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Tina M. Wood's New Year's Letter 2002

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January 2002

Dear Friends (and strangers who happen upon this page),

Well, it's finally 2002. What a long, long year 2001 was. It wasn't all bad, not at all, but it had to be one of the longest years of my life. Herewith a review.

As usual, most of our energy for the first half of the year was taken up with the legislature. On that front it was a year filled with many twists and turns (and you have no idea how much of an understatment that is.) No one ever could have correctly predicted how things would end up going. I'll not detail it all here, as it could be novel-length if I did, but I will touch on some highlights and lowlights.

One of the biggest highlights of the year was the public coming out of our good friend Rep. Nancy Hetherington. She came out in an op-ed in the Providence Journal about the civil unions bill that she was sponsoring. The response was overwhelmingly positive--essentially no negative response or backlash at all. Unfortunately, her efforts and those of many, many others were not enough to move the civil unions or marriage bills out of the House Judiciary Committee, where they were killed by the dirty, backroom politics of the chairman. So the work continues.

Meanwhile, we had decided this year to introduce a transgender civil rights bill for the first time ever in this state. Transgendered folks were originally included in the 1995 sexual orientation civil rights bill (which passed that year), but they were unfortunately removed from the bill at the insistence of then-leadership in the RI House. After years of educating the community and some legislators about the issue, we decided to take the next step and put a bill in after getting a surprisingly positive response to the question about it on our 2000 candidate survery. We thought that this would be just the first small beginning to a multi-year process, as was the case with the sexual orientation civil rights bill. So we arranged for a hearing in the House Health, Education and Welfare Committee and thought that that was probably the end of it for this year. To our surprise, the committee chair, who in the past has been unsupportive of our issues, expressed her support to the sponsor, the ever-fabulous Rep. Edie Ajello. Edie then polled the committee and discovered that we had the votes, so we decided to move forward. Work on this bill, which we had originally thought was going nowhere, ended up being my focus for the rest of the legislative session. The bill passed the House in May and then began the really grueling journey through the Senate. I think I aged about a hundred years during that process and gained even more of a renewed appreciation for our legislator friends. I mean, worrying about this one bill just about killed me, so I cannot imagine dealing with multiple bills at once, year after year. Through the hard work of the amazing Senator Rhoda Perry and the support of Senate Majority Leader Bill Irons, the bill finally passed the Senate on the very last day of the session and later became law without the governor's signature.

While I prefer to be a background person when working on legislation, I ended up taking more of a leading role on this bill and thus drew more attention to myself than I'm used to: my first-ever appearance on the AP Wire and awards from GLAD and from the Bisexual Resource Center for my work on it. I don't deserve all the credit by any means, and I was uncomfortable getting awards for it, but I have to admit that I did play a crucial role, so I guess a little attention is okay! I dedicated my work on this bill to my friend Penni Ashe Matz, who passed away early during the bill's process. I was really affected by her death particularly because I knew how badly she wanted to do a similar bill in Massachusetts; and I had been planning to sit down and write her an email with the good news about the prospects for the RI bill when I got the news. I knew Penni mostly via email, from subscribing to her list GAIN and corresponding about regional issues. I was fortunate enough to have met her once at Boston Pride a few years ago. Fare thee well, my friend. I miss you, and I'm glad to have been able to make such a tribute to you.

After wearing myself completely out during legislative season, I was totally ready for some vacations. Went down to Knoxville for a while in July for my parents' birthdays and just to decompress and work on genealogy. After I got back, Kate and I planned an August trip to Nova Scotia, which turned out to be absolutely wonderful. We do have a bunch of really nice digital photos, but Kate hasn't uploaded them to the web yet, so nothing to link to yet. Anyway, I had become very interested in the music from the area early in the year, particularly the Rankins and Great Big Sea, largely thanks to an online radio station, and also Jennifer Roland from seeing her live at the Blackstone River Theatre. So being there was particularly special, even if it weren't such an amazing place anyway. We only got to explore about a third of the island, so we'll definitely be going back. I can't recommend it enough.

September. Of course September is dominated by that one horrible day. We didn't lose anyone we knew, but given that living in Rhode Island means you're two degrees of separation from anyone on earth (as opposed to six degrees everywhere else--it's just the way it is), of course we knew people who did (and who can help but be affected regardless?) For posterity's sake, I'll record what I was doing when I found out. I had stayed up all night the night before (which is normal for me--I'm totally nocturnal) and decided to take a bike ride before going to bed, as it was a beautiful and warm morning. I ended up going to an area where I had not been before, a road near Gaspee Point that eventually is surrounded by the Bay on two sides (three sides at the end of the road. It was a wonderful discovery and has since become my primary biking route. When I got back to the house, I noticed my neighbor sitting on her porch looking strained, but I didn't think there was anything odd about this at the time. I then needed to call my uncle about family business. I was on hold for a longer amount of time than usual, and then he picked up. I asked him how he was doing, and he told me he was glued to the television. I didn't know what he meant, so he gave me the news (all but the Pennsylvania plane had hit by then.) I turned on the television in time to see the second tower fall live. I became hysterical when the news started to filter in about a crash somewhere near Pittsburgh, as one of my best friends lives there, and the television news had no info about it. Finally found out from the Internet that that crash was nowhere near there. I also felt utterly alone because Kate was not reachable at work because they were having a retreat offsite, but she ended up coming home soon after that (with one trip back to the retreat to assist some of the folks from their NYC office.) Later we drove an acquaintance of hers who worked in the NYC office and had been at the retreat to his friend's house in Massachusetts, as he needed to be with other gay people to be able to grieve freely. You do whatever you can.

