harassment and the city-led sweeps are notorious here,” says an article about The Van by NationSwell.

In February 2017, drivers at The Van reported eviction notices posted by city officials at homeless encampments throughout Little Rock and surrounding areas. The eviction notices give individuals at these camps a short amount of time, usually only a few days to a week, to move their belongings and find a safe place to take shelter. Most people who settle in a homeless encampment have very few options for safe shelter and many have no other place to go. These evictions have often involved homeless individuals having their belongings thrown away if they fail to find a safe place in time- in some instances, folks have had their wallets (containing identification and important documents) tossed into the trash. In response, Reddin organized a protest at Little Rock City Hall.

Posted on February 3rd, The Van’s Facebook post regarding the evictions reads, “Human beings do not cease to exist just because you force them to leave one location to seek a new space to sleep. Little Rock can do better than this!”

Donate to The One, Inc

Donate to The Van directly


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Meet Princeaus, the Korean American Artist Storming Little Rock’s Music Scene

Meet Princeaus, the Korean American Artist Storming Little Rock’s Music Scene

After winning Best Electronic Artist in the 2017 Black Apple Awards, Princeaus plans to release their debut album: Unni, I’m Sad.

Photo by Molly Brooks Wheat, Tiny Bird Wings Creative

With a mop top of turquoise hair and eyeshadow to match, Nora B. is a fan of bold patterns, vintage dresses, and statement accessories. A self-identified “queer femme” and the only Korean American in Arkansas’s indie music scenes, Nora brings the same boldness and color to everything from their politics to their performances.

Going by the stage name Princeaus (an altered pronunciation of the word “princess”), Nora can be found performing in independently run venues from Little Rock to Russellville. Though they’re a relatively new talent, Princeaus has quickly gained attention in Little Rock’s punk, DIY, and electronic music scenes, winning the 2017 Black Apple Award for Best Electronic Artist this past June.

Enter a caption

“Nobody does electronic music, at this point, at a punk show.”

Dramatic, fast-paced, and just a little bit surreal, pieces like “Scarrry Song” has had entire audiences singing along to Princeaus’s performances. Meanwhile, more slow and ambient pieces such as “Antigone” show a different facet of Princeaus’ emotionally charged and theatrical persona.

“I like to think of myself as anything from industrial/heavy synth pop to experimental ambient.”

They certainly don’t limit themselves by genre — Nora also collaborates with rap/hip hop artists and even composes classical piano pieces. They recently composed a classical piece called “Life After Death” to commemorate their grandfather, who passed away in July.

By Nora B.

In 2016, Nora lived in Paris for six months to complete their baking certification at the Cordon Bleu. However, Nora is also a self-taught composer and painter, creating all of their own songs from scratch and designing their own cover art.

“I have mixed emotions about Little Rock. Because it’s in the south, it’s really hard to be queer and a person of color here. But as far as the community here, I think we have a great one, especially in the DIY/punk scene and the music scenes.”

Photos by Brian Chilson from Arkansas Times

“Nobody does electronic music, at this point, at a punk show. Nobody. So I showed up with this 404 sampler that I borrowed from somebody and just went to town,” they say, laughing. “I was shocked by the fact that people were dancing, some people had already heard my music and were singing along…since then I thought, I’m gonna like this a lot.”

The DIY and punk scenes of Little Rock host local artists and artists touring from out of town at house shows. These shows mostly consist of various subgenres of punk rock, pop punk, or alternative rock played by independent bands. Nora has also performed at similar venues in the much smaller electronic music and hip hop scene, such as the recently closed Hawtbox.

“The electronic music scene in Little Rock is growing, but it still pales [in numbers] compared to the rock scene here.”

It was in the punk/DIY scene that Nora first found a following for their live music. Though Nora has a strong connection to this community, they still admit that they were troubled by the scene’s safety issues.


“I genuinely believe that silence is violence, whether it’s silence about racial issues or silence about abuse. So I’m a very loud person.”

“[There’s] a lot of places claiming to be ‘safe spaces’ that are not, which has led me to the conclusion that — and many people may disagree with me on this — that there are no such thing as safe spaces. I don’t think they exist because every single moment has the potential for destruction and tragedy, especially when there are minors involved.”

When Nora mentions minors, it’s clear that they are referring to several incidents in the punk and DIY scenes in which sexual assault allegations against members of the scene have become publicized. One of these individuals is a registered sex offender who had been regularly using his house to host punk shows, a carefully kept secret that Nora exposed — -receiving major backlash in the process.

This poses a serious safety issue when it comes to the fact that a significant number of underage women frequent this scene. Many of the women and LGBTQ members of the punk scene, including Nora, received backlash after they called for alleged rapists and sex offenders to be banned from punk venues.Photo by Molly Brooks, Tiny Bird Wings Creative

“I’ve become famous for my lack of subtlety […] but lately the big problem in the community has been abuse, whether sexual or not. This has led to a lot of safety issues.”

