Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Nov. 14 2017 6:55 PM

Australia Votes Overwhelmingly in Favor of Marriage Equality

Australia wants marriage equality.

In a national postal survey, 61.6 percent of respondents voted to let same-sex couples marry. Just 38.4 percent voted against extending marriage rights to gay people. About 12.7 million Australians voted, with a whopping 79.5 percent of eligible voters casting a ballot. The final result is almost identical to that in Ireland, which voted to legalize same-sex marriage by 62 percent in 2015.

The Australian survey, which was conducted entirely via mail, is in theory not binding on the government. In practice, though, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who supports marriage equality, has promised that a bill legalizing same-sex marriage would “sail through parliament” and believes it will pass by Christmas. In anticipation of a yes vote, the major parties have been working on a bill to repeal the country’s same-sex marriage ban while safeguarding individual churches’ right to prohibit same-sex weddings. Turnbull has firmly rejected compromise measures that would legalize discrimination against gay couples in public accommodations.

More than 1 billion people around the world live in countries that recognize same-sex marriage. Australia is one of the few remaining liberal democracies to deny marriage rights to its gay residents. The country’s resounding support for marriage equality is a rebuke to its previous prime minister, Tony Abbott, who opposed gay rights and led the campaign against changing the law. In February, Abbott lowered expectations by declaring that a 40 percent “no” vote would be a “moral victory.” In the end, he still fell short.

Nov. 8 2017 8:03 AM

What Should We Make of Call Me by Your Name’s Age-Gap Relationship?

In September, James Woods, the actor and prolific Twitter bigot, retweeted a post that read “24-year-old man. 17-year-old boy. Stop.” The tweet referred to Call Me by Your Name, the new adaptation of the much-loved novel by André Aciman about Elio, a precocious 17-year-old (Timothée Chalamet in the film), who has an intense romance with Oliver (Armie Hammer), a 24-year-old scholar staying with Elio’s family of bohemian intellectuals for a summer. Woods being Woods, he added the hashtag “#NAMBLA” to his tweet, invoking a long-despised fringe group the alt-right has recently weaponized to smear anti-Trump protesters. Hammer, who is running the press rounds for the film, had a quick response on Twitter: “Didn't you date a 19-year-old when you were 60.......?”

Nov. 7 2017 8:46 PM

Transgender Democrat Danica Roem Makes History, Defeats Notorious Anti-LGBTQ Incumbent

On Tuesday, Danica Roem defeated incumbent Bob Marshall to win a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. The 33-year-old Democrat, who is transgender, easily defeated the 73-year-old Republican, who is perhaps the most anti-LGBTQ politician in America. Marshall has held the seat since 1992 and won reelection in 2015 by 12 percentage points. Once Roem is seated, she will be the first openly transgender person to be elected to, and serve in, a state legislature.*

Marshall is notorious for introducing anti-LGBTQ legislation. After Congress repealed the federal ban on gays in the military, Marshall proposed a measure to ban openly gay people from serving in the Virginia National Guard. “It’s a distraction … and I’m worried about this guy who’s got eyes on me,” Marshall said. He also derailed the appointment of a judge solely because he was gay, and served as the primary sponsor of Virginia’s successful constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. In 2015, he proposed a radical bill that would legalize anti-LGBTQ segregation in hotels, restaurants, businesses, schools, government agencies, and hospitals. And in 2016, he put forth a measure that would bar transgender students from using the school bathroom that aligns with their gender identity, and requiring principals to out gender-nonconforming students to their parents.

Marshall’s avowed hatred of LGBTQ people—he has called himself the state’s “chief homophobe”—inspired Roem, a journalist from Northern Virginia, to run for his seat. Throughout the campaign, Marshall misgendered Roem and launched cruel attacks on her gender identity, depicting her as a bathroom predator. In response, Roem embraced her identity in a remarkable ad:

Roem trounced Marshall, apparently winning over a substantial portion of Republican voters in the right-leaning northern Virginia district. She also outraised Marshall with help from national LGBTQ rights groups. Her landslide is part of a broader Democratic wave that swept Virginia on Tuesday, carrying Democrats to victory at every level of the government.

