Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Nov. 23 2016 12:30 PM

Four San Antonio Lesbians Wrongly Convicted of Child Abuse Have Finally Been Exonerated

At least four Thanksgiving meals will be unambiguously celebratory this year: On the eve of the holiday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the Latina lesbians known as the San Antonio Four were innocent and exonerated.

In 1994, Kristie Mayhugh, Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, and Anna Vasquez were accused of aggravated sexual assault on a child; by 1998, they’d been convicted of the crime. As Linda Rodriguez McRobbie explained in a 2013 Slate piece, the case was a product of “a weird, panicked time in recent American history, when the word gay or lesbian was too often conflated with pedophile.” Despite inconsistencies in the accusers’ stories and evidence of overt and coded homophobia in the women’s trials, all four ended up behind bars. Each of the women served more than a decade in prison.

Nov. 22 2016 5:10 PM

The Trump-Pence Administration’s Position on LGBTQ Rights Will Resonate Around the World

On the same day that Donald Trump and his homophobe-in-chief Mike Pence were elected into the White House, something else happened that gave the political knife, already sunk deep in my gut, a nice, sharp twist. After months of anti-gay marches across the country, Mexico’s congress voted against marriage equality, 19-8. As a gay Mexican, it felt like a doubly cruel blow: The country where I was born voted against recognizing my rights as a citizen, and, on the same day, my adopted home voted for leaders who believe that either I’m a drug-peddling rapist (per Trump) or deserving of electrocution until I’m straightened out (per Pence).

The two events are, of course, totally unrelated and uneven in their impact—after all, same-sex marriage is already legal in several Mexican states, while the outcome of the U.S. election is an absolute catastrophe for many groups beyond same-sex couples. But the coincidence underscores a grave point: While there is no doubt that a Republican administration will be detrimental to civil rights and personal safety at a national level—see the acts of violence that are already occurring in the president-elect’s name—the elevation of Donald “Bomb the Shit out of Them” Trump is also dangerous for human rights, especially those related to LGBTQ people, on a global scale.

For better or for worse, the U.S. exerts tremendous international cultural influence. For the last eight years, Obama’s stance on trans rights and gay rights has acted as a beacon to many communities fighting for change all over the world. That’s about to change.

Enrique Torre-Molina is a queer Mexican activist who works for international LGBTQ rights group All Out (where I also used to work). I asked him what Trump’s election means for Mexico, beyond the president-elect’s plans to have the country finance a wall. For him, the election was “a reminder that hatred and bigotry and intolerance are a reality.” But in a more direct sense, according to Torre-Molina, the National Family Front, which has led the anti-marriage-equality movement in Mexico, has close ties to the U.S. and, with a Trump-Pence administration “will likely gain more support and become more determined to move ahead with their awful mission.”

All things considered, Mexico is probably going to be OK: President Enrique Peña Nieto has actually been remarkably supportive of gay rights. In the 71 countries where being LGBTQ is a crime, the situation could become much more troubling. Last year, Barack Obama visited Kenya, where same-sex sex can get you 14 years in prison, and he spoke out in favor of LGBTQ equality. At the time, I wrote a piece admonishing Obama for not speaking out against American evangelicals and their anti-gay agenda in Africa. Boy, am I eating my words now: I can’t quite see Donald Trump leaving Mar-a-Lago to campaign for gay rights in Africa.

Still, the danger of American evangelicals abroad is very real. Two weeks ago, I went to a screening of And Still We Rise, a documentary about the LGBTQ movement in Uganda. Directed by Richard Lusimbo and Nancy Nicol, the documentary follows Ugandan activists in their fight against the Anti-Homosexuality Act, a bill that originally imposed the death penalty on LGBTQ people. Lusimbo and several other activists were at the screening; they were in the U.S. for an ongoing lawsuit they’ve brought against Scott Lively, a notorious anti-gay pastor who actively campaigned for the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

Lively’s case is hardly unique: Conservative American groups have been promoting anti-gay sentiment around the world for years. The American Center for Law and Justice, which bills itself as “a politically conservative, Christian-based social activism organization” has actively promoted homophobic legislation in countries like South Sudan, Kenya, and Zimbabwe. Another wealthy conservative group, the Alliance Defending Freedom, has been doing similar work in Latin America.

Unsurprisingly, these groups are pretty happy with the election outcome. According to a recent statement from the ACLJ, “Donald Trump’s top appointments reveal that he is dedicated to elevating excellent leaders.” The ADF, meanwhile, is calling for donations, stating that with the election results, “we have been presented with an incredible opportunity. We must respond quickly to build on the enduring foundation of religious freedom on which America was established.” Groups like these will no doubt continue to be emboldened by the Trump-Pence administration. What kind of havoc they will wreak on queer communities abroad, only time will tell.

