Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Sept. 15 2017 3:46 PM

When Researching Individual Engagement With the “Gay Community,” Numbers Only Tell Half the Story

“Gay community” is a phrase one hears tossed about all the time, from politicians and health officials to activists and everyday gays themselves. But what does it really mean? In some cases, “community” distinctly refers to a physical space, such as a neighborhood or collection of public venues and community gathering places; while in others, the term invokes a constellation of interconnected individuals with shared beliefs, concerns, or cultural reference points. What's more, depending on whom you ask, the “gay community” can be anything from an open-minded, affirming environment where gay people find acceptance and outlets for self-expression, to a judgmental or even hostile one that offers few opportunities for connection and many for frivolous, even self-destructive excess.

Sept. 15 2017 10:47 AM

Judge: Calling Someone Trans Isn’t Defamatory Because There’s Nothing Wrong With Being Trans

On Aug. 30, transgender Americans achieved a little-noticed but critical legal victory in a California state court. Judge Gregory Keosian announced he will dismiss fitness guru Richard Simmons’ defamation lawsuit in which Simmons claimed reputational harm after the National Enquirer falsely called him a transgender woman.

For the first time in United States history, Keosian declared that misidentifying a person as transgender is not defamatory because it does not subject that individual to “hatred, contempt, ridicule or obloquy.” Keosian further explained that the judicial system should not countenance anti-trans animus, notwithstanding its existence in pockets of society. “While, as a practical matter, [transgender persons can] be held in contempt by a portion of the population,” Keosian said, “the court will not validate those prejudices by legally recognizing them.”

Defamation lawsuits are intended to provide a legal remedy to individuals who are maligned by untrue statements, like wrongful accusations of criminal conduct. But there is a long record of plaintiffs abusing defamation law by piggybacking off social prejudices held against minority groups. Plaintiffs like Simmons effectively ask courts to let the law to reinforce harmful stigmas and stereotypes.

The history of anti-minority libel and slander lawsuits is shocking, but it also reveals a great deal about the odious roots of legal claims like Simmons’. In 1791’s Eden v. Legare, South Carolina’s high court ruled that falsely describing an individual as “mulatto” was actionable “because, if true, the [plaintiff] would be deprived of all civil rights.” False imputations that white persons were nonwhite or otherwise racially “impure” remained actionable in parts of the United States well into the twentieth century.

Sept. 13 2017 3:32 PM

Why Are Trans Youth Clinics Seeing an Uptick in Trans Boys?

Clinics that treat gender nonconforming youth have noticed two clear trends over the past 20 years or so. First, the number of total youth seeking treatment has steadily increased: What began as a tiny trickle of patients from the 1970s through the ’90s saw an uptick in the early 2000s and has become a steady stream of cases today. Second, during the post-2000 period, the gender balance of youth seeking treatment seems to have changed. According to anecdotal reports from clinicians and a handful of small studies of transgender youth, trans youth clinics in North America and Europe have seen a shift from a majority of transfeminine patients (assigned male at birth) to a majority of transmasculine patients (assigned female) now. In contrast, studies of adult trans patients thus far have either documented a majority of trans women or roughly equal numbers of trans women and trans men.

Sept. 1 2017 4:30 PM

A Midshipman Explains Why He’s Suing to Block Trump’s Ban on Trans Troops

The fate of President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender troops lies in the federal judiciary. In August, civil rights groups filed three separate lawsuitsagainst the policy, arguing that it violates constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection. Some of the plaintiffs suing Trump remain anonymous in court filings. But Regan Kibby, a 19-year old transgender midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, has identified himself as a plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders.

Kibby, who wrote a declaration in that lawsuit explaining the devastating effects of the policy on his life and career, will almost certainly be expelled from the academy if the courts allow Trump’s policy to take effect. On Friday, Kibby and I spoke about his decision to join the academy, his reaction to the ban, and his involvement in the lawsuit. Our interview has been edited and condensed.

Why did you decide to attend the Naval Academy?