“I have been a giant proponent of anti-rape apologism, anti-abuse, and anti-sexual assault. I genuinely believe that silence is violence, whether it’s silence about racial issues or silence about abuse. So I’m a very loud person.”

Photo by Molly Brooks, Tiny Bird Wings Creative

Nora’s “loudness” has garnered negative attention from members of the punk/DIY community who disagree with their beliefs. In addition to online harassment and even death threats, Nora has experienced harassment at her shows and even a physical altercation.

“A person at a show got angry at me because I introduced a song, which was about a man who left me because of mental illness, by saying ‘this is about bad men doing bad things’.” Nora goes on to explain that the individual attempted to physically hit Nora. “She started harassing me online with racist comments. I was just like, okay, blocked.”

Recently, however, this community has been reeling from opioid addiction and overdose. Several members of the punk/DIY scene passed away this year due to heroin overdoses, prompting the community to put together a benefit show to raise money for naloxone (the drug that is administered to reverse an opioid overdose).

Art by Nora B.

“Due to a lot of tragedy in the community lately, I think we’ve become much more close-knit than usual. People are savoring each other a lot more and nurturing relationships,” explains Nora.

“I think the community is growing but the scene is still struggling. I’ve known five people that died this year.”

Though not a death from heroin, Nora explains how their communities came together to support them and their family after their grandfather passed away this month. Kimchi, a Korean restaurant located in Little Rock, donated an entire banquet of Korean food to Nora’s family, something that they are still extremely appreciative of.


“I always say that as long as I have a drop of Korean blood in me, I will be proud of it.”

Nora explains that they have always found community among other Koreans. Even though Nora is biracial (their grandfather is Korean), they were raised with a strong connection to their Korean heritage, which greatly influences their art. In fact, their very first live performance was a cover of the song “Maps” by Karen O, another indie musician who is ¼ Korean.

“You know, I always say that as long as I have a drop of Korean blood in me, I will be proud of it,” Nora remarks. They explain that they’ve never felt like they’ve been treated as “white” before and that others have always singled them out for being Asian. These experiences with their cultural identity have inspired much of Princeaus’s work, with many of their songs featuring traditional East Asian instrumentation and cultural themes. An excellent example is Tiger’s Tale (호랑이 이야기), a Princeaus song based off of an old Korean folktale.

“In this story […] an old woman goes to this tiger’s cave every day. And every time she enters the cave, she says ‘Anyeonghaseyo, gong-gyuk hajima’, which means ‘Hello, please do not attack’.”

The line is repeated throughout the song over a melody that combines traditional Korean musical elements with modern day electronic beats.

Tiger’s Tale isn’t the only Princeaus song influenced by Nora’s personal identities. Much of Princeaus’ music and persona is shaped by Nora’s own experiences with resistance and survival as a marginalized person. One of their most popular songs, Scarrry Song, is a glitchy and gritty electronic piece that deals with intense emotions related to Nora’s mental illnesses, namely post-traumatic stress disorder.

In addition, Nora’s involvement in local LGBTQ activist groups, as well as their personal identification with the word “queer”, has attracted attention from the LGBTQ members of Little Rock’s music scenes. Nora created the song “I’m a Rainbow” shortly after coming out as a nonbinary person.

“When I made ‘I’m a Rainbow’, I was definitely looking to make sort of a queer anthem. It started out as a song about my own identities, but I wanted it to be relatable to other queer people too,” they said. They explained that they were inspired by their personal feelings regarding their gender identity and sexual orientation to create a light-hearted and relatable anthem for LGBTQ people.


“It’s fascinating that I’ve made it this far. I was shocked when I won. I felt like I didn’t deserve it.”

Photo by Molly Brooks, Tiny Bird Wings Creative

In June, Arkansas arts & creative magazine The Idle Class awarded Princeaus Favorite Electronic Artist of 2017. Nora admits to being surprised when they received their nomination, as they had only been performing music for a few months.

“It’s fascinating that I’ve made it this far. I never thought that I’d do live performances until like February, and then I just started doing them. Since then, I’ve probably done upwards of twenty or twenty-five performances,” they say. “Everyone else who was nominated in that category were absolute geniuses. I was shocked when I won. I felt like I didn’t deserve it.”

Photo by Molly Brooks, Tiny Bird Wings Creative

Now that Princeaus is here and here to stay, what’s in store for Nora? The eclectic artist has been searching for opportunities as a baker while spending most of their free time working on their music and visual art. Nora explains that they plan on staying in Little Rock for quite a while and that they’re excited to release their first album.

“I just have too many things going on here. I need to be with my family and focus on my music.”

“Right now, a day in my life consists of a lot of listening to my own music, working on my album, a lot of painting…a lot of self-critique.” Nora says. “I’m planning on releasing my album next month, and hopefully I’ll be able to start touring within the next year.”

