Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

July 16 2014 3:07 PM

What’s It Like to Be Gay in ... Poland?

It was 2007, years before Vladimir Putin supposedly developed a concern for the fate of Russia’s children, when the Polish government openly discussed instituting its own anti-homosexuality law. Education Minister Roman Giertych proposed banning the discussion of homosexuality in schools, with school administrators, teachers, or pupils who disobeyed the directive liable to dismissal, a fine, or even imprisonment. The aim, Giertych said, was to “prohibit the promotion of homosexuality and other deviances.”

That year, Poland was in the grip of anti-gay hysteria and a state-sponsored campaign of LGBTQ persecution. With the health ministry intent on creating a special committee responsible for “curing” gays, police compiling a database on gays and the gay community, and the ombudsman for childrenpreparing a list of jobs unfit for homosexuals, thousands of LGBTQ Poles took advantage of their EU citizenship and left for the United Kingdom.

Then-president of the Campaign Against Homophobia, known in Polish as KPH, Robert Biedron said in 2007, “It’s impossible for gays to be themselves in Poland.”

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July 16 2014 2:00 PM

Christian Colleges to LGBTQ Students: You’re Not Welcome Here 

Earlier this month, Southwestern Christian University expelled lesbian student Christian Minard after an administrator spotted her wedding photos on Facebook. The university claims Minard broke her “Lifestyle Covenant,” which prohibits all forms of homosexuality. Minard admits that she signed the covenant but insists that she’s been singled out for unfair treatments: Students at SCU, she notes, break the covenant all the time by drinking, smoking, and failing to stay fit—yet only she has been punished for her alleged transgression. The ACLU is backing Minard’s discrimination claim.

But SCU is in Oklahoma, which offers no legal protections for LGBTQ students. In fact, no federal law, as currently interpreted, protects gay students from being expelled for their sexual orientation. For trans students, the picture is a little rosier: Under President Barack Obama’s direction, the Department of Education has declared that Title IX prohibits anti-trans discrimination. And because Title IX applies to any university that receives federal funds, thousands of trans students across the country are, in theory, protected from discrimination by federal law.

July 16 2014 1:11 PM

Gay Major Leaguer Glenn Burke Deserves More Than a Press Conference

Lagging behind the other professional sports leagues when it came to LGBTQ issues, Major League Baseball took a major step in the right direction yesterday. At a press conference before the 85th annual All-Star game, Commissioner Bud Selig named openly gay former player Billy Bean the league’s “ambassador for inclusion.” Selig also used the moment to recognize the late Glenn Burke, whose openness was well ahead of its time in professional sports.  “Your brother was a pioneer,” Selig told Burke’s sister, Lutha. “We remember him to this day, and we want to tell his story.” Great! Now if only there were some way to get the word out. Something like a national TV broadcast.

Early last month, I called on the league to formally recognize Glenn Burke. Yesterday, it happened. I was thrilled to see how MLB would honor Burke during the All-Star game telecast. It started off well enough. A giant rainbow formed over the stadium on Monday. Yesterday, Broadway star Idina Menzel sang the National Anthem and a meandering rendition of “Forever Young.” Was baseball about to have its coming out moment on a Fox broadcast anchored by Joe Buck? As the New York Times first reported on Monday, Glenn Burke’s family members were invited to attend the week’s festivities. After nothing happened during the endless pre-game show, I waited to see if Fox would cut away during the game to acknowledge their presence.

Like an eager lobbyist waiting for his cause to be mentioned in the State of the Union speech, I felt my excitement waning with each standing ovation. The ovations on this occasion were for outgoing Yankees legend Derek Jeter. While his recognition was well deserved, Fox practically turned the broadcast into a worship service, pausing every few seconds to talk about The Captain’s legacy. Between extended ads for Guardians of the Galaxy, what seemed like thousands of Pepsi promos, and an interview with Selig conducted in his plush box seat, there was surely ample opportunity to make a quick 10-second mention of Bean, Burke, or Burke’s family in the stands. But it didn’t happen.

July 15 2014 2:45 PM

Of Course Hobby Lobby Discriminates Against Trans Workers, Too

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s terrible Hobby Lobby ruling, Ross Douthat—staunch defender of legalized discrimination dressed up as “pluralism” or “dissent”—brilliantly trolled the left with a column titled “A Company Liberals Could Love.” In the piece, Douthat argued that progressives should admire Hobby Lobby’s “moral calling” and “do-gooder policies,” its relatively high wages and charitable giving. (Chief among Hobby Lobby’s charity work:massive contributions to extremist anti-gay groups.) Never mind that the company refuses to let women buy IUDs through their own insurance; because its founders have some ethical code, Douthat claims, progressives should be lauding it.

I remembered Douthat’s column when I read a recent Nation story about a transgender employee at a crafts supply store in Illinois who is barred from using the bathroom at work. Although the employee, Meggan Sommerville, has legally transitioned in the eyes of the state, her employers refuse to let her use the women’s restroom in the store. Sommerville has undergone hormone therapy and changed her gender on all legal documents, including her birth certificate. But unless she “undergo[es] genital reconstruction surgery,” her bosses insist on denying her entry into the appropriate facilities. The name of Sommerville’s employer? Hobby Lobby.

