Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

July 24 2015 1:24 PM

Texas Supreme Court Rules Houston LGBT Rights Ordinance Must Be Put to a Vote—or Repealed

In a startling and dubious ruling on Friday, the Texas Supreme Court held that Houston’s LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance must be put to a popular vote—or repealed. The decision effectively revives the vitriolic, acrimonious campaign against the ordinance. And it sends Houston a clear message from the state supreme court: We don’t like your law.

Houston’s equal rights ordinance has had a troubled history from the start. In May 2014, the Houston City Council passed the ordinance to protect gay, bi, and trans people from discrimination in housing, employment, and city contracts. Opponents of the measure quickly gathered signatures to force a referendum on the law. At first, the city secretary found the petition to be valid. But further examination revealed some irregularities. A jury found that many of the signatures were forged, and a judge agreed, throwing out the petition because, when the forgeries were excluded, it had too few signatures to move forward. Following the judge and jury’s findings, the city attorney ruled the petition invalid.

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July 23 2015 5:03 PM

Murdered Trans Woman India Clarke Cannot Get Respect Even in Death

With the discovery of her body near a Tampa, Florida, basketball court on Tuesday morning, India Clarke became the 10th transgender woman to be murdered in the United States this year—and the ninth transgender woman of color. (And that, of course, only counts those homicides that have been reported.) As of Thursday, local police are still searching for a suspect.

Clarke’s death is obviously a tragedy in itself—part of what many advocates are calling an epidemic of trans killings—but the sadness of her loss is being compounded by how callously local officials and news outlets are treating her memory in refusing to honor her trans identity, which is clearly communicated on her Facebook profile. As BuzzFeed’s Dominic Holden reported earlier this week, Tampa law enforcement is openly and crassly disputing Clarke’s transgender status.

July 23 2015 2:42 PM

The Courage and Torment of the Lesbian Couple Who Took on That Anti-Gay Oregon Bakery

Throughout the controversy over the Oregon bakery that got fined for refusing to serve a lesbian couple, one viewpoint has been conspicuously absent: that of the women themselves. Since their sudden rise to fame, Aaron and Melissa Klein, the anti-gay owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, have been making the rounds at conservative religious events like the Family Research Council Values Voter Summit. (They also raked in more than $400,000 through a fundraising campaign, though they refuse [[this one is OK, I think, because they really have said they will NOT pay fines]] to pay any fines.) But for years, Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer chose note to speak publicly about the discriminatory experience.

That changed on Wednesday, when Willamette Week published the Bowman-Cryers’ very first interview. The exchange is worth reading in its entirety. But I’ll note a few things that stood out to this reluctant chronicler of the cake wars.

July 22 2015 4:15 PM

The Missed Opportunity of Boulevard 

Most of the critical discussion around Boulevard, the just-released Dito Montiel drama starring Robin Williams, has focused on that fact that it was the actor’s last on-screen role. Though filming was completed in 2013, Williams’ tragic suicide last summer unavoidably warps one’s viewing of the film: You can’t help but search for resonances between Williams’ character—a heavily repressed, melancholic soul with a secret—and the actor himself. And, armchair psychologizing aside, the finality of Williams’ death predisposes you to hope for a great final performance.

Unfortunately, despite the generosity with which many viewers will approach the film, Boulevard does not offer the concluding triumph that a performer of Williams’ caliber deserves. Indeed, Montiel’s feature is all the more disappointing, because while it begins with a rich premise and a degree of subtlety, it utterly fails to maintain a coherent emotional logic, leaving Williams and his co-stars fumbling about in one of the most frustrating gay-themed films I have ever seen.

Williams plays Nolan Mack, a sixty-something banker who has lived a comfortable, if apparently banal, existence in Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife Joy (Kathy Baker) for decades. The placidity of Nolan’s routinized life, underscored by a muted color pallet and delicate scoring, is disturbed only when he literally crashes into Leo (Roberto Aguire), a male sex worker, while driving home from a visit with his ailing father. Nolan’s journey begins when Leo gets in the car “for a ride,” inaugurating a nonsexual relationship that veers from tender to tempestuous as Nolan uses Leo as a (well-paid) tool to unearth his same-sex desire and, through various acts of self-sabotage, dismantle his companionate marriage.

