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Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Nov. 27 2017 2:41 PM

“Whatever You Do Is Perfect”: Remembering the Queer Mentorship of Flawless Sabrina

Flawless Sabrina (Jack Doroshow), who died on Nov. 18 at the age of 78, was many things: drag pioneer, queer activist, muse, and counter-cultural force, to name a few. But as the people who knew her—whether as Flawless, Mother, Sabrina, Grandma, or Jack—will tell you, the most iconic role she played, and the one that mattered most to her, was as a mentor to younger people.

Jack was born in 1939, and often recounted the difficulty of growing up as a precocious gay boy of mixed Jewish and Italian ancestry in a rough and almost exclusively Italian South Philadelphia neighborhood. Eager to experience the world beyond the childhood home he often referred to in shorthand as “19th and Tasker,” Doroshow studied psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. It was during his time as a student there in the late 1950s that he began organizing the Miss All-America Camp Beauty Pageant, a cross-country circuit of drag contests that culminated each year in the Nationals Flawless Sabrina, the drag persona that Jack conceived at 19, was a pushy Jewish grandmother who could emcee the shows without making the other contestants feel threatened. In one sense, Flawless was always the queer eminence grise that would take Jack a few more decades to become.

Nov. 21 2017 5:30 PM

Federal Judge Blocks Trump’s Trans Troops Ban, Rules It “Shocks the Conscience”

Another federal judge has concluded that President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender military service is unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis, a George H.W. Bush appointee, blocked the entirety of Trump’s order on Tuesday in a trenchant opinion that pilloried the president for his “capricious” attempt to “degrade” American service members on account of their gender identity. LGBTQ advocates could not have hoped for a better decision.

Trump tweeted the ban into existence in July without warning the Pentagon, which had allowed open transgender service since June 2016. His lawyers later converted the tweets into a memorandum that would purge trans troops who had previously been invited to serve openly. The administration claimed trans service members disrupted “unit cohesion” and required pricey medical treatment. (A RAND study commission by the Department of Defense had previously found that open transgender service would have no negative impact on the military.)

Several civil rights groups have sued on behalf of trans troops. The case at issue in Garbis’ ruling was brought by the ACLU of Maryland in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. In his opinion, Garbis recognized judicial deference is typically “owed to military personnel decisions.” But he declined to apply that deference here in light of the fact that the president tweeted the ban with no “policy review” or “evidence demonstrating” that it “was necessary for any legitimate national interest.” Instead, Garbis agreed with Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who blocked the ban in October, that “the decision to exclude transgender individuals was not driven by genuine concerns regarding military efficacy.” (Why did Garbis rule on a matter that another district court judge had already weighed in on? Because each district court has a duty to adjudicate claims a plaintiff brings before it, even if a separate district court has already weighed in on the same law in a separate suit.)

Garbis also adopted Kollar-Kotelly’s reasoning with regard to the plaintiff’s equal protection claim, ruling that heightened scrutiny applies to government discrimination against transgender people. To satisfy heightened scrutiny, the government must put forth an “exceedingly persuasive justification” for its discrimination, which it has not done here. In fact, Garbis noted, the government could not even “survive a rational review,” the most deferential form of judicial scrutiny.

Nov. 21 2017 4:18 PM

Call Me By Your Name, Moonlight, and the Cost of Critical Success for Queer Films


This year may go down as a banner one for cinema focused on gay and bisexual men. Moonlight, the somber indie about a young black man’s slow sexual awakening, won Best Picture at February’s Academy Awards—even if it took two tries to hand the prize to the correct party. And a handful of similarly themed productions seems poised to follow in its path in the coming awards season.



Perhaps most prominently, Call Me by Your Name, director Luca Guadagnino’s coming-of-age drama due out Friday, has been a festival favorite since it debuted in January at Sundance, with further press and industry hosannas following at February’s Berlinale and the recent New York Film Festival. If you haven’t heard about it yet, get ready to, especially regarding the film’s controversial portrayal of sex across age difference and the breakout performance of its young star, Timothée Chalamet, who brings controlled emotional ferocity to nearly every scene.



Yet while the critical success of these films may auger a readier embrace of movies about same-sex relationships in general, the actual narratives of Moonlight and Call Me by Your Name in particular reveal a stubborn resistance—even among pedigreed and “challenging” indies—to depicting same-sex romances defined by romance rather than repression, obsession, and torment. And their polite, glancing treatment of same-sex sex actually feels like a retreat from the sexual frankness of earlier trailblazers like Brokeback Mountain, Shortbus, and Blue Is the Warmest Color. These new films may deserve their formal plaudits, but their progressiveness is very much up for debate.


Nov. 20 2017 3:33 PM

What Should a Gay Dad Teach His Daughters During This Period of Reckoning Around Sexual Abuse?

Hey, Daddy! is a monthly column exploring the joys and struggles of parenting from a gay father’s perspective. Got a topic idea or question for Daddy? Send your letter along to johnculhane19104@gmail.com.

What, during this awful season of reckoning about sexual harassment and assault, should two gay dads impart to their just-turned teenage daughters about male aggression?

While being gay obviously removes me from the heterosexual framework in which most of these violations took place, it remains true that gay men and straight women share at least one thing: We are both interested in men sexually yet vulnerable to them in ways that cross sexual, cultural, and political boundaries. Recent allegations against powerful men, starting with Harvey Weinstein and then cutting like a dirty scythe through Kevin Spacey, the reptilian Roy Moore, Louis C.K, Al Franken, and even former President George H.W. Bush are sickening, cascading reminders of what it’s like out there for both gay men (and boys) and for women (and girls), and of the urgency to properly arm our kids.

Nov. 15 2017 12:39 PM

Jeff Mateer: Marriage Equality Will Lead to Federal Persecution of Pastors

Donald Trump has nominated conservatives to lifetime appointments in the federal judiciary at a record clip. A number of his nominees have proved controversial, including anti-gay blogger John K. Bush and Brett Talley, a 36-year-old ghosthunter with minimal legal experience. And then there is Jeff Mateer, an anti-LGBTQ lawyer nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. Mateer has called transgender children part of “satan’s plan” and described same-sex marriage as “disgusting” “debauchery.” He also supports “conversion therapy” of LGBTQ people, a discredited practice that often amounts to psychosexual torture.

A persistent theme of Mateer’s interviews and speeches is that the granting of civil rights to LGBTQ people will lead to the persecution of anti-LGBTQ Christians. In March 2015, Mateer expounded on this idea at an event sponsored by the Pennsylvania Pastors Network, explaining that marriage equality posed a grave threat to religious freedom. He recounted the story of Texas Baptists who told him, “We’re sitting out the marriage issue.”

“You can say you’re going to sit it out,” Mateer said, “but you’re not going to be able to sit it out. It is coming to you.” By way of example, he alluded to Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder, a Navy chaplain who was investigated for offensive conduct. Modder was accused of telling students he could “save” gay people, who should forego relationships to be “in love with God.” He also allegedly told a student that “the penis was meant for the vagina and not for the anus” while making an obscene hand gesture. According to Mateer, Modder was merely providing “biblical counsel concerning issues like marriage and sexuality,” and faced retaliation “because it offended someone.” (After its investigation, the Navy ultimately allowed Modder to retire in good standing.)

“That’s the federal government saying that,” Mateer concluded. “What’s to stop them? They’re going to come into your churches next.”

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.