Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Feb. 17 2015 3:01 PM

Why Health Care Is the Next LGBT Battleground

If you want to know how much work the LGBT movement still has to do, come answer phones at the offices of Garden State Equality.

Patrick, our beloved director of operations, answers the phones most of the time, and maybe half of the questions he has for me—I’m the executive director at GSE—are about the complicated binds that members of our community find themselves in. These frequently involve doctors who have no idea how to work competently or sensitively with transgender people, or housing administrators who have no idea how to make their LGBT residents feel safe when another resident or staff member is being a bigoted jerk. The list goes on.

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Feb. 17 2015 10:45 AM

Drag Isn’t Like Blackface. But That Doesn’t Mean It’s Always Kind to Women.

On Jan. 29, Mary Cheney, the openly lesbian and actively Republican daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, outraged the drag and drag-allied community bycomparing drag to blackface in a post on her private Facebook page. Here’s what she wrote about “men who entertain in drag” after seeing a television advertisement for the upcoming season of Logo's RuPaul's Drag Race:



Why is it socially acceptable—as a form of entertainment—for men to put on dresses, make up and high heels and act out every offensive stereotype of women (bitchy, catty, dumb, slutty, etc.)—but it is not socially acceptable—as a form of entertainment—for a white person to put on blackface and act out offensive stereotypes of African Americans? Shouldn’t both be OK or neither? Why does society treat these activities differently?

Since the post sashayed off of Cheney’s newsfeed and out into the wider internet, commentators ranging from college professors to RuPaul herself have been condemning the comparison, mainly defending drag as a means of self-expression and empowerment. As a queen, my initial inclination was to join the backlash. Comparing drag to blackface seemed recklessly hateful, a blunder on par withRepublican Rep. Randy Weber’s recent Tweet comparing Obama and Hitler. But in the following days, as Cheney’s words ran through my mind, I began to wonder if they held a grain of truth. Beneath her ham-fisted language, Cheney was asking a question all queens and conscientious drag fans must contend with at one point or another: Is drag degrading to women?


Feb. 16 2015 9:39 AM

Can Cis Lesbians and Trans Women Learn to Get Along?

In theory, our multifaceted, multilettered queer community is all about alliance, solidarity, and mutual support. Though we’ve seen advances in areas like marriage equality and nondiscrimination ordinances, systematic oppression of LGBTQ individuals continues in the form of disparate treatment in health care, employment, criminal justice, and public accommodations such as bathrooms and similar sex-segregated spaces. With so much to fight against outside our coalition, divisions within it have largely gone unchecked, with destructive rifts continuing to grow. One of the widest of these rifts exists between the L’s and T’s, particularly between cisgender lesbians and trans women.

Even among queers, trans women are particularly vulnerable and subject to harassment and violence. According to the Anti-Violence Project’s 2013 report, 72 percent of all anti-LGBTQ homicide victims were transgender women (with more than 90 percent of those being transgender women of color).  So, standing in solidarity with those women ought to be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, not all lesbians got that memo: In particular, one group of radical lesbian feminists has made a habit of loudly and insistently espousing extreme transphobic ideas of the type that are more usually found among religious conservatives and those ignorant of the struggles for trans acceptance. While we prefer not to bring further publicity to the hateful sites maintained by this community, many of which are dedicated to outing trans individuals and mocking their bodies, a look at the comments on articles about trans women should be more than sufficient to give the reader an idea about of the behavior they engage in. Although they’re referred to by some as trans-exclusionary radical feminists (or TERFs—a label that, although it describes their ideology, is rejected by many within the category), they can go far beyond simply excluding trans women from their events and organizations, and actively harass, mock, and out trans women. That such harassment is supposedly done in the name of protecting cis women from trans women makes this behavior all the more ludicrous.

TERFs are small in number, but they make up for that in visibility (and obnoxiousness). Their existence puts a strain on relations between trans women and cisgender lesbians, but it is not the only area of tension between the two communities.

Feb. 13 2015 5:25 PM

Oregon’s Kate Brown Will Be the Nation’s First Openly Bisexual Governor

When Kate Brown, Oregon’s current secretary of state, becomes governor next Wednesday, she will be the nation’s first openly bisexual person—and second LGBT person after New Jersey’s Jim McGreevey, who came out as gay just before stepping down amid scandal in 2004—to hold that office. Brown will take the place of current Gov. John Kitzhaber, who announced on Friday that he is resigning over corruption allegations involving his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes. 

Brown, who has held various positions in Oregon politics since 1991, came out under pressure after being elected to the Oregon House, after a newspaper published a story revealing her bisexuality. She has dated women in the past and is currently married to Dan Little. Brown has described being bisexual as a source of stress in her political career; in a brief essay collected by a project called Out and Elected in the USA: 1974-2004, she observed that easy acceptance with not forthcoming.

Feb. 13 2015 3:17 PM

Trans Women of Color Deserve to Be Mourned as Much as Leelah Alcorn

Late last year, 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn made headlines after she stepped out into oncoming traffic along Interstate 71 near her Ohio home. Her death by suicide came with a note, posted automatically to her Tumblr account in the hours after her passing. In response, Alcorn’s name made international headlines, hundreds of thousands of people signed petitions in support of her, she was mentioned during the Golden Globe Awards telecast, and she became the most talked about transgender person of the past 6 months.

Why did Leelah’s story, in particular, catch the world’s attention, and not any of the other trans people lost to suicide? Why is it that in the first few weeks of 2015, we’ve watched as trans women of color have been murdered at a rate of roughly one per week, and yet the media can’t be bothered to recognize this violence for what it is—an epidemic?

