Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Oct. 11 2016 12:33 PM

“If Homosexuality Had Been Legal, None of This Would’ve Happened”

In 1974, Jeremy Thorpe, the leader of Britain’s Liberal Party and one of the country’s leading political figures, found himself in the dock of the Old Bailey, accused of conspiracy and incitement to murder Norman Scott, an ex-lover who had an inconvenient habit of telling people about their affair. British journalist John Preston tells the Thorpe story in A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies, and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment, published today (and reviewed here). I spoke with Preston about what the scandal revealed about British attitudes to homosexuality, the establishment, and how much things have changed over the last 40 years.

How would you explain the importance of Jeremy Thorpe to American readers?

He represented a new breed of politician. If you look at the standard-issue British politician of the 1960s and '70s, they were overweight, gray-haired, doughy-featured men in badly fitting suits—and they're all men until Mrs. Thatcher came along. Thorpe was dashing, he was charismatic, and he had an air of great charm and irreverence. He didn't seem to take things as seriously as his colleagues did, and that was very attractive. He was a genuinely liberal figure; he wasn't a hypocrite. He voted for the Homosexual Law Reform when it came up in the House of Commons; he was very, very opposed to apartheid when a lot of British politicians--including Mrs. Thatcher--were either tacitly or overtly for it. And Thorpe had this ostensibly mad dream of leading the Liberals back to the prominence they'd enjoyed back in the 1920s. The bizarre thing is he almost made it, because when Britain collapsed into almost-bankruptcy and near-anarchy in the 1970s, Thorpe was within touching distance of power. He could've been deputy prime minister in a coalition if he'd played his cards a bit more adroitly. And yet just five years later he goes on trial for conspiracy and incitement to murder. It's an amazing arc.

Oct. 10 2016 9:00 AM

In Hispanic Heritage Month, Let’s Remember Gay Rights Pioneer Tony Segura

In the very earliest years of America’s East Coast-based gay movement, long before Stonewall, a Cuban immigrant was arguably the central organizer for the struggle. His name was Tony Segura, and this National Hispanic Heritage Month, it’s time to give him his due.

Born in Cuba in 1919, Gonzalo Segura Jr. would occasionally use his given name, but more often he went by Tony. He came to the United States at 15 and attended military school, then Emory University, before arriving in New York City to work as a research chemist. Documentation of Segura’s early life remains sparse, but in a 1977 oral history recorded by the pioneering LGBTQ historian Jonathan Ned Katz, which can be found in Katz’s papers at the New York Public Library on two audiocassettes, Segura explained that his homosexuality had dawned on him only gradually. As a teen, he assumed he would eventually be attracted to women and would “marry and procreate.” Was he upset to realize he was gay? “No. Never.” He did, however, learn to “keep it to myself” as a simple survival tactic.

Oct. 6 2016 1:16 PM

Elected Judges Are Less Likely to Support LGBTQ Rights. Also, Judges Should Never Be Elected.

The United States’ unique practice of electing judges is a travesty of justice in countless ways: Pressured to gratify voters’ desires rather than uphold the law, elected judges are more likely to impose unduly harsh sentences and condemn defendants to death; less likely to rule against the moneyed interests that financed their elections; and prone to disregard politically unpopular groups’ civil rights. It’s no surprise, then, that a new study commissioned by the LGBTQ advocacy group Lambda Legal has now confirmed what any casual observer could surely intuit: Elected judges are also less likely to rule in favor of gay rights than their unelected counterparts.

The study—led by Anthony Michael Kreis, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law (and a Slate contributor), and written up by Lambda attorney Eric Lesh—examined 127 decisions from state Supreme Courts since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas. Kreis’ findings were stark: The more political a judge’s path to the bench, the less sympathy he or she had for LGBTQ rights claims. State Supreme Court justices elected through partisan elections—i.e., running as Democrats or Republicans—voted to affirm LGBTQ rights just 53 percent of the time. Justices elected throughnonpartisan elections supported LGBTQ rights 70 percent of the time. Justices who were appointed but then faced an uncontested retention election voted LGBTQ rights claims 76 percent of the time. And finally, appointed judges with either lifetime tenure or the possibility or reappointment supported LGBTQ rights 82 percent of the time.

Oct. 4 2016 11:32 PM

Pence Didn’t Get a Single Question on His Extremist Anti-LGBTQ Beliefs. What a Shame.

Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate was an astonishing failure due in large part to moderator Elaine Quijano’s inability to prevent the candidates from obnoxiously talking over each other. But when Quijano did get a word in, she asked strange questions that seemed largely irrelevant to the issues that have dominated either Tim Kaine’s or Mike Pence’s career. Perhaps most glaringly, Quijano did not ask about a topic that starkly divides the candidates in a highly revealing way: LGBTQ rights.