There are a number of moments in Boulevard, especially during the first half, which gesture teasingly to the insightful, nuanced film it could have been. The most tantalizing of these occurs in Nolan’s drab bank office when he finalizes a mortgage for a gay couple. His orientation to the men is not one of melodramatic pining, but rather of quiet curiosity—it is refreshingly unclear whether he secretly identifies as “gay” or just recognizes something hazily queer in his soul. At home, his relationship with Joy, though sexually detached and oddly polite, also has the genuine warmth of two people who have crafted a successful domestic existence together; Nolan may have denied himself one sort of life due to his powerful “fear of hurting people,” but the one he’s chosen isn’t entirely unhappy or empty. Even his interactions with the troubled Leo start on an intriguing note, mixing basic sexual attraction, a childlike need for affection, and a fatherly savior complex into one messy dynamic. All these choices give more texture and color to the figure of the “closet case” than such figures are usually afforded, and encountering them early on in the film raised my hopes that Boulevard would offer a more complex treatment of sexuality and “coming out” than our contemporary political narratives tend to allow.

Sadly, these hopes were dashed as the movie went on, devolving as it did into a series of cruel pimp/unstable hooker set-pieces, a completely out-of-character confession, and I finally want to start living clichés that felt as if they’d come from a different script. I went into Boulevard believing, erroneously, that Williams’ work on the project was still unfinished when he died, so I initially attributed some of the emotional nonsensicality and unevenness of the second half to difficult choices in the editing room. When I discovered later that Williams did finish filming, these missteps seemed even more annoying. By the time a totally random inspirational voiceover intrudes atop suddenly major-key guitars, it is clear Montiel was after a boringly clean and predictable ending all along.

That’s a shame, because even as the LGBTQ equality movement sails forward for many of us, there will continue to be individuals like Nolan who miss the boat, or who consciously choose not to get onboard for one reason or another. And their stories, in all their untidy complexity, are far more interesting than the ones we already know. 

July 22 2015 1:17 PM

What’s It Like to Be Gay in … Morocco?

For those who heard about the case of Ray Cole—a British tourist arrested last year in Marrakech, Morocco, on suspicion of committing “homosexual acts” and sentenced to four months’ hard time in a Moroccan jail prior to his early release—it is perhaps difficult to imagine that Morocco was something of a gay paradise for white men of standing in the aftermath of World War II.

Gore Vidal describes the queer scene in his memoir, Palimpsest:. “A pack of queens were on the move that summer in Europe,” he wrote:

Some lived by their wits, others on remittances from home. In 1948 they converged on Rome and Paris and Tangier. In the next decade, it would be Athens and Istanbul; later Tokyo, where life was cheap in the seventies and Americans honored. Then Tokyo extruded them and the survivors fled the setting sun for San Francisco.

Tangier—on the northernmost coastal point in Morocco, across the Strait of Gibraltar—was for strategic reasons an international zone, separate from the French-controlled Moroccan protectorate, between 1923 and 1956. This period in its history allowed it to become culturally distinct, and after the war in particular, a focal city for a number of queer American literary types. These poets and novelists sought a different way of life that could not be found in the United States at that time, one of eternal sunshine, mildly exotic cultural interaction, cheap living, and even cheaper boys.

July 21 2015 4:47 PM

European Court: Same-Sex Couples Have a Right to Legal Recognition

In a landmark decision, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which hears human rights cases involving its 47 member countries, has ruled that the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) provides a right to the legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

In the case of Oliari and Others v. Italy, the judges ruled in favor of three same-sex couples who had brought the case against the Italian government, unanimously agreeing that Italy, in failing to make available “a specific legal framework providing for the recognition and protection of same-sex unions,” was in violation of Article 8 of the ECHR.

Article 8 of the Convention states that “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home, and his correspondence.” While Article 8 was written to protect people from “interference by a public authority” in the exercise of these rights, the court determined that it also put upon European governments “certain positive obligations to ensure effective respect for the rights protected by Article 8,” including “a legal framework” for same-sex couples to have their relationships “recognized and protected.”

