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Homophobia In Quilting – Let’s Talk About It

20 May
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Today is a special occasion. I have an interview with the man who posted the screen shots from, the now infamous, Conservative Quilters group. I have been following Frank as an artist for quite a while, but have only recently started to interact with him personally. I’m working on a set of 4 interviews with people who have been victims of Homophobia, Racism, Sexism, and Ignorance, as these are the themes for a quilt I’m working on for the Human Rights Campaign Dinner. This is our first interview. His name is Frank Palmer, a quilter from Dultuh, and let’s get to know him…

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ETQ: Happy Friday Frank Palmer. For those just tuning in, this has been a very eventful week. Leaked screenshots rocked our little quilting world. This interview with you isn’t about the screenshots per se, but it is about homophobia. I’m working on a quilt for the Human Rights Campaign fund raiser in Washington DC, and it has 4 themes: Homophobia, Sexism, Racism, and Ignorance. As I work in these blocks, I’ll be interviewing people in the quilt world about their personal experiences with these topics. Today, we’re taking Homophobia. So, let’s get started. Tell me about who you are as a quilter?
Frank: I’m a quilt artist, but I don’t look at my own work as a product, but as a therapy session. Everything I shove a needle into is just working through my own shit. It’s the only time where I can turn off everything outside of my own head, and process what’s going on inside. I could spend time and money on a shrink’s couch, but even after all the medication, meditation, and cognitive trains of thought, nothing puts order into my head like a fistful of fabric.


ETQ: Trust me, I know all about how that works. Someone once told me that quilting was cheaper than therapy… That was obviously a lie. How long have you been a quilt artist?


Frank: I made my first quilt at 15 (more than 35 years and a truckload of Oil of Olay ago), but I have been seriously quilting for about 20 years, and longarm quilting for 15.


ETQ: You don’t look a day over 40! What got you into quilting, and what changed from that to make you a serious Quilter?


Frank: I made the first quilt out of necessity, and later on, wanted to make more. They took me forever because I was working a day job. In 1997, I wanted to better my skills and took on a difficult sampler. I learned a lot and suddenly had an arsenal of techniques and no fear. At that point, I took it more seriously, but not to the point of a career. I owned a travel agency and that was my focus. Quilting was my diversion. Now, though, quilting is my focus, and selling travel is my diversion. That change occurred in the past four years. The job climate was the catalyst. When travel changed, I reinvented myself repeatedly and couldn’t get exactly what felt right. And quilting was always my comfort zone. It just made sense to turn it into the main event.


ETQ: Your quilts are amazing, and I do just adore them. In fact, I would love some pictures for the end of this interview. If you would be so kind. A long time ago, when I first got into quilting, a friend (she’s the next interview) told me that quilting was quite an aggressive world to be in. Did you ever feel that when you started?


Frank: Completely. It wasn’t terribly popular (nobody in my family did it) and it was hard to find any information or someone to pass along the knowledge. I had to teach myself, trial and error, and spend lots of time at the library. Later, as it gained popularity, I was able to meet some very generous and talented people who shared their gifts and made my work much better. But the guilds weren’t so friendly. I wanted to join a guild back in the early 90s and was refused because I’m a man. Ironically, 20 years later, the same guild asked me to speak, do a trunk show, and speak. I had to turn them down. The early ostracism stuck with me and I take speaking and teaching gigs very sparingly. It has to be the right crowd. I’m an acquired taste. Shows and exhibits are similarly structured. What I do isn’t well received by them, so rather than adapt to the trend, I find more joy in creating what I want to see. If I walk into a show, it’s a fairly rare thing. However, when someone asks me for advice, a tip, insight, help, or how to do something, I’m always very happy to share it. The frustration of not knowing isn’t comfortable. Everyone deserves to feel good about what they’re creating.


ETQ: The first quilt guild meeting I ever went to was an eye opening experience for me. I was so excited about quilting, and I had been making tops for about 8 weeks, and made 6 quilt tops. 3 Queen size, 1 King size, and 2 throws. I could tell I made some of the women there uneasy. Keep in mind, I am a 6’6″ fat gay guy with a mohawk. I knew I set people there on edge. Don’t get me wrong, many of the people there were quite excited to see me and to see my quilts, but quite a few said some awkward things, and asked awkward questions. Have you ever been a part of a guild, or did the first experience really turn you off to them?