Titled Unni, I’m Sad, Nora’s first album is set to debut on September 2. Look for it on Bandcamp and Soundcloud, or follow Princeaus’s official Facebook page to stay updated. Princeaus will also be performing a special show at the Cavern in Russellville, Arkansas on August 21 with a lineup that consists entirely of LGBTQ artists.

Artwork by Nora B.

“I just want to shoutout Carmen [Gresham] and Willow [Wheeler] for their activism. Also shoutout to Spirit Cuntz, Slow Panda, and Stalker, all great talents. Finally, shoutout to Kimchi — it’s an amazing restaurant with great food owned by a wonderful, generous family.”


 

Originally published on Medium on Aug. 11, 2017


 

More by Baek.Media

What Paid Sick Leave Could Mean for Arkansas’s High Flu Rates

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What Paid Sick Leave Could Mean For Arkansas’ High Flu Rates

Flu season is finally over. With over 180 flu-related deaths by early March, this was Arkansas’ deadliest flu season on record, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.

The length and severity of this year’s flu season shows a major increase compared to previous years. According to Dr. John Brineman, an infectious disease specialist from Blue Cross Blue Shield, about two-thirds of those who died from the flu this season were unvaccinated.

“Flu rates vary as a function of vaccination rates, how effective the vaccine is, and the underlying health of the individual,” he says. “Flu death rates vary dependent on that last variable and age.”

But what about the third that did get vaccinated? And what about the small but still significant percentage of the population who may not be able to safely receive vaccines?

Vaccination rates are just one of the multiple factors that have an effect on flu transmission rates. However, it isn’t always enough to just get vaccinated. Sometimes people will just come down with the flu — but how do we prevent spreading it to vulnerable members of the population?

“Infants and older folks have higher death rates,” explains Dr. Brineman.

Medical professionals, like Brineman, usually recommend staying home from work or school when experiencing even mild flu symptoms.

That sounds simple enough, but for many individuals, taking a sick day is just not possible. Max Oliver is a former Sam’s Club employee who recalls how difficult it was to take off work because of illness.

“As far as I remember, if you were going to call in sick, you were supposed to know 24 hours in advance if possible,” says Oliver. “You’re allowed 3 absences–and I think two tardies counted as an absence — and then you get written up.”

“As far as I remember, if you were going to call in sick, you were supposed to know 24 hours in advance if possible.”

By the time individuals start experiencing the first symptoms of the flu, the virus is already transmittable. In Max’s case, if he started experiencing symptoms on a work day, he would have to show up anyway to avoid disciplinary action.

Only 34 percent of low-income, part-time, and service industry workers receive paid sick leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But on top that, many of these jobs also have policies in place that can penalize employees for refusing to go to work sick.

Anna Zolten is currently an employee at a marketing agency called Aristotle, Inc. Prior to this job, Zolten only worked restaurant jobs, where she was heavily pressured to come to work sick.

“Sometimes I would be responsible for calling my coworkers to replace me during a shift, putting pressure on me as if I can’t take off if I don’t find a replacement,” says Zolten. “I worked a few times when I shouldn’t because my bosses told me I’d be fired if I didn’t show up.”

“I worked a few times when I shouldn’t because my bosses told me I’d be fired if I didn’t show up.”

At her higher-paying salary job, Zolten receives paid time off that she can use for vacations or sick days.

“Now, I feel easily able to take off when I’m physically sick and can actually take care of myself instead of putting my livelihood before my wellbeing,” she says.

According to a survey by the Center for Research and Public Policy (CRPP), more than half of food industry employees go to work sick. Forty-five percent of those surveyed said that they go to work sick because they can’t afford to lose the money. These fields carry a high transmission risk because employees often handle food or drink and interact directly with large numbers of people.

As a result of progressive labor movements, several cities have enacted ordinances mandating paid sick leave. A paper by Stefan Pichler and Nicholas Ziebarth published by the German Institute for Economic Research indicates that flu infection rates declined in some localities by as much as 20 percent after sick leave ordinance laws were passed. For states with high flu death rates, such as Arkansas, that could mean lives saved.

Flu infection rates declined in some localities by as much as 20 percent after sick leave ordinance laws were passed.

However, Arkansans shouldn’t expect sick leave ordinances any time soon. In March 2017, governor Asa Hutchinson signed SB 668, a preemptive law that prohibits local governments from requiring employers to provide more benefits than the state law requires. Included among these benefits is paid sick leave.

Arkansas Times

Flu rates are soaring all over the United States right now, but especially in the southern U.S, according to CNN. This is also where some of the poorest states in the United States are located. If the correlation between mandatory sick leave laws and flu infection rates are as strong as Pichler and Ziebarth’s paper, then Arkansans shouldn’t expect the severity of flu seasons to significantly decrease any time soon.

Published in the UA Little Rock Forum Newspaper & Medium on April 4

 


Renea Baek Goddard is a mass communication student, nonprofit worker, & aspiring journalist in Little Rock with experience reporting statewide news.