*Update, Nov. 7, 2017: This post has been updated to clarify that Roem will be the first openly transgender person to be elected to, and serve in, a state legislature once she is seated. In 1992, Althea Garrison was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives without disclosing her gender identity. In 2008, Stacie Laughton was elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives, but her election was nullified after the state attorney general concluded that she was not eligible to run for elected office.

Nov. 2 2017 4:38 PM

BPM Is an Incredibly Accurate Portrait of Early AIDS Activism

We were in the large ballroom of a posh hotel, where an anti-choice conference was welcoming its plenary speaker, the staunch and politically active homophobe (and opponent of condom distribution) Cardinal John O’Connor, from the New York archdiocese. We were scattered throughout the seats, some of the women wearing wigs or hats to hide their tell-tale, super-short haircuts. I had rolled up and hidden a banner under my long, wool coat. The group had agreed we would start the action five minutes into O’Connor’s speech; but a few rows in front, we saw some of the group stand up and start the chant early. The woman in my row, there to hold the other end of the banner, looked at me, both of us unmistakably thinking the same thing: “Oh, shit.”

Nov. 1 2017 1:56 PM

How Calling Kevin Spacey a Pedophile Hurts the Gay Community

Everyone loves to hate a pedophile, even if they’ve made him up.

Immediately after Kevin Spacey tweeted an apology on Sunday night for allegedly making sexual advances toward a then-teenaged Anthony Rapp in 1986, he was “Milo-ed”—demonized and outcast under the banner of pedophilia—mostly by gay leaders, but also by everyone else (including at Slate and by Milo himself).

Eight months ago, my colleague Gabriel Rosenberg and I, responding to the outrage around Milo Yiannoupolis’ comments on gay intergenerational sex, explored how gender and sexuality may complicate the ethics of sex across age difference. Let me be as clear as possible that Spacey’s alleged conduct, imposing himself unwanted on a 14-year-old boy, is in no way defensible, nor is closeted queerness an excuse that authorizes bad behavior. (Spacey’s statement doesn’t dispute either of these points.) However, we can condemn the alleged events of Rapp’s story without falling into the trap of fueling moral panic around the specter of the pedophile. And in its pitchfork-and-torches response, that’s exactly what the gay community is doing. It used to be straights who “pedophiled” gays to deny them civil rights and social inclusion. Now we apparently pedophile our own for moral purification and self-satisfaction.

Oct. 31 2017 4:26 PM

Nope, There’s Nothing “Queer” About Being a Single Person


The first place we visited was Portland, Maine. We were 19 years old and completely broke, but eager to explore a new city together. We talked excitedly about the trip for weeks, imagining walks through the narrow streets under an overcast sky, sharing coffee and cigarettes and marveling at the bright, cold ocean around us. By the time we boarded the bus, we realized we’d forgotten half of the things we needed. The one thing we couldn’t forget, however, was the pressure to decide whether we’d let our Airbnb host know we were a couple when we arrived.

It’s been over three years since then, but we still have that same conversation every time we travel together. In places like West Virginia and Budapest, the answer has been a definitive no. But even in those cases, my broad-shouldered, masculine girlfriend tends to draw attention, and so we can never really let our guard down. At the end of the day, the fear of judgment or prejudice from the stranger whose house we’re occupying is stronger than the charms of even the most relaxing or distracting locale.


Oct. 31 2017 1:59 PM

The Ruling Against Trump’s Trans Troops Ban Is a Victory for Facts and Reason

There’s a lot wrong with America today but one thing that’s very heartening is to watch the supremely rational operation of the federal court system in action. On Monday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia barred the Trump administration from carrying out its ban on transgender service members. The preliminary injunction in Doe v. Trump enjoined the discriminatory policy from being enforced because the plaintiffs are “likely to succeed” in having the policy struck down as a violation of the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee.

The decision—which is likely to be appealed—is not only a victory for the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, who brought the suit on behalf of several current and aspiring service members. It is a victory for the forces of truth and light that the Trump insurgency has gravely imperiled. To read the decision is to observe a stinging repudiation—with, for now, the force of law—of the Trump White House’s flagrant and constant disregard for truth, facts, or evidence.