Frank: I was very turned off by them. I was talked into coming to a Modern Quilt Guild meeting in Orlando, by their (then) president, who was entirely welcoming, and nowhere near mainstream. I enjoyed it so much, I joined. Later, I clashed with the national guild and disassociated myself from them, but I stayed with the Orlando guild. They are some of the most generous and wonderful guild members I have ever encountered, and I value my time spent with them.


ETQ: I’m glad you found a quilt group to call home. Do you ever feel like being an out, gay man has colored your experience in the quilting world, more-so than if you were just a male quilter?


Frank: Very much. I’m much more tuned into social causes, and human rights, as well as having lived through decades of being seen as “less than” and the stigma that being gay is somehow “shameful” or “abhorrent”. After experience hate, violence, and discrimination, it started to desensitize me to it all. It became easier to put things in my work that people find “ugly”. A skulls, a penis, blood, a toilet plunger, etc. Nothing is off limits. I enjoy it when someone sees a piece I’ve created and they’re amused. I enjoy it just as much if they are made uncomfortable by it. Either way, it’s speaking to them, and that’s the goal. Love it or hate it, I don’t mind. But don’t be indifferent.


ETQ: Toilet plunger, eh? When I quilt, I quilt from a dark place. When I tell people that, most don’t get it. When I’m watching that needle hit that fabric, when I’m running a serger, when I’m cutting fabric, I’m working out pain, and anger. Is that kind of how you feel?


Frank: Sometimes pain, sometimes anger, sometimes confusion. Many times revisiting an experience and making it less vivid. If I can see it in front of me, it no longer lives in my head. The plunger piece was created from someone else’s bad energy and I gave it to her to quilt, and she worked through her shit with it under her needle. It was entirely cathartic all around.


ETQ: Good deal. So, you were in Orlando, and now you’re in Duluth. How would you say the quilting scene differs? Would you say one place harbors more creativity, different creativity? Break it down for me, because those are two very different geological locations, different socioeconomic locations, different demographics all around.


Frank: Orlando, as a location, isn’t creative. It’s a place where history and architecture are discarded, and replaced with more shiny plastic crap. To be creative, I drew inspiration from within. Duluth, which is considerably smaller, is a groovy, artistic town, right on Lake Superior, with fantastic views, plenty of warm, friendly people, a lively music, arts, and food scene, and just inspires community and interaction. It feeds the soul completely, and is a much better creative environment. There’s more to life than great weather. Many people really need more than sunshine in order to live their authentic, fulfilled existence.


ETQ: What made you make the decision to leave Orlando for Duluth? Was it the lack of creative culture?


Frank: It was a combination of things. We didn’t have any kind of social life, we worked all the time, there was traffic, multiple shootings every day, a corrupt government, a high cost of living, and crime. Outside of the guild, there wasn’t much to look forward to. Then, after the Pulse shooting, we realized that it wasn’t the place we needed to be. I wanted the feeling of “being home” and Duluth gives me that. It’s a place that is always welcoming and feels good.


ETQ: After the Pulse shooting, personally, my quilts took a darker, more political tone. Every time I think about the needless loss of life there, I get horribly upset. I channeled that rage into a quilt for the HRC. Would you say that it has affected any of your quilts? I noticed when I made that tribute quilt, some of the quilt groups I was a part of, had a serious lack of feedback. Like people weren’t comfortable talking about it. What’s your take on it?


Frank: Many people use quilting as an escape, so they just want to see pretty things. It’s the panacea for all the ills of the world. But for the rest of us, we use it to bring attention to the ills of the world and force people to think about it. Nobody is necessarily wrong, but shutting out reality has never made it go away. Blinders don’t allow us to experience life.


ETQ: Blinders don’t allow us to experience life. Speaking of blinders, I’ve been running into the issue of blinders with many people in the quilting community. As you know, you posted the screen shots of the Conservative Quilters Secret group, and I took them off Facebook, and put them in the open arena of my blog to draw more attention to them, especially for people who don’t have Facebook. Now they have made their way to Twitter and Reddit. There have been mixed responses. People are happy this group has been outed, people are upset that you posted them, upset that I publicized them, but the most common response is along the lines of, “This isn’t something we need to be looking at. This isn’t something worth talking about.” Why is it worth talking about?


