Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

April 13 2017 4:36 PM

Is It Fair to Consider Richard Simmons a “Gay Icon?”

"I went to dinner with him once," Dan Taberski recalled, chatting with me about his friend Richard Simmons. "He got up to go to the bathroom, and we were wondering—'what happened to Richard? Where did Richard go?' And we see people jumping up and down outside the window of the restaurant. We realized he's outside the restaurant making people exercise."

Those were the good old days, before Simmons abruptly retreated to his mansion in late 2013 and proceeded to cut off contact with almost everyone he knew, issuing only sporadic public messages since. It was an abrupt change for a man who was once a perpetual motion machine and a magnet for attention. Taberski, a longtime friend, was flummoxed. A producer who worked on The Daily Show and directed the documentary These Cocksucking Tears about gay country singer Patrick Haggerty, Taberski had been talking to Simmons about making a documentary about Slimmons, the Beverly Hills exercise studio notorious for frantic workouts that were part-burlesque, part-therapy.

"It's incredible," said Taberski of the studio. "It's like a class? Cabaret? Body burlesque? He screams and he's loud and hilarious and super foul mouthed." And, Taberski added, "his class is super gay."

April 13 2017 3:29 PM

Meet the Puppy-Hating, Lincoln-Bashing Legislators Trying to Reverse Marriage Equality in North Carolina

Good afternoon! On Tuesday, three Republican legislators in North Carolina filed a bill to outlaw same-sex marriage in the state by nullifying the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. Their effort received a great deal of press—which was the whole point, since the measure is an overt stunt with no chance of passing. Indeed, the ultra-conservative House Speaker Tim Moore has already killed the bill, an uncharacteristically rational response to the fact that even if the measure somehow passed, it would promptly be blocked in court.

What kind of person, you might wonder, would waste their time and energy on a legislative proposal that is both deeply stupid and obviously doomed? I asked the same question, and discovered that the three representatives behind the North Carolina Nullification Non-Crisis are fabulously colorful people. Here are some of their most noteworthy insights and achievements.

1. Rep. Larry Pittman: The Lincoln-Bashing Communist Hunter

Pittman is an active participant in lively online debates regarding his preferred legislation. On Wednesday, he waded into a Facebook thread after one commentator urged him to move on from the marriage equality battle.

“And if Hitler had won, should the world just get over it?” Pittman responded. “Lincoln was the same sort if (sic) tyrant, and personally responsible for the deaths of over 800,000 Americans in a war that was unnecessary and unconstitutional.”

April 12 2017 12:28 PM

If the NCAA Won’t Boycott North Carolina’s New Anti-LGBTQ Law, College Athletes Should

Over 100 student athletes have called on the NCAA to continue boycotting North Carolina after the state failed to take a stand against anti-LGBTQ discrimination in its handling of the so-called repeal of House Bill 2.

The collegiate sporting league announced last week that it would allow the Tar Heel State to host March Madness games once more after lawmakers struck a deal to overturn HB 2. That 2016 law barred transgender people from using public restrooms that correspond with their gender identity and nullified municipal LGBTQ non-discrimination protections in the state. The NCAA had warned that the state could forfeit championship games until 2022 if HB 2 were not overturned by the end of March, but the signatories and critics point out that the so-called compromise changes nothing. Cities won’t be able to pass new regulations to protect LGBTQ public accommodations until 2020, and the state will remain in charge of bathroom access in K-12 schools indefinitely. That’s extremely bad news for trans students.

April 11 2017 3:01 PM

Army Secretary Nominee Mark Green’s Anti-LGBTQ Bigotry Is Only the Start of His Disqualifications

In the days just before and after the White House announced the nomination of Mark Green as Army Secretary on Friday, progressive advocates (including me) condemned the Tennessee state senator’s extremism in pushing draconian laws that require or allow discrimination against LGBTQ people.

It turns out that the Tea Party favorite’s anti-LGBTQ views just scratch the surface of his divisiveness and bigotry. Taken together, his ignorance and his intolerance of everyone from Muslims to Latinos to gay and transgender Americans should quickly disqualify him from a senior post in a military that must mold millions of Americans of countless backgrounds into a cohesive fighting force. Indeed, Green’s political ambitions reveal a full-scale messianic complex that manifests itself as a dangerous willingness to exploit the military to advance an unvarnished view of straight, white Christian supremacy.

April 11 2017 11:28 AM

S-Town Was Great—Until It Forced a Messy Queer Experience Into a Tidy Straight Frame

Warning: This post contains spoilers for S-Town.

S-Town, the gorgeous new podcast from the creators of Serial and This American Life, sells itself as a murder mystery. John B. McLemore, a brilliant clock-restoring eccentric living in rural Alabama, contacts radio producer Brian Reed with a tantalizing tip: A youth from his small “shit town” has been murdered, he believes, and local officials and a prominent family may be working to cover it up. After a long correspondence, Reed finally heads down south to check things out; but his investigations into local crime eventually lead him to take on another case—that of McLemore himself.

April 8 2017 1:45 PM

Judge Pens Poignant Tribute to Trans Teen Gavin Grimm, a “Modern-Day Human Rights Leader”

On Friday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a preliminary injunction that had allowed Gavin Grimm, a transgender teenager in Gloucester County, Virginia, to use the boys’ bathroom at his high school. That injunction was issued in response to the 4th Circuit’s determination in 2016 that, under guidelines promulgated by the Obama administration, schools must let trans students use the correct bathroom. But in February, the Trump administration revoked that guidance. That turnabout led the Supreme Court to vacate the 4th Circuit’s landmark decision. With that precedent wiped off the books, the 4th Circuit was compelled, in turn, to vacate the injunction. Grimm will finish out his senior year without being able to use the boys’ bathroom.

