Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Dec. 10 2014 12:30 PM

What’s It Like to Be Gay in Romania?

“Back in the 1990s, it was dangerous to even go to the pub,” Andreea Nastasa said, of queer life in Bucharest, Romania. While one or two venues were known to be gay-friendly, or at least places where queer people congregated, the authorities posed a problem. “We were all afraid of the police. If we saw them in their uniforms, we would just disappear.”

That’s because before 2001, queer Romanians’ public and private life was shaped by Article 200 of the country’s penal code. One of a number of socially conservative reforms introduced by Nicolae Ceaușescu in the late 1960s, Article 200 made “sexual relations between persons of the same sex” punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. In 1996, the section was revised to prohibit only acts “committed in public or producing a public scandal.”

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Dec. 10 2014 8:30 AM

FDA Panel Endorses Lifetime Ban on Gay Blood Donation, Suggests Gay Men Are Diseased Liars

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration’s Blood Products Advisory Panel met to discuss lifting the government’s 31-year-old ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men. Currently, any man who has had sexual contact with another man since 1977—even once, even using condoms—is barred for life from donating blood. The ban was instituted in 1983 in the early days of the AIDS crisis, when HIV testing was still rudimentary. It hasn’t been altered since.

There was some hope that the panel might support a policy recently endorsed by a nearly unanimous Department of Health and Human Services panel, which would allow gay men to donate blood if they’d been celibate for one year. But even that half-measure appeared to be too much for the panel, which closed its discussion without taking a formal vote. (The panel itself can’t make rules, but the FDA takes its suggestions very seriously when issuing guidelines.)

Dec. 9 2014 2:13 PM

Hunting for Community: Daddyhunt’s Carl Sandler on the Future of Apps

Carl Sandler wants guys to get laid—especially older guys. But he wants more for them, too. He wants them to be physically healthy and emotionally happy, to make fulfilling connections that may include sex but that don’t necessarily stop there. As CEO of DH Services, the company behind the Daddyhunt website and app aimed at mature men and the guys who love them, as well as the more widely targeted app Mister, Sandler—a handsome, grinning fella in his 40s—believes the so-called “hookup apps” can do more than just coordinate quickies. To his mind, apps like his—and even competitors like Grindr, Scruff, and Jack’d—have the potential to educate, provide support, and facilitate new and better modes of gay social interaction. In fact, he’ll go so far as to suggest they may have the power to reinvigorate a seemingly old-fashioned concept: gay community. We talked about these and other issues on the eve of the launch of the standalone version of the Daddyhunt app.

Dec. 9 2014 10:24 AM

The DOJ’s New Profiling Guidance Is LGBTQ-Inclusive, Still Inadequate

“Hands up, don’t shoot!” “We can’t breathe!” Against the backdrop of a national, youth-led movement demanding reform of a system of policing that too often approaches communities of color like an occupying force, on Monday the Department of Justice released updated profiling guidance for federal law enforcement agencies. The guidance is explicitly inclusive of both sexual orientation and gender identity—an aspect that is of critical importance given the far too frequent experiences of LGBTQ people, particularly LGBTQ people of color, with profiling and targeting by law enforcement. Unfortunately, the guidance as a whole—while taking some praiseworthy steps forward—is not an adequate response to the crisis of racial profiling in America.

From the police raids and harassment that sparked the modern LGBTQ rights movement at the Stonewall Inn to modern-day unlawful sting operations targeting gay and bisexual men and transgender women as sex workers, the harms of ineffective, un-American profiling are of clear concern and importance to the LGBTQ community.

Dec. 8 2014 4:13 PM

Regarding Susan Sontag Turns the Critical Gaze on the Critic

Pursuing a master’s degree in criticism, as I did, is to willingly submit oneself to a crash-course in inadequacy. You go in thinking you have ideas—big ones; good ones, even—about art or culture or whatever, and you likely possess the necessary arrogance to believe that the world needs to hear them. And then you run into a figure like Susan Sontag, and all that intellectual bravado turns to mush. Reading classic, genre-defining work like “Against Interpretation,” On Photography, or evenmy personal nemesis, “Notes on Camp,” is enlightening and instructive, obviously; but damn if each of Sontag’s sentences, somehow Japanese in their stylized precision, don’t seem to undercut your own—samurai blades against soft, undisciplined flesh. 

