Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Nov. 19 2015 10:30 AM

The Watchful Eyes of Carol

The glance of recognition. The glare of suspicion. If one wanted to reduce the queer experience to its most basic and universal components, the profound necessity of looking—for each other in a sea of straightness and for signs of hostility in that same mass—would have to be high on the list. Queer people are forced to become experts at looking in order to locate opportunities for romantic or communal connections (our identities are not necessarily visible), as well as to ensure our own safety (because sometimes they are). We are always scanning our surroundings, always taking stock of the scene, always aware of ourselves in relation to others—whether we’d like to be or not.

When I say that Carol, the rapturous new Todd Haynes period piece based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, is the best queer film I have seen this year (and perhaps in many years), it is largely due to how incredibly well Haynes and his actors wove looking into their work. Haynes bookends the story—which follows an electric, if circumstantially difficult, romance between middle-aged socialite and mother Carol (played with almost unbearable smolder by Cate Blanchett) and ingénue shop girl/aspiring photographer Therese (Rooney Mara) in early 1950s New York—with two of the most thrilling looks of queer desire I have ever encountered.

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Nov. 17 2015 1:53 PM

Charlie Sheen and HIV: The Real Story Is Not His Status

Like an estimated 1.2 million Americans, Charlie Sheen is a person living with HIV. The actor—famous as much for his public “winning!” outbursts as for his work on shows like Two and a Half Men—shared his status in a candid interview with Matt Lauer on Tuesday’s edition of the Today Show. Sheen detailed how, since testing positive for the virus about four years ago, he has been on treatment and remained “undetectable”—in other words, due to the efficacy of antiretroviral medications, there are so few copies of the virus in his blood that tests cannot register it. Importantly, current research suggests those who are undetectable are essentially unable to transmit the virus; or put more forcefully, a person without HIV is in many ways safer having protected sex with someone like Sheen than with someone who doesn’t know their status for sure. (It’s also worth clarifying that Sheen does not have AIDS, which is the suppressed immune system syndrome that can result if HIV is allowed to advance untreated.) Sheen seemed relieved to be sharing his experience, not least because he reported being subject to expensive blackmail a number of times over the last few years in an effort to keep his status private. “I release myself from this prison today,” he told Lauer.

Nov. 17 2015 12:21 PM

Will My Son Be Baptized With His Peers? Reflections of a Lesbian Mormon. 

On Aug. 25, 2004, almost whispering, I told the man I had married just two weeks before that I was “sometimes attracted to women.” The whole conversation lasted 30 seconds, and we didn’t discuss it again for six years.

On May 20, 2010, while our 2-year-old son slept in the next room, I confessed that the feelings of same-sex attraction had not gone away: I was gay.

“OK, what do we do?” he asked, not disgusted, as I’d thought he would be.

We stayed together, of course. We were Mormon, so that was the only option. Mormons believe that God’s plan is eternal marriage, and divorce is not an option, even if one of you is gay. I was a second-generation church member in a high regional leadership position. I had graduated from seminary and served a mission in Uruguay.  My parents, who’d converted 45 years before, now worked in a temple in Chicago. My husband’s ancestors had crossed the Great Plains as handcart pioneers to settle in the Salt Lake Valley. His father was a bishop. All our close friends were Mormon. I spent my days with the stay-at-home Mormon moms going to the gym, the library, the park, and lunch. And so I decided to be the martyr—to remain obedient and “endure to the end,” as church leaders say.

Nov. 17 2015 12:05 PM

STIs Are Skyrocketing Among Gay and Bi Men. Is an HIV-Prevention Pill to Blame?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced some deeply disconcerting news on Tuesday: Sexually transmitted infection rates have skyrocketed over the last year, particularly among gay and bisexual men. Syphilis transmission rates are especially alarming: The CDC reports a 15.1 percent increase in new infections nationwide since 2013, with a stunning 83 percent of male cases affecting men who have sex with men.

What’s going on here? One obvious explanation could be the rise of PrEP (or Truvada), a daily pill, which, all available data indicatefully protects against HIV infection. Early studies of PrEP showed no evidence that those who took the drug would stop using condoms. But recent surveys suggest that at least some PrEP users do indeed use condoms less regularly once they’re on the pill. Most notably, a fairly small-scale study in San Francisco found a 30 percent increase in STIs among PrEP users after six months—which rose to a 50 percent increase after one year. Just as troublingly, 41 percent of subjects admitted to using condoms less frequently while on PrEP.

Nov. 16 2015 3:26 PM

Evidence Should Trump Ideology When Deciding Same-Sex Parenting Cases

Last Friday, a Utah judge reversed an order he had issued just three days earlier that would have removed a young girl from her home because her foster parents are lesbians. Under fierce pressure that even included grumbling by the state’s Republican governor, Judge Scott Johansen issued a temporary reversal after first ruling that it was “not in the best interest of children to be raised by same-sex couples.” The shift is good news for the girl and her foster parents, April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce; for child welfare advocates; and for anyone concerned with fairness, equality, or evidence-based policy.

