My Vermont Story: Sitting Right Up Front for a Fight

Spicing up my blog/website with a personal story about being a Vermonter. It gives you an inside scoop about what makes me tick, beyond the music.
My Vermont Story: Sitting Right Up Front for a Fight
In the country, Vermont kids don't have to wear clothes.
In the country, Vermont kids don’t have to wear clothes.

My name is Lluvia Mulvaney-Stanak, aka DJ Llu. I am a twin, born in Marshfield, VT back in 1980 to two flatlander, yippie (more radical hippies), who moved to Vermont in the 70s from Jersey and NYC. That part of Central Vermont, at that time, was a hotbed of 20 and 30 something activists, organizing around fighting nukes, apartheid, war, unjust labor practices, and nearly ever other social issue of the time. My sister and I literally grew up sitting under kitchen tables while our parents organized with their affinity groups toward demonstrations all over New England.

We moved to Barre City to start school when we were five. The deep labor history of stone cutter unions, socialism, and anarchism was not lost on my parents. They took great pride in laying down roots there. I spent the rest of my youth growing up in that very unique experience of living in a Vermont “small city,” while constantly spending time in the countryside at Bread and Puppet, the state parks, and other Vermonty “everyday” things to those of us who are from here. I went to school in state at Castleton State College (now Castleton University), and moved to Burlington 15 years ago, where I have laid down my own roots as a queer community activist, local radio DJ, and proudly engaged citizen in the Burlington community.

With that as background, the story I have for you is this.

Me, my dad, and my sister, ready to fight winter.
Me, my dad, and my sister, ready to fight winter.

When you grow up with the constant message that not only can you fight City Hall, but that you should, that you should always question those in power, that you any injustice is an injustice to all, you gain a pretty unique perspective on the world and yourself. My yippie activist parents instilled the radical notion that it is my responsibility to speak up and out not just for myself, but for others. That our charge as human beings – family, friends, neighbors, and citizens – is to not just be the change, but to make the change needed to establish and secure justice, equity, and maintain the moral compass of our communities.

I took this guidance very much to heart. And while I have organized around a variety of issues throughout my life – anti-racism, unionizing the UVM staff, media accessibility, safe neighborhoods, and more – it was my first job out of college that proved to be my proudest activist work, but also the work that would challenge my parents.

It was 2002, hot on the heels of the Civil Unions debate in Vermont, I was a month out of college and offered a job to work at Outright Vermont – the state’s only queer youth organization. I was excited and nervous. I was out and proud for four years at that point, having been a campus leader for the queer student group. The campus had shielded me from most of the “take back Vermont” hate backlash that the queer community had endured during those years. So, I approached the Outright Vermont job with a slightly starry eyed naiveté. I was going to be gay for pay! I could help give a voice to queer youth! I could make schools safer! Let’s do this!

When I told my parents I was offered the job they were a little taken aback. I vividly remember my dad saying, “You really need to think about this Lluvia. Are you sure you want that kind of attention?” I was totally turned off by his response. It wasn’t coming from a homophobic place, but a protective parent one. Attention? Wasn’t this the kind of work you had raised me to not just work toward, but believe in wholeheartedly? Aren’t I supposed to stand up to injustice? To hate, to bigotry?

With only lukewarm support from my parents, I took the job anyway and immersed myself in it.

This is many years later, during my second time on Outright Vermont's staff (yes, I couldn't stay away), with the Governor of Vermont, Peter Shumlin, Outright staff and youth, and the Biebs. A lot has changed for the queer community in a short amount of time.
This is many years later, during my second time on Outright Vermont’s staff (yes, I couldn’t stay away), with the Governor of Vermont, Peter Shumlin, Outright staff and youth, and the Biebs. A lot has changed for the queer community in a short amount of time.

Never before (or since), had I had my work mean so much to me and feel so important. We were changing the social framework of how Vermonters understood and embraced queer youth lives. Remember, this was waaay before Ellen had her own TV show, before any celebs really were celebrated for being out, before marriage for all, before “don’t ask, don’t tell” was struck down, before all of the big milestones of the late 2000s. It was exhausting and energizing every single day.

But, within a year, we had what would become the first of many challenges to our anti-bullying work in Vermont schools. A small group of angry, misinformed, and (some) homophobic community members got wind that we had “safe zone” stickers up in a middle school. That was recruiting, they claimed. And just like that, a school board meeting was called to “address” the issue. The school? Barre City Elementary and Middle School.

I was jacked up. Oh hell no! Not my Alma Mater! Not my hometown! We gathered a presentation for the board and drove to Barre. Walking into the meeting with sweaty palms and my righteous activist 21 year old glare, I was stopped in my tracks. Coming down the other end of the hallway was my dad, with a similar righteous stink eye. He gave me a hug and said, “this is not right, I am here to lend solidarity!” He walked in with us, sat right down in the front row, folded his arms and proceeded to give the most bad ass stink eye to the waffling BCEMS school board for 2+ hours. My dad is was a former school board chair and very, very well known community activist – his stink eye is legendary. 

We argued our point – safe zone cards are about creating visibility for queer students, so they know there are adults who they can go to to talk and find support. Many members of the community spoke to how it was recruiting for the gay agenda and all the rest of the homophobic rhetoric that many today would find quaintly ridiculous in its homophobia, hate, and ignorance. In the end, the school board buckled under the community pressure and declared that not just the safe zone cards, but “all logos” should be removed from the building (a weak attempt at avoiding a lawsuit). Despite that we pointed out that all the Coke machines and other commercial products would have to go to, the school board passed the measure.

An example that even while aging gracefully, yippee activist parents never stop.
An example that even while aging gracefully, yippie activist parents never stop.

Deflated we rose to leave. My dad shot up and bee lined for the escaping school board chair. He chased him down in the hall and gave him an epic dressing down. The chair escaped with his tail between his legs. My dad came back, gave me a big hug, and said he was proud of me. We all left, and later with the support of the Vermont Human Rights Commission successfully convinced the school to “do the right thing” (with a little legal flexing too).

I would go on to work at Outright Vermont for the next five years, tackling a whole host of pretty epic battles. At every front line, my parents both were right there taking up the cause and joining me in calming speaking truth and justice to fear and hate.

To me, this is one of the most Vermonty stories I can think of. There is a whole generation of early 80s babies from Central Vermont who had radical activist parents, who instilled this passion and drive in us, and who have gone on to create some pretty awesome social change. I am sure each of them had a moment, like me, where their parents were like, “wait, a second… ,” but not only then came around, but came and sat right up front for the fight.