Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

May 19 2015 1:34 PM

Did Justice Ginsburg Suggest the Supreme Court Will Rule in Favor of Same-Sex Marriage?

On Sunday, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg presided over the marriage of Michael Kahn, artistic director of the Shakespeare Theater Company, and his longtime partner, Charles Mitchem. Because Ginsburg is both a friend of the gays and a friend of the Shakespeare Theater Company, her role in the Kahn-Mitchem wedding was predictable. But, as Maureen Dowd noted in a winking New York Times report, the justice had a surprise up her sleeve:

With a sly look and special emphasis on the word “Constitution,” Justice Ginsburg said that she was pronouncing the two men married by the powers vested in her by the Constitution of the United States. No one was sure if she was emphasizing her own beliefs or giving a hint to the outcome of the case the Supreme Court is considering whether to decide if same-sex marriage is constitutional. But the guests began applauding loudly, delighted either way.

Was Ginsburg’s emphasis on the word “Constitution” really an implication that the Supreme Court will soon rule in favor of nationwide marriage equality? That seems to be an awfully big leap—but a number of outlets, including Time and Breitbart, quickly ran with the inference. By Monday, the National Review’s Ed Whelan grabbed ahold of the news and penned an acidic attack on Ginsburg, asserting that that “in violation of that obligation of impartiality, she has instead signaled at every turn how she will vote in the pending marriage cases and how she expects the Court’s majority to vote.”

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May 19 2015 7:59 AM

Jeb Bush Accidentally Made a Brilliant Argument Against Anti-Gay “Religious Liberty” Laws

Jeb Bush has an odd conception of liberty. As governor of Florida, Bush strongly opposed same-sex marriage, preferring to force committed gay couples to live as legal strangers with no ability to formally adopt their own children. As his presidential campaign warms up, though, Bush has taken a selectively expansive view of liberty. According to Bush, anti-gay business owners should have a legal right to refuse service to same-sex couples seeking to celebrate their relationship.

Bush’s support for anti-gay “religious liberty” laws are no surprise—unless you happen to have believed that silly BuzzFeed report that he would be “2016’s gay-friendly Republican.” What issurprising is that Bush framed his endorsement of such laws in a way that beautifully illustrates exactly why the usual argument for such laws is so fatuous. Take a look at his comment:

A big country, a tolerant country, ought to be able to figure out the difference between discriminating against someone because of their sexual orientation and not forcing someone to participate in a wedding that they find goes against their moral beliefs. This should not be that complicated. Gosh, it is right now.

At bottom, Bush is arguing that the law should differentiate between identity and conductHe believes the state may protect gays from discrimination because they’re gay (identity), but not because they’re celebrating a gay relationship (conduct). Unfortunately for Bush, this argument fails quite spectacularly in the wedding context, because homosexuality is an identity defined by its conduct. To be gay is to be attracted to, and maybe marry, someone of the same sex. There is no more fundamental way to discriminate against a gay person than to refuse to serve them based on the fact that they are marrying someone of the same sex. That conduct is implicit in the gay identity. And by refusing to serve a customer because of his relationship, a business owner is inherently discriminating against him on the basis of his identity.

May 18 2015 1:09 PM

Europe’s LGBTQ Iron Curtain

Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, and 10 years after the largest single expansion of the European Union, an Iron Curtain continues to divide Europe when it comes to LGBTQ rights.

As this year’s Rainbow Europe report (published annually by ILGA Europe, an umbrella organization for 422 European LGBTQ NGOs) demonstrates, the difference between the legal status of queer people in Western and Eastern Europe is stark. While the end of Soviet-style communism and the expansion of European Union membership has brought with it the freedoms of assembly, association, and expression that afford LGBTQ organizations a role in civil society that never existed before, queer Eastern Europeans continue to lack fundamental legal rights and protections when it comes to hate crimes and hate speech; the right to family life, including marriage and adoption; and gender recognition and bodily integrity.

