Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Nov. 19 2014 4:07 PM

The National Organization for Marriage Has Collapsed Into Debt

On Wednesday, the viciously anti-gay National Organization for Marriage finally released its 2013 tax filings—two days late, in direct violation of federal law. The results are nothing short of brutal. NOM raised $5.1 million last year—a 50 percent drop-off from its 2012 earnings. Two donors accounted for more than half of that money. And the group’s “Education Fund,” which churns out anti-gay propaganda and homophobic calumny, raised less than $1.7 million, a 70 percent decline from 2012. NOM closed out the year more than $2.5 million in debt.

How did this collapse occur so quickly? I have three theories. The first is that casual donors grew weary of NOM’s execrably hateful campaigns and craven refusal to face public censure. In 2013, the group’s anti-gay rhetoric sounded barbaric and, at a fundamental level, simply impolite. Even if you didn’t like gay people, you probably didn’t want to associate with such a rabid crowd.

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Nov. 19 2014 12:56 PM

Drag Shows, Weddings, and Pole Dancing: Inside the L.A. Jail’s Gay Wing

On Tuesday, L.A. Weekly released an astonishing story and accompanying video about a place that’s so miraculous its existence feels like a mirage: the gay wing of the L.A. men’s central jail. Before I spoil any of the fun, you should go ahead and watch the profoundly humane, often hilarious video.

How does this little sanctuary exist? As L.A. Weekly explains, the wing was set up as a result of a 1985 ACLU lawsuit aimed at shielding gay inmates from the bias-motivated violence they experience at startlingly high rates among the general population. But over nearly three decades, the wing has blossomed into a community—or “family,” as many inmates describe it—of mutual support and love. (A number of inmates start relationships in the wing, and some stage weddings.) Prison clothes are re-sewn into gowns, skirts, chic underwear, and hot pants. Correctional officers take a laissez-faire attitude toward harmless rule-bending.


Nov. 18 2014 5:23 PM

The International Olympic Committee Comes Out Against Anti-Gay Discrimination

A few hours ago, I saw some news that literally made me jump for joy: At long last the International Olympic Committee will change the wording of the Olympic Charter to include protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

This development was part of 40 recommendations published today ahead of next month’s IOC meeting in Monaco, where IOC President Thomas Bach’s “Agenda 2020” process will conclude with significant changes to the bidding process for and organization of the Olympic Games.

Nov. 18 2014 3:11 PM

Leslie Feinberg: Author, Political Activist, Transgender Pioneer

Leslie Feinberg, who died Nov. 15 at the age of 65, did more than any other individual to transform the way that lesbian and bisexual feminists thought and talked about butch and femme identities and transsexual issues. Before the novel Stone Butch Blues appeared in 1993—at least in the communities I was part of in Washington, D.C., and Seattle—butch and femme were usually treated as outmoded holdovers from the unenlightened era before the women’s liberation movement. Stone Butch Blues changed that by telling the story of an unapologetically political butch/passing/trans character and by blowing apart stereotypical ideas about role-based romantic relationships. The fierce, “finally, I’m not alone” way that some readers connected with the novel was striking. On the rare occasions when people have unironically handed me a book and declared that it changed, or perhaps even saved, their life, it has almost always been a dog-eared copy of Stone Butch Blues.

Feinberg was a committed political activist, specifically a Marxist, union organizer, member of the Workers World Party. In the obituary she wrote for theAdvocate, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Feinberg’s partner of 22 years and a wonderful poet and nonfiction writer herself, stresses that legacy, reporting that Feinberg’s final words were, “Remember me as a revolutionary communist.”

Nov. 17 2014 3:57 PM

Why Did Andrew Caldwell’s Ex-Gay Video Go Viral?

It’s been an interesting few weeks in the world of “gay” viral videos. First we met 15-year-old Brendan Jordan, whose refreshing, unapologetic queerness (and local news video dance-bombing) earned him Internet fame and a spin on the daytime talk show circuit. And now we are dealing with Andrew Caldwell, a 21-year-old man whose exuberant declaration of having been cured of homosexuality was met with much jubilation by attendees of the Church of God in Christ’s 107th Holy Convocation … and much chuckling by the gay blogosphere.

While the figures in these videos are very different—Jordan openly and happily identifies as gay, while Caldwell continues to assert he is ex-gay—I can’t help but consider them together in terms of the response they’ve generated. In both cases, bloggers and commenters have exhibited a striking tendency to refrain from really addressing what, exactly, is so appealing about the clip: The reason for the video’s virality feels as if it lies just beyond the frame. I previously argued that Jordan’s allure lay in the trouble he caused for contemporary ideas about “respectable” gay behavior; he combines the sweet of entertainment with the salty bite of transgression. But what about Caldwell? His virality stems from an altogether more knotted mess of cultural issues, and the ways we’ve tip-toed around that mess reveal how our modern theology of outness and visibility may not be as simple as advertised. 

Nov. 17 2014 10:28 AM

Who Has It Easier, Butch Lesbians or Femmes?