I lived in San Diego, a big military town, until the fifth grade. I grew up surrounded by Navy ships and people in uniform, and my dad was in the Navy. In high school I joined JROTC [Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps]. By the end of my freshman year I knew for sure that I wanted to go into the military. I felt a duty to serve; so many people are able to serve but choose not to, and it felt really important to me that I did.

The summer after junior year, I attended the Air Force, Navy, and Army summer seminars back to back. Then I did a visit at the Coast Guard Academy. At school, I tried to make myself as competitive as possible for admission, just to ensure that I could get into a service academy and go on to serve my country. And during my senior year of high school, I got my acceptance letter to the Naval Academy.

Sept. 1 2017 8:15 AM

Moises Serrano on Why Immigration Reform Is an LGBTQ Issue

“My nationality became a racial epithet,” says Moises Serrano of last year’s presidential election campaign. “Mexicans were Donald Trump’s punching bag.”

Serrano, 27, is an undocumented Mexican immigrant living in North Carolina: His parents brought him to the United States from when he was just 2 years old. And although being undocumented has become increasingly dangerous in the U.S., Trump’s election win was particularly frightening.

“It sent shockwaves through the nation,” says Serrano. “But as an openly undocumented person, I was really terrified. We are at the disposal of this administration.”

With the president’s recent pardon of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, well-known for his abuse of immigrants, Serrano’s fears are quickly being realized. But Serrano has had to confront this new American reality on two fronts: first, as an openly undocumented immigrant, and second as a gay man. “I’ve had to dance between two lives, between two spaces,” he says. “I’ve had to build a skill of knowing when and where to share each element of my identity, to choose which narrative is most important.”

This dual struggle is the subject of a new documentary premiering this Friday at 8 p.m. on Logo TV, Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America. Written and directed by Tiffany Rhynard, the documentary follows Serrano as he journeys throughout North Carolina, speaking at public events where he shares his story and campaigns for immigration reform, particularly in relation to access to education. But it also follows his personal life as he navigates a new relationship, intimate moments filmed by Serrano himself on a handheld camera.

Aug. 31 2017 6:01 PM

“An Unprecedented Betrayal”: Former Military Leaders Condemn Trump’s Trans Troops Ban

Former secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force told a federal court on Thursday that Donald Trump’s ban on transgender troops is cruel, unjustified, and counterproductive in an authoritative rejoinder to the administration’s efforts to depict open trans service as a dangerous experiment.

In declarations filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, former Secretary of the United States Air Force Deborah Lee James, former Secretary of the Navy Raymond Edwin Mabus, Jr., and former Secretary of the Army Eric K. Fanning asserted that trans troops have already been smoothly integrated into the military. All three secretaries participated in the working group that former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter convened to study the possibility of trans service. Each also helped to implement trans-inclusive policies in their respective branches of the armed forces after the military ended its trans ban in June 2016. Their declarations are part of a lawsuit against Trump’s ban filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders.

James’ declaration is a direct rebuke to Trump’s dubious claims about trans service. “I am not aware of any evidence to support President Trump’s stated rationales for reversing the policy permitting open service,” James explained. Instead, the ban “will result in the loss of qualified recruits and trained personnel, reducing readiness and operational effectiveness.” Moreover, the ban will erode “service members’ trust,” have “a deleterious effect on morale,” and hamper “recruitment and retention.”

Mabus echoed these concerns and criticized the “arbitrary decisionmaking” that led to Trump’s announcement.

Aug. 31 2017 9:16 AM

For Gay Fathers of Kids With Disabilities, Parenting Comes Before Identity

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’s it like to be a gay dad with a severely disabled child? I spoke with two fathers who have been caring for their profoundly autistic kids for many years. What came through was a portrait of men who had been compelled to find some way to make sense of their gay identities, which emerged for them later in life, within unusually complex lives. For both, being out offers a more authentic way of living; but any exploration of gayness is necessarily subordinated to the needs of their children.