But all hope is not lost. As many have argued since the election, our task now is to fight harder than ever, at home and abroad. Lusimbo, the Ugandan activist, gave the gathered crowd some much needed perspective after the screening. “In my own country, I have never seen any other president,” he said. “Today I’m turning 30, and he’s still my president. The thing is how do you learn to navigate through the system. So let’s not give them the chance of taking that pride you have as a country, that pride in promoting human rights. Four years is not a long time. But it’s long when things are tough. The winter is coming. Get your jackets, get your boots, and that’s the way you are going to survive. Don’t give up.”

Nov. 21 2016 11:02 AM

Pat McCrory Lost the North Carolina Governorship. Now He’s Trying to Steal It.

North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, champion of the country’s most notorious anti-LGBTQ law, lost his bid for re-election on Nov. 8—at last count, by 7,448 votes. Yet nearly two weeks later, McCrory still refuses to concede. Instead, he and his legal team are baselessly alleging that the results were tainted by fraud, petitioning election boards to review the results and determine their validity. McCrory is not so obtuse as to think he can actually overtake his opponent, Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper, in raw votes. His strategy is more insidious: He seems intent on delaying the formal declaration of a winner—and delegitimizing the voting process—in order to let the Republican-dominated legislature ignore the true result and reinstall McCrory as governor for another four years.

This chicanery will be easier to pull off than you might expect. Thus far, McCrory has questioned votes in more than half of North Carolina’s counties. One attorney monitoring the proceedings called these challenges “silly, small in number, poorly researched and often defamatory,” which is undeniable: Republican-controlled county election boards have forcefully rejected McCrory's challenges, concluding that there is simply no proof of widespread fraud or malfeasance, as McCrory claims. Frustrated by these setbacks, McCrory petitioned the Republican-controlled State Board of Elections to take over the review process. The board refused, but it agreed to meet on Tuesday to set guidelines for how county boards should address complaints.

Nov. 19 2016 11:33 AM

There Is a Very Specific Reason Why the Hamilton Audience Was Right to Boo Mike Pence

On Friday night, Vice President-Elect Mike Pence attended a performance of Hamilton and was loudly booed by the audience. A fitting reception, you might think, for a man who has devoted much of his political career to harming LGBTQ people? Not at all, said Maggie Haberman and David Itzkoff of the New York Times. Haberman, who covered the presidential campaign, suggested that booing showed an unacceptable “level of disrespect”; Itzkoff, a culture writer, tweeted that the crowd’s reaction “bums me out. Whatever you think of him. He’s trying to engage.”

At Deadspin, Ashley Feinberg has a simple, bracing rejoinder to this hand-wringing: Pence is a viciously anti-gay politician who supports ex-gay conversion “therapy,” opposes LGBTQ rights across the board, and signed sadistic anti-abortion laws. “Mike Pence,” Feinberg concludes, “deserves every single bit of disrespect thrown at him, and to be booed absolutely everywhere he goes.”

Feinberg is correct, of course, and it is obnoxious for two straight journalists—who will likely never be demeaned by Pence’s odious policies—to lecture us about civility toward Pence. (Itzkoff, at least, ended up apologizing, tweeting, “I hope I do better next time.”) But there is another, more specific reason why Pence deserved to be booed in this particular time and place. AIDS hit Broadway hard; the Reagan administration’s cruel negligence toward the crisis resulted in the deaths of some of Broadway’s brightest lights in the 1980s. Eventually, Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton took action to stop the spread of AIDS and save the lives of HIV-positive people.

Nov. 18 2016 1:53 PM

Uncle Howard Explores the Life and Work of Howard Brookner, a Gay Filmmaker Who Died of AIDS at 34

“Rarely is a documentary as well attuned to its subject as Howard Brookner's Burroughs,” the New York Times raved in October 1983. Brookner’s filmmaking debut was a study of writer William S. Burroughs, made when the young director was fresh out of NYU. Janet Maslin wrote, “The quality of discovery about Burroughs is very much the director's doing, and Mr. Brookner demonstrates an unusual degree of liveliness and curiosity in exploring his subject.”

Six years later, mere months before the release of his third movie and first feature film, Bloodhounds of Broadway, Brookner died of AIDS at his home in New York at the age of 34.

The notion of a shortened life lived to its fullest informs the sensibility of Uncle Howard, a fine new documentary about Brookner’s life, which opens at New York’s IFC Center on Nov. 18. Directed by Brookner’s nephew, Aaron Brookner, Uncle Howard only occasionally takes flight, but it is a noble effort nonetheless. It is an act of discovery or restoration as much as anything else, and it begins with the unearthing of a long-lost archive in a lower Manhattan apartment.

Nov. 18 2016 11:31 AM

What Iran—Yes, Iran—Can Teach America About the Fight for LGBTQ Rights

Last week, I was pulling together an article for Slate about the status of lesbian and trans women in Iran. With marriage equality settled and the prospect of four more years of tolerant Democratic leadership in this country, I thought it would be fitting to turn our attention to LGBTQ populations in parts of the world where queer people are routinely ostracized and even jailed.

And then Donald Trump was elected president of the United States of America.

