Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation

Sept. 23 2016 10:04 AM

What’s Left for Queer Women After AfterEllen?

On Tuesday afternoon, the queer internet found out it was losing one of its precious few bright stars. The editor in chief of AfterEllen, a 14-year-old news and entertainment site for queer women, announced in an emotional Tumblr post that the site was “effectively shutting down.” After Friday, Trish Bendix wrote, the site will no longer have an editorial staff. AfterEllen’s owners have left open the possibility of publishing freelance work, but have carefully avoided saying anything concrete about the site’s future.

Sept. 23 2016 8:30 AM

In Treyf, Food Writer Elissa Altman Describes Her First Sweet Taste of Rebellion

When she was 3, Elissa Altman tasted the sweetness of rebellion, which she describes in her second and latest memoir, Treyf: My Life as an Unorthodox Outlaw. “Disgusted with being shoehorned into a pink leotard and ballet slippers—I wanted to be Ken, not Barbie,” Altman packs up her tutu and flees dance class. Once outside, she hands her mother her ballet tote and says, “I quit.”

An award-winning food writer who grew up in the ’70s in a Jewish enclave of Queens, New York, Altman entwines this renegade experience with a story about having lunch at a local delicatessen with her father. At the deli, which shared a wall with Altman’s former ballet school, they ate pastrami, its “dark red meat edged with ripples of lace-white fat.” So go some of Treyf’s highly satisfying passages, which follow Altman into adulthood as she relays painful and life-affirming moments by artfully enfolding them in memories of toothsome meals.

Sept. 21 2016 3:28 PM

This Bad-Ass Transgender Student Took His Transphobic School to Court—and Won

Ash Whitaker is a high-school student who gets good grades, plays in the orchestra, and hangs out with his friends. He is also a bad-ass. After Whitaker came out as transgender, his school in Kenosha, Wisconsin, launched a campaign of discrimination against him. The school forced him to use the girl’s bathroom, addressed him with female pronouns, and referred to him by his (female) birth name. School officials even proposed branding Whitaker with a green wristband to signify his transgender status, requiring him to wear the band throughout the school day so instructors could easily monitor his restroom usage.

Whitaker, who is medically transitioning and is in the process of legally changing his gender, was devastated by this mistreatment. He was even more concerned when school officials threatened him with disciplinary proceedings for using the bathroom at school—a mark on his record might hurt his college chances. So Whitaker did what any overachieving all-American kid would do and sued his school, alleging that it violated his rights under Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause. The federal government currently interprets Title IX to bar anti-trans discrimination in education, requiring federally funded schools to let trans students use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. But when Whitaker patiently explained this fact to a representative from the Kenosha Unified School District, she denied it. Whitaker then asked her to explain why she felt the school was not violating Title IX.

“I don’t think I’m going to give you any reasons,” she responded, according to Whitaker’s deposition.

What else could Whitaker do but take his school to court? With the help of the Transgender Law Center and the law firm Relman, Dane & Colfax, Whitaker asserted his rights in federal court. Whitaker explained that, while he used to love school, the discrimination he faced as a transgender student was overwhelming. He dreaded getting out of bed in the morning and faced medical problems from trying to avoid using the bathroom throughout the school day. He felt “harassed, discriminated against, demeaned, and humiliated” by his school, even “targeted for an assault” due to the “attention and scrutiny” the school thrust upon him. (Whitaker had used the boy’s bathroom for many months after transitioning without incident; problems only arose when school administrators noticed and decided to exile him from the facilities.) In court, Whitaker urged the judge to protect his federal civil rights against the school’s invidious discrimination.


Sept. 20 2016 6:21 PM

Is #Brangelexit an Apology for Jolie and Pitt’s Same-Sex Marriage Betrayal?

The initiation of #Brangelexit on Tuesday—in which the most important celebrity power couple of the last two decades voted (against the will of the people!) to end their union—has launched us all on a search for meaning. What’s really behind Angelina Jolie’s call for divorce? Has Brad Pitt truly been misbehaving with “hard drugs and hookers,” as one Page Six source alleges? Who is Marion Cotillard? But there’s another question worth asking, one regarding the timingof all this. Simply put: Why now?

Sept. 19 2016 11:35 AM

North Carolina Governor Plants Questions at Q-and-A, Fails at Extortion, Retracts Lawsuit

North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, the state’s most passionate spokesman for HB2, its anti-LGBTQ law, has had an almost comically terrible week. Not because he’s tanking in the polls—although he is—but because his efforts to reverse his slow-motion collapse have failed so completely. Let’s examine the top three lowlights of the governor’s last seven days.


Sept. 18 2016 9:52 PM

Jeffrey Tambor at the Emmys: “Please Give Transgender Talent a Chance”

Getting cast as a transgender woman character has been great for Jeffrey Tambor’s career. At the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday night, he added another trophy to his shelf, taking the award for best actor in a comedy for his performance as Maura Pfefferman in Transparent. As in earlier wins, he made a point of thanking his transgender “teachers”—Van Barnes, Rhys Ernst, Zachary Drucker, Jenny Boylan—and, as the music started to play, he shushed the orchestra and made his views known on the question of whether it’s OK for cisgender actors to play transgender characters.

Now, listen to me. … I’m not going to say this beautifully. But to you people out there, you producers and network owners, and agents, and you creative sparks, please give transgender talent a chance. Give them auditions. Give them their story. Do that. And also, one more thing: I would not be unhappy were I the last cisgender male to play a female transgender on television. We have work to do. I love you.