Yet the matter is far from over. Johansen set a December date for the girl’s fate to be argued at a hearing. And the judge’s revised order left intact a critical foundation of his initial reasoning: what the judge still calls “a concern that research has shown that children are more emotionally and mentally stable when raised by a mother and father in the same home.”

Nov. 16 2015 12:10 PM

RBG Makes Yet Another Brilliant Point About the Constitutional Necessity of Marriage Equality 

In a perfect world, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would have written the opinion of the court in Obergefell v. Hodges, applying her comprehensive understanding of equality to strike down laws that prevent same-sex couples from marrying. But we do not live in a perfect world, and so Justice Anthony Kennedy—the most senior justice in the Obergefell majority—assigned the opinion to himself, penning a slightly mystifying encomium to the Constitution’s hazy guarantee of “liberty.” 

Since Obergefell came down, Ginsburg has hinted that she would have written the decision differently, elaborating upon the equal protection issue at the core of the case. Now, in a wonderful chat with her old friend Gloria Steinem arranged by the New York Times’ Philip Galanes, Ginsburg has expanded upon this line of logic. After Steinem mentioned that the black civil rights movement and feminism were “profoundly connected,” Ginsburg noted that feminism and the marriage equality movement were connected, as well.

Nov. 13 2015 4:09 PM

Mormons Clarify New Policy on Children of Gay Couples: No to Baptism, Yes to Blessings

On Friday, the Office of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints issued a clarification to its new policies on same-sex marriage, which leaked last week. The guidance is addressed to various groups within the Mormon church, indicating that the hierarchy is aware that, as my colleague J. Bryan Lowder reported on Wednesday, thousands of adherents are preparing to leave the church over the new rules.

The church authorities are also clearly aware that many non-Mormons are shocked that the new policy requires children of parents in same-sex relationships to move out of the family home and to disavow “the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage” if they wish to participate in the rites of their faith. The letter serves as a primer on LDS doctrine regarding LGBTQ people, noting that since the church believes families to be eternal “in nature and purpose,” it is “obligated to act with that perspective for the welfare of both adults and children.” It emphasizes that children can avoid being punished for who their parents love if they quit the parental home. It also notes that if the child has already been baptized when they find themselves residing with a gay couple, then “membership activities or priesthood privileges” will not be curtailed.

Nov. 13 2015 1:48 PM

Anti-Gay Utah Judge Lets Lesbian Parents Keep Foster Child—for Now

On Friday, Utah judge Scott Johansen amended his earlier decision ordering the Division of Child and Family Services to remove a lesbian couple’s foster child from their home, because he insisted that the baby girl would fare better in a heterosexual household. Johansen does not appear to have changed his mind about the merits of his ruling. He has simply decided to give the couple the courtesy of a hearing in December to determine the child’s best interests, before removing her from her home.

Judge Scott Johansen.

Courtesy utahcourts.gov

DCFS has already announced that it will support the couple, April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce, in court. Utah Republican Gov. Gary Herbert also criticized Johansen’s order, stating that “he may not like the law, but he should follow the law.” (Utah does not consider sexual orientation when weighing a foster child’s best interests—nor could it under the U.S. Constitution.) The child’s birth mother strongly supports her daughter’s placement with Hoagland and Peirce, and more than 71 scholarly studies confirm that the children of same-sex couples fare just as well as (if not better than) than the children of opposite-sex couples. 

Nov. 12 2015 3:26 PM

An Interview With the Gay Dad Targeted for Adopting Kids and Helping Foster Children

Rob and Reece Scheer weren’t courting controversy when they allowed American Girl magazine to write a feature on their daughter, Amaya. The article was gentle and inspirational, focusing on Amaya and her three siblings—also adopted out of foster care—as well as the Scheers’ charity, Comfort Cases, which supplies foster children with amenities. But after the piece went to press, anti-gay group One Million Moms fomented a backlash, criticizing American Girl for highlighting “sins” and “pushing the homosexual agenda to children” and encouraging supporters to boycott the magazine.

On Thursday, I spoke with Rob Scheer about his family, his charity, and the reaction to American Girl’s unexpectedly contentious profile. Our interview has been lightly edited and condensed.

Nov. 12 2015 12:54 PM

Can a New Queer App Prevent the LGBTQ Community From Splintering?

Q, a “gender-inclusive queer social network” that launches today, is itself a queer creature. Not quite an ordinary dating app and not quite a conventional social network, it aims to cultivate personal bonds between members. Eric Cervini, Q’s creator, told me that he thinks of it primarily as “a platform to meet,” one that allows LGBTQ individuals to find and reach out to one another “in a non-hypersexualized context.” 

Cervini funded the development of Q through a Kickstarter campaign that ultimately raised more than $25,000. According to the campaign description, members would be able to choose from “20+ genders,” and individuals of all sexual orientations would be welcome. Such openness is not entirely new: In February 2014, for example, Facebook debuted 56 custom gender options, almost three times as many as Cervini promised. When I asked him about this, he brushed it off, allowing that it was “a step in the right direction” but insisting that Facebook is fundamentally “a straight space.” With Q, he hopes to provide something else, “a safe space” for “people who identify as queer … to connect with others who are like them.”