Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

March 9 2017 6:08 PM

Wyoming Supreme Court Disciplines Judge Who Refused to Perform Same-Sex Marriages

On Tuesday, the Wyoming Supreme Court issued a 3–2 decision disciplining Judge Ruth Neely for her refusal to perform same-sex marriages. Neely, who serves as a municipal court judge and part-time circuit court magistrate but has no formal legal training, holds the authority under state law to marry any qualified couples. But Neely informed the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee in 2015 that she will only marry opposite-sex couples. As she explained:

Without getting in too deeply here, homosexuality is a named sin in the Bible, as are drunkenness, thievery, lying, and the like. I can no more officiate at a same sex wedding than I can buy beer for the alcoholic or aid in another person’s deceit. I cannot knowingly be complicit in another’s sin.

Neely had previously informed a local newspaper that she “will not be able to” perform same-sex weddings. The paper printed her remarks. Shortly thereafter, the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics opened an investigation and concluded that Neely had violated the Wyoming Code of Judicial Conduct, recommending that she be removed from her judicial positions. Neely appealed to the state Supreme Court, arguing that she had not violated judicial ethics—and that even if she had, the Wyoming and United States Constitutions protected her from punishment.

March 9 2017 1:33 PM

The Bathroom Predator Myth Just Defeated Transgender Rights in New Hampshire

On Thursday, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted to table a bill that would’ve prohibited discrimination against transgender people across the state. The measure had passed out of committee by a 15–2 vote with strong bipartisan support. But after the committee vote, anti-trans activists flooded legislators with emails, letters, and phone calls urging them to oppose the bill. Thursday’s 187–179 vote will likely kill the measure for the remainder of the legislative session.

Why did so many legislators, most of them Republicans, suddenly decide to sink the bill? Before the vote, everything had gone smoothly: The committee held hours of testimony during which transgender New Hampshire residents explained how discrimination had personally harmed them and their families. Multiple Republicans (along with most Democrats) enthusiastically endorsed the measure. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu declined to oppose it, suggesting he might sign it if it passed with sufficient support. And the arguments against it were weak: 20 other states and the District of Columbia bar gender identity discrimination and have no difficulty enforcing the law. (New Hampshire is the lone New England state to lack trans protections.)

March 9 2017 9:24 AM

HIV Criminalization Is Detrimental to Public Health. It’s Time for the Law to Catch Up.

It was in the summer of 2015 that then–23-year-old Michael Johnson was sentenced to 30 years in prison for transmitting HIV. Since 1988, his home state of Missouri has imposed harsh penalties for what prosecutors call “reckless infection,” and it’s hardly alone: Most states have, at some time, prosecuted people for transmitting the virus. But those prosecutions may soon come to an end.

Laws that establish HIV-specific crimes date back to the dark years of the epidemic: “Everyone detected with AIDS should be tattooed in the upper forearm, to protect common-needle users,” wrote William F. Buckley Jr. in the New York Times in 1986, “and on the buttocks, to prevent the victimization of other homosexuals.” At the time, hysteria over AIDS produced a national wave of stigmatizing laws—laws that have now been shown to have worsened the epidemic.

March 7 2017 4:00 PM

The Research on Minority Stress and Gay Men Shows “Loneliness”—but Also Resilience

In the days since its publication last week, Michael Hobbes’ article “Together Alone: The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness” has made such as splash that I’m hard pressed to find someone in the queer community who hasn’t at least heard about it. Its account of the psychological challenges faced by gay men—in many ways the most privileged segment of the larger LGBTQ community—in spite of years of progress toward legal and institutional equality struck a chord with many who have experienced or witnessed these struggles in our own circles. But what really seemed to catch people’s attention was Hobbes’ use of scientific research to look at gay “loneliness”—and the various mental health issues he conflates under that word—as a structural problem.

March 7 2017 8:37 AM

No, Gay and Trans Audiences Are Not “Failing Their Movement” for Ignoring When We Rise

Did you watch Dustin Lance Black’s much-promoted, little-loved LGBTQ civil rights miniseries When We Rise on ABC last week? No? Then you are part of the problem.

March 6 2017 5:29 PM

Gay Loneliness Is Real—but “Bitchy, Toxic” Culture Isn’t the Full Story

If you are gay or know many gays, chances are you saw “Together Alone,” Michael Hobbes’ longform essay on what he calls an “epidemic of gay loneliness,” show up in your feeds late last week. After seeing the article shared approvingly by many friends, I skimmed and dutifully posted it myself. It’s unsettling, full of resonant descriptions of isolation, drug addiction, and self-hatred among gay men; and it’s ambitious in its attempt to name, outline the contours of, and prescribe solutions for what it argues is a cultural and social crisis among gay men hovering between youth and middle age. But later, as I read the article more closely, I began to feel uneasy.