To recap Pence’s colorful history in this area:

  • In 2000, Pence argued that federal funding for HIV/AIDS treatments should be diverted to gay conversion “therapy” programs to turn gay people heterosexual.
  • In the 1990s, Pence’s conservative think tank published a bizarre screed against gays in the military that included graphic descriptions of made-up gay sex acts.
  • As a congressman, Pence supported a constitutional amendment that would’ve banned same-sex marriage across the country and called gay unions a “deterioration of marriage and family” and a sign of “societal collapse.”
  • Pence voted against the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2010, saying that allowing gays to serve openly in the military was dangerous “social experimentation.”
  • Pence opposed a federal law that would prohibit anti-gay employment discrimination, calling it a “war on freedom and religion in the workplace.”
  • As Indiana governor, Pence signed a law designed to let businesses discriminate against LGBTQ customers, then lied about its purpose on national TV.

Sept. 30 2016 4:44 PM

The Ballad of Dick and Betty Odgaard

The New York Times published a soft-focus tribute to the fallen soldiers of the culture war on Thursday that doubles as a helpful Rorschach Test for your views on religious liberty. Do you think free exercise of religion includes a right for business owners to discriminate against people they view as sinful? You will finish the article lachrymose and melancholy. Do you think the religious right is using the cry of “religious liberty” to justify invidious discrimination against groups it has always disliked? You may well emerge from the piece with the startling revelation that many of the discriminators are not vile, hateful bigots: They are sad and lonely and confused, manipulated for political purposes and then abandoned, trapped in a life that has not provided them with the cultural or economic dominance they were raised to expect.

Sept. 30 2016 2:50 PM

Jeannine and Monét Give Us Hope for the World

As we enter the final month before the election, the news can feel dominated by stories of people being awful to each other. (Who could imagine that one of the worst offenders of said awfulness would be a major party nominee for president? But I digress.) In such fractious times, it’s good to be reminded that kindness, understanding, curiosity, and genuine human connection are still possible—and in the unlikeliest of places. Take, for example, this video:

Created by NYC-based drag queen Monét X Change, the “Street Beatz” short shows the performer getting in drag (“beating her face,” in drag vernacular) in the middle of Times Square. Monét installs herself on the steps above the Broadway discount ticket hub TKTS, where she gets to work contouring and powdering and gluing in preparation for that evening’s gig. At a certain point, a woman (later identified as Jeannine Glover from Tulsa, Oklahoma) approaches Monét to inquire about her process. The lovely exchange that follows is a joy to behold.

Of the encounter, Monét later wrote on Facebook: “With racial tension at a boiling point in this country, this beautiful white woman comes over with eyes of love and a heart of compassion to just ‘make a friend.’ And now we are bonded for life!” Monét invited Jeannine and her family to the show that evening, and they came—resulting in a far more interesting tourist experience than they probably would have had otherwise. So here’s to the Jeannine’s of the world; if we survive this election, we’re going to need more like them.

Sept. 29 2016 3:59 PM

In Christodora, the Impact of AIDS and Activism Resonates Over Decades

Christodora, a novel out this fall from Grove, has got it all: drugs, sex, music, race, class, art, activism, adoption, and tears. It’s a gut-wrenching, happy-ending story told in chapters that jump backward and forward in time all the way from 1981 to 2021. I hope it will be turned into a great movie directed by, say, Gus Van Sant, or Kimberly Peirce, or Steve McQueen.

Sept. 28 2016 11:12 AM

The Children of Gay Parents, Like All Kids, Need More Than Their Parents Can Provide

At conferences, coffee meetings, and confabs where gay and lesbian parents gather, we’re still likely to react defensively to the suggestion—or accusation—that our kids are missing some vital ingredient, some ineffable thing, because they lack either a mom or a dad. I know I do.

Of course, that’s crazy. After all, we have science on our side. The data are at this point so clear it’s almost boring: Children thrive in same-sex headed households. One study even suggested that kids raised by lesbians do better than children raised by a mother and a father—though there’s no reason to gloat about it. Sometimes, however, all that yummy research doesn’t convince us any more than it convinces staunch traditionalists. The truth is, our kidsare missing something—but if not a parent of the other, “absent” gender, then what?

Sept. 27 2016 12:32 PM

A Forensic Analysis of the Will and Grace Reunion Clip

As the United States prepared itself for the very first Hillary Clinton–Donald Trumpshowdown on Monday, a new Will and Grace clip emerged—after a day of social media teasing—to ease Americans’ anxiety about our possibly impending doom. The segment was a blast of pure nostalgia with a topical spin; for nearly ten minutes, the four main characters bantered about Trump and Clinton and the wall and the pantsuits with a smattering of jokes about dicks, Trump University’s dusting course, Paul Ryan’s body, and a miniature horse named Ann Coulter. The setup, inevitably: Boozy socialite Karen Walker is supporting Trump, one of her oldest friends; Jack is an undecided Pennsylvania voter (long story); and Will and Grace must persuade Jack to side with good over evil. (Katy Perry plays a critical role in the resolution of this parlor game, of course.)

Sept. 23 2016 10:04 AM

What’s Left for Queer Women After AfterEllen?

On Tuesday afternoon, the queer internet found out it was losing one of its precious few bright stars. The editor in chief of AfterEllen, a 14-year-old news and entertainment site for queer women, announced in an emotional Tumblr post that the site was “effectively shutting down.” After Friday, Trish Bendix wrote, the site will no longer have an editorial staff. AfterEllen’s owners have left open the possibility of publishing freelance work, but have carefully avoided saying anything concrete about the site’s future.