Aug. 30 2017 3:57 PM

Welcome to Night Vale’s Cecil Baldwin on Finding the Queerness in His Character

If you’ve heard of Cecil Baldwin, then you’ve probably heard him, too. An out, HIV-positive actor and activist, he is most famous for playing the narrator of Welcome to Night Vale, one of the first fictional podcast successes with well over 100 million downloads. The show is launching a new European tourin September that will cover seven countries, and it will tour New Zealand and Australia in January 2018. I recently spoke to the robust-voiced Baldwin about being gay and sounding straight, voice-acting, queering characters, and the unique affordances of the podcast genre.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Kyle Stevens: Welcome to Night Vale is one of the most popular podcasts around. At what point did you come aboard?

Cecil Baldwin: I was working here in the East Village with the Neo Futurists. I met Joseph Fink through one of their workshops. Joseph was a writer who was working on trying to get his work out there. He had also tried self-publishing, and that ended up with boxes of books with no one to buy them. So he figured, “Well, what if I take my short stories and make them into a podcast?” and had this idea to do a radio show, a fictional radio show, not This American Life, which was nonfiction, not Marc Maron, which was sort of the template of 75 percent of podcasts at the time: people talking, interview-style, or nonfictional storytelling. Even Serial came much later.

Joseph wrote and said, “I need this radio announcer voice, and you have that voice.” So I recorded the first episode, sent it back to Joseph, and he was like, “Great, let’s just do this!” I was a freelance artist trying to hustle, and it seemed like an easy gig. It was like 3–4 hours of work every month, and it didn’t seem that hard. I recorded at home, which at that point was a tiny little apartment with my boyfriend in Harlem, and it was noisy and hot. But I literally just used a $35 microphone and Garage Band, so it’s not like it was cost-prohibitive. Which, you know, was good.

Aug. 30 2017 10:01 AM

No, Mattis Did Not Freeze Trump’s Transgender Troops Ban

On Tuesday evening, USA Today published a surprising report alleging that Secretary of Defense James Mattis had frozen President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender troops. Mattis, the report explained, had convened a panel of experts to study transgender service and make recommendations next year. His “move,” the article concluded, “buys time for the Pentagon” to determine the fate of trans troops who are currently serving.

This framing is an extreme mischaracterization of the facts. Mattis did not “freeze” the trans ban, and he is not “buy[ing] time” in some potentially insubordinate effort to buck Trump. In reality, the secretary is doing exactly what Trump directed him to do in a recent memo.

Trump notoriously tweeted his ban on trans troops in July, but the Pentagon—which had reportedly not been consulted—declined to enact the new policy without further information. So on Friday, Trump issued that information in a memo directing the implementation of his ban. The memo ordered the secretary of defense, in consultation with the secretary of homeland security, to “determine how to address transgender individuals currently serving in the United States military.” Their study must focus on “military effectiveness and lethality, budgetary constraints, and applicable law.” By Feb. 21, 2018, the secretaries must submit a plan explaining how best to implement the ban. And on March 23, 2018, the full ban will take effect. Until then, “no action may be taken” against openly trans troops who are now serving.

In his Tuesday announcement, Mattis declared that he will do precisely what the memo requires of him. He is not suspending the ban or disobeying Trump, but simply following orders. Moreover, as Nathaniel Frank explained in Slate, the memo does not give Mattis real discretion in executing the ban. He can, theoretically, provide a recommendation that Trump scrap it. But barring a reversal by the president, Mattis lacks any real ability to protect trans troops.

Aug. 29 2017 10:38 AM

Trump’s Trans Military Policy Is Worse Than “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Media reports about President Trump’s transgender military policy, which he formalized in a directive late last week, have cast the new rules as something less than an outright ban on transgender service. The Associated Press reported that the policy “gave the Pentagon the authority to decide the future of openly transgender people already serving” and that the president “appeared to leave open the possibility of allowing some transgender people who already are in uniform.” A New York Times headline blared that Trump had given Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “wide discretion” over the transgender ban. Indeed, some observers, including supporters of LGTBQ equality, seem to think the policy really isn’t so bad.

In reality, the new Trump policy is the worst of all possible worlds, in part because, like “don’t ask, don’t tell” before it, it’s been designed to be hard to fight in both the court of law and the court of public opinion. Like DADT, it will lose, but not before inflicting serious damage on both trans individuals and the military forcewide.