May 18 2015 11:38 AM

Don’t Confuse Trans Women’s Assertiveness With “Male Energy” 

According to some Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists, trans women exhibit male entitlement through oppressive behaviors of dominance and misogyny, and by just generally continuing to be dicks. They're also pretty quick to define any assertive action by a trans woman as being evidence of “male energy” or entitlement.

That position has always hit a little too close to home for me. It's even caused me some shame and discomfort around my identity as a woman, given the fact that I'm not inclined to be polite and demure as some people would have women be. For a while, I just avoided thinking about it, but a recent personal attack has prompted me to unpack and process the life experiences that underpin my motivations as a trans activist.

May 13 2015 2:13 PM

African Leader Tells Gay Men: “I Will Slit Your Throat” 

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh—a dictator who came to power in a 1994 coup—is not a friend of the gays. In the past, Jammeh has called gays “vermin” that “we will fight,” described homosexuality as “evil, antihuman as well as anti-Allah,” and threatened to “cut off the head” of gays in Gambia. Last November, he signed a law that would impose a life sentence on anyone who has gay sex. His police force has been known to arrest Gambians suspected to be gay and threaten them with rape and torture.

It is no surprise, then, that Jammeh escalated his anti-gay rhetoric in a recent speech, making a vicious threat against every gay person who has dared to remain in Gambia. According to Vice News, Jammeh told a crowd:

If you do it [in the Gambia] I will slit your throat—if you are a man and want to marry another man in this country and we catch you, no one will ever set eyes on you again, and no white person can do anything about it.

Jammeh’s admonishment about throat-slitting is really par for the course at this point. What’s more interesting about his remark is the coda—the declaration that “no white person” can save Gambia’s gays. In a narrow sense, Jammeh was probably referring to the European Union’s decision to revoke about $14 million in aid last year in response to Gambia’s anti-gay brutality. (The EU is also considering blocking another aid package worth roughly $180 million this year, though Qatar, Kuwait, and Turkey have pledged to continue their assistance.) But in a broader sense, Jammeh was likely alluding to the idea—frequently pedaled by anti-gay African leaders—that gay equality is a Western fiction being foisted upon Africa by condescending neocolonialists.

May 12 2015 2:47 PM

Huzzah, Britain Now Has More Openly Queer Legislators Than Any Other Country

This isn’t a great moment to be a liberal in Britain. In last Thursday’s general election, our largest left-wing party was eviscerated, leaving the Conservative Party with enough of a majority to do pretty much whatever it wants over the next five years. (So far, this appears to be cutting disability benefitsscrapping the Human Rights Act, and bringing back foxhunting.)

But while the country now has the least progressive government it’s seen since the early ’90s, there are a few sources of liberal glee: Britain now has 191 female MPs, more than ever before, and the number of black and ethnic minority legislators jumped from 27 to 43. Oh, and somehow, fusty old Britain now holds the world record for LGBTQ political representation.

May 12 2015 2:13 PM

Cover Girl Don’t Cover Boy: A Transformative Conversation on Drag’s Role in Gay Culture.

It would be impossible to write about gay cultural practice—as I’ve done in my new long-form piece “What Was Gay?” which is live in Slate today—without discussing drag. The art of gay men transforming themselves with paint, wigs, and padding into a uniquely queer take on the feminine is as old as the identity group itself, and yet it has always been controversial, as anything that challenges the gender binary must inevitably be. Indeed, certain segments of the LGBTQ community reject the practice as a threat to gay masculinity or as a misogynistic affront to women; but I am of the school of thought that sees drag—and the critical thinking about self-presentation that it encourages—as foundational to a gay way of being in the world.

So with that in mind, I called on Outward contributor and drag artist Miz Cracker to join me for a discussion about gayness and drag’s place in it. And then we decided that if I wanted to talk seriously about drag, I’d better experience it for myself—an experience Cracker was more than happy to facilitate. No more Halloween-store facepaint for me ... this time, Fancy Peachtree, my very occasional drag persona, would receive a proper realization. I hope you enjoy meeting her as much as I did.  