The devastating blows that Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly repeatedly delivers to the Trump trans policy can be so dry as to nearly escape notice. The government had sought to have the case dismissed by arguing that a military directive issued by the commander in chief deserves the highest level of “deference” from the courts—a routine step, but one that’s all the more unnerving coming from an administration with unprecedented contempt for both the norms and the constitutional requirements of democratic governance.

Kollar-Kotelly wasn’t buying the deference argument, for a simple reason: The deference doctrine says the courts generally defer to the “considered judgment” of Congress and the executive branch in matters of national security. But, said the judge, there was no considered judgment in this case. Trump chose to ban transgender service members in a tweet that took his own national security team by surprise, a characteristically impulsive effort to win political points with his base by bullying a vulnerable minority.

Oct. 30 2017 3:09 PM

Federal Judge Blocks Trump’s Trans Troops Ban, Calling It Inexplicable and Unjustified

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly blocked the bulk of President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender military service, ruling that the policy likely violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. Her decision, if upheld on appeal, will prevent the government from discriminating against transgender individuals who are currently serving in the armed forces, prohibiting the Pentagon from purging trans service members. It will not, however, immediately compel the military to enlist openly transgender people, or to fund gender affirmation surgery for those already serving.

Trump’s trans ban sprang into existence in July, when the president tweeted that the government would not “accept or allow” trans people “to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military.” Trans service members have been allowed to serve openly since June 2016; Trump’s tweets raised fears that the government would expel trans troops who had just recently been invited to come out. The National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders promptly filed a lawsuit on behalf of several trans troops, alleging a violation of their constitutional rights. Several weeks later, the administration turned Trump’s tweets into a memorandum directing the military to implement the full ban by March 23, 2018.

Kollar-Kotelly, who serves on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, has now thrown that plan into serious jeopardy. Her equal protection analysis is as meticulous as it is historic. The judge held that government actions which discriminate against transgender people must be subject to heightened judicial scrutiny, for two reasons. First, Kollar-Kotelly wrote that transgender people should qualify as a “suspect class” because they face “severe persecution” on the basis of “immutable” traits and often lack the political power to protect themselves. Moreover, the discrimination that transgender people face is invidious and unjustified.

Oct. 26 2017 2:39 PM

How Dan Savage’s Hump! Festival Uses Porn to Create Empathy

The smell of synthetic butter filled the packed Manhattan movie theater where roughly 100 people chatted as they waited for the porn screening to begin. The vibe was strangely wholesome. A row of women congratulated themselves for choosing the event as a birthday outing. Two men swapped podcast recommendations. Everyone in the audience had immaculate posture.

I was at a screening of the 12th annual edition of Hump!, a festival that features short amateur porn films submitted by people who want to be a porn star for a night in a theater—not forever on the internet. This year, the five-minute-or-less films showed latex suits and cuddling, group sex and solo acts, gay couples and straight pairs. With the current touring festival wrapping up and the 13th edition about to premiere in Seattle, I called Dan Savage, the festival’s founder, and Robert Crocker, the executive producer, to learn how Hump! has managed to create such a genteel audience culture around its filthy films.

Oct. 25 2017 11:49 AM

What “Chachkigate” Says About the State of Drag in Paris


When the fashion world descends on Paris each fall for a week of runway shows, afterparties, and celebrity appearances, the headlines follow. This year, among photos of Balenciaga’s platform Crocsand Thom Browne’s unicorn puppet, allegations that a gay club had forcibly ejected Violet Chachki, winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race seventh season, went viral.

The controversy began after the well-known American drag queen took to social media the night of Sept. 30 to denounce Le Depot, a venue in the Marais gayborhood. In a tweet, Chachki claimed that the security staff had removed her for not being “masc presenting enough” (an allegation that the Le Depot vigorously denies). She then broadcasted the aftermath live on Periscope.

Predictably, many (mostly American) fans took Chachki’s side, leaving negative reviews of the club on Yelp and TripAdvisor, which have since been taken down. Other observers remained more dubious of the allegations. Several Twitter users noted that Chachki had violated the rules of the club by posting videos of the darkroom to social media, a point that Le Depot also raised in a statement posted to Facebook on Oct. 3. Chachki, the club maintained, had also shown “an intolerable aggressiveness towards the security personnel who remained courteous” throughout the ordeal.