Ten years after her death, Sontag’s supreme writerly confidence remains both an inspiration and a terror to would-be critics and public intellectuals, and for good reason—she was the embodiment of a certain school of serious, morally committed, iconoclastic, and often deliciously haughty 20th-century criticism. And yet, as Nancy Kates’ arresting documentary Regarding Susan Sontagdemonstrates, much of that swagger was a carefully (and wisely, for a woman in a man’s trade) crafted façade, behind which lived and wrote a person who, despite the kind of career most writers can only dream about, felt as inadequate as the rest of us.

Dec. 5 2014 3:25 PM

Should You Speak Up When Someone Makes a Gay Slur at a Memorial Service?

Since his death on Nov. 23, Washingtonians have continued to mourn the passing of Marion Barry, Washington, D.C.’s idiosyncratic four-term mayor and longtime city councilmember. Earlier this week, a group of Barry’s colleagues and supporters held a small public memorial service on the steps of the mayor’s office. But remembering Barry’s life was suddenly sidetracked when the event’s emcee unexpectedly spouted homophobic and sexist sentiments. Some prominent event participants are now taking flack for not intervening. But when is it appropriate to confront a person who unleashes offensive speech?

During Barry’s memorial, Al-Malik Farrakhan—a local gang-rehabilitation advocate and the event’s emcee—urged ex-offenders to develop a political agenda. (So far, so good.) Then Farrakhan chose to emphasize his point by telling ex-offenders to “stop acting like faggots” and “prostrating themselves like females.” Whoa. At that moment, City Councilmember Vincent Orange and other participants were standing behind Farrakhan, seemingly unfazed by the homophobic and sexist remarks. (Orange has since condemned them.) Now many are questioning why Orange didn’t immediately step in.

Dec. 5 2014 7:00 AM

Twenty-One Attempts at Swallowing Truvada


Here’s a relevant scene (and one that’s not uncommon in this, the Year of the Pill):

A group of youngish gay men—urban, professional, culturally and politically savvy—stand together on a roof deck. Glowing office towers provide most of the light (cloud-moistened white mixed with electric blues and greens), in which the men struggle to balance plates, cups, napkins, and wit with some semblance of grace. It is the point of a summer night at which cocktail recipes necessarily become more inventive, and friendly intimacy more readily assumed.

At one corner of the platform, the conversation has turned—how could it not?—to Truvada, a drug originally designed for HIV treatment, which, since its FDA approval for the use in 2012, is increasingly being prescribed as “pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).” Research suggests that taking the pill daily affords almost total protection against contracting the virus.

Did you read that piece? Was it hard for your friend to get a prescription? [Insert ironic #TruvadaWhore quip] Does he really think everyone should be on it? Aren’t there side-effects? Well, that other piece said …

And then the scene becomes a bit more unusual.

As one man wonders aloud about Big Pharma and American pill culture, another man, as yet unintroduced, approaches and demands to know if we are “against” Truvada. No one gathered is against anything, we assure him, but some of us have concerns, most of which lie in the realm of marketing rather than medicine. But the interloper, suddenly irate, is not much interested in nuance: We are prudes, we are told, suffering from some kind of anti-sex indoctrination. We want to invade gay men’s bedrooms to forcibly prohibit them from bare-backing, which is how liberated people have sex. We are internally homophobic, serophobic collaborators who want to curtail pleasure and encourage shame. Because we have reservations about Truvada’s possible impact on the gay community, we are reactionary cretins, Anita Bryant-like in our refusal to embrace real gay intimacy. Oh, and drug-resistant gonorrhea isn’t real.