Sept. 18 2016 9:13 PM

“Topple the Patriarchy!” Says Jill Soloway, Accepting an Emmy for Transparent


Jill Soloway won the Emmy for best director of a comedy series Sunday night for her work on “Men on the Land,” Episode 9 of Transparent’s second season. Her speech—and her outfit—was spectacular.

People ask me if it’s hard to be a director, and I tell them, no. Life is very hard. Being a good partner, mother, being a good person is hard. Being a good director is so easy, I get to make my dreams come true. It’s a privilege, and creates privilege, when you take people of color, women, trans people, queer people, as the subjects of stories, you change the world, we found out. … So I want to thank you, my sweet Jeff Bezos, because you changed the world, and invited me to do this thing that these people call television, but I call a revolution. I’ve always wanted to be part of a movement. This TV show allows me to take my dreams about unlikable Jewish people, queer folk, trans folk, and make them heroes. Thank you to the trans community. Topple the patriarchy!

The episode Soloway won her award for takes place at the 42nd Idyllwild Wimmin’s Music Festival—a gathering that bears a strong resemblance to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which was held for the last time in August 2015. In December 2015, I spoke with Ali Liebegott, who wrote the episode, on how it came about.

Sept. 15 2016 3:56 PM

The Federal Government Just Outlawed LGBTQ Discrimination in Credit

The federal government just accomplished a decadeslong goal of LGBTQ advocates with a single letter.

Since 1974, progressives have sought to broaden federal civil rights laws’ ban on “sex discrimination” to encompass discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and what we today call gender identity. One key area where LGBTQ people need protection is credit—bank loans, mortgages, brokerage services, and the like. Now the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency, has declared that the Equal Credit Opportunity Act’s sex discrimination ban encompasses sexual orientation and gender identity. This guidance effectively prohibits creditors like banks, retailers, credit card companies, finance companies, and credit unions from engaging in anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

Sept. 13 2016 1:58 PM

A Close Reading of the North Carolina GOP’s Deranged Response to the NCAA

The NCAA pulled seven upcoming championship games out of North Carolina on Monday, citing “the cumulative actions taken by the state concerning civil rights protections.” Specifically, the NCAA expressed concern over HB2, a new state law that repeals local LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinances and excludes transgender people from certain bathrooms. The NCAA Board of Governors explained that its commitment to “fairness and inclusion,” as well as “gender equity,” compelled it to move the games to more tolerant states.

HB2 has already cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars and an NBA All-Star Game; the law also appears poised to drag its chief defender, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, right out of office. (A federal judge has also ruled that its application to the university system is illegal.) So the North Carolina GOP was understandably perturbed by the NCAA’s Monday decision, and it fired off a press release that falls somewhere between completely deranged and simply incoherent. From its deliberate ignorance about gender identity to its bizarre and offensive invocation of the Baylor rape scandal, the statement certainly requires some puzzling out. I have thus provided a line-by-line analysis of this most unusual press release in an attempt to better understand the North Carolina GOP’s grievances.

This is so absurd it’s almost comical. I genuinely look forward to the NCAA merging all men’s and women’s teams together as singular, unified, unisex teams.

This passage appears to imply that the NCAA is hypocritical for criticizing HB2 while maintaining gender-segregated teams. The logic, I suppose, is this: HB2 forbids transgender people from using any government bathroom that aligns with their gender identity; instead, they must use the bathroom that corresponds to their “biological sex”—the gender listed on their birth certificate. The law’s supporters, including McCrory, argue that HB2 is merely designed to keep men out of women’s bathrooms. So here, the GOP is essentially arguing that, by maintain gender-segregated teams, the NCAA is promoting the same notions of gender encoded by HB2.

There are two problems with this assertion—in addition to the fact that it is glib, fatuous, and plainly imbecilic. The first is that HB2 was not passed to forbid gender-neutral multi-stall bathrooms, because of course no municipalities were advocating for such reforms. In reality, the city of Charlotte passed a basic LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance allowing transgender people to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. Republican legislators promptly passed HB2 with the specific intent to repeal that ordinance. The canard that HB2 prevented gender-neutral group bathrooms is just inaccurate. It only prevented North Carolina’s (relatively small) transgender community from using public restrooms in peace.

Sept. 12 2016 3:57 PM

The Conviction Against Tyler Clementi’s Tormentor Deserved to Be Thrown Out

Tyler Clementi’s tormentor won a huge legal victory on Friday when a New Jersey appeals court tossed out his 2012 conviction for anti-gay intimidation. You remember the case: Dharun Ravi, Clementi’s roommate at Rutgers University, cruelly bullied the 18-year-old by secretly filming his intimate encounter with a man and then posting it on social media. After Clementi died by suicide, Ravi was tried and convicted for 15 criminal acts, including bias intimidation, a type of hate crime in New Jersey. But his conviction has now been fully overturned, because the New Jersey Supreme Court found the state’s bias intimidation law to be unconstitutional.

For Clementi’s family, this is surely a heartbreaking development. The man who indisputably harassed and persecuted their young son has seen his conviction thrown out, and although Ravi has already served his brief jail sentence, his legal vindication must seem to be a moral outrage. Yet a close examination of the New Jersey law under which Ravi was convicted demonstrates why Friday’s decision was so necessary: This dangerously vague statute threatened both due process and free expression in a profoundly misguided attempt to push New Jersey’s citizens toward tolerance.