By chance, we had long ago scheduled a trip to Europe at the end of September with Kate's mother and aunt--her mother's retirement present to herself and the rest of us. I was exceedingly nervous and probably would not have gone if it had been up to me, but the family was bound and determined to do it, so off we went. I coped with the long flight by taking Dramamine and just sleeping as much as I could. I had never been overseas before, so it was quite the new experience for me. We started out in Manchester, England. People are frequently baffled by that choice in destinations, as it's not a place that people think of as a tourist destination. The reason we started there is that some of Kate's ancestors came from that area, so they wanted to see the area and perhaps do some research if possible. Oddly, I liked Manchester best of all the places we went. It gets very little respect, and as such the people have no pretensions. The new downtown reminded us of Boston for whatever reason. We were able to get around quite well (except that Europe doesn't seem to give a flip for people with disabilities, so Kate's mother had a hard time with her bad knee with all the stair-climbing) and liked being able to take trains almost anywhere. We spent time in various small villages, including Blackpool, Blackburn, Mellor, Bury and Bolton. We weren't able to accomplish any real genealogy research because the facility was closed for the week, but visiting there is still very helpful because it gives us a sense of exactly where places are in relation to each other and that sort of thing. After Manchester we went to London, which I liked pretty well for the most part (more than Kate liked it.) One interesting thing for me was that I kept finding places that had been mentioned in songs I knew from various British bands over the years. The hotel there provided us daily copies of the Guardian, which has become my favorite newspaper. We were both very impressed with the British press as a whole and are glad to now have access to BBC America on our cable system. We saw many of the touristy sights in London although didn't spend a whole lot of time on them. I particularly liked the London Eye, which provided a spectacular view. I also enjoyed a boat cruise we took out to Greenwich, as the captain gave very good descriptions of the sights along the way. From London we went to Paris, where Kate's brother Steve lives. Unfortunately we arrived there the day after the bombing started in Afghanistan, so I was very much on edge, and not knowing French made me feel very out of control. (Steve is fluent, but still.) The only television station we could get in English was CNN Worldwide, so the nonstop war news didn't help matters. I ended up having two really bad panic attacks and have as a result gone on anti-anxiety meds for the first time ever. Anyway, Kate really liked Paris a lot, but I didn't due to how I was feeling. It is a pretty city, but I just couldn't really appreciate it. We saw pretty much all of the sights there, a number of which did impress me (particularly the Eiffel Tower--you have no idea how huge it is until you see it up close.) We also went to Disneyland Paris, not really to be ugly Americans but rather because we all find Disney pretty fascinating (which I guess could make us ugly Americans by definition, but never mind.) Got back home in mid-October. I've never been so glad to be in Logan Airport. Not to say it was a bad trip--it actually was therapeutic to be in England so soon after 9/11 because the British were not as traumatized as almost all Americans, so it faciliated our healing process. But I just needed to be back where I felt more in control. We are contemplating going back to Manchester perhaps this year to do some genealogy and just to go. The fares are insanely low right now.

Other randoms notes from the year: my mother and brother John visited us for the first time ever, in May. The visit was too short, but we had a good time. Mom was particularly impressed with my legislator friends, but that's because I only introduced her to the ones I like. (No offense to any of my Senate friends who read this--we didn't make it over there because it was too crowded.) The RILGBT-NEWS list continues to grow and take up a lot of my time, and I continue to count it as one of the most important things I do. Besides the Guardian, I've become a big fan of BuzzFlash and also Mediawhoresonline to get the real scoop on what's happening in this country. Ironically, I found out about these sites due to Andrew Sullivan and his hypocrisy, so I guess I owe him thanks. Found out that my father has hemochromatosis and was particularly interested to find out about the disease's prevalence among those of Irish descent. The siblings and I all got tested and so far do not show signs of it, so that's good.

The year ends with the frustrating news that Rep. Nancy Hetherington was royally screwed over in Rhode Island redistricting. One of the worst parts of it is that it involved being betrayed by a friend (you know who you are.) We begin the new year determined to do our damnedest to make it right and to achieve other legislative goals along the way. Your good wishes and prayers if applicable are appreciated.

And that's pretty much it. There are always other stories to tell, but I can't keep writing forever, nor do you want to keep reading forever! I wish everyone reading this a happy and healthy new year for you and yours.

Tina W.

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