Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Sept. 15 2016 3:56 PM

The Federal Government Just Outlawed LGBTQ Discrimination in Credit

The federal government just accomplished a decadeslong goal of LGBTQ advocates with a single letter.

Since 1974, progressives have sought to broaden federal civil rights laws’ ban on “sex discrimination” to encompass discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and what we today call gender identity. One key area where LGBTQ people need protection is credit—bank loans, mortgages, brokerage services, and the like. Now the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency, has declared that the Equal Credit Opportunity Act’s sex discrimination ban encompasses sexual orientation and gender identity. This guidance effectively prohibits creditors like banks, retailers, credit card companies, finance companies, and credit unions from engaging in anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

Sept. 13 2016 1:58 PM

A Close Reading of the North Carolina GOP’s Deranged Response to the NCAA

The NCAA pulled seven upcoming championship games out of North Carolina on Monday, citing “the cumulative actions taken by the state concerning civil rights protections.” Specifically, the NCAA expressed concern over HB2, a new state law that repeals local LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinances and excludes transgender people from certain bathrooms. The NCAA Board of Governors explained that its commitment to “fairness and inclusion,” as well as “gender equity,” compelled it to move the games to more tolerant states.

HB2 has already cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars and an NBA All-Star Game; the law also appears poised to drag its chief defender, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, right out of office. (A federal judge has also ruled that its application to the university system is illegal.) So the North Carolina GOP was understandably perturbed by the NCAA’s Monday decision, and it fired off a press release that falls somewhere between completely deranged and simply incoherent. From its deliberate ignorance about gender identity to its bizarre and offensive invocation of the Baylor rape scandal, the statement certainly requires some puzzling out. I have thus provided a line-by-line analysis of this most unusual press release in an attempt to better understand the North Carolina GOP’s grievances.

This is so absurd it’s almost comical. I genuinely look forward to the NCAA merging all men’s and women’s teams together as singular, unified, unisex teams.

This passage appears to imply that the NCAA is hypocritical for criticizing HB2 while maintaining gender-segregated teams. The logic, I suppose, is this: HB2 forbids transgender people from using any government bathroom that aligns with their gender identity; instead, they must use the bathroom that corresponds to their “biological sex”—the gender listed on their birth certificate. The law’s supporters, including McCrory, argue that HB2 is merely designed to keep men out of women’s bathrooms. So here, the GOP is essentially arguing that, by maintain gender-segregated teams, the NCAA is promoting the same notions of gender encoded by HB2.

There are two problems with this assertion—in addition to the fact that it is glib, fatuous, and plainly imbecilic. The first is that HB2 was not passed to forbid gender-neutral multi-stall bathrooms, because of course no municipalities were advocating for such reforms. In reality, the city of Charlotte passed a basic LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance allowing transgender people to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. Republican legislators promptly passed HB2 with the specific intent to repeal that ordinance. The canard that HB2 prevented gender-neutral group bathrooms is just inaccurate. It only prevented North Carolina’s (relatively small) transgender community from using public restrooms in peace.

Sept. 12 2016 3:57 PM

The Conviction Against Tyler Clementi’s Tormentor Deserved to Be Thrown Out

Tyler Clementi’s tormentor won a huge legal victory on Friday when a New Jersey appeals court tossed out his 2012 conviction for anti-gay intimidation. You remember the case: Dharun Ravi, Clementi’s roommate at Rutgers University, cruelly bullied the 18-year-old by secretly filming his intimate encounter with a man and then posting it on social media. After Clementi died by suicide, Ravi was tried and convicted for 15 criminal acts, including bias intimidation, a type of hate crime in New Jersey. But his conviction has now been fully overturned, because the New Jersey Supreme Court found the state’s bias intimidation law to be unconstitutional.

For Clementi’s family, this is surely a heartbreaking development. The man who indisputably harassed and persecuted their young son has seen his conviction thrown out, and although Ravi has already served his brief jail sentence, his legal vindication must seem to be a moral outrage. Yet a close examination of the New Jersey law under which Ravi was convicted demonstrates why Friday’s decision was so necessary: This dangerously vague statute threatened both due process and free expression in a profoundly misguided attempt to push New Jersey’s citizens toward tolerance.