Frank: Because it exists, and it’s happening. If it were cancer, and it was ignored, we would die. And this is, in fact, a cancer. It spreads, unchecked, and destroys lives. Why do we have a fire department? Brushing aside something important, just because it doesn’t affect you directly, is an acceptance that it is okay. And by the time it does affect you, it’s too late. Most everything that is wrong in the world, could be fixed, by simply talking about it.


ETQ: A truer sentiment cannot be expressed. I think we need to talk about these things. I think we need to talk about how these people thought it was okay to do this. People constantly talk about how we are in a post-racial, post-homophobic, post-sexist society. After reading what these women wrote, I would definitely say that is not true. If you could say something to the aspiring quilter who is gay, is a liberal minded woman, is not white, or is just different, what would you say to them?


Frank: After Pulse, and when Orlando all came together at Lake Eola in a huge show of solidarity, it seemed like a major shift had occurred. But, less than a month later, I was called “faggot” at Publix. Systemic hate isn’t eradicated with a candlelight vigil. I wish I could say that there is a path in life that is easy, but there isn’t one. My only way of getting through life is realizing that you get what you get, and you have to decide what to do with it. We are all different in some way. The biggest mistake we make is believing that someone else has it better, and if we just conform, we can have it too. The grass may be greener over there, but that’s usually because there’s been a pile of manure on it. Don’t look for yourself. You know who you are. Own it, celebrate it, and rock the shit out of it. Even if nobody else gets it. Surround yourself with people who complement you and provide strengths where you have weakness, not those who merely compliment you, and offer nothing of substance. None of these things are the keys to the mint. They’re in all of us. It should just be intuitive.


ETQ: That’s really beautiful Frank. Well, I’m sure people are tired of us by now, so my last question is: if you could ask the women who were in that group one question, what would it be?
Frank: What is the payoff? That’s the question. What benefit came from this?
As a reward for making it this far, here are some of Frank’s gorgeous quilts! The Middle Finger Quilt is Titled ‘Misogyny’. Check out his website fullfrontalquilts.com.
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9 Responses to “Homophobia In Quilting – Let’s Talk About It”

  1. Roxanne Dear May 21, 2017 at 11:04 am #

    Wonderful read! Thank you both for standing up and speaking out! Ive had my own experiences with this problem of hate/judgement, including losing a job at a quilt shop because I wouldnt cover my new 1″ tattoo lol. Crazy. Im so happy to hear about others that stand their ground. You are not alone! ❤

    • negativitysucks May 21, 2017 at 6:33 pm #

      That’s more common than you think. I was all set to work at a quilt shop in Orlando, and the owner called the day before I was going to start and said that she felt my presence would make her clients “uncomfortable”. Later on, she was all set to have me come to work anyway and called me and did it again. So, while I didn’t call her out in the blog post, I will never forget her cruelty, and I will always keep it as a valuable lesson in how not to treat others.

  2. Andrea Rennick May 22, 2017 at 9:37 am #

    My husband and I have been talking about this a lot. He’s a newer quilter and we’re launching a quilting business together. I’ve been in a few guilds over the years and in two local ones for the past couple of years.

    He just joined both.

    While most people have been tickled pink and welcoming, I know there’s been a few side-eyes, and part of me is waiting for some catty comments.

    • Eric The Quilter May 22, 2017 at 9:39 am #

      It’s amazing how some people are so welcoming, and some people give you side eyes the entire time you’re standing there.

  3. Megan Williams May 22, 2017 at 9:19 pm #

    Thank you so much for this. I am pretty lucky to live in a community that is (mostly) warm and welcoming of different ‘types’, I seen this passive-aggressive BS taking place. Since I am a white, overweight, aging woman it is seldom directed at me but I hear the ‘gossip’ as they pretend we ‘get’ it. I’m glad you are bringing this out in the open.

  4. Jamie Wallen May 25, 2017 at 6:27 am #

    Excellent Interview! Wise and wonderful! Both of you Hero’s for shining a light on this.

  5. Quilters Without Leaders May 29, 2017 at 10:11 am #

    Bravo! Thank you for your courage. I stand with Frank Palmer!

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