Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Sept. 12 2014 9:00 AM

A New Study Supports Female Athletes Unfairly Excluded From Sport

I’ve had the pleasure of having a few pieces published on in Slate, in particular in Outward. None have had as much response, good and bad, as my rant against the current International Olympic Committee policy that bans women with high natural testosterone levels from competing in women’s events.

Many of the commenters on my earlier piece about the exclusion of Indian sprinter Dutee Chand from the 2014 Commonwealth Games seemed not to have read the article. No, I was not calling for an end to women’s sport. No, I do not think that people should just decide what gender to compete in. No, it is implausible that men will declare themselves women just to get a great WNBA contract. No, banned athlete Dutee Chand was not doping. No, it clearly is not obvious who is a woman for the purposes of sport, as decades of failure have so clearly demonstrated. And no, there is absolutely no history of a man competing as a woman—all the examples cited were ambiguous cases, or intersex women, or women whose chromosomes didn’t comply with the tidy binary that our society enforces on men and women.

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Sept. 11 2014 4:47 PM

Smithsonian Preserves LGBTQ History for a Post-Homophobic Future

Earlier this month, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History announced that it would be adding hundreds of new objects to its existing LGBTQ collection, including a tennis racquet from transgender trailblazer Renée Richards, the diplomatic passport of Ambassador David Huebner (the first openly gay ambassador confirmed by the Senate), and memorabilia from the groundbreaking NBC sitcom Will & Grace. And now, thanks to a great documentary short produced by MSNBC, those of us not in Washington finally have an opportunity to check out the new materials.

Predictably, some—like the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins—have criticized the museum for preserving the history of a group of people they'd rather forget; but as the MSNBC segment shows, museum curators aren’t afraid of a little public pushback. Indeed, as archive specialist Franklin Robinson, Jr., explains, the collections are more about informing the future than pleasing the present:

50 years from now when LGBT civil rights will be something that we don’t even think about, you know, people will ask, “Well, what was the big deal?” And you can say, “Here it is.” These are the primary materials from which history will be written, and if you don’t save it now, then it’s gone.

Kudos to the Smithsonian for defending the view that “American history” must include all Americans. 

Sept. 11 2014 3:40 PM

New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade Steps Toward LGBTQ Inculsiveness

While LGBTQ pride marches continue to generate a modicum of controversy each summer, the most rancorous season when it comes to queer people and parades is early spring, when St. Patrick’s Day celebrations take over avenues in the Northeast and beyond. As of 2014, LGBTQ groups were officially banned from participating in Boston and New York’s parades; queer people were technically allowed to march, but they were not permitted to display anything announcing their identity.

That will change in New York next March, when OUT@NBCUniversal, the LGBTQ affinity group of the network that broadcasts the parade, will officially join the march under its own banner. A spokesmen for the parade’s organizing committee said that other groups would be allowed to apply in future years.

Sept. 11 2014 11:00 AM

Christian Groups Beg Public Universities to Subsidize Their Anti-Gay Discrimination

Supporters of the campaign to rebrand anti-gay discrimination as “religious liberty” claim they are merely trying to protect religious people from government interference. This assertion always seemed dubious, given the crusade’s disregard for actual infringements on religious freedom that don’t fit theirpersecution complex. But its latest battle is even more egregiously hypocritical: Not only do some conservative Christians want a special right to discriminate against gay people; they also want the state to fund that discrimination.

The catalyst for this latest outcry comes from California, where an evangelical Christian student group called InterVarsity Christian Fellowship was recently “de-recognized” by California State University. Under California law, any student group that receives funds from a public university is forbidden from excluding LGBTQ students. Because InterVarsity insisted on refusing membership to all gay students, Cal State was legally compelled to revoke its recognition as an official student group.

Sept. 11 2014 10:12 AM

The Supreme Court Will Almost Certainly Rule on Gay Marriage Again This Term

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court added several gay marriage cases for consideration at its Sept. 29 conference. The move suggests that the justices won’t let United States v. Windsor be their last word on marriage equality. It also reveals that the Supreme Court will almost certainly decide whether all gay marriage bans are unconstitutional by the end of this coming term.

Thus far, three courts of appeals have found state-level gay marriage bans to be unconstitutional, though they have used varying legal rationales. The 4th Circuit subjected the bans to strict scrutiny, the most stringent level of judicial review, because marriage is a “fundamental right” protected by the U.S. Constitution. The 10th Circuit went the same route—but one judge wrote a notable concurring opinion insisting that gay marriage bans don’t exhibitunconstitutional animus. The 7th Circuit, meanwhile, passed over the “fundamental right” question and performed a more basic equal protection analysis.