Sept. 9 2016 9:34 AM

Don’t Dismiss Safe Spaces While Hate Still Thrives on Campus

I get it. I really do. Student activists sometimes make me uncomfortable, too. They can seem naïve, out-of-touch, or just plain silly. They make demands that overreach. They have ideas that seem outlandish. More than two genders. Bespoke pronouns. Intersectionality. And these kids are so earnest it makes sober, serious grown-ups who have given up our youthful illusions feel uncomfortable, if not downright inadequate. Trigger warnings. “Safe spaces.” What will they think of next?

Making fun of the political fumblings of teens and twentysomethings has replaced baseball as the national pastime. Unfortunately, all that fun can also have real consequences for students in the less fashionable parts of our country far from the Ivy League’s ivory towers. Places like Knoxville, Tennessee, where a Fox News crusade against gender-neutral pronouns led to the defunding of the University of Tennessee’s Pride Center. At UTK, a handful of students are now valiantly trying to keep LGBTQ outreach and education going in a climate of increasing tension and escalating acts of vandalism and hate speech.


Sept. 8 2016 2:05 PM

Lady Chablis, Star of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Has Sashayed Away

The Lady Chablis, a Savannah, Georgia-based performer best known for her appearance as herself in the 1997 Clint Eastwood film adaptation of John Berendt’s best-selling novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, died on Thursday. During her long career, she was perhaps second only to RuPaul in the national consciousness for her work in drag and nightlife entertainment, which she practiced primarily in the South. Though she personally abjured labels related to gender identity and sexual orientation (preferring to be known simply as Chablis or “the doll”), she should be counted as a pioneer for the queer community, particularly in her insistence on expressing gender as she saw fit.

Savannah’s Club One reported Chablis’ passing, noting that, while her bravery inspired many others to follow in her heel tracks, “no one … could outshine the Grand Empress herself.” The Facebook notice continued:

With the success of “The Book,” Chablis shot to stardom. She was a guest on Good Morning America, and was interviewed by Oprah. She insisted to USA Today that she would play herself in the movie—or there would not be one. She’d be the first to tell you that she stole the show in Clint Eastwood’s 1997 adaptation. Since then, thousands of visitors have come to Savannah, visiting the locations in The Book, and crowding into Club One to see her.


Sept. 6 2016 5:52 PM

Phyllis Schlafly’s Legacy of Anti-Gay Activism

While many obituaries for Phyllis Schlafly, who died Sept. 5 at the age of 92, have spotlighted her vital role in opposing the Equal Rights Amendment, she is also notable for having brought anti-gay activism to the center of the modern conservative movement. Before Anita Bryant launched Save Our Children, her 1977 campaign against gay rights, and before the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority issued its “Declaration of War” against homosexuality, Schlafly created much of the architecture for conservative anti-gay activism.

After the U.S. Senate passed the ERA in 1972, it turned the amendment over to the states for ratification. Both the Republican and Democratic parties endorsed the measure, and by 1973, 28 states had ratified it. The success of the ERA seemed all but assured until the ratification process stalled and then failed after meeting fierce resistance from a grass-roots coalition of anti-ERA activists led by Schlafly.

Sept. 6 2016 8:11 AM

Chely Wright, Who Lost Fans When She Came Out in 2010, Has a New Album and No Regrets

“Inside,” the opening track to Chely Wright’s new release, I Am the Rain, beckons listeners with its gentle undertow. It’s a meditative life-affirming lullaby that Wright wrote to herself as she prepared to come out back in 2010. “You are small, and you are big at the same time,” she sings, an acknowledgement of how powerful and how inconsequential that act can seem in the world. Her widely reported coming out, captured in the 2011 documentary Wish Me Away, was both liberating and immensely difficult for Wright, a major player in country music who was raised by conservative parents in Wellsville, Kansas.

“You have to have humility, right? You have to understand you are just a tiny fleck of dust,” says Wright, 45, seated in the tiny, dimly lit SiriusXM radio station’s green room in advance of doing interviews for two shows. “But you also have to understand that your actions can move a mountain, can change a life,” she adds.

