Starting this month, Gretchen Rachel Hammond will be writing full-time for Tablet, as part of a year-long fellowship at the magazine.
A native of Manchester, England, Gretchen arrived in the United States at age 18 as part of a foreign-exchange program. Since then, she has since worked as a screenwriter, film critic for Fox 59 and WXNT radios in Indianapolis and as a development officer for theaters, social-justice and educational organizations.
Most recently, she spent four years as a senior reporter for Windy City Times in Chicago. Her investigative pieces and features led to three consecutive annual state Lisagor Award nominations and a win in 2015. In 2016, she was honored by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) for her investigative piece on LGBT detainees held in Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities. Outside of her work, Hammond received notoriety last year for donating a kidney to one of Windy City Times‘ readers.
But it was nothing like the notoriety to come.
On June 24, Hammond broke the news that three women flying Pride flags festooned with the Star of David were forced by organizers to leave Chicago’s Dyke March—setting off a massive news story and a national conversation about anti-Semitism on the left. One week later, Gretchen was reassigned to nonjournalistic duties at the paper.
In the wake of this shamefully unjournalistic move, Gretchen had this to say:
For four years as a senior reporter for a small LGBT newspaper, I walked between the silos of that community and gave voice to its stories. Those stories made me wealthier than the dreams of Gates or Buffett.
I can’t just single out any one. The gay couple whose love endured through Alzheimer’s disease and beyond death. There was the black transgender woman who defended herself from an attack and spent four years in the male division of a Cook County Jail. I covered her story for over two of those years before we finally secured her release. I visited her every couple of weeks and despite the terrible conditions in which she was held, she still managed to laugh at my jokes, especially the one about the blonde and the rowing oar. She changed my life.
There were the lesbians who showed their love for each other and the world by planting sunflowers across it, the fierce gay men willing to storm an alderman’s office and get arrested to force attention on his disdain for the homeless of his ward, the transgender women who started a suicide hot line and saved countless lives with no money and very little backing, the Japanese gay man who was placed in a concentration camp and teaches others about the dangers of hatred even today, the lesbian college professor who put herself out of a job so her college could survive. I’ll never forget the Jewish lesbian woman who works to bridge gaps between communities and religions, the artists, the leaders, the friends, the activists, the hands lifting each other up. There were hundreds of stories and I remember each one as if it had just been told to me.
I found the landscape in which our silos were placed was vast and beautiful but also capable of great ugliness in no small part because, as Laverne Cox once reminded us, “hurt people hurt people.” Two weeks ago, I ran afoul of that ugliness by reporting on a growing cancer from within the community. Instead of sticking to the narrative that all our issues were the result of far-right-wing attackers, I simply wrote about a scene which demonstrated that we are pretty good at causing problems for ourselves.
Any song of freedom has to be belted out with a clear voice. The jarring, discordant racket of voices wailing notes like intersectionality, privilege, systems of oppression, safe spaces and pink-washing may have sounded perfectly logical coming out of the mouth of some semi-stoned professor at CUNY or UIC but, when put into practice, basically had us tearing into each other like shoppers at a Walmart Thanksgiving Day Sale and mud-wrestling competition.
The rest of the world shook their heads, some in astonishment, some with a smug, ‘What did we tell you?,’ while the voices of three Jewish girls who went to a Pride march were silenced and then the reporter who told their story.
When you lose your voice, even for two weeks, the isolation is unbearable. Your addiction to telling stories is yanked out of the vein in your arm and you are told to go cold turkey and instead convince some midlevel marketer at Hardees that gay people like to eat shit too. You write but who’s reading? You cry out but who’s listening?
I believe our readers are, and will continue to be. I’m deeply honored to welcome Gretchen to our staff. I know she will enrich all of our lives and minds, and only hope we can give her half of what she’ll give us. And I also hope our readers imbibe the broader message here: If a half-Punjabi, half-Church of England transgender convert to Judaism can find the courage to stand up for what’s right and true, you can too.