July 14 2014 3:29 PM

Listen to Trans Australians Tell Their Stories

A common refrain among trans activists is “just listen,” and for good reason: Respectfully listening to the stories of trans people with an open mind is probably the quickest possible way to social justice. Of course, statistics being what they are, it’s entirely possible that many people won’t encounter a trans person in their everyday lives—which is why it’s great that The Gender Centre, an advocacy organization based in New South Wales, Australia, has produced a video that allows space for some of their clients to just speak for themselves.

The young trans adults featured in the documentary talk about all facets of the trans experience, and they echo a point about invasive medical questions articulated by Parker Marie Molloy in Outward last week: Stop asking. As one interviewee puts it: “I just want people to get that if you’re not OK with me asking about every little thing about your dick, don’t ask about mine.” It’s not a big request, but refraining from such questioning can go a long way toward making the world a more humane place for trans individuals. 

July 14 2014 12:24 PM

WHO Suggests All Gay Men Take Anti-HIV Drugs. That’s Fantastic News. 

Last week, the World Health Organization recommended unequivocally that all HIV-negative men who have sex with men take HIV-preventing drugs like Truvada. The new guidelines build on a similar proposal from the CDC, but they go a step further, suggesting that even gay men who regularly use condoms should take these drugs as a backup measure. If doctors and men who have sex with men follow these guidelines, WHO estimates that about 1 million new infections will be prevented.

To a casual observer, WHO’s new stance on HIV-preventing drugs (or PrEP) might look like a perpetuation of noxious anti-gay stereotypes. But whatever image problem widespread PrEP use might create is dwarfed by the HIV problem that currently plagues the gay community. HIV is, quite simply, homophobic: The risk of transmission from anal sex is 18 times higher than from vaginal penetration, and condoms break more easily during anal sex than vaginal intercourse. Combine these facts with a clearly irreversible trend toward unprotected sex among gay and bi men, and you have a better picture of the impending crisis that WHO is trying to mitigate.

July 11 2014 5:42 PM

The Trouble With “Stealing” Cultures

Who owns a gesture? Who owns a phrase? Who owns a particular style of moving through the world?

These kinds of questions—aspects of the larger issue of “culturalappropriation”—have emerged again this week in the form of an open letter by Sierra Mannie, a rising senior at the University of Mississippi whose college newspaper article, “Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture,” was reprinted on Thursday on Time magazine’s website. Because she conflates a number of different issues (on which more in a moment), it’s hard to summarize Mannie’s essay succinctly, but what’s clear is that she has grown tired of the way in which certain white gay guys identify with a certain strain of black femininity and partake in its cultural vocabulary. “You are not a black woman,” Mannie writes to the offenders, “and you do not get to claim either blackness or womanhood. It is not yours. It is not for you.”

July 11 2014 10:45 AM

Count On It: When Censorship Is Permitted, Gay Books Will Be Censored

This week, the National Library Board of Singapore banned two gay-themed children’s books from its public libraries, claiming that they did not meet “pro-family” standards. It’s tempting to ridicule Singapore, which still criminalizes gay sex, for outlawing such benign books, one of which tells the true story of gay penguins. But Singapore’s strange censorship should serve as an important reminder that conservatives in America have long pushed a similar campaign to remove books featuring “homosexuality” from libraries around the country.

According to the American Library Association’s list of frequently challenged books, “homosexuality” is one of the grounds on which library books are most frequently petitioned for removal. The Color Purple and The Perks of Being a Wallflower often join And Tango Makes Three—the gay penguins book—on the list of most-challenged books due to their gay content, along with Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird SingsBecause these censorship attempts involved public libraries, they were obviously barred by the First Amendment. But it’s safe to assume that school libraries, which face less oversight and enjoy fewer free speech protections, are routinely pulling these books from their shelves.

July 10 2014 4:08 PM

Abusive Surveillance Is an LGBTQ Rights Issue

Barred from employment with the federal government. Considered mentally ill by the psychiatric profession. Seen as criminals under state laws. Subjected to invasive surveillance and targeting by the FBI. 

This hostile backdrop of the “Lavender Scare” in the 1950s gave rise to some of the earliest organized advocacy efforts on behalf of LGBTQ equality.

July 10 2014 2:46 PM

Transgender People Are Not Responsible for Educating You

Last month, Andrew Sullivan wrote a piece titled “Engaging the T,” in which he lamented how difficult it is to write about or discuss transgender topics. The article, which focuses on actress Laverne Cox’s disinterest in discussing which surgical procedures she’s had done, refers to trans people as “furious,” “touchy,” and “neurotic.” He includes lines like, “Sorry, Laverne. But if you’re out there explaining yourself, you’ve gotta explain all of it.” By “all of it,” Sullivan is referring to the intimate details of Cox’s body.

“Most people are just completely ignorant, and have never met or engaged a trans person, and so their misconceptions and misunderstandings are inevitable and not self-evidently a matter of bigotry or prejudice,” Sullivan rightly notes. “I think we should be understanding of this, as open as we can be, and answer the kinds of questions some might feel inappropriate or offensive. That’s the basis for dialogue, empathy, and progress.” There’s a problem with that second half, about how trans people should open up and answer the inappropriate questions: It completely ignores the fact that there’s already a wealth of information on trans people and their experiences available out there, information you’d already know about if you’d bothered to look.