July 21 2015 4:18 PM

Democrats Announce Sweeping, Doomed Federal LGBT Rights Bill

Democrats in the House and Senate plan to unveil a sweeping new civil rights bill for LGBT Americans on Thursday, providing federal protections for sexual and gender minorities in every state. Specifically, the bill would bar discrimination in seven areas: credit, education, employment, federal funding, housing, jury service, and public accommodations. Its sponsors have called their measure the Equality Act, and they are currently seeking Republican cosponsors.

The Equality Act, of course, will go absolutely nowhere in this Republican-dominated Congress. Still, it's notable for two reasons. First, it suggests that as soon as Democrats regain a majority in both the House and Senate, an omnibus LGBT civil rights bill would be a top priority. Second, it sounds the death knell of ENDA, the ill-starred LGBT employment nondiscrimination bill which wound up so defanged that it was barely worth passing. Congressional Democrats have wisely decided to set their sights on prohibiting LGBT discrimination in a broad array of services and accommodations, rather than focusing only on employment. It is nice to say that LGBT people deserve to be free from harassment and bigotry in the workplace. It is better to say LGBT people deserve to be equal citizens under the law.

July 21 2015 3:55 PM

Ted Cruz Interviews Anti-Gay Business Owners, Says They “Inspire” Him

On Tuesday, Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz released a video titled “In Defense of Religious Liberty.” Cruz interviews Dick and Betty Odgaard, who own a wedding venue called the Gortz Haus Gallery in Iowa and refuse to serve same-sex couples. He informs the couple that their decision to turn away gay customers “inspires me.” The video ends with an invitation to an upcoming Iowa “rally for religious liberty”—hosted by Cruz, of course.

July 21 2015 11:37 AM

This Thrilling Ode to Empowerment Is the Best Gay Anthem of the Decade

Jess Glynne's “Hold My Hand” dominated European radio for months before migrating to the United States, gaining mild success, then fading away. But while the song didn't tear up American charts, it will likely live on in gay clubs across the country for years. You see, in addition to being an amazing pop confection, “Hold My Hand” is easily the best gay anthem of the decade so far.

It's difficult to define exactly what makes a song a gay anthem. It can't be all rainbows and sunshine; you need some struggle in the mix, too, to make the ultimate triumph all the sweeter. And subtext works better than earnestness; the best gay anthems sound universal, but speak in a special way to the gays. “I Will Survive” endured because Gloria Gaynor’s battle cries perfectly capture the anguish of the closet and the victory of self-actualization. Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” failed because it is so obvious, so sincere, so specific, that the listener feels he’s receiving a lecture from a very enlightened sex ed instructor. 

Needless to say, “Hold My Hand” is more Gaynor than Gaga. It speaks, knowingly and joyously, to liberation from fear and self-loathing. Even better (for gay anthem purposes), the song envisions two intertwined paths to empowerment: Self-acceptance and love for another human. These two concepts obviously speak to the vast majority of adults. But they also often play a major role in the coming-out process. A gay person cannot really be in a healthy, loving relationship until he learns to love himself; or, as RuPaul puts it, “If you don't love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” “Hold My Hand” is all about accepting yourself, acknowledging your weaknesses, and learning to place your trust (and love) in another person. I predict it will remain on heavy rotation on college night in gay clubs across the country for years to come.

July 17 2015 3:37 PM

The Joy of Gay Cooking: The Art of Simplisissyty

When the American food revolution began in the 1950s and ‘60s, it was something of a gay little pond filled with epicures (many of whom were actually gay) who loved to cook and had very clear, if divergent, ideas on how to approach food. A couple of generations later, the American food world has expanded into a wide-open sea populated by all kinds of creatures who want to feed and be fed, from sardine schools that meekly follow the mainstream to tyrannical sharks who rule its precious coral reefs. Sometimes a hurricane rearranges this ecosystem, as we saw with the arrival of competitive cooking and butch posturing, and one imagines that peaceful gay islands can still be found. But where? And what does it all mean for the home cook? After all, the entire raison d'être of the original food movement was to change the way Americans eat at home!