COVID-19 affects us all
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a lot to adapt to. Three Out in Jersey contributors and artists discuss how they have had their lives continue to change for the past year sometimes for better or worse.
One contributor, an actor and writer, has found inspiration and is currently working toward an MS in social work at Rutgers University. Another struggles in her depression and misses the sociality of art that is the pulse of photography and journalism. The last sees transition afoot. Her life has changed, but she sees the melancholic timelessness as a moment to seize.
Sherri Rase FaceTimes from her car. Every now and again, the car bounces on the road. She notes she hasn’t driven in a while as she pulls up to a CO-OP. “It is one of the last in Jersey,” she said.
Rase is a long-time LGBTQ advocate. COVID-19 funding cuts were responsible for the elimination of her position as Youth and Senior Service Manager at the Pride Center of Staten Island. Since then, Rase’s life has taken a completely new trajectory. She lives with a bittersweetness that climbs along this moment of opportunity. “I wouldn’t say this derailed my career, but it placed it in a different direction,” said Rase.
Discussing the generational gap between NJ LGBTQ activist leaders such as Carol Watchler at the Bayard Rustin Center and Gordon Sauer at SAGE (Senior Action in a Gay Environment), Rase says there are generational differences within the LGBTQ community. “We are very uncanny if we can survive the growing up part. Sometimes when you are the first one in, you are the first out,” said Rase as she discussed the various hats many LGBTQ people tend to bear.
Rase herself is a writer and volunteer for countless LGBTQ organizations over many, many years and she has hope in a time of mass upheaval. Hope rather than fear.
Alina Oswald, in a phone interview, agrees. “There’s a very fine line between triumph and disaster. That line is hope,” she said, quoting writer Joel Rothschild from his book, Hope: A Story of Triumph. Oswald interviewed Rothschild in 2003 and is the editor of A&U, America’s AIDS Magazine.
Oswald is an ally to the LGBTQ community and has been writing about AIDs for the past 20 years. She has been struggling with depression recently. Life is not easy for the multifaceted artist during COVID-19. In Oswald’s eyes, there is a lack of control that helps to dismantle the layers that make art worth it for her. In this time, she has seen four of her projects go down the drain. “My mind cannot process submitting stuff again when I can barely find my way through my darkness,” said Oswald.
As a professional photographer and educator at the New York Institute of Photography, Oswald considers the intersectionality of struggle during COVID-19. As a freelancer with elder parents living in Europe, she is grateful her partner can work from home to help maintain their basic-necessities.
“If I go through this and still have a roof over my head, what about the guy that lost his house?,” said Oswald being thoughtful in her words. She is taking moments to pause here and there and is documenting the pandemic when she can. The photographer has a sense of light, calling COVID-19 a blessing and a curse. This is a light others have used to consume the darkness.
Rudy Palma, another Out in Jersey contributor, sees some benefits in this time of the pandemic. “What’s keeping me from going back to school? [Nothing, so] I’m now working on my MS in Social Work.”
Double majoring at Seton Hall University was something Palma always wanted to do while studying English in his undergraduate years. Between the suggestion of his therapist, and the digestion of what he wants, Palma is now following his dream.
Meanwhile, acting auditions have been slim for Palma. This gives him time to read texts and run the lines. Time, for some, seems to be the gift of COVID-19. For many others, free time is still a privilege to hold.
In New Jersey, homelessness has risen by an average of nine percent from Jan. 2019 to Jan. 2020, according to the NJCounts 2020 results by Monarch Housing Organization. This study shows homelessness was on the rise even before the pandemic. As of Jan. 21, 2021, the state estimates 7.6 percent unemployment .
Palma, like so many, is lucky to be on unemployment. It is helping to fuel his time and allows him to maintain basic-necessities and remote classes. “If not for this pause, I may not be here doing this,” said Palma in excitement.
Eventually, Palma will conduct fieldwork in New York. In time, the profession of social work will rise to the occasion of the pandemic. He is, if anything, putting his oxygen mask on before others.
While other actors, including Palma, have taken on virtual auditions, the union actor said he doesn’t feel safe going back on set until he is vaccinated. “I don’t have that luxury,” said Palma. He agrees with Rase and said the LGBTQ community thrives in it’s ability to transcend horrendous living conditions. “We have more choices because we have learned how to live without convention.”
Oswald feels this too. She is grateful to the LGBTQ community for embracing her as an ally, or as she would say, an “adopted sister.” Even in a global pandemic, the bearers of many hats see the generational pain of queer people, of themselves, and of others. And they refuse to give up.