Sept. 2 2016 4:04 PM

Texas Supreme Court Justice: States Can Deny Same-Sex Spousal Benefits to “Encourage Procreation”

On Friday, the Texas Supreme Court refused to review a lower court ruling holding that cities may not deprive married same-sex couples the benefits it provides to opposite-sex couples. The court’s decision leaves in place a pro-equality ruling that forbids the government from discriminating against gay people for no good reason. But one judge, Justice John Devine, argued that his court should have taken the case and reversed the lower court’s judgment. His opinion is an ominous sign that conservative judges are striving to work around Obergefell v. Hodges and affirm the constitutionality of state-sponsored anti-gay discrimination.

Devine is clearly no fan of Obergefell, and his dissent attempts to minimize that decision to an almost dishonest degree. “Marriage is a fundamental right,” Devine wrote. “Spousal benefits are not.” Devine insisted that Obergefell’s affirmation of same-sex couples’ constitutional right to wed does not preclude Texas from discriminating against married, same-sex couples in other ways. Obergefell, the justice argued, was strictly limited to gay people’s fundamental right to marry. So long as a state does not revoke that right, it can deprive same-sex couples of other benefits guaranteed to opposite-sex couples. Specifically, Devine wrote, the government can refuse to give spousal benefits to its gay employees because they are gay.

Sept. 2 2016 1:07 PM

Antibiotic-Resistant Gonorrhea Is on the Rise. Should Gay and Bi Men Be Concerned?

For many gay and bi men, it’s a perennial point of contention: Are “minor” sexually transmitted infections—like chlamydia or gonorrhea—a cause for serious concern or major behavior modification? They’re no fun, to be sure, and left untreated, they can cause problems more severe than a bit of burning or discharge. But then again, like many maladies we don’t irrationally stigmatize, they’re curable with a course of antibiotics, right?

For the most part they are. But a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, featured in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, found a significant rise in resistance to one of the drugs used to treat gonorrhea: azithromycin. Among the 5,093 samples taken from men who have sex with men (MSM), men who have sex with men and women (MSMW), and men who have sex with women (MSW), across 24 state and city health departments, the resistance to this drug has increased by more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014. To be clear, resistance starts out low; in practical terms, its risen from 0.6 percent of cases to 2.5 percent of cases. But it’s important to note that the report shows antibiotic-resistant strains of gonorrhea are more prevalent among men who have sex with men than other demographics. Is 2.5 percent something that gay and bi men should be worried about? I spoke to Dr. Robert D. Kirkcaldy at the CDC, who has spent the last six years researching gonorrhea resistance, to find out.

“This is not a new phenomenon, because since penicillin was introduced, this bug has mutated so rapidly that it’s developed this remarkable ability to develop resistance to each of the drugs that we’ve thrown at it,” Kirkcaldy explained. “What’s changing is that … we’re running out of new drugs. The antibiotic pipeline is dwindling, and the bug is developing resistance to the last line of treatment.”

The dual therapy used to treat gonorrhea, which has been recommended for use by the CDC since 2010, includes azithromycin and ceftriaxone. (Resistance to ceftriaxone is about 1 percent.) If an infection is resistant to one of these drugs, the other will work, though both drugs used in combination is the best way to combat the STI.

“Dual therapy is still highly effective,” Kirkcaldy assures, “but we’re starting to see trends that it’s quite possible in the next few years that if resistance of these two drugs emerges, then that could jeopardize our last recommended treatment for gonorrhea, and we could be left with treatments that don’t work for everybody.”

Drug resistance aside, STI infection rates, including for syphilis and chlamydia, have been increasing since 2006. With gonorrhea, there are more than 300,000 reported cases each year, and likely many more that are undetected or not reported. Between 2013 and 2014 alone, there was a 5.1 percent increase in transmission. Bugs spread quickly. So does resistance.

“A lot of these things that we’re seeing now in increasing rates and also resistance are the warning signs—they’re sort of the clouds that are starting to come together on the horizon, telling us that there is a perfect storm brewing,” Kirkcaldy said. “The question is what can be done and what are people willing to do now to prevent this brewing crisis?”

Screening is no doubt a crucial part of preventing a true crisis, and it’s important for sexually active gay and bi men, particularly those who are having condomless or “bareback” anal sex, to be tested for all STIs every three to six months. We also know that many STIs can be asymptomatic, so it’s possible to be infected and not know it. And it’s necessary to ask for the right kind of tests, namely throat and rectal swabs. A urine test alone may come out negative for gonorrhea because it’s living in the throat or rectum. Some health care providers may not include these additional tests unless requested, so it’s important to actively request the right care.

