Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Sept. 19 2017 4:32 PM

Arizona Supreme Court Unanimously Affirms the Equal Rights of Same-Sex Parents

On Tuesday, the Arizona Supreme Court issued a highly anticipated decision unanimously affirming the equal rights of same-sex parents in the state. The ruling will require Arizona to extend the same presumptions of parentage to same-sex and opposite-sex couples, ensuring that the state cannot use the pretext of biology to discriminate against gay residents. It is also an important confirmation of Obergefell v. Hodges at a time when marriage equality is under increasing judicial assault.

Tuesday’s ruling in McLaughlin v. McLaughlin involves an Arizona statute that creates a “presumption of paternity” in opposite-sex relationships. Under the law, the husband of a woman who gives birth is presumed to be the child’s legal parent—even if the birth mother conceived through artificial insemination. But what about married lesbians who conceive via artificial insemination? Two lower courts grappled with that question and reached different conclusions in light of Obergefell. One held that Obergefell required the birth mother’s wife to receive the same presumption of parentage that a husband would. The other held that it did not.

Sept. 18 2017 3:51 PM

Who Gets to Make Movies About Gay Sexuality?

In the summer haze of the Coney Island boardwalk, a teenage boy begins to wonder, and worry. He easily picks up girls under the fireworks, but he can’t perform when he brings them home. At night, he snaps pictures in front of a mirror, shirtless, jaw and chest contorted, eyes burning forward with a hook-up site beginner’s misplaced aggression. He smokes and partakes in petty crime with the local tank-topped miscreants his own age, but alone, he can’t stop cruising a gay sex site, where he always seems to pause on men many years older than him. Soon he agrees to meet one of them, and his first won’t be his last.

Sept. 16 2017 6:29 PM

Elegy for Edie

One of the first things that Edie Windsor ever told me was that she only had a few more years left to live. That was more than eight years ago, in 2009. And she wasn’t kidding. After her spouse Thea Spyer passed away, Edie had suffered from a series of heart attacks, which were diagnosed as “broken heart syndrome.” Indeed, Edie asked me and other lawyers on our team to carry her nitroglycerine tablets for her when we attended events—just in case.

Because of her heart condition, I became completely neurotic about making sure that Edie’s case got decided as quickly as possible. I felt like any time we managed to shave off the process, however slight, might be the margin between Edie living to see a victory in her case, or not.

Looking back on this today, I have to admit that the strategy I chose to try to accomplish this goal was somewhat unconventional. Less than two weeks after we filed the complaint in the case that became United States v. Windsor, I wrote the district court judge, Barbara Jones, a letter stating that, “Given Edie’s coronary disease … she seeks to pursue this action as expeditiously as possible.”

And then I sent Judge Jones another letter. This time, I informed the court that Edie was suffering from an allergic reaction. Once again, I asked Judge Jones to expedite the case in any way possible.

And then I sent another letter. And another. And then one more. Believe it or not, over the next year and a half, I would write a dozen of these letters, each time begging Judge Jones to speed up the process. My co-counsel and noted constitutional scholar Pam Karlan aptly characterized them as my “Edie has the sniffles” letters. Although I knew there was a risk that we might be annoying the judge, I kept sending them anyway. As our son says when we catch him eating chocolate first thing in the morning: “I couldn’t help myself.”

Sept. 15 2017 4:51 PM

Hillary Clinton’s Eulogy for Edie Windsor Is Also an Impassioned Call to Resist Injustice

On Friday, hundreds of people came together at New York City’s Temple Emanu-El for the funeral of Edie Windsor, the “mother of marriage equality” who died on Tuesday at age 88. Windsor sued the United States government when it refused to recognize her marriage to Thea Spyer; her suit ultimately toppled the federal ban on same-sex marriage and paved the way for nationwide marriage equality. Among the luminaries who paid tribute to Windsor was Hillary Clinton, whose beautiful eulogy also functioned as an impassioned call to resist injustice with Windsor’s indomitable positivity and joy.

Clinton began by asking: “Doesn’t it just feel great being here to honor and remember someone who had such a positive, lasting influence on our country and the world?” That might seem like an oddly cheerful start for a eulogy, but Friday’s proceedings had a celebratory air given Windsor’s extraordinary accomplishments and richly lived life. (She remarried last year.) Windsor, Clinton said, “didn’t set out to make history”—but the love she shared with Spyer was “its own quiet revolutionary act.” When Spyer died in 2009 and the government demanded that Windsor pay an immense estate tax, “she knew she had two choices: Accept this painful injustice or fight back. She chose to fight back, all the way to the highest court in the land.”

Clinton continued:

The day Edie won, much of America cheered with her … with a recognition that a wrong had been righted. Through it all, her strength never wavered. … It is fitting that she will be immortalized in history books in that landmark decision synonymous with equal rights and dignity under the law. But she didn’t stop there. She continued to support the needs and the rights of the LGBT community. She helped change hearts and minds, including mine. And we are forever grateful to her for that.

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.