Thoughts in the cab home: People are rude. Gonorrhea trutherism is apparently happening. This Truvada thing is way bigger than a pill.

Dec. 4 2014 10:56 AM

A Queen Gets Her Own Royal Archive

Back in October, Outward ran a piece from Stephen Vider on the opening credits for Transparent, the critically acclaimed Amazon show that follows the story of Maura (an older transgender woman) and her coming-out process. Vider unearthed a wonderful bit of queer history hiding in the frames: Segments from The Queen, a seminal but largely unseen documentary about drag queens and trans people from 1968, were cut into the montage, helping it show “how trans identities and communities have evolved, both in the decades since the documentary’s release and over the years of Maura’s life.” In the piece, Vider also wrote about the main force behind The Queen, Flawless Sabrina (aka Jack Doroshow), who ran the groundbreaking pageant documented in the film.

Vider’s coverage necessarily focused on that particular aspect of Flawless’ life, but the queen has been far from quiet since The Queen. As Zackary Drucker, an associate producer on Transparent and “grandchild” of Flawless’, points out in an ongoing Kickstarter project to archive her grandmother’s “lifework,”Flawless “is a living legend in the queer community who has worked tirelessly for decades shaping culture to be safer for LGBT people.”

Dec. 3 2014 5:47 PM

A Win for Transgender Students You May Have Missed

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education released a long-awaited, much-needed guidance document for elementary and secondary schools that offer or want to offer single-sex classes.

Included within the document was an important protection for transgender students that should not be overlooked. The guidance states clearly that transgender students must be allowed to participate in single-sex classes consistent with their gender identity. (In other words, consistent with who they are.) This latest positive breakthrough builds on guidance released earlier this year that made it explicitly clear, for the first time, that Title IX extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity.

The need for this clarifying direction to schools across the country could not have been clearer.

As the ACLU has repeatedly documented, and fought, far too many single-sex programs are based on discredited “science” that is rooted in outdated and harmful gender stereotypes. For example, teachers have been instructed that girls should not have time limits on tests because, unlike boys, girls' brains cannot function well under these conditions. On the flip side, teachers have been told to firmly discipline boys who like to read, do not enjoy contact sports, and do not have a lot of close male friends by requiring them to spend time with “normal males” and to play sports.

These kinds of sweeping generalizations are especially harmful to students who do not conform to rigid gender stereotypes, including LGBTQ students. Indeed, such generalizations and stereotypes are precisely the sort of discrimination that Title IX was intended to eliminate more than four decades ago, and they should have no place in our public education system today. The guidance released on Monday is clear that schools cannot rely on these kinds of harmful stereotypes.

These recent actions from the Department of Education are important steps forward, but there is still more to do. The Department of Education should release comprehensive guidance for schools nationwide explaining how Title IX protects transgender and gender nonconforming students from discrimination and what steps schools need to take to be in compliance with the law and meet their obligations to these students.

All students deserve the opportunity to attend school free from discrimination because of who they are, including stereotypes about how “normal” boys and girls learn.

Dec. 3 2014 11:00 AM

British Government, Terrified of Female Sexuality, Is Censoring Bondage Porn

On Tuesday, the British government quietly banned a slew of sex acts from pornography produced in the United Kingdom and sold online. (The ban already applied to porn sold on DVDs.) Among the acts now illegal to depict in on-demand Internet porn: spanking, caning, aggressive whipping, penetration by any object “associated with violence,” physical or verbal abuse (consensual or not), urination in sexual contexts, female ejaculation, strangulation, face-sitting, and fisting (if all knuckles are inserted).

The Independent, Jezebel, and Vice UK call this list arbitrary. But there’s rarely anything arbitrary about censorship: As a rule, censors aim to stifle the ideascontained in objectionable expression, hoping to muffle the message behind it. Here, the British government has claimed that its new law is designed to protect children and performers. But Parliament’s true intent is almost comically obvious—to suppress expression that promotes kinky sex and female dominance.