May 12 2015 10:00 AM

Can a Lesbian Be a Queen? A Dialogue on Women and Gay Culture.


When it comes to a sweeping and multifaceted topic like “the history and future of gayness,” no single piece of writing can possibly cover everything. My new long-form piece “What Was Gay?” which is live on Slate today, is no exception. There are lots of points upon which I’d love to dwell and caveat-strewn tangents down which I would have skipped if my editors had allowed it—alas. However, there’s one omission in the article that can’t pass unaddressed: the lesbian experience. Female gayness is clearly a part of this story—and one that is too often erased—so its absence here, though logistically necessary, is a problem. In lieu of the 9000 further words it would have taken to do justice to that unique history and perspective, I asked my colleague June Thomas, a noted lesbian, to read the piece and respond with her Sapphic sisters in mind. What she said was not only illuminating, but also crucial to a proper understanding what gayness has meant across the queer community.



What follows is an edited, condensed version of our conversation; if you’d rather listen tothe gay and the lesbian gab out loud, consider joining Slate Plus, our membership program. Once a member you’ll have access to a number of extras related to my piece, including an audio version read by yours truly and a chat between my editor John Swansburg and myself about the making of the piece, as well as a regular stream of exciting Slate-y goodies each week.


May 12 2015 8:00 AM

That’s Gay? A Look at the Past, Present, and Future of Cultural Gayness.

Dear Outward readers,

A few months ago, I published a post here praising the bold gayness of Brendan Jordan, a wonderfully flamboyant young man who had vogued his way into Internet fame in the background of a local newscast. In the comments section of that post, a reader who identified as homosexual offered a striking distinction between his sexual orientation and gayness, a thing he felt that Jordan embodied and with which he did not want to be associated. “Homosexual actually feels more comfortable to me than gay,” he wrote.

It’s that division that I set out to explore in my new long-form project, “What Was Gay?,” which runs in Slate today. Embarking from the premise that, yes, not all homosexuals are culturally gay and that cultural gayness is on the wane, I track gayness from its origins in the late 19th century into the present and reflect on how that history has shaped my own experience as a gay man. From there, I try to reduce gayness to its core practices and ponder the question of who—ungrateful homosexual men aside—might best make use of them going forward.

I invite you, our treasured Outward readers, to check out the piece and to let me know your thoughts (TwitterFacebookemail). As you’ll see, so much of the inspiration for this project came from conversations on this blog, so it’s only appropriate that the discussion continue here.

Yours, in gayness,


May 8 2015 12:04 PM

On (Drag) Mother’s Day, Celebrating the Queens That Make Queens

In honor of Mother's Day 2014, Outward asked regular contributor Miz Cracker to offer some thoughts on "drag mothers," drag queens who take it upon themselves to mentor new girls in the skills of the artform. Here's what she had to say about her own mother, Bob TheDragQueen. 

When the folks at Hallmark design Mother’s Day cards, they probably aren’t picturing the 6-foot-8 Shaqille-O’Neal-in-heels that I call mom. My birth mother is easy to celebrate; but what about my “drag mother” Bob TheDragQueen? She is, after all, the one who found me when I was just a twink with a death wish and gave me a second chance through the power of glitter and lashes. On the eve of this Mother’s Day weekend, I’m choosing to celebrate the way that she saved me. And I'm celebrating all the other queens across America who use lipstick to rescue lost kids. I’m declaring this holiday Drag Mother’s Day, too.

I found drag the way I found most things in my 20s—by accident while drunk. I was staggering home through a blizzard one night when I spotted a very handsome oversized man hauling a very broken oversized bookshelf down the street. Never shy, I offered my help as an underhanded way of getting into his apartment. But once we had forced the battered bookcase through his doorframe, I found something far different from the illicit encounter I had anticipated. Every surface in this man’s home was strewn with a diva’s accessories, wigs and gowns draped across the threadbare furniture, glittering crowns and bras hanging from a dusty chandelier. In chasing yet another guy, I had stumbled upon a remarkable woman—my future drag mother, Bob.