I think I know the answer, and while it’s a hard truth to swallow, it’s something we must address head-on: Leelah was white, came from a middle-class family, and had media-friendly looks and skill with words. When you look at the stories of those like Islan NettlesZoraida ReyesYazmin Vash Payne, or Penny Proud, the pattern is impossible to ignore. Yes, these women were all victims of violence, either by homicide or suicide; but unlike Leelah, the other victims were women of color, and if the dearth of media attention is any indication, less valuable to society.

Feb. 13 2015 2:13 PM

A Valentine to My Gayness

Over the past few weeks, a number of my friends have surprised me with questions about my gayness: Do you think you’ll be gay your whole life? When did you start being gay? Why do you want to be gay? On a bus, at a basketball game, over dinner, people I’ve known for years have suddenly become curious, not just about why I’m attracted to men, but why I insist on “acting gay.” I’ve been hassled with these questions so often recently that I’d like make something clear once and for all: The only thing I know for sure about being gay is that I love it.

So this Valentine’s Day, while other people are writing notes to their lovers, I’m writing a Valentine to my gayness.

Feb. 13 2015 11:38 AM

A Mormon Leader Signals New Openness on Transgender Issues. This Could Be Huge.

In a rare interactive interview held at the end of January, high-ranking leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fielded questions on LGBT issues. Church members flooded the moderator with queries about how to navigate the tension between supporting family members and friends and following one’s conscience on LGBT issues when it is at variance with current church teachings. One question dealt with transgender identity, and the response by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, one of the highest-ranking church leaders, was the most significant—and underreported—statement from that session. A mother commented: “I have a transgender son who came out to us about a year ago. … I hate having to fear what retaliation [from church leaders] I might have for supporting him … I think we as members need that assurance that we can indeed have our own opinions, support our children, and still follow our beliefs.”

Oaks responded:

This question concerns transgender, and I think we need to acknowledge that while we have been acquainted with lesbians and homosexuals for some time, being acquainted with the unique problems of a transgender situation is something we have not had so much experience with, and we have some unfinished business in teaching on that.

Oaks’ tone was conciliatory and optimistic. A leader of a church that is famously conservative on gender and sexuality issues expressed some reservations about current teachings on transgender issues, anticipating that more experience might lead to changes. Here and elsewhere, rather than retrenching, the church is showing subtle signs of evolving some of its paradigms on gender and sexual identity.

Feb. 12 2015 2:11 PM

What We Know—Really—About Lesbian and Gay Parenting

Last week a new study was published, concluding that Dutch adolescents with lesbian moms “showed no significant differences” from their peers with opposite-sex parents. This week, another new study was published concluding the opposite: “Emotional problems were over twice as prevalent … for children with same-sex parents than for children with opposite-sex parents.”

The new research is timely, because the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on same-sex marriage this spring, and last time it looked at this issue, in 2013, questions arose about the impact of gay marriage on children. In those hearings, Justice Antonin Scalia stated that there was “considerable disagreement among sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a single-sex family [are], whether that is harmful to the child or not.” Justice Anthony Kennedy, however, opted to focus on the “immediate” injury to the 40,000 children in California with same-sex parents. “The voice of those children is important in this case,” he said, “don’t you think?”

Feb. 10 2015 12:17 PM

Do They Hide Their Faces? Searching for Gay Life in West Africa.

Last year, I wrote an optimistic article for Outward about homophobia in West Africa. Drawing on my own experiences traveling in Senegal as a gay boy and undercover drag queen, I wanted to test American perceptions of the region against the reality. I described how my sexuality was acknowledged and accepted, at least on a personal level, and how diplomatic pressure from President Obama was sparking a new conversation about gay rights in the area. I saw potential for change. There was reason for hope.

Now my optimism has faded. A few weeks ago I went back to Senegal, and the landscape seemed markedly different. Where I once saw a gay community more-or-less surviving on the margins, I now saw a community that was being pressed completely underground. Its advocates have been silenced, and official scrutiny has become unbearable. And worse, all of this is happening largely out of sight, as other West African crises capture the world’s attention. Gay visibility is at an all-time high in much of the West, but in West Africa, any tenuous gains that may have been achieved are quickly fading.

Feb. 10 2015 8:30 AM

Can We Listen to Our LGBTQ Elders Without Patronizing Them?

I’m a big fan of cross-generational gay friendships. Some of my closest gay friends are decades older than me, and I’ve benefited both as a young gay man and as a human being from spending time in their company. We talk about the mundane things all friends talk about—movies, books, lovers, the wine, etc. But over time, they’ve managed incidentally to teach me about my community’s history, about the thrill of gay liberation and the horror of the (early) epidemic years that I was born too late to witness firsthand, about amazing old basement bars and ancestors lost too soon. My relationship with my older gay friends proves regularly that the idea of a shared sensibility among our chosen “gay family” is a real, profound thing—despite the gulf between us in terms of years and experience, there’s something deeper that connects us, something that confirms my belief that gayness can be more than mere sexual orientation.

Of course, these kinds of relationships are relatively rare among gay people for a variety of reasons: the base ageism of youth-worship; shell-shock over the AIDS crisis; anxiety over whether gay age-gap interactions can ever be truly platonic. This is a shameful state of affairs, so when I see anything encouraging interaction between the gay generations—especially efforts focused on getting young gays and “post-gays” to listen to their elders—I am usually effusive in my support. Such was my initial reaction to the viral video of the moment, “Senior Gays Give Advice.” But after sitting with the clip for a while, my enthusiasm has waned.