March 6 2017 11:09 AM

Supreme Court Punts on Transgender Rights Case in Light of Trump Administration Reversal

On Monday, the Supreme Court punted on a key transgender rights case, leaving the issue of trans bathroom access in federally funded schools unsettled for the near future. Its dodge marks a sad anticlimax for the plaintiff, Gavin Grimm, who is currently a senior and who will now have to use a converted utility closet as a bathroom for the remainder of his high school days. Unfortunately, the sidestep may also indicate that there simply are not five votes on the current court to support a reading of existing law that compels trans bathroom access, at least in education.

Grimm’s case arose after his Virginia school board enacted a rule specifically designed to bar him from the boys’ bathroom—which he had theretofore used without incident. (Although Grimm was assigned female at birth, he has medically transitioned to male, and the state of Virginia recognizes him as a man.) Grimm sued the school board under Title IX, which bars sex discrimination in federally funded schools, insisting that this prohibition encompasses gender identity discrimination. The Obama administration issued guidance to that effect, which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit relied upon in ruling against the school board and affirming Grimm’s right to use the correct bathroom.

Shortly before the election, the Supreme Court agreed to review the 4th Circuit’s decision, focusing on whether the lower court was correct to defer to the Obama administration’s guidance with regard to restroom facilities and gender identity. Since then, of course, the anti-trans Trump administration has come to power—and in February, it revoked the Obama-era guidance protecting trans students. Attorneys for both the school board and Grimm, however, urged the justices to move forward with the case anyway, leaving aside the deference question and instead ruling whether the plain text of Title IX forbids anti-trans discrimination.

March 3 2017 6:57 PM

When We Rise Is a Mess. But Maybe It’s the Mess We Need?

“This is what it feels like to do something new, OK?” scolds Cleve Jones, the legendary LGBTQ and labor activist, in the final installment of ABC’s four-part miniseries When We Rise, which airs Friday. “It’s lonely, and it’s tough, and nobody believes in you until after you’ve succeeded. You need to learn that.”

March 3 2017 4:07 PM

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s Transgender Rights Brief Is a Trenchant History Lesson

Scores of civil rights groups filed amicus briefs this week in Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., a key transgender rights case at the Supreme Court. The case involves Gavin Grimm, a transgender high school student who sued his school board after it prohibited him from using the boys’ bathroom. Grimm asserts that Title IX’s prohibition on “sex discrimination” in education guarantees him access to the facilities that align with his gender identity. Many of the amicus briefs filed on his behalf cogently explain why Title IX must be read to forbid sex stereotyping and discrimination on the basis of transgender status.

But one brief, filed by the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, together with the Columbia Law School Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic and the law firm Stris & Maher, tackles a somewhat different topic: The vile history of bathroom segregation in the United States. As the brief explains in its opening passage, “there is a lengthy and troubling history of state actors using public restrooms and similar shared spaces to sow division and instill subordination.”

Not so long ago, bathrooms nationwide were designated “Colored Only” and “Whites Only.” A key lesson of that painful and ignoble era is that while private-space barriers like racially segregated bathrooms may have seemed to some like minor inconveniences or insignificant sources of embarrassment, they were in fact a source of profound indignity that inflicted deep and indelible harms on individuals of both races, and society at large. This disreputable tradition of state and local governments enshrining fear or hostility toward a disfavored group of people into laws requiring their physical separation from others should encourage this Court to view with skepticism the rationales proffered by local officials here.

March 1 2017 5:32 PM

Watching Moonlight Win in Mexico

About ten years ago, I swore to myself I would never return to my own country. Visiting some friends in Mexico after many years away, I listened as they repeatedly used the word puto, a gay slur, like it was a disease: No seas puto (don’t be a fag), they said. I was just coming to terms with being gay myself, and suddenly the message seemed clear: To be gay in Mexico, in a culture that values macho masculinity, was anathema. I decided there and then I could never return to Mexico. Being Latino and queer simply couldn’t work—it was one or the other.

It was surprising, then, when I found myself in Mexico City on Sunday night, in a room full of gay friends, watching a very gay film win a very big, gay, shiny award. Envelope snafu aside, Moonlight’s Oscar triumph was an incredibly affirming moment for many in the LGBTQ community, myself included. But not just because it was a film about growing up gay—there have been many highly-regarded films about that before (though, to be sure, none have won Best Picture). More important, it was affirming because Moonlight was about growing up gay and Black. As Rush Limbaugh so eloquently pointed out on Monday, Hollywood really “went for a twofer.”

We live in a world of built on simple oppositions: male or female; gay or straight; black or white. Cultural norms want us to fit easily into these categories because they are easier to understand, and often, oppress. In the world of Moonlight’s protagonist Chiron, being anything other than hyper masculine is downright dangerous: Being Black and gay is unthinkable. But the truth is that life is more complicated, more confusing. Moonlight shows us that you can be a drug dealer and a father figure. That a film can be about domestic abuse, and also be operatic. And as far as being African American and queer, director Barry Jenkins’ story shows us that it is possible, beautiful even, to be both.