These developments were expected: With the Obama guidance gone, Grimm will have to re-litigate his case using a different legal theory. What wasn’t unexpected, however, was the incredibly poignant four-page concurrence to Friday’s order written by Judge Andre Davis and joined by Judge Henry Floyd. Davis and Floyd ruled in favor of Grimm last year, and they were clearly disturbed by the discrimination Grimm faced. Davis explained that “G.G.”—identified by his initials because he is a minor—defended his right to “dignity and privacy” at a school board meeting and explained “clearly and eloquently” that “he was not a predator, but a boy, despite the fact that he did not conform to some people’s idea about who is a boy.

“He knew,” Davis wrote, “intuitively, what the law has in recent decades acknowledged: the perpetuation of stereotypes is one of many forms of invidious discrimination. And so he hoped that his heartfelt explanation would help the powerful adults in his community come to understand what his adolescent peers already did.”

April 7 2017 5:13 PM

Nebraska Supreme Court: Ban on Gay Foster Parents Is Indistinguishable From a “Whites Only” Sign

In 1995, Nebraska issued the notorious Memo 1-95, which prohibited same-sex couples from fostering children. The policy effectively barred same-sex couples from adopting children as well; under state law, individuals may adopt kids from state care only if they have first been licensed as foster parents—which Memo 1-95 made impossible for “persons who identify themselves as homosexuals.” In 2013, three same-sex couples filed a lawsuit alleging that the ban violated of their constitutional rights. They won in 2015 when a district court found that Memo 1-95 violated the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of equal protection and due process. Nebraska appealed to the state Supreme Court. It didn’t attempt to defend its ban on constitutional grounds. Instead, it argued that the three couples did not have standing to sue because they hadn’t yet been denied foster care licenses.

On Friday, the Nebraska Supreme Court unanimously rejected the state’s appeal, affirming the lower court decision invalidating Memo 1-95. In his remarkable opinion for the court, Chief Justice John Wright spoke eloquently about the dignitary harms same-sex couples suffer knowing that the state formally bars them from fostering children. It is immaterial, Wright explained, that the state enforces Memo 1-95 only sporadically; same-sex couples suffer a constitutional harm from the mere knowledge that it constitutes official state policy.

“The harm the plaintiffs wish to avoid is not just the possible, ultimate inability to foster state wards,” Wright wrote:

April 7 2017 4:42 PM

In Memory of Sweetie: a Consummate Queen From Before Drag Was Cool

Last week, queer nightlife folks from across New York crowded into the back of a Lower East Side restaurant to remember the life of Sweetie, a drag queen whose filthy one-liners, unparalleled lip synch, and maternal nature made her a fixture around town for nearly three decades. Sweetie died on March 28, at the age of 51, after a long battle with cancer.

Standing before an enormous bouquet of white roses, family and friends offered irreverent elegies for Sweetie. They laughed at her dirty catchphrases (“Before you stick it in, please spit on it.”) and her shocking Craigslist adventures. They recalled her penchant for mentoring lost queer kids and admired her determination to take the stage even as her health declined. But as they mourned the loss of a loved one, they also seemed to mourn the era she embodied: a semi-mythical moment when queens put on big shows without the promise of big fame or big money.

When I first saw Sweetie in 2015, she was lip-synching a sad, slow ballad in a gilded and grand but crumbling playhouse on the Upper West Side. Everything about the performance and its context spoke of faded glory, from the smell of the empty theater’s threadbare velvet seats to Sweetie’s choice of music. As a young queen accustomed to a post-RuPaul drag world anchored in synth beats, sleek gay bars, strobe lights and jump splits, I should have been bored by Sweetie’s old-fashioned style. And yet she drew me in. She performed not as if she were commenting on the ballad but as if she were its originator. And she performed with intensity and focus, as if she stood before a full crowd, rather than few bachelorette partiers. I immediately understood why Sweetie seemed destined to take a place as one of drag’s greatest lionesses.

And yet Sweetie didn’t come to New York City with dreams of becoming a drag queen. Why would she? When she arrived in town at 19 in the late ’80s to pursue acting, drag was not the magnet for young people that it is now—hardly a mainstream event, it remained confined to a few gay spaces and select gay audiences. And, in her own recollection, Sweetie was a sexually “shut down” young man at the time, scared to face gayness and gay culture and very much absorbed in the theater scene, which whisked her around on national tours. So it wasn’t until Sweetie quit touring and moved in with a friend (soon to be known as the queen Faux Pas) on the Lower East Side in 1990 that she began to think seriously about the underground world of drag.

April 6 2017 12:28 PM

Federal Judge Rules That the Fair Housing Act Protects LGBTQ People

On Wednesday, just one day after the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bars anti-gay employment discrimination, a federal court has found that the Fair Housing Act also protects LGBTQ people. In a concise ruling, U.S. District Judge Raymond P. Moore concluded that the FHA’s ban on sex discrimination prohibited discrimination against a same-sex couple, one of whom is trans. His decision marks the first time a federal court has applied the FHA to anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

April 5 2017 6:42 PM

Talk Show the Game Show Finally Drags Both Genres Out of the Closet

On one of the first episodes of gay comedian Guy Branum's new TruTV series, Talk Show the Game Show, actor-comedian Scott Adsit emerges cautiously from behind a curtain to sit next to the host on what looks like a traditional late-night talk show set. Branum, presiding from a desk festooned with kitschy mid-century props, frowns at him.

“Do you feel like you understand what's going on here?” is Branum's opening question.

“Nope,” Scott says, eyes wide and limbs tangled in what a therapist might call a “closed-off posture.”

“That's reasonable,” Branum informs him. “I want you to live in that uncertainty.” And then the games begin.