Kirkcaldy has a few more recommendations, even if they’re ones that some sexually active gay and bi men may not want to hear: condom use, abstinence, and reducing the number of one’s sexual partners. This flies in the face of the pleasure movement that we’re seeing, particularly among users of the HIV prevention strategy PrEP who choose to bareback. After dealing with HIV for 35 years, many gay and bi men associate sex with death, so such a movement can feel like something that we both need and deserve in spite of the other STIs.

Kirkcaldy also understands that there’s more to sex than fearing these infections, but he’s still practical when it comes to prevention and public health. “It’s important for people to have healthy sex lives and to enjoy their sex lives,” he explained, adding:

Obviously there’s a lot more to it than the absence of disease. There’s emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. But I think a part of sexual health, both emotional and physical, is also being free of disease. So being cognizant of the infections that can impact your sexual health and those of your partners still is important. Continuing to screen is an important component because at least that can catch it and prevent it from future partners, but what it doesn’t do is prevent people from getting it in the first place.

There’s a lot of truth to that, especially if one happens to run into an antibiotic-resistant strain. Unlike HIV in the 1980s and ’90s, though, gonorrhea is not a death sentence, which could account for the lack of worry within certain parts of the gay community. But what are the real health implications if an infection occurs? And are they severe enough to alter our sex lives?

Since gonorrhea can be silent, particularly in the throat or rectum, one may not experience symptoms—which to the selfish, may seem like good news. Still, it can be spread to other partners who may not be as lucky, particularly if they acquire a genital infection, where pain and discharge could be significant. Untreated, it can cause damage in the testicles and, in some cases, sterility. In rare instances, it can get into the blood stream and cause life-threatening infections in the joints, heart, or in very extreme instances, the brain. Untreated gonorrhea is also thought to help facilitate HIV transmission. In any case, it’s more severe than one might realize and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Although we don’t have any drugs to fall back on if the dual therapy becomes ineffective, several drug companies have stepped up and started clinical trials for new ones. However, it takes time for these to come to market, and it’s unclear if they’re even going to work. That’s why it’s important that we keep the current drugs as effective as possible for as long as possible. “These drugs are still effective,” Kirkcaldy said. “The sky is not falling right now, but there are a lot of warning signs both from the data about emerging resistance and the historical perspective—what we know about this bug.”

So if resistance in 2.5 percent of cases seems low, it is. But the speed and size of increase—again, about 300 percent in one year—is cause for concern. For comparsion, ciprofloxacin, a drug that was used to treat gonorrhea in the 2000s, saw an increase in resistance that grew from less than a one percent of cases to ten percent in under five years. “All we have to do is look back at history and see that for each of the drugs that have been used [for gonorrhea], it was only a matter of time before resistance to those drugs emerged. And it sometimes emerged really quickly,” Kirkcaldy says. “This bug is so unpredictable that it can happen within a few years.”

Sept. 1 2016 4:49 PM

Is It Ever OK to Cast a Cisgender Actor in a Transgender Role?

The announcement, earlier this week, that cisgender actor Matt Bomer will play a transgender woman in the movie Anything turned up the heat on a long-simmering debate about the ethics of casting trans roles. For some, Bomer’s new gig is a dispiriting continuation of the trend of cis people benefitting from increased public interest in transgender lives—and of cisgender writers and producers exploiting trans stories for prestige. And as trans actress and filmmaker Jen Richards pointed out in a devastating series of tweets, the problem isn’t just that producers give plum acting jobs (and juicy paychecks) to cis men rather than trans women; it’s that this kind of casting puts trans women in physical danger by perpetuating the myth that trans women are men in disguise—a key cause of “trans panic”-type violence.

Why do producers cast cis actors in trans roles? Transphobia is surely a factor, but the usual justification is that movies and TV shows need recognizable stars to attract an audience, and currently at least, no trans actor has enough box-office pull. A related case could be made that trans actors don’t yet have the experience to handle the demands of an above-the-title role—a self-perpetuating argument if ever there was one. What’s more, the transgender acting pool is still relatively small—after all, producers aren’t looking for just “a trans actor.” Characters have a specific age and ethnicity, and Laverne Cox, Jamie Clayton, Alexandra Billings, Candis Cayne, Jen Richards, Calpernica Addams, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, or one of the other relatively few out trans actresses might not fit the part.