Sept. 10 2014 2:07 PM

The Enfant Terrible of AIDS Activism Reaches a New Low

Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, is many things—professional provocateur; contrarian pariah; enfant terrible of the AIDS activism world. But here’s one thing he is not: a reliable source on any matters relating to HIV/AIDS. Still, that hasn’t stopped myriad news outlets from reporting on Weinstein and the AHF’s pathetic, mendacious campaign against PrEP.

PrEP, marketed in America as Truvada, is an HIV-preventing once-daily pill heartily supported by the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. It’s a hugely effective, very safe, revolutionary drug that many gay men should consider taking. But the AHF has decided to wage a war against PrEP, claiming that the drug is a “public health disaster in the making.” Why? Because “people won’t adhere and take the pill,” leading more people to become infected.

Sept. 10 2014 9:00 AM

What’s the Holdup, DOJ?  

Meet Mel and Amber. They live in Madison, Wisconsin, with their dog and two cats. Their first baby is due this month.

Following a federal district court ruling striking down the state’s discriminatory marriage ban on June 6, they married in Dane County on the courthouse steps. Reflecting on their decision to tie the knot, Amber said, “I didn’t think it would change anything except on paper, but we felt closer. It all felt more real.”


Sept. 9 2014 12:00 PM

We Need a Queer Canon

Let me get this straight: The gay contribution to culture is a few terrible novels and every queer movie before Kevin Smith made a film about two straight men crushed out on a lesbian? No Walt Whitman, James Baldwin, Oscar Wilde, W.H. Auden, Willa Cather, Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Bishop, Audre Lorde, or David Sedaris? None of the legion of queer artists, musicians, fashion designers, playwrights, architects, and philosophers—from whom, we should note, mainstream culture has a long history of gleefully appropriating (e.g., the musical)? Nothing even vaguely camp? That seems eminently reasonable.

The lack of a clear definition of queer culture is a real problem. It’s hard to love and respect something when you can’t even say what it is. Is it any art created by LGBTQ people? Art that’s directed at us? Work that speaks in a coded language that only we will understand? A way of looking at mainstream culture from the margins? Is it the vibe that’s created in a queer space? Some of my most thrilling experiences of lesbian culture have come in live performances by out artists. Hearing Rhiannon perform “Shenandoah,” a traditional folk song more than 200 years old, feels viscerally different to me than hearing a straight singer’s rendition. It’s more thrilling, somehow, because a lesbian is singing a love song to another woman. (I also suspect that Rhiannon’s many straight fans experience her performance differently than I do, just as I experience it differently than the singers in the audience, or the South Dakotans.)

Sept. 9 2014 9:00 AM

I Look Forward to the Day When Being Gay Is No More Significant Than Being Left-Handed

You asked if there was anything about gay culture I would miss, and I'm racking my brain to think of something. As a writer who happens to be lesbian, the lesbian novel has always held a particular horror for me, unmatched even by the terrible and cringe-inducing lesbian-themed direct-to-video movie. Can we please stipulate that this tapestry of cultures of which you speak with such fondness was often absolutely awful—and that the best thing to happen to lesbian cinema was the introduction of more mainstream fare with movies like Kissing Jessica Stein or Chasing Amy? Today, Orange Is the New Black is a great example of the way a more open culture allows for offerings with queer characters to be mixed in along with straight ones, all while meeting minimal standards of quality, and for a mixed audience. Call me a snob, but I want more of that, and less of the bad old stuff.

Not only were gay cultural offerings often poorly conceived, badly executed works foisted upon a captive audience with few other options, but as a lesbian with more than two functioning brain cells I've often chafed at the expectation of intellectual and political conformity that gay culture imposes on us as a price of entry. God forbid that one suggests, even mildly, that some Republicans might not be all that bad—you'll face the wrath of self-appointed gatekeepers like Dan Savage for your trouble. So, yes, I suppose I do look forward to the end of all that with just a bit more glee than you might find seemly. But that's not why you and others like you should join me in hoping that the demise of gay culture comes as speedily as possible.

Sept. 8 2014 4:00 PM

Queering the Climate

In a moment when marriage equality can feel like the sole focus of LGBTQ activism, some voices in the movement have begun to ask if the community’s purview should be so limited. Why not use the critical distance from mainstream culture that being queer has traditionally afforded to critique not just issues that affect LGBTQ lives specifically, but problems that impact the lives of everyone else as well.