Nov. 17 2016 9:41 AM

The Trump Protests Have Reinvigorated the American Radical Tradition

In the shadow of Trump Tower, protesters carried signs that read “Gay Rights are Human Rights” and “This is the Best Protest, No Protest Has Ever Been Better” (a sarcastic reversal of Trump’s signature superlatives). From among the throng, a young Asian woman, no more than 24 years old, no taller than 5 feet, pushes by me to photograph the protest. As she lifts her camera, the crowd roars with applause as if a celebrity just entered the barricaded area. A chant then begins: “I reject the president-elect.” After a few minutes, there is a lull. The young woman stops adjusting the lens on her camera and then, in a diffident voice that is barely audible, offers her own protest cry: “Climate change is real.” In the midst of catchy slogans and compelling chants, her somewhat tangential (if accurate) statement begins to be heard. She repeats it a few more times, though never raising her voice more than a decibel. Others begin screaming it. Within seconds, it can be heard down Fifth Avenue.

This is why protest matters.

Nov. 16 2016 2:41 PM

Don’t Just Talk to Your Kids About Trump. Turn Them Into Activists.

Like many concerned American parents, I’ve had “the talk” with my kids about what happened last week. (At least now that other talk parents must deal with has dropped to the second toughest assignment.) I won’t hold you up with an account of what we said, or how it went, because you can read plenty of stories that pretty well capture the content sweep of good conversations here, here, here, or here. There’s enough out there already, and I’ve even weighed in on the Orange menace myself, shortly before the election.

What I will do, though, is tell you this: I’m sick of talking.

Nov. 16 2016 1:46 PM

LGBTQ People Are Scared About What Trump’s Victory Means for Them. Here’s Why.

The election of Donald Trump to the presidency is a catastrophe for LGBTQ rights in the United States. Although Trump may bear little personal animosity toward LGBTQ people, he has already begun to put dedicated anti-LGBTQ activists in positions of power. His control over executive agencies virtually ensures that critical rules protecting LGBTQ people in employment, housing, and education will soon be abolished. His judges may roll backhard-won gains in the courts. And his vice president, Mike Pence, is a virulent opponent of LGBTQ equality, opposing nondiscrimination laws and open military service while support anti-gay conversion “therapy.”

In the week since Trump’s election, LGBTQ people have struggled to grasp the enormity of the disaster they face. The prevailing mood is one of alarm and dismay. I asked LGBTQ people across the country to explain what they feared the most about the coming Trump administration—and how they planned to push back against the coming curtailment of their rights. Their responses are printed below.

Anthony Michael Kreis, Chicago: I am troubled over a Trump administration, unchecked by a Republican Senate, given the current Supreme Court vacancy and lower court vacancies. Right now, the Supreme Court is set to rule on transgender students’ rights, federal appeals courts are deciding whether federal employment discrimination law includes protections for LGBT people, and judges are considering whether the government can allow businesses to religiously object to LGBT civil rights. There is a real chance that Donald Trump’s federal court appointees will turn the tide of progressive civil rights jurisprudence and chill the federal judiciary’s warm disposition toward LGBT plaintiffs.

The courts are important, but the Obama administration’s use of federal agencies and executive orders to expand the rights of LGBT people is the most vulnerable. It will require relatively little heavy lifting by the incoming administration to reverse course on administrative guidance and rules. More realistically, the Trump administration may just elect to not give existing protections, like Title IX, robust enforcement.

Azariah Southworth, Nevada: As someone who lived in Indiana while Mike Pence was governor, I am scared about his obsession with rolling back LGBT rights. Specifically, I am scared he will continue to advocate for conversion therapy. As someone who went through conversion therapy for five years, it sickens me to think there is someone in the White House with the authority to make conversion therapy government-sanctioned. I fear for younger LGBT people.

I’m not exactly sure what to do. I attended an anti-Trump protest last night in Las Vegas. There is also an LGBT center within a half-mile from where I live. I will likely begin to volunteer there. I have shared words of encouragement to people in need on Facebook. What I do know is this: I refuse to remain silent, and I refuse to do nothing.

Nov. 15 2016 3:04 PM

LGBTQ Life Under Trump Will Be Hard. But We’ll Fight Back Harder.


Okay. We've had some time to process the election. Hopefully now you are feeling less like Faye Dunaway screaming at a terrifying sexmonster at the end of Chinatown and more like Faye Dunaway addressing the board in Mommy Dearest—this ain't our first time at the rodeo.



We queers have been through hard times before. Some of us even survived. What do we do now?



The next four years will be rough. In a few weeks, the country will hand power to a party that defends gay conversion torture, that longs to overturn marriage equality, that fought to keep queers closeted in the military, that regards economic segregation as a virtue, and that obsesses over the policing of genitals at bathroom doors.



But it's not the first time we've had cause for concern. No matter what challenges queer people are about to face, we've been treated at least as badly by more fearsome figures. Over the last half-century, we've learned how to respond by organizing, marching, disrupting, protecting, frightening, reasoning, and winning.