Is life simpler for a lesbian whose appearance conforms to the expectations that society has for females? Or, do women who cut their hair short and wear men’s clothing have it easier? While at first it might seem that masculine-appearing women would have the harder time (something that is certainly true of effeminate gay men as compared with their butch counterparts), the full picture is far more complicated. Butch or masculine-of-center lesbians may experience more homophobia, but femmes are far more vulnerable to simple sexism. In the end, it’s hard to say who has it tougher in a culture that can be both sexist and homophobic.

If there’s one thing that distinguishes LGBTQ people from other marginalized minorities, it’s our ability to pass as straight, and thereby shield ourselves from prejudice based on outward appearances. But some of us pass more easily than others, and in the case of queer women, the ones who read the gayest are those who fit the stereotype of the mannish lesbian. Although butches are often misunderstood as “trying” to look and act like men, most will tell you that the thing that’s always felt impossible to them is looking and acting like other women. Being unable to pass makes butch women targets for the slurs, dirty looks, and disapproval of strangers. Getting a haircut in a new town is fraught with worry, as is shopping for clothing and, for some, using the ladies’ room. Most of the butch women I know have a story about having faced prejudice at work or in a job interview. (I have one, about the supervisor at my first post-college job.) Within the lesbian community, I’ve often heard feminine women proudly proclaim that they “like girls who look like girls,” a statement that goes beyond personal preference in it’s implicit endorsement of the idea that women are supposed to look one way and one way only. It’s bad enough to hear that sort of thing from homophobes.

Nov. 14 2014 12:55 PM

Gay Men May Soon Be Able to Donate Blood—if They’re Celibate

On Thursday, the U.S. Health and Human Services’ Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability voted 16–2 to alter the current ban on gay blood donation. Currently, any man who has ever had sexual contact with another man—“even once”—is barred for life from donating blood. Under the committee’s new proposal, men would be permitted to donate blood as long as they haven’t had sex with another man for at least one year. The Food and Drug Administration, which officially sets donation guidelines, isn’t required to adopt the committee’s proposals, but it’s considered likely to do so.

The committee is touting the proposed rule as a huge improvement over the old guidelines. It’s not. It’s an embarrassment. In the era of fast, precise HIV tests, the gay blood ban is fundamentally unscientific and counterproductive—just ask the American Red Cross, America's Blood Centers, and the American Association of Blood Banks, all of which oppose it. (So does the American Medical Association, which describes it as “discriminatory and not based on sound science.”) The ban arose in 1983, when scientists were still exploring the rudiments of HIV testing; today, when HIV can be detected within days or weeks at most, it’s perpetuated only by animus and paranoia.

Nov. 13 2014 2:53 PM

LGBT Activism in Italy Has Reached a Tipping Point

With nation-wide gay marriage seeming all but inevitable in the United States in light of recent judicial trends, it can be easy to forget that progress does not necessarily look the same—neither in speed nor form—in other countries. A year ago, during the Barilla fiasco, I described Italy as one of the most backward countries for LGBT rights in the Western world, and that is still largely true. But change is brewing. The Barilla incident bore a movement that has endured: “Remember Barilla” is still very active in social media and continues to react to the daily episodes of institutionalised homophobia that persist in Italian media. While marriage equality remains a far-off hope and while Italy lacks the well-tested lobbying strategies pioneered by American LGBT activists, the Italian public is finally paying attention to LGBT issues—we’ve reached a point of no return.

Nov. 12 2014 12:08 PM

Ask a Homo: If a Guy Has Sex With a Guy, Is He Gay?


Welcome back to Ask a Homo, a judgment-free zone where the gays of Outward answer questions about LGBTQ politics, culture, etiquette, language, and other queer conundrums. Today, we look at labels: Is LGBTQ a community one chooses to join, or is everyone who sleeps with a person of the same sex automatically gay, lesbian, or bisexual?

If there are questions you’ve been dying to ask a member of the real rainbow coalition, this is your chance. Send your queries—for publication—to slateoutward@gmail.com, and please put “ASK A HOMO” in the subject line. Note that questions may be edited.

Other Questions Asked of Homos:

Nov. 12 2014 8:30 AM

Marriage Equality Foes’ New Claim: A Nefarious Pro-Gay Judicial Conspiracy 

Losing is hard. Just ask abortion-rights activists, or campaign-finance-reform advocates, or feminists, or unions, or atheists. Every one of those groups has been clobbered at the Supreme Court in recent years, and each has complained bitterly about the ostensible invalidity of the legal doctrine that rendered them losers. Gay marriage opponents have recently discovered the sting of failure in the courts, too. What’s their response? The judges were crooked.

That’s the brazen claim currently being peddled—in court!—by the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, an anti-gay group. According to a brief the coalition recently filed in the 9th Circuit, the court’s recent ruling in favor of gay marriage shouldn’t be trusted, and the court must rehear the case entirely. Their logic is straightforward. The 9th Circuit, like every appellate court, assigns a three-judge panel to every case. These judges are randomly drawn from the circuit’s entire pool. Two passionately liberal judges served on gay marriage case, and they happen to have served on several other gay rights cases, as well. The odds of this occurring are low. Ergo, something is rotten in the 9th Circuit.